never been a bitch so I don't act bitchy

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Master of my Domain

As a writer, I don't leave the house very often. That's not completely true. Almost every day I go to my local cafe -- to do precisely what I was just doing at home: drink coffee, troll the Internets via wireless, take phone calls, listen to my iPod, and occasionally do some actual writing.

There are exactly three differences between my two workplaces. 1) At home the coffee is free. 2) At the cafe I glare annoyedly at screaming children every ten minutes instead of at fighting cats. And 3) At the cafe I have to wear pants.

I've been lucky enough to be able to make a living writing for about four years now, and in that time I've come to know very well the realities of being a low-level writer in Hollywood.

In essence, my job goes like this: I come up with ideas for movies and television programs while in the shower, washing dishes, playing WWE with my cat, while driving, etc. I write down those ideas on old drive-on passes, envelopes containing unsolicited mortgage offers, or New Yorker subscription inserts. Then I spend about a week crafting the few ideas that I and/or my agents don't hate into short outlines. Then I try to get someone to pay me to write the idea in script form, by pitching it to producers, movie studios, television producers, people with pod deals, networks, homeless children -- basically whoever I can get to give me a free Diet Coke and parking validation.

97.5 percent of the time I fail, and the idea dies a sad, anonymous little death right there.

The remainder of the time is split (unevenly) between ideas I like enough to write on "spec" (Usually this only happens in the film realm, but I have written a TV pilot on spec before. I don't recommend it -- no matter what lies the infamous discovery of "Desperate Housewives" as a spec script have engendered.) and ideas I actually manage to convince someone to pay me to write. I then write said project in a fear-fueled flurry of activity at home, or at this cafe, in about 10 days. Then I wait. If I wasn't someone who worked on 45 different projects at all times, that wait would be empty, yawning, and intolerable. As it stands now, it's only unrelentingly annoying.

Eventually I get a phone call in which a producer, studio executive, network executive, or assistant to one of the above says the following phrase, "We read it. It's a really good start."

Then a meeting is scheduled for sometime between nine days and three weeks from then, depending on the frequency of film festivals and Jewish holidays that month.

At the meeting, I receive notes on every single scene (except for one -- which they think was "perfect"). In every note meeting there are also about three people I do not know, (usually people who were hired in the four years it took to set the meeting, and a couple assistants), who get to also give me notes, all of which contradict things the original executives and I discussed and which they would have known had they been involved in any of the original meetings. But of course they were either working at Miramax at the time, or finishing high school.

While the assistants give me notes, I nod and pretend to write down what they're saying, but instead draw stick figures of baseball players or crude drawings of vaginas. I say, "That's a really interesting idea," a lot. This makes them extraordinarily happy, but not that they care what I think, rather because they imagine they've now displayed acute story skills to their bosses. (They will continue to think this, telling their girlfriend that the writer "really loved" their ideas, even after the new draft comes in having used exactly zero of their notes.)

The rest of the notes I then try to incorporate in the next draft, which takes coincidentally exactly as long as my contract states I have, because by then I'm working on the next 45 projects, most of which are as doomed as Seth and Summer's relationship on "The O.C." (Ironically, a movie I wrote which is currently being cast was actually going after "Summer" for the female lead, until the producer reportedly nixed the idea, saying "That is exactly the kind of movie we don't want to make." I actually kind of think she's kind of interesting, but it's so far out of my hands it's funny.)

So after the contractually-stipulated amount of time, I turn in my final draft.

And then I wait. And wait. And wait.

And then I get word that the draft came in "Great." Every final draft is universal "loved." I always did "such a great job incorporating all the notes."

So what happens then?

Well, I don't know. Nothing I've written has ever been made. Not yet. So what happens next? Next I sit at the cafe, laughing at the kid in the Batman costume, wondering why my iPod loves Bjork so damn much. In other words: my job continues. The projects live a life or die a death without me. And I'm onto the next scrap of paper.

At this point, after four years, I've written a handful of movies and television shows for money. Currently, as I said, one of them is being cast. There is a director. It may actually be filmed. I'm not sure what that would mean for my career, I try not to worry about that too much, except that I do worry about it, all the time. I'm told it would mean a lot. I'm told there is only a certain point to which one can ascend only writing things that die in development. That there are only so many years one can continue to receive pilot deals without having one actually be filmed or land on the fall schedule. I hope I don't have to find out if that's indeed true.

Currently, I have a two-year blind script deal with one of the television studios, the exact terms or meaning of which I'm unclear on. That deal will soon require me to pitch ideas to networks -- one of which I'm supposed to be working on at this moment. Instead I'm wondering why the blonde holding a baby is dressed like a Playboy Playmate. And also why she's feeding her child a latte. Perhaps she is currently in a blind deal with decision-making, and she's not exactly clear on what the exact terms or meaning of motherhood is.

I'm also "out" with a feature script right now, which means simply that the period of waiting in which I almost constantly exist is fraught with a tiny bit more tension this weekend than usual, and that my 97.5% rejection rate will either decrease or increase slightly by around Thursday, and I will either have some idea how a portion of each day spent at home or at this cafe for the next 4 or so months will be spent. Or I won't.

At this point, anyone reading this will now quickly come to think my 97.5% rejection rate is a bit low when I admit that I actually meant all this to be a preamble to another story. But as happens, I lost focus. If I were a more successful storyteller, I would have gone from succinctly discussing my typical day, talking about how since I rarely like to leave my "house," when I do have errands to do, I try to combine them. That's what I meant to say.


The other day I went to get a haircut and decided to combine it with a trip to visit Coinstar.

Now, I've talked about my love of Coinstar before, and how I believe that it is one of the most evil-genius inventions of all time. Well, I had on my desk a large plastic mug in which I'd been throwing my change for six months or so, and it had reached dangerously full levels. So I grabbed some plastic kitchen wrap to secure the coinage in the mug (smart, huh?), shoved it in my front seat, and got my haircut. Afterwards, I began my search for Coinstar.

One might think that a self-proclaimed fan of Coinstar would know where to find Coinstar, but I am embarrassed to say, I had no idea where to go. I stopped at a grocery store on Melrose. They had an ATM, a lottery ticket machine, and one of them rip-off claw games where you can win stuffed animals but no one ever does (and yes, I considered playing -- for at that exact store a year earlier I "won" a tiny battery-powered radio which I use to this day on a different game! -- but I did not play the claw). But alas, no Coinstar. So I drove on, the whole time talking to my friend Todd on the phone, who currently has Very Serious Things going on in his life, and who must have found my increasing frustration at not being able to find a Coinstar machine alarmingly petty. So I got off the phone.

After a few more stops, I was growing very upset, but I wasn't going to give up, because I know myself well enough to know that this was the ONLY day this was going to happen. If I failed in this mission, I would be demoralized, shove the mug of change into my trunk, and forget about it until I finally bought a new car sometime around 2008.

So after a few more stops, I came to the Vons on the Escher-like intersection where Sunset and Hollywood somehow meet. (How is that possible? They've been parallel for miles!) And inside I found the familiar machine with large cartoon coins on the side. Eureka! Coinstar! At last!

Except it wasn't Coinstar.

As I walked through the open automatic doors of the supermarket and got closer to the machine, I actually said out loud, "What the fuck?"

This is what was printed on the side of the machine:


Not Coinstar, the Star of Coins. But CoinMaster. The Master of Coins. Someone had realized the genius of Coinstar, as I had, and decided to RIP THE SHIT OFF! And Vons went along with it! They considered the bids from the Star and the Master, and decided to go with the Master, who had no doubt offered kickbacks or sexual favors.

And at this point, I'm sure some of you will think I turned and walked out, displaying my goofy, pointless loyalty to the Star. But those who might think that clearly haven't been reading very closely. Because as much as it saddened me to do my business with such an obvious no-good idea-stealing cheat box, my penchant for stasis coupled with my enjoyment of money won out over brand loyalty.

So how was it? Fine. I can attest to the notion that CoinMaster works in very much the same way as Coinstar. The vig is a similar 8.9%. The loading mechanism is about the same. CoinMaster didn't yell at me to slow down, but then again the Star trained me well on my money-loading speed.

So I left Vons with 95 bucks, two bent pennies, three arcade tokens, two cufflinks that had inexplicably ended up in my Mug O' Change, and a tiny hole in my heart.


Blogger Francis said...

I'm trying to think of my own ripoff of Coinstar. This could be much more lucrative and productive than trying to get movies made.

CoinKing? CoinGalaxy? CoinLover?

2:03 PM

Blogger nicardo1 said...

Stee rocks.

Let me add to the madness. It's almost too obvious: "iCoin."

Mmm, ...eCoin? CoinScan? CoinHelp? PowerCoin? MegaCoin? MetaCoin? UniCoin? CoinGod? $Coin$? U.S.Coins? CoinMint? CoolCoin? Coinorama? Coin-o-mat? Coinalot? PortaCoin? MondoCoin? InterCoin? InstaCoin? IntraCoin? IntaCoin? Coin-o-Coin?

For me, the word "coin" has now lost it's allure, and looks like an alien collection of meaningless letters. One of my favorite techniques.

7:43 PM

Blogger nicardo1 said...

Correction: "...its allure..."
Habit, I guess.

12:22 AM

Blogger Lobsterchick said...

I like COINtronnnn. Like, you have to say the "COIN" really loud, then drag out the "n." Okay, maybe I recently stumbled upon a treasure trove of '80s commercials online. What's it to ya?

10:23 AM

Blogger nicardo1 said...

As in "CoinBot." Yes? Cointronic? TransCoin? MechaCoin...

10:43 AM

Anonymous Ellen said...

I hate to say this, but at Commerce Banks on the east coast, they all have coin counting machines that don't take a cut of your dough. In addition, if you correctly guess how much change you have (within $2) you win either a t-shirt or a C-shaped bank, to hold your next load of coins.

They also give out free pens a lollipops every day. My bank rules. :)

12:20 PM

Blogger amanda said...

Ellen, Ditto Chevy Chase banks in the Washington metro area.

12:55 PM

Anonymous Chito said...

Yo, stee. This is Chito, undisputed champion of "Don't Know Why" on KR1.

Do you ever get guilt-tripped by your friends for going to CoinStar? They say, "Why don't you just roll your money and take it to your bank? They don't charge you 9%, you know."

Fuck those guys, really.

1:03 PM

Blogger stee said...

Yes, Chito! I hate those guys. I always tell them that I'll pay them 9% of my money to roll that shit, then, they love money so damn much. They never do it, though.

1:23 PM

Blogger pamie said...

Chito! Can we borrow your KR1? It is impossible to find anywhere. (And please send video of you singing "Don't Know Why.")

1:58 PM

Anonymous Betsy said...

Sorry, Stee, I'm with ellen and nightmare. Down with Coinstar! You can read my Fuck Coinstar rant here:

Or not. ;)

3:24 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Could you be any more snide in your attitude towards assistants?

For someone who has accomplished something of a dream, maybe you could give a break to someone else trying to make it.

4:36 PM

Blogger stee said...

I love assistants. I'm endlessly nice to them. I will probably end up as one again some day.

But it's just bad practice to have assistants suddenly show up and give notes on scripts for which they weren't involved in the development process. It only bogs things down, annoys the writer, and results in a lot of wasted time for everyone, especially the assistant who had to spend a whole weekend taking detailed notes that were never going to be used in the first place.

The drawing of pictures of vaginas is just because I'm very juvenille, not an assistant-hater.

4:55 PM

Anonymous Chito said...


Yeah, those buttholes should marry the money if they dog out CoinStar.


Sure you can borrow it, but we have to meet in New Mexico or something. Video of me doing "Don't Know Why?" Smooth as Alfredo Sauce, baby.

8:22 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's an actual CoinStar machine in Glendale, in the Ralph's in the Barnes & Noble shopping center on Glendale Avenue, between Wilson and California (it's in the underground parking lot). May be closer to Eagle Rock than Sunset? Or maybe not...CoinStar got me through unemployment a few years back--I had THAT MUCH change...

10:05 PM

Anonymous julianna said...

What's up Stee. Just wanted to say that here in MD we have a local bank that has their own Coinstar ripoff that is fee-free. Woo! So. just in case you're ever in Maryland...and you have change...that you brought with you...or if you want to just mail me your change...okay nevermind.

6:06 AM

Anonymous julianna said...

Okay now that I've read all of the comments, I see that ellen's Commerce Bank beats my Chevy Chase bank by a tshirt. :)

6:40 AM

Blogger Jessica said...

hi stee,
I've never commented before, but reading about your (and pamie's) stories reminds me of this web site:
this guy and his writing partner wrote aladdin and other movies. but before that he had a discussion group on aol where he wrote about his time as a struggling screenwriter in la. you may find his work helpful if you ever need to read something that echoes your sense of the absurd with regard to hollywood and its treatment of writers. and he's funny, too. I wish you all the luck in the world to fight the good fight injecting good writing into the hollywood system.

9:59 AM

Anonymous Ellen said...

Julianna, you know it. :) T-shirts, lollipops AND pens. No pen chained to the desk at Commerce Bank. They're clicky and they're yours for the taking. And did I mention that they're open ALL the time? Even Sundays?!

Um, and I realize this sounds like a commercial, but I swear to god, I don't work for them.

1:50 PM

Anonymous Alyson said...

The Ralphs on the corner of Wilson and Glendale (underneath the Barnes and Noble and PetCo) has a Coinstar.

You can thank me later. :)

7:55 PM

Blogger laura m said...

ooooh the wonders of coinstar.

i draw inappropriate pictures on my notes all the time. i really hope no one ever finds my notebook...

11:46 AM

Anonymous Judi said...

Coinstar/Master rules, but I am very sad to report that I have no use for these machines any longer, since I am inexplicably broke and pay with coins every other week. I think I am even running out of my pennies now. One day, when I learn how to budget, I'll use Coinstar again, and throw caution -- and the 8.9% -- to the wind.

I love your writing from TWoP, and am thrilled to read more of your stuff. You're awesome!

12:06 PM

Anonymous spencer said...

Bayrd. Why don't you save that coinage for a nickel-dime-quarter poker league, huh? Actually, i asked Sky , and he'll roll your coins for hella cheaper than 8.9%. He says he'll roll for Twix bars, or ice cream cones. As for the 88 Honda, that thing was "pimp" way before Xzibit started to do his show. At least you didn't drive Rhode's old hoopty honda with the cig-lighter burn marks on the dashboard from your hoo-riding days. Keep on truckin with the writing. Your gonna do it.

9:25 PM

Anonymous Dawn said...

So I saw a new commercial the other day and thought of you.

CoinStar is waiving the 8.9% fee if you turn it in an gift certificate. So good luck finding that CoinStar

6:31 PM

Anonymous Tom said...

One word: Coinster

1:19 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...


That is all.

1:18 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

fwiw. I am a Vons Manager. Vons owns CoinMaster. They booted out CoinStar and ripped off the idea. The CoinMaster machines are pretty worthless as they constantly clog and its because the mechanism cannot handle it as it is a cheap device compared to CoinStar. Not to be mean, but people simply shove their assorted filth along with change and that does not help matters.

4:23 PM


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