Karl Justin Dunn, where have you been young man…?

Greetings readers. So, WTF happened that I disappeared from the radar for 15 months? I did the unthinkable. I took a full time job.

Yes, that’s right a gig. A job, an anchor, a paycheck, a punch in-punch out.
And the rest, as they say, is a tsunami.

I’m now officially the CD of Nissan for the Americas at Chiat Day in Los Angeles, a large and rather famous advertising agency.

So why, oh why, would I do such a thing? Manned up with Paul, writing screenplays, doing freelance, swimming yoga, bit of travel; all seemed to be going so well.

To be honest, I had to try something new.

I’ve been in LA for 7 years now. I’ve written a dozen screenplays. Most weren’t great, but a couple went up into the stratosphere of agencies. Actors read them. Financiers read them. Producers pretended that they’d read them.

I had calls with actors to go over lines and character. I had directors on speed dial. These are actors and directors whose films I had seen. And liked very much. And they told me my work was some of the best stuff they’d read in years.

But after two screenplays fell over two weeks out from principal photography the jobs went toxic.

There was a writer for hire job in Germany, bits and bobs of writing jobs and a couple of false starts writing poorly chosen spec scripts thanks to managers that I fired.

But here’s the thing with Hollywood. You’re really not anyone till you’ve had something go up on the big screen. My dozen or so years of screenwriting don’t really amount to anything because you’re the guy who hasn’t had anything made. You’re a musician who has stepped into the booth many times, done all the sound checks, checked his levels and then never recorded.

Basically, I was beginning to think that the original plan I had in coming here to LA wasn’t working. My naïve thoughts at the start were that I would be discovered in 6 months and by 2013 I’d have picked up at least one Oscar. Probably a BAFTA too. And I’d been to Cannes a lot. I love yachts.

But that plan wasn’t panning out.

On the bright side I was at least doing advertising contract work in LA, which made a nice change. I could drive to work instead of taking a plane to some far-flung locale.

I went in to TBWA/Chiat/Day here for some freelance. Which went well because they offered me a job. And not just a little job. A big fuck off job. This is cool because this is an agency whose work I have been watching since as long as I can remember.

Ego officially stroked. As I’ve written about before, in the film world screenwriters are the equivalent of surrogate mothers in the 90’s; just drop the script off and go away so that we can raise it without you please. Quickly. Quickly.

So when one of the best agencies in the world offers you a huge job, invites you in instead of shooing you off the set, it’s tempting indeed.

And of course there’s the money. I’m not going to lie to anyone or myself here; a regular paycheck is a very fucking tempting thing indeed. Advertising is one of the few industries where creative people can make a regular paycheck.

But I had been freelance for 8 years already at that point and been down to my last $100 many times. I knew I wasn’t going to die if I said no.

And though my ego was doing backflips, being offered the job was enough. That alone made me remember how good I am at the ad game.

So why do it then?

Well, because the same voice that told my to pack my bag and head to LA and start a new life here with nothing but a bag of clothes was telling me, say yes to this.

Was it a sell out? For a while I thought it was. Did I give in? For a time I thought I did. Did I regret the decision? Many, many times.

But I’m still here in it. And I’m glad I am.

So why so long between LA Stories? Time was part of it for sure. I walked into Chiat and it was like I’d been abducted by aliens. My time went out the window.

However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I felt like I’d made a mistake and not one that I was comfortable writing to all of you about. Honesty has always been the one guiding principle of the stuff I write here. And I didn’t know how to explain myself. So it was better for a long time to say nothing at all.

But now 15 months in, I know I made the right choice.

The definition of stupidity is to constantly do something the same way and expect a different result.

I want to make films. But I needed to take a different path. And it turns out that this was the right one.

So expect a recap of the last year or so of my life over the next few episodes as I explain this ridiculous thing called American corporate culture.

And thank you all for your patience and your hassling me to pull my finger out and start writing these again. Even typing this reminds me of how much I enjoyed having this voice in my head come alive on a page.

Quietly, I’ve returned.

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7 Responses to Karl Justin Dunn, where have you been young man…?

  1. justine says:

    Welcome back. You’ve been missed! Justine xx

  2. Vini says:

    Welcome back Mister Dunn, nothing wrong with working till sunset, and writing till sunrise.
    V XX

  3. Hi Karl, I really enjoyed reading this. It’s a timely and relevant piece of writing for me (not to mention engaging and inspiring). I feel your pain, indecision, regret and ultimate optimism. Like you, I’ve been juggling balls and spinning plates for years…sorry I mean…having endless fun trying to earn a living and express my creativity. Like you I thought I’d have won an award by now (mine’s a Booker prize not an Oscar). I love the screenwriters/surrogate mother analogy and it brilliantly describes how tough it must be to write and sell your scripts. Sticking with the baby theme, I’ve recently been feeling like I’m about to give mine away for adoption (after tirelessly promoting my novel for fourteen months I’m really tired and feel I can’t do it anymore). How true that ‘the definition of stupidity is to constantly do something the same way and expect a different result’. I admire your change in direction and I think it was wise to fly off the radar for a while. I’m going to follow your lead. After reading your blog I’ve realized my baby’s only staying temporarily with a foster family. Thanks. I’ll definitely be back for more.

    • Karl says:

      Hey there mate, thanks for the note. It’s a long hard climb to get anywhere in this town. It’s frustrating and defeating. But if my writing’s helping you feel less alone on that journey I’m glad. You’re amongst many friends. K

    • Karl says:

      Hey there Graham, thanks a bunch for the message and I feel you mate, it’s a weird thing to set out on a path, have it not turn out the way that you hoped and then wonder if you failed and whether to keep going or ditch the whole thing altogether. And thanks for the big up on the words. I have your book and am really looking forward to diving in.

      Congrats on making it to the quarter finals as well! That’s huge! See, just when you stop trying hard, it always happens. K

  4. David Rodwin says:

    Seems like those writing fingers still work fine. 🙂

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