Fourth of Julie

My sister’s home feels like a luxury California resort and spa, with a yard three times of the house itself, an outdoor kitchen and bar with built-in beer taps and an infinity-edged pool and Jacuzzi with a waterfall overlooking the canyon. The lawns are expansive enough for a planned putting green, as well as bocci ball, horseshoe and badminton courts. In addition to the three separate picnicking areas, there’s a wooden grape arbor shading a farmhouse table for twelve. 

At night, she fires up a lava rock fire pit and a wood-burning brick fireplace and pizza oven, with tiki torches and hanging lanterns providing optional firelight. Lavender and rosemary patches become most fragrant in the noonday sun, and in the summertime peach and apricot trees drop fruit around the yard.

Yesterday she gathered all that to make homemade jam, barbecue sauce, cobbler and Fuzzy Navels for an impromptu Fourth of July picnic for sixteen. Among the well-heeled suburban guests list in North County San Diego were two financial analysts, a mortgage broker, a State Department official, an Olympic-level athlete turned swim coach, and a contractor widely known to have cornered the local market on epoxy flooring. There were also assorted children and mix and match suburban wives whose names I didn’t catch. At least one of these was pregnant, although I only did a cursory spot check, along with plenty of talk about C-sections, Elmo, healthy snacking, squirt guns and time outs.

My brother-in-law is a stockbroker who wanted to be a television producer, and my sister is a lawyer who wanted to be a gourmet chef. In college, she studied in France and learned to speak flawless French but hasn’t made it back much since. Since he is bald and so white he actually glows, it was hard not to worry about the fate of his enormous head in the scorching sunlight reflecting off the pool, where he wondered aloud what “the poor people” were doing right now. “We’re fine,” I told him, lying in a nearby lounger with my two farting wiener dogs at my feet. “I am a screenwriter who wanted to be a screenwriter,” I thought about adding by way of explanation. But he was on to a more pressing conversation about swim diapers and how it takes seven seconds for chlorine to kill uric acid.

In a more energetic mood, I might have interjected that, given the choice between authenticity and poverty, I chose the path less traveled by, the one with no swimmers to diaper, or guns to squirt or time outs to give. And even on weekends and holidays—when I’m occasionally compelled to go out and play with those who appear to have everything—that has made all the difference.

But I didn't bother with any of that, in part because my hunch is he isn't all that big on the poetry of Robert Frost or, you know, anybody else. Neither did I hand him a hat and a tube of sunscreen and implore him to save himself. My sister recently told me that he and I are co-beneficiaries on her life insurance policy, and I figured if he wants to check out early from malignant melanoma, who was I to interfere? I may be a dreamer, but hell, I'm no fool.

All My Eggs in One Bastard

Two friends of mine went to see a new stand-up comic at the Equity-waiver Hudson Theater last week, and one of them asked if he could buy her baby. Actually, he asked if she was still interested in being an egg donor, the subject of her monologue, and also her former day job. No, she wasn't interested, thank you, not in the least. This would be the equivalent of asking me if I wouldn't mine running down to The Hollywood Reporter and taking a couple of subscription orders for fun and profit. It's one thing to use past humiliations as fodder for our creative work, another thing altogether to suggest we go back and re-live them.

This got me to thinking about the Warner Brothers Writers Workshop, the coveted and prestigious studio apprenticeship program in which I landed a spot. It was my first year out here, and I hadn't yet learned my way around the inviolate rules of a town so deceptively boastful of not having any. The first of these, my father warned me, is that there's always a catch. There was something suspicious, he said, about "winning" this rare and invaluable career opportunity over thousands of other applicants--only to be asked to pony up five hundred bucks for the pleasure.

Not everybody has a dad with a checkbook. During the first meeting of the two dozen of us who'd been chosen from the throngs to be groomed for a lucrative future in sitcom writing, I met V., who was eight and a half months pregnant. Had I known how the program worked, I would have wondered about the wisdom of timing two such blessed events--motherhood and a knock down, drag-out race to earn overpaid employment on the mangled bones of weaker competitors. However, as we went around the room to explain in thirty seconds or less why we were so clearly deserving of our seats, V. freely admitted to being a womb-for-hire. Actually, she said "surrogate mother," but the math was done either way. V. showed up a couple of weeks later no longer pregnant, put a big smile on her face and delivered a hijinx-driven Dharma and Greg script ready for tabling.

Soon selling family heirlooms at the Fairfax Flea Market to make the rent, who was I to judge? Especially since I fell substantially short and had to borrow it from my parents anyway. It wasn't that they didn't have it to give, it's just that by then it came with The Big Lecture about how my life wasn't working and how much community respect and vacation time you get when you teach junior high school in Umatilla, Florida. My time at Warner Brothers hadn't gone so well after a series of political missteps that had nothing to do with the writing and everything to do with inadvertently insulting one of the sluttier studio executives. She'd given a script note about strippers at a bachelor party in an Everybody Loves Raymond spec, and I couldn't help quipping about her choice to go braless that day. This was supposed to demonstrate my comfort with becoming the scant girl in one of those unapologetically filthy little boys clubs known as sitcom writer's rooms. I was quickly shown the door, having failed miserably to "advance to professional status." Sadly, neither had V. I'm not sure what became of her, but she never worked as a credited writer.

I think the reason they want writers to be so painfully young in this town is so we don't know anything yet. Not who we are, not who they are. Not that some people sell their souls to the devil for one shot at making it, and others sell their unborn children. Certainly not that the luckiest of all just sell out. Or maybe it just looks that way. Maybe the real lucky one was the comedienne up on the stage in that ninety-nine seat theater, the one who lived to tell the tale, learned to laugh along the way and developed her own means of spreading it around. Yeah, that's the girl I want to be, the girl I have to be or die trying. Like Dorothy Parker, who famously quipped her way around Hollywood with a drink in her hand and a flagrant disregard for the whole damn lot of local naysayers, "I put all my eggs in one bastard."

Julie Blows Her Cover

I went to The Grove last weekend and paid eleven bucks to see a movie, eight bucks for a shrimp po'boy at that great Cajun place in The Farmer's Market, and twenty-two bucks for parking. For an additional three bucks I could have parked on the street and taken the expired one-hour meter ticket, so it's nice that they give you the option.

Granted, I parked at the fancy valet that looks like you could be pulling up to The Beverly Hills Four Seasons. They have couches, coffee tables, magazines and Tiffany lamps, and naturally they're going to want extra for that. There were only nineteen spots left in the regular parking, and the wait was estimated at half an hour, which would have meant missing the entire first trimester of Knocked Up. Either way, valet parking was a bold choice, since I've recently filed for unemployment, and my friend B. quit his sensible, well-paid job to find himself.

Living below the poverty line here in Hollywood, we are strangers in a strange land skulking around under cover. Since we are both loquacious, alarmingly overeducated and impeccably well-dressed, it's not much a challenge for B. and me to pull one over on our would be peers living the life that somehow eludes us. Passing muster with the ever suspicious help, however, is another matter. A guy who knows desperation when he smells it doesn't appreciate you masquerading around as one of them when you're really one of us.

I sensed I'd been made right up front when the valet made me an offer on my car. He was one of those fast talking young Latinos with a future in either high end auto sales or the ministry. I'm pretty sure he wasn't having this conversation with the drivers of the Mercedes and Lexus SUVs lining up all the way out to the curb for a crack at one of those monster salads at The Cheesecake Factory and a quick buzz through the housewares department at Barney's.

No, it was definitely the dented, 1998 Civic hatchback my mother passed down when she bought herself a new hybrid that gave me away. You have to roll your own windows up and down, so I shouldn't have been offended by his lowball offer. He seemed somehow hurt when I politely declined it, as though he couldn't imagine any other reason I'd be in this neighborhood if not to make a quick cash sale of my most valuable personal belonging.

In retrospect, my biggest mistake was laughing at him out loud, brushing him off and going back to my really important conversation with B. about Steven Spielberg's choice to support Hillary Clinton for President over Barack Obama. Three hours later, when I went to retrieve my car from the enormous, high-end operation, defying all odds, the same valet hopped out. He'd adjusted all the seats and mirrors and was listening to a festive Tejano station on the stereo. He'd either taken it to the car wash and asked for their cheapest air freshener or spent enough time driving it around town that his own cologne--I'm guessing an Aramis knock-off he picked up at Rite Aid--had perma-stamped his signature fragrance throughout the interior.

He seemed disappointed when I offered proof that I had indeed been able to pony up the colossal sum for the parking, as if my failure to do so might have resulted in his ownership of the vehicle by default. B.'s generous tip only added injury to insult. Taking my keys from him, I looked directly into his eyes, something people rarely do in this town, and I felt a twinge of guilt. While I have a dream to cling to like a life raft, bobbing up and down in this ocean of endless possibility while patiently awaiting my rescue, any number of equally deserving folks never even make it off the boat.

Julie Takes to the Hills

You can always tell whether or not you're at a big Hollywood party by how many police roadblocks you have to pass on the way. Having been instructed to turn up my nose, wave and keep driving, I counted two en route to my friend B.'s the other night. He lives in a white-washed Mediterranean villa in Whitley Heights, the fancier part of town that can't help but look down on the rest of us. He's close enough to the Hollywood Bowl to hear the late night fireworks spectaculars. Since intermittent explosions lighting up the sky are actually quite startling when you're not expecting them, somebody mentioned the firecracker scene from Boogie Nights. In the waning days of his film career, porn star Dirk Diggler sets out to rob a heavily armed coke dealer, whose stoned Asian houseboy keeps setting them off in the already tense background. B. had read somewhere that Mark Wahlberg hadn't been told when to expect them, and thus the fear on his face was real.

My host further boasted an alarming knowledge of the inner workings of the adult film industry you wouldn't necessarily expect of an accountant who reads political blogs, buttons his shirts all the way up and drives a sensible Volvo. B. shared that they know him by name at the local Triple X video store and rattled off trends, genres and names of top stars and directors with the authority of a respected porn critic for Daily Variety. His next door neighbor N., a successful location scout who just wrapped an HBO pilot, claimed he'd be just as happy arranging permitting, insurance and a good place to park the honey wagons had he been coordinating a hard core porn shoot. Sadly, he reported, there's just no below-the-line money in porn, despite the attractive benefits package, friendly co-workers and inviting workplace environment.

L., a fortyish hot chick with a really good job, freely admitted to arranging weekly porn screenings among fellow well-heeled female professionals in Boston. I'm not sure exactly what L. does, but she was in town for the big digital filmmaking show last week so I think she's partly to blame for movies no longer having people in them. She said something about her father having gone to Wharton, which I misheard as her father having been a warden, but I'm pretty sure she grew up a pampered East Coast intellectual rather than a hard scrabble civil service legacy with a sweet view of the prison yard. She said she's open to any kind of porn--girl on girl, boy on boy, animal, vegetable, mineral--in the interest of learning new positions she can explore when things get dull in her next long term relationship. When I told her that the Showtime series Weeds offers a frank and graphic look at teenage sex, she wrinkled her nose, since she finds the idea of watching teenagers having sex disgusting.

I'm not sure of the age of the average porn star, but I'm going to go with eighteen last Tuesday. I didn't share this estimate, nor did I denounce the adult film business as the modern answer to slavery. Then again, at this type of uptown gathering I am generally the only person who actually has friends working in the sex industry, and I don't know any of them who are in it for the good times. They are in it because they like to eat. They wanted to be real stars, and when that didn't pan out, their bodies were all they had left to sell. While purveyors of porn insist it's all in good fun and otherwise right thinking consumers everywhere seem to agree, I can't picture any little girl enrolling in tap, jazz and ballet class in order to become a porn star when she grows up. You do this when your dream dies, and you don't know where or how to find another one.

While I wasn't interested in ruining anybody's cinematic fantasies, it happens I have a few illusions of my own. One is I like to believe I'm the only girl in the room when I'm having sex. In fact, my little kink is feeling as though I'm the only girl in the whole wide world, if only for a few stolen hours on a rainy afternoon. I do like pirates--as in Erroll Flynn, not Johnny Depp--so some good old-fashioned pirate porn might work for me if it were nominated for a Best Costume Oscar and directed by James Ivory. Oh, and if they would just hold a breathless moment or two longer to yell "Cut!" after Daniel Day-Lewis rolls up Michelle Pfeiffer's lace sleeve in the back of the Hansom cab in The Age of Innocence, that would do me just fine. To my mind, the hottest love scene of all time was the one between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet in Titanic. It involved one red Model-T Ford and one steamy hand print on the back windshield.

I also like cowboys, cops and firemen, so any movie sex scenes involving any of those guys works, Brokeback Mountain notwithstanding. I'd happily take Jake, Heath, Jake and Heath, or any combination of Jake and Heath types offering themselves up for a little harmless voyeurism among consenting adults. That is until I found somebody real to be with. At that point, I wouldn't even have to watch movies. I would be living one, and there would be no need to go up to the Bowl to watch the freaking fireworks. How's that for pornographic? Of course, I didn't share a peep of this at my hillside Hollywood gathering. I wasn't so embarrassed about being a party pooper, a prude or a former Catholic schoolgirl as much as I was loathe to admit I'm just another dreamer from the flats trying to make the rent another month without having to call home and cry. This, like even the loveliest, best-endowed and most adventurous would be starlet, eventually gets old.

Déjà Vulie

I have a feeling that I’ve been here before—Hollywood, I mean—and things didn’t go so well. Maybe I was a failed starlet who hurled herself off the Hollywood sign. I could have been a hat check girl at the Trocadero who knew too much and got disappeared by the mob. Then again, it mightn’t have been so dramatic, my grand Hollywood entrance, my disappointing Hollywood exit. Perhaps I just had enough of wanting too much and not getting it, wiping the stars from my eyes and hopping a bus back home. Even after marrying my childhood sweetheart and settling into a life of championship hog calling, Hollywood haunted me for the rest of my days. I died a broken woman, clutching one of the gossips rags I’d secretly bought with my egg money and stashed in the root cellar.

Details aside, there's got to be some explanation for my undying fascination with Hollywood of yesteryear. I told Jerry J., that I only want to see properties built between 1920 and 1949. Oh, how this amused my big Hollywood realtor, my eliminating the rest of the century from the pencil slim pickings in my price range. I love looking at vintage pictures and old maps, I patiently explained, dating back to the days when Charlie Chaplin had the only studio in town and there wasn’t anything else on that stretch of LaBrea except a vintage Texaco station and Pink’s Hot Dogs. I know those streets. I don’t know why.

The good old-fashioned glamour of it all is so much harder to stumble upon than these familiar landmarks, even in my neighborhood, where a "star sighting" is little more than a cruel joke. What the hell do I care that Paris Hilton dissed Tara Reid just down the street at Hyde? Or that some fat rich kid named Brandon Davis thinks little Lindsay Lohan has too many freckles on her hoo-hoo? Who are these people, anyway? They’re not stars—they’re even actors, not in any verifiable sense of the word—with nary a memorable piece of filmmaking among the bunch. They can’t even come up with any good scandals nowadays, since a fender bender, a stint at Promises or a mean letter from a producer just don’t cut it in this girl’s book. Think Johnny Stompanato, dead. In Lana Turner’s bedroom. With her unstable teenage daughter allegedly holding the knife. You can still feel the drama unfolding sitting in their red vinyl corner booth at Formosa Café, another place that felt oddly familiar to me the first time I drove by.

Yesterday, I stole away alone to a matinee at the Arclight, and stepped into a past that I’m finally a part of, even in this particular life. I saw previews for Hollywoodland, produced by a guy I recently met with on my spec; and The Black Dahlia, whose writer, fellow blogger Josh Friedman, pokes his head in here from time to time. Oh, never mind that the former movie was shot in the streets of Toronto and the latter on a soundstage in Sofia, Bulgaria. They both felt like personal memories, like escorted tours back inside the real Hollywood, the one that seduced me so many lifetimes ago, the one I never managed to shake. Best of all, the feature I saw was a big sweeping bodice ripper, the kind they just don't make any more, starring my current boss. I’m finally working with a real live movie star and all I can think of is the dead ones I never met. Then again, maybe I did.

Rogers and Me

I've been thinking a lot lately about Sally Rogers. My favorite character on The Dick Van Dyke Show, she was the first girl comedy writer I ever heard of, so as far as I was concerned, she must be what we were all supposed to look like. If all I needed was a smart mouth, a pair of sensible pumps and a dime store bow in my hair to make it in network television, show me the way to Woolworth's. Imagine my disappointment at learning that they won't let a woman meeting Sally's general description anywhere near the lot nowadays, except maybe to work the cash register at the commissary.

In the pilot episode, Rose Marie, the former film actress who played Sally, was thirty-eight years old. Her writing partner, Buddy, who got his start in vaudeville, was in his fifties, but they were inexplicably portrayed as being around the same age. She even called him "kid," but then she called everybody that. I was never sure what the deal was between Buddy and Sally, since he was supposedly married to somebody else--but even back in third grade, when I became hopelessly addicted to classic TV watching re-runs after school--I felt a certain forbidden tension in their relentless banter.

What really didn't add up for me, though, was the way Sally was far savvier than either Buddy or their head writer Rob at answering the senseless demands behind the scenes at The Alan Brady Show. As smart as she was, the poor girl couldn't get a decent date to save her life. Laura Petrie, meanwhile, was played by a twenty-four-year-old mother of a six-year-old child, putting Mary Tyler Moore in eleventh grade at the time old Dick knocked her up and moved her out to New Rochelle for a life of leisure. Remarkably, this fundamentally accurate depiction of socio-sexual politics driving the industry hasn't changed much over the last fifty years. This despite all that nonsense with the Women's Movement and the thousands of girl soldiers dying and dismembered in Iraq and that loud mouth one with the philandering husband who's running for president.

The upshot of all this is that I'm feeling a tad miffed today at having been unlinked by fellow bloggers Ken Levine and Craig Maizin. This is the blogospheric equivalent of asking a girl to leave a party because of an embarrassing drunken rant. I actually know Ken, peripherally, through his writing partner, a fellow Miamian who came to see me performing in an improv club back before South Beach was a cool place for either one of us to be. Coincidentally, they had a sitcom about a girl writer called Almost Perfect on the air at around the time I came out here. The character was the show runner of a hard-nosed cop show who would call her daddy and cry when the guys beneath her were mean. Although I didn't know it at the time, that too was a spot-on skewering of the goings on in a typical writer's room.

What I like about Ken's blog is that unlike everybody else in Hollywood, Ken actually does know everything, and he really has been around forever. He's not old or anything, just a very young success I'm told was running M*A*S*H* by the time he was in his mid-twenties. I was like eleven at the time, so by all rights the job should have been mine. I suspect the real reason his blog is so popular is that deluded fans like me honestly believe he'll have an astonishing late career success and start doling out jobs based on the pithy one upsmanship going on in his comments section.

Craig I don't know personally, but when he first linked "Things They Don't Tell You In Film School," he probably expected semi-relevant screenwriting tips from someone who actually has some of those to share. A top feature writer and longtime activist, his site offers a valid service to aspirants--though I'd wager that the bulk of his anonymous commentary is left by major screenwriters representing warring factions within the Writers Guild. Half the time I have no idea what the heck they're talking about, the other half I find it a bit hard to care, inasmuch as gender inequity, fat discrimination, how to extend an unemployment claim and other super important stuff that's all about me so rarely comes up among the big boys.

I don't personally know any girl bloggers in the Scribosphere, although I like Jane Espensen because she always tells you what she had for lunch. I think that's an important thing to know about people, as is what they choose to wear in front of the computer and whether or not they drink and blog. A turkey sandwich, pajamas, and hell yes are my current stats. Diablo Cody isn't really one of us, since she was a blogger before she was a screenwriter as opposed to vice versa. She's also a former stripper who wrote a memoir called Candy Girl resulting in a three-picture blind deal at Paramount. What can I tell you, powerful men like whores. Not that I'm accusing her of being a whore, just because she sold her body for money and got a career out of it, so please don't have her lawyers call my lawyers. And yes, I am just jealous, especially since she also wrote an impossibly buzzworthy first screenplay, Juno, which white hot director Jason Reitman just wrapped for John Malkovich's production company. It's about a girl who sells her baby and thinks it's funny. I'm predicting this one becomes next year's Little Miss Sunshine. As for Jill Soloway, her post entitled "Courtney Cox's Asshole," may be the funniest piece of American literature to come down the "pike" in the last century.

Sometimes I think we're this big Algonquin Round Table in the sky, and I only wish I were a latter day Dorothy Parker, who never wrote a novel or any real masterpiece and is thus best remembered for her easy way with a quip fueled by talent, martinis and bitterness. If she had a blog in her declining Hollywood years, I might have unlinked the poor dear myself. Other days, I'm good old Sal, only with too much fashion sense to shellac my hair into an immovable wave and paint my lips into a permanent smile--and too many street smarts to believe the truly important thing is to keep them laughing in the aisles. Unless of course you're writing about the bleached anal canal of a certain Mrs. David Cox-Arquette. Damn, I wish I'd come up with that one.

Pomp and Unfortunate Circumstance

Three years ago next week, I graduated from the world's top film school with an MFA in Screenwriting. Since that time I have exhausted two unemployment claims, sold off family heirlooms at the Fairfax Flea Market, worked in the subscriptions department of The Hollywood Reporter as the world's most overqualified temp, and landed a highly overpaid studio writing assignment at the behest of a major movie star. To know what kind of mood I'm in on any given day, I have to check my calendar and get back to you.

The good news is screenplays are either worth nothing at all or a whole lot of coin, and I made enough selling one recently to support myself grandly over the next four years. That is as long as I downgrade my Netflix subscription, cancel Showtime and HBO, and knock off the Starbucks except when I happen to be there on a blind date that's not going well. I may also have to read The National Enquirer in line at the grocery store while cool people point and stare rather than surreptitiously sneaking it into my cart. I did clear the guild minimum to qualify for medical benefits over the next two calendar years, although my Fancy Pants Beverly Hills Lawyer had to call the studio and beg for an extra eight hundred and fourteen bucks, which is coincidentally the amount of his tab at Mr. Chow's when he takes his real clients out to lunch.

As for my creative achievements, I've met with several hundred producers, two of them Best Picture Oscar winners. One invited me to touch his. The other proposed I write a little talking dog movie for him off the clock, which he and I would take out together in the event he liked it. He didn't and we didn't, which was okay by me because Lord knows I didn't. Besides, by the time I was finished with the third free draft he was really busy producing a critically acclaimed box office blockbuster that won the Golden Globe that year. I plan to go back and touch that any day, except in the event that I don't finish my second buzzworthy spec feature in time for the writers strike and have to head back to the flea market with my dwindling box of heirlooms.

I've completed the aforementioned big budget R-rated comedy, which went into turnaround at the studio before the ink was even dry on my contract. I've written three unsold screenplays, this blog, a book proposal based on this blog, and a sitcom pilot about a blogging screenwriter whose life begins to change when she moves into a legendary bungalow village peopled with crazy Hollywood types. This was just picked up as a series at CBS, although it was written by somebody else--and the fledgling filmmaker in question, in a nod to authenticity given the industry's unapologetic gender bias, is a dude. It stars Jeffrey Tambor, who definitely would have played
Opera Boy in my version; and Raquel Welch, who could have been the lonely music magazine editor with the bum leg across across my courtyard who has her beer trucked in from Albertson's once a month and stacked in cases in her living room. I propose a new college drinking game where every time somebody steals my life and sells it to Hollywood for big bucks, another starry-eyed film student must knock back a fifth of drugstore brand gin and change majors.

I remember looking at the merry-making undergrads during commencement ceremonies--a particularly loud and showy bunch, given their status as newly pedigreed theater and film freaks--and thinking, wow, this is the last happy day of your life. Talent is a curse I'd learned to live under all those years I denied mine, and it was hard to watch it preying upon the innocent. The showbiz bug is something akin to a vampire bite promising a swift death followed by an endless quest for fresh blood and the paradoxical promise of immortality. Even with the occasional trickles of success--the thrills of victory, the agonies of defeat--it isn't any kind of life, just a possibility of one that never quite seems to deliver. And I wouldn't trade a day of it for a truckload of drugstore gin and a lifetime of free beer at Albertson's.

We'll Always Have Paris

I happened on a TV documentary about hookers in Hollywood and couldn't help but notice they all live on my block. At least that's the way it appeared, since they get their nails done where I get my nails done, shoplift at my Ralph's and frequent my Jack-In-The Box on foot through the all-night drive-thru. I never really see them there in real life, so maybe we're on different schedules with our errands. Especially since they seem to be getting work in network television while I can't get arrested these days.

I did see a pair of trannies on the street yesterday, one splayed out on the sidewalk in black vinyl shorts and a cotton candy pink wig, the other one cradling her head. Although the pink-haired one was unconscious, her friend was chatting away as though they were a couple of seventh graders at a really fun slumber party. I couldn't hear what she was saying, since I had my windows up and the air on. But it was definitely something out of a Gus Van Sant movie. Something tragic and beautiful, a scene so sexy you're ashamed it's happening in public and you're some ghoulish spectator watching it as though it were street theater rather than somebody else's sad little Hollywood story.

Which brings me to The Paris Hilton Matter. I am deeply concerned that she's been released from the slammer due to an "unspecified medical condition." I'm sure the tranny hookers from my side of town have all kinds of unspecified medical conditions, but when the judge gives them forty-five days, I'm guessing my girls do forty-six. Take away the money, the Bentley and the pedigree, and what is Paris, really, other than another flashy, trashy, overdone Hollywood working girl? I mean if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.

How is it that this no talent "spokesomedel" "actress" "singer" "entrepreneur" even survived getting caught on tape using a certain racial epithat that got a certain formerly beloved comedian banned from the public eye for life? When she was heard dissing some "public school girl from Compton" on her second most memorable video, I had to wonder if she ever in fact attended any school, anywhere. I can't imagine her having graduated from one of the Seven Sisters colleges in the grand tradition of even the sluttiest and most depraved heiresses from days of yore. As troubled a youth as Gloria Vanderbilt had--one marked by scandals, affairs and tragedy--it's hard to picture Anderson Cooper's debutante mother walking around town with her skirt up around her head and her panties gone missing. Or stumping for Carl's Junior soaped up in some back alley garage with a wedgie up her ass. Or hanging out with a foul-mouthed friend who goes by the name "Greasy Bear" and fancies himself the next generation of American royalty. I say bring back the Kennedys. At least they had that one great generation--the war hero who died young, the guy with the bad back and the great speeches, the one in the underrated Emilio Estevez movie--who came just this close to changing the world, with or without their pants on.

I know I live in a rough neighborhood--you've got Lindsay Lohan's underage drinking at the Hotel Roosevelt, Nicole Ritchie's heroin takedown on the Hollywood Freeway, Phil Spector blowing away the hostesses over at the House of Blues. But if they're going to let the hotel heiresses out of jail to drive around town eating cheeseburgers with their lights off and their legs up in the air without fear of retribution, tonight's the night I lock the door.

Julie Kicks #*&!#!! and Names Names

Alright, enough with the initials, monikers and obtuse insider references. It was E. N. who saved my life. Yes, that E.N. The two-time Oscar nominee, the actor’s actor, the thinking woman’s matinee idol. After a decade of spectacular failure, Universal Pictures—yes, that Universal Pictures—hired me to develop a big budget motion picture for him to produce and maybe even star in. Believing that I’d finally managed to “break in” through the heroic intervention of an A-list movie star, friends began inquiring what the real E. was like. “E. is just awesome,” I’d reply, bravely bypassing first name basis to entertain something even cheekier, such as “E-Man,” “Norto” or “Eddy From The Block.” I gushed about how supportive the big guy had been, how close and dedicated a collaborator.

I probably wasn’t the best person to ask about any of this, since E. and I had never met. Apparently this isn’t done when one of you is something of a household name and the other a no-name recent film school graduate. Only after surviving my epic struggle to ink that first big deal did I discover that “uncredited screenwriter” ranks somewhere down near “celebrity stalker” on the slippery Tinseltown totem pole.

Because he’d previously been positioned as a character actor rather than a romantic lead, I didn’t initially comprehend just how big a star he was. Though I was vaguely aware that he’d played a pornographer’s lawyer, a Neo-Nazi skinhead, an underground poker player and a guy who beats up his buddies for sport, I had never caught any of the testosterone-driven flicks in which he did so. No, this was hardly the brand of overheated chick fare I’d have rushed out to the theaters to see three times on opening weekend alone like, oh say, Titanic. If E. were Leo, or even Brad—if he’d been Keanu Reeves, Russell Crowe, or anybody else I’d seen bare ass naked—I’d have lowered my expectations in the way of face time.

It was only by coincidence that E. and I were scheduled to cross paths at a Writer’s Guild screening he was hosting to generate support for a little art house film he produced. Since his partner B. was headed for New York that weekend, I said I’d go ahead and introduce myself. “Oh, I really can’t recommend that,” B. waffled uneasily. My first thought was that B. had secretly been arranging a poolside lunch introduction at E.'s remote, solar-powered canyon home, and here I’d gone and spoiled the surprise. My second thought was that E. had no idea whatsoever that I even existed! Had I never seen an episode of Entourage? When B. admitted to fending off people like me at these events, my big deal “producer” may as well have been Eric, Turtle or the ineffectual Johnny Drama. I stressed that this was an industry gathering, not some P.R. stunt at the Hoboken Galleria. “I am a writer,” I insisted. “I’m his writer.”

“We work with a lot of writers on a lot of projects,” B. responded in that bemused voice grown-ups use to correct adorable toddlers. He assured me that E. would slip out the back door and into a waiting Town Car before the lights came up. “Don’t take it personally,” he added. “Don’t you know celebrities are the new royalty?”

It wouldn’t have mattered a whit to me if E. were the old royalty, with a furry crown on his head and a bejeweled orb protruding from his person! He was also my champion, my white knight, my devoted benefactor, if only by silent proxy. The least I could offer him was a nod of gratitude with a meaningful squeeze of his hand. Part of me knew that B. only meant to shield me from the receiving end of some awkward movie star snub that makes Defamer the next morning beside a horribly unflattering photo. The other part didn’t care.

Determined to assume my hard-won place in E.’s spotlight, I marched into the screening to size him up for myself—albeit from a safe distance, third row, far left. After the film, a remarkably relaxed E. materialized at last, taking center stage to answer audience questions. He seemed jovial, open and warm—genuinely humbled by the writing community’s support of his passion project. Deeply moved by this exhibition of mutual respect, we all quietly pledged our bloc of Academy votes to him throughout the upcoming awards season.

As things wound down, I defied B. altogether to make a beeline for this clearly receptive, ordinary Joe—until a terrible thought stopped me cold. E.N. can make you believe whatever he wants you to believe. That's his thing. Hadn’t he first waltzed onto the big screen a total unknown and waltzed off with with Richard Gere’s career? He’d literally blown away the whole cast ten minutes into the movie with the boat races through Venice and the Mini Cooper races through wherever that was. You might call this man the original illusionist for God’s sake, and I couldn’t let him shatter the last of mine just when I’d finally arrived.

No, I hadn’t come this far to force myself on him like some sort of giddy fan. Anyway, he and I would become inseparable once our film got up and running, working as one to hone the nuances of another powerfully E. N.-esque vehicle. Oh, how the two of us would laugh about the night we almost met while campaigning together for our own round of awards.

Or maybe I’d somehow allowed him to stand as a metaphor for my entire Hollywood experience. Here I’d spent so much time looking for E. I didn’t know how to stop—even when he was standing right in front of me. I watched him disappear into the thinning crowd before I slinked off alone, making a quick visit to the ladies’ room. Exiting moments later, however, I nearly plowed into him. “Hi E.,” I considered sharing with a sly smile. “I’m Julie.”

“Oh yeah?” I imagined him firing back, looking me up and down. “Julie who?”

Instead, our eyes meeting for the briefest moment, I chose to look through Mr. Edward Norton and keep right on walking. Yeah, he might be the king. But we all know who the queen is.

Sloppy Julie's Bar and Grill

When I finish a screenplay, I send it off to a couple of old film school friends for notes. While I know in my head that there's no avoiding this step of the writing process, in my heart I am convinced they won't have any. I picture them writing back at once to report that this is my best sript to date, that it couldn't possibly be a first draft, that it is a heartbreaking work of straggering genius and I should stand my ground from here on in and never, ever allow anyone to change a word no matter how many points they were offering on the back end.

In the interim, I take another pass through the draft myself. Just a light proofread, I tell myself, a spellcheck, really, though I inevitably tweak a line here and there. Eventually I'll happen upon an entire passage that doesn't quite work; I'll combine two minor characters and pair down a bloated scene I ultimately come to view as one belonging in some other movie on some other screen in a totally different multi-plex on the other side of town!

No longer able to accept the existence of the earlier travesty I've released into the universe, I immediately e-mail my friends the perfected version, alerting them in the subject line to "DELETE NOW AND READ THIS ONE!!!" I figure if I use enough exclamation points they might actually do this. My failure to over-punctuate will surely result in their investing time in reading the now irrelevant original draft for the sole purpose of mocking me.

Usually, though, they write back and say no problem, since they hadn't gotten to it anyway, and did I mind if they took a few extra days. Their mom had unexpectdly popped into town, or their kid had come down with another ugly case of head lice, or they had an exciting new project of their own to pitch out of the blue.

I have no choice but to kill time by taking another pass of my own, during which I discover an even more disturbing host of gaping flaws. It turns out that the whole structure is off kilter, and that I've quite possibly delivered the whole ridiculous tale in the wrong genre!


This dance may repeat several more times until the friends carve out some time in their busy, itchy, mother-loving schedules to return a set of backhanded compliments. Oh, their notes might appear to be helpful and positive—the hero, though annoying, is an "original," the dialogue, though confusing, is classically "Julie"—lurking beneath the surface is a clear attack on my unfortunate choice of career. On the heels of nitpicky questions on "surplus characters," "unclear themes" and "fun but redundant" exchanges of dialogue, comes the inevitable introduction of the dreaded "tone problem." Underlying the final reminder that "this is just one person's opinion" lies the blunt suggestion that I trash the entire ill-conceived project before wasting another minute trying to pull it out of the crapper.

I blame the advent of word processing technology for my spectacular artistic failures.

If Ernest Hemingway had wanted to cut, paste and redistribute his lovingly crafted passages, he'd have had to get out an actual pair of scissors. It wouldn't have been a good idea for him to have such a sharp object within reach, given the fact that he was suicidal, quick to anger and drunk every day by noon. Visit the Hemingway House in Key West and the guides will proudly confirm his disciplined working and drinking schedule. He sat down to write every day at dawn, putting in six gut wrenching hours on the nose before retiring to a bar stool across the street at Sloppy Joe's.

Maybe that's what I need. A schedule, I mean, not a descructive alcoholic lifestyle that results in my early death. I need salty air, and a couple of swaying coconut palms keeping time with the sound of waves lapping the shoreline. I need an old Smith Corona with a bell-ringing return bar and keys sticky enough to wear out my hands by lunch. If only my life looked more like that of a literary giant—if I wore more hand-knotted fisherman's sweaters, and had snow white hair and whisky breath—my film school buddies wouldn't dare trifle with my greatness. And I would never again be plagued by the pesky need to write.

Julie, Fully Loaded

I have officially experienced my most surreal, life imitating art, Hollywood moment to date. Taking one of my many daily scheduled breaks from writing my latest spec script, I tuned in to CNN to watch my personal idol, Nancy Grace. Naturally her topic was the Lindsay Lohan Affair, not to be confused with the many previous Lindsay Lohan Episodes or Lindsay Lohan Scandals, none of which involved fleeing the scene of an accident, subsequent arrest at the hospital, and the alleged possession of cocaine. Apparently the poor dear's felonious odyssey began at the Hotel Roosevelt, which is just far away from my house for me to have the ideal view of its famous, seventy-five-year-old sign. Nancy's correspondent, Sibila Vargas, was reporting live via satellite from a place that looked strikingly familiar. I walked outside to discover her crew just down the block and her cameras pointed in the general direction of my house.

I don't write much about movie stars here, except the few I've met, most of whom have gone on to annoy me enough to inspire only thinly disguised identities. To my mind, this town doesn't belong to them at all, but to the rest of us. The people who truly run Hollywood do so on the sheer force of our undying desperation, fueled by those big dreams and persistent passions even protracted failure can't quite seem to tamp down. For people like me--who've enjoyed some measure of success only to find even sporadic employment is no guarantee of Hollywood immortality--talent is a curse. With it comes the indefatigable belief that moving on, rather than staying to put up a fight, is clearly the hollower of two flawed dreams.

All this makes me wonder what life here must be like for someone whose meteoric rise to the top began at the age of ten. My friend D. was a child star, appearing as Winnie Cooper on The Wonder Years from the time she was in seventh grade. We met in film school, where D. was auditing screenwriting classes, and she went on to play the role of me in a staged reading of my semi-autobiographical thesis script. D. told me she hadn't been interested in acting until a friend of her mother's--the actress Lesley Ann Warren, who played Cinderella in the Rogers & Hammerstein movie in the early 60s--told her she had star quality. Though D. had a recurring role on The West Wing a few years back, her adult career has been less than remarkable. She remains, however, both suprisingly balanced and completely realistic. She writes and develops her own material, manages her money well, does stage work to hone her creative muscle and studies ballroom dancing for fun. Once in awhile I see her posing on some red carpet for the fashion page of the National Enquirer, which I'm not the least bit ashamed of telling her I read, adding that I always buy it along with that week's edition of The New Yorker.

I suppose the difference between D. and other child stars is superior parenting. D. is very close to her mother, who really looks more like a sister, as well as to her actual sister, who was also a child actress. The three of them sent me a Christmas card last year costumed as full-on elves, complete with North Pole scenery and prop reindeers. It's the kind of thing my family would do if we were all show-offy instead of only me.

Would I trade all my struggles for a shot at being an A-list actress by the age of twenty? You bet. Would I like to be rich and famous and skinny as a rail? Absolutely. Would I like to have my pick of all the best projects, to spend my days shopping on Robertson Boulevard, my afternoons poolside at Chateau Marmont and my nights sipping cocktails at Teddy's? Hell yes. What I wouldn't dream of trading in exchange is a mom and dad who love me with all their hearts and would be there if I fell, no matter how far away I was or how long it took to bring me home. I don't think Lindsay Lohan has any of that. I don't think she has anything.

Julie Talks Shop

I don't tend to dwell on industry issues here, since it's the only place in the world that actually is all about me so I don't have to waste energy feigning interest in things that might detract from that happy delusion. However, with all the talk about the looming writers' strike--the male posturing in the trades, the accusatory he said he said e-mails, the foreboding "Pattern of Demands" postmarked today that requires my urgent attention and support--I figured I'd offer a shout-out to the guys in charge. We don't care.

We want to care. We know we should care. But inasmuch as we can't imagine any of it ever applying to us, we can't seem to get invested in figuring out just what it is you're getting at. There are 13,000 WGA West members and 12,910 of us are really busy looking for our next jobs. As for the remaining ninety of you, I am dubious about your steadfast insistence that I receive "the first opportunity to write the interactive game" based on my feature films and original television series.

The thing is this hasn't come up lately--okay, ever--nor have "certain ancillary uses" of my comedy-variety materials, since only one in seventeen writing jobs in this particular area go to a girl in the first place. When's the last time you saw one of us standing up there in a tux behind Jon Stewart at the Emmys? If The Daily Show had seventeen girls on staff, it would be known as the biggest dykefest on the airwaves. Most perplexing of all is some obtuse demand for increased funding of showrunner training. This comprises the most exclusionary and highest paid of all branches of the guild, so it's unclear as to why these guys should receive more money to find creative new ways to shun me.

Don't get me wrong, boys, I'm very pro union, and you can rely on my vote to support whatever agenda you ask me to support. I will vote to strike and I will walk the picket line, as long as I get the free sunscreen and t-shirt. I mean, "Norma Rae!" and all that. How cute was Sally Field, fists raised, in her blue collar belly shirt and tight little Jordache jeans? No wonder Charlize Theron copied her hairdo when the movie was re-made as North Country, also formerly known as Erin Brockovich. My point being that there is strength in numbers, and I am damn happy to finally have defied my age and gender to be counted among the ranks of the "working" Hollywood writer.

I also know that without the union screenwriters would routinely be expected to clean the producer's pool when delivering a two hundred million dollar Jack Black vehicle we were hired to write for ten bucks an hour plus lunch and gas. For that, I am forever grateful to the Hollywood Ten and the rest of the McCarthy-era organizers who risked being branded commie pinkos in an effort to seek fair treatment for generations of writers to come. I just think we should all be focusing on things that are more important to moi.

My personal Pattern of Demands begins with certain improvements to the Health Plan. I think it should include free plastic surgery treatments for underemployed female writers approaching forty. There are only twelve members who meet this general description, so really, what could it cost? I think spa treatments should be covered at ninety percent after meeting the lowered annual deductible, along with manicures, pedicures and the removal, shaping, or conditioning of any and all unwanted hair. The Pension Plan should kick in at thirty-eight, but you should only have to admit to thirty-four in order to become fully vested. One-hour television episodes should include a new pair of shoes of the writer's choice, and the minimum basic agreement on original features should be expanded to require daily deliveries from California Pizza Kitchen. Re-writes, well, they shouldn't be allowed at all. In the event I ever want another writer's opinion on my work, I'll be sure to ask for it and get back to you.

That's about all I can think of for now, but I will not be ignored, and I will not go away. One person's voice is where it all starts, and mine will be raised until somebody sits up and takes note. Imagine my twelve-year-old wiener dogs' surprise when I lie in bed with them chanting--Norma Rae, Norma Rae, Norma Rae--until one or both roll over and fart to express unflinching support of my cause.

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.

Legally Blonder

Well, kids, she's done it. My old film school friend Blonde Ambition "C.", the one who looks like Elle Woods except for the tattoos snaking across her back in bold defiance of the real life sorority bitches likely to have misunderstood her at S.C., has sold her pilot to series. Since everything is about me, my first reaction was to decide just exactly where I fit in here. She's about to hire ten or so writers to sit around in the required uniform of baggy shorts paired with flannel shirts and duck bill caps to come up with the next thirteen episodes while eating Poquito Mas and making a freaking fortune.

I could ask her to read my work, but she's already done that aloud. Dating back to first year screenwriting class, I would always cast her in the lead during table reads of my pages. Not only did she have the right look for all my deceptively pretty and surprisingly acerbic heroines, but also an uncanny knack for delivering their lingering annoyance at being a smart girl in a stupid world. Perhaps our finest collaboration was her dutiful read of the eponymous heroine of my ill-advised debut script, Jihad Barbie, about a girl terrorist who changes her mind about suicide bombing the Orange Bowl after being named Orange Bowl Princess. If that courageous display of comedic genius didn't speak to my ability to write a kicky network sitcom for the average, flag-flying American family, I can't imagine what would.

Although my original focus was on television, where I earned my single produced credit before even going to film school, I've not given a whole lot of thought to the small screen since sitting proudly besides C. at graduation. But that's mostly because the only guy who's deigned to purchase my work since that fateful day happens to be an A-list movie star who I doubt watches much TV. I doubt E. even has one, not in his solar-powered canyon home, not in his Aspen ski lodge or Park Avenue penthouse. E. comes across as the type to spend a lot of time sitting around reading Sun Tzu in the original Mandarin.

I can't imagine why the studio recently reported they're putting our lighthearted, R-rated comedy in "turn-around." This is executive speak for, "So, yeah, we're not going to make this turd but damn if we'd give it back to you kids to play with." You know those hearbreaking stories you hear on the news during sweeps periods about evil foster parents who lock the kids in the basement for years with a pee bottle, occasionally tossing them stale crusts of bread? That's how I picture turnaround. They don't want the love child Mr. Movie Star and me bore out of wedlock, but they'll be damned if one of the other studios are going to get their hands on it any time soon. It could happen. This is Hollywood, after all, and anything can. Even my ancient Korean manicurist has a screenplay people are saying very good things about, but my pedicurist is having some third act problems. As for the torture artist who waxes my eyebrows, she's got a little horror thriller going and recently signed with CAA.

So back to C. and me. My Very Supportive Manager says she'd have to push pretty hard for the network to even acknowledge my existence at this stage of the game, let alone staff me on C's hot new show. So what if it's about a misunderstood smart girl living in a stupid world?

C. could intervene on my behalf, but judging from her last e-mail, she's been drunk for the last three days since the big announcement at network "upfronts" in New York. Agents and other assorted power mongers, no doubt, are busily showering her with logo items from Tiffany's and other pricey trinkets meant to inspire some pretty darn high level favor trading. Me, all I've got to hold onto right now is the unlikely belief that Jihad Barbie has held a very special place in C.'s heart all these years. Or maybe, just maybe, she's become hopelessly addicted to this kooky little blog of mine. Now that would be the Hollywood version.