Ah, Los Angeles 7

A friend calls. She asks if you would be willing to drive a 15 passenger van filled with Hollywood hopefuls for three days. You say yes because her boss, Gary Shusett is the most amazingly connected man in town. His school, Sherwood Oaks Experimental College, boasts directors, actors, producers and writers–all of them well known–as friends and alumni. He helped Sylvester Stallone write the 1st Rocky. This is someone you want on your side. He has set up a meeting with all the big studio heads, independent production company heads and management company heads spread out over three 10 hour days.

You pick up the van at “$6.99 a day” rentals. That should tell you all you need to know but it’s early and you get to meet with all these bigwigs for free so you over look the obvious. The van is some kind of Dodge with 122,000 miles on it and should have been scrapped before it was made. Your friend’s last words as you drive away are, “Don’t hit anything.” Is that kind of like, “don’t think of a pink elephant?”

You pull out into traffic and start reciting a rosary from memory because you’re convinced your days, perhaps your minutes are numbered.  This vehicle would work well on the open sea but city streets, not so much. There seems to be no way to keep the thing from swaying. You grip the wheel hard and decide to show it who’s boss.  It shrugs you off with contempt. When you touch the wheel, when you don’t touch the wheel, there is a squeaking that, at first, you think is involuntary cries coming from you and, later, your passengers.  You discover it’s from the steering wheel itself.

You go to the preassigned gathering place and meet your captives.  Two are Oscar winning Dutch film makers, two Russian film makers with quite a resume of awards, an Australian who has two of their Oscars, the guy who won the “On the Lot” contest, two women from Philadelphia who are nevertheless interesting, one guy from Chicago who has clearly been doing this for a while, one young man from Tanzania whose parents are Russian and Tanzanian, one woman from Kansas who is a Nicholl finalist–the Nicholl is about as prestigious as it gets–a woman who worked for Warner Bros for twenty years and quit to help her husband start his writing career, an Armenian who is very serious about something but you never quite understand what it is and a few, sundry Angelenos. You pack them all into the van with the authority of a pusher in the Japanese subway.

Your flock is full of hope and expectation. You welcome them onto the S.S. Minnow with the admonition that if it seems like your lost or out of control, you are. Someone asks about the Hollywood sign and you tell them if they see it to let you know because you’re going the wrong way.  Someone else asks about the Santa Monica pier and you tell them that they will see it only if the brakes give out. Someone wants to know if you intend to hit the bus on the right side and you say, “What bus?” Once you’ve stop them from screaming, the trip begins. First stop, Sony Studios housed in the old MGM lot.

You start on Hollywood Blvd. The economy might be bad for us but the rest of the world is jamming into America because the dollar is so weak. The tourism industry in Hollywood has never been better. Drivers of tourist vans, mostly open-topped things all nod and wave in camaraderie. As you drive, you start to make up landmarks. “This is where Ashton Kutcher met Demi Moore.” Only the Angelenos know you have no idea what you’re talking about and give you sly, I’ve-got-a-secret looks as they disembark. You point out good and bad restaurants and interesting things to do while in the city. Most are real; some are fabrications.

You drop off your load and then seek free street parking, no easy task, because Sherwood refuses to pay for parking. You walk eleven blocks back to the studio gate telling yourself that you get for free that which is costing your writing brethren an arm and a leg. At the security check point, they look at you like you might be a terrorist but give you a pass anyway because, if you blow something up, it might get them off work early.

You enter the meeting with the first exec late which doesn’t please the executive. You can feel a demerit coming. The meeting is in a spacious, beautiful conference room. Food and drink is supplied. Studio execs have almost no contact with small time writers. If a writer, who isn’t A list, is part of a film that Sony or Warner or Paramount does, it’s because a production company with a deal with one of those studios made a deal with the writer and the rewrite the Studio ordered didn’t work out. Studio execs live in a world where they can pick hit after hit but if their next thing flops, they’re out. Therefore, they make sure that they’ve covered as many bases as they can. They hire A list stars, A list directors and, even if the script is gold, they hire an A list writer to rewrite it which is one reason so many big release movies are so pathetic.

The execs are trying to be nice but, since they never meet with anyone not already a success, they don’t know what to say. Basically, the message is, “give up.” It’s an odd message since original movies are the blood of Hollywood and since every one of these guys came from nowhere but it’s the official message.

The day hits your flock hard. You’ve already developed callouses so you knew what was coming. The women from Russia want answers. The Dutch filmmakers want answers. The Australian wants answers. The Armenian wants something. They’re so distraught, they ignore the impending doom of the ride home. On the way back to Hollywood, you tell them that the purpose of the meetings was to show them the corporate side better known by writers as the lair of the evil lords. You assure them that, initially, they won’t have to deal with the studios. They’ll deal with the friendly, pat-you-on-the-back independent production companies. You don’t tell them that those companies then have to beg the studios for distribution and additional capital which brings you back to square one.

The  next day you meet at the Hollywood coffee shop. You park a mile away and step around the tattoo covered, roller blading, gender bending, desperate human beings who want something, anything but Los Angeles is the land of “No” and you’ve learned to let the word roll off your lips.  At the shop, you see the reverse of the morning before.  A sullen, sunken, sleepless flock who wonder why they spent the money on the trip and the meetings.  So you start in with your stand up routine and before you know it, you’ve got an audience.  They buy you a cup of coffee and are filled with a sense of us versus the world.

You pull up next to one of the execs you met the previous day. Traffic. You’re next to him for a while. He’s driving a Bentley convertible sports car. He’s carrying on a heated conversation on his blue tooth. He tells the person, in no uncertain terms, that it’s the end of his professional life then tells him to hold and instead of answering with call waiting, he speaks into the blue tooth he has in his other ear while covering the first one. Soon, his tirade goes back and forth ear to ear, hand to hand, between the blue tooths–or is it blue teeth.  You think that maybe he’s not grasped the spirit of the hands free cell phone law. You want to wave hello but you guess this might be a bad time.

You drive to the next meeting in Santa Monica. You point out that the pier is only a mile away for anyone wanting to throw themselves off and drop off your charges. Park a sufficient distance to make you wish a cab would come by but you’re in Los Angeles not New York. Sweating profusely, you arrive at the offices of David Milch and others who are speaking with the group today. Some of the biggest production companies in the world have agreed to serve as guides to we the lost.

This is user friendly. These guys also tell you to give up but they’re so nice about it you feel good. When asked, everyone of them came from nowhere but they can’t come up with a solid piece of advice for anyone looking for a break.  A funny television producer tells you in a whisper that, “Hollywood is like a huge doorless edifice. You walk around and around. You see someone ahead enter. You race up but if there is a door, there’s no evidence of it.” He says with a finger to the side of his nose. “Two years.” He can tell by your blank face that you don’t know what he’s talking about. “Walk around the building for two years. You’ll fall in.” You wouldn’t take him seriously but he had his finger by his nose which you’re pretty sure means something.

You eat lunch next to a guy who’s produced about every big action film you’ve ever heard of.  His latest is Righteous Kill which he sells off enough rights to before a single frame of film is shot so that he makes a profit. The man is completely addicted to cupcakes–something of a rage out here. You do your stand up about food. The man laughs a lot. Takes your card. You know you’ll never hear from him again but it raises your spirits.

You drive back. Everyone is buoyant. Everyone wants a cupcake so you take them to Sprinkles in Beverly Hills. They deal with the 1/2 hour line running out the building. You tell them to go red velvet or chai tea. You park in the residential part of Rodeo Drive and wait for a call from one of them. The police start to cruise around you. You tell the police what you’re doing and why and once you say  Sprinkles, they talk about the red velvet and leave you alone. Your troop considers you to be some kind of god because you knew where this place was and the chai tea cupcake is to die for.

At night, you park on your street. On the one hand, you’re terrified that something will happen to the beast under your care. On the other, you’re afraid your neighbors will associate you with the beast. Your friend gives you twenty dollars for gas every time she sees you. The thing is a bottomless pit. It laughs at twenties.

Day three at the coffee shop is much livelier. They don’t need you to buck them up. They’re ready to take on Hollywood face to face.  Today is the easiest driving day–you’re going to Beverly Hills–which is a blessing because the van is stalling every so often and then acting like it doesn’t have a battery and the squeak has become a steady moan.

You get them to the appointment. Literary managers and agents. A fun group who tell you to go away and never darken their doors again which is odd because every single one of their clients and they themselves came from no where just like you. You park far enough away that you miss the first 45 minutes and must leave 45 minutes early to get the beast. Your favorite is this guy who brings an entourage with him. He represents the cream of the cream. He tells you he never looks at unknown writers and then proceeds to tell about his latest find, some guy working in a garage in a suburb of Cleveland who texted him something funny. “The guy will be huge,” he states.

You pick up the Minnow. It doesn’t want to start and fluid is dripping out of the radiator. You get it started and get back to the restaurant where everyone is. The drip is now a flow. You call the rental place. The man who doesn’t speak English tells you something about “drive carefully”. It’s rush hour in the middle of the Sunset Strip, a place renown for traffic jams. You load everyone in and coax the beast into traffic. You use the map in your head to skirt around the traffic as much as you can. You drop the people off but have no time to say goodbye because the flow is now a flood. They all have fake positive expressions plastered on their faces. Except the Armenian guy who, it turned out, only wanted to get away from the van. He’s positively ecstatic. You get the beast back on the road and coast down hill to the rental place. Carefully, to show them you understood, you drive it into their lot, get down and kiss the ground because you made it and wait for your friend so that you can be relieved of responsibility.

All’s well from the Land of No. And, no, I don’t know where Ashton met Demi.


Leave a Reply