Arrival Story: Archie Gips

Archie GipsKCET Departures asks, "What's your or your family's Los Angeles arrival story?"

Today, we hear from film and television writer, director and producer, Archie Gips:

"I was born and raised in New York to my mother and father, Barbara and Phillip Gips.

"My parents worked tangentially in the film industry. My father was a graphic designer who designed several iconic movie posters in the 1960s, `70s, and `80s. My mom, in addition to being a mother of five, became a copywriter and is credited with some of the most memorable taglines in movie history.

"As a teenager, there was a discussion in our family about moving to Los Angeles to be closer to the movie studios, which I thought would be really cool. My parents went so far as to look at houses here, but nothing ever came to fruition.

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"One of my earliest impressions of living in California came from watching Three's Company with my brothers. I would see Jack with Janet and Chrissy and think 'Wow, how cool is that? A guy can live with two girls!' I just thought Hollywood was this magical, far off place. A land of endless sunshine and beautiful people.

"During college, I took a trip out west to visit friends who lived in Los Angeles and San Diego. During my visit to L.A. there was a pretty large earthquake. It was probably a 4.5 or 4.6 on the Richter scale. I was in an office building with my friend and the other people there were really enjoying the thrill of it all. I, on the other hand, was scared s--tless. It seemed like the shaking would never stop. It rattled me to the core. I got out of Dodge almost immediately and headed down to San Diego.

"As I drove further and further away from Los Angeles, I looked behind me. I saw the smog over the city as I started heading down to San Diego with its bluer and bluer skies. I remember thinking, 'Why would anyone want to live in L.A. when San Diego is so close?'

"Cut to graduate film school at NYU where many of the other students seemed to have a chip on their shoulders about L.A., believing any writer or director who lived there was a sell-out and you're only a 'real' filmmaker if you live in New York like Spike or Woody. I never believed any of that, but I also wasn't exactly in love with the thought of living in L.A.

"My professor and mentor at the time was Lorenzo Semple, Jr., a very famous screenwriter. Lorenzo took me aside and told me 'You have talent but if you're serious about being a writer or director you need to live in Los Angeles.'

"I'm a practical guy. I knew Lorenzo was right. If I was going to make a go at a career in the entertainment industry, I'd have to move to Los Angeles even though my prior experience with the city was 'shaky' at best.

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"I discovered NYU had an exchange program with UCLA's graduate school. It seemed like a great way to come out here and meet people since I didn't know anyone. I looked at it as a four-month trial run to see how I would like living in L.A. So, my last semester at NYU, I packed four months of clothing into the largest suitcase I had. It was a complete eyesore, All banged up, bright red and corduroy with a blue and orange Syracuse University travel tag. You could never miss it on the carousel.

"I flew from JFK to LAX and took a shuttle from the airport to UCLA in Westwood. I went directly to a bulletin board in the student center and found a posting for a room for rent at a fraternity house on campus. I wound up moving in. The house was filled with a bunch of frat brothers and then there were maybe six or seven of us renters.

"I had written a couple of screenplays at school and met with several agencies seeking representation. With a great recommendation from NYU, I was very fortunate to get signed by the William Morris Agency.

"I started taking meetings with production companies and studios all around town. Being a New Yorker, I didn't have a car so I would take the bus everywhere.

"One of my first meetings was on the Paramount lot. There was a producer there who really liked my screenplay. As our meeting was winding down, I kept looking at my watch. He was like, 'Do you need to be somewhere? Why do you keep checking your watch?'

"I told him 'I don't mean to be rude. I'm just trying to figure out when the next bus is coming. If we wrap up now, I can make the bus in five minutes, otherwise the next one doesn't come for another 45 minutes.'

"He looked at me dumbfounded and said, 'You took a bus here?' I nodded and he had the biggest laugh of all time. I guess he thought I was charming, or a fool, or both because a couple of weeks later, I got an invite to a party he was throwing at his house.

"I brought along a buddy from UCLA as my plus one. We got to the party thinking it was going to be a big Hollywood-type bash and discovered it was a very intimate affair. Maybe thirty people tops. But the other 28 people there were all A-list actors. Kevin Costner. George Clooney. Ben Affleck. It was the most surreal experience ever.

"Yes, I did take the bus to the party, and yes, we had to leave early because of that.

"Well, my four-month trial run here turned into a decade. NYU even had to mail me my diploma. And even though I keep moving further east in the city -- from Westwood to Beverly Center Adjacent to Hollywood to now Mount Washington -- I have no plans to move back to New York. Los Angeles is home."

Archie Gips' 2011 projects include co-producing, "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never," show runner of WEtv's "Braxton Family Values," producing ABC's 83rd Annual Academy Awards Red Carpet Show and co-directing/producing the documentary film, "The Ambassadors of Hollywood."

-- Archie Gips
(As told to Jeremy Rosenberg)

Photos: Courtesy Archie Gips. Photo credits: (black and white) Leo Canneto, (color) Anne Braveman.

About the Author

Jeremy Rosenberg is a Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and consultant whose work has appeared in various books, magazines, newspapers, and online.
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