No one walks in LA. It’s a saying that the Angelinos love to throw around. Because everyone’s in their car, right? Actually it’s because everyone’s running. And they are hoping like fuck that they make it to the mythical finish line.
From the moment you first stand outside LAX and wonder where the taxi stand is, someone fires a starting gun. And you’re racing.
Everyone who comes to LA is chasing a dream; actors, writers, directors, producers, musicians. And I don’t care what magazine you read, or what you’ve heard, there are no overnight successes there. Anyone you see with their names in lights has hustled, talked, worked and done a bunch of things they’ll tell no one about except their shrink, in order to make that dream come true. All the others went back home.
And it takes years. Years and years and years. A normal marathon is 26 miles and over in a day. The LA marathon seems like it just goes on forever.
After I came back from Amsterdam, Paul and I had just finished up writing a film for a German producer. It’s actually the first proper paid writing gig that I’ve ever had. A few good things came out of it:
1. I got paid. The validation of receiving real proper hard cash in amounts that are pretty much the equivalent of what I would have made in advertising for the same number of days, is a dream come true. An ego stroke of the highest order.
2. Paul and I found that we can work together without killing each other. This is a major achievement considering I’m always right and he’s never wrong.
3. Did I mention we got paid? Until this point in my life, I’d made a whole $5000 in ten years of writing.
So, I rock in to see my managers and sit down to give them my take on the next draft I’m going to do of Dead Single. This is the spec rom com set in the afterlife that I’ve been working on for 4 years on and off. After a mental break on the paid gig, I’ve come back to it fresh and ready to write.
That’s when my managers take out a gun and shoot the script right in front of me. Hmm, maybe that was a little dramatic. But basically they sit me down and tell me that 6 other afterlife films were set up at studios while I was away, 3 are rom coms and one has Amy Adams attached and is getting fast tracked. So Dead Single is pretty much Dead in the water.
To say this was a blow is an understatement. And as angry as I want to be out it, there’s not a lot of hate that I can muster. Did my managers sit on the script too long? No, their job is to make sure that my first thing that goes out there is the best thing it can be.
Did someone steal my idea? Not by six people at the same time. No, as I learned in advertising, as soon as you think of an idea someone on the other side of town has thought the same thing up and now it’s a race. Plus, all those writers have been here just like me, doing their time and waiting for their moment. How can I begrudge them?
Could mine have been ready in time if I hadn’t taken the paid gig? You don’t turn down real work for work that may amount to something later.
So after hitting a few walls, Paul and I sit down and crack out some more story ideas, I take them back to the managers a few weeks later, they pick one to write now and another for after and now I just have to start writing it.
And I cannot muster the will.
I stare at the blank page and it’s not that I’m having writer’s block, I’m having writer’s doubt.
Am I about to start another piece that I’m going to spend two years on, only to see it get beaten by someone else at the last minute? Will it even sell? Will they put a director on it that’s going to fuck it up? Will they put some shitty, unfunny actress in it who’ll wreck it? Will it have the life rewritten out of it by producers trying to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator? Will the funding fall through like on Diary of a Superhero two weeks before the shoot?
I put my head up and look at all the other runners in the field and I have no idea where the finish line is. When I look behind me, I see a lot of landmarks; getting signed to an agent and manager, getting read all over town twice, making an incredible group of friends, meeting Paul, a fellow adventurer that I’d given up hope of ever finding. And a lot of writing that went nowhere but has made me a much better scribe.
But then I look ahead and see nothing but the road stretching out and runners all around me. If I knew I was half way, or even a third, I could deal with it. I think of the finish line as getting the first film made. But is it? Or is that just the start of another race, to make a career out of the writing? A promotion that puts you in a pool of fewer but more talented people?
The answer to all these questions is that I have absolutely no idea. And I wonder these days if I even want to run anymore.
So after a nice break in Singapore and staring down the barrel of a return to the marathon, I guess I’ll keep shuffling along. Because even though I have no idea when this is going to be over, I don’t want to do anything else. But I’m starting to think that I should be running my own race, choosing the rest stops along the way, and taking the scenic route.