Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day

After a series of delays, I recently started writing a new spec. Oddly enough, I’m really enjoying myself. I don’t know why this surprises me so much. I actually like writing. Well, I don’t like every aspect of writing, but I do like this part. All the tough stuff like notes and rejections are (happily) far, far in the distance. Today, I only have to please myself and luckily I am very easy to please! For now, I’m on the yellow brick road, whistling a happy tune and there’s no business like show business! Given all this creative euphoria, it makes me wonder why I put it off for so long.

Procrastination is, of course, a part of writing. It’s the period during which (as my hero William Goldman puts it) writers convince themselves they can actually do it. My periods of procrastination last anywhere from two weeks to two years depending on the circumstances, but they always follow the same basic pattern. When I get a halfway decent story idea, I can't stop thinking about it. It follows me everywhere. It's like Glenn Close in "Fatal Attraction." Whether I’m driving, pretending to exercise or standing in line at the Coffee Bean, it simply won’t be ignored. After a few days, I might mention my little embryonic idea to a friend, quick to classify it as “No big deal. Just something I’m kicking around.” Gradually, I inch forward; maybe writing an outline. If I like what I see, that means it's time to progress to the next stage of the process: Panic.

Realizing that I might actually have to write this, I start back-peddling and looking for every possible escape hatch. Now, it’s a stupid idea. It’s been done. The ending stinks. And it’s too much like that piece-of-shit movie I saw five years ago. Nobody will buy it. I'll be humiliated. Laughed at. Despite the fact that I now have a pillow over the baby’s face, when my friend asks, “Whatever happened to that idea you told me about?” I shrug and say “Oh, you know, I’m working on it.” Sometimes, I outright lie and claim that I’m writing it. Lying is a sure sign that I’ve hit rock bottom. Next stop: Despair.

This ugly chapter arrives with the realization that I don’t have the guts to write this story. I’m not smart enough, young enough or (my favorite!) "hip" enough to pull this off. I’m a dickless coward. A self-loathing disaster. "Some Cheetos would taste good right now," I think to myself as I scrape my spoon across the bottom of the Haagen-Dazs container. “No deal!” I shout at my TV set. Bitterly, I start tallying up all the years of selfless dedication I've given over to this horrible, heartless business. And that’s when I get mad.

Like a spurned lover, I turn my back on Art. Fuck it! Now, I’m reading the newspaper daily, profoundly concerned about global warming and upcoming elections. This is what I should be focusing on. I mean really, what’s more important? The world economy or some stupid script? I’m a person of substance. Not some Hollywood hack. Ask anybody! They’ll tell you I care deeply about the course of human events. To prove my point, I click-over from “America’s Top Model” to the History Channel -- which coincidentally gets me thinking a little about history.

History (as you may have heard) repeats itself. I start to count the number of times I’ve pronounced my career D.O.A. and how many times it's sputtered back to life. As I sit watching ancient civilizations rise and fall, it occurs to me that the world will most likely keep turning whether I write this script or not. And I’m again reminded that almost anything worth doing usually requires a little risk. I start cleaning my kitchen. I’m running out of excuses.

Then one morning, it happens. I wake up consumed by this strange, dull pain. I honestly don’t know how to describe it except to say that it’s not physical, but it’s real. Antsy and impatient, the only thing that gives me any relief is sitting down in front of my computer. Apparently, my artistic water has broken. I open a nice clean "Final Draft" folder and resign myself to becoming a parent again. Like all commitments, it’s a little scary at first. Initially, things go slowly. Then I worry that they’re going too fast. And then I start laughing. And then I’m okay.

I don’t know why, but artists have notoriously short memories. Anybody I know (who is any good) understands that our best work usually requires that we put a little love into the mix. And love (as you may have heard) can sometimes backfire, explode in your face and make you want to kill yourself. I’m not sure how my spec will ultimately turn out, but I think it's going well. I say this because of something that happened in the supermarket yesterday. I was standing in the frozen food aisle when it dawned on me that I’d been wandering around the store for a full ten minutes and had yet to put a single item in my cart. For a moment, I felt scared that this might be the early onset of Alzheimer’s until I realized that since leaving my house, I had been thinking of nothing but my story. And that is the cool part about being an artist. Every once in a while, we’re granted a wonderful romance where you and your beloved creation can’t get enough of each other. Happy and constant companions, you’re in love, inseparable and breathing life into each other. Like all honeymoons, it can’t last forever, but it holds a lesson for those brave enough to learn it. Fuck heartbreak. Fuck disappointments. Life is short. Suck up your guts. Open the door. Try it. You never know.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://www.daviddeanbottrell.com/

This essay can be emailed to a friend by clicking on the small “envelope” icon below. David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being triumphantly middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Class Act

A few weeks ago, I got a call from an acting teacher asking if I would be willing to sit in on his class and offer a little feedback to the students. I was hesitant. Actors are sensitive people. I know this because I am one. This particular teacher encourages his students to use improvisations to create new characters and from what I could glean; they were right in the middle of that process. I begged off, agreeing instead to stop by in a few weeks when the work had gelled a bit more. Talking about someone else’s acting is a bit like talking about their genetalia. It pays to choose your adjectives carefully and keep your poker face on.

I still remember when I first moved to Manhattan to study acting. I was very young and totally intimidated by the whole idea of “New York” actors. My biggest fear was that every class would be jammed with newly minted Streeps and DeNiros and I would be found out for the talentless hillbilly that I was. Having survived a couple of college acting courses where I had been asked to imitate bacon frying (or send an imaginary ball of white light bouncing around the room), I was ready for something a little more practical. What I needed was a friendly, affordable class for budding, insecure geniuses.

One of the first classes I audited was held in a dank little theatre just west of Times Square. I arrived early and found a dozen or so tense-looking people huddled in the seats. The source of their anxiety (a.k.a. their teacher) arrived a few minutes later. Her name was Ellen and she radiated an imperious, bitter energy that instantly swept the room. Slouched in the first row with her coat over her shoulders, she would slowly stroke her lap dog while scowling at her student’s work. One by one, they would mount the stage as if they were headed for the gallows. After performing their monologues they would turn to Ellen who would then proceed to cruelly rip them to shreds using highly personal information they had apparently volunteered in some previous class. “What the hell’s the matter with you, Melissa? Your father isn’t molesting you now, is he?” “When I look at you, Martin, why do I still see that sad little fat boy who shat in his pants?” Having pinpointed the most delicate area in each of her students’ psyches, she would repeatedly stab them in that spot until they seemed near the brink of suicide or insanity. Then she would yell, “Now, goddamn it! Act! The frantic student would then launch into their monologue, choking with sobs or screaming with rage. It was a psychiatric horror show. If they managed to get through it, Ellen would nod appreciatively and say “That’s the level you should be at every time you begin that monologue.”

Even though I was just a beginner, something about this didn’t seem right. Assuming any of Ellen’s students could even get a job, who were they going to ask to stand backstage and say shitty, horrible things to them every night before the curtain went up? Sensing I needed to get out of there, I leaned over to the pale, trembling girl next to me and asked what time the class usually took a break. “There is no break,” she whispered. About an hour later, as some poor Asian girl was on stage weeping and wailing her way through a Neil Simon monologue, Ellen’s dog hopped off her lap, wandered to a spot near the front of the stage and proceeded to hock-up a small pile of pink vomit. Maybe it was a reaction to all the tension in the room, but this struck me as incredibly funny. I tried to suppress it, but I couldn’t. It was like laughing in church. When Ellen’s brow-beaten students started fighting each other for the privilege of cleaning it up, I became hysterical. Suddenly, all eyes were on me. I picked up my coat and apologized for disrupting the class. Then, realizing that I would probably never see any of these people again, I turned to the girl who was still on stage and said, “Seriously. It wasn’t that bad.”

My search for the perfect class went on for about another year until I managed to weasel my way in the studio of a guy named Bill Esper. A protégée of the great Sanford Meisner, he was the most talked-about teacher in town and there was no shortage of people wanting into his class. Somehow I got through the interview and was accepted. His initial set of exercises struck me as corny and pointless, but a few weeks in, when a neurotic student stopped class to discuss how her critical mother had damaged her artistic process, Bill stopped her mid-sentence. “I have no interest whatsoever in your personal life. This is acting class.” My shoulders dropped. I knew I was in the right place. From that point on I did whatever he told me without question. I learned how to listen, how to make use of my imagination and how to always look for some sense of personal truth in every scene (three things that translated very handily into my later work as a writer).

A very close friend of mine is a highly-respected acting teacher here in L.A. and I’ve never heard her talk about any of her students (even the nutty ones) with anything but love. I know she can be tough on them, but I also know she sends them to the set with skills they can actually use when the camera rolls. There is a small theatre lab near my office in Hollywood with the unbelievable name of “The Actors’ Playpen.” I can’t imagine being asked about where I studied acting and having to say “I received my training at the Actors’ Playpen.” I don’t know what exactly goes on inside the Playpen, but I doubt it’s good. In a profession that struggles to maintain its dignity, this we don’t need.

A couple of years ago, I was visiting New York and decided to drop in on my old acting teacher’s class. He had definitely mellowed a bit with the years, but he was no less sharp in his observations. It was bizarre to be a non-student sitting in that room. I had forgotten how high the anxiety level runs in your average acting class. The nervous laughter. The desire for validation. The herculean effort to conquer your nerves. If you’ve never been in an acting class before, imagine sitting in a room for three hours with a group of 12 to 20 people, none of whom are wearing any skin. The dedication and vulnerability of actors is astounding and the way they are treated by the industry can sometimes be heartbreaking. On the rare occasion that I’m asked for my two cents about being an actor, I usually say it amounts to offering up the very best of yourself -- and trying not to take it personally when nobody wants it. Granted, that’s easier said than done. But on the days when you do get picked, it’s a pretty sweet deal.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://www.daviddeanbottrell.com/

This essay can be emailed to a friend by clicking on the small “envelope” icon below. David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being unabashedly middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/

Monday, August 18, 2008

Up in My Business

Between mentoring, the film festival circuit and my gym, I’ve recently started making friends with a whole new group of actors and writers, most of whom are in their 20’s. Many of them have what we in the business refer to as “shit jobs.” These are the jobs that sustain us when we are first trying to get a foothold in the business or when we’re between gigs. I’m very grateful to say that I haven’t had to have one of those jobs in a while, but back in the day, I had plenty.

When I was a young, unemployed college drop-out living in Austin, Texas, I harbored big dreams of moving to New York to study acting, but hadn’t quite sucked up the guts (or the money) to do so. Finally, I registered with a temp agency and was sent to work in a large mailroom that handled all the mail for every social service agency in the state of Texas. There were about thirty-five of us in the main sorting room – many of us temps. It wasn’t particularly challenging work since every piece of mail had a numerical code on it and you simply shoved the envelopes into the box with the corresponding number. The only tough part was lifting the heavy bins full of mail (and of course, the sheer monotony of it). Our supervisor was a kind, soft-spoken guy named “Mr. Ramirez” who appeared about twice a day to handle all the problems and complaints (of which there were many). But everybody who worked there knew full well that Mr. Ramirez didn’t really run the mailroom. The mailroom was truly run by a thirteen-year veteran employee named “Mabel-Ann.”

Mabel-Ann was a 50ish, tough-as-nails black woman who knew her job (and everyone else’s) backwards and forwards. Because of the high employee turnover, she generally waited until you had been there at least two weeks before she bothered to learn your name. Mabel-Ann was a woman with many opinions; all of which she shared freely as she jammed the mail into mostly the right boxes. In fact, it was almost impossible to not know what was on Mabel-Ann’s mind on any given day. Her constant chatter sort of annoyed me, but I did love it when some regional office would call to complain about their shredded mail and Mabel-Ann picked up the phone. She had a masterful way of dealing with such people that, while staying within the guidelines of the employee handbook, also clearly conveyed that she didn’t give a fuck about them or their mail. She could be hilariously funny, but also surprisingly mean -- especially if she felt threatened. I can still remember one day when a temp worker innocently made a suggestion to Mabel-Ann about how she was handling the mail and received a blistering warning to “Never, not now, not ever, get up in her business again.” And God help anybody who left a mess in the break room because that “sad, sorry behavior” would work its way into Mabel-Ann’s unending monologues for weeks to come.

I managed to avoid her for a while, but the mailroom was Mabel-Ann’s fiefdom so it was inevitable our paths would cross. And cross they did one day during “Crunch.” “Crunch” occurred every day at exactly 4:00 pm when (I kid you not) a loud buzzer would sound that sent us all scurrying like rats. The buzzer meant that all the mail had to be pulled, packaged and loaded onto an outgoing truck in one short hour. It was a huge job. Whatever you were doing, you dropped it and rushed to the rows of mailboxes that lined the room. Beneath each box was a slot that contained a large manila envelope. Your job was to cram all the mail into this envelope, label it, use your “tape-gun” to seal it and then toss it into the big cart that was hopefully behind you. One day as I was diligently trying to wedge a huge stack of mail into its corresponding envelope, I looked up to find Mabel-Ann glaring impatiently at me. “We ain’t got all day!,” she barked. “Do it like this!” Grabbing the manila envelope with her left hand, she snapped it in the air, instantly cracking it open. Simultaneously, her right hand shot into the next mailbox and with a strength she’d gained from thirteen years of doing this work, crushed all the mail into sort of an oblong wad and hammered it into the open envelope as if she were punching someone in the face. Slamming it onto the counter, she slapped a crooked label on it, sealed it with a wrinkled piece of tape and tossed it into the cart where it banged roughly against the side. Glancing at my horrified expression, Mabel-Ann huffed at me, “We ain’t sending these to our mothers!” and marched away. At the time, I didn’t have the balls to point out that Mabel-Ann had just jammed the mail intended for the Fredericksburg office into an envelope bound for Freeport.

During the six weeks that I worked in the mailroom, I did manage to pick up a little more speed during “The Crunch.” I even became well-liked enough to be the butt of a few of Mabel-Ann’s jokes (which, believe me, was a good thing). Mabel-Ann was the first real “star” I had ever dealt with. Like all stars, she had a big ego and I quickly learned that it was well worth my time to say something engaging to her first thing in the morning. When I started bringing my lunch, I got invited to sit at her table in the break room where I would soon learn about her hard scrabble childhood, her shiftless ex-husbands and her three grown daughters, none of whom had yet produced a single damn grandchild. In time, I also learned about her dyslexia and diabetes, both of which she felt had kept her from her rightful place behind Mr. Ramirez's desk. I came to admire how Mabel-Ann had found ways of taking what was at best a shitty job and turning it into a reasonably entertaining way of spending your day. When I sprained my hand trying to crush a state resource directory into an envelope, I knew it was time to resign my position in the mailroom. When I came in to get my final time sheet signed, Mabel-Ann hugged me and said I'd done a fine job.

Of course, I had no idea that years later Mabel-Ann’s voice would often ring through my head as I sat writing African-American screenplays. When I auditioned for “Boston Legal,” I summoned up a memory of an odd, wealthy man I used to bartend for -- and I’m pretty certain that mimicking his imperious Yankee attitude and East Haddam accent were what got me the job. I’m also sure that many of my new young friends tend to think of their shit jobs as some sort of awful interruption of their lives; some huge pain in the ass that does nothing but rob them of what must seem like extremely precious time. But most scripted stories are not about the lives of artists. They are about people working with somewhat less grandiose dreams. Believe me when I tell you that those bad bosses or irritating co-workers may someday pop up “in your business” at a very crucial moment and you will be surprisingly grateful for the brief time you shared with them. It’s often from life’s unruly fabric that we carve our best, funniest and most truthful work.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://www.daviddeanbottrell.com/

This essay can be emailed to a friend by clicking on the small “envelope” icon below. David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being distinctively middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Fade to Black

Last week I got a very cordial email inviting me to join a professional organization of African-American screenwriters. Over the years, I've received many invitations from similar networking and social groups around L.A. including one promising that if I attended their mixers I would meet “other single black professionals like myself in a relaxed low pressure setting.” I've also been approached by some top notch African-American non-profits in the past and although I always try to make a financial contribution to their work, I don’t usually join for one very simple reason. Despite what you may have heard, I’m not black.

This confusion all began a number of years ago when I co-wrote a screenplay largely based on my rambunctious hillbilly family. It was optioned by a scrappy independent producer who shopped it around town for four long years. During this time, we became close friends and when I dumped my useless agent, he also became my manager. Although everyone praised the writing, the movie itself failed to take flight. Then one day, my intrepid manager-producer was on the phone trying to pitch it to yet another exec when she stopped him mid-sentence. She wasn't interested. What she needed was a script about a black family. Did he happen to have one? "You know, I might!” he answered. Thirty seconds later, he had me on the phone. “Look,” he said urgently, “We’re running out of options so I want you to open your mind.” I remember I was looking at my VISA bill at the time. “It’s open,” I answered. “Do you think this script could be about a black family?” I paused. I thought about how the story centered on a working class family in a small Southern town. A little afraid of where this was going, I answered cautiously, “Yeah, I guess it could.” “Great!” he shouted. “In two weeks, it’s a black family!”

I spent the next few days staring at the script on my computer screen and wondering what the hell to do next. Finally, I picked up the phone and called a friend who also happens to be a very successful black writer. I nervously explained the situation, fearful that he would give me an earful about how totally inappropriate this move was. Instead, he sighed and told me to send him the script. A few days later he called. “Don’t change anything. They’ll never know,” he said. “Go back to page one and type in the words ‘African-American’ and you’re basically done.” He thought a couple of the character names sounded “a little white” and told me to move one climatic scene from the funeral home to the church, saying “I can’t tell you why it would happen there, but it just would.” I thanked him profusely and went to work. Two hours later, I was done. When I handed it off my manager-producer, he excitedly told me that he had since learned that several studios were now looking for a funny, heartwarming movie about a black family. I tried hard to sound pleased about that news. In reality, I was terrified that we were setting ourselves up for a huge, politically incorrect disaster. I prayed for a miracle. And I got it. The script sold almost instantly.

Our little screenplay which had been viewed as something of a snooze when it was a white script was suddenly being touted as the new black “Citizen Kane.” Every major African-American actor in town was demanding to see a copy. My manager-producer was inundated with calls from agents all of whom were salivating to meet anyone associated with this masterpiece. I was, at the time, agent-phobic and told him to just “pick one.” After a series of meetings, he made his selection and I nervously agreed to accompany him to Beverly Hills to meet my new representatives. My first indication that there might be a problem came when the smarmy assistant froze with terror on seeing me. As we approached the conference room, I whispered to my manager. “Did you tell them I wasn’t black?” He shrugged. “It never came up.” When I walked into the conference room, it was evident by the expression on their faces that my new agents were not expecting a guy who might (on a good day) pass for "beige." It was an awkward, but accurate harbinger of things to come.

At that time virtually every studio in town was looking for “urban” projects (and I had co-written one that was cutting a swath through Hollywood). My choice was simple. I could either swim with the tide (and make some money) or swim against it (and go back to clipping coupons). I consulted a woman in my church who struck me as spiritually evolved (and yes, she was black). “Someone’s gonna write those scripts,” she said with a shrug. “Just tell the truth.” I resolved to stick exclusively to comedy and to prioritize original pitches. It worked. It was often a surreal experience, but I made a living. I got very used to entering an office and having the person behind the desk blink a number of times as if I were some sort of bad dream come to life. I once had a prominent African-American producer stare at me for a full five minutes before he was able to speak. Finally, referring to my script, he asked how I (of all people) could have so fully understood the hopes, dreams, problems and socio-economic pressures that ride on the backs of African-American families. Remembering the advice of my church friend, I respectfully admitted that I had no concept of what it meant to be black in America. "I was just writing about a family that had no money,” I said. “Because that's something I do know a little about.”

I didn’t think I’d be “black” for more than a year, but it surprisingly went on for a while. Eventually, the studios began to lose their nerve and the projects that they were willing to pay for became increasingly dumb and dumber (basically retreads of every 80’s fish-out-of-water comedy you can name). Something else had also happened. There were a lot more produced (and hugely successful) black screenwriters in the game. When I didn’t get the job rewriting the black version of “A Christmas Carol,” I retired. It was time. Last fall, I was called back to write the book for an African-American musical at Fox Searchlight and (as karma would have it) my script is currently being rewritten by a black writer! I honestly wish him the best. I know his voice will add an authenticity to the story that I could never have delivered. Scripts are sometimes puzzles and not everybody's got all the pieces. Writing is (or should be) a passport to wherever your imagination and heart can take you. Movie making (at its best) is the blending of a thousand voices, somehow tuned-in to each other and converging into a kind of raucous harmony. There are some days when I miss being black, but what are you gonna do? I’m sure Michael Jackson probably feels the same. Have a good week, Hollywood. Fight the power.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://www.daviddeanbottrell.com/

This essay can be emailed to a friend by clicking on the small “envelope” icon below. David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being quietly middle-class in Hollywood at www.partsandlabor.tv

Sunday, August 3, 2008

The History of Drama (Part IV): Space World

When I was about eight, my family moved across the border from Kentucky into southern Ohio. We eventually landed in a small factory town where my new school was a little rougher than what I was used to. This event coincided with another major discovery in my life – that I was a total sissy who could neither throw, catch nor hit a ball. It didn’t take long for me to become the target of swoop-and-dive bullies who soon made my life a living hell. When the cafeteria finally became unbearable I started walking home each day for lunch where I would eat a grilled cheese sandwich and watch “Search for Tomorrow” while my mother ironed and took care of screaming infants to whom we were vaguely related. School, which I’d always enjoyed in Kentucky, was now something I could barely stand. All I wanted was to get home in one piece, hide in the quietest room I could find and disappear into my latest childhood obsession: comic books.

I had always liked comics, but now my relationship with them was changing. Every Tuesday I would sit at the dinner table staring holes through my poor father. I didn’t dare say anything, but secretly I tried to beam him psychic messages to chew a little faster so we could get the hell out of there and make our weekly run to the newsstand. I had gotten wise to the fact that every Tuesday a new shipment of comic books arrived in town. Fortunately, my father and the guy who ran the newsstand enjoyed talking to each other, so I usually had at least forty-five minutes to read as many as I could. Then when the two men ran out of conversation material, it was time for me to decide which comics I would be buying with my measly allowance. This was always a horrible “Sophie’s Choice” kind of moment for me. Sometimes, I would try to pry a little extra coin out of my father, but it rarely worked. My dad was a farm-raised, Depression era baby who believed in hard work and self-control. I loved my dad, but I already knew that I took more after my mother’s side of the family who believed in doing what you could get away with and worrying about it later.

My comic book addiction was primarily financed by running errands for the old people who lived in the low-rent senior citizen apartments nearby. When I got my first real bike it allowed me to double the number of runs I could make to McKaig’s Market each day. Generally, I could expect anywhere from a nickel to thirty-five cents for each trip to retrieve a loaf of bread or a half dozen eggs (my least favorite item since they tended to crack on the ride home). Business was usually steady, but sometimes when I needed extra money for additional comics, I could become something of an extortionist, ringing doorbells and suggesting that a horrible sleet storm might be on its way; a storm so bad that it might knock out power lines and close the roads for days to come. Would they be okay if that happened? Soon, I was peddling toward the market for Milk of Magnesia and a carton of Camels.

Once, after I’d endured a particularly humiliating ass-kicking at school, I sent a stack of my drawings to Stan Lee and asked him for a job working at Marvel comics. He wrote back saying my work was good and to keep drawing. I was a little pissed. I guess I’d expected Stan and the heroes of Marvel to rescue me from this hellish existence I was living. My disappointment triggered a strange development. I began drawing my own line of comics which I named “Space World.” I only drew the covers of the comics (on 3 x 5 index cards), but inside my head I had written a story for each edition. The small size of my comics made it easier for me to hide them – a real necessity in our crowded and chaotic house. More than once I had slaved over a piece of artwork only to come home and find it partially dissolved in the mouth of a fat, slobbering baby.

The heroes of Space World were all knock-offs of Marvel and D.C. characters and the covers had a lot of words like “ZZZZzzap!” and “THUD!” on them. I loved my creations because they were all misunderstood, lonely freaks (like me). The very thing that made them so cool was also what isolated them from the world. In their normal (human) lives, they were forgettable “nice guys” who never attracted much attention. But when they donned their mask, flew across the sky and zapped some evildoer with a red-hot laser beam, they became an unquestionable force for good; someone to be revered and reckoned with. Within a few years my obsession with Thor, Batman and the Fantastic Four expanded to include endless daily reruns of shows like “The Avengers,” “Lost in Space” and of course, “Star Trek.” Although I managed to do reasonably well in school, I never talked about it at home where my distracted family struggled to stay afloat. If anyone wanted to know if I loved Jesus or why I didn’t have a girlfriend, I kept my answers short and vague. Indifference was my force field.

I preferred Space World. My superheroes and I had a lot in common. We both had secrets we could never tell; powers that were best kept under wraps. And we both longed for love and acceptance in a world that didn’t really welcome us. When I finally left for college at age eighteen, I feared I might be headed for another strange and lonely planet - but once there, in the safety of a wildly liberal campus, thousands of miles from my family’s home, I slowly started to test my super powers. Amazingly, I learned I could make people laugh, write for the school paper, argue with a professor and even sing out loud in front of an audience of people who had actually paid money to be there. As these powers slowly inched out of the box, I became someone new. Finally, it was time to remove my invisible cloak and reveal my true identity.

I loved the scene in Christopher Nolan’s "The Dark Knight" where Michal Caine’s character explains why the world needs a Batman. I suppose nowadays, no one believes much in heroes coming to the rescue. Still, I’m hoping someday to actually show up for a studio note session dressed in a mask and cape. And just before the security guards arrived to taze me, I’d like to leap onto the desk of some poor terrified executive and shout “Be not afraid, mortal! I have come to save you from the dark, sinister web of corporate thinking. I have been sent at last, to lead you from the mind-numbing mediocrity of demographics and marketing and into the fresh air and blindingly, brilliant light of originality!” How fitting and ironic that the last sounds I would probably hear would be “ZZZzzzap! THUD!” Have a good week, fellow citizens of Space World. See you next time.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
http://www.daviddeanbottrell.com/

This essay can be emailed to a friend by clicking on the small “envelope” icon below. David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being quietly middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/