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The Hollywood Struggle
I can't believe what I have just heard. I repeat the words that I think rolled off the studio producer's tongue because I am suddenly unable to decipher the meaning of them.
"What do you mean there's no deal?" I ask, my heart pumping furiously.
"There never was any deal," he says, leaning back in his chair beside a pile of screenplays, contracts, and production budgets. "Who'd you say your agent was again?"
"Scott Sher at the Significant Talent Agency," I repeat.
"Hmmm. I thought I knew all the agents at STA. Never met him, " says Lee Weston, a high-profile movie producer on the lot of a major film studio. "What exactly did he tell you . . . Linda?"
"It's Laura. Laura Taylor. And he told me the deal was done months ago," I affirm. My memory can't be that bad. After all, why would I quit my job at STA, the hottest talent agency in town, if there hadn't been a deal? Scott had told me to leave and stick with writing. I wonder, can Alzheimer's strike at twenty-nine? Maybe it's some sort of studio conspiracy against struggling writers. Or perhaps this guy is an imposter and the real tanned-face Weston has the contract for my screenplay with him on a sandy-white beach in Fiji. "Scott said I was supposed to hand in the second draft today and pick up a check for $25,000 -- less the ten-percent commission."
"Sorry, but he stretched a truth that never existed"
"You mean, he lied?"
"He's an agent, Laura, they all lie."
My eyes drop down to gaze at my screenplay The Law of Malus. It's my opus, but now it's lying limp on my lap, an injustice clearly having been done to it. I close my eyes, trying hard to make reason out of the insanity I've just heard, as the lump in my throat grows with panic and now utter humiliation.
"Do you have other writing work?" Lee asks.
"I'm supposed to do a rewrite at Satellite Studios. That's all," I say.
"I'd offer to look at your script, but from your description, there's no way I'd make this. It's not high-concept and the new head of the studio only wants action-adventures. Romance and family dramas are dead."
At this last line I stop breathing. Romance and family dramas are dead. Everything I write, everything I stand for on behalf of the human condition is no longer wanted.
Lee leans forward and gazing at my chest murmurs, "I've got a meeting now, but I can . . . discuss it with you later. Come over for drinks at my place tonight."
I know I'm dazed, but I could swear Lee Weston has just hit on me. I stare at him uncomprehending, still spinning from round one of immense disappointment and unexpected betrayal.
He continues to glance at my chest. "If the writing doesn't work, maybe you should consider becoming an actress."
"Me?" I ask, stunned, wondering if someone else just walked in. I see no one else and for a moment I'm flattered. After having months of work abruptly tossed aside, I consciously crave any compliment I can get.
"Why not? You're pretty, smart, and you've got a great smile. My secretary will give you my address. How's eight o'clock?" He leers.
I stare at him, unable to respond. I look out the window. Is it spring? My mother always loved saying that when the ice would melt the boys would flock to me. Was it my pheromones? I'm no sizzling 6'0" model; I'm 5'2", petite and lithe, sporting dark-brown hair matching dark-brown eyes, with an approachable personality and an absentee fashion style. Of course I wanted to look good, but I never labored over my wardrobe like other girls did growing up. I preferred tackling new words to shopping at the mall.
I didn't see how my outfit could have contributed to Mr. Weston's advances. I was wearing my usual white tank top with an untucked bone button-down short-sleeved silk shirt hanging over a pair of charcoal gray slacks with casual black leather boots that were going on three years old. I'm a pragmatist. I don't believe in buying new shoes until I have to replace the ones I have. Much to the annoyance of my older brother, Bennett, the fashion king. He prides himself on wearing only designer brands, and always being the first in line every time one hits the store's shelves. I dress for comfort, not trends. Maybe that's why I was out of sync with the studio's current script-seeking mandate.
"Uh, no thanks," I reply.
Despite my confusion I find the studio's parking lot. My ten-year-old silver Toyota Corolla hatchback appears dull and aged among a fleet of shiny, leased luxury cars. Still in a trance, I drive down the block and around the corner to STA. I can't believe that this is what starving for six months to write a script about loss amounts to, what a master's degree in literature from the University of Michigan provides, and what, having written every day from the age of six, results in.
The Law of Malus was to be my first, or at least my first significant, movie deal. My first script was The Magic Mitt, a family adventure tale, which received a semi-finalist screenwriting award and has the best studio synopsis I'd ever read, epitomizing it as the perfect blend of all things Americana and giving it a strong recommend to buy. And yet it still could not get sold or made. So I decided to up the ante from a PG-rated story to an R-rated one with The Law of Malus, a harmonious synthesis of the struggles relayed to me by an elderly female patient of my father's, named Lily Laurence.
My college summers were spent as a podiatric assistant in my dad's, Walt's, office where I had come to adore Lily. During her ritual footbaths, I came to understand the sacrifices she made in her life, the dreams lost in self-recrimination and the vast love gained in the quiet solitude of surrender. I was deeply touched by her story, steeped in loss and self-renewal. Knowing of my desire to write for the movies, Lily asked me to tell her story. My problem wasn't in the telling of her story, but in the fact that I had made a vow to get it produced.
Of course I wasn't so naive as to believe that I'd write it and Hollywood would find me. First, I'd go there and meet people who could finance it and distribute it. So after graduation I packed my bags, drove out west, and landed a job at the Significant Talent Agency. That's where I spent three years as an assistant to literary agent Eric Leve. And that's where I met the people with the resources to make things happen. It was Eric who introduced me as an up-and-coming writer to the hyper-aggressive agent Scott Sher, who in turn would later promise me a deal on The Law of Malus.
It would be an understatement to describe the lobby of STA as daunting. Smug receptionists man the desk sitting front and center. Courtesy phones on either side of simple leather couches offer the potential for human contact. No privacy exists but you are invited to sit on one of the couches and feel a false sense of significance. In addition, the ceiling rises forever, like a giant beanstalk. This space, between the floor and roof, charges the atmosphere with sovereignty. Hallways weave around the walls of its perimeter where small men strut through like heads of state believing they manipulate deals as important as national security secrets. Celebrities breeze in and out escorted by top agents. The plot of land this lobby rests on sees more deals close than any other piece of real estate in Southern California. And my deal, I thought at the time, was about to become one of them, of which I had been foolishly proud. I promise myself I won't make that mistake again as I pick up the first courtesy phone I can get to.
Rand Chessick, Scott's assistant, answers, "Scott Sher."
"Hi, it's Laura Taylor. I'm in the lobby and I need to see Scott. It's important."
"Scott no longer works here," the words rapidly roll off his tongue.
"What?" I ask, astonished.
"Well, in the last sixteen hours he's left the entertainment industry and joined the Peace Corps in South Africa. Hang on. I've got another call."
In a state of shock I call my best friend, Corie Berman, an assistant at STA. "Corie," I plead. "Where's Scott? What's going on?"
Corie whispers back, "Rumor has it he's entered a drug rehab center somewhere in North Dakota. That's all I know for now. I'm rolling calls for Jason. Later."
Jason is Jason Brand, Corie's boss, one of the slickest, sleekest agents in town. Corie's been manning his desk for thirteen months, two weeks, three days, four hours, and sixteen minutes, which puts her in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest employed assistant Jason's ever had. She knows how to keep him in balance, unfortunately at the risk of abandoning her chances to advance her own career. I've learned the best time to talk to Corie during work hours is when Jason's out of town or at a meeting, and if they're rolling through his phone sheet, well, it's a no go. Jason prides himself on returning every call he receives even if it's to say, "Can't talk now, let's try tomorrow."
I take a deep breath and dial Rand again, "So, Rand. I don't mean to sound disinterested in Scott's sudden career shift, but, uh, what happened to my deal?"
"To tell you the truth, I'm not sure there ever really was a deal," he says.
"But Scott said . . ."
"Well, I guess he misled you," Rand says curtly.
In staccato style I cry, "Can another agent take over for me? How about Eric Leve?"
"Not for just hip pocket clients, you had to have officially signed with the agency, besides Eric's out of the country for four weeks. And Richard's already put the word out that he doesn't want the agency to keep any of Scott's clients, unless they're grossing over a million a year. Sorry, Laura. I gotta take these other calls. Good luck, but well, uh, adios."
Devastated, I find my way to my car and climb inside, dashed dreams cloud above me anesthetizing my body and soul. My cell beeps indicating I have three voice mail messages.
Copyright © 2003 Lynn Isenberg