I’ve just moved. After twenty years in Casa de Die Hard, the War Department and I decided the time was ripe to shuffle the deck, setting up our family tent a mere eight miles east in the Lalaland burb of Tarzana. Yes. Named after or for the fictional ape man of literary lore. The late great Edgar Rice Burroughs made his home here. As did the legendary John Huston, whose magnificent former estate is barely more than an arrow’s flight from where I currently sit amongst stacks of cardboard boxes. I fear I might’ve not purged as much useless junk from my old digs as I was wisely advised.
“Downsizing?” a few neighbors and colleagues have queried upon hearing the news, the subtext in the question as painfully obvious as the melanoma on their nosy nose.
There’s an assumption amongst the Koolaid drinkers of the world. The moment one chooses to pull up stakes and leave an area that’s considered more central to the pulse of commerce, it must be because work is not going so well. As if they’ve been cast out of paradise. I’m absolutely serious here. Ask just about anybody who’s ever moved out of Manhattan. As cool as some of the boroughs might have become – or some of those tiny suburban patches across the Hudson – there’s a tide of negative opinion that begins to rise against anybody who deigns to rent a moving truck.
The same goes for Los Angeles.
“I’m very excited,” expressed a showbiz friend of mine. It was about ten years ago. He was a recent newlywed and the couple was already expecting their first child. “We just bought a place that I think is not too far from you.”
“Sherman Oaks?” I asked.
“Further west,” he said. “Do you know Tarzana?”
“Nice,” I said. “I’ve always dug Tarzana.”
“Found a dream property,” he said. “Up in the hills. Almost a full acre. Just beautiful.”
“I mean, I know it’s in the valley.”
“So what? I live in the valley.”
“Do you have any idea what my new house would cost on the west side?”
“So what if my commute is a bit longer?” he opined. “Especially when my friends get a load of what I’m coming home to.”
“Not a lot of support, huh?”
“Some. But I’ve seriously had some friends say ‘Oh, God. I’m so sorry.’”
“Their first thought was that I got fired from my job or something!” he complained.
“Because you moved to Tarzana?”
“Yeah. Tarzana. Can you believe it?”
“Westside thinking. As if they might break out in a full body rash were they accidentally ventured north of Mulholland.”
“I’m starting to wonder if anybody will ever visit us.”
“A good way to find out who your real friends are.”
I was trying to be encouraging. But my words fell flat. My friend was finding himself worried that by leaving his fashionable zip code behind, he was also sending the wrong message to an industry that too often runs more on perception and less on actual product.
“Am I making a mistake?” he asked.
“Absolutely not,” I said. “Live your life how you want and where you want.”
As it turned out for my pal, his job went the way of the dodo bird along with his marriage, begging the questions: Was the move a contributor or cause of his career’s demise? Or was it just the earth-shifting vagaries that come with this high-wire game called show business?
I truly don’t know the answer. But I do understand this simple axiom: At the bare whiff of failure – be it real or a totally false scent – a good many showbiz “friends” will abandon you quicker than a studio green-lighting another damned Marvel sequel.
And believe me. I’ve been there.
I recall an invitation to a Sunday housewarming party put on by a Hollywood power couple. There, I bumped into a three-letter agent who for years had been dogging me to sign with him. No matter the event, if he and I were in the same zip code he’d corner me with the full court press.
“How’s things been going for you?” he asked, champagne mimosa in his fat-fingered grip.
“Pretty hard,” I answered woefully. “Been a really rough year.”
With that plain and honest response, I watched his entire visage shift into fear mode. It was as if he’d suddenly realized that I carried that deadly contagion called failure.
“Excuse me,” he awkwardly interrupted. “Someone over there I gotta – you know – talk to. Sorry.”
To say the least, I was a bit stung, wondering what the hell I’d said. Had he given me a sentence or two more, he’d have learned that the rough year about which I was speaking concerned my mother’s failing health. She’d been in and out of the hospital five times, suffering a conga-line of maladies, all of which were conspiring to kill her.
But that’s not what the agent was hearing. He was well aware that the time off I’d taken to write a couple of novels had affected my status on the almighty food chain. My screenwriting stock had dipped. So when I expressed how rough a year I’d experienced, he assumed I was about to describe some kind of career folly – that I was a pro scribbler who’d just found himself circling the drain. The agent’s initial instinct was clearly to jump overboard in lieu of inquiring further and risk having to throw me some kind of lifeline. This attitude was confirmed a few months down the road when I had a simple question and he wouldn’t even return my call.
The house-warming encounter stuck with me. It also explained a few other cold shoulders I’d recently received. About a month later, I was hitting up some sushi with a producer pal when I told him the short story of my agent run-in.
“I don’t get it,” I said. “I’ve been hot, cold, then hot again. And so what if I’m not on the top of everyone’s hit list? I could be deader than disco and I’d still be one spec script away from flavor-of-the-month.”
“Shallow thinking,” said my friend. “Stupid.”
“But here’s the rub,” I continued. “When I heat up again, he’s gonna try and insert himself back into my business.”
“Of course he will.”
“His memory might be short. But mine isn’t.”
“Does he really think he can worm himself back into my world?”
“That’s exactly what he thinks.”
Ah, I finally realized. The agent’s shallow way of thinking was confirmed by his relationships with other, equally depthless show folk. Should I have been insulted that he might one day confuse me as just another puddle swimmer? Not one bit. That’s because those who seek the shallow end generally can’t see much further than from knee deep to their toes.
Weeks later, I was by happenstance in that very same restaurant, throwing back sushi with a fellow word merchant. She’s a snarky kind of girl. That day she was showing off her new red do.
“What do you think?” my redheaded friend asked, shaking her strawberry locks.
“It’s working,” I answered.
“Getting me dates and meetings,” she bragged.
“Dates, I get. But seriously. More meetings?”
“Red gets attention.”
“But it’s shallow attention,” I reminded. “But if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“I don’t mind shallow,” she teased. Then it turned into a bit of a brag. “In fact, I’m really good at shallow.”
“And I’m not,” I admitted. “But good on you. Oughta take you far in this town.”
As I write this, I’m fully aware that I just made a move to the west. To Tarzana. Further from the pulse. Yet I don’t give a second thought to the message it might send to anyone who might attempt to read what it means to my career or viability.
I moved here for something far more important than career. A little ditty called home and family. And so far I love it.
- More articles by Doug Richardson
- Back to the Chalkboard: Location, Location, Location
- Writers on the Verge: Know Thy Screenwriting Career Path
Get advice on improving your odds of success with Mark Sanderson's webinar
How to Become a Standout Screenwriter: 10 Steps to Empower Your Career