Who Do You Know, What Have You Got?

"You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood," Carrie Fisher once said, "because everybody does the fake closeness so well." While I don't have her pedigree or connections, I recently got to test the veracity of my longstanding personal friendship with the president of a cable television network. In Hollywood terms, this means we've never met but he's been following my blog for awhile.

A light but loyal surface skimming is about as intimate as it gets between two people in this town. The stakes are only heightened when one of you is a power player and the other is a struggling screenwriter dishing up the snark safely under the cover of semi-anonymity. So ardent is this highly-placed executive's fandom, however, he signs his actual name to our volleyed chuckles in my comments section.

This open display of e-ffection here on my digi-pedestal might have emboldened me to contact him to enlist his support of a big TV gig I'm after. In any other business, in any other town, ours might be considered a casual e-ffair, but here in Hollywood we are as real as it gets. Unless we'd been bonded by blood, of course, or went to the same day camp, where we later become counselors and made out.

Whether she likes her mother or not, Carrie Fisher would tell you this is a family town, where careers are built on going to the right barbecue in the right bikini emblazoned with the name of the right university across the right butt. I certainly don't have anything that cheeky for him to latch onto in the big bunny hop around the pool.

No, ours is a virtual connection, far too flimsy to survive a jump to the flesh and bones of a cell phone call placed to his convertible on PCH. He'd have to be patched through by a snoopy assistant, some niece's niece barely out of her teens who's after the same job. There would be poor reception and a lot of those awkward, overlapping bursts before the line went dead and we all three knew the jig was up, however bravely played.

 I decided to drop him a short LinkedIn message it took me a day and a half to craft. "Hey you, it's me, please help," I finally wrote, attaching the job posting. His reply came about a week later. "Oh hi. Yeah sure. Will do."

 She shoots, she scores!

Though hardly cinematic on either front, in my mind he may as well have gotten down on one knee and proposed marriage on live national television. He'd have to initiate a speedy divorce from his beautiful wife and relinquish sole custody of any and all sticky little children, but still. Winning.

As for how such a casual exchange could be perceived with such glee on my part, I guess it's true that we just don't do genuine very well here in Hollywood. We reserve heartfelt dialogue and big, feel good endings for the screen, where we have ninety meaningful minutes to effect the unlikely triumph of a little guy like me. Unless you were born into this game -- or know somebody who knows somebody who was --  that often means writing about life while you sit and wait another day for yours to happen.

Panties Are Not a Punchline, Honey, Just Shut Up and Bring the Funny

I've been thinking about what it is to be a funny, female writer who  gives it all away in these pages as though hostessing some budget-friendly girlie show in the sky. The way I figure it, a humor blogger  should really shoot for adorable, self-styled glamour-puss over bitter little misanthrope when welcoming a crowd gathering for a laugh. Not that any of that happens much here. Stop me when I'm overreaching.

"The definition of 'crazy' in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to sleep with her anymore," Tina Fey tells us.

In that case I'm in a pretty good position, as positions go, since I mostly write quietly and for my own amusement. Then again, there's only so much navel-gazing you can do and hope to become as relevant as say, Leah Dunham's anus. However ass-backwards, maybe the rest of her only got into the game because self-deprecating humor was her birthright as a direct descendent of Manhattan's post-feminist gliteratti. There's a crowd that kept right on gabbing long after the sexy came and went.

Back in the day, a midwest housewife named Phyllis Diller was actually too hot for this job, and only came up with the whole crazy chicken look to take your mind off wanting to nail her. Joan Rivers felt Johnny Carson both brought her up and took her down as though she'd belonged to him on both ends, like a disposable early wife. To check the strength of current ties between comic appeal and sex appeal, count up all the comediennes -- from Kathy Griffin to Molly Shannon, Sarah Silverman and even Sandra Bernhard -- whose underwear you can describe in some detail. Now try this with the guys -- until you get to a single goofball who looks any good in it.

In life as in comedy, most girls will do what it takes to draw an audience, and the truth is we don't care how you got here as long as you pay for your own drinks and stay awake for the show.

At my level, even bothering to read my work earns you the right to rip into it at leisure. My mother told me that my brother didn't care for an online novella I wrote about a sexually adventurous former panty model who goes to work for L.A.P.D. Hollywood Division. To me this is the perfect comic set up, but he found it inappropriate for children, of which he has three, apparently comprising the remainder of my readership. The whole brood gathers around the family laptop in the evening to read Auntie's uncensored internet musings. And I'm inappropriate? Seriously, get an X-Box and some boundaries.

Mom herself dismissed my brief foray into smut writing with a snort. "You're better than that," she announced. Really? Who knew? I figure in the absence of any monetary recognition (or really any other kind) in this digital cabaret of mine, I am entitled to some authenticity of voice. As I tell the students in my on-again off-again film professor gig, there's all kinds of talent in this town, but nobody brings you but you.

Though there are many schools of thought as to whether comedy can be learned, I see my whole life as a sketch in search of its rightful pay-off. "I think if you have a comic perspective, almost anything that happens you tend to put through a comic filter, " Woody Allen told The Paris Review in an interview on the art of comedy. "People think it’s very hard to be funny but it’s an interesting thing. If you can do it, it’s not hard at all."

While you'd expect a few choice pearls of "hisdom" from the guy behind the loopy, self-doubting humor of Annie Hall, his comic perspective is remarkably free of gender bias:
It would be like if I said to somebody who can draw very well, My God, I could take a pencil and paper all day long and never be able to draw that horse. I can’t do it, and you’ve done it so perfectly. And the other person feels, This is nothing. I’ve been doing this since I was four years old. That’s how you feel about comedy—if you can do it, you know, it’s really nothing.
"Is he still shtupping his daughter?" Mom inquired, as if that were right on point with today's topic. I saw him in a Q&A a few years back and told her this hadn't come up. But the two them have been married awhile now, so I doubt it. See, now that's funny.

Halloween in Hollyweird

With the possible exception of special effects artists, who tend to be year-round freaks, folks working in the entertainment industry don't much care for Halloween. We see our share of illusion, day in and day out, and unless somebody's paying minimum union scale plus pension and healthcare, we're rarely in the mood to dress up and play along.

Coincidentally, this is also my theory as to why your big Hollywood starlet runs off to an ashram for her first couple of weddings, barefoot and clothed only in her own hair; she has worn the big white dress at work and it just wasn't all that interesting. Then again, neither was the semi-nude thing on the banks of the Ganges at sunrise under the spell of some faux yogi and a wicked hangover. It takes an average of fourteen months to sort all that out, claim she was off her meds and seek a quick Mexican annulment and secret tummy tuck.

Anyway, that's how it went for me, give or take a few fungible details. The point being that, although the search for high drama is what brought us here, we are unlikely to make our own just for sport. Having made our big escape into the bowels of fantasyland only to discover there's no way out, we know all too well that fun can be anything but good and clean. Somewhere along the way, we gurus of glamour become the proverbial shoemakers with no shoes, kitten-heeled or otherwise.

Though I have been a working writer for the better part of thirty years, my showbiz career actually began in front of the camera. While I sometimes refer to myself as a former child actress, that's really mostly to throw you off as to my true age.

The fact is, I worked well into my twenties, starting on the stage and working my way up to television commercials and even an iconic network role or two. I auditioned for (but didn't get) the role of Nick Nolte's secretary in Cape Fear and Burt Reynolds's secretary in Striptease. Apparently I exuded a screen presence that made me ill-suited for office work. Apparently.

Digging through some old photos this past week, I couldn't find a single picture of myself in costume just for fun. I was either starring in the school play, thus turning in some of my greatest work to dateor else being snapped  by a script supervisor for continuity on location somewhere far more exotic than anywhere I've been lately.

As for my current Halloween plans, I live in a barn set behind a large main house, where I wouldn't get much attention from the trick-or-treaters unless I set the place on fire. I'm off sugar, as well as alcohol, carbs, high heels, low necklines and brief, barefoot marriages, doomed before they began. I may decorate a pumpkin or two but I don't like to carve into them at all so they last all the way through to Christmas. Life imitating art and all, that's a ho-ho-holiday we ho-ho-Hollywood hoes can get behind.

Big Hollywood Call In the Sky

My cousin's kid, a college freshman back east, wrote me that he hoped to make it to Hollywood some day and maybe even have a future in showbiz. I told him what I tell my own students who share that unfortunate yearning. "You can do or be anything you want to be," I offered up in all its American Girl doll-of-the-year theme song simplicity.

I left off the second half of the sentence"That is, as long as you are willing to pay the price"as I often do in cases of extreme fresh-faced youthful optimism. Part of me thinks this little hitch is so obvious it's not worthy of a reminder. The other part doesn't want to be the first to offer up the gory details.

All these many years into my own Hollywood journey, the price to which I refer has not so much been the sting of rejection, as one would expect, but rather the endless, relentless, unyielding anguish of waiting.You learn to live life riding the hold button like an electronic bull, not sure why you're hanging on when being thrown off would be just as sweet a relief. Something, anything to break the monotony of anticipationeven a no would do once it becomes so painfully clear just how rare and delicious a yes will be.

Worse yet, in a town where anything can happen at any moment and hardly ever does, the self-imposed sentence to life in limbo as time marches ontoward your inevitable irrelevance either wayapplies to all levels of success. I once heard, for example, that the Oscars after party for Saving Private Ryan felt downright funereal after Steven Spielberg spent the entire awards season waiting for his name to be called, only to lose in a last minute upset to Shakespeare in Love.

I can only imagine his camp's more recent state of embitterment after Lincoln fell victim to the same waiting game all year, only to lose to that scrappy little Argo bunch. Still, you can't help but envy the Dreamworks crew for knowing, at long last, whether the next morning would hold firings or promotions and a fleet of new Priuses peppering the lot, courtesy of the boss.

For my money, some news, any newsgood, bad or, yes, even indifferentis always going to offer up some peace, however bittersweet. Another thing about Hollywood, though, is nobody wants to be the one to tell you no. They don't even want to tell you yes for fear of taking the heat should you and your little project fail, against all odds, to hand Spielberg his ass in the underdog story of the century. 

I did not share any of this with my cousin, most especially not that last thing. You don't come to Hollywood to get good at waiting. You come here to happen, and then it turns out there's no such thing. For my part, there is always blogging. I figure you can't get any more proactive then hitting "publish" at will between steady gigs such as mine, most recently, writing theme songs for American Girl.  "You can do and be whatever you want to be." Oh, come on. Did you really think I just pull that kind of gold out of the sky?

In The Clearing Stands a JuntoBoxer

Forest Whitaker started following your project. Keep up the good work! Congrats--The JuntoBox Staff

Oh, what happy words to the ears of a young filmmaker, although in my case I use that term loosely on both counts. The point is, whether you are an Oscar-winning actor or a low level screenwriter with a dog named Oscar who is eighteen years old and waiting for some good news so he can go off and die in peace, a whole new Hollywood is happening online.

There used to be a smoke-filled office where a script like mine might have managed to make it onto the desk of some cigar-chomping fat cat who couldn't help but chuckle over a kicky line of dialogue here and there. "Who wrote this crap?" he'd demand of the nearest suck-up. "Julie Ann Sipos," a voice would croak from behind a tower of competing screenplays far more likely to reach the shredder than the screen. "Also known as Julie Goes to Hollywood. She has a blog." In the old days they called it a "column," and it turns out I began gathering an internet following long before anyone knew what to do with one of those. 

A relative newcomer to the digital space, Juntobox Films is an online community set up by Whitaker and his partners to mentor, fund and distribute micro-budgeted features among an open membership. Only dressed up to look like forward thinking innovation, it's actually an ancient concept to invite the folks in the cheap seats to make clear what does and doesn't interest us simply by virtue of showing up and making some noise. 

Though movies were born in a place called a "nickelodeon," somewhere along the way, your nickels stopped mattering. Filmmaking became so expensive that films evolved into events rather than on-screen stories, and only a bunch of rich guys deemed themselves equipped to determine what got made and by whom. Then the Red camera and the MacBook appeared, allowing the random penniless storyteller to get back in cahoots with the audience and make movies about people of all things. 

Next up for JuntoBox funding is a comedy, so if you find yourself on the planet with Internet access anywhere in the vicinity of your yurt, please consider logging on to support my film. Seneca Falls is a tiny little heist movie with big, universal themes like sex, death, love, loss, a bossy sister, an asshole brother and a bunch of small town relatives fighting over an inheritance too insignificant to be the point of any of it.

If none of that works for you, forget me and log on and vote for something, anything you'd like to see up on the screen. You may be one of my students, a longtime reader of this blog or that scary guy in his basement who got here trolling for porn using the search term "Linda Carter's big gold tits." If you love movies, yours is the hand on the greenlight and this is the smoke-filled office where dreams are made.

Random Things I Learned About Hollywood While Driving Across Country

While screenwriting should always be about telling a great story, it's probably a good idea to know a little something about the folks you're telling it to. Last week my friend B! and I drove a car from Florida to California, overnighting in Louisiana, Texas and Arizona and blowing through a bunch of other states comprising a good bit of the domestic box office. Here are some things about Hollywood I learned along the way:

Snark is a foreign language. There is not a lot of double talk among regular Americans, so there's no need to look for hidden meaning in every passing exchange. The waitress really is just a waitress, not a panty model with a flawed life plan and a bad attitude  When she asks how you want your burger, she really wants to know this, and is not in any way judging you for going with the full bun.
Fox News is a thing. We don't have to like it. We just have to accept that they like it. All day and all night they like it. If only my scripts featured more smiling fat guys talking to hungry former beauty queens about the whole country going to hell, they might actually sell.

Red is the new purple.  The entire Florida peninsula getting swept away in a hurricane is a popular sentiment on the typical Hollywood Facebook wall. It turns out they're posting about California crumbling into the sea when the big one hits. How can any of this be good for box office? Let's dial it back, folks. America, good. Natural disaster, bad. Texas, big. Really big. Do not mess with Texas, on or off screen.

Guns don't kill people, plucky heroines kill people. For dramatic purposes, gunplay is a good thing. Paraphrasing Anton Chekhov, guns are fun, when used properly, which is to say they come out in the first act and go off in the third. The last thing we need is for America to become disenchanted with good old-fashioned Hollywood justice, so let's keep violence off the streets and on the screen where it belongs.

People get old.  I don't know why we keep writing for young boys, since they are making their own movies now when they are not watching free internet porn and playing video games. Seniors have both money and time, so we should be charging them more for tickets, not less, and maybe even making some in which they exist, even if they are women.

We Hollywood types live in a tiny world, telling the same lies and chasing the same dream until it dies or kills us, whichever comes first. Our audience, on the other hand, lives in a big beautiful place full of big beautiful people, who often smile, free of charge, all the while relying on us to whisk them away somewhere better. I guess there's a reason they call it the heartland. I hope I can remember that, no matter how many times mine ends up broken.

Write Young, Stay Pretty

A former student called to tell me he's giving up. He's tired of Hollywood and frustrated with his night job editing scripted barbs for some low-rent "unscripted" show. Some guy he personally hand trained was promoted to day shift above him. This means big benefits, such as permission to sample the congealing Poquito Mas while clearing the crafts table. My guy is done trying to fight his way up, covets a vintage Mustang and wishes he'd majored in accounting. He's twenty-five years old, after all, and at this for nearly three years now.

I got here way back when the first Clinton was in the Oval Office and nobody suspected the rude kind of stuff he was up to in there. Around this time the little wiener on the phone was celebrating his first big boy birthday at Chucky Cheese. "Snap out of it!" I wanted to say. "Twice I took the name of the Lord in vain, once I slept with the brother of my fiance, and once I bounced a check at the liquor store, but that was really an accident," I would add, because that's another great Cher line from Moonstruck.

All of us doe-eyed Hollywood types arrived here convinced to the core we had that kind of gold to offer -- rightly or wrongly, judging from the mixed bag I've read over the years. It all feels so random, though, the way things turn out -- who made it, who didn't, who's been teetering so dangerously close to the edge for years. Who gave up and went home without so much as checking into Foursquare with a status update as the new Mayor of Nowhere.

In film school I knew a girl who didn't have the five dollars I was collecting to buy our teacher a class gift. "I'd have to give you my food money," she apologized. "For the week." She ended up marrying one of the creators of Lost, and picked up a few Emmy nods herself writing on The Office and Modern Family -- before selling her own series to ABC as part of seven figure deal. I'm pretty sure she has groceries now, though I doubt she does much eating. She's probably trying to lose her recent pregnancy weight with a celebrity trainer before turning a new baby over to the back-up nanny up in Bel-Aire Canyon.

A guy in my first writer's group wanted notes on some teenage alien script he was polishing. He became a big TV director before jumping to four-quadrant features and marrying the highest paid female screenwriter in history (for all those vampire movies), though not necessarily in that order.

My funniest collaborator ever, ironically, has had as tough a go of things as I have. After college, we did improv in a space rented from a downstairs tow truck company, and starred together in some TV commercials. For awhile he was Mr. Goodyear. Or was it Mr. Goodwrench? I don't know, one of the good guys. Meeting the other day across another wobbly coffee table over another slice of pie, it hit me that somewhere along the way we grew up. While I couldn't pinpoint the exact moment it happened, there's no real mystery as to how things are going to turn out for us. He's been married for twenty years and has a daughter studying abroad. I have a fairly useless master's degree, an on-and-off professorship and some kid calling to insist I make sense of the whole deal.

Given the gift of prophecy, what secrets would I have revealed to the earlier versions of any of us? For even the casual dreamer, I'd announce at one of those coffee houses bubbling with aspirations, Hollywood is the best game in town. For us there is no other game or town; there's nowhere else to go and nothing to do when we get there. Time passes. Everything changes. Nothing changes. And we are only young for now.

Julie Goes Indie

Having recently submitted a project for possible independent financing at Juntobox Films, I've been thinking more about not making a movie, as opposed to not writing one -- and really these are two different things, requiring two separate sets of delusions. Just when I thought I'd run out of ways to disappoint myself and others around a script that didn't come together, wasn't worth re-working and had to be permanently shelved, this time an actual movie would have to fail before all that happens.

So far most of my creative energy has gone to how I would post the happy news on Facebook. Right now I'm going with "Greenlight, bitches!," beside an old still I found of a topless go-go girl shooting a movie, in the woods for some reason. I figure if she could get off the pole and pursue an even more dubious second career, why not me?

Where screenwriting amounts to getting up and dressed in time for another big game of rocks, paper, scissors, filmmaking means being on set at dawn to plug important things into other important things because you have something important to say. I'm not very mechanical by nature, but I am jotting down mental notes for the trade press on my improbable triumph over sexism, ageism and cronyism. Oh and lazyassyism, perhaps the best explanation why we avowed recluses don't tend to roll up our sleeves and collaborate of all things.

So far my favorite part of being an independent filmmaker is the high quality procrastination it offers. Honestly, I can't think of a better excuse for ignoring my silly little pages than thinking really hard about making a Serious Piece of Breakthrough Cinema. Okay, so it's a quirky little funeral comedy with elements of a feel good sex romp climaxing with an action-packed heist, but still.
I'm not the first writer to grapple with the jump from the page to the stage. "One deceptive appeal of being out there with other people is that it gets you away from the job of writing," Woody Allen told The Paris Review. "I’ve always felt that if they told me tomorrow I couldn’t make any more films, that they wouldn’t give me any more money, I would be happy writing for the theater; and if they wouldn’t produce my plays, I’d be happy just writing prose; and if they wouldn’t publish me, I’d still be happy writing and leaving it for future generations."

It's probably easier to believe your unproduced work will have lasting merit when you are Woody Allen -- who doesn't even show up to accept his Oscars because it interferes with band practice.

Now that I'm going to be a multi-hyphenate, maybe I should get mentally prepared for awards season, which has gotten so out of control between Cannes and Taormina and I mean, BAFTA? Really? I'm not sure how the Brits got to be in charge of everything again, but should Kate Middleton show at my after party, I really need to start reducing now. Even pregnant those princess types make the actresses look like tubs of lard -- who in turn make us writers seem especially ginormous and awkward at these events.

Then again the whole point of bypassing the studio system is avoiding the judgement to step out of the shadows and grab what's due me. Somehow this never occurred to me before, despite all my yakking here over the years about how awesome I am.

I guess my big priority should be becoming a living legend already, because, really, what fun is it to be a dead one? "Not that immortality via art is any big deal," summed up Allen. "Truffaut died and we all felt awful about it, and there were the appropriate eulogies, and his wonderful films live on. But it’s not much help to Truffaut."

Maybe one day some idiot blogger will be sitting alone in a Toluca Lake coffee bar quoting me on death, comedy and grabbing the spotlight while there's still time. Like I said, brand new skillset, same old delusions.

Warning: This Blog is a Work of Fiction

Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

According to my careful research, meaning I found it on Wikipedia, this verbiage originated in response to a lawsuit against the producers of a 1932 movie called Rasputin and the Empress. Though it's obviously a drama, since it stars all of the Barrymores except Drew, an incredibly self-involved, no-name Russian princess wrongly believed it was all about her.

It's come to my attention that certain individuals traveling in my circles don't care for the way they perceive themselves to be depicted in these pages. Since this is not a commercial enterprise but rather an extremely obscure online diary, I honestly can't imagine why all the fuss.

Is it the simple act or putting words to paper that gives them such unwarranted power? Skewering his gal pals in Answered Prayers, Truman Capote's roman à clef about New York's elite, got the author unceremoniously ejected from their ranks. Gone were the trunk shows with Babe Paley and Slim Keith; the private luncheons of shrimp salad-stuffed tomatoes Jackie Kennedy was known to excuse herself and go throw up. Okay, so I might have made up that last part. My point is that writers serve little purpose in this world other than to fill in its blanks.

Since I've never considered myself much of a reporter, even when I was doing it for a living,  I don't present the tidbits here under the guise of reportage. Like most humorists, I offer up composite characters plucked from various scenarios, real or imagined, to comment on a very specific place and time in the universe, mine in particular. All of this comes pretty close to the dictionary definition of "satire."

While I could limit access to approved subscribersor even block the random disappointed visitorgoing on full lockdown seems a bit drastic. At the risk of sounding like a little girl warding a kid brother away with a "Keep Out" sign, those unamused by the content of my personal space might consider avoiding it.

On the plus side, I rarely name names, most certainly not my own. I'm not selling advertising, actively marketing a memoir, or focusing on developing this material for the screen.
I suspect some folks out there dreaming of who might play the key role of you in the forthcoming story of me might actually find that last bit of news a tad disappointing. In the words of Truman Capote, or else Dorothy Parker, depending on whose frequent attribution you buy, "I don't care what anybody says about me, as long as it isn't true."