Behind the Lines with DR: I’m a Lying Liar

I’m a lying liar. I admit the lie and that I’ve been lying the lie for some years now. I feel the need to confess. So here goes nothin’.

But first, a little history.

It was my one and only honeymoon. Hawaii (cliché alert). My spanking new wife and I were in a popular little Italian restaurant at the Big Island’s Waikaloa resort. We didn’t have a reservation. So we were stuck at the bar, ordering back-to-back Stoli and tonics, a detail that is only pertinent because I’d recently typed “Fade Out” on a new draft of a script I’d sold to Columbia Pictures about a former Soviet journalist caught up in a lingering spy case. For research I’d been spent ample time with a crew of Russian expats living south of Pico, each of which guzzled their vodka like Ted Kennedy at a bar mitzvah. By my wedding day my liver had acclimated to my newly-adopted liquor. Thus the Stoli, the tonic, the bar in the Italian restaurant.

We’d struck up a conversation with another recently-wedded couple of which there were plenty mashing about the island—every one of us sporting a shiny gold band around our ring finger as if we’d just joined the Cult of the Gold Rings. Now, here’s the part where you’d think The Lie has something to say about marriage, fidelity, even love. To which I answer, none of the above and far less precious.

The lie was about my particular profession: a screenwriter of works that had so far been unproduced. A career I’d been succeeding at for long enough to afford a home, cars, and this pricey honeymoon in Hawaii.

A day earlier, I’d been asked by someone, somewhere, that obvious, all-important question one American male asks another whom he doesn’t yet know: “What do you do?” Translation: what’s your job, title, and how much cash do you clear a year before taxes? We guys get this. It’s not so much a measuring stick (though it can be) as much as a barometer for the other male to know where he stands in the Unspoken Social Order of Man-ness. If we were dogs, we’d sniff each other’s butts, an act which upon rational examination is far simpler, demanding surely less subtext and wasted words.

But getting back to the point. Upon being asked “What do you do?” I’d actually hedged, changed subject, obfuscated, blown smoke both literally and figuratively. Anything but answer the query directly and honestly. Later, my wife innocently asked why I’d so obviously ducked the question. Was I embarrassed by my job? Not at all, I replied. I explained that answering that particular question often unleashed an uncomfortable cycle of interrogations that knew no end. As I tried to clarify myself, she didn’t seem to comprehend because I was clearly unable to aptly describe my discomfort. So here we are back at the bar in that Italian restaurant, lips and nerves loosened by the Stoli, I demonstrated what I’d come to call… The Loop.

“So what do you do?” asked the man, both he and his Midwestern bride equally lubed on some ethanol-infused concoction topped by fruit and umbrellas.

“I’m a screenwriter,” I answered.

“What’s that?”

I then described to the couple that I wrote scripts for movies. Which usually required that I furnish further explanation—that actors didn’t make up their dialogue, nor did movie directors invent the film’s story while they simultaneously marshaled the hundred-man crew from one camera set-up to the next.

“So have you written any movies that I’ve heard of?” was the inevitable follow-up.

“Well, no,” I replied. “My movies haven’t yet been produced.”

“So wait. You write ‘em, but they haven’t made ‘em?” Something akin to the usual response.

Followed by the eventual, “So then if they don’t make ‘em, what do you do for a living?”

“I write movies.”

“But you said they haven’t made any or your movies.”

“That’s true. But that’s how I make a living.”

At that point, the discussion devolved into my describing Hollywood’s decades long practice of “developing” tens of screenplays only to produce one, a business model that, to most working humans, sounded preposterous and devoid of economic sense. By conversation’s end, I was exhausted from defending The Biz and my fellow diners wondering how I the hell I was going to pay my bar bill considering I didn’t have a real job.

At least my wife finally had a grasp of my petty lament. From that day forward, I was determined to invent a Kevlar-worthy lie to protect me in social situations where I didn’t feel comfortable divulging my profession. A lie bold enough to stand until one of my screenplays was produced—in theaters with my name as writer firmly etched on celluloid.

And it didn’t take long. I discovered the perfect lie. A bulletproof tale that’s been tested time and again. So far it’s worked every time. No more awkward conversations.

Now, if you think I’m going to tell you the lie, dream on. After all, it’s my lie and I still use it. Sure, my career’s been legitimized. So you’d think I’d no longer have use for The Lie. Wrong. I need The Lie now more than ever to avoid the following annoying conversation:

“So what do you do?”

“I’m a screenwriter.”

“Like what? You write movies?”

“Exactly that. I write movies.”

“That so? Any movies I might’ve seen?”

This is where I can list a credit or two.

“You’re kidding me?” they usually retort, followed by something interesting like this. “Hey. Does Bruce Willis really like Ashton Kutcher?”

3 thoughts on “Behind the Lines with DR: I’m a Lying Liar

  1. Brenda

    Hi Doug, I just read your hilarious article, and all I have to say is: “thanks a lot — for nothin’.” Although I laughed large, I was waiting with baited breath for your lie, wanting one for myself.

    Although I’ve never sold any scripts, I am fully immersed in the art. I am, however, a professional marketing/business writer and I run into this all the time. The look of disappointment when I tell people what KIND of writing I do, it apparently isn’t glamorous enough.

    Maybe I’ll just lie and tell them I’m a professional screenwriter and make up shit just for the approval I might get otherwise!

    Love the way you write; you always make me laugh.


  2. Scriptcat

    Great article. Yes, having to explain to someone what you do for a living, especially if you are a screenwriter, is rough. I’ve had films produced with others in “development” and when asked what I do and I reply—it’s always followed by,”Oh, have you written anything I might have seen?” It’s at that time when I feel like I’m on the hot seat and have to defend my credits if they aren’t impressive enough to people. I remember being a guest speaker at a high school filmmaking class where a student asked me, “Have you written any BIG movies?” I tried to explain the crazy odds of even getting one film made, regardless of budget, but he didn’t embrace the concept of just how hard it actually is to get produced. I’ve also had people reply, “Oh, that must be such a hard life?” But we write for us and no one else.