There are so many groan-inducing mistakes I've made over the years, especially when it concerns my career aspirations in Hollywood. Like any good Midwestern boy who makes the trek far west in search of creative fulfillment, I was naive to say the least. In retrospect, I wasn't short on either confidence or ignorance, though that proved to be an interesting and conflicting blend.
Here's one such story of how utterly embarrassing I was many years ago...
Last week, I emailed somebody in the business who happens to have a thriving career which I admire. It wasn't a cold email; I knew someone close to him. Despite that, I didn't do so without great trepidation. I hate this sort of thing, and the very thought of turning someone off with any ill-advised action causes me to clam up. To be frank, I'm sure my career could be further along if only I'd muster up the gumption to network more often.
But, I hate it.
I understand the necessity to find an audience, especially with a peer who has the exact audience you aspire to grow, but it still feels icky. Yes, a technical term for sure. Icky.
Regardless, this particular person was someone who indeed did have a similar style to me. I wasn't lying when I wrote to him and expressed my gratitude for his work and the avenues in which he shared it. I certainly did know the people close to him, and I definitely wasn't looking for anything, other than the off-chance he might take a liking to my own writing.
I sat on this 'connection' for several months. For the record, I loathe words like connection, network, and the business. Those words are... well, you know... icky.
But herein lies the dilemma, because when you believe in your own work and you're fighting for the outlet to showcase that work, you have to take a few chances with people you're not that close with. My friend Baron Nightwing implored to me that I absolutely needed to write to said artist, as he himself had felt our work was similar in tone.
So, despite feeling like Ramone the pool boy in Seinfeld, I wrote to him over a week ago. I was polite, short, and made sure to mention how I wasn't looking for anything. Basically, I did my best to not seem like a moron. Or worse, needy jackass.
I was comfortable I had handled the situation with as much professionalism as possible, even if that seems awkward considering I was going in with the all too clichéd "um, so I know so and so...."
This is not how I would have acted ten years ago, when I was bright-eyed and full of cocksure swagger. That's right, back when I was a moron. Even more than I am now.
I was never any good at networking, even then. But whereas now I usually just say next to nothing, back then I did much worse. Here's an example...
The year is roughly 2000. I've been in Hollywood for about a year, mostly just getting my bearings on how to live life. Mark Mclemore and I are immersed in women, vodka, and lounging on our Friends-esque double recliners. Yes, we're those guys. And belive me, there were a lot of personality traits we exhibited that could have been mistaken for Joey and Chandler.
Mark was personal training at a local private gym, a job that afforded him opportunities to meet and mingle with several movers and shakers. NOTE- I just wanted an excuse to utilize the now archaic phrase "movers and shakers", mostly because I like the way it sounds. Are you a mover? Or, are you a shaker?
Mark was fairly decent at making connections in this setting. Training someone affords you that responsibility. He once parlayed a relationship with one client into a small paid role with lines on MadTV, and he didn't even have to audition. Yes, I'm aware that a thousand actors just rolled their eyes in frustration, but it is true.
While there, Mark often would get to talking about me. He would happily explain that I was an award-winning writer. Sometimes, the clients would perk up in curiosity, but I now believe that had more to do with the fact that I was only 22 years old, and not on account of my 'award'.
One such time, Mark arranged a luncheon with one of his clients. For the purposes of anonymity, we'll call him William. William was a successful actor, not only as a television regular on a network show, but also a key comedic bit player in several movies. By no means was he a star, nor a name, but he was established. To this day, I see William's face plastered all over major productions in small but key roles. He's the kind of guy that's been in a ton of stuff, you just never knew his name.
William was also a writer, and as such, was willing to sit down and give me advice on the future.
Much as I grimaced through these type of things, I knew it was an opportunity to meet someone who could help me, even if that help just meant some sound advice.
Mark and I arrived early, armed with a cache of my latest screenplays. This was during the stage when knocking out a screenplay took me only about a month. I didn't say they were any good, as I hadn't learned a lot of the principles which make a screenplay work. They had potential, mostly on account of my age, but they certainly weren't professional.
Not that I would have known that. Sigh...
William arrived and immediately looked to ease any anxiety I had regarding the topic of Hollywood. For the next hour, he dispensed thoughtful advice that proved in time to be incredibly valuable. I asked questions and he patiently answered with careful consideration.
Let me be clear, I've come to learn that this kind of thing is rare. I'm not saying people don't have opinions, because everyone does out here. And many times, they like to talk about these opinions because they think they know best. But to take time out of their day and offer sound and genuine advice to a completely ignorant kid fresh off the bus? No, not often. Not from someone on William's level of success.
Mark and I picked up the check, but just before we went, William asked me the question I honestly had been hoping to hear the whole lunch.
"So, you got anything you're writing right now?"
William was actually asking to possibly read one of my screenplays. This was a fantastic gesture that should have been met with humility and grace. I should have thanked him and handed him my best work, hopeful he'd read the first few pages and continue on. Perhaps we could develop a friendship where he could mentor me. Who knows where it would lead?
Instead, I did something completely moronic.
I dropped four different screenplays on the table, all on top of each other, with such force and arrogance that other diners around us noticed.
I was young, and I mistakenly thought William would be impressed with the sheer magnitude of what sat in front of him.
He stared at it, unsure of what the hell I just did.
"Right. Well, maybe you should focus on the best one."
He threw me a fastball down the middle, and the look on his face clearly stated that I had swung and missed.
I fumbled through the four screenplays, all with different genres, and sheepishly handed him one.
He took it, but the lunch ended minutes later. And there wasn't any doubt why. I was an amateur trying to pose as something I wasn't, trying to show William I was on his level. By dumbo-dropping an encyclopedia of mundane, hastily put together pages, I had showed him exactly who I was.
I never heard from William again.
This my friends, is just one reason and one story which exemplifies my fear of contacting someone in any capacity to help me.
I don't drop screenplays on tables anymore. I try to be professional. And most of the time don't say anything.
And even today, I'm still waiting on that email reply...
Kurt Edward Larson recently published his first book, Finding the Super-Hero Within. It has many stories of being a young actor/writer in Hollywood as well as the journey to finding one's true path. It also includes a lot of geek references, so be prepared for that.