SUMMER HELP WANTED: Papazian/Hirsch Entertainment seeks five teen-agers to work at production company office and on the set of TV series. Learn about show-biz while earning $10 an hour. Car and driver included.
Yes, these jobs were for real. And five very real teen-agers who spent the summer in them did not get hired because mommy is a director or daddy’s a casting agent.
In looking for summer interns without connections--either within the industry or on the street--producers Robert Papazian and Jim Hirsch had a definite point in mind: to reward ordinary teen-agers who have made an extraordinary commitment to live and espouse a drug-free lifestyle.
“We created the internships as a way of saying to kids there’s an incentive out there for you,” Hirsch said. “You can teach a kid in school. . . . We added something to that, a preview of the real world, and in this case a world that’s attractive to them.”
To find their interns, the producers teamed up with the Los Angeles Police Department-Los Angeles Unified School District drug education program, DARE. All of the students selected are veterans of the DARE programs who have remained active during junior and senior high school.
The producers and the police hope this prototype will spawn a citywide corporate effort to show teens who have taken a stance for sobriety that it was worth it.
“It’s an instant winner,” said LAPD Cmdr. Mike Bostic. “It’s corporate America standing up and recognizing hard-working kids.
The summer was definitely a winner for the five students, who were shown all facets of the business.
Duties included calling to inquire about a $500,000 bill received by the company, going on location and working in post-production labs. They also attended casting sessions, answered phones, delivered messages and made endless photocopies, earning $3,200 for their eight weeks of work. A driver they now call “Daddy Vince” squired them to and from the set and around town in a big station wagon.
Venice High School student Joann Payumo said she relished telling her peers about her job. And when they ask how she got it, she is only too happy to answer: “Because I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. No one has every heard of a 16-year-old making $10 an hour.”
Payumo, 16, a Venice resident who was born in the Philippines, is thinking about becoming an accountant. She attributes her resolve about drugs to watching her brothers drink too much, and she says she received her strength of character from her architect mother, who died six years ago. “I do it all for her,” she said.
Two of the other four interns also attend Venice High School.
Robert Aviles, 16, a native of El Salvador, lives with his mother, who is a seamstress, and his sisters in the Crenshaw-Wilshire area. He is studying French at the Venice Foreign Language and International Studies magnet school.
Sarah Ter-Minasyan, 16, comes to Venice High from Hollywood, where she and her mother live in a neighborhood populated with many Russian-Armenian immigrants. Her father died just before they emigrated from the Soviet Union a few years ago.
Lynette Walker, 17, is a student at Manual Arts High School who also credits her mother for keeping her on the straight and narrow about drugs. She is the only one of the five who is currently contemplating a career in the entertainment industry, unless she decides to be a computer engineer or scientist instead.
Stephanie Szabo, 16, from James Monroe High School in the San Fernando Valley, lives with her parents in Northridge and is socking away her summer earnings for college.
Although all five say they are good students, academic brilliance was not a prerequisite for selection. Neither were sports prowess or being a campus superstar.
On the contrary, the producers said they were looking for good kids who were quietly doing the right thing and who might not otherwise receive short-term rewards for their choices.
Hirsch said he and his partner were looking for young people with an “I’m going to take my life and make the best out of it” attitude.
On a recent morning on the set at the Papazian/Hirsch Entertainment office in Sun Valley, Payumo and Ter-Minasyan got the chance they had waited for all summer: to go before the cameras as extras. The scene was shot in one of the production offices decorated to look like a police squad room.
The production boards note that this will be episode six of “Shades of L.A.,” a series that will be shown on Channel 13 beginning sometime this fall. The show is about a detective who, after a near-death experience, is visited by ghosts from the beyond that help him close the books on unsolved crimes.
John DiAquino, the actor who plays the detective, is seated at a computer and rehearsing a scene in which he retrieves data from a computer and talks on the phone. A crew member seated off camera reads the other half of the conversation from a script.
The room is crowded with the small army of people who make television happen, including the director and the sound person and, today, two teen-agers being coached when to stroll into the scene while looking normal as they do something abnormal--office work at a police station.
None of their other assignments are this glamorous. Outside the closed door, Walker sits with a walkie-talkie in her lap. Her job is the make sure that no one bursts in while the cameras are rolling.
In a nearby office, Aviles is collating call sheets, the daily schedules that tell everyone who’s supposed to be on the set, when and why. He is conversant with all the production lingo and adroitly explains the various abbreviations.
Another regular spot for an intern is at the air conditioning switch, which must be off during filming because of the noise and on immediately afterward because the hot lights quickly turn the set into a sauna.
Szabo, the fifth trainee, is back at the corporate office in Westwood, where she prefers to be because she said she finds the filming process tedious.
Ask the youths what they have learned this summer, and they will launch into a discourse on the importance of being polite on the phones. They learned this in a telephone training class and by trial-and-error.
Their teacher, who coordinated the program, was Karen Morris. Morris, executive assistant to the producers, said the five were eager to learn and managed to maintain their nonchalance when actors they recognized came to the office to read for parts.
“They think we’re extravagant with food,” Morris said. “Their first time on the set, they ate like truck drivers.”