In Hollywood it’s important to learn how to break the rules and cheat the system, since there are no rules and the system is working against you — especially in the event you’re a newcomer who’s been hanging around for fifteen or twenty years. That’s about how much time has passed since I fled a perfectly exotic life as a successful travel writer to pursue a perfectly ridiculous life as an aspiring screenwriter.
Time and its passing, along with the seemingly desirable options we let slip away, are ideas we professional dreamers don’t spend a lot of time fleshing out for studio development. The poetic explanation is we inhabit the realm of infinite fantasy, of impractical magic and endless possibility. In purely psychiatric terms, we end up blabbing incoherently about how we got robbed in blogs, bars and celebrity rehabs. Either way, surviving Hollywood requires a diagnosis of severe, chronic dumbassery.
Yesterday I got an assignment from the travel magazine publisher who gave me my break as a writer just out of college. This was back in the late eighties, when the happy births of most other Hollywood aspirants were yet to even be considered by material girls in purple lace bras just getting into the groove.
It was a different day, when you could land the job of a lifetime without ever pursuing it. Like a fresh-off-the-farm flight attendant raring to see, do and snap it all through the lens of an instant camera, I traveled first class wholly unaware there was another way to go.
Home base was Miami in the years after Castro had released his prisoners and mental patients onto our streets. Fancier sorts in pastel suits set up shop in nice neighborhoods like mine to run the suddenly pedestrian cocaine trade.
My own troubles didn’t start until Hollywood showed up. Miami Vice, shot on location around town, was the number one show on television. Burt Reynolds, then married to Lonnie Anderson, opened a dinner theater just up the coast. Dance majors with unusually good heads on their shoulders popped in to claim an easy union card and an easier way of life than treading the boards in New York. Even Madison Avenue discovered us, with cheap deals offered up by tourist officials eager to show off our newly revamped good looks and charm.
“The Rules Are Different Here,” a controversial tourist slogan promised — and this turned out to be true. A world away from Hollywood, these gates were wide open and anybody with an interesting look, a cleaned up arrest record and a valid working visa was welcome inside the fold.
Running the travel section of a local newspaper by day, by night I joined a comedy improvisation theater company in Coconut Grove. In very short order, the whole cast made our network television debuts opposite Sonny Crockett, worked with Burt and Lonnie both and starred in innumerable, well-paying television commercials.
Is it any wonder that trotting off to see the world, further burdened by the task of writing about it, became such an inconvenience?
If only we screenwriters could plot out our own stories as carefully as those we make up. After slipping in through the side door of this closed club, how was I to know my time inside would often feel so unwelcoming? Having pretty well grown up before managing to scratch out a second career in entertainment, by Hollywood standards I was dead before I got here.
You may look for the next big movie star vehicle I manage to sell to be a road picture inspired by events that haven’t happened yet. Yes, it takes a special brand of delusion to deliver the goods in a dream factory so well equipped to break yours. Yet here I am, headed back to the place I started, firmly convinced I’ll return with a salable sequel. How’s that for chronic dumbassery?
Julie Ann Sipos blogs semi-anonymously as “Julie Goes to Hollywood.” A screenwriter, journalist, film school instructor and self-styled Hollywood glamour-puss, she espouses the personal motto “make it big, die trying and always go down with your lipstick on.”