Publicist union safety course excludes less obvious hazardFor Angelenos living on the West Side, a planned venture to the San Fernando or San Gabriel valleys is revealed to friends in a somber tone normally applied to the mention of a dentist appointment or tax audit.
"I have to go to the Valley on Tuesday" is a cry for help sure to elicit sympathetic shakes of the head, "keep your chin up" claps on the backs, or exclamations of horror. "I had to go last year. God, it was awful."
It may only be a 40-minute drive (with light traffic), but it feels like a journey through Oz. Which is why I was none too pleased when my union (yes, Hollywood publicists have a union) informed me I had to attend a "safety course" in Glendale. "Safety course?" I complained. "I use a pen and paper - I just have to avoid poking myself in the eye." Sorry, pass the course or forget about working on guild productions.
Faced with the inevitable, meticulous preparations were undertaken. Full tank of gas. Water bottle. Road-trip CDs. Snacks (there might be a traffic jam). Reading materials.
After a surprisingly easy 50-minute commute, I sat down with my classmates (actually, just one - a quiet guy who looked to have had a hard night) to watch a 17-hour - check that, one-hour - video that proved to be surprisingly informative. I learned I can say "no" if a producer asks me to do something dangerous, like give the evil eye to the director or mix hazardous chemicals together without proper training (I don't know which is more dangerous).
I can't tell you much of what else occurred on the tape because I dozed off. I was counting on my classmate to fill me in on what I missed - but he was still sleeping when I awoke. Nevertheless, I passed the written test with flying colors because I possessed sufficient intuitive knowledge to answer "no" when asked if it were OK to "tamper with safety devices used by actors for stunt sequences - even if they are actors whom you dislike."
Having achieved a perfect score, I strode out of the office with the confidence of knowing I'm a safe and sound worker, posing no threat to coworkers or myself - and was promptly struck by a car in the parking lot. No kidding. It wasn't serious, and the irony dampened the slight pain in my hip. But I am going to ask the union to include another warning in the course: Watch out for cars backing out of parking spots.
Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer