8.29.2005

Superstar

At certain key points in my life, those when it would be most inopportune of all to do so, I’m barely able to resist the urge to check out of the moment completely and break into song. This isn’t just a little a capella ditty I’d like to hum, but a full-blown production number with costumes, lighting and make-up.

For example, when I was eloping, over my parents’ objections, with a Croatian cruise ship maitre d’ I’d met seventeen days earlier, I imagined myself becoming Nancy from Oliver to belt out “As Long As He Needs Me” right there on the courthouse steps. When I inevitably grew tired of the black sucking hole of need this man grew to become, I tossed him out and packed my bags for Hollywood—all the while performing a show-stopping mental rendition of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive.”

I’m not picky about musical genre, or even my personal role in its dream delivery. One day I’ll be playing the air tambourine in some Punjabi band out of a Mira Nair movie, the next I’m sitting in on drums and vocals for the late great Karen Carpenter. This tends to go on, deep in the recesses of my mind, while I’m in the midst of conversing with Somebody Very Important about Something That Actually Matters. Sometimes I worry that I’ll suddenly become Prince, leaning into the guy and accidentally vocalizing aloud, “Tell me, are we gonna let the elevator bring us down? Oh no, let’s go crazy!”

A couple of days ago, I got up early, tied on my size friendly wrap-around interview dress, and got into the only slightly used cherry red Honda Civic DX Hatchback my parents recently gave me—along with the admonition to use it to go out and get myself a day job. How could I resort to that when I’d just learned that it’s down to me and two other writers on a Big Deal Screenwriting Assignment? Landing this job would be, at long, long last, something very real to sing about.

I arrived at the Beverly Hills Mini-Major Studio—the one that made Hollywood history putting up ten million bucks to distribute a little indie about a Greek girl who wanted to get married—only to see a two hundred and fifty million dollar profit on domestic box office alone. At the unmanned entrance, all I had to do was say my name, and lo and behold the gate raised its own arm, welcoming me into a strange new club to which I may finally belong.

The building is a sleek and modern renovated warehouse loft, painted a blinding white from the hospital clean flooring to the exposed ceiling pipes—treated to grow matching snow white mold. The Security Guard at the front desk smiled at me just a little too knowingly, like Scatman Crothers in The Shining. As he buzzed me in, I briefly considered wagging my index finger and saying “redrum.”

Without my pressing a single button, a similarly prescient elevator opened its doors and whisked me upstairs. There, a receptionist greeted me with an English accent I couldn’t help but wonder if she puts on in the morning with her Jimmy Choos, only to drop the whole act and pop open a Bud once she gets home to Pacoima. The requisite refreshment—Fiji, I noted, the Cadillac of bottled waters—was delivered by yet another plucky Brit who resembled the first so closely the two could play the Pigeon Sisters in a revival of The Odd Couple. I sipped from my distinctive square bottle while considering one of the trade magazines fanned out in ascending date order on a Saarinen coffee table—but quickly thought better of mussing the artful display.

Two strapping junior executives of about Twenty-Three and Twenty-One, respectively, appeared to retrieve Another Struggling Screenwriter—who broke form to ask one of the Pigeon Sisters for a second Fiji, tucking it into a sadly overstuffed briefcase for later. Twenty-Three introduced the other kid as his “colleague,” who in turn tried hard not to smirk, since he usually goes by "dude," as in "where's my car?" The trio couldn’t use the conference room, Twenty-Three said, gesturing toward me of all people—because of a “very big meeting” about to get underway. We all looked toward the geometric box crafted of four milk glass walls anchoring the lobby like a set piece from The Matrix, and I couldn’t help but wonder if, Holy God, I had finally managed to pull rank on someone, anyone, west of the Mississippi River.

I puffed up my chest and tossed back a swig of Fiji as the poor loser disappeared down a hallway flanked with what I judged to be inferior meeting facilities—the size of treatment rooms in a no-name day spa. One of the Pigeon Sisters led me into the glass chamber, which now felt like the sound proof booth from Quiz Show. I was seated at the head of an oval-shaped Philippe Starck table encircled by fifteen-hundred dollar Aero chairs, which tend to give me the unfortunate sensation of tumbling over backwards unless I clench my teeth while simultaneously tightening my upper and lower abdominals.

The Bright and Accomplished Producer on the project arrived, along with the Twenty-Something Daughter of the guy who owns the production company. The younger girl immediately mentioned the fact that she is pregnant so I wouldn’t think she’s just fat. “Me, I’m just fat,” I had the urge to say. Just then, however, in walked the Designer Suit-Wearing Studio Stiff who smiled at me in that impatient way of a guy wishing he was already back in his office winning another screensaver for eating the bigger sharks on Angel Fish. “I see you’re already in the hot seat,” he said without a whole lot of fanfare.

As I began pitching the adapted screenplay I’d pulled from a novel without much of a story to go on, it occurred to me that I’d been waiting all my life for this moment. I don’t remember much from that point forward, only Bright and Accomplished laughing along with me, and Twenty-Something and Pregnant eagerly taking her cues. Designer Suit was a tougher nut to crack—though he, too, couldn't help but enjoy the ride just a little.

I should mention there was also one other person present, if only in spirit—the former Famous Scary Superagent who taught me “the art of the pitch” back in film school. I told him he’d always be in the room with me, and sure enough, there Scary was pacing the back wall, going, “Take it. Just take it.”

Once I’d finished, Designer Suit told me he was somewhat concerned by my story’s tone. He wished I’d followed the logical emotional trajectory among the characters rather than focusing on the “trailer moments.” Bright and Accomplished jumped in to assure him that it would all be there on the page.

As I watched their lips move, that old, familiar urge to create my own private music video suddenly kicked in. The ambient sound in the room was replaced by the picture of Scary and me hopping onto the retro table like a couple of goth rockers to deliver an enormous duet of “Bring Me to Life” by Evanescence.

Him: Wake me up!
Me: Wake me up inside
Him: I can't wake up!
Me: Wake me up inside
Him: Save me!
Me: Call my name and save me from the dark
Him: Wake me up!
Me: Bid my blood to run
Him: I can't wake up!
Me: Before I come undone
Him: Save me!
Me: Save me from the nothing I've become.
Of course, a girl only gets saved for real in the movies, when the big boys get so caught up in the sheer force of her talent they make the assignment—along with some unforeseen back end points—right on the spot. In real life, they want you to mutter something trite about being inspired by the characters and the big fun you’d have creating their arcs, then slip quietly out the door.

Later, my Very Supportive Manager called to report it’s now down to me and one other writer—whom the studio may or may not be pushing over the producers’ support of me. I’m supposed to re-work my pitch "to stress the more human moments” and, once I figure out what if anything that means, return to meet the Mini-Major Studio Chief.

While I know this is a tremendous victory, eliminating an unknown opponent to advance to the final round, I’m sure the other guy left standing also feels he’s now a shoe-in for the job we’re likely equally desperate to land. One thing they won’t tell you in film school, though, is how much it helps to have a very rich fantasy life to return to either way—one in which no matter what happens, you have always been, and will always be, a superstar.

6 comments:

  1. It sounds as if it went fairly well. A quick story about GREEK WEDDING. When the movie was made, no studio wanted to touch it. An acquaintance of mine [to use julie speak: A BIG TIME PRODUCER/OLD PROFESSOR WHO ONE TIME HIT ON MY WIFE RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME] has an old partner who bought the exclusive right to the flick for fifty grand. He wrote a check right there on the spot. Everyone thought he was nuts.

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  2. By the way, and I feel like a dick for not mentioning it right away, as always good luck with your next pitch. I look forward to reading about it.

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  3. I'm just tickled to pieces that there is such a thing as "Julie Speak." I knew I'd catch on some day.

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  4. Yeah, but I'll bet the Other Guy doesn't have a blog that garners the love and support and FANS that yours does from complete strangers who WANT YOU TO WIN. Just imagine the numbers of crossed fingers (and toes), candles, incense, prayers, good thoughts and well-wishes filtering up into the ethers on your behalf.

    I think you're a shoe-in. Of course, you probably want to re-write and kiss ass a little longer in case your fans don't wish hard enough....

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  5. Maybe he does have a blog. Everybody's blogging these days. In fact, my hot dog Oscar is thinking of putting one up called "Confessions of a Boy Wiener." He's already starred in the heartbreaking love story "Wiener in Paradise," my non-synch student short set to Sarah Brightman's "Stranger in Paradise." People are saying very good things about him.

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  6. Argghh... I was really hoping you had word that you got the job already! I guess it's a little soon yet, but I wonder if I'm as excited about this as you? Talk about living vicariously through strangers, huh?

    Your fans expect a post as soon as you know! (And there's no WAY the only one in the way of YOUR new script can possibly have a better blog. Nope. Not happening.)

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