Archive for the ‘Land of Maybe’ Category

You don’t look a day over fifty.

Friday, September 14th, 2012

You have a sit down with a big time agent from William Morris/Endeavor or WME.  You give your pitch.  The agent is rapt, transported.  After all, you’ve honed your pitched down to fifteen seconds so he doesn’t have time to look mildly irritated that anyone who isn’t someone is in his office which is the inevitable look you get if you overstay your welcome.

Inside, you’re chuckling.  You can see the awards ceremonies, the acceptance into Wolfgang Puck catered affairs, the fabulous offers jamming your inbox.  The agent leans his thirty-two years back into his chair.  He smiles excitedly and asks pertinent questions–a good sign. You answer them in funny, pithy soundbites.  Your performance is perfect.  You know it, he knows it.

He escorts you out of his office with promises of “getting this to the right people.”  You leave the outer office and remember you left your phone on his desk.  The agent’s voice and his aide’s answering laugh stop you before you push open the door to his inner office.

“All you had to do is look at the gray in his hair to know that he couldn’t have anything worthwhile.”  Says the agent. “When he calls, give him the usual.”  It gives you pause.  Great pause.  You know what the usual is and it isn’t a good thing in agent-writer speak.

“Is your phone really that important?”  you wonder.  While the internal debate rages, you can hear the agent end the conversation with the aide and you retreat to the door to the outer office.  It’s about then you remember that it’s an expensive phone and you’re broke.  You turn back as if you’re just coming in as the aide leaves the agent’s office.  The aide is holding your phone.

He extends his hand offering you the phone.  You take it, smile warmly.  “Where would I be in this town without a phone?”  you ask with a smile in your voice.

“We’ll get back to you,” smiles the aide.

On the drive home, you pound your steering wheel as if it’s the agent’s face.  “Maybe the NRA is right,” you think.  “Maybe we should all be packing.  After all, what’s one less agent in this town.”   It sounds like an idea for a new screenplay!

I’m not dead but I play a dead man on stage

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010

Pot! The Musical has finished it’s run in Venice Beach.  The utter joy of working so hard and so closely with a fabulous group of people and the frustration of being in a musical that is getting little notice are both gone.  What’s left is a sense of, “Well, that happened.”

When you’ve just finished a death scene, a cognitive dissonance arises when you bounce up to join in the exuberant closing number, “Why can’t we just get along”.  The writer considered having the character appear with angelic wings but instead chose to ignore the afterlife presence on stage.

The actor, the term loosely applies here, is left trying to feel undead moments after feeling dead and no amount of watching True Blood seems to help.

Ah, what the heck

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

The Land of No is now the Land of Maybe not because any dramatic shift in the world but simply because it’s a new year and strange and wonderful things happen in a new year.  Of course, horrible and mundane things also happen but that’s better suited to a different post.

You sit down with an agent who warmly warns you against letting, “the indifference of the industry get you down.”  This veteran of decades in the business then tells you what’s wrong with Hollywood in the form of a parable.

“There’s a restaurant you go to religiously for a while because they serve the best beef stroganoff.  Time passes, other things and other places occupy your time and you realize that it’s been twenty years since you last dined there.  As you drive by, the memory of the stroganoff bids to you and, even lashed to your busy schedule, you yield to the celestial siren call.

“You walk in.  Golden memories flood you.  You settle in the plush banquette, the walls, the waiters and the menu all fit nicely into the niche your brain fondly holds for the place.  Beef stroganoff still rests proudly in a place of honor on the menu.  Its lavish price underscores the passage of time and the change in the way restaurants of this ilk do business.  You wonder if you can afford it but banish all thoughts to the end of the month statement gnashing of teeth.  Salivating decorously, you order it.  You burnish your silverware in anticipation of the creamy delight that is about to transport your senses to Nirvana.

“The dish is presented to you with just the right mixture of elan and formality.  You cast your eyes at the plate and it’s as if you have been transported back to the first time you ordered it.

“You slip your fork into the thing of beauty and, slightly tremulous with longing, you pause before you let the first morsel settle in your mouth.  The moment comes.

“Everything is the same except it tastes like something you would scrape off your shoe.  Your eyes pop open!  Perhaps, the whole thing is a dream and you’re sitting in some twenty-four hour breakfast place instead but you are in the palace of your epicurean dreams.

“You take another bite thinking that your tongue simply was unprepared for the first sample.  No, your tongue got it right.  You demand to see the chef.  You look around at the diners who sit eating complacently.  You crane your neck to see if they are eating the stroganoff.  They are!

“After some todo, the chef comes to your table.  You point at the stroganoff, give your history of eating and ask what went wrong.  The chef smiles sheepishly and says, ‘when the old chef died, he left behind a picture of each dish but no recipes.  We knew what the dish looked like but we had no idea what went into it.’

“And that,” the agent says, “is what’s wrong with Hollywood.”

You wrap up your meeting with the agent and, after he encourages you to “stay in touch”, you leave feeling pretty upbeat about life and writing and even the sixteen dollars you recently spent to see a film.

Filled with a feeling of camaraderie and a sense of finally belonging, you call him the following week, then several times during the month.  He doesn’t return your calls.

Ah, what do you know?

Wednesday, August 12th, 2009

You go to a pitchfest.   It’s held at a big hotel.  People from around the world cram into the basement, sorry, lower level,  to sign in for their chance to sit down with an intern from an agency, production company or studio.  The intern could turn out to be the head of the company in a few years but, right now, his or her ability to green light anything is precisely nil.

Nevertheless, you stand there and wait because you don’t know what else to do.

The organizers are late.  The hotel goes through a fire drill which is a little alarming when you are underground in a big hotel without knowing that it’s a drill.  The word spreads that you probably won’t die but the drill does manage to shut down the hvac system so air rapidly becomes a precious commodity.  Nervous energy drives chatter and the air disappears in hot, toxic puffs of inanities.

You sweat, run your pitches through your head and listen to everyone talk about what they know about Hollywood.  You want to say that if any of us knew anything about Hollywood we wouldn’t be here but you keep your mouth shut because, after all, you know nothing more than they do.

Chris Soth, the screenwriter, sage and mentor has said and written that every scene must have hope versus fear.  You can smell the fear in the sweat.  You can see the hope on the faces.  It must be a good scene.

The organizers show up and the endless registration begins.  After a few glitches, it actually starts.  Free coffee.  A good idea for people who are so wired already that you can watch sparks fly from them. 

You are assigned companies at certain times.  The problem is, right or wrong, time inside the ballroom where the companies sit behind tables is completely different from time outside where writers wait and wait.  Your eleven o’clock with Robert Evans Company inside the room ends up being three-fifteen outside the room.  Writers are already confused.  Come on!

Your first pitch is with a charming young woman who laughs at everything you say.  You’re pitching a horror script but any reaction is good, isn’t it?

Your next pitch is to a real, live producer who must have picked up his aide’s schedule by mistake and ended up here.  You shake hands, sit and begin with a question.  The man rolls his eyes which causes the bags  under his eyes to undulate.  You’re captivated.  He adds a nervous tic and tremors.  It’s a three ring circus.

“I don’t want to hear story.  I don’t want to hear characters.  Just give me the hook.”  He throws it at you.  There is a truth or dare glare that stands behind his twitching demeanor.

He reaches for more coffee which sloshes back and forth as he struggles to get it to his lips.

You condense your comedy down to the one sentence that makes your story different from every other story yet exactly the same as every other story so producers don’t go into hissy fits.  It would be fun watching this guy in full hissy but you’re not that cruel.  You let him have it.

“THERE YOU GO!”  He almost jumps over the table in appreciation.  “I love it.  Love it!  But I hate that title.  Hate, hate hate.”

“It’s a working title,” you offer.  “It was about a blog…”

“Blogs suck.  How about something about the internet.  Hmm, let me think.”  His eyes run an oval track in his head.  The bags try to catch up.  “Netflix!”  He bursts out laughing.  “Netflix.  That’s it.”  He laughs and laughs. 

You only wish your story is half as funny as this man thinks his title is.  You do your best diplomatic smile and nod. 

“I want to see it.”  He writes something down on a pad. You give him your card and walk away beaming.  You turn to wave goodbye.  “Title sucks,” he says as he shakes his head and scratches out what he just wrote.

Yeah, that went well.  As the fabulous group Girlyman wrote and sang so beautifully, “I’m not quite lost, not quite found, just somewhere different now.” 

Somewhere different.  Boy howdy.

Ah, What to do, what to do

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

Hungry.  You’re feeling flush so you go to the Whole Foods in Pasadena.  The problem with this store is its size.  A friend warns you that if you get your produce and meat on the first floor and then go upstairs for dry and frozen goods, the fresh food will be rotten by the time you return downstairs to pay.  If you reverse the order, your frozen goods will thaw.  Tough choices in a time of belt tightening.

You stop at the Wine and Tapas bar in the market.  Already overwhelmed by the prices for food, the menu’s prices hardly even register.  You have a glass of wine while you map out your shopping strategy.  A couple of glasses of wine later and you realize you’re not hungry any more and you don’t care if food thaws or rots.  Maybe one more for the road.

You stop off at a Mexican market on the way home because you’ve sobered up enough to crave sustenance again.  Instead of buying produce or anything you can cook at home, you stand at the prepared hot food part of the market.  You don’t recognize a thing and start to ask questions.  A crowd gathers and many opinions are voiced in Spanish about what you should eat.

Finally, after a great amount of snickering among the onlookers, you order something that several men pointed at.  You try to guess what part of what animal it came from.  Once home, you gingerly bring it to your lips.  It’s actually tasty. 

You’re invited to the beach for the Fourth of July.  Driving there and back is a breeze because the civilized people of the Land of No have left for the extended weekend or are at the beach already.  You go to Redondo Beach and join thirty thousand of your closest friends.  Gorgeous day. Gorgeous beach.  Gorgeous sea.  You’re hardly aware that the state you live in is penniless. 

A banner plane flies over head.  At first glance, you read, “” but upon reflection you realize it says, “”.  You’re not sure what that says about you so you decide to leave. 

Sunday morning, what should you do but work with your editor on the webisodes.  He’s so good, you barely have time to feel uncomfortable before he’s done.  You walk over to the Hollywood Farmers Market.  You can tell all the cool people are still recovering from the celebration of the nation’s birth because you can actually walk down the aisles unimpeded.

You get some Korean food for lunch.  A crowd gathers and they point and snicker as you order.  It’s actually tasty. 

By the time you buy your greens, the cool people have arisen and making your way out of the streets is an exercise in urban living. A large man claims, at the top of his lungs,  to be Michael Jackson’s brother and challenges all comers.  Who are you to argue?  Maybe the Wine and Tapas bar is open.

Ah, Los Angeles Culture

Saturday, May 2nd, 2009

You go to the Festival of Books wearing your, “Life is short.  Opera is long” t-shirt.  No foresight in the choice of shirt.  You woke up in it and forgot to change.  Ah, the life of a writer.  At any rate, the Festival is a big deal and well attended.  One hundred thousand plus which works out to less than one percent of the population but, heck, it’s books not celebrity sightings.

When you come out of the parking structure, the first thing you encounter is the children’s part of the festival and a sign that reads, “Don’t eat Bugs”  Seems like good advice.  After a bit of walking, you wonder if you’ll ever get out of the children’s area.  A feeling, that adults don’t like to read but want their children to read because it impresses their  friends, descends on you before you make it to the rest of the Festival.

Round a corner.  It lays or lies (a little help here) before you.  Booths filled with books as far as the eye can see.  Seductive.  Nirvana.  Need one say, cultured?

The first booth you go to is a free chance for season tickets at the Geffen Playhouse.   See!  Culture!  It shares a booth with the Los Angeles Opera.  Culture!  In line, one of the Opera booth workers challenges your t-shirt’s statement.   You smile and say, “Truth hurts.”  The gods take a dim view of your cold reply and you lose not only your turn to spin but then get bupkis when you do spin for the season tickets.

The booths range from every genre of writing along with bookstores and commercial concerns that try to appeal to your intelligent side by telling you how intelligent you are.  The gamut of political, cultural and entertainment expression is covered.  Crazies of every sort mix with people whom you would call sane and reasonable.

Famous authors get their own booths manned by assistants.  You give them wide berth because some of their success might rub off on you.

At most of the book booths, there is an author or two looking forlorn.  You want to cuddle them.  Tell them that you understand the hellish solitude and second guessing of writing.  You want to buy their books just to coax a smile from them.  But really, you want to see if there are any freebies.

The sun beats down on you and you realize that you forgot your sunscreen.  You head into the nearest covered stage which, at that moment,  is packed to the rafters with people listening to an interview with Tori Spelling.  Culture?

You go to the Los Angeles Modernism 09 show in Santa Monica.  This is a show of all the furniture and objet d’arts from Art Deco to the Sixties.  From Erte to ergonomics.  You wander from display to display and start to salivate acquisitively.

Soon, you have come to what seems like a rational decision that you must possess about thirty items.  No thought of where you might put them or any other objection or complication crosses your mind.  You are resolute.  You’re short a couple of hundred thousand dollars .  The world is cruel.  The world is unjust.  They don’t even give freebies like the booksellers.

Culture.  Who needs it?

Ah, Los Angeles Good Friday

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

Religious holidays seem to bring people out of their privacy for the benefit and detriment of society.  This Good Friday, so named because Jesus was betrayed and flogged and humiliated and nailed to a cross, the wonder of human activity was on display in the city. (okay, I know the reason it’s called good friday but, even as a four year old hearing, with incomprehension, the story of the passion of Christ, I thought the term was pushing it)

You get tickets for Leonard Cohen’s performance at the impressive Nokia Theater.  You are psyched about joining 7500 of your closest friends for an intimate evening with an amazing song writer.

You set out, giving yourself plenty of time for the vaguaries of parking.  Even though the Lakers and the Kings are playing elsewhere, you can’t count on the Staples Center, next door to the Nokia, to not host some bit of silliness.  The Clippers, maybe.  You come down from your aerie to find that your access to your egress is blocked by a penitente procession of sorrow.

If you’ve never seen a penitente procession, it’s something to behold.  Fellow citizens earnestly and devotedly acting out the via dolorosa: Roman guards beating the young man playing Jesus, blood, whipping, screaming, a heavy cross, Simon helping carry it, the thieves, Mary, Mary, John, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth.  You hope, but aren’t sure, that the blood is fake.  Regardless, it’s a sight to behold.

Once you’ve beheld the sight, you look at your dashboard clock and wonder where the police are to move traffic around the reenactment.

You don’t want to get testy with a devout crowd.  Politely, oh, so politely, you edge across four lanes of traffic, including two oncoming  now stopped by the procession and by rubbernecking, to get by the scene.  You feel sacrilegious for even wanting to go to your concert.  For wanting to use public streets.  For wanting to not gawk.

Despite hand gestures from some of the Roman guards, you get by.  On to the Nokia

If Los Angeles stands for one thing, it’s the outrageous cost of parking.  Supply and demand you tell yourself after you’ve been  gouged.  You get near the Nokia, not next to it but near it and parking costs $20.  Divine retribution for skirting the penitentes .

Once in the Nokia, you are impressed by the display of aged hipness.  The crowd is a mix of everything. It’s uniting factors are a love of Leonard Cohen and a certain chicness that went out of style for a while and has come back.

Leonard Cohen comes onstage with an amazing band, wonderful backup singers including his sometimes collaborator Sharon Robinson and a spryness and energy that belies his years which add up to about 75.  Really belies them.

Aside from loving the poetry and music, you hope that one day, you can be as agile as Leonard Cohen as he skips off and on the stage and kneels to emphasize certain parts of his songs.

The evening, despite the size of the venue, is three hours of one on one performer with audience.

You wend your way home.  At midnight, the bars haven’t let out so you fly home.  As you approach the church, which was the home of the penitente gathering, you thank them for allowing you to witness their celebration and still make it to yours.

Ah, Los Angeles 110

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Ah, The 110.  Ah, moving.  Moving is clearly one of the modern seven deadly sins.  It’s suggested that by the time children now in high school reach thirty-eight, they will have changed jobs an ungodly fifteen times.   Although that doesn’t promise a move every time, it suggests the possibility.  Moving is bad.   If you didn’t have to move your stuff, moving wouldn’t be all that bad.  The stuff causes the problems.  Therefore, stuff is bad.   Is that how Karl Marx got started?

You move from the groove and grit of Silver Lake to the outland wilds of Monterey Hills.  It’s a place most Agelinos have not heard of which gives it the cache of mystery but still, it’s on the east side.

Silver Lake has a mystique and urban panache that, upon hearing, westsiders nod in a kind of, “well if you’ve got to live somewhere over there…” approval.  Monterey Hills bears none of that chic.  It’s easier to say South Pasadena–blocks away.  Many blocks away but, using fingers and toes, you can count the distance in blocks.  Saying South Pasadena not only gives friends and acquaintances an ability to locate you but also a feeling that you’re still safe to be seen with.  Even though it’s over “there.”  On the wrong side of the 110.

The 110 is also known as the Pasadena Freeway or Harbor Freeway depending on which way you’re going.  Monterey Hills sits off the Arroyo Seco part of the freeway from Downtown to South Pasadena that has quite a history.  Officially, “The Arroyo Seco Parkway (Pasadena Freeway) was the first divided-lane, high-speed, limited-access road in the urban western United States and the first stretch of road for what would become the extensive Los Angeles freeway network.”  That’s from the Historic American  Engineering Record, which should know.

Unofficially, before highways were ever thought of, the Arroyo Seco was a flood plain although a dry one evidently.  Somewhere in the early years of the last century, Pasadenans thought a large bicycle path between their craftsmen homes and downtown would be a good thing.  They built part of it until the wealthy people with automobiles thought that the arroyo would make a perfect place for them to let their hair down and drive their amazing machines like the wind — a twenty mile an hour wind but a wind never the less.

In 1938, the divided lane highway now known as the 110 was born.  The problem is that the entrances and exits for this stretch of freeway were  built for those early cars and bicycles and not for modern cars.  Some of the exits are like residential street turns with no turn lane.  The entrances give you about ten feet to accelerate to 65 to keep up with the traffic bearing down on you.   It’s white knuckle time on the east side.  While entering or exiting this part of the freeway,  you find yourself softening your voice, adding a hint of Southern drawl and doing your best Blanch Dubois:  “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

Ah, Los Angeles. Age

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

You find a checkout line with only one person in front of you and most of her stuff is already checked and back in her cart.  You look up and down the long aisle filled with people and carts four and five deep at other lines and you can’t help but smirk.

The woman in front of you is older and that gives you pause but she holds a hundred and fifty dollars in her left hand along with her frequent shopper’s card.  “Oh, joy”, you think.  “She’s ready to go and it’s cash.  I’ll be out of here in no time.”  The total on the screen is  pushing $300 but you have confidence.

The cashier repeatedly asks for the woman’s shopper’s card.  The woman starts searching through her purse.  Just as you’re thinking of politely suggesting she look in her left hand the cashier takes the card from the woman and swipes it.  This does not deter the woman from looking through her purse.

“Two hundred and fifty-eight dollars and thirty-seven cents,” the cashier announces cheerfully although what’s cheerful about that amount of money for groceries escapes you.

The words have no impact on the woman searching through her bag.  “I can’t find my card.”

You and the cashier assume she means a credit card to pay for the rest of her groceries.  She means her shopper’s card.

“Ma’am, I’ve already swiped your shopper’s card.”  The cashier holds it up as proof.

“Where is it?” The cashier waves it in front of her.

You look around to notice that the other lines are moving slowly but enviably along.

The woman takes the card and offers her cash.

“You need another hundred and eight dollars and thirty-seven cents.”

There is a look of incomprehension and panic on the woman’s face that pierces you.  You see yourself in that look.  You see your future in that look.  If you had an extra hundred and eight dollars, you’d gladly fork it over not to move the line but to somehow assuage the gods of age.

She then utters the words that bring you back to the current situation.  “Can I give stuff back?”

She starts to unload stuff with the help of the bagger who is suggesting that she unload the liquor from the bottom of her cart first.  As if he never spoke, she puts one piece of preprepared food back on the check stand after another.  The total is inching downward.

You turn to people showing up in your line and explain the situation.  With considerable irritation they curse the infirmity of her age and move on.

One man decides to stay.  His hair grows only around his dome and in a line straight across the middle.  He  has grown that line of hair very long and combs some of the long, thin strands to cover the skin toward the back and the rest to cover the skin all the way to his eyebrows.  There it is cut straight across the eyebrow line.  He has dyed his hair jet black and the pale skin showing through the black hair gives an extraterrestrial version of the early Beatles look.

You self-consciously pat your own bald spot.  Now, you are surrounded by signs of age.

Finally, the woman puts back all of the food leaving the booze in her cart which totals three dollars less that she has.  At least, it seems, she still has her priorities.

Ah, Los Angeles “Watchmen”

Friday, March 6th, 2009

You rush out to see “Watchmen.”  You ignore the reviewers.  The New Yorker says things about the film that seem cruel.  That gives you hope because so often you disagree with New Yorker reviews.

It starts off just like a good movie.  There’s a big kung fu fight in the Comedian’s apartment ending with the Comedian plunging to his death. Violence, mayhem, blood.  All right, you think to yourself, this is going places.  It does go places.  All of them bad.

For writers, “Watchmen” is a primer in how not to write a script.  The characters talk rather than do.  The dialogue is so on the nose that the audience sniffs in discomfort.  There are flashbacks, flashforwards and flashsideways.  There are voice overs and voice unders.  You understand that all those rules for screenplay writing are for a reason.  Sooner or later, you start to lose consciousness.

The theater management clearly expects this might be a problem and lowers the thermostat down to about 60 degrees to keep the audience awake.  You jerk awake and blow on your fingers, stamp your feet and pray for blood to return to your extremities.  Visions of  a brazier and a bottle of whiskey float by.

At the two hour mark, people start to leave.  Thirty minutes later, you are one of the stalwarts who feel that the end must be near.  Unfortunately for the film, the writers choose this moment for Ms. Jupiter to say something like, “some things never end.”

On the positive side, it is the best movie about a giant blue ghost around.