Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Smog Halo

Two months in L.A. and I've just had my first celebrity sightings. I was beginning to think that all the stars lived on ranches in Colorado or Montana and just came here to film. So this week I saw two celebrities, although one is a very minor celebrity and the other a B+/A-list celebrity. On Tuesday I was coming out of Cafe Psychobabble and saw this dude on the street wearing a leather vest with nothing on underneath. I thought that looks just like the guy from Sugar Town (a not-very-widely released movie about rock stars in the autumn of their careers from Alison Anders) and sure enough it was. His name is Michael Des Barres, and perhaps his greatest claim to fame is that he was the lead singer of The Power Station. Today I was in Santa Monica at St. Johns's hospital to see Julie and Ian who just had a beautiful baby boy (Graham) and when I was leaving I held the door for a white-haired gentleman who turned out to be Sam Elliot (Big Lebowski, Mask, etc. etc.) He was carrying a five-gallon bucket and two crutches and at first I thought he was a plasterer or something, but his voice gave him away. "Thanks a lot," he said in that gravelly baritone you hear on every other commercial during primetime. Celebrities are always smaller in person.

I've spent the entire week since returning from Phoenix working on this "Irish" essay for Monday's night's show. It was not easy coming, for a couple of reasons: 1) these are supposed to be stories about a specific time or event in your life, and what I had in mind was not that specific, and 2) the "Irish' angle I took was basically an excuse to talk about my relationship with my father and the strong vein of alcoholism that runs through my family, and this is kind of nasty stuff and thus it's hard for me to be really forthcoming about it. But I wrote almost five pages for a two-page essay (I can only read for 8 minutes) so I think I'll keep working on it and see if I can't turn it into something longer. There is nothing, I repeat, nothing, like the feeling you get when you've written something you like. I would go so far as to say that it is the feeling I seek most in life, which doesn't explain why it's so hard for me. Deadlines, baby. Give me deadlines.

This week I saw the strangest natural phenomenon. I walked out of my apartment around 11:00 a.m., looked up in the sky and the sun had an extremely large and well-defined corona around it. A smog halo they call it. It was sort of like a rainbow, with a dark and smoky inner ring that drifted off to an irridescent outer band. it was sort of chilling to observe. Outside of the halo the sky was blue. What am I breathing? I wondered.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Just out of curiosity, how many people are tuning in to California Screaming? I've changed the settings here so anyone can comment, so if you visit the blog and wouldn't mind telling me so, that'd be cool.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Had my first vacation from L.A. last weekend as I went to Phoenix to see Pete and Jody. Phoenix, like L.A., was unseasonably cold for this time of year. Still we had fun - went golfing, went to a Giants-Cubs spring training game (Cubs won despite a flurry of runs from the Giants in the 9th, Barry Bonds singled) went to the local Indian Casino, ate out a lot and sat in the hot tub and read a trashy paperback. All in all a great weekend which made me realize even more how much I miss my friends.

Some minor developments on the job/breaking into the business search. I mentioned to Charlie, my writing group leader, that I was interested in doing coverage. Coverage, for the uninitiated (which I was not long ago) is basically reading a script, summarizing it, and giving your opinion on it to a higher-up. Everyone says that nobody reads in L.A. That's not true. Nobody important reads in LA - that load is borne by squadrons of underlings whose number I would like to join. So I mentioned this to Charlie and he said he'd make some calls. Charlie seems to know everybody in LA. A few days later I was on the phone with his friend Nana, who is a producer and was eager to help me get started finding out more about it. Apparently all the studios use union folks to do their coverage, but there is still freelance work out there. Nana said she'd try to find me some sample coverage to use as a model and then I'd have to do a couple on spec. It doesn't pay great (about $50 a script) but it would be interesting and fun and I think be helpful to me as a writer. So we'll see if that goes anywhere.

Skylar has also come through on his promise to help me land work. World of Wonder, a production company whose credits include "Inside Deep Throat," the documentary about the making of Deep Throat, is looking for an administrative assistant. I balked a little when he mentioned the glorified secretarial spot, but he noted that the head of development and the head of production over there started as administrative assistants. So I sent my resume over there and Skylar was assured that it would get put on the top of the pile.

I've also been contributing to another blog, one started by Charlie. His idea is that we create a character and then blog daily (or as daily as we can) in the voice of that character. It's been challenging but a good writing exercise. Anyone who's interested can check it out at

Been working on my "Irish" essay for next week's Spark show and it's been difficult in coming but now that I'm rolling I've got more material than I need. I have to show a draft of it to Alicia the producer tomorrow so I'll have to shape all of this by then. If anyone's interested in reading it, let me know.

Sorry no pictures this week. I promise take some in the coming days and post them next week for some visual relief from all these words.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Three Pages a Day

People have been asking me if I've been writing so I thought I'd take a minute to explain what I'm working on and why. There's a saying out here that you have to have an agent to get anything sold, and to get an agent you have to have sold something. A sad-but-true catch-22, and the only way around it is to have a good "spec" script that you show around in the hopes of impressing somebody enough to either represent you or to buy it. So I'm taking a two-pronged approach toward this and writing a TV spec script as well as a feature-film spec script. A very successful screewriter I met with this week (more on that later) told me that you have to either pick film or TV, that hardly anybody crosses back and forth. If I had to choose, I'd pick film hands down, but there's so much good writing on TV (Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Deadwood, West Wing, The Shield etc.) that the old TV/Film chasm isn't as wide as it used to be. True, I am a gigantic greenhorn who knows almost nothing about how this town works, but I'm going to write my TV script and send it out and then finish the feature script and send it out, and if I'm ever in a position to have to choose between the two worlds it will be a happy dilemna. The TV script I'm working on is for Rescue Me, the Denis Leary NY firefighter show on F/X. It's a great show with good writing and compelling characters. I'd seen both seasons, but I went back and watched the second season again and am now on page 20 of a 60-page script. I bought a couple books on TV writing and some published TV scripts for The Sopranos and The West Wing so I could see what an acutal TV script looks like (Resuce Me has not been published but the guy at Samuel French Bookstore told me to go down to the Academy library and read it there. I will). Right now the show is between seasons two and three, so it's a good time to create my own story arc without knowingly violating the show's actual arc. I need to finish this soon because a) I want to get back to my feature script, and b) pilot season is upon us and there is a small chance that if I get this done and sent out within a month I may find some work on a pilot. That is an exceptionally slim chance, but what the fuck no harm in trying.

The feature script is a genre-y thing best described as an Action/Comedy. Here's the setup: A sniper is preying on the working-class part of the city and he's just killed his first victim. Though he and his family grew up in the same working-class area, the sniper is of no concern to Wimbeldon White, who's just trying to keep his slacker ways going long enough to sell his Great American Detective Novel. But the book won't sell and Wimbeldon's father didn't work his whole life in the steel-castings mill to send his kid to college so he could collect unemployment like a bum. With the pressure building to find a full-time job, Wimbeldon and his roommate/ex-high-school football teammate Carp decide to solve the sniper case and collect the $60,000 reward offered by the city. Should be simple, because Wimbeldon's read every detective novel from Dashiell Hammet to Michael Connelly, right? But Whimbeldon's about to learn the difference between book smarts and streets smarts, and in the process put himself and the people closest to him in jeopardy. And maybe, just maybe, he'll discover something about what it means to want something better for the people you love.

That's basically it. If it's done well, it could really work. If not, well then it will just suck. I've got a lot left to do on it, especially in Acts II and III, but I'm excited to get back to it and send it out into the world.

Last weekend was a buzz of activity. Saturday I went to the LA County Musuem of Art to see a film about New York artists from 1940-1970, then went with Lisa and Milo to the world-famous Canter's deli in Hollywood for pickles, knish and egg salad. Sunday I met with Tom and Leslie, the ultra-successful screenwriter/director friends of Parker. They have an amazing arts and crafts house in Beverly Hills, where we drank wine and talked about Richard Thompson, X, Woody Allen and The Decision to Change My Life and Move to LA. Tom said I'd done the hardest and most important thing which is to just get here. Leslie said most people make the same move ten years earlier, but that didn't mean it wouldn't happen, just that I was starting a little late (something I already knew but it was refreshing to hear someone else say it). I met their ten-year old son who is a certifiable genius. Scary, see-around-corners kind of smarts on this kid. They then took me out to a great little Italian place in Beverly Hills and we talked about our favorite (Squid and the Whale, Grizzly Man) and least favorite (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Bewitched) movies, music, TV and the path of a writer in LA. After dinner Leslie and I sat around the giant oak dining room table and played guitar and sang (she played, I sang) and she taught me a few Western swing chords. All in all a great night, and I'm extremely grateful to them for their generosity.

Monday Skylar called and said he had an extra ticket to the Clippers game. The Clippers are the red-headed stepchild of the LA NBA scene, even though they're much better than the Lakers this year. Whereas at Lakers' games you'll see a host of A-list celebrities and plenty of sparkly hoochie mommas, the Clippers crowd is more down-to-earth and attendance is a little more sparse. I think it shows a depth of character to be a Clippers fan, not unlike being a Mets fan in New York. The Clippers won the game against the Timberwolves and are virtually guaranteed a playoff spot at this point (The Lakers are not). I may become a Clippers fan.

Last night was the groundlings, tonight is the writing group, and tomorrow I go to Phoenix to meet Pete and Jody for a weekend of hanging out by the pool and going to spring training games. I'll bring my laptop and see if I can't get some work done. Three pages a day. That's my goal. If I can get three pages a day done on the Rescue Me script, it will be done by the end of the month. Then fame and glory and possibly a catering job await.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Neighborhood in Neon 1

Neighborhood in Neon 2

Kenny Loggins is a Prophet

Now that the furor over the Academy Awards has died down I can finally clear my head enough to write something. Actually, though they happened just a mile and a half from here and the streets were clogged with Lincoln Navigator limos, I was relatively untouched by them, though I did watch them on TV as did all of Tinseltown. Does anyone else think George Clooney's getting a little too much exposure these days?

This has been the most winter-like week of my stay here in L.A. so far, and it's produced some interesting results. Winter here basically means it gets down into the 40s at night and rises into the low 60s during the day. Not exactly winter as most of the world knows it, but winter nonetheless. Of course there is no snow, but there has been a lot of rain. The days after it rains in LA are beautiful. The air smells like the midwest, damp and fragrant, and the urbansphere has been washed clean of all the smog and smoke and haze. Lovely. On a drive to Ventura last week I watchted the dark shadows of slow moving clouds drift across the Santa Monica Mountains ten miles away. However, all of the grey has inflamed my homebody tendencies and thus I have not left the apartment all that much this week. I put some finishing touches on my place, including constructing a coffee table from a framed seaside picture I found at a junk shop and building a long thin bookshelf I've begun calling my Mary Tyler Moore bookshelf (see pics). Now that I've got my apartment all nice and cozy, I feel I'm moving into a Danger Zone where I'll never leave the house again. This is not good for my mental health, being alone in a new city and not leaving the house for an entire day, but the problem is I feel like I should be home writing. So I do, then I feel like I'm going a little bonkers. I've settled into a sort of routine, where Tuesday Wednesday and Thursday are my big social days, going to the Groundlings class, going to writing group and then working with my elementary school charge Edward. On these days (such as today) I think, as the sage Kenny Loggins sang, "I'm Allright." Then the weekend comes and everybody else in the city is out having fun and things seem a little lonelier. Perhaps this is why I've titled the TV spec script I'm working on "Ping Pong." I read something recently that said people were happiest when they enjoyed the process of what they were doing--"the flow"--rather than expecting the outcome of that activity to satisfy them. I like that.

Last Tuesday I met with a friend of Parker MacDonnell's (current resident of 320 Medick Way, the house I grew up in) who runs an animation production company. Tom has been in LA 20 plus years and has had good success. He's a super nice guy and seemed eager to help steer me toward opportunities. He said he'd put me in touch with his agency, and asked me to send him a short story or two, which I did. He also said he might have some work for me writing an outline for a show he's producing in a couple of weeks, so we'll see if that works out. Friday I went and saw the Academy Award nominated live-action shorts, and I agree with the selection of "Six Shooter" as the best of the bunch. Sunday Lisa and Milo, hosts of the poetry/spoken word event I attended a couple of weeks ago, came over and I scanned in photos from the event for their web site. It was fun evening. We drank wine and played the guitar and talked about books and music and scanned in four rolls of pictures. Milo was especially taken with the coffee table as it depicts a scene close to where he grew up, just south of Carmel. About 1:00 we all decided we were hungry so Lisa and Milo ran down to the Pink Elephant, my trusty local liquor store/Armenia deli and returned with hummus, potato salad, tabuli and a big bag of Lavosh. We chowed down and finished the project somewhere in the wee hours of the night. I'm including a couple of those pics here. I also took an extended hike through Griffith Park this weekend, though I saw no mountain lions or coyotes. Hiking straight up this mountain is not easy work, so I feel like I'm in great shape until I see a 60-year old woman in flats walking her twin poodles along the same trail, seemingly effortlessly.

Last night was my third Groundlings class. I'm really enjoying it and think I might be harboring a secret desire to be an actor. The warm-up portion of the night is the part where I feel the most foolish. Our instructor has us walking around in circles "getting big" and "getting small" or catching imaginary softballs while we display fear, anger, sadness, worry, etc., said emotions of course being turned up to "10." But after the initial embarassment of the high-school drama exercises wears off the class is great. I enjoy the challenge of thinking on my feet, I'm learning a lot and I enjoy the people in my class. Not quite sure what to do to continue exploring acting but I've got some ideas, all of which involve money (head shots, acting classes). My instructor told us at the end of class to watch "Free Ride" this Sunday on Fox as he'll be appearing in the episode. Look for the crew trainer - that's Jeremy.

This week I sent out a resume to a catering company and inquired about a position at a Television Production Company. Unfortunately the position was for receptionist, which at this point seem to be the only jobs I'm qualified for. Sunday night, on his way to the Oscars, Skylar called to inform me that our documentary project had made the first cut in a competition to receive funding from a PBS foundation, and if it gets funded I'll have a job for at least a little while. Nothing on the Steve McQueen narrator gig, but I'm going to put together a reel of voice-over samples and see if I can't get it into the hands of agent or two. In the meantime, I'll see what I can do to enjoy The Flow.