Thursday, June 23, 2005

Former Chicoan is Hollywood costume designer, writer


OK, I sighed to myself, it's time to review that book with the rather garish cover -- "Going Hollywood: How to Get Started, Keep Going and Not Turn Into a Sleaze" ($16.95 in paperback) by Kristin M. Burke. I'll bet it's one of those tomes on how to make it big as an actor probably written by someone who once had a bit part in a Lifetime Channel disease-of-the-month movie starring Meredith Baxter Birney (they all star Meredith Baxter Birney).

How wrong I was.

The book is not for aspiring actors. It's for folks who want to be behind the camera, to work in the L.A. entertainment biz as key grips or directors or line producers or costume designers. Burke is herself a successful costume designer; the Internet Movie Database lists some 35 screen credits since 1993, including "Walker," now in production, starring Bruce Dern, Jason Patrik and Sam Shepard. Her book is sane, sensible, well-researched, and very frank.

Chico is Burke's hometown; educated at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., she moved to Los Angeles in 1991. A note about the author says that "she has also designed costumes for music videos, commercials and two television series."

The book's 12 chapters each include a brief interview -- of producers, assistant directors, writers, executives, agents -- and some sage advice on everything from how to pronounce L.A. street names (Wilshire is "WILL'-shurr") to money and dating tips ("Never, EVER, date a co-worker while you are still working together").

Burke begins with a reality check: "In preparing for your life in Los Angeles, you should make sure to have the following: a cell phone ..., a minimum of 15 copies of your resume, a minimum of $5,000 in accessible funds, and a reliable motorcycle or automobile." The money mostly goes for getting an apartment, paying first and last month's rent and a security deposit, and a month's living expenses. Forget public transportation: "We have a bus system that runs city-wide, but you will need 8 million schedules, 65 bus route maps and a master's degree in engineering to figure it out."

Burke advises registering with a temp agency, and she lists several. (Later in the book, in a chapter on bad choices, she is not shy: "Do not participate in the production of porn, soft-core or adult entertainment.' Say no to these job offers, even if you are flat broke. There is nothing wrong with temping.") She also offers a two-page listing of the best places to do deals -- spas, malls and restaurants, from Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles to Spago.

The author analyzes three fictitious resumes and provides "the rules" for those beginning their first jobs: always arrive early, cut out the gossip, be honest, get enough sleep, and "grow a rhino hide": "Your assignment, from day one, will be to cultivate a skin so thick, not even the acrylic nails of ego, greed and jealousy can pierce it." Develop hobbies, too. Burke lists gyms, yoga studios, tennis courts, museums, charitable organizations and book groups.

"Love can make you crazy," she observes in the chapter on dating. It's easy to think one really knows someone else well when you spend long hours together on a film project. She warns about the dangers of "dating up" ("you could go broke paying for expensive dates with someone in a different financial league"), "dating down" ("you may be accused of favoritism"); and dating celebrities (think paparazzi, stalkers, living in a fishbowl). And be on the lookout, she warns, for the "helpless opportunist" and the "essence sucker" ("this is the charismatic alley-cat, the three-week-maximum relationship" of the player).

But things don't have to be grim. Half the book is devoted to getting a good agent, finding wise financial advice and even how to learn to rejoice when your friends succeed ("It may be hard to celebrate when you are silently suppressing a jealous rage that would wipe out half the city. If you are really freaked out, and can not bring yourself to be happy for your friend, excuse yourself for a day or two. ... Adjust your attitude.")

So I adjusted my attitude. I can recommend "Going Hollywood" as a practical and eyes-wide-open guide. Hollywood is for you if you have "courage, gall, cheekiness, bravery, flamboyance, shock value, brilliance, tempered arrogance, daring, pluck, nerve, guts." Seize the day, my friends!

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

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