The Big Guy (Monday, January 21, 1991 – Part One)

The next morning was the day we’d been waiting for, when we’d go to Amblin for the story meeting with Steven Spielberg and the TTA writers. The group of us met Jean MacCurdy and Barbara Brogliatti in our hotel’s restaurant for breakfast, though none of the three of us ate much.

A few minutes later, we were on the bus and on our way to Amblin Entertainment. Unlike you might think, there is no guard or anything at Amblin. Still, I think they were expecting us, because nobody stopped us. Tim just drove on through. Then again, Tim would have driven on through anyway.

We walked into Amblin, then into a room where all these cameras and stuff were set up. We all sort of stood around nervously. I still couldn’t believe what was happening.

Then Steven Spielberg walked in. He was wearing a denim Tiny Toon Adventures jacket and faded jeans.

When he walked in, every single camera in the entire room went off. I think all of us were blinded for a second. We introduced ourselves. Steven, of course, needed no introduction.

After a second he looked at us, smiling, and started pushing our shoulders down, saying, “Drop the shoulders, drop the shoulders, relax…” Then he said, “I detect these thick accents coming from you. Where are these from?”

So naturally we’re all thinking, “I have an accent?”

(And sure, we did — but not as thick as the ones we would wind up with in the show.)

Of course, the next thing was posing for pictures. And more pictures. And then some more pictures. Some standing, some sitting, and everyone telling us to pose, to do this or that. (Steven: “Do you feel silly? Because I do.”)

Meanwhile, people are telling us to “Get closer! Get closer!” We’re already half a millimeter away from him. What do they want us to do?

And since I’m behind him, people are telling me to put my arms around him. I reply, “What do you want me to do? Strangle him?”

Which I then jokingly did. (There was a rumor that that photo wound up in a tabloid somewhere, but we were never sure.)

(You can see some of those endless pictures in the various magazine articles here and here.)

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“Pretend like you’re whispering in his ear!” *sigh* FINE.

Once everyone had used up enough rolls of film (ask your parents, kids), it was time for the story meeting, which was slated for fifteen minutes but wound up being over an hour.

The story meeting was fun, hilarious — and being taped by 20/20. We just couldn’t shake those people.

At this point, our families went to the game room, and we heard later that there had been a huge spread of snacks and breakfast food set up nearby for them while they waited for us to be done with the meeting.

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A shot from Amblin’s game room, where we got a chance to play for a while after the meeting. (Note the timely sign added to the game on the far left.)

Then we started going over the script. When we got to a scene with the shark from Jaws, Steven said, “Really, though, the whole concept has been so overdone… I mean, it’s been done and done and… If I hear those two notes again, I’m going to hit someone.”

(Right then we all had the urge to hum the Jaws theme, but since Amy was in good hitting distance of him, we decided not to.)

Then Steven mentioned another animation rule of thumb. “You have to get characters out of the water as fast as you can. Water is very expensive to animate, because everything is constantly moving.”

I thought a moment, then said, “Maybe you could have Babs sit and gaze at the waves and then have Buster walk up and say, ‘Stop staring at the water. Do you know how much this is costing?'”

That should give you some idea of how the meeting went — ideas, jokes, odd notions, questions about what we liked or didn’t, what our favorite episodes were, a constant Ping-Pong game of conversation. What surprises me now, looking back on all of it, is how much the three of us (at least from my perspective) were taking everything in stride. The whole time we spent in L.A. was just one fun thing after another to us, with every moment being another chance to crack a joke, another chance to laugh, or another new big-city experience for three small-town teenagers to enjoy.

Really, I think the best part of the story meeting was sitting there with people who are as obsessed with cartoons as I am.

Thirteen had already decided at that point that she wanted to be an animator, though looking back, I wistfully think that my place, had I had enough self-knowledge and drive — and, well, courage — to pursue it, might have well been at that table of writers instead.

I still wonder, some days.

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The cap he’s wearing reads “Where is Waynesboro, Virginia” — we made it for him as a gift, since that was one of his first questions on finding out about us and our story.

 

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Universal Studios – or, The Beetlejuice Story (Sunday, January 20, 1991)

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This is where Thirteen’s journals start to get a little fuzzy chronologically, since most of the entries about our trip to L.A. were written after getting back home, and often in a piecemeal “oh, yeah, I forgot to mention this other thing that happened when” kind of way. From what I can tell by the entries, though (and from matching up what outfits we were wearing in the photos), we spent Sunday at Universal Studios Hollywood and at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, called Mann’s at that time.

As you can tell from the photo above, our time at Universal Studios, much like Magic Mountain, was a combination of private tours/rides and photo-op interactions. We saw the Riot Act stunt show and the Animal Actors show, with Amy — the most outgoing of us — volunteering to be an audience participant in the latter. (As an introvert, I hate the entire concept of audience participation.) Fievel’s Playland, where you climbed around in a giant lobster trap, slid down a banana peel, and sat at spool tables on thimble chairs, was also fun, especially for Amy and Sarah’s younger siblings. (This was before Fievel Goes West was released, so everything was still based on settings and props for the original film.)

Most of the time, we had a crew from 20/20 and a few other reporters and photographers with us, but occasionally we were on our own. We had reason to be thankful for that after lunch, when Amy, Sarah, Mom, and I were looking for the ladies’ room but couldn’t find it. Finally Mom figured we’d just have to stop a park employee and ask. Which she did.

The employee just happened to be Beetlejuice.

Okay, fine. We were assuming he would just, you know, point us in the general direction. Tell us to head down that way and take a left.

Yeah, no.

Staying firmly in character, and with his legs crossed, Beetlejuice led the four of us on an impromptu parade to the restrooms, with occasional commentary to make sure the crowd around us knew exactly where we were going.

I could have killed Mom, but I decided to let her live until we got home.

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(No, we weren’t paying homage to Frank Parker; that’s just where we happened to be.)

Later, at Mann’s and the Walk of Fame, we were again amused at how, thanks to the ever-present camera crew around us, there would always be tourists taking pictures of us, too.

There were these two girls at Mann’s. They were watching us and the camera crew and everybody. One of them said, “Who are they?” The other replied, “I don’t know — I think they’re a new singing group.”

“What’s their name?”

“I don’t know, but I’ve heard them sing.”

I wonder if any of them ever figured out who we actually were…