BEHIND THE LINES WITH DR: The Sweet Stench of Career Success

Doug Richardson’s first produced feature was the sequel to Die Hard, Die Harder. Visit Doug’s site for more Hollywood war stories and information on his popular novels. Follow Doug on Twitter @byDougRich.

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Career Success

It’s funny how recall works. As I was sitting through the latter third of this year’s Academy Awards ceremony, I was imagining how the Monday workweek might begin for some of the newest owners of that golden guy otherwise known as Oscar. Or better yet, what might it be like for the many who work with or for the aforementioned honorees? Would there be awkward moments? Or possibly a detectable change in the demeanors of those who, for the first time, will be forever known as “Academy Award Winner…”

career successA memory stirred.

It was a week such as this when I, the semi-humble word jockey, pulled up to the gate at Universal and handed over my driver’s license to be checked against a list of those expected for meetings on the studio lot.

“Do you know who you’re meeting with?” asked the uniformed sentry.

Not recalling the names of the producers I was to sit down with, I pulled up an email and repeated the company moniker attached to my appointment time. A drive-on pass was spit from a printer and slapped onto my dashboard and a map directing me to the producers’ bungalows. This was just in case I’d forgotten how to tell the difference between the part of the backlot that was actual working studio and the far vaster regions designated as amusement park.

Leading up to the meeting I’d been underwater all morning, banging out narrative through lunch. I’d barely remembered that I had a meeting. So with fifteen minutes to make my appointment, I vaulted from my desk and into my car, hoping like hell I wouldn’t get cited for speeding because I’d only just recently completed a round of traffic school. On the short drive east, my mind remained occupied with whatever characters and drama I’d left unfinished on my computer screen; I don’t quickly disengage from my work. To add to my mental impairment, as I made the turn from Moorpark onto Lankershim I’d come upon a fresh accident scene where it appeared an unfortunate homeless gent had met his untimely death at the business end of a shiny black Hummer. The victim’s bloody Converse had become separated from his body and lay like a still photograph in the middle of the boulevard.

Maybe five minutes late for my appointment, I strode through the bungalow door, announced myself to the assistant, and waited another ten or so minutes before I was directed into the a well-appointed office. I shook the producing duo’s mitts, made a mental note on how young they both seemed, found a spot on the couch, and tried like hell to erase the image of those stained and tattered Chuck Taylor high tops stranded in the middle of that busy four-lane.

I wanted to slap myself as a way to pull my thoughts to the present. Focus, I urged. Who are you meeting with and why? It was during the pro forma hello and how-do-you-dos that my brain finally caught up with my body, remembering that it was a meeting often referred to as a “general.” This meant that there was no set agenda. It was plainly a gathering of producers and writer to see if there was any creative common ground to be mined from our collective resources. The producers, who I’ll call Mr. Blake and Mr. Solomon, sat opposite me in twin, winged back chairs, each sporting an overly contented grin as wide as city bus.

Wow, I thought. These dudes must be having themselves a really good day. Because meeting me sure as hell couldn’t be that awesome.

That’s when I finally put it together. The duo’s names and the single framed one-sheet which I’d barely clocked just inside the bungalow’s front door. The one and only movie poster adorning their office had, only a few nights earlier, garnered the Academy Award for nothing less than Best Picture. The names and faces of those producers began to gel inside my over-stuffed hull. Yes indeed. I’d seen those grins before. On my TV screen as the young guns gave their ubiquitously unmemorable acceptance speeches.

“By the way,” I not-so-deftly offered. “Congratulations are obviously in order.”

“Oh, thanks,” replied Mr. Blake. “Been quite the week.”

“That’s the least of it,” laughed Mr. Solomon. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing. It’s hard to get back to the business of making our next movie.”

“I believe it’s probably okay to enjoy the moment,” I countered. “If it were me I’d probably wanna sit on a beach somewhere. Anyplace that didn’t require a tuxedo.”

“Good idea,” said Solomon. “But if we weren’t still in town, we wouldn’t be meeting you.”

Ah, I thought. The queue. The simple segue which usually accelerated the meeting into the business at hand. Which was what they wanted to do and what I wanted to do and to see if somehow those trains might want to meet.

Instead (yet not so surprising) they seemed way more comfortable waxing or complaining about the difficulties and responsibilities that came with being yoked by such a heavy award. I imagined the burden was made that much more beastly by having to additionally haul each of their ever-inflating egos which appeared metaphorically hitched to their respective designer denims. I was beginning to wonder what project in their basket of studio development they were considering me for. After all, their tony tastes and my more commercial sensibility might not necessarily jibe.

As it turned out, I would be ever left to wonder.

Over the following forty or so minutes, I sat back in wide-eyed wonder and watched that Oscar-anointed pair spin their story of success. Yes. That’s right. They were spilling the secret sauce which had forthrightly led the inevitable win that was the year’s Best Picture. To have them describe it, their two golden statuettes were practically ordination from the Almighty himself as to their pedigree for picking top quality material to marry with only the finest in Hollywood talent.

Man. At last I could sense where this meeting was landing. Two weeks prior, these producers were rolling calls to agents and executives while booking writer meetings in that pagan hope that both hard work and relationships would eventually lead to pitches and deals and the nascent possibilities of getting their next movie mounted. Based on my reputation or something that they might even have read, they’d set aside an hour to see if the three of us could make a little magic.

But all that was clearly before they’d each won themselves a gold-plated trophy.

My guess was that since that fated night, the personal stock tickers of their busy minds had bullishly predicted a ten-fold increase in personal valuation. And they’d either forgotten to cancel our meeting or instinctively kept their calendar static as way to deliver a constant stream of captive writers into their lofty lair to witness them tonguing each other’s esteem.

They eventually informed me of what they were looking for in their future scripts, citing literary references I would never pretend to live up to. And never once did they ask me what I might be able to bring to their exclusive post-award party.

The meeting seemed to end rather abruptly. They stood, offered their hands, having sized me up and clearly dismissed me as pre-Oscar goods that had somehow passed my sell-by date.

As I stepped from the bungalow, I shrugged off the wasted hour and, until just the other night, had pretty much relegated the lost hour to the insult vault in my brain. I do my best to keep it locked as a way of preserving what little dignity a Hollywood script merchant is allowed.

As a matter of regret, I wish I would’ve opened the meeting by commenting on the fracas I’d witnessed only moments prior to our failed business encounter. I could’ve described the power of that image of those bloody Chuck Taylors lying lifeless and without an owner on an asphalt stretch just outside the studio gate.

Those two producers have since gone on to success–but not the award-laden trek they’d hoped for—I sometimes wonder if that poor dead homeless man was the one writer who might’ve delivered the duo their next Oscar-worthy flick.

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