December 4, 2009 by jamesessj
Having read rather a lot lately about the history and business of Hollywood, the question recurs to me, with increasing intensity: why the hell am I banking my future on this place?
No answer comes to mind other than sheer cussedness and more than a little blind faith that I — yes, I — will be different than everyone else. I won’t get screwed over by an unscrupulous producer. I won’t get sweet-talked into giving up all rights to my scripts. My screenplays won’t get optioned and then lost in development hell for the better part of my lifetime. My screenplays won’t get rewritten by eighteen other people, most of whom are related to the head of the studio. My screenplays won’t get butchered by directors whose “vision” doesn’t include having the person who created the story and knows it better than anyone on the set. I will not end up waiting tables at Spago’s. I will not become another casualty. Hollywood won’t get its hooks in me.
Except that it already has. I’ve already agreed to play the game. Thrown in my ante — just by writing a screenplay and expecting it’ll ever get made. That makes me one of millions (possibly billions) who’ve decided to bank their future on Hollywood, and out of those millions there’s maybe hundreds — I’m overestimating — who manage to make (or possibly merely eke) a living out of it.
The only factor mitigating in my favor is this: the quality of the work. If I can do work that can’t be ignored — if I can write screenplays that hit ’em in the gut, slap ’em in the face, and then get them to apologize like it was their fault — if I can be Joe Ezterhas, or Shane Black, or Ben Hecht — then Hollywood will bow at my feet, instead of the reverse.
Easier said than done…but it’s my only hope. It’s any screenwriter’s only hope. Because Hollywood’s designed from the ground up to treat writers as if they were…well, hookers. Ladies and gentlemen of the night. If you give ’em too much lip — if you don’t please ’em the way they like — if you ask for too much money — they’ll just kick you out of the back seat and drive a little farther on down the block. There’ll be another writer waiting to service them, ’cause somebody’s always willing to do it for less…or differently…or without so much fuss. They have all the power. Writers have exactly none.
Unless you write a great script. Then we enter Bizarro World, where producers and agents come kicking and screaming at your door. And you get to boot them out of the back seat, if they give you too much lip…or don’t please you the way you like…or don’t give you enough money. There’ll be another producer waiting on down the block to service you, ’cause if there’s one thing Hollywood has more of than it has writers, it’s producers. Writers may be a dime a dozen, but producers are a nickel, and probably more like a penny.
Have I answered the original question? No, but in part that’s because the question can’t really be answered — why would anyone bank their future on this petty, ridiculous, absurd place? You’d have to be crazy.
I plead no contest. Count me among the millions. Hollywood is like Hearst Castle: overblown, overwrought, a monument to human ego, but damned if we don’t all want to visit, and double-damned if we wouldn’t all love to live there.
See you at the Neptune Pool.