Don’t let your mothers read this one, newbies. But definitely read David Silverman’s wise words yourselves – and remember, knowledge – even if it’s scary as hell – ultimately will give you power:
by David Silverman, MA, LMFT
It’s relatively easy. First you get a job as a screenwriter or TV writer. You get to deal with deadlines, rejection, and a roller-coaster of ups and downs in your career. You might encounter heartache, or agonize over where your next job is coming from. You could be the flavor of the month one day and forgotten the next.
On the other hand, you might just become successful, buy a house in the Hollywood Hills, drive a Lamborghini, and chase after beautiful starlets. You might have wild parties where your friends and acquaintances share drugs, or get hammered and carry on long into the night.
Whether you bottom out or become wealthy, you’ll find there’s a rich tradition around writing in an altered state and partying with other writers.
There was a long tradition of writers drinking in Hollywood. Everyone likes tradition.
Back in the day, the infamous hard-boiled detective novelist, Raymond Chandler could be seen drinking at the Formosa. Chandler went on to write the Oscar nominated The Blue Dalia and got stuck at some point. He’s said to have gone on an eight-day bender, which helped him break through the slump.
In the 1930’s Herman Mankiewiz had the reputation as a reckless drunkard who picked fights with actors and studio executives alike. Mankiewiz would one day write such classics as Duck Soup, The Wizard of Oz, and – he even won the Oscar for Citizen Kane.
Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and Robert Sherman were all known to “drink their lunch” at the Algonquin Hotel, and are now known for writing classic screenplays and Pulitzer Prize winning plays.
Once you’re a writer, you’ll be surrounded by intoxicants at parties, and even at work.
I remember an Executive Producer of a certain TV show I worked on, who smoked “a pipe,” during our rewrites. One day, he dropped his “pipe tobacco” on the floor and it was clearly pot.
He finally admitted he was smoking pot all year at the rewrites. Being the boss, nobody was going to do anything about it. Interestingly, he told us that the “hide the pot in the tobacco pouch” trick was something he learned from Rodney Dangerfield. When you realize your boss is getting baked, why not join him?
When you find out how little respect you get as a writer in Hollywood, you might easily find yourself “self-medicating.”
In Hollywood, the writer is at the bottom of the totem pole. Actors are important, directors are important, they both have power to change the story, and rewrite the lines. The actor brings people into the theater. Not the writer. The director can have the last word on a film. Not the writer. Writers are not famous. They are, however, quite expendable.
After all, anybody can write. Who remembers who wrote “Casablanca?,” or “Gone With the Wind?,” or “Silence of the Lambs?,” Everyone remembers the stars, Bogart, Bergman, Clark Gable, Vivian Leigh, Jody Foster and Anthony Hopkins.
Once you decide you can make a living by writing for TV or film, the roller-coaster ride begins. You’ll live with insane deadlines, paralyzing creative blocks, out of control bosses, anxiety, resentfulness and sometimes even depression. You’ll have to constantly try to reinvent yourself, stay “twenty-one” forever, prove you’re still “hot,” otherwise, it’s “what have you done lately?”