I Think I’m Back

Well, it’s certainly been a long time.

I’m not going to apologize for my absence since I never intended to return. The site had been limping along on life support for the few years leading up to 2015. I thought I had rallied the fight in me to keep the site going after I adopted this new look and feel, but it was only intellectually. I just didn’t feel the emotional satisfaction of writing entertainment news and reviews anymore. And if I’m being honest with myself, then I can’t even be sure I ever enjoyed it.

What I did enjoy – especially early on – was the thrill of new experiences. I admit that I loved seeing popular movies days or weeks in advance of everyone else. I loved meeting A-list celebrities and having them answer my questions. I loved arguing opinions with fellow opinion-makers. Most of all, I loved that I felt like I was actively pursuing my dream. But my dream was never to be an entertainment journalist.

I wanted to be an industry screenwriter.

Like many other would-be screenwriters, I got rejected. A lot. But rather than bang my head against the literary agent wall, I searched for a back door. I thought entertainment reporting could be it. What better way to get my name and face in front of people who might be able to help me with my aspirations than to interview actors, directors, and producers? I thought it was genius.

That’s not to say that I started out immediately in the same room as any of these people. No, I had to cut my teeth writing restaurant and movie reviews. And I was writing for experience and tear sheets – no money. But, it paid off, because after a year I was interviewing Wes Craven, and a whole new world suddenly opened up to me. That was 2005. Wow.

I was so hungry back then – figuratively and literally. I was living in a tiny 425-square foot studio apartment in Yorba Linda, eating instant ramen noodles. I still feared driving out to LA because I could never budget the right amount of time for traffic, I’d get lost, and I never knew where to park. But I was also determined. I worked my crappy day job in a call center providing tech support. I’d go home and work on my screenplay. And if my editor ever assigned me something remotely related to the entertainment industry, I never turned it down.

That hunger and work ethic stayed with me for years, even soaring to heights that I didn’t think I had in me. I taught myself HTML and CSS. I learned enough PHP and Javascript to reverse engineer code from other sites I admired and work it into my own. Soon I had a decent looking blog that I would use to syndicate my articles and build a portfolio. My site – this site – would chronicle my journey as I chased my dreams. Then a giant opportunity fell in my lap.

At this time, I was working at a job I hated. The owner of the company was a monster, and he created the most hostile work environment I’d ever experienced. It was the kind of place that’s only talked about in cautionary tales over alcohol and cigarettes. As such, I spent a lot of time crawling Craigslist, looking for a new job. I applied for a position with an undisclosed magazine. Someone replied to me the next day. He introduced himself as Richard Elfman.

Honestly, I didn’t think much of the name. There had to be other Elfman’s in the world that weren’t related to Danny. Plus, why would the Elfman family want anything to do with a magazine? Furthermore, I understood Richard Elfman as a movie director, not a magazine editor. But I held out hope and accepted his invitation for a drink.

We met early at the bar before the crowd showed up. Lo and behold, it was him alright. If I had entered a new world before, then Richard was now getting me into the exclusive clubs of that new world. Everything changed for me, and I was now making relationships with more influential people. I was attending amazing events. I will always be grateful to Richard Elfman for the opportunities he gave me.

Unfortunately, all good things end. The magazine restructured and I wasn’t part of it. These are the situations, however, where your preparation and survival skills are tested. And if there’s one thing I know how to do, then it’s provide value. I think I’m a pretty good writer, and publicists seem to agree, because my site – this site – was attracting them, and I was getting invited to cover events under my own name. I suddenly felt what I imagine every business owner feels: I was the master of my own destiny.

I worked twice as hard.

I was driven. Every waking hour was focused on this site and making it the best source for entertainment news and reviews as I could. Even my day job in City of Industry became an afterthought. I would use my lunches to run out to Los Angeles for an afternoon junket and then run back to work to finish the day so that I could run back to Los Angeles for an evening movie screening. Then I would write until 2am and repeat the process the following day.

Somewhere along the way, sitting in interminable traffic, watching another terrible movie, or writing a negative – but not too negative – review, I lost sight of why I was killing myself to do all this. Between my day job and my night job, I wasn’t finding the time to write movies, let alone market them to the contacts I had made. Even worse, I slowly came to the realization that the contacts who said they wanted to help me with my screenwriting career really just wanted me to write good copy about their projects.

After all those years, I still wasn’t a screenwriter. I don’t think I was even an entertainment journalist anymore. I was an extension of the Hollywood marketing apparatus. What else was left for me? As a slap in the face on the way out of town for the last time, the parking ticket machine wouldn’t accept the validation stamp, and I had to pay full price, which, in LA, is an appendage.

Of course, I would leave the site up as a portfolio to showcase to future employers. Look at what I can do! For (essentially) a one-man show, I think what I’ve done here is pretty impressive. Nevertheless, I was prepared for to walk away from it, and let it simply stand as a monument to a former life.

The thing is…just because I walk away doesn’t mean visitors stop coming. And, if my site stats are to be believed, then the majority of my traffic comes from industry folks. So I’m still getting approached to cover different events and projects. Recently, one of the producers for the film Somnio contacted me because I had written a favorable review of a different film that Somnio’s screenwriter, Travis Milloy, had written. I didn’t reply.

I was out.

I wasn’t going back.

Why would I?

But then I found myself replying. It couldn’t hurt to watch an online screener. If I hated it and panned it, then I wouldn’t worry about burning a relationship since I was done with movie reviews anyway. But that was unnecessary, because I ended up liking the film. Even more surprising, I enjoyed writing the review. And when I look at my site, I feel the urge to keep it updated.

But I also feel like this time around is different. I’m getting back to my roots when I just wrote because I enjoyed it. I didn’t censor myself for fear of damaging a relationship. Things are going to be on my terms. I’ve come to realize that as a creative person, I need to be around creativity.

“So yeah, I’m thinking I’m back.”