Million Dollar Julie

Maybe I read The Rules one too many times in my twenties, but I'm very good at acting like I could care less about you or the horse you rode in on, thank you. Then again, playing coy didn’t work so well in my romantic life, inasmuch as I don’t have one. Lately I've been wondering about the wisdom of applying the same technique to the career I don't have. Nearly two years out of film school and the only writing job I’ve landed is an uncredited dialogue punch for which one of my big deal screenwriter friends paid me two grand under the table. Her business manager sent me a 1099 that disqualified me from the three hundred dollar tax credit the government gives to poor people.

I've recently developed a new approach to becoming a million dollar screenwriter, or even a second rate hack who works anyway. Begging. The plan is to march into my next big deal studio meeting, accept the Evian bottle, shut the door, hit my knees, and begin weeping. Failing that, I could certainly manage to grow misty-eyed and visibly determined around the jawline, like Hilary Swank in Karate Kid III. Or anything, really.

I just need someone to take a chance on me! Please, Charlie! I’m begging you!

Who’s Charlie? I'm Justin.

Okay. Whatever.

Can you get off my floor and go now? It’s time for my yoga lesson.

Last week I had a meeting to discuss nothing in particular with a senior executive who liked my spec. My manager calls these “generals,” as in “Generally Pointless to Put On Clothes and Drive All The Way to Burbank.” On the plus side, I’ve recently discovered a Fuddrucker’s on that side of the hill. Nothing like a bucket of chili fries and a burger the size of a Volkswagen to put a positive spin on the day.

Mysteriously, they actually had my name at the guard gate so I didn’t have to pull over and hang my head in shame while important people in limos drove past. Equally surprising was ample parking and a hot guy with an Italian accent directing me to the executive suite. The assistant who met me at the elevator offered Red Vines and Hot Tamales along with a very nice bottle of Crystal Geyser with lime. As if all that weren’t classy enough, the woman I was to meet appeared ready to do that rather than having me wait outside and read the trades while she sat on the phone arguing the nutritional merits of chicken tenders with her nanny. I took in the sweeping, panoramic view of the lot and cut to the chase while she was still busy blowing on a fresh cup of peppermint tea.

Look, if you don’t want to buy my script --

I do want to buy it.

Please! I just need someone to take a chance on me!

Would you also consider an open assignment?

Look, lady. I'm not above begging.

I think you need more candy.

Fine, then! Run off to yoga class!

Yoga? Honey, I'm from New York.

At last, someone with upper arms as flabby as my own who was willing to give me a job and ply me with sugary snacks!

My big Hollywood life being what it is, however, victory was fleeting. I read in the trades this morning that the studio president jumped ship over the weekend. While it's too soon to tell what this means for my future or indeed that of the nice lady with the candy jar, gee I’m glad I stopped at Fuddrucker’s on my way home just in case.

Sausage Baskets and Statuettes

I’m having trouble getting excited about the Oscars this year. Jake Gyllenhaal hasn’t called yet to make sure I’ve saved the date so I can only assume he’ll be taking Kirsten Dunst’s bony ass. I liked it better when he was Donnie Darko and nobody but me and Drew Barrymore could even pronounce his name. Anyway, it was lots more fun watching him give it to Jennifer Aniston in The Good Girl than take it from Heath Ledger in a pup tent. God forgive me, I just didn’t get that movie.

The rest of them, I didn’t see. I’d be hard-pressed to name a single song by Johnny Cash so a whole movie about the guy seems like overkill. Reese Witherspoon isn’t even the prettiest little housewife on the block, if you ask me, and here she gets a Golden Globe and an Oscar nod on top of a way hotter husband she doesn't seem to know what to do with. I haven’t seen Capote or the weird George Clooney movies, especially not the one where he's fat and has a scraggly terrorist beard. This is about as appealing to me as Felicity Huffman with a wee-wee.

I almost won an Oscar, sort of, within months of arriving in Hollywood. My first screenplay was named one of ten finalists in the Academy's Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting, which I'd entered after seeing a classified ad in the back of Premiere Magazine. I received hundreds of congratulatory phone calls, awaiting the requisite gift basket from my gushing newfound agents. Orchids were over and Poppycock wasn’t allowed on Atkins. Any assistant in town could tell you that year was all about sausage. Accepting delivery of an impressive assortment of smoked meats and cheeses, I was in.

Then came the announcement on the front page of Daily Variety that there were five winners, and I was number six. The only official prize for that was a two-pound box of See’s Candy I bought myself to ingest in a single sitting while sitting home watching Sissy Spacek exact revenge on the other promgoers. This might have been a sign that I was forever destined to be number six in a town full of folks who can’t count that high. The agency dropped me, claiming I’d “lost focus.” My agent said she felt undermined by the partners’ decision, but I don’t recall her pulling a Jerry Maguire and quitting in protest. As a matter of fact, she’d been promoted by the time I polished off my last package of turkey jerky and she stopped returning my calls. It was starting to occur to me that Hollywood was anything but a meritocracy. Here I’d been singled out from the pack, only to walk away stinking of hickory and rejection.

This happened yet again when I submitted a winning script and got into the Warner Brothers Sitcom Writer’s Program. My father told me this particular competition must be some kind of scam, since the prize was paying them to attend their scary boot camp. I remember describing certain teammates to friends—the stand-up comic with the demanding runway model wife, the avante-garde playwright who didn’t seem quite right in the head—as those likeliest to knife me for standing between them and a lucrative future in network comedy. One steely lady delivered a baby after a particularly grueling Wednesday session, but reappeared the following week with a brand new Dharma & Greg script ready for tabling.

"Make a list of these freaks, in order of psychosis,” I’d tell my sister. “Give it to the police should I end up dead in some Burbank back alley, clutching a contract from Friends.” No such luck. Completing ten punishing weeks of unpaid apprenticeship, I didn’t do so well after inadvertently insulting one of the sluttier executives. Who knew you weren’t supposed to question their forgetting to put on a bra under a nice Chanel blouse?

With screenwriting contest season upon us, I don’t think I’ll be entering any of them this spring. They can keep their big deal producer meetings, their wine and cheeses with low level agents, their fawning blurbs in the trades. I'm really hoping to get paid in cash this year, not a free critique from my friends at Writer's Digest and last year's version of Final Draft. It might be a good thing, come to think of it, having finally had just about all the sausage I can swallow.


The other night one of the Chinese pairs skating in the Olympics attempted some fancy quadruple throw they only complete about forty percent of the time. This wasn’t one of them. Only minutes into the program, the girl landed sprawled out on the ice, twisted like a pretzel. She couldn’t even stand up straight, let alone finish. The music ground to a halt. The guy picked her up and slid her over to the team doctor. My heart broke for them, watching the end of their Olympic dream come to such a painful end. But suddenly the doctor seemed to give her the all clear. A pat on the knee was all she needed. She threw up her arms, cued the music, did a few laps on the ice and the two of them took it from where they’d left off. They earned the silver medal.

It occurred to me that winning is about more than talent, hard work, luck, timing and preparation. It’s about learning to smile through the pain.

I’ve recently been diagnosed with heart problems, and I’ll likely have to be on medication my whole life. That’s the best case scenario.The worst case is having to trade the thing in for a new one. This isn’t likely to happen any time soon, or even at all, but the possibility of facing heart failure has made me question the relative import of all my other failures. 

On the pain scale, I’d rank writing a new screenplay somewhere below a heart transplant and winning an Olympic medal with a cracked kneecap. Since the last eight haven’t sold, it’s hard to say why I believe so firmly that the next one will be my ticket to the top. Then again, like that skater sliding face down across the ice, I can’t help thinking that was never really the point.

Word Cloud

I'm not generally one to blog about blogging, but I came across this thing I thought was cool so I'm passing it on. It's called a Word Cloud. Click on the image if you're a blogger who wants one, then just type in your URL. You'll be summarily boiled down to your very essence in mere seconds by some word crawling program that simply knows these things. The poor guy is trying to sell t-shirts, but I just copied the artwork his program creates, since that kind of bling is just a tad rich for my blood nowadays.

I've been too sick with Sundance Fever, my fond nickname for the lingering case of bronchitis I picked up in Park City, to even look at my laptop let alone open it and type words to delight and provoke the masses. The worst part is the infection has settled in my ear and I can't seem to hear much.

In some sense, this is a good thing, since my new neighbor loves to walk around the courtyard singing in this high operatic squeal. Nothing against the opera, it's just that the love theme from Dirty Dancing really wasn't meant to be delivered with a confident libretto. I think she's trying to impress the gay guy next door who teaches real opera singers in his living room, accompanying them on a baby grand piano I'm not sure exacty where he keeps. I don't think he likes my wieners, either, since he seems surprised each time he sees any of us, as though we all three just crawled out from under the house like something out of the Children of the Corn. He and the dog-hating would be diva are extremely impressed with one another, from what I can tell. She's a very important assistant at Warner Brothers, after all, a biographical fact I only know since I signed for the crappy Burberry scarves they gave to all the underlings in lieu of Christmas bonuses. Her boyfriend is fat, drives a Harley and wears a handlebar moustache. I'm sure he's an accountant, and married, to boot. Why else would he pull up with a bottle blonde in a Curves t-shirt who won't stop crooning "I Hard The Time Of My Life" while dishing up the Hamburger Helper?

You really gotta love Hollywood. I'm not sure why any of us came, nor why we stay, but it's got to be something about being free to fill in the blanks however we damn well please. Like I say, the best thing about losing your hearing is you're truly free to just kind of make life up for awhile, floating along with a pile of used Kleenex and a Vick's inhaler on your own little Word Cloud that just kind of says it all.