To ho or not to ho . . .
That has never been the question.
As a script writer, I'd ho in a heartbeat if it meant pulling down a sizable enough haul of scratch to move my wife and 11-month old baby boy out of this two bedroom in Capitol Hill, Seattle, snugly situated on what we affectionately refer to as Crack Alley. But the said fact is, after ten or so produced—- and occasionally award-winning-- plays, several produced documentary scripts and one produced independent feature-length film, Hollywood still ain't exactly beating a path to my door. Sure, I've gotten offers, but without exception they've been of the "write-us-something-on-spec-and-we'll-see-what-we-can-do-with-it" sort. In Hollywood, talk is cheaper than free.
So it's not so much that I don't want to ho, it's that I don't want to be some sad skank giving it away for years and years on the happy hopes that some day someone will actually want to finally pay me to hike my skirt. This way madness lies, and I've seen it swallow many a good earnest writer. Frankly, if the theatre I'm doing is just so much masturbation, I still prefer it to the lot of an unpaid ho.
So it's with mixed feelings that I'm mulling over the phone tag I played with my good friend Bill's L.A. agent this Friday. Bill's an actor, but he also recently directed a play of mine down there. Bill's agent is a board member of Bill's nascent theatre company, as am I; and encouragingly enough, Bill's agent really likes my work and believes I should take a stab at writing for television. All well and good, except for a few niggling details:
- With the exception of a documentary series for PBS and a documentary film, I've never written for television. Studios tend not to favor newcomers to this cut-throat multi-million dollar core component of their business.
- As I have no rep in the TV world, I'd have to write a full pilot episode and then sketch out an entire 22-episode season. I've never done this. And I only have the vaguest inkling of an idea of how to begin. Surely it'll take months, if not close to a year. And all this work would be "on spec"-- see the above re: ho'in' for free in the hopes of maybe some day ho'in' for real.
- Bill's agent is a talent agent, not a literary agent, i.e. he represents actors, not writers. And franky, he's not even a top tier talent agent. Part of the reason he'd like to have someone like me writing for TV is that he'd then have direct access to the writing/producing end of the business where the final casting decisions are made, instead of being cut out by the middle-men casting agents. In the argot of the biz, he wants me to create "packaging" opportunities for him by writing roles that would be especially appropriate for his actors, who tend to be excellent in their craft, but not necessarily the cookie-cutter Hollywood ingénue stereotypes. Think William H. Macy as opposed to Johnny Dep.
- I wanted to stop writing, or at least see if I could control what I've come to see at times as an addictive habit.
- Who has the time?
Now on the other hand, there are some positive considerations:
- Money! Or at least the potential to make money, and gobs of it. Make no mistake, TV is where the money is in Hollywood, not film. Especially for writers. I've known folks who've made more money writing one episode of a soon-to-be-cancelled series than they've made in their entire careers as playwrights. And these were successful playwrights, if I can be allowed such an egregious oxymoron.
- Not only is TV where the money is, for writers, it's definitely where the power is. (e.g., the old joke about the Hollywood bimbo who was so stupid she slept with the screenwriter to get ahead? I wish it were only a joke, but in 1996 my independent film Hitting the Ground was in the Seattle International Film Festival. Back then, as now, I was living in Seattle and I went to the Festival's hospitality suite to get my complementary free pass to all the movies. There was some confusion. No pass existed under my name. The supervisor was called over and she asked me how I was associated with the film. I told her I wrote it. Upon which, she turned to her subordinate and said, "Oh, I see. That's the problem. He's just the screenwriter." Just like I wasn't even standing there.) In TV, the head writer is usually the producer. They call the shots. The director is just some schmo that jobs on for an episode or two to tell the cameras where to point and constantly stroke the actors' egos.
- I'm itching to expand my story writing abilities beyond what can be contained in a couple hours of theatre. Writing for movies wouldn't scratch this itch, since the time constraints are even slightly more stingy. I don't want to write fiction-- too intimidated, frankly-- so only TV would allow me to breathe the wide open air of epic.
- I got some good ideas.
- Even though Bill's agent is a talent and not a lit rep, he knows lit reps and he knows studio people and he genuinely seems eager to push something of mine in front of their noses. I haven't had someone of his ilk so much in my corner on past pipe dreams. It might not make a difference, but then it just might.
- Even if I don't wind up actually getting some series I wrote made, at least maybe I can make a little cash and gain a little headway by getting some studio to buy an idea for development. Sometimes they'll buy your idea just to shelve it ‘cuz it's too much like an idea they already have in the pipeline. I know of several writers who have made very good livings without ever getting anything actually produced. If you're savvy, you can play the devo game until you're dead. Me, I'd be happy just to play it till I'm off Crack Alley.
And that's the point really. I know Money! has popped up a lot here, but I don't really care to be rich. It's just that with that beautiful hard-working wife and baby boy I mentioned earlier, I really feel the onus is on me to take yet another chance on seeing if I can't scratch a little scratch outta my ability to put a few words together.
So the question isn't "to ho or not to ho", it's "to not ho or to ho for free on the hopes of ho'in' for real"
I'm not completely decided. But I must confess, I am mentally trying on my zipper-slit mini-skirt and red-sequined tube top.