A talented female screenwriter loses her Hollywood dreams. Part Two posted. 3,212 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing.
I can’t believe what I have just heard. I repeat the words that I think rolled off the studio producer’s tongue because I am suddenly unable to decipher the meaning of them.
“What do you mean there’s no deal?” I ask, my heart pumping furiously.
“There never was any deal,” he says, leaning back in his chair beside a pile of screenplays, contracts, and production budgets. “Who’d you say your agent was again?”
“Scott Sher at the Significant Talent Agency,” I repeat.
“Hmmm.I thought I knew all the agents at STA. Never met him,” says Lee Weston, a high-profile movie producer on the lot of a major film studio. “What exactly did he tell you… Linda?”
“It’s Laura. Laura Taylor. And he told me the deal was done months ago,” I affirm.
My memory can’t be that bad. After all, why would I quit my job at STA, the hottest talent agency in town, if there hadn’t been a deal? Scott had told me to leave and stick with writing. I wonder, can Alzheimer’s strike at twenty-nine? Maybe it’s some sort of studio conspiracy against struggling writers. Or perhaps this guy is an imposter and the real tanned-face Weston has the contract for my screenplay with him on a sandy-white beach in Fiji.
“Scott said I was supposed to hand in the second draft today and pick up a check for $25,000 — less the ten-percent commission.”
“Sorry, but he stretched a truth that never existed.”
“You mean, he lied?”
“He’s an agent, Laura, they all lie.”
My eyes drop down to gaze at my screenplay The Law Of Malus. It’s my opus, but now it’s lying limp on my lap, an injustice clearly having been done to it. I close my eyes, trying hard to make reason out of the insanity I’ve just heard, as the lump in my throat grows with panic and now utter humiliation.
“Do you have other writing work?” Lee asks.
“I’m supposed to do a rewrite for Satellite Studios. That’s all,” I say.
“I’d offer to look at your script, but from your description, there’s no way I’d make The Law Of Malus. It’s not high-concept, and the new head of the studio only wants action-adventures. Romance and family dramas are dead.”
At this last line, I stop breathing. Romance and family dramas are dead. Everything I write, everything I stand for on behalf of the human condition, is no longer wanted.
Lee leans forward and, gazing at my chest, murmurs, “I’ve got a meeting now, but I can… discuss it with you later. Come over for drinks at my place tonight.”
I know I’m dazed, but I could swear Lee Weston has just hit on me. I stare at him uncomprehending, still spinning from round one of immense disappointment and unexpected betrayal. He continues to glance at my chest.
“If the writing doesn’t work, maybe you should consider becoming an actress.”
“Me?” I ask stunned, wondering if someone else just walked in. I see no one else and for a moment I’m flattered. After having months of work abruptly tossed aside, I consciously crave any compliment I can get.
“Why not? You’re pretty, smart, and you’ve got a great smile. My secretary will give you my address. How’s eight o’clock?” he leers.
I stare at him, unable to respond. I look out the window. Is it spring? My mother always loved saying that, when the ice would melt, the boys would flock to me. Was it my pheromones? I’m no sizzling 6’0″ model; I’m 5’2″, petite and lithe, sporting dark brown hair matching dark brown eyes, with an approachable personality and an absentee fashion style. Of course I wanted to look good, but I never labored over my wardrobe like other girls did growing up. I preferred tackling new words to shopping at the mall.
I didn’t see how my outfit could have contributed to Weston’s advances. I was wearing my usual white tank top with an untucked bone button-down short-sleeved silk shirt hanging over a pair of charcoal gray slacks with casual black leather boots that were going on three years old. I’m a pragmatist. I don’t believe in buying new shoes until I have to replace the ones I have. Much to the annoyance of my older brother, Bennett, the fashion king. He prides himself on wearing only designer brands, and always being the first in line every time one hits the store’s shelves. I dress for comfort, not trends. Maybe that’s why I was out of sync with the studio’s current script-seeking mandate.
“Uh, no thanks,” I reply. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Despite my confusion I find the studio’s parking lot. My ten-year-old silver Toyota Corolla hatchback appears dull and aged among a fleet of shiny leased luxury cars. Still in a trance, I drive down the block and around the corner to STA. I can’t believe that this is what starving for six months to write a script about loss amounts to, what a master’s degree in literature from the University of Michigan provides, and what, having written every day from the age of six, results in.
The Law Of Malus was to be my first, or at least my first significant, movie deal. My first script was The Magic Mitt, a family adventure tale which received a semi-finalist screenwriting award and has the best studio synopsis I’d ever read, epitomizing it as the perfect blend of all things Americana and giving it a strong recommend to buy. And yet it still could not get sold or made. So I decided to up the ante from a PG-rated story to an R-rated one with The Law Of Malus, a harmonious synthesis of the struggles relayed to me by an elderly female patient of my father’s named Lily Laurence.
My college summers were spent as a podiatric assistant in my dad’s office where I had come to adore Lily. During her ritual footbaths, I came to understand the sacrifices she made in her life, the dreams lost in self-recrimination and the vast love gained in the quiet solitude of surrender. I was deeply touched by her story, steeped in loss and self-renewal.
Knowing of my desire to write for the movies, Lily asked me to tell her story.
My problem wasn’t in the telling of her story, but in the fact that I had made a vow to get it produced.
Of course, I wasn’t so naive as to believe that I’d write it and Hollywood would find me. First, I’d go there and meet people who could finance it and distribute it. So after graduation I packed my bags, drove out west, and landed a job at the Significant Talent Agency. That’s where I spent three years as an assistant to literary agent Eric Leve. And that’s where I met the people with the resources to make things happen. It was Eric who introduced me as an up-and-coming writer to the hyper-aggressive agent Scott Sher, who in turn would later promise me a deal on The Law Of Malus.
It would be an understatement to describe the lobby of STA as daunting. Smug receptionists sit front and center at the desk. Courtesy phones on either side of simple leather couches offer the potential for human contact. No privacy exists but you are invited to sit on one of the couches and feel a false sense of significance. In addition, the ceiling rises forever, like a giant beanstalk. This space, between the floor and roof, charges the atmosphere with sovereignty. Hallways weave around the walls of its perimeter where small men strut through like heads of state believing they manipulate deals as important as national security secrets.
Celebrities breeze in and out escorted by top agents. The plot of land sees more deals close than any other piece of real estate in Southern California. And my deal, I thought at the time, was about to become one of them. I had been foolishly proud of it. I promise myself I won’t make that mistake again as I pick up the courtesy phone.
Rand Chessick, Scott’s assistant, answers. “Scott Sher.”
“Hi, it’s Laura Taylor. I’m in the lobby and I need to see Scott. It’s important.”
“Scott no longer works here,” the words rapidly roll off his tongue.
“What?” I ask, astonished.
“Well, in the last sixteen hours, he’s left the entertainment industry and joined the Peace Corps in South Africa. Hang on, I’ve got another call.”
In a state of shock, I call my best friend, Corie Berman, an assistant at STA.
“Corie,” I plead. “Where’s Scott? What’s going on?”
Corie whispers back, “Rumor has it he’s entered a drug rehab center somewhere in North Dakota. That’s all I know for now. I’m rolling calls for Jason. Later.”
Jason is Jason Brand, Corie’s boss, one of the slickes and sleekest agents in town. Corie’s been manning his desk for thirteen months, two weeks, three days, four hours, and sixteen minutes, which puts her in the Guinness Book Of World Records for the longest employed assistant whom Jason’s ever had. She knows how to keep him in balance, unfortunately at the risk of abandoning her chances to advance her own career. I’ve learned the best time to talk to Corie during work hours is when Jason’s out of town or at a meeting, and if they’re rolling through his phone sheet, well, it’s a no go. Jason prides himself on returning every call he receives even if it’s to say, “Can’t talk now, let’s try tomorrow.”
I take a deep breath and dial Rand again. “So, Rand. I don’t mean to sound disinterested in Scott’s sudden career shift, but, uh, what happened to my deal?”
“To tell you the truth, I’m not sure there ever really was a deal,” he says.
“But Scott said…”
“Well, I guess he misled you,” Rand says curtly.
“Can another agent take over for me? How about Eric Leve?”
“Not for just hip pocket clients. You had to have officially signed with the agency. Besides Eric’s out of the country for four weeks. And Richard’s already put the word out that he doesn’t want the agency to keep any of Scott’s clients, unless they’re grossing over a million a year. Sorry, Laura. I gotta take these other calls. Good luck, but well, uh, adios.”
Devastated, I find my way to my car and climb inside. Dashed dreams cloud above me, anesthetizing my body and soul. My cell beeps, indicating I have three voicemail messages.
“Hey, Laura — Hank Willows from Satellite here. Bad news. The rewrite we wanted to hire you for is on permanent hold due to production problems in Prague on another picture. I’ll call you when things calm down, but don’t hold your breath.”
I sigh and hit the skip button. Next message.
“Hi, honey. It’s Mom. Let me know when I can pop the organic champagne to celebrate your deal!”
I cringe at the thought of explaining another failed Hollywood story to my family. I quickly hit the skip button.
“Laura. It’s Mitchell Mann."
The sound of Mitchell’s voice instantly triggers my body into a momentary state of numbness. I wonder why he always tags his greeting with his last name as if I wouldn’t know him by his first name alone. Suddenly, our years of intimacy seem much less intimate.
“I want to know why we can’t at least be friends,” he pronounces. “I know I got another woman pregnant, but still I don’t see why…”
I hit the erase button. I take a deep breath preparing for the onset of monetary desperation. I turn the keys in the ignition. Nothing happens. Along with my dead dreams, I now have a dead car. This does not bode well for my journeying through the urban sprawl of Los Angeles. I feel as if I’ve become the lead character in a never-ending nightmare horror flick.
Triple A tows my car to a nearby gas station. The mechanic, a stocky avuncular guy named Joseph, according to his patch, diagnoses my problem as transmission failure and quotes me twelve hundred dollars for automotive surgery.
That’s when I break down and weep.
“I don’t have that kind of money.”
“Well, what do you have?” asks Joseph, taking pity on me.
I throw my hands in the air to signify nothing. Too choked up to speak.
Joseph calmly peers inside my car. “What’s that?”
I look. My script lies on the floor mat. I pick it up and wave it at him. “This? This is it. This is all I have left. A 110-page screenplay. This morning it was worth $25,000 against $250,000! Or so I thought. But I got screwed. Fuck! Excuse me for swearing.”
“No problem,” says Joseph, remaining unruffled. “So what’s the script about?” he asks, sounding genuinely interested.
“It’s a love story, with romance and drama, and family values, but of course Hollywood doesn’t care about that! Hollywood only wants high-concept fear and suspense saturated with special effects!”
Joseph stands there, quietly letting my words bounce off his chest. “Tell you what I’m gonna do,” he says. “You give me the script. I’ll fix your car. We’ll talk again tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll have one of my guys drive you home.”
I wasn’t going to look a gift ride in the mouth, so I accepted.
My apartment building is located at the corner of Westminster and Abbot Kinney in Venice — L.A.’s tiny counterpart to New York’s Soho. I navigate my way past a homeless person camping out on the front steps. Inside the foyer, I retrieve my mail hoping there might be an old-fashioned postcard or letter from Gavin Marsh.
Gavin is a Canadian talent manager-producer I have been dating for four months. For two weeks he’s been on location in Vancouver with a client and isn’t due back for another two. So he’s hardly available to help me solve the problems of the day. One tiny bit of communication from him would mean so much at this moment, but there are no words from him, only more bills from more creditors.
I enter my apartment and flip the lights on, but only darkness prevails. At first I think it’s a dead fuse, but the hallway lights are alive and well. Then I recognize a pink slip compliments of the Southern California Gas Company lying on the hallway carpet outside my door. I feel prostalgic for the end of this day, which has yet to come, and look across the hall at the door of my best friends’ place. I hope their couch is comfortable.
Corie and Adam Berman’s apartment is bright and well-lit in contrast to mine. I’m pulling a plaid pillowcase over a down pillow while Corie spreads a pair of matching sheets across the couch in her living room recounting the drama of Scott Sher’s sudden departure from STA.
“Rumors about his drug habit were flying around the halls of STA for months. When Richard Marksman finally confirmed them, it was adios amigo before you could say ecstasy. You should have seen the reactions, Laura. The place was in a tizzy — every agent with a secret to hide scrambling for the nearest phone. Not to mention the bottleneck of flushing evidence away that would land them in the same state as Scott Sher.”
“Is it that rampant?” I ask.
Corie finishes tucking in a sheet corner and looks up at me. “You’ve been in a cave writing too long.” She tosses me the remote control to the television set. “Here, watch a few music videos, get caught up on today’s pop culture.”
“Gee, thanks. Is that how you stay in the loop?”
“Of course not. I get my info during coffee breaks and from Adam who reads four newspapers a day.”
“News-synopses-on-demand. How convenient. Speaking of which, when does Adam get home?” Adam manages the licensing and distribution of music at a large production company.
“Not ’til late, as usual, unless his meeting goes over and he misses his flight from San Francisco, which is the most likely scenario.” A whistle sound hails from the next room over. Corie looks up. “I’ll get us some hot tea. You relax.”
She retreats into the kitchen. The day catches up with me and I collapse on the couch. Corie returns with two steaming cups of chamomile tea.
“What am I going to do, Corie? Everything’s upside down. How can I face my family at Ann’s engagement party tomorrow?”
“Don’t even think about that right now,” she says, and then softly adds, “Give yourself a break. The best thing you can do for yourself is get a good night’s rest.”
“Okay, thanks. I think I’ll call Gavin.”
“Sure, but I don’t know what good that will do,” she murmurs, trying hard to downplay the trace of disdain she holds for him. “Tell me again what you see in him?”
“Besides being charismatic, outgoing and sexy, at least to me, he’s the perfect antidote to Mitchell Mann — a logical businessman in entertainment, instead of an ego-driven artsy director.”
“Right,” says Corie.
I climb into my makeshift couch-bed and recall how Gavin and I met at the Telluride Film Festival four months ago. I was with Elaine Dover, another former STA assistant turned VP of Acquisitions for a small film company. She invited me along on her quest for the next box office hit — assuming she could outbid the competition. We traipsed from theatre to theatre watching movies and from coffee shop to coffee shop schmoozing with filmmakers and film distributors. I met all sorts of people and when the moment was appropriate I let them know about The Law Of Malus. They all wanted to see it and asked me to have my agent send it over. But I didn’t have an agent. It was that old catch-22, no deal until there’s an agent and no agent until there’s a deal. That’s when Gavin overheard the conversation and stepped in to vouch for me. Frozen in that moment of time, he was my prince in shining armor, at least that’s how I liked to interpret it. Corie preferred the version of a guy gambling on an easy commission. But for the rest of the festival we hung out and sealed our interest in each other inside a sleeping bag during an outdoor midnight screening.
I dial Gavin’s cell phone number. “Gavin,” answers a gruff voice on the other end against the din of loud rock music.
“Hi, it’s Laura. How are you?” I ask. My voice betrays my frailty from the day.
“Great. What’s up?” he replies.
“Well, nothing really, except that my deal for The Law Of Malus just unraveled. And now I think I’m unraveling, too.”
“Hey, listen, I can’t really talk right now. I’m out with the crew. It’s work. Gotta keep them happy. I’ll talk to you later.”
“Okay, ’bye.” I hang up telling myself it’s just bad timing. It’s midnight and he’s still working. My problems certainly can’t get in the way of that. I stop myself, realizing that Gavin doesn’t even have to make up excuses for himself; I’m much too willing to do it for him. And then I let the fleeting thought fleet.
Part Two posted.