It must have been July 1997, because we’d just emerged from the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, after catching a late opening-night screening of the Robert Zemeckis film “Contact.” It’s about Jodi Foster seeking signs of life from outer space. The opening shot is of planet earth, the camera pulling back, back, back, our blue globe and then our solar system and our galaxy dwindling to a point, the lonely vastness of the universe illustrated.
When I say “we” I mean myself and five friends, all of us fresh out of film school. Standing there outside the Chinese Theater, on the wide grey forecourt where for decades movie stars have pressed their hand and footprints into the cement, and carved their names.
We had all relocated to Los Angeles from elsewhere to be filmmakers. Which is a terrifying thing to do; I remember waking up on my first day in the city and crying at the ice-cold realization that I was anonymous here, a nobody. I’m pretty sure I actually muttered aloud, through tears, “Who do I think I am?” But then I paid my first visit to the Chinese and everything was okay. Its palatial hugeness, the impossibly ornate starburst ceiling, the imported statues from actual China, and especially the handprints outside—fossils proving the existence of ancient Gods—were a comfort. “Dreams do come true,” reads Anthony Quinn’s inscription in the cement. The Chinese assures you everything is attainable. You and your talents belong here. You will surely not be anonymous long.
The six of us talked about “Contact” for a very long time, excitedly picking the film to pieces, not wanting to break its spell and go home. Soon we were all alone, because in the mid-’90s, the only difference between a ghost town and Hollywood Boulevard past midnight was the absence of tumbleweeds—it was just a long grimy stretch of mostly shuttered souvenir shops, a place where hookers and tattoo artists could work in peace.