Friday, October 13, 2006

1: The Actor

Los Angeles is home to many fine ad agencies.

But just as I'm trying to break into advertising, I'm also trying to find my bearings in that thing that LA is also home to: "The Industry."

To that end, in the first 45 days I've been here, I've met with a veteran actress who has a recurring role on an episodic television series that I'm not going to name; a well-known story consultant currently working at Paramount; a high profile agent who represents both writers and actors; an Emmy-nominated TV writer who's just moved here from NY himself; a playwright who is still working to break into the business; a representative of a "writing school" that promises to help you write several spec scripts in 22 weeks for $7200; an ad writer who left the business a long time ago but is still trying to get into TV; and last, but not least, a myriad number of other actors, directors, dp's, writers and production people.

In the next few posts, I'm going to relate the advice I've gotten from each of them as to how to break in to the business.

And I'll tell you right now, while I've heard many contradictions, one thing has been clear to me in every conversation: Getting in to "The Industry" is monumentally HARD.

This post is PART ONE: THE ACTOR.


When I told a director friend I was leaving NY for LA last summer, he flattered me by exclaiming, "Shit" - as if something of value had been lost to him in a moment. The next thing he did was give me the name of an old friend of his who'd done the same thing to him thirty years before.

"She's a great person," he said. "She may not be able to help you, but she'll definitely talk to you. And she's a good person to know."

When I got LA, she (I'm going to call her "D") was the first person I called. She had a deep voice - the kind that makes you think of Lauren Bacall and lets you know you're in touch with someone serious.

"Why don't you come out to my house next Tuesday morning," she said. "I'll make you bagels and my fresh squeezed orange juice. Everyone likes my orange juice."

She lived out in Mar Vista - which, for those of you unfamiliar with LA, is out toward the beach but east of Santa Monica. She had a low simple ranch style house about 23 blocks from the Pacific. There was nothing pretentious about the place or the neighborhood.

I parked under a palm tree. She was waiting at the door.

"I'm early," I said.
"That's okay," she said, "I just made another pot of coffee."

We sat at her kitchen table for about a half hour. As I wolfed my way through an everything bagel and a glass of her OJ (it was excellent) she told me about her life.

In digest form: She'd been an actress in NY who'd come to prominence along with the major non-profits - Playwrights, MTC, etc. (She said she actually knew John Seitz who'd been in a reading of my play FIRE BABY.) She came out west to do some film and tv and though she thought she'd go back, she never did. Instead she became enmeshed in the theatre circuit out here, working at South Coast and the Taper on a regular basis. She bought the house in which we were sitting some 20 or more years ago and confessed that these days she would never have been able to afford it. She'd also had some children, one of whom had just gotten out of college and was now breaking into production. From odds and ends that I saw about the house (pictures in the bathroom, snippets of conversation), I got the feeling her partner had died sometime in the last 5 years - and that the loss had been hard on her though she was handling it well. Oddly, even though she'd been in LA much longer than she'd ever been in NY, she said people still thought of her as a NY actor. She seemed to feel that was a good thing, that it gave her some cache, that it said she was the real deal when it came to acting.

When we moved out to the porch she told me that our mutual NY director friend had given her one of my plays, DRESSING THE GIRL. She said she'd been unable to put it down.

I asked if that was because she'd had to actually throw it down. In disgust.

She laughed. "I can't really tell you much about what to do to get in to the writing part of what's going on out here. I'm working on a book right now and I think the UCLA extension is a great way to go. The instructors are very good. And they're already working so it's one way to get to know people. Generally the thing to do, if you ask me, is to not really have any expectations. Then when something happens, it's gravy."

We chatted a little more and she offered to meet with my wife when she came down, but then it was time for me to go.

As I got back in the car and waited for the top come down on my vehicle, I took another look at her house and thought about her buying it way back when. It was clear that she had a lot of talent - which made me feel pretty good about LA and "The Industry."

After all, talented people don't always make it.

Then I wondered if my time in NY would label me a NY writer for the rest of my life... If I was talented enough.


J.D. said...

Belated welcome to the West! Or, as we call L.A. from San Francisco, the Southland.

I'm gonna take a wild ass guess that was a WBC rep you spoke to. Yeah?

Look forward to reading more posts. I've enjoyed discovering your thoughts.

Malachy Walsh said...

Thanks for the greetings.

And, yep, WBC. You have any experience with them?

I did one of their courses 10 years ago in SF and so I checked them out again when i got here.

The dreams of other have made them a lot bigger.

J.D. said...

Yes, three years ago I did their intenstive program in Santa Monica. (They no longer offer classes in SF.) I got some good things out of the experience. Since then, I just feel like they try to keep selling me stuff without matching anything to "me." The industry of selling programs to writers is freakishly huge, eh?