Rather than bore the 13 people out there who seem to read this damned fool blog by waxing loquacious for 5000 words about every moment of my Nicholl week, I’ll instead make a token futile stab at brevity.
First point: if you are an aspiring screenwriter and you have not entered the Nicholl before or were not planning on entering again this coming year, smack your silly self and get something entry-ready. I do not care what you have heard or read from the so-called “experts” on sites such as Zoetrope and Triggerstreet and elsewhere, the Nicholl is not some goofy artsy-fartsy poetry contest which only wants quiet little “inspiring youth overcomes adversity to triumph quietly” stories. Sure, FINDING FORRESTER and AKEELA AND THE BEE were Nicholl winners, but in this year’s crop of ten finalists there were big FX-heavy sci-fi adventures, period romances, dark scary horror stories, and even one impossible to produce period war movie romance epic lacking a solid mae lead and sporting a third act where the main character falls off the stage entirely.
In other words, the Nicholl is about good writing and not about anything so mundane as "filmable on a budget by an indie crew.”
I arrived Sunday and was immediately impressed by the accommodations. The Renaissance Hollywood Hotel is a gorgeous and slickly modern 20-story affair in the middle of downtown Hollywood, overlooking the Kodak Theater and within easy walking distance of pretty much every Hollywood landmark you can imagine. As part of the Nicholl finalist package, I was put up for a week in the place, and every time I came back into my room I had to smile as I looked out to the Pacific gleaming in the far distance and the lights of Hollywood glittering at my feet. I also laughed every time I had the valet bring around my rental, the fire engine red Chevy compact. Wedged between obsidian black Bentleys and chrome and white Hummers, my ride would not have looked more out of place if it had been covered in pink fur.
Sunday night was cool, as good pal Shawna Benson, swung by to drag me to dinner. We would up at some really yummy Greek place over in Larchmont, then wandered back to Down a few beers at the Pig&Whistle on Hollywood Blvd. Shawna is one of dozens of insanely cool LA pals I’ve somehow made via online farting around. She’s a talented writer in her own right, and will likely have ridiculous success of her own to report in the coming months (but I’ll leave that to her to report...). We swap silly chat messages online several nights a week, and we’ve played around for two years at the Austin Film Festival, so we’re familiar and comfortable, and it’s great to have a good buddy to pal around with on my first night in town.
After our beers, we wandered around the Renaissance, laughing at the accommodations I’d blundered into, when I get a cell message alerting me that some other finalists have hooked up at a restaurant in the adjoining shopping arcade, so we hike over to look for a trio of folks who look like Nicholl Finalists.
Having a few former Nicholl finalists and fellows in my extended peer group, I’d been advised by all those folks to try and get to know your fellow finalists as well as possible as early as possible, as this will provide you with some support group in LA for this weird week of meetings and attention, plus it will let you all share intelligence and information and thereby tip each other off to possible slimeballs and scammers trying to get their hooks into your scripts and careers. For that reason, I’d set up some online discussion between the twelve finalists for the 2007 fellowships, and we already had the beginnings of some relations when we hit town.
Still, there is always that moment of potential awkwardness when first meeting peers who are on some level competitors. Yeas, the final judging for the fellowships had already been done, and we all knew who the big winners were and who the big looozers would be, so it wasn;t as dog-eat-dog as it could have been, but still... there was an undeniable element of caution and reluctance to offer too much too soon whenever a new name was added to the mix. Well, except of course by me. My natural inclination when meeting people in such settings is to come on like a fire hose, soaking pretty much everything within earshot with contempt and sarcasm and abuse and scorn. Playfully, of course, but still in a way that often leaves newcomers either rattled or downright terrified.
Shawna chuckled as she watched this dynamic unfold yet again. We met Sidney King, Dave Mango, and Lisa Gold, and I immediately liked them all but also amused myself somewhat at their expense as I did that thing where I come on as something between Hunter Thompson and Foghorn Leghorn. We all decide that California Pizza Kitchen just does not have the requisite coolness to host the conversation at hand, so we adjourn back to the hotel bar of the Renaissance. Shawna elbows me as we wander back next door: “I think you’re scaring them.”
Shawna decides to bail at 11 as she has to work the next day, so we do our goodbye hugs in the circle driveway as Bimmers and Benzes swirl around us with nary a Chevy in sight.
The Renaissance hotel bar might be the worst hotel bar I’ve ever been in. I suppose I ought not be surprised, as it likely is not intended as a destination but rather as merely a gathering point for Beautiful People then leaving for Beautiful Places where they can drink Beautiful Drinks and have Beautiful Chatter. This place is tucked off to the side of the main entrance, open air and with the ambience of the central concourse of any major airport. There’s an impressive array of bottled liquor on the long back wall behind the bar, but I notice only two beers on tap: Budweiser and some boutique hefeweizen. Now, call me a bar snob, but in my experience, the quality of a bar can pretty much always be determined by the number of different beers on tap. (More is better). Two is the worst ever showing I’ve seen in a bar, and especially for one where money flows like water.
Still, I soldiered on, and drank hefeweizen and then bottled Bass as Lisa and Sidney and Dave and I chattered and got to know each other better. I noted to myself even at this first meeting that I was somewhat surprised and disappointed to enjoy their company so much. It would have been far more convenient to find someone to appoint scapegoat for the week, the object of my unspoken derision and disgust for me having NOT won the 30-grand in fellowship money. Instead, I find that I genuinely like these people and enjoy talking with them until the cute but useless barchick tells us they’ve closed for the evening. At 12:10 am.
Worst. Bar. Ever.
(to be continued...)
“The Biggest Loozer™” B