While channel surfing the other day I caught an old interview Oprah was conducting with Steven Spielberg at his Indiana-Jones-themed Amblin Studios. I thought for a moment about my one week temping there when Ken and I moved to Los Angeles in the early 2000s.

We both daringly quit our jobs in Chicago, though Ken got a different job with same company within the first two weeks of arriving. I, on the other had, had quit my administrative job and was having a bitch of a time finding a full-time job. Or any job for that matter. So I signed up with multiple temping agencies to try to get some work (and $cratch). It was feast or famine, as it usually is with temp agencies. But eventually an obscure agency in Burbank called me and told me about an opportunity at DreamWorks. Finally! My then-entertainment dreams were finally going to come true!

I had two best friends when I was growing up: Carol from down the street, and television. (Not necessarily in that order.) Being a part of making it happen would fulfill a long-held dream! I mean, it was basically destiny playing out. Driving onto the Universal lot was impressive and thrilling. People were walking around in varying kinds of costumes. Others were being jetted around on golf carts. Large pieces of sets were being wheeled between airplane hangar sound stages. It was like being on a freakin’ movie set!

All cars driving on to the lot were subjected to searches from stem to stern. Guards walked around each car with long poles with mirrors attached at the bottom looking under the car. It was humiliating as I was driving a piece of shit 1991 Ford Taurus that I really didn’t need examined any more closely than necessary. I was afraid one of the guards was going to make me pull over and walk over and tell me “just walk away from the car, sir.”

Amblin was located in the hills above Universal City. Still is, I imagine. Once you left Universal City proper there was a long, winding road that lead to a compound of adobe-looking, Indiana Jonesy buildings with an additional security protocols before being buzzed in the gate.

I got a tour of the compound as my mind tried to wrap itself around all the information being thrown at me. All I can safely remember is there was a building across the courtyard where lunch was served every day. Free lunch. And free snacks. All day. Everything there was free. There weren’t vending machines, just kitchenette areas stuffed with snacks and drinks (and probably gold).

It was an admin job that I was hoping would lead to my career in Hollywood, or at least be something interesting to me. Wrong. It was as the assistant to the Head of Corporate Affairs for DreamWorks SKG, and individually for (Steven) S(pielberg), (Jeffrey) K(atzenberg) and (David) G(effen). It was a fast-paced politically-charged office. Everyone talked a mile a minute. Like the West (Coast) Wing.

When I met the charming, and quite delightful second-in-command (Little Cheese) she made the job sound like one of those make-it-what-you-want kind of deals. What it ended up being was nothing related to the business of show, but rather in dealing with DreamWorks and S, K and G’s stances of political and charitable issues. Even more jaw-droppingly, not only did I have to answer the phone, but had to remain on the line for the entire conversation and take notes, then hand write them into a log book which was normally on Big Cheese’s desk. It was stressful because I never familiar with who was calling or the topic they were discussing. I was terrified every time the phone rang. And gravely relieved if he wasn’t in his office so I could just take a message like a normal person.

And then Laura Dern called.

Now this one I knew! I connected her to Big Cheese and (for a change) gleefully remained on the line to hear some good old-fashioned Hollywood chit chat. I never saw “Blue Velvet” but “Wild at Heart” was a kick, and who didn’t love Dr. Ellie in “Jurassic Park”?

The conversation I was privy to was odd. LD had concerns about the environment. Passionate concerns. Almost concerningly passionate. She wanted to help the environment and wanted to “drive a Prius like Leo” [DiCaprio]. Keep in mind, this is 2002-2003. I thought it was a weird question. Ken and I had bought a Prius right after we moved to LA. I wanted to interrupt and suggest she call a Toyota dealership, not the head of corporate affairs for a movie studio. Just a thought.

Bottom line (and probably not surprising): she sounded like a kook. (The car I last heard she drove ran on vegetable oil. Good for her.)

Another morning, I was the only one in the office. Big Cheese was traveling, and Little Cheese was running late. The good news here is that if someone called, I just needed to take a message–unless they asked for his voicemail. I always hoped they’d ask for his voicemail. They rarely did. But it was still mercifully easier than listening/taking notes to a twenty-minute phone call.

The first call of the day was from Kate Capshaw (Mrs. Steven Spielberg) who I loved. Still do. The British press had gotten wind of a horse she’d purchased there and wondered if she would keep in the UK or bring it to the US. Hardly a hot button issue in my mind. But since I was familiar with matter at hand–and the only in the office when Mrs. Boss Lady called–I handled it, figuring I would be rewarded for stepping up.

I was not.

In fact, I was chided for not just taking a message. But who cares! If I had it to do over, I’d do the same thing. I got to talk to Kate Capshaw (who, by the way, at the beginning of the phone call, asked me my name–recognizing I was new–and welcomed me) for ten minutes. She basically loved me. A dinner invitation and life-long friendship were inevitable.

In spite of becoming best friends and confidant of KC, I could barely keep up on taking notes on the host of conversations I eavesdropped on. My IBS kicked in as soon as I left for work in the morning. Answering the phone became an exercise in terror. And I was filled with dread when turning in my notes to the Big Cheese at the end of the day.

Thankfully, after my week, they filled the job with an internal candidate. I’d miss the paycheck, free food and the excitement of driving through Universal every day, but wouldn’t miss being as on edge as I was. Thinking back on it now, it could have been a pretty fun job, but the “me” back then didn’t have the confidence or wherewithal to figure that out.

At least it left me with my solid friendship with Kate Capshaw–once she FINALLY accepts my friend request.



8 thoughts on “So, about that Time I Worked at DreamWorks for a Week…

  1. I loved this right from the start, beginning with your flippant title! What a wonderful rendering of ‘a week in the life of’ and so west coast I could puke. Isn’t it remarkable how such a tiny piece-of-a-piece of your life could forever be etched in memory. Thanks for sharing your stellar week. (footnote) I have IBS too–who knew?

    1. Thank you, my friend. It’s these tiny piece-of-a-piece of our lives that usually the most fun to recall and re-examine (as you well know.)

  2. I remember this like it was yesterday. I laughed as hard today as I laughed when you talked about it then 🙂

  3. Hilarious. I especially loved how you wrapped it up with your last line. I’m actually surprised that they had that kind of transparency, as far as having somebody be on the line taking notes of the conversations.

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