Above is Episode 1 of our new series All Nighter we’ve made with Tastemade. This story is what I learned about Los Angeles by drinking with Jack Sparrow on Hollywood Blvd.
1am it is. Hollywood Blvd is void of its daytime crowd, a few stragglers here and there, myself, our skeleton TV crew of Los Angeles natives, some homeless, and a few B-grade cosplayers. Jim, our rugged MacGyver sound guy tucks away behind a corner, artfully always out of frame. James, our fearless director and camera man is bug-eyed, his Jew-fro looking ever more all-over-the-place as he digs up our next shot.
“It’s dead out,” James manages surveying the empty streets, his face bleak and fatigued. Being up past 8pm is not a good look on skinny Seth Rogen.
I’m fucking sober. Wait, he can’t hear me. “I’m fucking sober.”
I have several airplane bottles of whiskey digging into my thigh, it’s been at least an hour since our last location filming All Nighter, and my buzz is fading quickly. Too long between sips and my energy is over. Too many drinks and I’m an asshole incapable of holding a conversation.
Superman and Jack Sparrow pose with some fans on Hollywood Blvd.
“Take a picture with Jack Sparrow and Superman,” James demands, as we walk up to a couple costumed actors. Jack Sparrow fit the bill nicely, a 40-year-old man with bags under his eyes. His sidekick, a high school-aged Superman, felt a little less accurate. He was baby-faced and endearing with virgin teeth and a costume two sizes too big. Superman flexes, Jack Sparrow gives me his gun, we all mean mug for James.
James puts the camera down and immediately turns into a producer, “we have reservations at a bowling alley down the street, you guys want to bowl with our host for a scene in the show?”
Jim pops out from behind the corner with his sound equipment, Jack Sparrow takes note of the new addition to our TV street gang. Jack Sparrow speaks, “they don’t allow costumes there.”
James immediately begins the most trivial, yet oddly fascinating negotiating process I’ve ever been witness to. “How much for your time?”
“Well…we make about $5 a photo? Maybe $25 for a couple hours?” Sparrow said, initiating the casting process. I immediately began calculating this gentleman’s time in my head, and then looked over at the wide-eyed Superman who looked on in eager anticipation. Their night was wrapping up anyways, they both seemed pretty eager to be on camera and have their last hour of their work day accounted for.
Our crew walks away for a few moments to regroup. I crack open a high school-sized mini bottle of whiskey to lubricate.
We make a call to the bowling alley, and they concur that no costumed men are allowed. James makes an executive decision that the scene only works with Jack Sparrow, and the inclusion of Superman would crowd the frame.
By the time we returned to Jack and Superman, the two were lit up with excitement. Superman had apparently called his mom and told him he needn’t a ride any longer, and had picked up contact lens solution from the CVS up the street in preparation for his sleepover at Jack Sparrow’s.
James breaks the news that we’ll only need Jack Sparrow for the scene, he offers them both cash for their time, but that Superman would have to sit just off frame for the sake of the shot. I gulp and look at Superman’s young, once rosy cheeks and watch the color of opportunity wash away from his face. In that moment I saw every failed opportunity Hollywood ever dealt this young Superman in the gloss of his eyes. What would he tell his mom tomorrow morning when she asked how his night went?
I’d spent my entire life living just a half hour away from Los Angeles in sunny Orange County, but never once had I witnessed Hollywood in action. I’d heard about struggling actors, dealing with rejection, putting your heart out there week-after-week, but until this moment, I had never seen it in person. And just like that, we marched on to a dark alleyway because of course, “the show must go on.”
Jack Sparrow and I shared a few “street cocktails” and hammed up for the camera about the beauty of California, particularly Los Angeles.
Our conversation brings up the usual themes, LA’s perfect weather, beautiful women, the land of opportunity — the entire boozy conversation occurring in an ironically dark back alley between a Jack Sparrow impersonator and a silly food blogger. All the while a defeated and equally hardworking Superman is slumped on the curb just out of frame and within earshot, waiting for this damn scene to end.
And despite trekking all over Los Angeles that evening, everything I learned about Hollywood was cemented in this scene. It takes a James being a shrewd producer and diligent director. It takes a Jim to capture the sound. It takes a Jack Sparrow to roam Hollywood Blvd looking for a buck and a performance. It takes a young actor like Superman to get sidelined for a scene that means nothing in the grand scheme of his career.
And that’s Los Angeles. It resembles a series of opportunities that can look like a kid in a Superman costume on Hollywood Blvd, or a street corn vendor in the valley. An audience will only see a finished product, their favorite movie or an interview on TV — but therein lies the beauty of it all, the wake of a production, the romanticism of not knowing what your next project could be.
“That’s a cut,” James squeaks whirring his camera off. Jack and I have bonded, we hug it out because that’s what fifteen minutes of sharing high-level stories about California will do to some bros. As we emerge from the dark alley Jack gives me a few tips for finding a good steak on Hollywood Blvd and how excited he is that his hometown St. Louis Rams are becoming the Los Angeles Rams. Superman is silent.
The main Hollywood drag is just as quiet as when we left it. We bid a final farewell to our two heroes — they walk back towards the bright lights while our team makes an opposite march away from the hoopla — back into the darkness.
Thanks Los Angeles.