Back in the nineties, when I was in my early twenties, I moved to Los Angeles to try to become a writer. Through a friend of a family friend, I met my first connection, a “real Hollywood writer.” That he was giving up the business and moving to New Mexico to practice real estate didn’t really register on the green slate of my young mind. His study was piled with scripts and he threw around names of directors and actors the way I talked about my close family. He gifted me with a ragged copy of William Goldman’s “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” and placed a call to a lawyer friend who was still in the business.
“He’s your ‘in,’” my departing benefactor claimed, “He’s not exactly producing, but he’s got aspirations. He’s the real hub of the wheel over there.”
I wound up working as an assistant to the “hub.” He had an office in a production company, but aside from drawing up the occasional contract, he mostly took on tax work and personal injury cases. Two years and about a million hours of paralegal work later, the “hub” actually turned out to be my “in” when he introduced me to his friend The Producer.
When I went to work on the Producer’s pilot, I felt sure things were looking up. I had gotten off to a rocky start here in Hollywood, but now I was working at an actual television studio. I saw vaguely famous people practically every day. I knew the phone extension of the Tonight Show. The Producer liked me. He claimed to like my writing. It would only be a matter of time, I thought, before I was writing my own show.
Five years and six shows later, I was working for another Producer, the most recent in a long line of older men. I was beginning to see a pattern. They all had petite blonde wives and a dark sense of humor. I answered their phones and organized their files. I set up meetings and occasionally picked up their dry cleaning or took their convertibles to the carwash. They thought I was neat and fun to have around. They sometimes told me I was beautiful. They always told me I was smart. “Too smart to work in television,” they’d say. I went with them to pick out carpet, cars and anniversary presents and sat next to them in the darkened rows of empty movie theatres. I described my job as “a great date without any sex.”
One of these guys called me “Babe” and once reached his hand up under my dress without touching my body. I remember standing very still and watching the shadowy form of his hand and forearm travel from just above my knee up to my waist and back down. He looked pleased as though he were a lion tamer removing his head from the mouth of the beast.
Another used to stand behind my desk chair and watch me type. He’d put his hands on either side of my keyboard and lean so far into me, I was afraid my hair would get stuck on the buttons of his shirt.
I bought whiskey at three a.m. for a white haired writer who called me “Kitten” and another time, set up an expensive air purifier so that a couple of co-producers could get high in their office. When a show-runner asked me to repeat for the writers’ room “that little thing we did on the table earlier,” I asked if he "wanted me backwards this time." I got a big laugh. It was all fun, right?
I figured I was paying my dues. I thought that by listening to all this nonsense and putting up with a fair amount of inappropriate behavior I was making a trade for a job as a writer. I wrote a couple of freelance scripts, but no matter how many times I asked, I was never given a staff job. I may have been “too smart to work in television” but it took a long time for my brain to realize that these guys were not my “in.” They were only in it for themselves.
I knew that achieving success as a writer was part hard work, part dumb luck. In fact, whenever I wrote another spec script, I imagined that I was sitting in a deep hole. The chances were slim that someone would fall into this hole. Even slimmer that that he would be my industry “in” and that he would be carrying a flashlight so he could read my script. If all went well, he would climb out of the hole and get me a paycheck.
In a way, I’m still in the hole. Still writing. But I’ve learned one thing. If the guy with the flashlight calls you “Kitten,” you’re better off digging yourself out.