Sunday, May 31, 2009

Hot Child in the City

A couple of times in my career, I’ve had the great good fortune to get noticed. Something I was doing (or had done) snagged the attention of the larger show business community and “wah-laa,” I found myself on the receiving end of many exciting phone calls. I was suddenly, as we like to say,“Hot.” The first time this happened, I was a young stage actor in New York and was appearing in an evening of one-act comedies at an off-Broadway theater.

The show was a very funny, two-character play that required the other actor and me to do a bunch of lightning-fast transitions. The director was something of a task master and demanded our every move be precise and clean. He worked us like dogs in rehearsal, but it paid off. The audiences roared. One night, about ten days before the show was scheduled to close, the director appeared in my dressing room, wearing a jittery smile and began firing off a bunch of weird, nitpicky notes; just a few “details” that I should keep in mind for tonight’s performance. I noticed a slight glistening of perspiration on his brow and guessed what this was all about. “The New York Times is coming tonight, aren’t they?” I asked. He nodded his head in sort of grim way. After reassuring him that the show was in great shape, I suggested that he not mention this development to the other actor (who was sort of a skittish guy and easily thrown). Staring into my dressing room mirror, I took a deep breath. This was it. I'd been in New York for four years. Finally, the rubber was about to meet the road.

My co-star and I knocked the ball out of the park that night and two days later, our pictures (and a great review!) appeared in the Friday “Weekend” section of the Times. In my young naïve heart, I thought that this endorsment of my comic genius would lead to much greater things. And in a sense, it did. I’d never auditioned for a TV pilot before and suddenly that was happening. The audition went so well that I almost got the part. In fact, several upscale auditions came my way, but none of them quite worked out. Within a couple of months, the calls slowed down and soon I was back to working as a waiter - a waiter who’d had his name and face in the New York Times. Eighteen months later, I had an almost identical experience with a different show and began to wonder if the universe was playing some kind of cruel joke on me.

When I came west hoping to work as a writer in Hollywood, the transition was rocky at best. About a year after my arrival, the phone rang and a breathless executive asked if he was speaking to “David Dean Bott-Rell?” At the time, I was dodging bill collectors, so I informed him that Mr. Bott-Rell was out at the moment and could I take a message. The message was that a script of mine had somehow landed on his desk and he had been frantically trying to locate me for weeks. “Who is your agent?” he demanded. “I don’t have one,” I replied. “You will by the end of the week!” he answered. True to his word, I did indeed have an agent (a very big agent) by the end of the following week. My script was shot out into the universe of Hollywood and suddenly I was one busy guy. I went on a zillion “meet-and-greets” where I was heralded as the second coming of screenwriting. I ate fabulous lunches in Beverly Hills and was promised tons of employment. Apparently, my ship had come in. Again.

It was fun to be the “hot” writer, but nothing about it felt real either. Despite all these claims that my career was about to explode, I was still wearing the same threadbare clothes to every meeting and frequently parked my car blocks away from the restaurant so that no one (not even the valets) would see the dented Toyota hatchback I was driving. I was the author of exactly one screenplay and had no idea if I’d ever even have another idea worth writing. Despite the glowing response to my script, it never got made and eventually all the hoopla died down. It became another lesson in how short the industry’s attention span is and how little is ever done to mentor new talent.

Over the years, I’ve had this experience repeat itself (in one form or another), a surprising number of times; most recently when I had a rccurring role on a popular TV show. As much as I enjoyed the job, the chorus of people telling me that an Emmy and a development deal were sure to follow, sort of unnerved me a little. Not that it wasn’t fun to think about! But mostly what I felt was enormous gratitude that when the ball had finally sailed out into left field again, I hadn’t dropped it. In fact, I had scored a winning point for the team.

Excitement is a great thing. After all, where would the business be without it? We thrive on it. We’re addicted to it. It’s what drives the machine. It keeps us going between gigs. I’ve been extraordinarily lucky in my career. The fact that every so often I’ve been able to nab a little attention has been truly gratifying – particularly since I entered into this business wondering if I had any talent at all. Last week, I got some very exciting news about one of my projects. Needless to say, I'm thrilled, but I also know it's a little soon to start breaking out the champagne or hiring the hookers. I promise if it comes to fruition, you’ll be the first to know. For now, I’m just taking it as a sign that I’m being allowed to stay in the poker game. God knows the stakes are high, but I’ve always been a gambler at heart. You sort of have to be for any of this insanity to work. Truthfully, it’s hard to imagine myself as the “Hot” guy again, but I could definitely get into the idea of being “Reheated.” Even that is exciting.

As we all (should) know by now, the whole idea of overnight success is a total crock of shit. For the vast majority of “successful” people in our business, it’s a long, slow climb up the mountain (with lots of loose rocks underfoot). For every bit of ground you gain, there is usually a short slide to follow. The trick is to enjoy the scenery as you go. As one of my favorite actors, Walter Matthau, once said, “All you need in this business is six or seven really big breaks.” If that’s true, I might now be approaching number six, so hopes are running high!! Again.

Copyright 2008 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at


Karen Hutson said...

I'll start with carbonated lemonade. Just let me know when I can crank up the "fizz factor." Until then, I'll keep sending out my mantra to "Elvis and The Boys!"

Tony said...

Well done, as always. Most people in magazines don't have a clue about how to sell magazines, hence their crashing circulation numbers. I saw a lot of this when I was in newspapers. "Oh, no! This isn't working! Quick! -- Do more of it!"