Being a natural storyteller, I have a handful of stories
that I think are worth sharing and have told over and over again to anyone who
cared to listen. However, sometimes I forget who I’ve told certain stories to, especially
since my time for socializing is reduced severely relative to average people.
It’s even worse when it comes to blogging, because even though I’m sure I’ve written down some stories
before, I feel compelled to write them down again periodically, because it
feels like telling the story to a new audience. Knowing that I do this – and will
continue to do it – is something approaching insanity. And yet, here I am.
How many times have I written about leaving the site, coming
back, and writing just
for me? At least twice in 2016, and I didn’t really come back. How many
times am I going to do this? It’s like an abusive relationship. As much as I
wanted this site to succeed, I just couldn’t make it work after eight years. As
such, walking away the first time was supremely difficult, but after I did so
successfully, I thought it was a clean, permanent break. Then why am I here,
ready to type 2000+ words about experiences I’ve already written about? Did I
just need a break from the site? Or do I just need to do this every so often to
remind myself why I had to leave? Let’s find out.
I officially walked away from Working Author back in 2015. By that, I mean I stopped working on
the site in any meaningful way. Of course, I wasn’t going to scrap the site – I
had poured too many years into it, and it was a powerful asset in my work
portfolio – so, I decided that I would keep it around to point prospective
employers to. And, while I did contribute to Working Author sporadically over the last few years, it was really
just to maintain some industry contacts who could still get me into screenings
for movies I wanted to see. Otherwise, the site was so far removed from my mind
that it wasn’t even a back-burner thought – it wasn’t even on the stove.
Lately, however, I’ve been in the mood to write, which
surprises me since it was keeping this site up-to-date that burned me out on
writing. Yet, here I am, drawn inexplicably back to the thing that was at once
both my freedom and my private torture chamber. It’s fun to explore these
Sometime in 2004, I had made up my mind to become a
professional Hollywood screenwriter. Screenwriting seemed to be the easiest and
fastest way for me to tell a story without having to do all the research to
build authority like in other forms of writing. The example I always use is
writing about a tank rolling into a scene. If I were writing this scene in a book,
then I’d have to write about all of the contextual aspects that describe the
tank, like weight, color, sound, make, model, turret speed, tread width, etc.
Giving those details to the reader builds trust in you as the writer – you really know what you’re talking about.
In screenwriting, I just have to write: “A tank rolls into the scene.”
But, becoming a Hollywood screenwriter is not easy. So, as
someone who did not go to film school and who has no connections in Hollywood, I
wrote query letters to literary agents. This was during a time when broadband
was still a bourgeoning technology, and many companies hadn’t yet embraced the
power of the internet. As such, I was snail mailing my query letters and including
a self-addressed stamped envelope (that’s SASE for us old timers).
Of course, I got rejected. Most agencies had enough clients, and the bigger agencies didn’t want to work with strangers off the street. They would send my original letter back, unopened and with a legal form letter on company letterhead informing me that my original letter had not been opened and no part of my idea had been shared with them. Those agencies needed to protect themselves against a possible lawsuit if their client happened to create a property that was similar to mine. That made sense.
I was charmed and surprised to find that the smaller agencies had their own process for responding, and it was very efficient. They printed out short rejection statements multiple times on one sheet of perforated paper. Every time they received a query letter, they would just tear off a portion from this sheet and mail it back to sender. See? Efficient.
A Backdoor into
Hollywood Through Journalism
After exhausting the list of agencies on the Writers Guild
website, I had had enough; there had to be another way for someone in my
situation to make inroads. I decided to try becoming an entertainment journalist.
My thinking was that if I couldn’t be
in the entertainment industry, then I could at least cover the entertainment industry.
Craigslist was pay dirt for getting experience since anyone
could spin up a website, but not everyone had the money to pay writers. And
there were plenty of writers like me who just needed experience and were
willing to write for free. Despite there being several “opportunities” on
Craigslist that are either scams or simply not worth anyone’s time, I was
surprised to find some really good, legitimate opportunities as well. For example,
my very first interview for a startup webzine was a combo deal with Tatyana Ali and Sam Sarpong. Later,
I’d freelance for a physical publication called Valley Scene Magazine.
Sure, they didn’t pay either, but they also got me my first gigs covering
the film industry. Now I was visiting studios, attending press conferences, and
interviewing the likes of Wes
Craven, Rachel McAdams, and Reese Witherspoon.
Blog to Webzine to
During this time, writing these celebrity interviews, movie
reviews, restaurant reviews, and more, I was building a portfolio. I needed a
place to showcase my work. I was already blogging about personal things on a
different domain; I wanted to have a site that was dedicated to my writing
career. That’s when I created Working Author.
It was just supposed to be a blog that documented my journey into Hollywood
and/or elsewhere. But once I started to host my portfolio here, I started to
get traffic to my portfolio pieces. It just made sense to convert my blog into
Previously, I taught myself web development languages like
HTML and CSS to build my own WordPress themes. While they were OK, they didn’t
have the functionality I was really looking for. That’s when I discovered different
webzine templates and began incorporating them into my site, which became a
weird hybrid of entertainment journalism, personal blog, and writing portfolio,
which included stuff from college! And yet, I’m glad I put the totality of my
writings up for perusal, because when a real
opportunity came my way, it was my writing that secured it for me.
When I replied to an anonymous Craigslist ad for yet another
entertainment publication, the person responding turned out to be Richard
Elfman. Yes, that Richard Elfman. He
was reviving an old publication called Buzzine
and converting it from a glossy to an online magazine. When we met for drinks,
we toasted to our future of taking over Hollywood by storm. I’m not going to go
much further into my time at Buzzine
since this story isn’t about that. I just wanted to mention them here because that
opportunity made a lot of connections for me.
I was on every studio’s list. I was interviewing A-listers
on a weekly basis. I was attending exclusive parties. And
since I was actively working on the look and feel of my site to match much
bigger publications, like Variety, I
was ready to make the big leap and go independent.
The Rise and Fall of
the Working Author
Impressively, especially to me, my site grew dramatically. I
even had to bring on writers to help with the workload. Instead of the being
person answering ads on Craigslist, I had become the person placing the ads
looking for writers who would write for experience. And before I move on, I’d
just like to point out that my small team was composed of very talented
writers, and I consider myself lucky for having found them.
As the years dragged on, however, I felt the plateauing of
my writing career and of my life in general. My goal in all of this was never
to become an entertainment journalist; I wanted to become a screenwriter. And
the longer I wrote good copy for the projects and celebrities I covered, the
less my contacts seemed to be interested in helping me get my scripts read by
the right people. Some contacts asked for my screenplays and then never
contacted me again.
Then there’s the matter of actually having time to write
creatively. Running a website, managing a writing staff, maintaining and building
industry contacts, and also creating the majority of the content takes time,
and there are only so many hours in the day. Don’t forget that I also had a day
job on top of doing all of this. I was sleeping for only four hours a night on
To make matters worse, my health was failing. I was deathly
ill for six months. I couldn’t keep doing this. So, even though I revamped
the site in 2014 and made commitments to keep going, my heart just wasn’t
in it anymore. I walked away as a burned-out shell of a writer, and I dedicated
myself to my career in marketing, instead.
The New Revolution
So, here we are at the latest turn of this cycle. I’ve once
again convinced myself that I’m rededicating efforts to this site for some
reason. Maybe it’s because I’m looking for more creative control over my
content that I’m just not getting at work. Maybe it has to do with my irrepressible
narcissism that demands my opinion be shared with those that didn’t ask for it.
Who knows? And who knows if this will stick?
What I do know is that I can’t recommit to the effort I put
in before. I can’t make that drive to Los Angeles every day after work. The
traffic was killing me. So, movie reviews are going to have to be from online
screeners or day-of releases. I also know that opinion writing isn’t as
risk-free as it once was. Before, my only consideration was losing my access if
I wrote an overly negative review. Nowadays, having the wrong opinion will get
you mobbed with death threats or attempts to get you fired. The cycles seem to
become more vicious with each turn.
For now, I’m going to indulge this impulse and see where it
leads me. Perhaps you’ll come along.