When someone mentions Sunset Boulevard we immediately conjure up visions of fame, excessive wealth, dreams and most of all, Hollywood. What we don’t think about when someone mentions Sunset Boulevard is the normal people, the middle class and the poor, the day job dreamers and those who never made Hollywood a reality. On May 4th, 2013, I sat on Sunset Boulevard, wondering about my own dreams and version of Hollywood. At least in my case that vision originated with events that unfolded a year earlier in 2012.
“Mr. Producer, I’m tempted to challenge you to a 90s rap battle, ‘Your attitudes are futile, oo chile, you’re puerile.’” Mr. Producer? “Brain waves sterile, you can’t create you just take…my tapes laced with malice…”
Meet Mr. Producer, not only a fan of the Fugees, but a man whose career I have admired well over a decade. He’s not your ordinary producer either according to stereotypes, nor is he necessarily very well known by those outside the industry. But for me, he was a man I deeply admired and through social media, a man I came to laugh with, get to know and develop an even greater respect for.
It was only a year earlier I had presumably burned bridges with him by exceeding my levels of persistence. After I ran an account which profiled his latest film in a humorous and creative light he did what few in his position would do and gave me a second chance at a first impression.
“Satellites triangulating your position presently,” he added, determined to figure out the clever author behind the mystery account. It was a game of sort I played with him for nearly a week. I didn’t want to give myself up, assuming he might get annoyed upon discovering my identity. He kept prodding, playfully. All he knew was that I was a female from New York with intimate knowledge of the production (after all my friends worked on set). He asked me all sorts of questions, about my guitar playing, my mutual love for Led Zeppelin, other rock acts I enjoyed in addition to things like what college I attended and where I grew up.
On the day he finally figured out who I was, we had a Direct Message conversation on Twitter that lasted over an hour in spite of a pivotal Rangers playoff game airing at the same time. I figured the opportunity to have a conversation with one of my professional influences was far more groundbreaking and profound than any sports history that could conceivably be made that night. Despite figuring me out, he was incredibly kind and most of all forgiving in spite of my juvenile attempts to contact him a year earlier. His candid interaction was unlike anything I would imagine from someone in his position, and writing about it two years later, it is still the way I choose to think of him: as an amazingly kind and genuine person so unlike the stereotype of his professional title.
The next month he would come to New York for the premiere of his film and I had hoped to meet him. I figured that since we had bonded online and he got to see the real me, the laid back, humorous creative me, that he would be comfortable with such an arrangement. He didn’t feel up to it, at least not at the time. Even if he did, he likely didn’t have much time to make for me between promotions and interviews. Instead I wound up dropping off a charcoal drawing I did of him and the filmmakers with a personal note of thanks for his kindness on the back. I left it for him via his assistant at the time’s hotel. My friends lived near by and so we settled at the lounge there.
I knew that the premiere after-party was down the street at the Ritz, but I would never stalk him so-to-speak. I figured that if he wanted to meet me he would contact me. As I saw the party unfold, seeing his “party tweets,” I was tempted to message him. I was tempted to ask him while he was inebriated to meet, but decided not to out of professionalism. I looked like an absolute 10 too, just in case he did want to meet. I will not lie about the fact that I find him extremely attractive; deep emotive brown eyes, the perfect jaw line, tall with striking silver hair. George Clooney would compare himself to this man. Yet in spite of my massive crush and admiration, I am happy I remained professional.
He messaged me the next day prior to leaving New York, wishing me all the best. We would continue to keep in touch for a while. Unsure of where to take my account, I thought of deleting it. He insisted I keep writing, to not stop, to not give it up or delete the account. He would continue to stress to me the importance of keeping up with my talent for writing. He began to assume the role of mentor.
Finally I decided to casually assert my ability to try my hand at a script, and immediately he endorsed the idea. “Lets see if you’re the exception,” he said, challenging me to do so. Various humorous exchanges and a few Direct Messages over the summer of 2012 and I would send him my first ever feature screenplay in September, a science fiction about the technological singularity. Both he and I enjoy the topic of futurism and technology, specifically the ideas advanced by the scientist Ray Kurzweil. It is one of many things I seemed to have in common with him. Of course it was only my first ever effort and it was not good enough by professional standards.
After waiting nearly two months, he messaged me to say the script wasn’t for him but that he would be happy to call me to discuss it if I wanted to. In that phone conversation he told me I had a “gift with language,” and among other things told me that I am smart and talented. He told me that I should continue to practice, to hone my craft, to “strive to be like Jimmy Page,” the virtuoso guitarist of our favorite band, Led Zeppelin. Most surprisingly he told me that I should write a second script and that he would be happy to read it. I asked if I could work for him at the entry level if he got another project together and he stressed that most of all I continue to keep writing, as that was my most valuable skill but he did say “sure, you can reach out to me online, but keep writing.” That I did.
I was ecstatic that this man seemingly wanted to give advice to me, to mentor me. My mother was ecstatic too because she knew how much the opportunity meant to me. I hauled ass, reading as many scripts as possible in addition to script theory and I continued to build my ideas. Initially I was planning to write a comedy (a script that will today be a part of my submission to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts in consideration for graduate admission). He messaged me in response to my suggestion that I was going to come to LA. He asked me where my script was, clearly half-joking, trying to incite conversation along that end. He mentioned that most of all I should emphasize character development, something I failed to do with my first script. I asked him what kind of film he wanted, if he wanted a log line, he said “no just send me the finished product.” This was a position screenwriters would die to be in. Yet here I was, a 24 year old untrained kid writing for a producer I admired since I was 14, writing for him to read what I had to say.
I eventually put the comedy on the back burner as bubbling underneath it was the idea to do a film about the Liberation of Paris. A fan of historical drama, I wanted to write a film that had a good message but was also a film I would want to see. The Liberation was also my favorite part of WWII history, being half French. Surprisingly enough it is also one barely explored in film. I also thought setting a film in Paris would be great if he actually wanted to do it since I know he considers Paris home for personal reasons. It would be convenient to his personal life to potentially work on something closer to home and I considered that. The result was Liberation, a love and action-adventure story between an American soldier and French pianist. It was an incredibly strong effort for only my second script. While it would certainly need some work (in my present day professional opinion) it was one hell of a turn out for someone who just started to write features.
I figured my second script would at least be impressive enough to be considered for future employment as an assistant with him. That was my goal. I knew it would probably not sell, but figured it would impress him enough to keep me around. After all he stressed my writing, not my PA skills or other replaceable entry-level skills. He obviously wanted me for my ability to artistically convey high concept meaning with written words.
Ultimately time went by after submitting my second script to him. Eventually I began to subliminally hint via Twitter that I was wondering what the status of his opinion was. There began this sort of subliminal messaging (or Subtweet interaction) between us on occasion. He passively posted an article, noting “there’s some excellent advice in here,” in response to my earlier tweet seeking advice about my situation. The article was about Louis CK and how he evolved from no-by-way of silence rejection and close to 15 years of struggle to finally become respected by others above the line. It was a great article about what it means to really work hard toward success in this business while accepting the unfortunate let downs along the way. At the time I wasn’t having it. I lashed out subliminally, annoyed that I still hadn’t heard anything. I wasn’t going to accept “no by way of silence,” not from someone I saw as a mentor, someone who was kind enough to give me feedback before.
He wasn’t having my attitude, and immediately replied in exasperation, very upset with my behavior. Yet instead of immediately unfollowing me and kicking me to the curb, he spent an hour giving me hard-knock-life advice. He encouraged me to not wait for him and go it on my own in the interim. He told me to get as many people to read my script as possible. He allowed me to explain myself and was unbelievably kind to allow myself to do so, all while explaining his view of my situation. He told me I needed to learn to struggle, to not be impatient. He told me things about his own struggle that he didn’t even mention a month later in the commencement speech he gave to his alma matter. I truly appreciated hearing it. I needed to hear that it was not going to happen in one to two scripts, that it takes years of hard work to see success.
I created this blog that day. Though I wouldn’t find out until many months later, I discovered that he would regularly read this blog. Not long after, I wound up in LA working a music video shoot. The day after I sat on Sunset Boulevard, hoping he would change his mind about meeting me. I hoped we could finally meet in person, to verify the initial exchanges we had in 2012 and earlier in the year. I had hoped to verify our conversations and finally make him feel comfortable by meeting me in person, to verify that we seemed to get along well. He never answered my request, nor did he ever show up. I was totally bummed.
We barely spoke after that, maybe one more time after and that was it. Or so I thought. The strange thing is, he continued to read my blog and by way of doing so he continued to interact. I discovered this after linking to a post about how I came to admire him professionally. I passively asked him to read this post only just months ago. I realized through the stats provided to me through my blog that he was reading the whole time!
In my defense, I was not trying to be creepy, most all blogs use such tools to note hits. This standard logging of visitor IP information remains the case unless one uses an anonymous TOR browser, proxy server or views the webpage from a wireless device or method by which the IP is different each time. In such aforementioned cases the visit provides an IP which is not identifiable as a returning user (unless they use the same proxy or reveal other unique header information like an unusual browser choice). It is not something I installed or can disable, despite ethically disagreeing with it. However curiosity got the better of me and the technology ultimately exists in order for page masters to make these connections in order to drive results.
In a way I believe he actually wanted me to know this too, considering he almost seemed to react to my posts occasionally on Twitter (though always without messaging me directly, only implying). I remember him almost asking a question in reaction to one of my pieces on the NSA. While it might seem crazy for me to suggest he was doing this on occasion, along with making subliminal remarks toward me, my industry friends who mutually followed both him and I also brought up the occasional “subtweets.” It wasn’t just me.
It was also through these friends that I learned other things too, namely that the fallout from his last film allegedly resulted in some frayed relationships. That happens in this business, some times people need to go their separate ways after a disappointing project and only work together again down the road after letting some time go by. It’s not out of disrespect, rather just some time apart is needed for professional reasons. It’s natural. It was not my friends intention to gossip, but to reiterate from their own sources why out of all of the above the line members of that production, he remains sidelined from industry action.
In fact he’s been a ghost. He stopped tweeting over a half a year ago and made his Twitter account private. In industry terms, he is “hugging the cactus.” He is not working on an active project to the best of my knowledge, he is in what is known as “development hell.” It goes to show that no one is immune from the ups and downs of this business. Yet I didn’t care that he wasn’t working. I don’t care what people do or do not think about him or what they say.
More than I miss his mentorship, I miss the rap battles and playful jokes. I miss the exchanges I had with him in 2012 and early 2013 that ranged from Led Zeppelin to Apple stock to various humor. I miss talking to someone I genuinely enjoyed speaking to as an amazing person I really clicked with. I missed talking to someone in a natural and relaxed sense, not ever intimidated by the fact that he was also somewhat famous. I missed talking to him as just another person, as an online friend. But as time went by, this no longer felt the case the way it did in 2012. I just wished we could simply be friends. But this I always knew was not possible given the complexity of the professional relationship. For some reason, he just couldn’t commit to that idea.
He continued to read my blog up until the time he unfollowed me at the end of March 2014. It will always seem so random because of how much time he invested in me right up until the end. He showed that he cared, even after I passively admitted I could tell he read my blog. He kept reading in spite of that reveal. I never said anything that would tick him off. I didn’t do anything he would seemingly disagree with.
Most surprisingly of all, despite the action of unfollowing me implying that he was stepping away, he continued to read my blog several more times after unfollowing. He read my blog up to a week afterwards in Los Angeles. For all I know he may decide to check up on me occasionally, and I hope that he might. However I wrote this to finally accept that this chapter must close and that whether or not he does follow up I must not dwell on it.
I don’t believe his rejection is one which signifies permanence, but for now it is indeed rejection and likely was last May too. I furthermore believe he still appreciates my admiration of him and likely even cares about me. He would not invest the amount of time he has if he didn’t, and his unfollowing me doesn’t undo that fact. Whatever may come in the future, for now I will cherish the advice he gave me. I will always respect him and hope that one day I may still get the chance to work for him.
In the interim it is up to me to not wait on him. I’ve made some great contacts in production and know that this summer when my contact gets on a job (as he does every summer) I will get on too. It’s just a waiting game now. I have also continued to write and will be applying to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts for my Masters in Film Producing and Writing. I have a lot to look forward to.
The nature of this business is that what seems like a secure, wonderful relationship will often come to a halt. This is almost inevitable, and there are many examples of this sort of thing happening throughout the history of professional cinematic relationships. It does not mean that it is an end to such relationships forever, but it does signify a parting of ways. It is often crushing when it happens. I’ve done well to properly contextualize it and not get hung up on it to the point where it negatively affects what I have to do to succeed.
It is especially challenging when you admire the person professionally as I did. Yet when it happens you must not let it stop you. You must not let rejection rue the day. You must trudge on. I have and will continue to do so. If by some chance he were to read this, I would want to thank him for having the faith in me and belief in me as a writer. Without his mentorship, however brief, I would not be on the path I am today. I likely would have quit my pursuit of the industry and gone into some horrible world of finance, so thanks to him.
In the words of Led Zeppelin:
“Then as it was, then again it will be
An’ though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea
Blind stars of fortune, each have several rays
On the wings of maybe, down in birds of prey
Kind of makes me feel sometimes, didn’t have to grow
But as the eagle leaves the nest, it’s got so far to go.“
I wish him nothing but the best upon this change of course and even if it is ten years gone, maybe we will speak again. Maybe we will finally get the chance to meet for coffee along Sunset Boulevard, as rivers reach the sea of opportunity. For now, so concludes this chapter. Now I can end this post with an inner peace and with the utmost respect and sincere professional admiration. As this eagle leaves the nest, it has far to go. Thankfully it was well inspired for its journey along the way.