A Hollywood film may start as the singular vision of a director or screenwriter, but it takes a well-oiled machine to transform even the simplest of stories onto the big screen. A cast, crew and studio staff that can number into the hundreds all have their hands on the finished product.
Costume supervisor Pamela Wise has left particularly large fingerprints. From "Coal Miner's Daughter" to "Xanadu" to "Forest Gump" to "Argo," she's been responsible for gussying up some of the cinema's best-told tales over the past 30-plus years.
The 50-something Burbank resident loves her work, but for almost as long as she's been in show business, she's had the urge to spin her own yarns — though on a much smaller scale. "I never wanted to write a script, I wanted to tell stories," Wise says. "I always in the back of my head wanted to write."
While on location in Mexico for the film "Missing" in 1982, her friend, actress Sissy Spacek, gave her a typewriter to help jump-start her prose. It would gather a lot of dust. But three decades later, Wise finally found her muse, after she spotted a handicapped dog walking the streets of Burbank. "I'm always drawn to animals and the fact that they're smarter than us," she says. "I saw this dog and he was kind of crippled in his hind quarters, but it didn't bother him. I thought, we need to look inside of us and focus on the things we can do and not so much what we're not able to do."
The gimpy dog became Wise's obsession. "I just started thinking about him," she says. "It came very fast and easy." Ten months later, the children's book "Hopolito" was finished.
"Hopolito" (Art Book Bindery, $16.95) is the tale of a canine who hops like a rabbit but longs to run like other dogs; and of his pal Rummy, a rabbit who can run like a dog, but dreams of hopping like a bunny. Together, they venture into the forest in search of the mythical Woodsy Spirit, whom they believe can give them what they're missing.
But, like Hopolito's kindred godfather, Frank Baum's classic "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz," the friends learn to embrace who they are, and discover that there's nothing wrong with being different.
"He's a little dog who wants to run with his brothers," says Wise, who has no children. "We all want to run a marathon at some point in our life. We can do this. But if we can't, it'll be OK. But if we can, how great would that be?"
It's the same attitude that's served Wise during her lengthy career as a costume supervisor. She's comfortable with her role in the process, a trait she says is essential when surrounded by the elevated egos that gravitate toward the bright lights on film sets.
"Working with Bob Zemekis, or Bette Midler, people that are so full of talent … They are doing something they believe they can do and so they're doing it. I have a right to be next to Bette Midler. Life isn't about competition; it's about being who you are and enjoying your journey and hopefully learning along the way. You are just as important as anybody else.
"A real lesson that we learn in life is one we don't realize we're learning," she says. "I think a lot of little parts in there about having a purpose, needing to be needed, believing in yourself, I'm sure that's all a part of the fiber I've been given over the years, through my work, through my family, through my friends."
Though "Hopolito" has gone into its second printing, Wise says she has no intention of quitting her day job. "You try to let go of the industry but it never lets go of you. It gets into your blood and into your heart." But she does have something very Hollywood planned for her little dog in the future: a sequel. "It's been very rewarding for me, and I think there are more stories for this little guy."
ERIK HIMMELSBACH is a Los Angeles writer.