Why Nobody Sleeps with The Screenwriter

Filling out a questionnaire yesterday at the doctor’s office, I was struck by my abject failure to meet the standards of normalcy by which the world is apparently judging me.

Are you employed?
Are you sexually active?
Meaning with other people?
Are your parents still living?
Yes, but they’re on a cruise somewhere off the coast of Turkey and can’t be reached.

Okay, so I don’t work regularly or have any close, meaningful relationships with anyone but the two small dogs I sleep with. I’m not a freak. I’m just a screenwriter. Okay, so maybe I’m a freaky screenwriter. I mean, when my producer called to ask what I was doing for the holiday weekend, I couldn’t decide whether to ask what holiday or what weekend. I don’t care for either one, truth be told, since this is when regular people break free from their desks and take to the streets that otherwise belong exclusively to me. They fill my movie theater, storm my dry cleaner and overwhelm my farmer’s market, bringing their hyperactive children along for added noise and snot.

Even for an avowed misanthrope, working at home can be a double-edged sword. I tend to work many more than eight hours a day, since it’s hard to find a reason to stop. There are no secret office crushes to run into on the way to the bathroom, no coffee klatches, no water cooler chats about who showed up at the Emmys looking like a chandelier. 

On the plus side, it’s after noon and I’m still in my P.J.’s, despite having gotten up early to e-mail a revised outline on my new feature assignment to the studio. It’s a comfy shortie tank set with a built in bralette, so I don’t scare the neighbors with anything pendulous when I go out to fetch the mail and poop the dogs at three, five and ten, after the back-to-back repeat showings of The Office. Until then, they’ll be lying here beside me—Vienna on the couch where I sit to write in front of my laptop; Oscar on a big feather pillow he likes me to set out for him on the floor.

Yes, dogs and screenwriter appreciate the familiarity of routine just as much as the next guy. I generally begin the day with an on-line run through the “Scribosphere,” which feels like saying good morning to my assorted co-workers. With few exceptions, like Ken Levine and Alex Epstein, both former TV showrunners who would thus make excellent party hosts, blogging screenwriters tend to work in the more isolating world of features. One of my favorite chapters in Alex’s new book, Crafty TV Writing, is about making the transition to writing on staff versus writing alone, with passages called “Who Are All These People?” and “Playing Nice With The Other Kids.”

I don’t wanna. I just want to sit here all day and make stuff up, even though in some circles that might be defined as the early stages of psychosis. So what if my doctor thinks I’m crazy. He gets paid to listen to the heart I pour out free of charge. To that end, I’m always surprised when people comment on my blog, or call my manager to set up a meeting, or offer to pay money, of all things, to buy my work. Most of the time, I forget you’re even there.

Julie's Big Hollywood Dreamhouse

Considering my "emerging screenwriter" price range, I hadn’t been able to get a single real estate agent to return my calls—not even the one with the handlebar moustache and speech impediment I found on some fly-by-night Internet site. Then I met Jerry J. one Sunday afternoon at an open house in Echo Park. He’d staged the place with signature homosexual style, lighting gingerbread-scented candles on the kitchen counter, setting back issues of the New Yorker in the master bath. He asked me to sign his Venetian leatherbound guest book and have a look around the little California bungalow, priced at a “very attractive” six fifty-nine, which stands adjacent to a state-run “rest home,” according to Jerry’s brochure. Personally I’d call it an “insane asylum.” When I stood very still, I’m pretty sure I heard screaming.

I hadn’t even been interested in Echo Park, which seemed a little too, I don’t know, colorful, until I saw QuinceaƱera. The only film ever to win both Audience Favorite and the Grand Jury Award at Sundance, it was promoted as a coming of age story about a teenager who gets pregnant without ever having sex. What it’s really about is gay couples with great taste initiating turf warfare by painting an entire L.A. neighborhood their own gangland color, Restoration Hardware Green.  I wanted in.

Unfortunately, once an already inflated L.A. real estate market is captured in an award-winning indie, it’s already too rich for my blood. The one property in the entire gang-infested hood priced below four hundred thousand wasn't a house at all, but a "cozy little writer’s cabin” built in the twenties as a hunting lodge. Perched on a solitary hilltop surrounded by meadowlands, its best feature was a wraparound deck where I could have all the “big wonderful dinner parties” Jerry imagined me to be throwing for my “important friends at the studio.” (Jerry apparently thinks I’m Lucy and Ricky Ricardo in their Hollywood years).

On the downside, the place needs a new roof, a missing bedroom wall, kitchen appliances, new flooring, heating and cooling, and an exterior retaining wall before the advent of the mudslide, fire and earthquake seasons. It’s also so tiny that my mortgage broker had to go to a “specialty house,” a mob allusion, I suspect, to secure financing.

But that’s not why I passed on it. I did that because of the homeless encampment at the foot of the driveway, beside the neighbor’s Roto-Rooter truck. Call me a snob, but I like to give at celebrity fundraisers rather than at gunpoint, and get a plumber on the phone when I need one, not lean out the back window and shout, “Yo, Julio!"

The thing about screenplays is that they’re worth either nothing at all or a huge wad of cash. There’s not a whole lot in between. My mother says I have to write my way out of my problems and my manager remains convinced I’ll be writing myself into the right house very soon. The mere idea of being able to write my way into and out of things is the closest I’ve gotten to Hollywood success. That and hanging with Jerry. The day he takes me to lunch at some star-studded greasy spoon at Sunset Junction to sign documents, I’ll know I’m in.

Blonde Ambition

When someone you know from film school makes a major Hollywood script sale, all kinds of things run through your mind. The first is, phew, it really can happen. The second is, damn, why didn't it happen to me? The third is that no talent bitch couldn't write her way out of a paper bag! No way was fellatio not involved here, among a treasure trove of sexual hat tricks picked up during a mysterious "summer job" in a Hong Kong whorehouse. Just wait until that particular footnote makes the alumni newsletter.

It only gets worse when you made all that up, actually like the writer in question, and freely admit that she's super talented. Maybe not quite as talented as you, but ten years younger and maybe half your body weight soaking wet after a fatty meal. My friend C. sold a sitcom pilot last week in a heated bidding war among all the major networks. Included in the prize package was a job as co-exp on her own show, should it get an order, plus a staff writing position on the season's hottest comedy to tide her over until it does.

While nobody's paid my kind of dues, except maybe people who drive sportscars off cliffs while trying, C. has done her time in the trenches. She had been a playwright before grad school, and her work had been produced and published. She'd had some success as an actress, appearing in a couple of B-list movies before signing up with the inevitable staffing agency for celebrity assistants. She housesat for Don Roos, sat on Matt and Ben's phones, assisted Lisa Kudrow's assistant and fetched coffee for Ben Stiller and the little Marcia Bradyish wife he keeps insisting is funny, goddamnit.

Though C. and I hadn't been BFFs in film school, certainly we were allies. As first years, we were were shunned among the advanced students accepted into the class of a certain famous screenwriter. Each week, we would e-mail each other pissy little missives marked "Delete Immediately After Reading!" detailing the evening's perceived barbs and mean spirited notes from film school power brokers, as if that's not a contradiction in terms. She told me she'd been a geek in high school and felt naturally at home among losers, fat chicks and other outcasts, which I wasn't exactly sure how to take. Still, though nowadays she vaguely resembles Elle Woods, I believed her. For someone with a Dentyne smile sporting a perky, blonde bob, she has one too many angry snake tattoos to have escaped adolescence unscathed.

In my charming congratulatory note, I reminded her that I'm still writing a feature for E.N., and was in fact invited to the red carpet East Coast premiere of his new film last week. She replied that she hadn't heard a word of congratulations from Don, Matt, either of the Bens or Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. So instant was her success, so total her newfound power, she didn't even ask me to delete immediately after reading. Man, I love this town. It's not nearly enough to break in. Every now and then, a girl gets to break some balls.