The Meeting

I just came from a meeting, more specifically, a Hollywood meeting, the kind where the person sitting opposite me spent just the right amount of time that morning applying gel to make his hair perfectly pliable so that it sticks up just so. He thinks he looks hip and cool, and I think he looks forced and ridiculous.

He’s obscenely young to be deciding my fate, but in a town where the religion is youth, he fits the part. He reveals himself via a recitation of his resume followed by a rapid spin through the company’s current and upcoming projects. Speaking insanely fast, he drops names that blitz by me undoubtedly nullifying the intended effect, unless he believes never resting on a name implies it doesn’t much impress him because he is such a part of things.

I kind of wonder what information I’ve missed, but only a bit because in truth, we’re both feigning interest in the conversation. The bigger picture is that I’ve come to ask this company to consider buying my scripts or to hire me as a writer, and his job is to get me back out the door as quickly as possible. That is the reality.

He accepted the meeting as a favor to someone else, the one who phoned on my behalf, the one he will later call and mention that I came by so that he can then ask for a favor in return. No one really wants to do anything for anyone in this town, so the favors leap from person to person like a hot potato, never hanging around long enough for anyone to actually follow through.

This is Hollywood.

The biggest obstacle to my scripts getting bought is that they star women over thirty-five, which make the projects completely undesirable both to executives and to actresses.

“Most actresses don’t want to play anyone over thirty-five or with kids,” the near-pubescent exec tells me, as if I haven’t heard this since I emerged from the womb.

In Hollywood, no woman is over thirty-five unless she’s over fifty-five. Then she can reappear on the screen as a grandmother. In a supporting role. Unless she’s Diane Keaton or Meryl Streep or a few other high profile actresses.

“You could cast someone older to play younger,” he suggests as if I have the power to cast anyone at all. “However, only a major female star will get a picture green lit.” The same major stars who won’t admit to being over thirty-five. The Catch 22 is painful.

It all turns into a dreadful cycle. When older actresses play younger, that makes thirty-five-year-old women look old – or at least a lot older than reality – because they’re often played by forty-five-year-old actresses, the only ones grateful to greet thirty-five. And then thirty-five-year-old actresses really don’t want to play thirty-five because look how old thirty-five looks. The logic could only exist in this town.

When I penned my first screenplay, Pushing 40, I was warned to change the title.

“But that’s the point of the script,” I explain, “how no one wants to admit to forty.”

“Yeah, but no actress will take the role. Couldn’t you call it Pushing 39? Wouldn’t that be funnier? Or maybe 35. That would be even better.”

I wanted to scream. Apparently life issues past a certain age are off limits.

The best solution would be for me to stop writing screenplays about anyone like myself. That’s how Hollywood would like it, for they believe that’s how moviegoers like it. Marketers cite statistics of who plucks down their bucks to buy tickets. Only those stats don’t take into account which films are being offered up. Forty-year-old women may actually attend more movies if they could view other forty-year-old women on the screen, but when the forty-year-old roles are played by near fifty-year-olds, we get depressed. “Where are our peers?” we cry.

If we could send the message to Hollywood that we want to see real people on the screen living lives we can imagine – or at least fantasies we could imagine starring in – maybe we could shift this obnoxious sexism. Men are allowed to age. Hey, they even get paired with young love interests. But an older woman being sexual? Oooh, that’s too European.

Okay, rant aside, the young exec won’t recommend buying my scripts. I seriously doubt he will even read them. He smiled and ushered me through his space in a total of twenty minutes. And almost as an after thought as I gather my things, he asks me what I’m writing now.

“Well, I’ve realized that I could end up in the poorhouse writing spec scripts, so I’m kind of writing other things right now.”

“You mean like novels and short stories?” he asks with a spark.

“Well, short pieces, articles and some things moving towards a book. Last year I was working on a kind of odd novel.”

“That’s where I came out of,” he says. “Novels and short stories and theater. Then I thought I should get practical and move into film.” And then he snorts, ever so subtly, and he reveals a little piece of humanity, a hint of a different past as a different person, someone he’d like to meet again, a moment of whimsy. It was like he was experiencing a piece of cellular memory, as if he recalled what it feels like to care about the written word and the act of creation and the story, as if he wonders if he could go back. He smiles, the first genuine emotion of our meeting.

At that moment, I like him better, and can see that he’s simply been seduced by Hollywood and that maybe a real person does lurk inside. And I want to take back my thoughts about his goofy hair and his unoriginal thinking. I want to cut him some slack because suddenly I see that he, too, is just trying to find his way in the world. Maybe this job is his path, and maybe it’s his detour.

I no longer see the meeting as a waste of time. Yeah, I still think the whole Hollywood business is absurd and narrow and frightened of new approaches, but I also see that on some level it’s populated by real people. At least one or two.


Willie Baronet said...

Loved this post! Really. And my take is that inside EVERYBODY (even the sleaziest producer you know) there lurks a real person, wounded and shut down and seduced perhaps, but still there. All that remains to be seen is whether they will have the courage to rediscover them. :-)

Emily said...

Hollywood seems like such a foreign place to me! I really liked this...I kind of wanted your guy to stay a stereotype, but it's nice when someoene can break through and be real.