Tag Archives: hollywood

Not Everything about Los Angeles Is Bad

If you are a regular reader of the blog, you know that more often than not, I am complaining about LA: the traffic, the people, the pollution, or whatever pet peeve it is this month. But in recent months I have revised my opinion: yes, it is exceedingly difficult to live in LA. This is not a very livable city like Ann Arbor or Portland. But there are certain advantages to living here. What follows are some:

1. The weather. It’s eighty-four and sunny. No, not today, every day. If you suffer from Seasonal affective disorder, like I do, there is no better place to feel good, year round. The greatest weather catastrophe we get is rain, and that’s about once a year. Beat that, Seattle.

2. The beach. I live five miles from the Pacific coast. Need I say more?




3. Randy’s Donuts. Short of heaven, I don’t think there is anywhere better to get a hot, fresh donut. If you are ever in LA, even just passing through LAX, make it a point to stop at the giant donut.

My only complaint: more restaurants aren’t designed by way of what they serve.





4. Free movies. There really is no place else in the world where people outside theatres give out tickets to free movies. Sure, many of them are previews of movies I have no interest in, but the simple idea that anyone can get into a movie for free (and not try that hard) makes me happy.

5. Downtown LA. There is nowhere quite like Los Angeles’ downtown. Filled with interesting stories, shops, and a rich history, crowned by aging movie palaces down Broadway, it is a shame so many tourists stick to Hollywood. There is really so much more to see. At least see the giant redwoods in Clifton’s Cafeteria if you can.

6. KCSN. It may not always be The Music I Want (per their slogan) but it is always on in my car. I like the variety, the absence of deejays, and their choice to broadcast World Café every day. I don’t understand their programming philosophy, but maybe that is why I like it.

7. South Pasadena. I discovered this sleepy little town off the 110 through my work on their local Patch.com. I recently made this video for the site.

Everyone is reasonably friendly, the stores are cute and not ostentatious, and there are some amazing places to get sundaes. Maybe I like it so much because it is so un-LA. The outlying neighborhood of quaint Craftsman houses reminds me of that sleepy little mirage of a town the astronauts find on Mars in Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Bradbury is local, after all, and I bet he based it a little bit off South Pas. Probably not the midnight assassination part, but the quaint part, yes.

8. Vroman’s. Located in Pasadena, this little bookstore that could always occupies several hours of my time when I am out that way. A truly independent bookstore, they are always hosting author talks, putting out good employee picks, and stocking up on new releases. When I worry about the future of publishing, I worry about Vroman’s, and hope they can stay open a little bit longer.

9. Independent Cinema. I live a couple of blocks from the Nuart, the Regal, the Royal, the Regent, and the Bruin—all great single screen theaters that do their best to be independent. And where else would Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams draw crowds other than the Royal in West LA?

10. The Margaret Herrick Library. Some of film’s greatest moments (and an Oscar or two in a display case) are available in this gem of a resource located on La Cienega Boulevard in Beverly Hills. Open to everyone, but used by only a knowledgeable few, it’s a perfect place to spend a couple of hours learning up on some film history.

11. Hollywood. Walking its streets, seeing the lines outside the Pantages, or even passing buskers on the street, something always catches in my throat. I start to see stars, not just the Walk of Fame kind, but the imaginary ones, too. Whatever I may know about the hard rock face of reality, I feel there is possibility here. Even if those opportunities do not exist, or the way up is pretty hard, it doesn’t feel that way on an empty stomach and a head full of stars walking on those streets.

Hellcats and Hollywood

“Being Here Doesn’t Mean You Belong.”

The billboards for “Hellcats,” a new show on the CW, have popped up on Santa Monica Boulevard and on the 10 Freeway; I can catch them pretty much anytime I leave my apartment.  These words, and the attitude-mannequins that accompany them, taunt me, as if their special message was meant for me. Being in Los Angeles doesn’t mean we’ll ever let you be a screenwriter. We already have enough of those. You don’t belong. Go home. Get lost.

And that’s when the negative thoughts start: The competitions I didn’t make, the rejection letters, the unreturned query e-mails, and the screenplays and specs now sitting in a box, unread, unedited, forgotten testaments to failure. Index cards gathering dust. Unfinished sketches sitting on my computer desktop. Replays and remembrances of the times and places I received those rejection letters. The dual failures of criticism and giving into the words printed on those form letters.

But the message, “Doesn’t mean you belong” still haunts me. I’ve heard many people describe Hollywood as a high school. I’ve never seen it as such, but now I sort of understand: A high school clique, the kind that dresses in spandex and leads cheers. The kind you’ll never belong to. The kind who if I asked, would tell me there are enough creative types to go around.

On bad days, the thoughts keep going and keep me from my writing. The billboards become ubiquitous. On better days, I remember other things: the friend who for six months sent me the agency job list every day, the comments to this blog, friends who are also writers, and other stories of directors not making it for years and then one day helming a movie.

I guess the payoff is that it’s only a billboard. I don’t have to watch the show, nor do I have to be a part of its nasty clique. If I’m lucky, I’ll find my own television show, one that fits, something more my speed and accepting of my writing and identity, high school quirks and all.

And don’t worry, my revenge will come when Hellcats gets cancelled in two months.

Lessons Learned: Hollywood Style

Last year at this time I was preparing for finals and getting ready to graduate college. My plans were vague, although even in April, I knew I wanted to brave California and move to Los Angeles. My girlfriend planned to move out here, and gosh, I was going to follow her, too. I remember spending a great deal of time studying, and not much time thinking about my future. I’m glad I wasn’t more reflective, because, let’s face it, it was either blissful ignorance or panic.

The wheel began to slam down around May, when graduation was well upon our class and I hadn’t even a hint of a job offer. While other students talked about grad school or work opportunities, I had nothing. It was a recession, after all, and, well, how do you surmount bad luck?

The next few months after graduation were spent scrambling. I was living the dream in Los Angeles, but the best I could do was the occasional tutoring gig. In the fall I found a couple of part-time jobs and juggled those. I was writing, but the search for jobs in entertainment fell by the wayside. I spent a great deal of time feeling sorry for myself, which is pretty exhausting.

But that gets old, and soon enough I learned better.

I learned that I am not the center of the universe, despite what I may have thought about myself. That was a tough realization, but needful. Being humble doesn’t mean giving up on my quest to be a screenwriter, but it does mean being more flexible, more open, and more willing to take criticism. This opening up is not complete, but hopefully I am doing a better job of this as a writer and a person. It reminds me of that Socrates quote: “I know that I know nothing.” It’s about as good a lesson as any and I’m glad I learned it at twenty-three versus sixty-seven.

Patience was my next Hollywood lesson. A working screenwriter told me when I first moved out here I’d be lucky to get something of mine seriously read by thirty. I tossed off that comment when I first heard it, but I can’t help but realize how right he was. It’s disheartening, but it is a fact of life. The climb is that competitive. Not to say I can’t ever have a script produced, but I have to be willing to wait. And wait.

Finally, I learned to be unique. I was lucky enough to study the works of John Waters for a project. At first I didn’t really “get” why an anti-establishment beatnik would pick up a camera and film his friends doing outrageous things like eating dog poop (Pink Flamingos), but now I kind of understand. To be original, to be in effect oneself takes effort. For Waters that meant taking camp to another dimension, for me, well, I still have to find my voice. But I know I don’t want to be in Hollywood if I’m just writing someone else’s story. Where’s the fun in that? I have come to express my vision, whatever that turns out to be.

But most of all I have learned to live both sides. I have been the entitled college student and I have also been the struggling tutor considering food stamps. I have auditioned actors and stood on the other side of that casting table, meeting casting directors for the first and only time. I looked down on the world and now look up, and wonder what’s so great about the top anyway. Better parties? Again, it’s that gift of knowing I know nothing that Hollywood has really imparted to me.

What have you learned since college? I would love to hear in the comments.