Last Saturday I spoke to the most intelligent audience I’ve ever had: Harvardwood screenwriters. The group’s members are a Harvard meets Hollywood mash-up. You know, Conan O’Brien, Natalie Portman and 80% of the people who write Thursday night sitcoms on NBC. At least, those are the icons of achievement for this audience.
You’d think really smart people would know better than to try to earn a living in Hollywood. They would understand the odds of getting a job here are smaller than playing for the NBA. At least the NBA takes down even a tank like Shaq before he hits forty. Successful writers and actors can stop up the job funnel for decades and decades. Thank goodness for age discrimination or we’d have to invent writer/actor emeritus status just to open up a few spots on an agent’s roster.
So with the other speakers from Voyage Media, I ventured into Ivy League brains, all gathered on the corner of Wilshire and Cloverdale at an uber cool creative rental office called Blank Spaces. I don’t know if it was the open beam ceilings or the air these writers emitted, but I don’t think I’ve ever been happier telling people what to do.
After all, I have a public school education, albeit UCLA. Not nearly the thought palace that doesn’t pride itself on an embarrassment of NCAA banner made riches or really good weather. Harvard people have lived on the Paper Chase and Love Story movie terrain. By contrast, at UCLA we trod the declining years of the original 90210 TV series.
A dirty job that someone has to do
So I lectured 40 working and wish-I-were-working-more writers on which verbs to use with various decision-makers who can greenlight not just their scripts but their careers and as such their lives.
Hollywood is not the patron place of artists. Hollywood is the coal mines for comedy writers sitting in rooms trying to find another joke for Barney when he tries to impress yet another girl on How I Met Your Mother or from the same show: “Robin who begins dating a guy who seems to possess several canine characteristics.” Honestly, that’s an episode description. Check IMDB. Looking at these people, it occurred to me that somebody’s dream job was to write that. Who thought it would be alums from arguably the best school in the country?
Writing sitcoms is the kind of work that, to me, should be on the show: America’s Dirtiest Jobs.
Nonetheless, like nearly every job, somebody has to do it. Even more surprising: somebody from Harvard wants to do it.
The best part of speaking to these incredibly well educated people was how easy it was. I never worried that someone wouldn’t get the joke. That’s the expression I use when I’ve tried to communicate a complex concept that fails to connect with the intended receivers. Oft times it’s my fault. This time, California was truly a no-fault state. This was a 100% “get-it” audience. They could fill in what I didn’t. They got it.
What are you willing to do?
If you know me, you know one of my favorite and often most exasperating questions is “what was your key learning?” This time for me, it’s that some of the smartest people in the world want a job that is nearly impossible to get and the impossible part isn’t because the space shuttle program is shutting down. It’s that there are only so many people eating in the mostly starving artists colony that is Hollywood and its environs.
The real odds of starving did not deter these people from their dreams.
These smart people give up their time and money on Saturdays to hopefully learn something useful in their pursuit of a career that may not exist.
So, what are you willing to do in your attempt to get to your “impossible” dream?
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