Behind the Lines with DR: A Bitter Pill of Hollywood Writing Careers Part 2

By Doug Richardson

Did he offer you the franchise?” asked megabucks writer Charlie A-List.

As you read last week in (A Bitter Pill, Part 1) I’d just landed in Charlie’s office after a meeting with a Paramount executive who’d offered me the plum gig of writing the next installment of its blockbuster franchise based on a series of bestselling novels by Mr. Superstar Author. I hadn’t a glimmer I’d be receiving such an offer. And in an utter coincidence, I’d already made plans with the franchise’s last writer, Charlie A-List, for lunch after the meeting.

“I wanna know right now,” pressed Charlie, “If that motherfucker offered you my movie.”

I abhor lying as much as being lied to. Yet I knew telling the truth would be hurtful to the veteran writer who, a year earlier, had offered his hand of friendship along with a wish to partner on a future movie as writer and producer.

“Did he offer me the next book?” I answered, trying to remove Charlie’s possessive assertion from my answer. “Yeah, he did.”

“The motherfuckers!” shouted Charlie, pounding his fist onto his desk.

“Charlie,” I continued. “I had no idea that’s what the meeting was about. Not a clue going in.”

“And what was your answer?”

“I was polite.”

“So you’re thinking about it.”

“Only thing I was thinking about was that I was having lunch with you after.”

“So you were worried about this being awkward?”

“Wouldn’t you? I mean, c’mon. What are the odds?”

Charlie stood and the big man paced behind his desk. He looked pretty worn since I’d last seen him. My guess is a lot had happened in a year.

“’Course you didn’t have any idea they’d bring up the franchise,” Charlie said, calming himself, nearly convincing himself that I wasn’t the enemy. “But you’d think those fuckers would’ve told me I was outta that business.”

“Woulda been the right thing to do,” I said. “Sorry to be the messenger.”

“Fuck ‘em. Let’s go get lunch.”

hollywood writing careers

As we strolled across the lot to the Paramount commissary, we did a bit of a catch-up. Since our last meetings, I’d gotten hitched to my beloved War Department. But considering Charlie’s mood, I supposed congratulations were too much to ask for.

“Big mistake,” groused Charlie. “Worst thing a man can do to himself.”

“Maybe you had a bad experience,” I defended. “But my wife is amazing. I adore her.”

“Do you know how many hot young actresses out there are willing to blow me just because?” he argued.

Somewhere between zero and ten thousand, I reckoned. Though I didn’t care a lick. Here I was talking about love and marriage and Charlie was trying to one-up me with tales of office quickies with willing female wannabes. Clearly he had an axe to grind with both women and the studio for offering me a ride on the Franchise Express. Despite the insult to my marriage, I was feeling sorry for him.

We sat for lunch, ordered salads, and most of the talk had turned to the movie Charlie had just written for himself to direct. It was a movie about a famous motorcycle gang. At least we’d moved on to the subject of screenwriting, a subject on which we had more agreement.

“You know what a Harley sounds like, right?” Charlie asked rhetorically. “It’s the most angry, badass sound on the planet. But how do you write that sound? How do you describe it so somebody reading the script gets what it’s going to feel like when they’re watching the movie.”

“Dontcha think everybody pretty much knows what a Harley sounds like?” I asked.

“’Brrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaapppppppppppp’ is what is sounds like,” he said loudly, turning dining room heads. “Can’t fuckin’ write that. But I figured it out. First line of the script after ‘Fade In’ is that awesome Harley sound. Just low and deep, like an animal. Brrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaappppp!’”

The telltale gin blossoms on Charlie’s ruddy face appeared to have dropped seed and infested since I’d last seen him. I knew he had a taste for liquor because he’d openly yakked about it. I wondered if he drank on the job. Not that it mattered to me. Writing and boozing have been common bedfellows since man first put pen to paper. Wordsmiths far greater than me had long histories with alcohol abuse. And to me, Charlie was a great writer.

The conversation eventually shifted to my recent successes of selling a big dollar spec and having written a hit movie.

“Yeah, it’s a hit,” surmised Charlie. “But it’s a fuckin’ sequel. Most of your box office is built-in. But sure as shit it’s gonna get you a lotta offers.”

As if he needed to remind himself.

For the rest of the lunch, Charlie went on a binge, pissing on studio executives, pissing on the Writers’ Guild, pissing on male/female relations, pissing on the government, and pissing on a New York movie director who he felt wasn’t worth the spit on his tonsils.

I recall finding it increasingly difficult to listen, trying like hell not to glance at the second hand ticking away on my black Tag-Heuer, wishing like hell that Charlie could find some joy in his life the way I’d found it in my dearest War Department.

Mercifully, as the curtain finally dropped on lunch, Charlie made no more mention of Paramount’s offer. As I drove off the lot, more than happy to put the Melrose gate in my rearview mirror, I could still taste the bitterness that wasn’t even my own making. It reminded me of the first time I’d sampled that putrid flavor. It was at my first WGA function. A small gathering of random scribblers had been assembled for a living room Q and A with members of the current board. What began as a temperature test quickly devolved into an unflattering bitchfest. Many of the middle-aged writers, ever-griping about the current state of their waning business, placed the blame for their current state on the younger writers on the rise – of which I was one. I even remember one tweedy sod standing up, pointing in my general direction, and shouting “What the hell are we gonna do about all the Goddamn twenty-somethings taking our jobs?”

As if the Writers’ Guild could do anything about it.

As the bitter taste of lunch lingered, I vowed to myself never to become a disaffected old word jockey, ascribing my lack of current or future success on others younger, more powerful, organized into a union, or even more talented than I. My own success and/or failure was, and still is as it always was, mine to own.

Once I arrived back at home, I showered off and phoned my agent, imploring him kindly pass on Paramount’s offer.

As for Charlie A-List, we haven’t seen or spoken to each other since. His name did crop up on an arbitration in which I was embroiled. He was seeking credit where none appeared to be deserved, nor was any awarded him.

Oh well.

Read Doug’s new thriller, BLOOD MONEY. Available in trade paperback and ebook at Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

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