Wednesday, October 14, 2009

All those "L.A. haters...."

Gone is the city, gone the day,
Yet still the story and the meaning stay:
Once where a prophet in the palm shade basked
A traveler chanced at noon to rest his mules.
"What sort of people may they be," he asked,
"In this proud city on the plains o'erspread?"
"Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?"
"What sort?" the packman scowled; "why, knaves and fools."
"You'll find the people here the same," the wise man said.

Another stranger in the dusk drew near,
And pausing, cried, "What sort of people here
In your bright city where yon towers arise?"
"Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?"
"What sort?" the pilgrim smiled,
"Good, true, and wise."
"You'll find the people here the same,"
The wise man said.

-Edwin Markham, "The Right Kind of People"

"L.A. sucks." Right? It’s so very "real" to hate L.A., or at least to declare one's hatred of L.A. It's practically obligatory. Particularly if you don't live here and you deeply resent everyone telling you that if you want to work in Hollywood, moving to L.A. is a MUST.

Granted, we have a lot that's bad here: congestion, crime, pollution, high prices, crazy people, frenzy, chaos, stupidity.

And we have a whole lot that's good: gorgeous weather, jaw-dropping parks, hiking, horseback riding, boating, biking, beaches, open spaces (no, really); world-class museums, concert halls, and universities; tolerance, whimsy, artists, thinkers, doers, genuises. You can meet people from every corner of the world. You can sample the cuisine of every country you can name (and plenty you've never heard of). You can go surfing at sun-up, and ski snow-capped mountains by afternoon.

In other words, we have everything here. And, true to the sentiment in the poem above, I think when a person hates Los Angeles it actually says more about the person than the city.

If you’re intolerant, judgmental, set in your ways, and prone to being unhappy, you will HATE Los Angeles. If you’re nervous and uneasy around People Who Are Different Than You, the immigrants will drive you crazy. The crazy people will drive you crazy. The lack of homogenity and predictability will drive you crazy.

The thing is, I’ve lived in a whole lot of places and found that on the surface anywhere can appear unpleasant. On the surface, the South is vapid and phony. On the surface, the Midwest is conformist and ignorant. On the surface, the Northeast is superior and aloof. On the surface, the West is flighty and self-absorbed. And if you can only see the world in terms of "us" and "them," you’ll never see beyond the surface, no matter where you go, and you'll never realize that all those places are full of folks who are essentially decent, hopeful, hardworking, and honorable.

So, it's normal to be fearful of moving to L.A. But, if you want to be a screenwriter -- if you're really, really, serious about it -- you have to. I'm sorry. But you do.

Is it technically possible to break in from the middle of nowhere? Before you scour Variety for anecdotes about supposed far-flung outsiders who broke in -- (these stories are largely P.R. distortions, by the way) -- yes, it's not unheard of. But understand that these rare stories are the exceptions that prove the rule. And considering the long, long, long odds against breaking in even if you have everything in your favor, why make your chances even worse?

By refusing to move to L.A., you’re hedging your bets. You’re not willing to go to the very limit in the pursuit of your calling. Why? Is it because deep down you know you won’t make it? Because you're not willing to sacrifice your "creature comforts" and financial stability? Because you have a spouse who isn’t entirely supportive? Because you’re not sure this is what you really want?

Okay. Now we're getting somewhere.

See, I don't think this "fear of Los Angeles" thing is really about L.A. at all. I think it's about what L.A. represents. As long as you remain in your small pond, Hollywood is just a fantasy, and your would-be career (much like your purely conceptual World's Greatest Screenplay) exists in the perfect realm of ideals. But if you move here, it means you're really serious about this screenwriting thing. It's not just a daydream any longer -- it's a commitment. And when you commit yourself to something so big, so ambitious, so staggeringly unlikely, you expose yourself to ridicule and rejection. You don't get to be a big fish in the small pond of East Cupcake anymore, boasting of your undiscovered genius, about how you could surely write rings around all those Hollywood hacks and turn the town upside down. Hollywood will put you through the toughest test of your life, and your talent (or lack thereof) won't just be a hypothetical any more.

But at least you'll know.

Los Angeles infamously makes a bad first impression; when you arrive you'll endure one of the world's least convenient airports, from which you'll promptly merge into a stupefying traffic jam. Strip mall after strip mall will scroll past your car like a Hanna-Barbara background. In fact if you stay less than a week or two, you might see nothing but freeways and strip malls. But don't worry; the ugly stuff is just for show. See, if everyone knew how interesting L.A. can be, why, everyone would move here, and there just isn't room. The longer you're here, the more you'll discover that L.A. is really thousands of different little neighborhoods side by side. You'll find the one that fits you. And you don't have to change at all. In a city that has every walk of life, you're accepted as you are.

1 comment:

  1. Hey! I just saw your comment on my blog (I know, it took me a while, I've been dealing with a whole lot of crazy and thus dropped off the "blogosphere" almost entirely) and I wanted to say thanks for the support and well-wishes.

    I personally am so, so excited to move to Los Angeles. Everything you say about it jives with my impressions--I found the city fascinating when I was there last summer. And I've met several LA natives (as in born-and-raised) in the past year whom I like enormously, which just serves to increase my good feelings about the city.

    A very good friend of mine is moving out there with me also for work (though in a different industry)and I know she feels the same way. We are both determined to like it, and I think that attitude will ensure that we will, even if it's challenging at times. But hey, that's life.