10 Years in La La Land

I drove out to Los Angeles in August of 2006 with three amazing years at Boston’s Emerson College behind me and one final semester of classes in front of me. I was nervous yet excited by the prospect of living in the entertainment capital of the world for a few months, but unsure what the future held for me beyond the upcoming “study abroad” program. As my father and I made our way across the country in my 1997 Pontiac Grand Am (a car that we nearly had to abandon about halfway up Pike’s Peak in Colorado) I had every reason to believe I would be making the same trip in the other direction after about four months had passed.

But here I am ten years later, sitting on my couch in the same Hollywood apartment I moved into a decade ago, wondering where the time went (although I don’t have to wonder too hard, because my years on the west coast coincided with the sharp rise in photo-sharing on social media, for better or for worse). In short, the internship had turned into a job, the job led to the girl, and the girl led to the California wedding, an event I never would have predicted years ago as I gazed out the window of my Pontiac during my westward journey. So much has happened, so much has changed, so much has stayed the same.

And all of it has been great.

Over these years, I have been incredibly fortunate in terms of the people I’ve been surrounded by, the experiences I’ve had both at work and at play, and the opportunities that have come my way, especially when they were needed most. I have been blessed to have a family who is both forgiving and encouraging of my choice to live far from home, and who has made many trips to visit as it became apparent that LA was where I needed, and wanted, to be. And I have been beyond lucky, especially with a big-picture perspective on the economy and the 2008 recession, that for the most part I get to do every day what I set out to do ten years ago.

Which brings me to La La Land. It’s fitting that a classic Hollywood musical about artists pursuing their dreams in the “City of Stars” has been the talk of tinsel town as I (and many of my friends) have reached this ten-year milestone. Many of the film’s story beats garnered a personal response from from me, especially given the reflective state I’ve been in, but what stood out most were the discussions between Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) about pursuing their true dreams vs. sacrificing their goals in order to make a living in a ruthlessly competitive town. La La Land has been criticized for overly-romanticizing the struggle to “make it” in entertainment, but I felt the story hit on this internal debate in a way that should resonate with anyone who’s had to make a tough choice between passion and pragmatism, regardless of industry.

As a child, I obsessed over the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, constantly re-watching them on VHS. In sixth grade, I identified a desire to be the next Steven Spielberg in a “when I grow up” style essay that’s still kicking around my house today. I was propelled into film school by the bonus features on my favorite DVDs, exclaiming that I wanted to be one of those countless experts making movie magic happen behind the scenes. Ambitions to work in reality TV never even entered the conversation. So as I watched Sebastian contemplate sidelining his dream of opening his own club in favor of joining a jazz-pop-fusion band he loathed, just so he could pay the bills, it was hard for me not to consider whether or not I’d throw in the towel at some point along the road to becoming a reality TV editor. Should I have pushed harder to get into film? Did I take enough risks? Could I have worked on this revived Star Wars franchise, or one of the countless other genre film and TV shows I absorb as a fan on a regular basis?

The answer, of course, is beautifully conceived by director Damien Chazelle in the last 20 or so minutes of La La Land. Questions beget questions. Would I still have met the love of my life, Gina? Would I have been able to afford to stay in Los Angeles among great friends and have the same enriching experiences I’ve had? And would I enjoy the creative challenges, wonderful co-workers, and stable lifestyle that reality TV provides? There’s no way to know for sure. What’s important is that, despite having these questions from time to time, I am beyond happy with what I’m currently doing and have no regrets about the path I’ve been traveling.

Ten years ago, I wanted to work in post-production. I may not have set out to work in reality TV, but before starting out on my first job, I had no idea how involved making these shows was, or how rewarding the day-to-day work of seeing episodes and seasons come together could be. As an editor, these projects constantly push me to think outside the box, problem solve, and collaborate in a way that is unique to the medium. I am always learning something new from the smart and talented people I work alongside. And the sheer breadth of reality content on the air today allows me to be cutting a rotating mix of drama, comedy, and action-oriented shows, which has sharpened my skills in ways I never would have otherwise.

I have no illusions about how this could all come off to a cynic. Reality television doesn’t get a lot of praise or respect for a variety of reasons (some valid, some unfair), so I could be accused of rationalizing my current position in entertainment by singing its praises while secretly harboring a deeply burrowed dissatisfaction. This is simply not true, but I’ll qualify the dissonance the way I usually do when it comes up in conversation: there are some times when I’m not proud of the final product, but the process is almost always creatively challenging and rewarding, and that, to me, is more than a fair compromise.

My feelings may change in five years, or ten years, or perhaps never, but since La La Land happened to coincide with my LA Anniversary and provoke some of these thoughts, I thought it worth taking the time to jot them down and evaluate them here. And while I’m at it, the one other thing I’d like to put here are a handful of the memories I’ll treasure most from my time in Hollywood:

- Meeting Gina at the Swift River Productions office.

- Being starstruck by the celebrity guests on The Henry Rollins Show.

- Watching Barack Obama get elected at El Guapo, a now-defunct cantina formerly residing on Melrose.

- The quiet nights of TV binging with my husband-to-be, Thadd, before we met the ladies who ruined everything.

- Weekly gatherings to watch 24, Lost, and Breaking Bad.

- Evenings at the Cat and Fiddle and Delancey.

- Sunday morning football at Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood.

- "Tour de Hollywood" bar crawls, Adam and Randy's booze buses, Ugly Sweater parties at LP1, LP2, and House Palmas.

- Midnight movies at the Landmark Nuart, Regency Fairfax, and Arclight.

- John Williams Hollywood Bowl shows, especially the one I was able to bring my family to a few years back.

- Watching friends grow their 90s cover band from informal house-party performances to a Fonda Headlining, franchise-signed act.

- Fourth of July fireworks across the LA skyline on the roof of Taft Ave.

- Getting into Grauman's Chinese to see Metropolis with a three-piece orchestra performing a live score.

- Seeing friends and family from both coasts gather for the first time at Paramount Ranch for our wedding.