In the last couple of months, I’ve gone to two different writers conferences and found both of them fascinating experiences.
At the first one, held by the Society of Southwestern Authors in Tucson, I found so many beginning writers so passionate about writing and selling all kinds of material that I felt sandblasted by their emotions, and when I got back home to L.A. I looked in the mirror and swore that I looked younger and more alive.
At the second conference, the Southern California Writers Conference in San Diego, I found so many dedicated and committed old pros that for the first time in a long while I was able to look at myself in the mirror and be as proud of what I’ve done for writing as of what writing has done for me.
At both events, both during formal sessions I was running and casual conversations, one question kept coming up. It was a simple question, and my answer was always even simpler, short and to my way of thinking sweet, yet the response to my answer was always disturbing and, frankly, a little baffling as well.
What could surprise an old pro like me? What could take me so much aback? Here, stripped of the knowing gazes or flirtatious smiles that usually accompanied it, is the question:
“If I want to write for film or television, do I have to live in L.A.?”
And here, stripped of my own knowing gaze (but never a flirtatious smile; I am, after all, a very happily married man) is my eternal reply:
And now, stripped of the gasps and looks of anguish that always accompanied it, here’s the important part, the response that has prodded me into this column:
“Ohmigod! No! NO! NO!!!”
To put it another way, my answer was so unpopular that the folks who run one conference have already told me they’re thinking long and hard about whether or not to invite me back, and the ramrod behind the other one has suggested that in the future I react as though the question has struck me mute. In other words, “Brody, shut up.”
But what’s the reason for all this hoohah? Why the horror at not being able to write, say, FRINGE, from Iowa City or Oshkosh? I mean, c’mon, bud, why the problem?
Maybe we can figure it out by first going through the reason for my answer. Instead of smacking our collective head against the wall in dismay, let’s just ask another question:
“Why? Why do screen and TV writers have to live in L.A.?”
This is a legitimate line of inquiry, to be sure, and there are all kinds of legitimate answers. It boils down to the fact that L.A. is a company town and showbiz is the company. If you want to work here, then you have to live here. This is where you make the friends and contacts who will help you make your career.
Simple, no? So why does that seem so horrific to the wannabes at the writers conferences? Why do they react so violently? What do they have against moving to L.A.? Is it the uprooting? Is it the city? Is it the fact that theyÕve always had the idea that as writers they are above and beyond the shmoozing engaged in by mere mortal men?
Hey, friends, shmoozing’s the name of the game – just about every game. Let’s face it. No matter what our job titles, we’re all salesmen, selling ourselves. If you want to live the life of the hermit writer, if your heart goes pitter-patter at the thought of staying all alone in your attic ala Emily Dickinson, then TV and screenwriting ain’t for you.
A poem, after all, is an end in itself. Ditto a short story, a novel…anything written to be read. But scripts are written to be performed. Scripts don’t exist all alone. They’re the foundation of a production involving one Acme Ton O’People. So you have to be the kind of person who can stand all those people, who can get along with producers and directors and crew members and even…shudder…actors.
More than get along. To succeed in showbiz you have to actively like all those folks. In fact, it goes further than that. In my experience, the writers who succeed in television and on screen do so because they love the whole package. They don’t merely want to be writers, they WANT TO BE IN SHOWBIZ. They love the whole lifestyle.
The writers who make it are the men and women who grew up as the most frantic of fans. While they were living in Dubuque their bodies tingled at the very words, “Sunset Boulevard,” and “Hollywood and Vine.”
They’re the men and women who read every entertainment column in every local newspaper and magazine, who dreamed of the day their pictures would be in “People” and their privacy invaded on Access Hollywood.
They’re the men and women who love driving down the freeway and looking at the car beside them and seeing that it’s driven by Denzel Washington. The men and women who think that Denzel should be just as thrilled to turn and see them.
The writers who make it love the sun and the surf and the smog, the bikinis and the beautiful people. To them, plastic surgery is a sign of success.
They think a day without a meeting is a day that never was, and the first thing they do when they get a deal is pop for the down payment on a new Porsche. When they get another deal they buy a house in the hills, with a black bottom swimming pool and a coke dealer living next door.
They look at the blacked-out windows of a passing limo and wonder who’s inside and pray to God On High that someday soon others will wonder the same thing as their limos roll by.
They know that regardless of how overpriced and under-tasty the food may be there’s no better restaurant in the world than whichever one is today’s darling. Because they’re there to see who else is there, and to feel fuzzy all over because across from them a middle-aged guy is saying, “Option…” and behind them a bare midriffed babe is saying, “Gross receipts.”
The writers who make it are the men and women who live for the day that their names will be in the gossip columns and they’ll be interviewed on the red carpet at every premiere. They’ll do anything for the time when they can make an Oscar or Emmy acceptance speech, and wave and say, “Thanks, Ma.” They are driven by demons that demand fame and fortune and won’t take anything else. They need more than a blank page to fill, they need glamor and glitz.
Showbiz life is harsh. The Money Gods are impatient, and the rivalry is intense. What makes all the long nights of work and the kissing up worthwhile is the Hollywood Lifestyle, because thatÕs the drug the successful ones crave.
Believe me, I’ve been there, I know. Wives, kids, love, loyalty…those things don’t mean a thing next to getting that great showrunner job.
So, to all of you who keep asking me, “Do I have to live in L.A.?” I say the real question should be:
“Why would you want it any other way?”
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