Universal is helping lift some of the gloom from Hollywood’s grim job market.
In a sign of the times, some 800 job seekers stood in line last week to audition for one of 40 available positions as tour guide at the studio’s theme park.
The new recruits will guide tourists through the U backlot on a fleet of trams recently updated with high-def screens that offer commentary from Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard and Stephen Sommers and digital clips from pics and TV shows filmed there.
While other amusement park jobs are often derided, the tour guide role at Universal has often been compared to starting an entertainment career in the mailroom.
That’s mainly due to the perks of the job.
Guides are offered acting classes and showcases, seminars with studio and industry execs, networking opportunities, a job placement program and invites to screenings.
Studio topper Ron Meyer has led a two-hour seminar discussing how he started in the biz. Robert Zemeckis and casting directors for shows like “Desperate Housewives,” “Chuck” and “Weeds,” have also participated in the past.
Work hours are flexible, enabling acting hopefuls to leave for auditions or callbacks, so the park usually keeps about 130 guides on staff.
Most guides work for a year before moving on, though some have stayed for 20 years.
“We know people are here to break into the industry in some way,” says John Murdy, creative director at Universal Studios Hollywood and a former guide himself. “We want to help them do that.”
And not all are would-be actors.
Former guides include “Saturday Night Fever” director John Badham, Team Todd producers Jennifer and Suzanne Todd, Warner Bros. casting VP Tony Sepulveda, even Michael Ovitz.
The studio expects to see more applicants this year than most; turnouts for auditions in its character department or calls for stuntmen recently surpassed expectations.
Callbacks take place May 11 and, if chosen, candidates must go through a three-week training process and pass a test about the history of Universal and other moviemaking facts in a 500-page manual before they’re let loose on the lot.
“People are coming to see a real working studio,” says Murdy. “We like to think of our tour guides as ambassadors to Hollywood.”