A wannabe screenwriter might get his dream job – if the world doesn’t end. 2,001 words. Part Two. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I used to work at a toy store. The one with the even-toed ungulate mascot. Then I became a screenwriter. Of course, I had been in the hell of retail for a long long time – over 20 years. Figured it was time to change careers. Had an itch to become a writer. Wish I hadn’t tried to scratch that itch – it’s almost impossible to succeed in the Industry. But, as fate would have it, I got an agent in a most unexpected way.
After submitting queries and contest entries that probably numbered into the hundreds, I had the Hatchimal craze to thank. That happened during the holiday season of 2016. I have no idea what Hatchimals were, but the perception among kids was that they had to have them. Go figure.
There was a long line waiting for the store location I worked at in Los Angeles to open. When it came time around 5 a.m. to hand out the tickets that would ensure customers got their piece of overpriced plastic. I was the one doing that. Finally, I came to the end of the line. The guy immediately behind the woman who received the final coveted slip of paper winced noticeably. That wasn’t so bad. But the many would-be-acquirers-of-potential-eBay-gold behind him were another matter. Profanities flew freely.
Randy, a co-worker, came up next to me. He informed the unruly crowd that the store might have another delivery in a day or so. That seemed to calm most of them. Eventually, they left. But that guy who just missed his opportunity was lingering. That’s when I said to Randy, “I have this idea for a script, although it’s not fully formed. What if people are waiting in line not for one of these things or the latest video game console, but for something.”
“What are they waiting for?” Randy asked.
“I thought maybe I could keep that mysterious.”
“You mean you couldn’t think of anything.”
I was silent. He was correct. “Yeah,” I said,
Randy laughed. “I like explanations, man.” He was rather consistent on that point, and I respected him for it. He walked away to begin performing his duties for the day.
Then the wincing guy came up to me. Oh no, I thought, he wants to argue about the stupid toy. I wasn’t in the mood.
“I heard you talking about a script. Are you a writer?”
Well, that got my attention. It also embarrassed me. I hoped he didn’t think I was pretentious. “Yes, I write. I do some freelancing for financial websites, but as for scripting, it’s mostly a hobby.”
“Are you looking for it not to be a hobby?”
Where was he going with this? I stammered. “Yeah, I mean, I’d really love to be a screenwriter.” That got his attention.
“I need one of those fucking things. A Hatchimal.”
“No, you don’t understand. I need one. Get me one, and I’ll be your agent. Oh, I skipped over that I’m an agent.”
“Yeah. I’ve packaged a lot of stuff. Worked for CAA before going off on my own. Luis Vendaz.” He extended his hand, causing me to shake it “Here’s my card.” I took it. “Look me up, get comfortable, then get me the Hatchimal. Okay?”
Did I want to do this? No. It felt weird. I didn’t know this guy. Everyone in L.A. is an agent, writer, producer, director, etc. Mostly, they’re waiters ot retail hacks like me. When someone asks me to do something, though, I tend to do it. It’s probably a component of my OCD/social anxiety. Maybe that’s why I want to be a screenwriter – too scared to enter most situations, so using Final Draft seems easier and certainly more fun. Perhaps this guy would be my ticket out of here. But might just mean I get a Hatchimal (or Hatch-animal?) to someone who turns out not to be who he says he is. I could never guess at all the things that would happen after meeting him…
I got Luis his Hatchimal – hey, I worked for a toy store, I could do it – and he was incredibly pleased. When I contacted him after Christmas by email, he said his child loved it and he was the hero of the household – a regular Hollywood Santa Claus. He said he would be my Santa Claus as well and told me to send him some of my stuff. So I did.
I sent along a pilot I wrote called The Cashier, a piece I felt could work on AMC because it was a Breaking Bad-type series about a cashier who gets into all sorts of trouble. I also sent a screenplay titled Black Friday, a low budget film about a retail toy store where all of its Black Friday customers turn into zombies. Yes, that’s been done before, but I felt my take had more complexity to it.
This won’t surprise you, but I heard nothing from the agent. Total silence. No reply, no acknowledgement, nothing.
And it hurt. I felt physical as well as mental/emotional pain. It wasn’t right. He had said he would look at my stuff. I took that offer in good faith. Look, I know a Hatchimal isn’t worth much. But, still. So, yeah, nothing.
I kept on writing and putting up with the asshole managers at work. I really, really wanted that Luis guy to come through for me. And he didn’t. The people in Hollywood all say they want to help out the wannabes, and I do believe some in the industry try. But more should take a chance on unknown talent and not just use the usual suspects.
But, anyway, it doesn’t matter anymore. Nothing matters now since the discovery of a micro black hole on its way to Earth. President Trump is in denial – big surprise on that – and is tweeting non-sequiturs about how the government is going to take care of this on a “most terrific” level. But the fact is there’s a strong possibility that Earth will no longer exist in several months. Around the world, all kinds of wars and international skirmishes are taking place: powder kegs of terrorism wait for their lit fuses to spark the combustible masses while a general chaotic restlessness of actor states resonates between power vacuums and warlord-dictatorships.
But here in the U.S., while there is unrest, it seems to be kept in check. I still can’t believe it when I see someone come to our store’s service area and argue over a return. I guess we’re so comfortable, so privileged, that we don’t want to believe what is happening. That would be an inconvenient truth interfering with our consumerism, getting the kids to their sports matches, and watching Shark Tank or The Bachelor. Hell, we’re near record territory of 22,000 on the Dow on the belief that this whole thing might blow over. Whenever there is a short squeeze, I just can’t decode the motivation behind it.
But there go all my dreams. And I had so many good script ideas, you know? If only I had had access to Hollywood back when apocalyptic catastrophe wasn’t imminent. I wrote a script whose main character came across a strange Blu-ray that contained his entire life, with extras – including the deleted scenes. Then there was Mandatory Healthcare, the logline being that the government released a virus into the air that would kill anyone who couldn’t get the necessary vaccine if they weren’t covered. I also had episodic series to market where a secret team of law enforcement agencies hook up with the NSA to solve serial killer cases by running algorithms on search engines. I had so many others but I was stuck in a toy store trying to sell Square Trade contracts for PlayStation 4s and Xbox Ones.
And we were all about to fall into a singularity. (Cue the John Barry overture from The Black Hole.)
Like I said, though, life went on. In fact, I even finished a script called The Last Trial about one last jury hearing one last case in the face of a, you guessed it, dead star heading toward Earth. (Write what you know!) Twelve angry people in the post-apocalyptic world debated the innocence or guilt of a teen who swears he didn’t commit the heinous crime of which he is accused in this one place, a suburb of Boston, that deemed it important to keep the business-as-usual engine running so that a dozen civilians could uphold the Constitution before the planetary horizon disappeared. That’s what the final verdict ultimately meant for the last population of an insignificant planet. I sent Luis this as well… No answer. Maybe it was too much considering the current situation. Understandable.
Funny thing, though. I was sitting in my room one day, waiting for the end (or not), thinking about a script idea, when my cell rang. I picked it up.
It was Luis the agent.
I was stunned.
“You remember me, right? Luis the Hatchimal guy? The agent? That Last Trial script you sent me? Good job. Sent it to Spielberg.”
“David Spielberg.” Silence. “Come on, you know which Spielberg!” He was right, I did, but my social anxiety kind of creeped up on me at that moment. I get nervous when I speak to professionals like this, especially in an industry I want to be part of. It’s a handicap; not that anyone cares.
“He loved it. He wants this to be his last project. If it comes to that.”
Time froze, but it also sped up. “I don’t know what to say. Besides, of course, I’m in disbelief, and that this is very awesome.” A lame explanation of my excited paralysis, but I was glad to have at least managed some verbiage.
“You need to meet him. Universal lot, Amblin Partners. I’ll text you the details.”
“I’ll need to take the day off. Tell my mana – “
“Seriously, fuck your manager and your retail job.”
Wow! I liked this guy.
“You be there. End of discussion.”
I had a jerk boss who used to say that all the time. Yet when Luis the agent told me he’s ending our discussion, it makes me feel good. Like I always said, working at the mall ain’t like working at Microsoft.