I was recently at a party hosted by a writer-friend who's been experiencing some really big success lately. He is (in addition to being very talented and deserving of this success) a genuinely nice guy. Having successful friends (really successful friends) is for me, a little tricky. I’m always happy to see them recognized and rewarded, but it does have a way of making me a bit self-conscious about my own somewhat modest position on the game board. My resume, which was perfectly fine the day before this party, now seemed a bit lackluster as I stood in my friend’s extremely nice living room, rattling my ice cubes. When my host spotted me talking to no one, he dragged me across the room and introduced me to another social misfit. I could tell right away that I wasn’t going to like this guy. He was about ten years younger than me and had that sort of ambitious, disconnected edge that always makes me want to leave show business and join a monastery.
Our host introduced us to each other as “fellow writers” and sailed away. Lifting his drink to his lips, the guy asked me what sort of stuff I wrote. While I was telling him, I noticed his eyes drifting over my shoulder as he scanned the room for someone more interesting to talk to. Ordinarily I wouldn’t have cared, but I’d had two vodka tonics by then and having nothing better to do, I decided to fuck with him. “Hey,” I said, feigning interest, “I think I’ve heard of you.” This being Hollywood, his eyes instantly snapped back to my face. I now had his full attention. It took about two seconds for him to suggest that perhaps it was because he had written a movie that was recently a hit on the festival circuit. "Could be," I said and countered with a brief anecdote about how my own short film had won a ton of awards on that very same circuit just two years before. Had my film won at Sundance? he wanted to know. Why no, it hadn’t. Smiling tightly, he said he had a genre film coming out in the fall. Okay, major point for him. I, however, had a musical in development at a very hip mini-major. Score one for me. Genre Boy then claimed to have a new comedy spec he was attached to direct. Big fucking deal. I had an adaptation of an edgy memoir that sounded like it could win some major awards. It was a stand-off. Then suddenly a well-known actress broke into our conversation to say that she recognized me from a TV show that I had acted on for a couple of months. After about sixty seconds of being utterly ignored, my opponent fled the scene. Victory was mine. In the game we were playing, being recognized by someone famous is sort of like a royal flush. It beats anything the other guy’s holding.
This little episode begs the question, why would two grown men get involved in such a ridiculous pissing contest while attending a friendly little Hollywood party? Why would each feel the need to keep spewing their credits (even unproduced credits!) just to advance a game that can never be won. There are some sad reasons for this that include seriously bruised egos and crappy self-esteem -- but there is a bigger truth at work as well. In order to stay in this business, you have to, by nature, be a fighter and fighters need to win sometimes (even if the battle is ridiculously petty). I have no doubt that had Mother Theresa gone into show business she would have sold the whole convent down the river for a development deal and never thought twice about it until after the check had cleared. Like it or not, our less attractive personality traits (like competitiveness and aggression) are actually necessary sometimes just to get a leg up. The trick is knowing when (and how) to stop using them once the goal is achieved. We all want to be one of the cool kids. It's tough to let go.
One of the great cures for this syndrome is to spend a little time fraternizing with civilians. It usually doesn’t take long for them to ask that perfectly innocent (but dreaded) question: What movies have you written that I might have seen? Unless the person doing the asking is African-American, there’s very little point in my even answering since my writing resume (although pretty lengthy) contains only one produced credit – a studio comedy called “Kingdom Come” starring Whoopi Goldberg and L.L. Cool J. Sometimes, I wonder how much trouble I’d get into if I just lied and claimed authorship of “Titanic” or “The Lord of the Rings.” I mean who’s to know, right? Because I act on TV occassinally, I frequently meet people who are certain they know me from somewhere, but can’t figure out where. If I confess to being an actor, they then want to know what shows I’ve been on lately. This leads to what I call “death by resume.” Slowly, we work our way through my credits. “Boston Legal? No, that’s not it. “Ugly Betty?” No, they’ve never seen that show. “Women’s Murder Club?” When exactly is that on? Eventually, I run out of credits and we just stand there; my inquisitor still waiting for satisfaction and me feeling like a jerk who just spent that last five minutes fishing for a compliment that never came.
I was in a store a few weeks ago and heard a radio commercial for the revival of “A Chorus Line” that’s currently on tour. In the commercial they use snippets from many of the show’s most popular and iconic songs. I was flashed-back to being a stage-struck teenager, who from age 16 to age 18, must have played that album about a zillion times. I never really wanted to be a singer or a dancer, I just wanted to live in that world – that glitzy place where, in a heartbeat, you could go from being a nobody (like me) to a somebody who was acknowledged, applauded and (most importantly) rewarded for their talents. I gathered from the show that there was a magical line that you crossed and once you were over it, you were a star and your life was transformed forever. At the time I had no idea what the lyrics, “Who am I anyway? Am I my resume?” actually meant. All I knew was that someday I wanted to be that “One Singular Sensation.” I have recently added some new credits to my internal resume to help me through those rough career days. They include: Writer/Director of my whole life story. Performer/Creator of my own happiness. And the Producer, Host and Annual Recipient of “The Intergalactic Entertainment Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award for Sustained Excellence Forever.” Too much? Naw, I don’t think so. Suck that, Genre Boy.
Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment
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David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being suprisingly middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv