19 March 2007

A Small Hollywood Adventure: Day 4 (Hollywood, pt 2)

Tuesday… just another beautiful day in Hollywood.

I spent the morning making some calls, doing some writing, organizing some notes from the weekend so far, then at 11:30 I met a producer friend who’s now opened his own production company after working for a few years as an assistant with a respected indie producer. This guy is young, smart, eager, and (like pretty much everyone else in Hollywood) looking for financing.

That’s one of the aspects that seems lost when you frequent the discussion boards dedicated to screenwriting. There you’d believe that the problem in Hollywood is some tragic shortage of Good Ideas, when the truth is there are a tremendous number of great ideas circulating at any given moment in Hollywood. What’s in short supply is the capital—both financial and emotional—to get it made.

Again, I remain impressed that pretty much every Hollywood player I’ve yet encountered over the course of the last three or four years push to get into the game has been very smart and very eager to make good product, but the game is stacked in such a way that it’s ridiculously difficult to get any movie made, and it’s just short of impossible to get a good movie made. The odds of a great movie are so slim, so tight, that I’m pretty sure a mathematical proof could be offered to prove the feat downright impossible.

The producer and I talk about his bizarre yet not especially rare difficulties of independent producers: developing relationships which translate into forward progress, finding material worth committing to, securing adequate financing, etc. He goes on to give a few vague specific details about the way financing can seem to be there, then suddenly evaporate and disappear instantly. I ask about current projects he’s looking at, and he mentions a few that seem interesting, including one where he says he loves the story and the characters, but think the dialog and writing could use a little sprucing up—an injection of sharper more smart-alecky humor. I just smile, stare into the distance and rub my chin, thoughtfully.

“It’s a shame that there’s not some guy… maybe some pudgy pissy Texan whom you met in Austin… who might have some abilities in this specific area....”

He rubs his chin and stares into the same vague distance.

“Yeah... but where would I find such a guy....”

Seriousness then returns to the conversation like swallows to Capistrano. He mentions some cool possibilities lingering just around the potential bend, things which might start to fall into place as early as his next meeting. Some of these possibilities seem potentially interesting and useful for yours truly. We both try to act as though we're not excited by the possibilities, and we're both sure that we've done a better job than the other guy at the table.

He also repeats some very kind things about a script he read from me some months back, one which is (for budgetary reasons) far beyond his capabilities and usefulness for now. We talk about various market forces and trends which might be helping this script’s cause (eventually), as well as some possible ways to make the piece slightly more bankable and commercially viable.

He’s a great guy and has been a loyal and supportive fan of my writing since we met a year ago, and I can only hope and pray that he does find the financing he needs, as there seems clear potential for such a development to have trickle-down benefits for your intrepid narrator.

From there I scoot down to Wilshire to do lunch with another young producer friend. We talk about the strengths and weaknesses of movies we’ve seen recently, and we also talk about what sorts of projects seem most lacking in the market, and what sorts of things writers might best put their efforts into. This was not so much about pitching as it was developing a better rapport with this producer, a guy I deeply respect and admire.

I honestly have no idea if I have anything in my near-term inventory which might interest him, as he seems to like various genres of movies I’m less thrilled by, but “one cannot have too many friends,” especially in Hollywood, a business built almost entirely upon relationships. I know if I ever came up with an idea in his “sweet spot” that he’d be perfectly open to giving me a read, and I also know that this guy is a very sharp cookie whose career is very much on the upswing, so again, my task at this point is to maintain at least the appearance of competence and intelligence.


Toodling back across Hollywood, I touch base with Deb, another good friend self-producing her own script, and she says “come on by!” So I swing back to the Valley and stop off at her house where she’s prepping to have auditions for the teenaged leads for her movie. She insists that I hang around, so I make a few calls while she starts the auditions, and I wind up watching the last few girls run their lines.

It’s an interesting process, as I am amazed at the odd take some of the girls have for what appears to be the obvious emotional core of the various scenes. Lines that seem like they should be loud and ragged come out as whispered and halting, while lines that might carry more impact if delivered slowly and haltingly come out rushed and blurry. I ain’t no actor, but I ain’t no doorknob, neither, so these performance choices are something interesting to behold.

Some of the girls have their moms with them, while others (the older ones trying to “play” young for the role) come unescorted. As a parent, I am half-amazed at how it works: young girls walking into some stranger’s house in a neighborhood in an semi-suburban LA neighborhood, eager to read lines from a script from a writer they’ve never heard of for a movie which as yet has no financing or studio support. It all sounds like the set-up for either a bad horror movie or an even worse porno movie.

After the last of the auditions, we decide to roll back into Hollywood and grab some dinner at Lucy’s, a really cool old-school Mexican restaurant on Melrose just across from the front gates of Paramount. Good pal Steve Barr had said he’d hook up with me late at night for a last chance beer, so he shows up around 9:30, moments before Quentin Tarantino wanders in (wearing a new GRINDHOUSE promo t-shirt in a lovely bit quaint self-promotion). Tarantino sits two tables away to our side (he ate a chicken taco and a coke, for those scoring at home…), while Steve and Deb and I talked about movies and screenwriting and the rules of zombies and the way some people never seem to wrap their minds about the level and sort of work required to actually make a serious go of screenwriting.

I've said it before: one of the toughest parts of trying to break in to Hollywood from afar is the near-overwhelming sense of isolation and loneliness to that quest. For those of us compelled to fight the fight from such far-flung foxholes as Houston anbd Atlanta and Orlando and London, it can be a painful thing to again confront the notion that there are worlds out there where almost everyone understands what you are chasing. In Hollywood I can go for a plate of enchiladas and a beer at some cool unpretentious mexican dive, and in walks Quentin fuckin Tarantino as we oh-so-casually talk about our meetings at Paramount and the latest from our lawyers and how our auditions went and who just took our latest reqrite for a read. Suddenly that Impossible Dream seems a lot less impossible, and a lot less dream like. here, it's possible, and it's real, and it's the thing that normal people talk about in normal conversation.

Back in the real world of hearth and home and kids and cats and lawn care and such, such talk is like spinning fairy tales to children: people are interested to the extent they can comprehend and are willing to suspend their naive ignorant disbelief, but for them Hollywood—as both a physical place and a euphemism for an actual working career—might as well be Never Never Land or some mystical fantasy kingdom from tale involving knights and dragons and wizards. I'm not sure my friends in LA fully understand just how painful it is to have only brief taunting tastes of this alternative reality where people actually do talk about the movies not solely as entertainment but as an actual vocation, where this quest seems less quaintly quixotic.

After too few hours of beer-fueled chatter, we say goodbye to Steve and head back to Deb’s house to retrieve my car. There I check e-mail and find that Mr. Bigtime Pro Writer Buddy finally deigned to respond to my emails about being in town, and at 10:30 that last evening in LA he’d finally emailed his cell number, but by the time I see this info it’s just after midnight and I can’t bring myself to actually call at that hour (call me old-fashioned, but I’d prefer my first call to the guy not to interrupt anything he’d prefer not be interrupted…), so I hug Deb and head back down the Hollywood Freeway to my cool little room, open the door and find that same jasmine-scented fragrance drifting through my open window.

”Where have ya been, baby?” the scent of Hollywood whispers. “I’ve missed you....”

Reluctant to collapse into bed just yet and let this sensation pass, I instead sit at the window and write for another two hours as the curtains sway on the cinnamon breeze....


Ryan Rasmussen said...

Is it me, or has your blog just gotten bloggier? Thanks for sharing, B.

aggiebrett said...

Sometimes I feel like a post.

Sometimes I don't.

jj said...

I could read your blog all day long. Witty, true, educational and I'm rooting for you.


Chris Soth said...

...hey, we're here for you. In Hollwyood or out. You're not alone.