Sometimes I exaggerate.
MAKING AN IMPRESSION
In this business, making a good first impression is crucial. When taking high-profile meetings with influential executives, it’s important to look comfortable, act confident, and definitely don’t wet your pants.
My writing partner Wade and I had a big meeting at DreamWorks and we were determined to make this one really count. It’s not every day you get chances like that. I pulled up to Gate Two of the Universal City lot—a massive, sprawling studio that is so large it has its own area code, fire department, and police force. At the gate, the portly guard took my ID and typed my name into his Minority Report-style computer.
“You know where you’re going?” the guard asked.
Not wanting to look like some wide-eyed idiot on his first trip to a studio lot, I tried to appear nonchalant as I confidently said, “Oh, yeah, definitely… of course, it’s been a while… where exactly is The DreamWorks again?”
The guard looked at me skeptically. “Take a left and you’ll see a parking area—”
Now, I had parked in that lot once before: It’s for the wannabes, those on the bottom of the totem pole. It’s a parking lot placed as far away from the important people as physically possible. But hey, it’s better than nothing.
Nodding, I interrupted, “Okay, got it, thanks.”
But the guard wasn’t finished: “Hold on, buddy. You go past that parking lot, turn right on James Stewart Ave., take that down through the sound stages about a mile until you see Amblin Drive. Take a left and go another quarter-mile. You can’t miss their gates.”
I was shocked. Apparently, for this meeting I’d be driving right up to the freaking front door.
WELCOME TO… JURASSIC PARK!
As I drove through the studio lot, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was trespassing. That, at any moment, I’d be stopped by the Universal City Police and escorted to the sketchy Universal City Jail where a Universal City Judge would sentence me to hard time in the Universal City Prison, and I’d find myself sharing a cell with other young writers, busted by the corrupt system.
Eventually, I came upon Amblin Drive. The trees began to get larger, and the foliage thicker. Soon, it didn’t feel like I was in California, let alone on a studio lot. The area became instantly rustic, a tropical jungle transplanted to the city. Down a short hill, I saw the gates and, I kid you not … they looked identical to those from Jurassic Park. Wooden and huge, this massive compound (yeah, these weren’t offices, this was a compound) was surrounded by adobe brown stone walls. A guard (was he in costume?) stood watch.
I parked nearby and walked toward the guard. He had my name on his clipboard already and, as he welcomed me, the huge gates swung open automatically behind him as if on cue. He directed me toward the enormous wooden door of the main bungalow. Huge, prehistoric trees grew at odd angles on all sides. Where was I?
Inside, I stepped into a lodge—and into a strange new reality. Forget any concept of typical offices, this was Jurassic Park and at any minute Richard Attenborough was going to hobble out of the shadows and talk to me about harnessing dinosaur DNA.
The walls were all wood, the sofas matching leather. A receptionist sat behind a rustic desk and offered me food and drinks from a large buffet: bananas, bread, chips, four-cheese omelet with home fries? I decided to try some of their own bottled water (infused with real lemon juice). It was delicious and refreshing. The best water I had ever tasted. Then, I saw Wade sitting and going over his notes. I sat down next to him, and we went over our pitch.
After a few moments, we were directed out of the reception hut and through the tropical garden (where a life-size velociraptor stood amongst the trees, eyeing me hungrily). Inside the main building, we walked to a large meeting room that was actually a mountain cabin—complete with fireplace, large plush leather chairs and sofas, an enormous wooden table, and a few original Norman Rockwell paintings, just for effect.
Before we got started, we were offered something to drink from the huge, fully stocked refrigerator. At first, I was going to say no thanks, but then I noticed another bottle of that fantastic lemon-infused super water. I couldn’t help myself and enjoyed another nice refreshing swig. It was just incredible water. Lemony fresh!
We sat with the heads of one of DreamWorks’ pods (a smaller production company that won an Oscar the year before). We’d come to pitch a television concept, and the meeting ended up being nearly an hour and a half. Not only did we pique their interest, we even pitched several other projects as well.
Things were going flawlessly. Our pitch had been received with much laughter, our banter had impressed, and we seemed to be making a great first impression. They seemed to genuinely like us and our ideas. Now, all we had to do was thank them for their time and get the hell out of there.
As the meeting started to wrap up, the vice president of development started explaining how their shingle worked with “Steven’s” main company, and all of a sudden, I realized I had to urinate so badly, I could hardly sit still. All that free lemony fresh water had run right through my system and now I was in actual physical anguish.
At first, I assumed I could make it and didn’t want to interrupt this high-power executive during her own company spiel. However, the pain quickly became so intense, I started sweating profusely. My brow became damp with lemon-infused sweat and my eyes rolled back in my head. I kept crossing and uncrossing my legs, determined to find a way to cut off the circulation to my bladder.
I was going to pee my pants. IT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. I could see it now: a classy punctuation mark to my first big meeting, deep in the heart of Universal. That act of civil disobedience would definitely garner me a few years in solitary confinement at the Universal City mental institution… unless… Would they notice, I wondered, if I simply gave into the pain right here in their snazzy offices? Let it all out? I wondered if I had the bladder control to leak out just a little, a dribble to ease the internal pressure…
And the whole time, sitting comfortably across the room on the $9,000 leather couch, the VP kept blabbering on and on, as if to torture me deliberately.
“Steven this and Steven that … and Oscar this and Oscar that… ” And I was thinking, “ENOUGH ABOUT SPIELBERG, FOR GOD’S SAKE! WHERE’S THE DAMN CAN!?”
Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I could sense that the VP’s speech wasn’t even close to wrapping up, and we had long passed my ability to feign interest. The mind-numbing pain had become my master now. I sprung to my feet, much too suddenly to appear casual, and interrupted the VP’s speech. It was as awkward as you could imagine, punctuated by my tortured, trembling voice as I excused myself with pathetic, incomplete sentences: “Bathroom? Must… go!”
With a tight smile, the VP gave me directions, adding the foreboding warning, “Don’t go in the first door on the left, Oprah’s in there screening a movie.” Fine, fine, whatever, must… piss… now…
And I practically ran out of the room, praying that, for the sake of my career and for the poor saps who worked in these offices, I’d make it to my destination in time.
The hallways in the Jurassic compound were complex and winding and I was having no luck. The fear of angering Oprah loomed over me, and my eyes scanned every door trying to find the room I needed. When I found myself back in the courtyard, I realized I’d made a wrong turn. DAMN IT. Maybe I could just pee right there behind the oversized ficus tree? The velociraptor snarled back at me.
Dashing back indoors, I tried to correct my mistake. My entire face was dripping in sweat from the intense pressure on my bladder. I could hardly stand up straight, running through the corridors hunched over like a Neanderthal.
Just then, I eyed the bathroom! I sped up, full on running now toward my destination. Walls adored with Oscar-winning movies flashed past me in a lemon-infused blur, and inches before I reached the bathroom door… I collided with actress Jamie King. She was innocently leaving the women’s room and I slammed her against the boards like she were a defensemen protecting an errant puck. Instead of apologizing, like a human being might do, I callously pushed her aside and dove into the men’s room. This was surely not the close encounter Ms. King was expecting from her visit to DreamWorks. To this day, I’m still thankful it hadn’t been Oprah…
The men’s room door crashed open violently, and I practically leapt toward the nearest urinal. The bathroom was huge and rustic and heaven on earth. I didn’t inspect the entire room in great detail, but on passing glance, I’m relatively positive the toilets were constructed out of solid gold.
I stood at the urinal relieving myself for seven solid minutes. When I returned to the mountain cabin room, the VP was just wrapping up.
“Find it okay?” she inquired.
“No problem,” I said. At last, relieved. We chatted a few more minutes before slipping back out into the garden where the life-size head of Jaws jutted his way out of a red-brick wishing well.
“Would you like to take any water with you?” the VP asked, politely.
As I headed home, exhausted from all of the clenching, I guzzled from an ice-cold bottle of the lemon-infused water and smiled.
Yep, the best water I’d ever tasted.
© Aaron Ginsburg
Making An Impression. Originally published in Script Magazine’s September/October Issue