Sunday, December 20, 2009

I used to run Studio Typing Service at 8555 Sunset Boulevard in the 1980s

FIrst Draft

People ask me how I ended up with my weird job, transcribing videotapes for reality TV shows. It’s not a job you get by answering an ad in the paper. There are websites where you used to find my job, but even that has stopped.

I started doing this kind of work in the mid-1980s. At 8555 Sunset Boulevard, which is right at the height of West Hollywood, just past La Cienega towards Beverly Hills, still at the top of the hill. A panoply of people ended up in that location, where we had from 5 to 10 Selectric typewriters

Remember the book and movie Wired! about John Belushi, his last days at Chateau Marmont. He and Robin Williams called in typists from Barbara's Place to sit there with them and transcribe down everything they said. Well, Studio Typing used to compete with Barbara's Place, only we had a storefront on Sunset Boulevard.

Writers would come in with manuscripts, typed pages with handwritten notes all over them, arrows and copy and pasted paragraphs, the real copy and paste, using paste, or well, it was the 1980s, using transparent tape.

One writer lived in a house in the hills right above us, and would saunter in wearing her bathrobe, bringing us new pages, replacement pages. Regina, who owned the store, waited on the celebrity customers. She greeted the screenwriter saying, “You didn't have to dress up.”

I lived straight down the hill, on Holloway. In fact, you could hike up an empty lot, there was a path with trash and condoms all over it, trash in the weeds, one of the few places you’d see trash in L.A. back then… anyway, I’d literally climb the hill on the path through the vacant lot, from where I lived on Holloway to Sunset, and 8555 Sunset Boulevard was right across the street at that particular spot. Today it is a strip mall with-

Hmm, I could ride up there later and take a picture of what it is today.

Funny, because when I was running the little script typing and resume business for Regina, as we’d be there late into the night, me and the sprinkling of typists that were there working that week, we’d talk about what a great story you could write about Studio Typing Service, or maybe a TV sitcom. Most of the people who worked for us were the Hollywood 20-something’s you still find in this town today. Moved here from somewhere else, breaking into the business. We had writers actors musicians, they’d come in and type for us, on call, or we’d send scripts home to them where they had Selectric typewriters in their apartments. In fact that's how I started at Studio Typing. I was trying to get jobs as a freelance publicist, needed cash, so I’d type for Studio Typing, first from my studio apartment on Holloway.

Then I worked in the 8555 Sunset Boulevard storefront one day, and when I saw the array of individuals that came into that place, I begged to let me work “in house” and before long, Regina said, Why don't you just run the business for me for a while.

She went off to join a fundamentalist Christian group run by a Japanese lady and this man that Regina was dating. Their church was run out of the Japanese lady’s living room.

Regina got born again by sitting with these two people in the lady’s living room watching a Television evangelist. Regina told me later, she ended up on the floor shaking and twitching and speaking in tongues. Now she just wanted to work for the Lord, so she let me manage Studio Typing. This was 1986 or 1987.

I was so lost. In 1983 I had flown home from Houston, home, ended up in West Hollywood, as the hills and valleys of L.A. are about all the home I really have. I was so lost in those years, having gone from being a PAO in the NASA Newsroom, writing press releases, training to do mission commentary during Spacelab One.

Come 1985 I'm typing from my studio apartment in West Hollywood barely paying rent, still in this sort of state of shock, like what happened at NASA, what did I do? I still, in the 1980s, as I grew into my middle thirties, did not make the connection between the out of control sexuality and losing jobs. I just knew I kept losing jobs, and was trying to find the problem with my work that was causing it. And of course I could never find it, because back then, no one came right out and said, you can’t have sex with everybody in the place and expect to still get any respect, no matter how brainy you are. No one tried to stop me. I just kept making the same mistake over and over again.

So now I was living in West Hollywood, the only city where a person can be as over-sexed as I was, well besides San Francisco and maybe New York City- I was in West Hollywood before it became a city, so there was even more of an anything goes attitude. It wasn’t even incorporated, it was just county land, with million dollar high rises on it.

That's one of the reasons gays and prostitutes and other freaks could just be themselves in that part of L.A., because the strip along LaCienega to Doheny wasn't incorporated. I'm a libertarian and really believe that's the best way to be, in spite of how bad it can get…


Studio Typing. I rediscovered myself as someone who can look good, as I started to run the front counter, there at 8555 Sunset Boulevard, at the beginning of what was once called Sunset Strip. I bought nice clothes, made a good living, felt almost professional again, even if it was a typing service. I don't think I ever even thought about the difference between that job and being a PAO at NASA, at that time I so lived immersed in the PTSD, my form of PTSD, where I went so fast forward, I never stopped to see what a mess I was making, never stopped to look closely. Because I knew if I stopped too long, I wouldn't be able to stand to look at it.

Maybe that's why I was such a fast typist and one of the few persons capable of making a living as a script typist in Hollywood in the 1980s. It was fun. Everyone was creative in Studio Typing on Sunset Boulevard, and towards the end of a long night, we'd hit the Thai-food liquor store in the same lot, joke and type, laugh over the scripts we were typing.

Writers would bring in rewrites and we had our tequniques for retyping and still keeping things in screenplay format, not losing or adding too many pages. We did it with typewriters. Nowadays you pay five hundred dollars for software and it formats your scripts.

In the 1990s when Lizzie and I tumbled back into L.A. like it or not, I found Regina. Oh. I forgot to say. Her business folded because that fundamentalist Christian group was really a con artist and cohorts. They took her for all her money, including the property she had in the business, the Kodak copier that collated and stapled, it was so state of the art.

Studio Typing Service on Sunset Boulevard fell prey to fundamentalist Christian con artists and I got pregnant and moved to Humboldt County to hide from … something, I didn't know why, I just knew I needed to take the baby and hide.

Anyway, we came back in 1998 and I found Regina's colleagues and the same work was still going on, only now it was transcribing raw video that came in for documentary movies and news programs. So I went back to working from home, in the one city in the world where that kind of work can actually be interesting.

I liked the job because I could continue to hide, just in my apartment, now, not in the Redwood forest.

I was able to be a Stepford Single Mom because of this job, and pulled it off for the next few years.

Around 1999, a new kind of job came in, a pilot for a TV show called Survivor, then another job like it came in, this one from a show calling itself The Amazing Race.

We were flabbergasted, as why would they want us to write down everything these people were saying, but that's what they wanted. These new “reality TV shows” wanted us to transcribe everything that was said on this raw video and insert time codes every 30 seconds.

So that's how I segued from a NASA Public Affairs Officer to a script typist to a reality TV show video transcriber.

I’d collate those screenplays or make copies of actors’ resumes using our super duper machine to staple their headshots on the back.

Never stopping long enough to figure out what happened to me until that baby turned five years old, 1993…


Today most transcription for reality shows is done by college students, working as interns for no pay. But I still get plenty of jobs, from the shows that need higher quality, faster, more accurate intelligent transcribing. They pay for me, so I end up now doing-

The documentaries and news shows ...

So with Meals on Wheels as well, I never have to leave my house.

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