So here I am: Hollywood, USA, movie capital of the non-India world, but it wasn’t easy. On the contrary, the Almighty or some other deity-like skyward entity sent me a great many portents indicating—or so I believe—that I WILL DIE IN A WATERY GRAVE, NOT UNLIKE AXL ROSE’S WIFE IN THE “ESTRANGED” VIDEO.
Portent #1: The Neon Cross
I-55, near Springfield, Illinois, a rather large, impressive-looking cathedral sits beside the highway. Near its peak hangs a large, gaudy neon cross blazing green 24 hours a day. John Kennedy Toole, author of the greatest book of the twentieth century (A Confederacy of Dunces), also wrote a mediocre book called The Neon Bible. Tortured and drunk, Toole killed himself after he nearly found success but blew it because he’s a dick. Sound familiar?
Portent #2: Darkness
One of the more mysterious happenings in the Hebrew Bible is when God unleashes Ten Plagues upon the Egyptian Pharaoh, to show that His awesome power was way awesomer than that of the various Egyptian gods. One of the Plagues He unleashes blinds everybody but the Hebrew slaves, and while most of the Plagues are suspected to refer to natural phenomena (e.g., blood polluting the Nile was really just red soil that occasionally worked its way into the river), this one tends to elude (or provoke argument among) scholars. What were they talking about? An eclipse? No, that doesn’t really fit the profile, although it blots out the sun. Was it just exaggerative bullshit?
No. Clearly, the Bible was referring to night-driving in St. Louis. These fucking idiots couldn’t light an expressway with the sun. Okay, they probably could, but the point is, when you drive through at night, it’s almost impossible to see anything. There’s just no light. But hey, it’s not like they need it; it’s not like four major interstates and the largest river in North America all meet up in this city.
So yes, I drove through St. Louis with the firm belief that I was, in fact, about to jam the car into a large body of water or the side of a stripmined hill, which was a pretty obvious warning.
Portent #3: The Great Flood
After rolling through the beautiful hills and road construction of Missouri, I finally hit flat land along the Oklahoma border; almost immediately after passing the border, it started to rain. Then, it started to rain harder. It came down in violent, blinding sheets. It rained so hard big rigs were driving 40 in a 75. It rained so hard cars were parked all along breakdown lanes as people waited it out. It rained so hard Christian Slater and Morgan Freeman were at a dairy farm making a movie.
It continued to rain for the next three hours, until I breezed through Tulsa—narrowly avoiding a Greaser-Soc rumble—which is about 130 miles west of the Oklahoma border. That’s an asspile of rain, let me tell you.
Portent #4: Roadwork
I mentioned the construction through Missouri, but this was nothing compared to the pain and torment of New Mexico’s construction. The first problem is, New Mexico is a big, mostly empty desert. It’s very beautiful, but there aren’t very many alternate routes. So when you have one-lane Interstate highways bottled up because trucks can’t make it up the hill at a reasonable speed, it gets a little tiresome. It gets especially tiresome when it’s one lane for 67 miles, followed by 10 miles of road in terrible condition, followed by another longe stretch of one-lane roads.
Portent #5: Strong winds
Have you ever driven in winds so strong it kinda feels like it’ll either lift your car in the air and flip it over or simply ram you off the road? Try doing it for 400 miles.
Portent #6: Fire
Just over the California border, I spotted a huge fire. I couldn’t tell if it was a brushfire or if a building was on fire or what, but it was pretty severe, and I think since it’s a natural event, it qualifies as a portent of doom.
Portent #7: Lyme Disease!
Staying for the evening in a little shithole town in California, I discovered a tick on my leg. I shrieked, jumped up, and smacked the bizatch out of it. Lately I’ve been really tired and forgetful. Is that bad?
And so there you have it: unequivocal proof that cosmic forces don’t think I should be here. Now, let’s dip into my first week at school.
Our school rents a bungalow on a studio lot, for that authentic industry experience. Remember that episode of Dawson’s Creek where he goes away to film school in California and has his first day on the lot, and he’s totally amazed by what an amazing thing the amazing world of filmmaking is? It’s really not like that at all. They film Passions and UPN sitcoms on this lot. Everybody fits into a remarkably hilarious cliché, so you can always spot the actors and the agents and the producers and the directors and the teamsters and the writers. I tend to gravitate toward the teamsters, who are hilarious.
Here’s what we do all day in the sun-drenched, palm-lined studio lot: sit in a quiet, windowless room and write. I really feel like Columbia’s earning their money on this one, since sitting in a quiet, windowless room and writing is not something I could do in Chicago.
Each day, we have a guest lecturer who comes in to reaffirm things we were told in Screenwriting I. I guess it’s nice to know that the people at Columbia aren’t just blowing smoke up our asses—which is something I slowly became convinced of over my time there—but at the same time, it’s not exactly the inside scoop we were promised.
I suppose I’m acclimating well enough; driving around Schaumburg, Illinois, has really prepared me for navigating LA traffic (except, whereas maybe three out of 10 people in Schaumburg drive like dipshits, it’s more like 10 out of 10 here), and I’m not a suicidal heroin addict (yet), so I say things are going pretty well. One of the managers at the bookstore went to school out here, and he gave me some pointers, the main one being: just stand back and laugh at everybody, just like I do at home, because if you don’t, you either get sucked into or driven crazy by the LA mindset.
Finally, an anecdote. Today, I took a drive to a Circuit City in Burbank. I decided I’d like to invest in the Playstation 2 DVD remote, since my space-economizing has led me to bring only my Playstation 2, since it both plays video games and DVDs. I considered investing in an Xbox, but I’m not sure it’d fit in a studio apartment.
At any rate, I was waiting in the checkout line, DVD remote in hand, and the clerk was helping some guy who looked a whole lot like Fred Sanford with something unrelated to purchasing. Fred had something small and hidden from my view that apparently wasn’t working right, and the clerk was helping him out.
“I’m a songwriter,” Fred non-sequitured, “so I need this to work right.”
“Oh yeah?” the clerk said excitedly. “I’ve just been working on an independent film, and right now we’re looking for original music. It’d be great exposure.”
“Wow,” Fred said, starstruck, “yeah, I’ll get you a tape and some contact information.”
“Yeah, we’re just finishing up work on it now,” the clerk continued, hyping the project to the maxxx. “We’re gonna submit it to all the fesitvals, nationwide.” His intonation made it seem like this is a really impressive accomplishment, but I don’t really see why. Aren’t most independent films (that get finished…) sent to all the festivals in the nation, if not the world? How impressive is it to burn 50 DVDs and put them in an envelope? I know in LA that driving to the post office or a mailbox is a feat, but other than that, I don’t get it…
Nonetheless, Fred Sanford was impressed. “Yeah, I got some tapes and cards in my car,” he said. “I’ll run and get them.” I really hope when he gets back to the junk shop, Lamont explains to him why he should not be impressed or sucked in by this.
So yes, I witnessed my very first sad-sack potential business deal, and let me tell you, it was at least comedy bronze. I often find absurd things in daily life, but to me none is more absurd than a nonchalant oral contract being forged between a Circuit City clerk and a customer with what I’ll always believe is a broken pair of $20 headphones.
Because I’m exceptionally mean-spirited and fairly big and menacing (not muscular, but people do tend to make that mistake), I’ve gotten used to laughing at people over the last few years when they’re behaving like morons. Usually they stare at me blankly and say nothing. Here, though, I have to be careful. One of the things drilled into my head at film school is that, for example, the ingenuous film made by Circuit City Clerk B. DeMille could end up being the next Pulp Fiction, and I could be in his office begging him to buy a script, and all of a sudden he remembers that day in Circuit City when I had a laughing fit because of the hilarity of his attempt at networking with a customer, and I’m thrown out on my ass.
It’s hard to stifle that shit, but I did it today, and I can do it again. And again and again and again. At least I’m finding amusement in it all.
I’m still not sure if I’m going to stay here. I talked to the lady in charge of internships, and she created the illusion that getting an internship after this program is as easy as taking a piss. However, the only paying internship I’ve found so far is, ironically, in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, spitballing jokes for some pornographic video game or something. I’m not sure if that’d be the best career move, so I will certainly look at other options, but right now, it (a) seems like it’d be fun, (b) is in Illinois, and (c) pays money.
So we’ll see…