Big Meeting on Dopey Drive

There’s a fruiting orange tree on the Disney lot I always wonder about. Did Walt plant it himself for his morning juice at the commissary? Was his personally home-made marmalade once available at the gift shop? Would it be cool if I grabbed an orange to snack on while slinking back to my car after another disappointing studio meeting?

I should have known things wouldn’t go well when the dim-witted gate guard didn’t have my name again. He asked if I ever use another one. “Bin Laden,” I wanted to say. “But only because Mrs. Jake Gyllenhaal feels so formal.”

Eyeballing my low level screenwriter uniform from the clearance rack at the Gap and the scuffed Chuckies my sister hates, he told me to go ahead and pull over. This way relevant people in Town Cars with blackened windows could point and laugh. Not until I passed further muster with Barney Fife, back in his guard hut hammering on some newfangled computer, would I be issued a nametag and directed to Dopey Drive.

What delicious irony to find so many big Hollywood producers working at the intersection of Dopey and Pluto. The Old Animation Building situated here was once the heart of the facility built by Walt Disney and his brother Roy in 1937 off the proceeds from their first hit feature, Snow White. A network of tunnels allowed for underground ferrying of hand-drawn artwork to the Inking, Painting, Camera, and Cutting buildings—all rendered obsolete by CG technology. Long before this was also known as sexual harassment, hot secretaries hired to pull double duty as nude models for the male-only live drawing classes lolled around the lawn on lunch break. Today, Walt’s third floor corner office sits empty in his honor—or so the rumor goes.
I navigated a corridor overwhelmed with early photographs and classic animation cels before stumbling upon my destination and being shown to my latest couch.

“Your hallway feels like a museum,” I told the Fiji-swilling producers during the required designer water and false compliments portion of the feature film pitch session. “We should all probably lower our voices now so Pinocchio’s nose won’t grow,” I began. While you’re expected to open these things with a joke, it’s always best if somebody laughs.

This was yet another meeting initiated by an admirer of my hilarious little funeral comedy inviting me to pitch something just as funny only far less meaningful. “They'll only want to hear your authentic voice so they'll best know how to mute it,” a film school mentor once warned me.  “The theory is that once you’ve mastered originality, you’re ready to write Scream 4." We students had dubbed this teacher “The Re-Write King of Little Korea,” since he reaps millions as a script doctor from the isolation of his offices in the Wiltern Building.

My Very Supportive Manager called this morning to report the assignment went to somebody else. “They felt you pitched a quirky character piece when they want a high concept popcorn comedy with poster moments,” she said in Supportivespeak, a language I should understand by now.

“That's the kind of crap I originally had in mind!" I cried. "You took me to lunch and said it lacked depth!" Translation: "I sold myself down the river for a plate of pan-Asian cuisine."

"Maybe you were better than this one," she sighed. Translation: "I still believe in you, sort of, but my trainer is on the other line."

"You always know just what to say." Translation: "Control freak."

"The good news is they just loved you," she said. "They want to do lunch next month and toss around some ideas." Translation: "Let someone else pick up your pan-fried noodle tab for a change."

I hung up and ripped into the Disney orange I snatched yesterday on my way off the lot. We'd grown thick-skinned and bitter, though still not ready for squeezing.

Note: Since this post was originally published on January 6, 2006, I went out on strike against Disney, went to work inside Disney, was laid off from Disney three years later and am once again a Disney vendor.  The orange tree was removed to build a gym where I was refused re-admittance after being mysteriously profiled as a disgruntled former live model.


  1. "We'd grown thick-skinned and bitter, though still not ready for squeezing." Excellent, as usual, Julie.

  2. hang in there, like the orange dangling from the, uh...

    this isn't as easy as it looks.

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  4. I think you've seen the sum total of my blog. ;) I just wanted to be able to say "hi" without having to be a spooky anonymous guy.

  5. So sorry to hear that. But take heart - I did "Alias" for five years on that lot and the gate nazis stopped me everytime to ask me my name. "You KNOW ME! I have an ID!"

    wishing you great success this year!

  6. When you ARE ready for squeezing...

    ...call me?

    I like juice as much as the next guy.


  7. Boys, boys, boys. The metaphor was against selling out already. Sheesh.

  8. I don't know why everyone's going to sex. Sometimes a dangling orange is just a dangling orange. Sheesh.

  9. Anonymous2:11 PM

    Please God, tell me you didn't really wear those broken down sneaker/scuffs. Is this some kind of perverse point of pride with you? Like clean well fitting shoes are a sign of selling out?

    Meanwhile, I vote that you just go back to pitching whatever and however you really want to pitch. Then at least you rise or fall on your own merit. The last time (when they told you not to give Vin diBona your full blown, brilliant pitch) really pissed me off.

    Speaking of dangling oranges, did you see Amy Sedaris on David Letterman last night? She was hawking her new cheese balls, the "Bite Sized Blue Balls."

    You have to really be a loyal JGTH afficianado to catch the significance of that allusion . . .

  10. I'm old enough to remember when Disneyland was surrounded by orange groves.

    Great that you went in for an audition. I think that the Disney Studio is interesting. Sometimes those animation guys do their own voices (like Chris Saunders for Stitch).

  11. If Josh Friedman can wear sweatpants, let a girl have her scuffs.

    Hi DDDragon. Maybe the orange tree on the lot is Walt's memorial to all the groves he hacked down.

    Yo, Anon. No names please. Do you know everyone who ever Googles VDB will be directed here? Next time just say that Italian fellow who made a poor hiring choice.

    Jeff, precisely. Then, swinging cantaloupes are another story.

  12. Anonymous11:24 PM

    What about Jose Easterhouse?

    If a man that fugly can hit the screenwriting pot o' gold and also throw a root to Sharone Stoon, surely you have no reason to be concerned about how you dress whne trying to land a job in Burbank.

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  14. I was going to say that I like pulp with my juice, but the metaphors are out of control now.

    When did you get your manager J and how did you do it (introduction, bribe, share a yogi mat)?


  15. She was a judge in a competition I entered, and won. But I'm not above any of those other methods. One rule I learned in film school is there are no rules.

  16. Holy frijoles, your orange metaphor has the legs of a swift cheetah for running away so. I'm just happy to live vicariously through your studio meet, however disappointing and ridiculous. I long for the days of my own Evian tour. I think I have just the old scuffed kicks for the job.

  17. I know I'm a day late and dollar short, but thanks for mentioning the oranges. I like to see these living memorials to another time. near my house in Orange County there are almost no more orange groves. I know of one small one nearby surronded by industrial lots. it's guarded by barbed wire chain link fencing and no tresspassing signs. owned by Kimberly-Clark believe it or not. I'm sure it's just another vestige of a forgotten age (they make toilet paper at the plant there). anyway, kudos to whomever is responsible for not tearing up these groves and replacing them with functional, productive, ugly things. ciao!

  18. great story, julie!

  19. Thanks Malinda! I am trying to figure out how to integrate FB comments without outing myself as a tech spaz. Stay tuned.