“…. we MADE it”. — Martin Landau
Martin Landau (OSCAR AWARD-WINNING ACTOR) is dead at 89. I’m not one to use BLOGS to share personal stories; in fact, I loathe it. But Mr. Martin Landau touched my life in a small, but powerful way. And unless you are my mom, or someone who bought me a drink in a bar, I’ve probably never told you this story. But I think this story is a friendly reminder to ALL of us writers out there:
It was late-February of 2010. My car had ran out of gas on the top floor of The Los Angeles Film School (Ivar Ave/Hollywood). This wasn’t the first time; and it wasn’t the last. I was less than one month away from graduation. I was editing my thesis film; I was currently in EDITING class. Danford B. Greene [Editor of Blazing Saddles, Mash, Who’s Harry Crumb, among many others!] was one of my instructors.
I had a 15 MINUTE BREAK — and that was all.
I waited for 2 hours for AAA to navigate themselves to the top floor of the parking garage. The ceilings were too low so they had to call in a “smaller” truck. I remember looking out at the endless sky, LA’s famous sunset; thinking: how many other people are out here trying to “break” into this industry, just like me? I was 22— beyond young, and STUPID. I was angry. I was insecure. I was ready to “throw-in-the-towel”; probably should have.
My mom was 3 hours ahead of me on the East Coast. It was one of my night classes. Larry King was still on CNN, across from us. It was 8 PM my time; 11 PM my mom’s. I told her my car was out of gas; I needed AAA. At LAFS, if you miss so many hours, you fail the course. So missing these few precious moments meant I failed!
My mom was the “policy holder”, so they needed her approval. Those DAMN savages. I watched as students left their classes, jumping into their cars — full of joy, life, — they would be the next Stephen Spielberg — while I sit here, with no gas…. what a metaphor.
I remember wanting to raise both middle fingers in the air, cursing the school, the city, even myself — OKAY, I actually did.
Anyone who frequented the school then knew (the rooftop area) where the elevators were, were SHADY. They NEVER worked; and if they did, it was like being in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie — tricky, dicey!
My mom sent me a text: “We are flying out for graduation in 3 weeks; MAKE sure there is gas in the car.” Whether she was joking or not, I was in NO mood for levity.
I could have walked to the very bottom of the parking garage. But I didn’t; I wanted to make a point (or — just lazy). I PAY A LOT OF MONEY TO GO HERE; THE ELEVATORS BETTER WORK!
So I joined this MAN WAITING BY THE ELEVATOR. He had been waiting awhile, too long, actually. He was grinning from cheek to cheek. The world was his oyster– and he made it known. We sat in silence for 5 minutes. The elevators wouldn’t shoot up. He had a small briefcase; nothing special — maybe a notebook and pencil. He wasn’t alarmed or anxious over the elevator’s malfunction. He was cool, relaxed.
I was a nervous wreck. I blamed everyone from my 7th grade English teacher, to my current Sound Design instructor for this issue. Life sucked! Who cared that I was studying FILM on Sunset BLVD, in Hollywood .I was stuck next to a broken elevator, a few feet away from an older man who thought this was “funny”; there was nothing amusing about this narrative… what is this, Goodfellas?
The following was our “ACTUAL” conversation:
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: Hello.
(the last person who said hello to me on VINE/HIGHLAND was a girl at the JACK IN THE BOX next door to us feeding her puppet french fries, asking if it needed ketchup.
I DIDN’T ANSWER.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR (cont): It’s nice out, isn’t it? No humidity.
THE ELEVATOR DOORS OPENED. WE BOTH CONGREGATED, WALKED TOGETHER… AND THEN…. IT CLOSED ON US BEFORE WE COULD ENTER.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR (cont): Oh, shoot, it did it again; we will get the next one.
ME: I HATE my life.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: Believe it not, I’ve worked in buildings older than this… this is nothing.
ME: I wouldn’t BRAG about that.
WE STOOD IN SILENCE.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: They have done some amazing things with this school.
I DIDN’T RESPOND.
HE GAVE ME A HISTORY LESSON ON THE SCHOOL.
I DIDN’T CARE.
IT WAS TIME TO CALL HIS BLUFF…
ME: What do you do?
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: That’s a good question. It’s hard to say.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: Are you a student?
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: Your thoughts?
ME: No comment.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: Why so upset?
NO SIGN OF THE ELEVATOR HEADING OUR WAY… DAMN!
ME: My car ran out of gas, I’m late for class. I’m in no mood to discuss EDUCATION. I owe far too much money.
A VERY SHORT BEAT.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: You live close?
ME: Less than a mile.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: Why didn’t you just walk?
WHAT ARE YOU, A WISE-GUY? THAT’S WHAT I WANTED TO SAY. I DIDN’T SAY IT.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR (cont): What are you studying here?
WOULD THIS ELEVATOR EVER OPEN?
ME: It’s a 1-year program wrapped into 2 — they teach you “everything”.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: But what are you “studying”?
OKAY — I GET IT.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: Ah, the greatest profession.
I PAUSED; HE’S RIGHT, YOU KNOW? NO ONE EVER GIVES CREDIT TO THE WRITER.
BUT IT’S TOO LATE; I’M NOT IN THE MOOD FOR “NICE” — LIFE SUCKS — MY LIFE IS OVER.
THE DOORS OPEN. WE GET IN; HE OPENS HIS ARMS UP FOR ME TO ENTER FIRST.
NO, YOU FIRST, SIR…
HE STARED AT ME THE WHOLE WAY DOWN.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?
I’D OCCASIONALLY LOOK AT HIM; HE NEVER LOST HIS SMILE.
THERE’S NOTHING TO SMILE ABOUT. AT ANYTIME THIS ELEVATOR WILL FREEZE; WE WILL BE STUCK HERE FOREVER; NO ONE WILL COME GET US; WE WILL FILL THE LITTLE TIME WE HAVE WITH PATHETIC STORIES OF “THE GOOD OLE DAYS IN HOLLYWOOD”… AND I HAVE NO STORIES, B/C I’M 22 AND MISERABLE! LIKE SUCKS — EMBRACE THE WORST.
THE DOORS OPENED…
I SURVEYED THE AREA.
WE MADE IT TO THE GROUND FLOOR.
MAN WAITING FOR ELEVATOR: It’s funny, though, sometimes it takes a little longer than we want, BUT ALWAYS ENJOY THE RIDE. We made it….
It felt like he disappeared after he said it — like a character from Field of Dreams.
He walked down the hall; opened a door that was clearly his; sat in the main chair at the desk. An entourage of people swarmed him.
A student crossed me: YOU KNOW WHO THAT WAS, RIGHT?
STUDENT: Martin Landau
ME: You mean the guy who won an Oscar for ED WOOD!??
STUDENT: Forget ED WOOD! What about North by Northwest, Mission: Impossible, Space: 1999, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Tucker: Man and His Dream, Rounders, Cleopatra….
I CUT HIM OFF.
I walked by his office, and the fellow student was right, it was Martin Landau. I had shared the elevator with arguably one of the greatest actors that ever lived — yet, I was consumed with anger, hate, and pettiness. I was taught to NEVER underestimate the “person” in the elevator — yet, I did.
I walked by his office — and maybe it was just my imagination, but he noticed me by the window — wide-eyed, innocent, vulnerable — and he SMILED…
Not a single person knew I had been gone…. (not even the teachers)…. THAT PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE!
His words will NEVER elude me….
So on this day, this terribly sad day — Cheers, Mr. Landau, and here’s to hoping your RIDE UP is a little bit LESS shaky!
This blog was written by the Founder of Screenwriting Staffing. Jacob N. Stuart is an award-winning and represented screenwriter/director, with over 20 scripts produced and/or optioned. He latest film: AN ADDICTING PICTURE; His newest film: MARTHA’S MEMORY
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