BY GINA LEE RONHOVDE
“Must Be Thick-Skinned.”
There is a common job description in Hollywood want ads that say, “Must Be Thick-Skinned.”
What does that mean, exactly?
Well, first of all, Hollywood can be simultaneously wonderful and beyond horrifying. When it comes to show business, everything depends on whom you know, what you can offer, and how you play the game. It’s no secret that Tinseltown is a challenge all in its own. But what you may not realize is the unofficial “Indoctrination” into the cult of Hollywood.
That’s why I want to share my story about what being “thick-skinned” actually means. Because behind closed doors, Hollywood is a barking mad carnival where the powerful and corrupt suck the life, talent, (and money, of course) out of every decent human being who dreams of making a difference in the arts.
My Horror Story
Think of Hollywood as this giant pinball machine called “Unfair Challenge.” Pull the knob, hurtle yourself into the void, experience exhilarating encounters, score some points, get your head banged around, lose yourself. Start over. Start over. Start Over.
Shortly before graduating from The Los Angeles Film School, I was looking for internships to break into the industry. At the time, my dream was to become a screenwriter, or at least somehow work with the craft of storytelling.
Eventually, I landed an internship at a major Hollywood studio working in the creative development department. I was excited to finally have my dream come true: working with screenplays. I read and highlighted scripts that were being made into actual movies. (Like "The Hunger Games.").
There were times when I would look up from my desk and suddenly see a movie star like Chris Hemsworth standing right in front of my computer. I called up their agents all day long. Saw, heard, and learned an incredible amount.
However, there’s a huge price to pay -- an emotional, financial, and soul-annihilating cost.
For example, on a typical day, I might be on the phone, and an executive would run over, grab the phone out of my hand, and slam it down, screaming, "GET THE MINNESOTA BULLSHIT OUT OF YOUR VOICE RIGHT NOW!”
He wanted me to just stick to facts, without any unnecessary friendliness. Although I wasn’t aware I had a Minnesota Bullshit Voice until that moment, that wasn’t the point of him slamming the phone down, however. It was the power and control thing he had to maintain over me. (He also had me do unrelated personal things, like help him with his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah guest list on a yacht in New York State, just to see if I would.)
“Must Be Thick-Skinned.”
At the time, it was legal to have unpaid interns. I was not paid any money whatsoever as an intern. My mileage or gas was not reimbursed. In fact, my "payment" was the unspoken opportunity in and of itself, to work alongside big Hollywood movers and shakers.
Another classic example of being “thick-skinned” was the day I had to help prepare a meeting with the director John Singleton (Boys N The Hood, 2 Fast 2 Furious, 8 Mile). One of my jobs was to get poster boards, Post-Its, thumbtacks, etc., to help storyboard the movie beats out for an important meeting. The president of creative development at the time got incredibly hung up on a particularly bad abusive power trip that day.
Let’s just say I made about 50 trips driving my own car back and forth from the studio to Staples, only to find out I kept buying the "wrong" things. I got screamed at and would have to return to buy the right things. Then again I would find out it was "wrong,” and go back.
I tried to prevent unnecessary future trips by taking photos of the "right" kind of office supplies, sending them to the office to confirm I was getting what they wanted. They would say yes, and I would get to the office and they would yell at me and send me back again and again. Eventually, I reached a breaking point and put my foot down.
I spoke to the creative executive and asked him if he could please do something to help me. The meeting was going to start soon and I had wasted a week’s worth of gas in one day. He just sort of shrugged and said, "She's the boss."
After the meeting, I had to clean up the food and dishes. I stood there in the background, trying not to cry in front of my favorite director, John Singleton.
He must have seen the stress all over my face because he came over and said, "I just wanted to say that I know how hard you work, you are appreciated, and I wanted to personally thank you."
What I have learned about working in Hollywood is that unless you're the kind of person who actually enjoys being on the receiving end of power trips, endless mind games, if you see a job description that says, "Must Be Thick-Skinned" – ?