Living in L.A.

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:

“Yep.”

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.

Need it.

Need it.

NEED!

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?”

Back to WRITERS’ BULLETINS

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4 thoughts on “Living in L.A.

  1. geraldsanford says:

    Is this really you talking, Lawrence of QM? I ask because you seem far-far away from the writer that sat opposite me at my Barnaby Jones desk. A writer that needed nothing more than his typewriter, a story in mind, and the confidence that every word coming from Barnaby’s mouth was the exact word to help tell his story. There was nothing about living in Beverly Hills, having a limo, selling a series, being a “showrunner”. I don’t even think we had ‘SHOWRUNNERS” in those days. We only had Q-Ms, AARON SPELLINGS, and, and… But I think that was it! No, we also had writers who really wanted to be writers. Just plane writers, who had stories to tell. MARK RODGERS was one of them — perhaps right up there with the best of ‘em. And a few more. Okay, a lot more.
    I’ll tell ya what throws me about the writers writing today — especially for TV, and perhaps for movies as well. They seem a bit… Heartless, perhaps, soul-less, not writing to tell a story because they feel there’s a story that should be told, but rather, “There’s a story that could put me on the path to becoming rich, powerful, recognized, lionized, and….
    “Who’s better than me?” asked the statue to no one else around. And still waits for an answer. gs

    • LB says:

      Oh, Gerry, I know what you’re saying, and I know how I sound. So I’ll tell you this:

      I think you’re right about TV writers today and what they want/need/value. The writers who came here to pour out their souls and contribute to the understanding of the human condition…well, they don’t do that anymore.

      You and I were lucky. The people in charge – execs, suits, whatever anyone wants to call them – felt as much of a calling as the writers/directors/actors. We were all on a mission together.

      But in the late ’80s, especially after the WGA strike of ’88, that changed. I came back to L.A. after a long trip to the Southwest and discovered that the network and production people I’d worked with for 20 years weren’t on the job any longer. They’d been replaced by MBAs who were in the biz because their studies showed it was a good way to make a lot of money.

      I hoped this was just a passing phase, but far from it. In the early ’90s, media consolidation began in earnest, and 10 years later 7 mega-corporations – composed of MBAs looking to make a lot of money – owned, separately and jointly, every media biz in the U.S. (Now that’s merged into 5 mega-companies.)

      What that meant was fewer people at the top, deciding the wants/needs of the prodcos/studios/networks, and basing their decisions on quick profits.

      Which meant, in turn, that writers who were in it for the art/craft/meaning/dream no longer were needed. And definitely weren’t wanted because they made their bosses VERY uncomfortable.

      The desire to tell a great story and make viewers’ souls soar was erased from reality…and barely remains in any memories. The writers who were all about writing were eased out, or thrown out, and replaced by more MBAs wearing I.D. tags that proclaimed them “writers.” The system became such that, as I look at it today, I see two distinct classes of new/aspiring writers: Real writers and those who are in it for all the wrong reasons.

      At TVWriter™ we get both kinds of writers, as visitors, students, and contest entrants. They’re all sincere, just in different ways. And the “real writers” have a much tougher time making it than the “MBA-writers,” AKA “content creators.” Mainly because the content creators, with their corporate mind-sets and skills are simply more attractive to those doing the hiring these days.

      This doesn’t mean that I think artist-writers should give up. But I do think they have to broaden their perspectives and adapt to the times. Last week, in one of my online classes, I found myself suggesting that several students stop working on the scripts they’ve been doing and think about making them into novels. Today, with all the self-publishing options available, books that are unique and personal and filled with fighting spirit can do very well, better, in fact, than ever before. And by “do very well” I mean they can find their audience and be read and loved for exactly what they are.

      And, among other things, what they are, are (strange syntax, damn) complete works that exist in and of themselves. An artistic end that can be appreciated without the need to bring in other collaborators, like producers, directors, actors, et al. These days, if a novelist works hard enough, s/he can find, at the least, readership big enough to not only provide creative satisfaction to the writer but also to enable the writer to pay enough bills to go on and write the next masterpiece, and the next, and the next.

      And that, all too often, simply isn’t the case in films and TV. Putting one’s soul into a spec screenplay or teleplay can be a maddeningly disheartening proposition. When you’re done, no matter how wonderful the script is, it’s still incomplete because it’s NOT the production. It’s only a piece. And that piece most likely is never going to come together with the other necessary pieces because those who can put all that together aren’t looking for art. They’re looking for the quickest, easiest profit, the impressive corporate return.

      (Of course, if a writer’s heart is set on film/video, there are new ways of putting the money together, like Kickstarter.Com and its like. But, inevitably, that does mean budgetarily scaling down the dream.)

      If my take on all this disappoints you, hey, I’m sorrier than I can say. Because I really wish I could feel differently. But I’m teaching a new generation, and even though so many of them are neither coming from where you and I came from, or trying to become what you and I became, I still love them for their dreams and work like hell to do what I can for them. What’s most important to me is that all writers learn as much as they can to that, whatever their motives and goals, they have the best possible chance to succeed.

      And maybe, just maybe, create content that I can be thrilled, really thrilled, to watch.

  2. Rumwriter says:

    I understand the need to get out to L.A, but are there other cities that can be checked out as stepping stones on the way there?

    I guess my point is that come December I’ll have a shiny college degree in Creative Writing that I’m sure nobody in the industry will really care about, but it will be time to really push hard towards breaking in. BUT — I’m also going to want to get out and explore some before trying to settle down in Los Angeles to try and start my career. So, what about cities like New York as far as making contacts with agents and writers? Or New Orleans, which is becoming bigger everyday with this industry? Are these cities that can be checked out and still give opportunities to learn and meet people before taking the big plunge to Los Angeles?

    -Rum

    • TVWriter™ says:

      Other cities? Um…no. Rumwriter, dood…L.A. is where all the deals are made. It’s where the writers live, even most of those working on shows set/shot in NY.

      The only way to avoid moving to L.A. and still get started in the TV business is to create a successful web series and get discovered…which happens more and more these days, actually. But then, guess what? You’ve got to move to L.A.

      I’m all for exploring, and can certainly see it as a learning experience. Especially if you write/shoot about the areas you’re exploring. Or if you just plain want to experience life to the fullest. In fact, I encourage you to do play it that way because who knows what kind of wonderment you may find in, for example, New Orleans.

      But when you get really serious about a professional TV writing career…seeya in LaLa Land!

      LYMI
      LB

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