Saturday, September 09, 2006

Optimism vs. Real World - outcome to be determined

A week ago Thursday, I started making calls looking for work in LA to people in advertising.

This week I had my first meeting with someone who might be able to help me along those lines: a woman I'll simply call, M.

(A quick review of events so far - to be read in a quickened hushed voice: I'm playwright who makes money writing ads. I've moved to LA from NY to start a new life with my wife, an actress named Heather. I'm the advance guard - she's joining me down here in December when her duties with the Oregon Shakespeare Festival end. Until then I've found a temporary apartment and we have a small financial cushion - which I, being a very middle class guy, worry about constantly.)

From the start it was an adventure: M lives up in the hills off Beachwood, which, if you're not familiar with the terrain, cuts up toward the famous Hollywood sign off Franklin. The streets to her house were twisting and narrow, made narrower by cars parked against retaining walls that ha what's going to happen except that the journey is about to really commence. It was a sweetly exciting feeling of going to a place where I'd never been before - and never expected to go in my life.

And then, near the top, I passed a home with a slightly French sense of architecture and an exterminators truck parked outside. As I passed, I noticed the door was already open.

A few yards later, I turned around to find a parking space closer by - in front of the pest guy.

M came out of the house to greet me.

She extended her hand and smiled and, immediately, I liked her.

"Sorry about the exterminator," she explained as she showed me into her home, "As long as you don't plan on going into the bushes it should be fine."

I promised her there would be no freelance weeding.

Then we sat down to business - a long conversation about the different neighborhoods in Los Angeles, the new subway system here and the differences between the LA in our heads and the LA that is actually lived in.

It was about an hour before we got to the realities of the Los Angeles advertising marketplace. While M was by no means pessimistic, she also didn't paint a portrait of a healthy, growing boy. In fact, using the 90s as a reference - when the World Trade Center still stood and our biggest worries were meetings between interns and presidents - the advertising business in California is a shell of its former self.

The number of agencies here have been halved since 1996.

Over a half-billion dollars in billing has disappeared from advertising in California since 2001.

This is part of a larger trend, of course, in which cable and internet media have shattered the power of traditional forms of commercial engagement between companies and human beings.

It's also a winnowing of opportunity in the commercial arts that is weirdly mirrored by a change in the way work from writers and art directors is shown. Once we all used to carry around a thing called a "Book" or portfolio of work that was often oversized and included a big fat tape that had our TV reels on it. They were impractical to ship and heavy to cart. But they said you had something to look at to those who were supposed to be looking.

Now almost no-one shows a "Book" that can't be tucked under the arm. And no-one, but no-one, has a "reel" made of tape. Instead we all have DVDs or CDs with QuickTime menus to be viewed any old time you need. And/or, you have a website. (Mine is

This reduction means it's all a lot easier to look at.

And thus easier to throw away, dismiss and forget.

Just like so much of our already over-messaged world.

Nonetheless, I showed M my portfolio and left her two DVDs and one CD with different arrangements of pieces to be viewed later. And she seemed pleased that I'd made the trek all the way up there to her house and started to map out a course of action for my job search that would mean that we wouldn't get in each other's way as we embarked on this journey for work together. (After all, when she finds me work, she gets work, too - that's how it works.)

Then, before I left, M offered to show me the view from her back porch. I naturally said yes and followed her through the sunfilled house, up some stairs and through an office.

There, on a small wood landing, I looked at all of Los Angeles below, from the Hollywood sign on the left to the northernmost beaches of Santa Monica on the right. It was breathtakingly beautiful. So many people down there, I thought. So many lives flowing through its arteries. So much money moving around inside that basin.

Would my wife and I find a place in it?

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