Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Hollywood

Singing Cabaret

I’m not big on crowds.  My experiences with conferences tend to revolve around hanging with one or two people who I strongly connect with for one reason or another.   This year, at BlogHer, that person was JC, the Animated Woman.  Besides driving with her to San Jose from Los Angeles, we did a little sightseeing in LA after the conference, including a visit to this weird Hollywood store filled with old Hollywood props.  Last night, I made this appropriately weird little slideshow movie for her to watch on her flight back to Montreal.

A Screenwriter’s Life

barton.jpg 

Health stuff, marital ups and downs, the sarcastic wit of the gods, and especially — my own poor mental focus, have not been kind to my writing. Except for blogging, of course, which flourishes in times of chaos, I haven’t been working on any projects lately that could advance my career.  One blogger once suggested I combine some of the better posts into a book, but for the life of me, I have no idea what type of book that would be or WHO would buy it.  Even my own mother would probably wait until it was half-price at the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan.  Still, lately, I have been feeling inspired, half from therapy and half from seeing the tenacity of others, like Laurie, who accomplished her life-long goal of getting published.

Hmm… what could my book be about? —

“Me and My Penis” by Neilochka

“Separated but Unequal: My Marriage to Sophia.” by Neilochka

“One Man’s Spiritual Search for ABBA” by Neilochka

“Payola and the Promoter: The True Story Behind the Chrismahanukwanzaakah Concert” by Neilochka

 Eh, I’m more of a fiction person, anyway.

However, since this is Hollywood, I’m going to first start on another screenplay (bleh!). I was hoping to dump the Hollywood scene because I’m not much of a schmoozer. I know some of you are grumbling about the Writer’s Guild Strike and all these selfish multi-millionaire writers, but be assured — they are not the norm. I’m sympathetic to the crew members who are losing their jobs, but I don’t consider them “small guys.” These are well paid craftspeople who make a good living because of THEIR own unions! The strike is not just about the big-time writers. This strike opens the door for everyone in Hollywood to share in whatever profits are made from new outlets. Both Sophia and I supplement our incomes from residuals from projects completed years ago.

About two months ago, I received an email from an independent director in town (he made one film that did well at a film festival). He liked some of my posts and wanted to know if I wanted to work on some pitches with him. A well-known producer had seen his film and was anxious to hear some ideas — something comedic and Apatow-ish. We met a few times and we got along pretty well. We’re not officially “partners” as of yet, but we decide to join forces. We each offered something different — he was more “artsy” and I wrote better sex gags. The producer was looking specifically for certain types of projects, including scripts that might appeal to single men (you know, films about a bunch of guys looking to get laid — not that I would know anything about this subject!) However, since I’m not currently on the dating scene (and never actually picked up any women EVER), I had to do a little research to get ready. I had never even heard of the term “Wingman” before this year. Now, after watching the full “Pick-up Artist” and every Maxim magazine of 2007, I have an intimate understanding of the horny 24 year-old male (and his lingo, dude!)

My writing “partner” and I were supposed to meet with the producer two weeks ago — but just our luck, the Writer’s Strike! We certainly didn’t want to meet with him, even informally, during a strike, or we would be as bad as Jay Leno not paying his laid-off staff. So, we wait… and wait..

There is an art to pitching in Hollywood. You get together a couple of good stories and tell them verbally to the producer or development person, trying to get him excited enough to pay you to go on to the next step — writing something! If this fails for us, we might actually just write the script on spec — like real men. I actually prefer to write the script first, but since we have this opportunity to pitch it and make a few bucks, we might as well go for it. I have a habit of getting down on myself, so I’m trying to remain positive. It’s THE SECRET!

There are some writers who are known as brilliant pitchers. They stand in front of their listener, looking all confident, and spin sentences like “This story is “Harry Meets Sally” meets ‘Pirates of the Caribben” — neurotic New York couple travel to the past and become pirates!

Producer: “I want that! It’s a deal. Here’s a million dollars!”

We still don’t know when we will get a chance to pitch. It depends on the strike. I’m also supposed to go to New York for two weeks very soon. I hope this doesn’t screw up my plans.

Today, I called up my partner and said we should practice our verbal pitches over and over, just to be ready. The trouble is that both of us get distracted by life at home. The solution — we’re going to hole up in a hotel for two days and just work undistracted (yeah, right)! So later on today, I’m going to kiss Sophia, say Happy Hanukkah, and disappear for a day or so and room with some guy I hardly know. I hope we get two beds. So if I don’t blog, you know where I am. Well, you actually won’t — but it will probably be at some dumpy Comfort Inn in Torrance without wireless.

Reading Scripts

I have a cold and don’t feel like writing anything, but since I know many readers, mostly women, purposely stay home on Saturday night in order to read my latest post, much preferring my urbane, albeit virtual, charm, to facing another dull Saturday evening with some “date” set up by their relatives and friends. 

“Why does every single man always plan the same date night out?” a reader might ask herself, and rightfully so.  “It’s always the same — we share one chicken entree at Applebee’s, and then go back to the apartment he shares with his mother for ten minutes of doggie-style sex while he grunts the theme from “The Lord of the Rings.”  When did men become so unoriginal? Where’s the romance?”

I will not disappoint you, dear reader.  Despite me coughing and sneezing, I am there for you.  OK, maybe it is true that I already wrote the following post when I was guest posting last month at Heather’s blog, No Pasa Nada.   But what are you gonna do — fire me?!   Ha Ha, I get the last laugh!

Re-posted from Heather’s site.  If you already read it there, make believe that you haven’t.  It reads better on this blog, anyway.

scripts2.jpg

I moved to Los Angeles to go to film school and become a screenwriter. I was surprised by how quickly I got a job involving screenwriting at a major Hollywood studio. Unfortunately, it was not a job writing scripts. It was a job READING scripts.

Yes, I was a low-paid, low-on-the-totem-pole script reader (or script “analyst” as we liked to call ourselves). It was the worst job I ever had.

“What’s so bad about getting paid to read?” you might ask. It sounds like the ideal job for an English major and someone who loves to read. First of all, a true “reader” reads for enjoyment or enlightenment. A Hollywood script reader reads and reads and reads and reads endless piles of CRAP. Serial killer movies. Vampire movies. Retreads of whatever comedy was successful the year before. If a dumb movie like “A Night in the Museum” is successful, be assured that within three months, there will be a hundred similar scripts about “A Night at the Zoo” or “A Night in the Art Gallery.”

Step one of being a reader is reading the material. Step two is doing the “coverage.” Coverage is the equivalent of writing a little book report for each script or book submitted to the company. It is never-ending homework. You summarize the written material. You write a one sentence “log line.” You give your opinion of the story, the characters, and the writing. You decide whether the material deserves a “pass,” “consider,” or “approve.”

Within the first week, I was called into the producer’s office and told that I was being TOO honest in reviewing the terrible scripts. As a newbie, I didn’t realize that Hollywood is mostly based on relationships. My job was not so much to review the script, like a critic might review a book in the New York Times. My main goal was to read the script so the producer didn’t have to, but still enable him to LOOK like he read it. Part of my job description was to help the producer be like Paula Abdul on “American Idol” — finding something positive to say while still rejecting the person. Since you never know who a script may come from, it is always important for the producer to be able to say SOMETHING positive. For instance, if Tom Cruise’s aunt wrote a really bad screenplay about a League of Superheroes, the producer should be able to say “the script had some fine moments of dramatic action, but we aren’t going in that direction right now.” This way, the producer can look like a cool guy — and blame someone else for the script’s rejection.

During the second week, I was called into the producer’s office again because I “approved” a script about women’s wrestling during the Depression. I thought it was a moving story with great characters, exactly the type of oddball movie I would want to see. No one else agreed with me. Even worse, by “approving” a script as noteworthy, the producer actually READ the script, and HE doesn’t like to have his time wasted. That’s why he is paying YOU. So, out of fear of losing their jobs, most script readers rarely approve a script unless box-office gold is dripping off the pages (which is rare). In four years of reading scripts, I think I “approved” four projects, all of them vehicles for popular actors.

During the first month, I was called into the producer’s office a third time — this time to learn about a new wrinkle to my job. The producer had taken on a partner and they disagreed over some projects. “My” producer said he would appreciate it if I “liked” certain materials more than I did, in order to convince his partner that a script was not as bad as it seemed. For example, he handed me a script that “he knew had major rewrite problems” but wanted his partner’s approval because he thought he could get Eddie Murphy to be involved. So, surprise, surprise — my coverage of the material contained only mild criticism, with expressions like “flawed, but with a little work, this can be a rollicking comedy, maybe for someone from SNL.”

For four years, I never read a book for pleasure. Writing became a chore for me. I saw how difficult for any screenplay to get past a reader. There was always going to be a jerk like ME, some frustrated writer, dismissing my script after reading it in a coffee shop at three o’clock in the morning. I lost my ability to distinguish between good and bad. When everyone said a movie sucked, I would just be impressed that the project actually got made!

Eventually, I quit this job and my mind got a needed rest.

In the scheme of things, being a Hollywood script reader isn’t the worst job in the world. You can do a good portion of your job sitting in Starbucks. You don’t have to shovel horse manure. You don’t have to wear a suit.

But for me, it was the worst job I ever had, because it was soul-destroying.

Comedy and Modern Science

costello4.jpg 

Last Friday, Sophia and I went with blogger-pal Danny and his wife, Kendall, to the Hermosa Beach Comedy and Magic Club.  It is one of the best comedy clubs in Los Angeles, well-known as the club Jay Leno performs every Sunday night, trying out his monologues.  It is a great place to visit when you come to Los Angeles  Afterwards, remember to drop by Sophia’s house in Redondo Beach for some tea and cookies.

At Friday’s performance, we were sitting next to a rowdy table of ten.  They all seemed drunk.  In the center of the bunch were two twins, both blond Pamela Anderson types, both wearing skimpy halter tops.   It was their birthdays.   (Danny later discovered that these “twins” were the Costello Twins and they are known for something in C-level Hollywood.    Look it up yourself.   It’s not that interesting.)

The show consisted for four acts.  During each act, Blond Twin #1 would stand up, talking to the comedian on the stage — wanting to bring the attention to herself.   Even though the comedians seemed annoyed, they tried to keep it light, realizing she was drunk and it was her birthday.

But the audience was getting increasingly pissy.

The headliner for the evening was the very funny Ralph Harris.  Towards the middle of his routine, Blond Twin #1 stood up for the fourth time.

“I like you.  You’re funny.” she slurred.

“Uh, yeah, thanks,” Ralph Harris said.  “Could you sit down now?”

But Blond Twin #1 did not sit down.   Instead, she pulled down her halter top and flashed her breasts to the comedian — and the rest of the audience.

Now, I know what you’re thinking while you’re reading this at home or in the office.

“Why is Neil telling me this story?” 

I tell this true-life tale for an important reason.  I think it’s time to prove to my female readers that not all men are horndogs.  As this blond beauty turned my way, her breasts bare to the world, my eyes didn’t pop out of their sockets like a cartoon character.  I didn’t drool all over myself.   The table didn’t miraculously lift a foot off the ground.

No, I sat there and pondered modern science.    I thought:

“When are they ever going to make fake boobs that don’t look like large bocce balls?”

A Year Ago On Citizen of the MonthThe Blog is Mightier Than the Sword

Why I Moved to Los Angeles

"It Never Rains In Southern California" by Albert Hammond

Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven
Didn’t think before deciding what to do
Ooh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies
Rang true, sure rang true …

bigmamma2.jpg

Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours

iceage2.jpg

I’m out of work, I’m out of my head
Out of self respect, I’m out of bread
I’m underloved, I’m underfed, I wanna go home
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours

xmen2.jpg

Will you tell the folks back home I nearly made it?
Had offers but didn’t know which one to take
Please don’t tell ’em how you found me
Don’t tell ’em how you found me
Gimme a break, give me a break

scream2.jpg

Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours

bambi2.jpg

Upcoming Movie Sequels in Development/Confirmed     

A Bugs Life 2
Alien 5
Austin Powers 4
Blair Witch 3
Battlefield Earth 2
Baby’s Day Out 2
Bad Boys 3
Bean 2
Beetlejuice 2
Blade 3: Trinity
Blue Streak 2
Bringing Down The House 2
Bring It On 4
Beverly Hills Cop IV
Bulletproof Monk 2
Caddyshack 3
Commando 2
Cabin Fever 2
Candyman 4
Cats & Dogs 2 [Confirmed]
Country Bears 2 [first bombed?]
Coyote Ugly 2
Cheech and Chong Smoke The Bong
Crocodile Dundee 4
Crow: Wicked Prayer
The Commitments 2
Congo 2
D4: The Mighty Ducks 4
Daredevil 2
Darkness Falls 2
Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo [Confirmed]
The Fast and the Furious 3
Final Destination 3
Finding Nemo 2
Freaky Friday 2
Galaxy Quest 2
Ghostbusters 3
Grease 3
Godzilla 2
The Goonies 2: Goonies Never Say Die
Grosse Pointe Blank 2
Halloween 9
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix [Confirmed]
House of The Dead 2
Hellboy 2
Hulk 2
Independence Day 2
Jaws 5
Johnny English 2
Jumanji 2 [Confirmed, Zathura]
Kangaroo Jack 2: Jack is Back
Karate Kid 5
Kindergarten Cop 2
Lethal Weapon 5
Legally Blonde 3
The Lizzie McGuire Movie 2
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen 2
Monsters Inc. 2
Mortal Kombat 3: Domination
MVP 3
Men in Black 3
The Mummy 3
Old School 2
Operation Condor 3
Parent Trap 2
Pirates of the Caribbean 2 [Confirmed]
Planet Of The Apes 2
Predator 3
Police Academy 8: Yet Again [Confirmed]
Pretty Woman 2
Punisher 2
Rambo 4
Robocop 4
Roger Rabbit 2
Rocky Horror: The Second Coming
Rocky 6
Scary Movie 5
The Mask 2 [Confirmed]
Scorpion King 2
Scream 4
Seriously Dude Where’s My Car?
Shrek 3 [Confirmed]
The Sixth Sense 2
The Skulls 3
Star Trex XI
Streetfighter 2
Sweet Home Alabama 2
Spiderman 3 [Confirmed]
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
Time Cop 2
Tomb Raider 3
Total Recall 2
Toy Story 3
The Transporter 2
Tremors 4
The Tuxedo 2
Twister 2
True Lies 2
Underworld 2
Under Siege 3
Vertical Limit 2
Wrong Turn 2
X-Man 3 [Confirmed]
XXX2 [Confirmed]

(via The Movie Insider)

Imagine

Imagine one day — when liberals and conservatives can live as one.

(Katie Couric at a future Hollywood benefit)

katie.jpg

Never Let Them See You Sweat

sweat2.jpg

Thanks to everyone who made such nice comments on my “friendship” post.  I almost deleted the post after I published it, since I thought it was too wimpy – but I’m glad I didn’t.  I’m especially pleased to learn that I got other bloggers to think about the subject, including JJ, Ashbloem, Nicole, and Ascesis.  Even though we all live in different parts of the country – and world – we all have similar experiences in life.

Not all the responses to the post were positive.  One of my film school friends said it was a terrible idea to make myself look “bad” (meaning needy).  He’s a big fan of the maxim, “Never let them see you sweat.”  One of his favorite books is a self-help book by a professional jury-picker who writes about the “secrets” of stacking the jury by reading people’s dress, posture, and mannerisms  The book offers advice on how you can manipulate the world by using your dress and body language.  In my friend’s view, each individual is a private business that needs to be successfully marketed to succeed.  It is essential to show yourself in a positive light and never say anything bad about yourself… including your need for more friends.   The best way to get friends is to become more successful.  Then, friends will be knocking at your door.  Not surprisingly, my friend works in the entertainment industry.  

I understand where my friend is coming from.  The entertainment industry can warp your mind.  Nothing turns my stomach more than having to go to a “Hollywood” party.  Fear and desperation permeate the air, no matter how successful the group.  The reason:

Careers in Hollywood rise and fall faster than Pamela Anderson’s boobs when she’s bouncing on top of Tommy Lee in that sex video. 

The worst possible thing to say at a Hollywood party is “I’m out of work."  Everyone is afraid of catching the disease, like leprosy.   So, everyone (and I mean everyone, including the waiter handing out the cocktail franks) is “in development.”  No one believes this, but as long as no negative energy is released, everyone is relaxed and the party can proceed normally.

Keeping positive in Hollywood is not easy, or cheap.  People try to fight negativity by spending tons of money at the Learning Annex and the Scientology center.  I understand the need for this.  It’s so easy to get down on yourself that you sometimes need an outside source to help you delude yourself.

When I first move to LA, my neighbor was a pretty red-haired actress.  I wanted to ask her out, but I was too shy.  She wasn’t getting the acting jobs she wanted, so she started going to this EST-Forum type group to bolster her self-esteem.  And it seemed to work.  She didn’t get any more work, but her positive attitude went through the roof.  All of a sudden, she “knew” she was going to succeed.  There was no room for doubt.  She stopped talking to her regular friends because they were a “negative influence” who didn’t “believe in her abundant potential.”

While I was glad she was happier, I found her attitude adjustment a little creepy.  I also was concerned about the cost of all these “seminars” she took.  There was a new seminar almost every week, each costing a couple of thousand dollars. After each seminar, she would ask me to attend her “graduation.”  I kept on finding excuses not to attend, but there was a new graduation after each seminar, and I was running out of reasons.  

Finally, I agreed to go to one of her graduations.  I had no interest in this group at all, but I figured if I went, it might help me in my quest to see her naked and – well, you get where my mind was at.   I knew this group was probably cult-like.  Someone even warned me that they would try to “brainwash” me.  But I wasn’t very worried.  While some cults might appeal to me, I’m way too cheap to actually pay thousands of dollars for one.

My neighbor and I went to the group’s headquarters in Westwood.  The minute we got there, they shuffled all the “guests” into another room totally separate from the graduating students.  The door was locked and we never saw them for the rest of the evening.  Some graduation! 

A young guy with a well-trimmed beard stood in front of the guests, waving his finger at all of us.

Bearded Guy:  “You… all of you…are fuck-ups.  Every single one of you… Fuck-ups.  You don’t know shit.  And if you think you know shit, you know even less shit.”

One of the guests giggled.

Bearded Guy:  “What the fuck is wrong with you, fuck-up?

This was so weird that I was actually intrigued, as if I had stepped into a real-life movie about crazy people in California. 

“Finally,” I said to myself, “I’m seeing the real Los Angeles.”

The bearded guy kept on ranting about how fucked we all were.  Two female assistants handed out sign-up sheets where we supposed to write down our addresses and phone numbers. 

My mind wandered to thoughts about my actress friend.   I guess I wasn’t going to see her naked, after all.   It was clear that one of the "graduation requirements” was to drag another clueless victim into this nonsense.  But what bugged me the most was – why me?  Did I really look like such a “lost soul” that she thought I would go for this?

I got up to leave.

Bearded Guy:  “Where are you going?”

Me:  “I’m leaving.”

Bearded Guy:  "You can’t leave until we’re done."

Me:  "I’m really not that interested.  I’m sorry."

Bearded Guy:  "You should be sorry, you no-nothing fuck-up.  You signed up to be at this graduation ceremony."

Me:  "What graduation ceremony?  This… this… is just an excuse to get new clients.  And stop calling me names.  You’re rude… and I know what you’re trying to do.  I took psychology."

Bearded Guy:  “You really are fucked up.  Sit down.”

Some burly bouncer type stood in front of the closed doors.  For the first time since arriving, I got nervous.  My mind raced, trying to figure out what to do next. 

Me:  (to myself)   Should I just sit down and listen?  What could happen in an hour or so?  Or could something happen… I can’t be brainwashed in an hour?  But, wait… maybe I’m being brainwashed already?  Maybe I’ll become like one of those prisoners in the Stanley Milgram experiment I wrote a paper about in college Psych class?

Suddenly, I stopped thinking of my college psych class and reached into school memories that went even further back —  to my sixth grade civics class.  I remembered some speech I gave about the Declaration of Independence when I was chosen as my school’s “Citizen of the Month.” 

I turned and faced the bearded guy as defiantly as Patrick Henry must have stared down the British.

Me:  “This is a free country.  I have rights.  Have you read the Declaration of Independence?  The Constitution?   In 1789, something was written called the Bill of Rights.  Have you heard of it?  In it, it says that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  There is free speech in this country.  And there is the inalienable right for me to move freely throughout this country.  And if I want to walk out those doors right now, I WILL walk out those doors.”

I marched to the doors.  The bouncer moved aside.  I opened the handles to the door and left.

I never brought up this incident to my actress neighbor.   I never scolded her or blamed her.  I understood that this craziness was important to her.  She needed this boost of confidence to make it in the entertainment business, even if she had to pay thousands of dollars for it.   And several years later, after we lost contact with each other, I did see her in a small speaking role on “Will and Grace.” 

So, maybe my film school friend is right: “Never let them see you sweat.” 

Maybe next time I want to write about Sophia, or my sex life, or my friendships on my blog, I’ll just say, “It’s in development.”

For Beautiful People Only

Today, in Craig’s List Los Angeles:

H.B.O. DOCUMENTARY CASTING/THE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE

WE ARE LOOKING FOR EXTREMELY BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE… FOR A DOCUMENTARY ON THE LIVES OF BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE, WE ARE ONLY LOOKING FOR PEOPLE WHO THINK THEY ARE BEAUTIFUL, WE ARE OPEN TO ALL ETHNICITYS [sic.] AND ALL CREEDS OF PEOPLE… "PLEASE BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE ONLY".

Hmmm….before I show up for the audition…  What if I’m beautiful but I don’t think I’m beautiful?  Do all extremely beautiful people know that they are beautiful?   At what point does beautiful turn into extremely beautiful?  If you are open to all ethnicities and creeds, which standard of beauty will you be operating under?  What if my creed idolizes ugliness?  What if I’m ugly but think I’m beautiful?  Who uses the expression "all creeds of people" anymore?  Why do some people capitalize an entire post thinking it reads better?   Is ethnicities intentionally spelled incorrectly so there won’t be a lawsuit when everyone in the documentary is white and skinny? 

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial