Back to School Julie

Eleven years ago, when I called my sister in L.A. to report that I was getting divorced, the nature of her response was unflinchingly celebratory. "A, yay," she said, "And B, it's time to come do this thing." The "thing" being screenwriting, a dream so palpable it no longer required a specific assignment of words. Neither did the ex-husband, come to think of it, to whom I'd long been referring as "the sucking black hole of need" rather than Aleksandar, the name his proud Communist mother had given him back in Dubrovnik.

Today Aleks wrote from Dubai, where he claims to be working as a body guard for some no-name Saudi prince, to report that he married a mother of three who's built like Shakira. My first thought was, wow, they must do a hell of a tummy tuck in Dubai. My second thought, and this one always crops up when you're dealing with Aleks, is the matter of how much of any of this--the job, the insta-family, the belly dancing wife--has even a kernel of truth to it. Though I've managed to scratch out a living at the art of spinning a cinematic tale, I'm not the only storyteller in the family, and Aleks' stories are only likely to get more colorful after a frequent night of binge drinking somewhere on the Arabian sub-continent.

It's funny how something can feel like a hilariously distant memory one day and a painfully recent one the next. My first trip to L.A. was a divorce gift from my sister, who signed me up for a two-day screenwriting seminar at UCLA Extension. My teacher, G., was a horror writer whose first produced script had been directed by some guy he met at a party by the name of Wes Craven. G. became my lifeline to all things Hollywood, and over the next few months he and I continued to work together on my debut script--a semi-biographical account of marrying a Croatian cruise ship maitre d' seventeen days after we met. Shortly after I moved out here for good, it was named one of nine Nicholl finalists. At the time I had no way of knowing how huge a coup this was, and thus made a quick recovery when the industry failed to see the big box office potential of a hilarious war-time comedy set in the waning days of former Yugoslavia.

Though G. and I fell out of touch when I went to film school, I recently signed up for one of the writing workshops he conducts out of his home. Though he, too, had divorced in the intervening years, I only learned of the demise of his marriage while coincidentally visiting his former wife, a Burbank dermatologist. There I lay with what I can only describe as a small blow torch poised on my face, very clearly empathetic to her side of a bitter tale of love gone wrong.

I didn't mention any of this the first night of G's class, because I was preoccupied with establishing dominion over the other writers. Anyone who's ever been in one of these groups will tell you this is just the way things are done. Though we are all at or approaching professional status, I can't say I related to the author of an extreme cult horror script about a guy who can't stop eating himself. A kid with prison tattoos read pages from a Chicano heist gone wrong film that struck me as disturbingly authentic. A commercially viable comedy, in my opinion, about a charlatan running a men's retreat, was offered up by a dead ringer for the actor Mark Ruffalo. In fact, I found it impossible to concentrate while simultaneously re-living all that nasty sex between him and little Meg Ryan from In The Cut. Finally, a former New Line executive who always knew he had his own screenplay somewhere inside, delivered a spoof of seventies cult movies with the misfortune of requiring the viewer to be both smart and stupid at the same time.

But we are there to work through all this together, me and the boys, and come what may, that much I can commit to seeing through to the bitter end. Funny how it's easier to do that with people you never loved.


  1. Being smart and stupid at once isn't impossible but it might not be commercially viable. I never thought your memory of your marriage would make a touching post like that.

    I think all these posts in one day means the poundcake isn't working anymore.

  2. damn, made the Nicholl right out of the box... fabulous J

  3. Well, you do know how far all that got me over the next 10 years? Godot's waiting room.

  4. My recent ill-advised romance with a Ukranian rock star just flashed before my eyes. I wonder if Vlad and Aleks know each other.

  5. you must be good at pitches. i'll buy em all.