I had a dream the other night. I was traveling in a car with three people I know from show business. Two of them, I had at one time, considered to be friends (they weren’t, as it turned out). The third I’ve always been ambivalent about. In the dream, the two that I’m not really friends with anymore were, for some reason, being nice to me again. I was slightly suspicious, but wanted to believe that they were sincere. We stopped at a gas station and while one of them was filling the tank, the rest of us went inside to buy snacks. I was the last to check out and when I got to the counter I discovered that my companions had left three half-eaten candy bars lying there. When the clerk saw them, he assumed they were mine, so I wound up having to pay for them. When I stepped outside, I discovered that my “friends” had driven away without me. Outraged, I followed them to a nearby city that seemed to be a strange hybrid of New York and Los Angeles. I pursued them into a theater and then onto the stage itself (which was empty). Suddenly, I had to go to the bathroom in the worst way. While sitting on the toilet, I began to feel scared and so I started to sing. Then I noticed that the stall surrounding the toilet had disappeared and I was now exposed for all the world to see. One of the people I’m no longer friends with, entered and started to use the urinal next to me. When he saw me sitting there, he chuckled in a demeaning sort of way, so I yelled “Fuck you!” Then the other one came in and I told him the same thing. They laughed and I woke up… furious.
This dream is about show business. I’m sure you’re probably thinking it’s about a quite a bit more than that, but trust me, it’s about show business. The dream is about the same issues that emerge and reemerge, over and over in the lives of creative people. Issues like trust, loyalty, abandonment, loss, jealousy, blame and betrayal. Given the ups and downs that most of us weather daily, it’s a wonder we don’t all have this dream every night. The dream is a reflection of one of the most difficult aspects of the entertainment industry: our relationships with each other.
Martin Mull once called Hollywood, “High school with money” which is astoundingly accurate. The speed with which you can fall in and out of favor is enough to make anyone a neurotic mess. When I accidentally gained a little “D-List” celebrity last year, I suddenly found myself invited to parties hosted by big, famous people I didn’t really know. I got to stand on some very nice lawns and make chit chat with successful strangers who oddly treated me like a dear friend. I found this a little unsettling, though I shouldn’t have. In the upper echelons of the business, this brand of rapid-fire intimacy is the coin of the realm. I once worked with a producer who was brilliant at it. Whenever we ran into somebody he knew (which was about every 20 minutes) he would immediately douse that person with a bucket of drippy enthusiasm. Then before they could wipe it from their eyes, he’d put them through a fast, but thorough interrogation to see if there was anything they were doing that could in any way further his goals for the week. It rarely produced any useful information, but we are nothing if not hopeful here in Hollywood.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a good “networker.” It brings out the worst in me. Happily, my address book is primarily filled with the names of colleagues I love and respect. Many of my most treasured friendships are with people I’ve met in the trenches of the business. However, sprinkled throughout my Outlook Express are a few names that inspire intense feelings of jealousy, terror and in a few cases, loathing. Pretty much any contact with a member of this crew turns me into an angry, self-consumed teenager. If I suck up to them, I spend the next few days wondering whether it was my ego, my competitive streak or my pathetic desire to be liked that caused me to cross the line into Ass-Kissing-Pussydom. If I avoid these people, I then wind up kicking myself for not having had the guts to approach them. Both situations leave me wondering who the hell I am. Where is my backbone? My core values? Where are my balls?
Cards on the table: This might be a good time to admit that I’ve not always acted with the upmost generosity and graciousness toward my peers. There are a couple of situations I wish I could do over. None of us want to compromise our best selves, but simply put, Hollywood is a crowded town. In the frantic race for employment or acknowledgement, it can often feel like you (and everybody you know) are all trying to get a seat on the last helicopter out of Saigon. In the flurry and frustration of the moment, your elbow can easily wind up in somebody’s eye (and vice versa). Hopefully, they will forgive you, but they might not. Show business for all its glitziness winds up being an internal journey and (like it or not) it will eventually show you what you’re made of. At the end of the day, the truly horrible are usually sifted out -- unless of course they are brilliant at what they do, in which case we all just have to put up with them until they die.
The awful dream I had made me think that perhaps personal integrity begins at home. Maybe there are a few people I should weed out of my “contacts” for good. Like that movie director who still thinks I live in New York and always asks me how long I’m going to be in town (I’ve lived in L.A. for 15 years) or that aggressive writer-girl who works every room with all the grace and charm of an extortionist. I have been blessed with a wide circle of funny, patient and talented friends and so far we’re all still able to pay our rent. Yes, we all have to hustle, but lately I’ve been trying to do something new for a change: trust life. I guess I’ve come to believe that no amount of frantic self-promotion ever changes the course of events for long. In the end, you and your talent will either find a home or you won’t. It will always be about the work. And timing. And luck. That’s the gamble. As for me, I’ll be happy if I just manage to not to wind up as an angry guy sitting on a toilet screaming “fuck you” at people who never wanted me along for the ride to begin with. Life is short and that’s one dream I don’t want to come true.
Copyright 2008 David Dean Bottrell