From the Cage to the Plains (A Camel Conversation with my LA Agent)

A Camel in Hollywood

Humper in Hollywood

My agent had an idea. He was calling a number of his clients. I’m not sure where I fell between the first and last call. Not that it mattered.

The Phone Call

AGENT: I’m thinking you need to find a different name for your screenplays. Just a single name and something that pops like ‘Bopper’ or ‘The Drill.’

DAVID: They both sound mildly pornographic.

AGENT: Even better.

DAVID: I think my own name is fine.

AGENT: Little story for you, David. I was at the Wild Animal Safari Park in Escondido the other day.

DAVID: As a visitor or an exhibit?

AGENT: You’re f—ing hilarious. I went to see the camels. I love camels.

DAVID: Camels?

AGENT: The humps, the toes, little need for water… what’s not to love?

DAVID: Got a point there.

AGENT: So there was this camel, Dune…

DAVID: Like the film?

AGENT: Like a camel. And the zoo keepers, they were giving this big f—ing show about how Dune was afraid to go on concrete. They tried to lead him onto a sidewalk with hay, and sometimes he would take a scared step or two, but no more. A crowd had gathered to watch. You could use that in one of your f—ing stage plays.

DAVID: Sure, I’ve been thinking of doing a camel play.

AGENT: Thing is, I knew that camel. His name wasn’t Dune at all. It was Nick. I’d seen him just a few months before at the zoo. He’s changed his name to Dune, and now he acts like he’s afraid of concrete. That’s how he got out of the zoo and started running around the f—ing fake African plains of Escondido. Show business!

DAVID: I don’t think it was the same camel.

AGENT: It was. It was f—ing Nick! He changed his name, and you need to do the same. How about ‘Humper’?

My novel, written under my given name, is available here: The Last Island.

Socrates Gone Mad in Southern California

Slomo at the Acropolis

‘Slomo’ at the Acropolis

Slomo is a 69 year old man who roller blades in slow motion along the boardwalk in Pacific Beach, California. He does this daily, unceasingly, and is known by nearly everyone who frequents the beach, bars or coffee shops. Many discount him as drug-addled, schizophrenic, or crazy. But he is not so easily dismissed.

For Slomo is Dr. John Kitchin, a former neurologist and psychiatrist, who abandoned his lucrative career in order to live in a studio apartment by the beach and pursue “a kind of divinity” through skating. Slomo is not crazy. He is a clear eyed, articulate, and bright man who has forsaken the lifestyle of the “typical institutionalized, educated, Western man.”

There’s a New York Times video about Slomo that’s prompted a large number of comments and where you’ll discover that he is:

“inspirational” and “an immature embarrassment,”

“amazing” and “narcissistic,”

a “great example of freedom” and “self-centered and lazy,”

and that he “represents ideals that we hold dear” and is “kind of an —hole.”

Diogenes in Ancient Athens

Diogenes at home in Athens

Slomo evokes polarized passions and so is reminiscent of Diogenes of Sinope, the philosopher who lived in purposeful poverty in a giant vase on the streets in Ancient Greece. Diogenes advocated self-sufficiency and rejected luxury; he had contempt for the opinion of others and utter disregard for societal conventions.

“I am Diogenes the Dog,” he once said. “I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels.” (He’d be useful today.)

Plato called him “Socrates gone mad.” But he wasn’t only mad, he was funny.

Once after seeing a bad bowman in an archery contest, Diogenes sat down in front of the target saying it was the only place he felt safe. And in a famous meeting, Alexander the Great told Diogenes that he would grant him any wish.

“Just move and get out of my sunlight,” Diogenes replied.

Slomo espouses no overriding philosophy and doesn’t reveal any desire to instruct. He merely sees himself as the “tip of a great iceberg of consciousness,” and as a person “who escaped and got to real freedom.” His choices seem to threaten the conventional, who feel that he should do something else with his life. In short, they think he should be more like them and cite, among other things, his lack of motivation.

Yet Alexander was once asked: If he was not himself, who would he choose to be?

And the answer, from arguably the most motivated man in history, was that if he were not Alexander the Great, he would choose to be Diogenes the Dog – and as such would’ve stopped casting his shadow across empires in order to bask in the unconquerable sun that shines to this day on the ruins of Ancient Greece and the boardwalk in Pacific Beach.

You can see the video at the New York Times website: ‘Slomo.’

And my debut novel, which features a character who simplifies her life by shedding her possessions, is available here: The Last Island.

Sharks in Coach (Talking about my Novel with my LA Agent)

Hollywood Shark

My LA agent had been sitting on my book for a couple of months.  I’d gotten no feedback from him, only the studied silence of a poised insect.  I decided to breach the stillness and give him a call.

The Phone Call

David:  Happy New Year.  It’s David.

Agent:  Know how many Davids I know?

David:  I know my full name shows up on your phone.

Agent:  So kill me.  What’re you calling me for?

David:  Did you read my book yet?

Agent:  Sure, I loved it.  Some great s— in there.

David:  So you want to represent the dramatic rights?

Agent:  Hold on.  I’ve a phone call coming in.

Papers shuffling in the background.  The Agent cups the phone and yells at his Assistant.  A minute or two later.

Agent:  What were we talking about?

David:  You representing the dramatic rights of my novel.

Agent:  Yeah, no, well, I’m not sure just yet.

David:  You didn’t read it, did you?

Agent:  F— no.  It’s over 200 pages.

David:  That’s short for a novel.

Agent:  The only thing I ever read over 10 pages is a lawsuit.

David:  What about screenplays, do you read those?

Agent:  I read the coverage.

Note: Coverage is the appraisal of a book or screenplay by a reader and usually includes the plot, characters and commercial potential.

David:  And you’re looking at the coverage for my novel right now, aren’t you?  That’s what your assistant just brought in.

Agent:  A dolphin, a fireman, fishermen, Greece.  Not exactly Iron Man.

David:  The female lead is very intriguing.  You could find an actress involved in environmentalism and animal rights and start from there.  Actually, I think it’s a timely and resonant story that-

Agent:  -Know what you need… a shark.  A shark on a f—ing plane.  There’s your title too.  That I could sell.  The thing starts from the back and eats only people in coach.  Write that.

David:  I’ll think about it.  In the meantime, my novel…?

Agent:  I give you a million dollar idea and you ask about your f—ing novel?  Put some orphans on the plane, and an old lady with an oxygen tank, and a cute little dog.  All sitting in coach.

David:  If you’re trying to make a statement about economic inequality with a, uh, shark thriller, maybe it should eat the people in first class instead?

Agent:  That’s the dumbest f—ing thing I’ve ever heard?  Think about it.  If the shark eats the people in first class, who will finance the f—ing film?

My novel, THE LAST ISLAND, can be purchased here.

Prostitutes and Playwrights (Another Conversation with my LA Agent)

Woo Ho

I called my agent to tell him I’d finished another play.  He wasn’t pleased.  He thought plays stole time from screenplays that he might be able to sell.  It was an ongoing debate.

One time, I mentioned the value of art for art’s sake.  I thought he’d have a stroke.  He popped Tylenol like Tic Tacs though – and that might’ve saved him.

The Phone Call

David:  I wrote a new play.

Agent:  What’s this s— about?

David:  It’s about the Irish novelist, Flann O’Brien.

Agent:  You wrote a f—ing play about a f—ing novelist?  Where’s it premiering?  In a black hole?

David:  If it gets up in LA, I’ll comp you tickets.

Agent:  No thanks.  I mean, I’d love to see your f—ing play when it opens, David… but I don’t like sitting alone.

David:  That’s a good one.  You use that with other clients?

Agent:  They don’t write f—ing plays.  I don’t understand why you do.

David:  Because screenplays rarely get made even when sold… but plays do.  Believe it or not, I like seeing my work produced.

Agent:  And I like to sleep with beautiful women, but you don’t see me going to all that trouble.

David:  The trouble of actually sleeping with them?

Agent:  You’re f—ing hilarious, David, you know that?

David:  I’m your client, aren’t I?

Agent:  Look, I can meet a semi-attractive woman and take her on dinners and dates and all that bulls—.  Or I can sell a screenplay, not one of yours apparently, and buy a beautiful hooker.

David:  Are you saying that writing a play is like dating a semi-attractive woman and writing a screenplay is like buying a beautiful hooker?

Agent:  Which is less trouble?

David:  You’re suggesting that I prostitute myself both professionally and personally?

Agent:  Of course not.  I’m advising you to prostitute yourself professionally… so you can buy a prostitute personally.  Sometimes I think you don’t know which end is up.


You can buy my debut novel, ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

 

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‘Pitching and Kissing’ (Meeting Producers with my LA Agent)

My agent organized pitch meetings with a few production companies.

“Make it short and sweet,” he said. “Just give them your f—ing pitch and see if they bite.“

“So you know,” he added. “The more important they are, the worst dressed they’ll be. You meet a d—–bag in a Speedo and flip flops, their last film probably made a 100 mil. Meet a s—head in a suit, their last film was probably seen by less people than one of your f—ing plays.“

I went to the meetings. No one was wearing a Speedo. I did meet with one guy in a Hawaiian shirt and board shorts. True enough: he was the development guy for a comedy team with a string of hits.

The last meeting went like this.

Pitch Meeting

An office in Santa Monica. Impressionist art, movie posters, a red couch. I’m ushered into a conference room.

Their development guy is maybe 25, wearing black jeans and a Talking Heads tee-shirt. The usual small talk. I mention CBGB. He thinks it’s a government agency.

Eventually:

D-guy: I read that script.

David: I thought I was here to pitch it.

D-guy: You are. But I like to read the script before people pitch it so I already know what they’re going to say.

David: What’s the point?

D-guy: It’s like when the police ask questions that they already know the answers to.

David: Am I a suspect?

He coughs out a knowing laugh.

D-guy: Your only crime is a screenplay that feels like it was written in the 80’s.

David: When the Talking Heads were big?

He lets it slide, or else hasn’t yet realized that he’s wearing their shirt.

D-guy: If you’re going to write something like this, it has to have a modern feel… say like the Bourne series.

David: I see. You mean the Bourne series based on the books written by Robert Ludlum in the 80’s, right?

End of meeting.

Back at my agent’s office, I tell him what happened.

Agent: You gotta learn to kiss a–, David.

David: I don’t do that very well.

Agent: It’s not hard. I do it every day. All my clients are a—holes. Want to learn how to kiss a–? I’ll show you.

He walks around the desk and kisses me on top of the head.

Agent: How hard was that?

You can buy ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

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“Get outa here!” (A Festival with my LA Agent)

The agent told me he was ‘astonished by the s—yness’ of a screenplay I wrote. So I entered it in a festival. It did well. Now, he told me I’d misunderstood. He loved it.

He asked me if I was going to the party at the festival. I said I didn’t know about the party. He said he’d put me on the list.

We did dinner first. The guests included a producer and his girlfriend: an exquisite actress recently divorced from a very rich man. A Svengali thing, I was told. He’d made her famous. She was suing him.

Dinner was fun. The agent was pleased with himself.  He was pitching a reality series for the actress.

We proceeded to the party in different cars. Private house. I gave my name and ID at the door and was indeed on the list. I’d been worried. You often can’t take the agent at his word.

The Festival Party

The entrance is through a garage or basement. Dimly dark (or darkly dim). DJ.

Round pillars three feet high with smoke pouring out. Atop each pillar is a dancer. They are, if not actually naked, at least supposed to look that way. The smoke obscures.

Upstairs is quieter. People drinking and talking. I grab a drink and spot the agent. He’s in a small circle, talking to the actress and her producer boyfriend, among others.

I stroll over to find the conversation circle closed. (We’ve all been there.) I ease a gentle shoulder in, trying to make my presence known.

The Actress sees me. I smile, friendly-like.

Actress: What are you doing here? Get outa here!

The Agent wheels around. He sees me but says nothing.

David: Are you talking to me?

She is.

Actress: It’s a private party!

From the wings, a Large Man starts coming my way. Laker jersey. Biceps.

David: I was on the list.

I look at the Agent for corroboration but get nothing. If I’m not mistaken (and I’m not), he’s enjoying this. Partygoers take notice. They circle round, attracted to the spectacle that is me.

I wonder if the Agent set me up.

Actress: Get outa here!

David: It’s me. David. We just went to dinner together…

I feel the Large Man’s hand on my shoulder. I’m going to be thrown out of the party. The Actress squints, steps a little closer.

Actress: Oh, David! I didn’t recognize you in your glasses. Why didn’t you say something?

The Actress hugs me. She’s taller than I thought and smells like apples. The Large Man walks away, his ‘World Peace’ jersey disappearing within the partygoers.

Actress: I’m sorry, David. I have to be so careful these days.

She kisses me on the cheek and hooks an arm around me. The conversation picks up again. The crowd disperses.

Later, the Agent catches me alone. He’s got a smirk on his face.

Agent: You’re good.

David: At what?

Agent: Getting a kiss and a hug like that. The center of the party. You planned that whole thing out, didn’t you?

David: Are you kidding me?  You think-

Agent: -You shrewd f—ing bastard. I’m going to give that s— screenplay of yours a big push when I get back.

—————————————

END NOTES:

The Agent did indeed push the script when he got back.

The Actress didn’t get the reality series but eventually got a hefty settlement from her former husband.

The Agent still thinks I planned it out.

You can buy ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

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‘Let It Snow’ in LA (A Party with my LA Agent)

My agent threw a holiday party.  He told me there would be ‘performances.’  I wasn’t sure what that meant.

The party was held in a stately house in the Hollywood Hills.   There was a balcony overlooking the city lights and a manicured lawn.  I don’t think the house was his.

No alcohol was served.  Too many of his clients were substance abusers.  Nearly everyone on the balcony had a flask in their pocket.

I stood with friend and fellow writer, Randy, on the balcony when the agent called us into the house.  The ‘performances’ were going to begin.  Along with a handful of other clients, we didn’t move.

“You a—holes coming or what?” the agent barked.

Because ‘what’ seemed like the slightly less stimulating of those two options, we dumped some more Jameson’s into our glasses of warm coke and entered…

The Party

Maybe 50 people in the room.  A man is playing the piano.  “Linus and Lucy.”    

Agent:  We’re going to sing holiday songs.  When I point to somebody, everybody else stops singing and that person sings alone.

Randy:  I’m not doing it.

Agent:  You’re f—ing doing it.  Everybody’s doing it.

David:  I don’t want to do it either.

Agent: Nobody wants to do it.  That’s the point.  We’re going to get in the holiday spirit.  Quit acting like a bunch of p—ies.

The Agent gestures to the piano player, who begins to play ‘Let It Snow.’  An ironic song at a semi-sober party in LA (in more ways than one).  Nonetheless, we sing:

“Oh the weather outside is frightful.
But the fire is so delightful.
And since we’ve no place to go…”

For the chorus the Agent points at Randy.  We all knew it was coming.  We stop singing.

Randy:  I told you I’m not singing.

Agent:  You have to.

Randy:  I’m not.

Agent:  That s— screenplay of yours is gonna sit on my desk forever.

Randy:  Because I won’t sing?  David will sing.

Randy points at me.  Now I’m in a bind.  If I sing, it will look like I’m giving in to the Agent’s bullying.  If I don’t sing, who knows what might happen to my own screenplay?  (The Agent’s threats are largely idle, but there you are.)

 I point to the Character Actor next to me.  (You might not recognize his face, but almost certainly would recognize his voice.  He turned to writing when his acting career stalled.)  Just then, the Actor is chewing a cheese canape.  He can’t sing, but holds a finger up as a signal that he will do so after he swallows.  The Agent is displeased. 

Agent: F—- me with this group.  Oughta drop every one of you.  I’ll show you how it’s done.

The Agent charges up a winding staircase behind the piano player and disappears.   Flasks emerge.  The Character Actor blames himself.  He’s explaining how he didn’t want to sing with food in his mouth.   (He’s a very nice guy.)

 And then from upstairs:

Agent:  The f— is wrong with you?  $15,000 on singing lessons and you won’t go down there!

The room below falls silent.  We pretend not to listen, but we are listening.  The piano player stops playing.  Into the newfound silence:

Agent:  They’re my f—ing clients, who cares?  Get down-  What?  What?  I don’t give a s— what you sing!   Sure, f—ing ‘Moon River.’  Just get your a– down there

The Agent descends the winding staircase.  A few moments later, his daughter follows.  She is maybe 14 years old and in an awkward stage.  Lanky, cow eyes, tear stains on her cheeks.  She goes to the piano player and whispers.   She wipes tears from her eyes with the back of her hand.

She begins:

“Moon river, wider than a mile.
I’m crossing you in style, some day.
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker.
Wherever you’re going, I’m going your way…”

Though still emotional, she manages to get through the first chorus.  She bows.  As she rises, another tear falls.  We applaud.  She goes back up the staircase. 

The Agent glares at his clients.

Agent:  That’s how it’s f—ing done, you bunch of p—ies!

You can buy ‘THE LAST ISLAND’ here.

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