The Pilot Season Experiment — JUNKPUNCHEDon June 4th, 2012 at 2:03 pm
This blog entry is the seventh and last part of a continuing series.
If you don’t know what’s going on, click here to catch up.
It’s taken me a while to figure out how to write this entry, and while I love a good surprise as much as the next killer clown, I’ve decided not to bury the lead. Thus, after all the effort that went into The Pilot Season Experiment, the result is:
I did not get staffed on a show this year.
In therapyspeak, now is when somebody asks, But how does that make you feel?
And in the spirit of TPSE, I’ll be real with you:
It feels like shit.
Shit on toast. Shit on a snowflake. Shit on a stick.
Shit shit shit shit shit shit.
In fact, when I got the final thumbs-down from my manager last week, I had to take a day away from the internetz just to go fetal on the couch and mainline episodes of “Sherlock,” all the while telling myself, “I could write this show. I could SO write this show. I’m smart. I’m funny. I’m nearly sociopathic. I could write the tits off this show.”
Meanwhile that wretched you-suck-bitch whisper inside my head was needling, but could you? could you really? do you have a single ounce of talent, you ancient slag? a half-ounce? do you even possess a DIME BAG of talent, you poor, silly cow?
Luckily I’m far too egotistical to let my doubts and fears keep me fetal for long.
For which I thank… myself.
But that recovery only came after the grieving period.
Because at the time, hearing that in spite of your utmost exertions you are not getting the job – a job – any kind of job – I’m pretty sure the experience is akin to getting junkpunched.
At least, this is how my guy friends have described junkpunchery. One solid jab straight to the nads can fold your diaphragm in half, make your vision go blurry, and instill the urge to throw up for a couple hours.
That sounds about right to me, though my nausea lasted a couple days, was somewhat more existential, and I needed some serious reaffirmation from friends and family in order to keep from ejecting my bile duct – ptew! – right out of my mouth and onto the floor.
So what went wrong?
Ah, this town’s eternal paradox.
Because the answer is: nothing.
Absolutely nothing went wrong. The meetings were great, I got along with everyone, and no one even called me a cunt to my face. (I always leave the “behind the back” option open. This is Hollywood, after all.)
I realize “nothing” can seem a bit unsatisfying at first, but it becomes clearer when you consider how many factors go into staffing a show to begin with.
For besides the superficiality of The Pilot Season Experiment (since, let’s face it, kids – it was a lot more Extreme Makeover than it was est), I did everything of substance within my power: read every script, took thorough notes, researched the showrunners, went to every meeting offered, showed up with enthusiasm and ideas, tried to be as funny and friendly as possible – all while wearing SPANX. Fuck, dude. If that ain’t commitment, I don’t know what the hell is.
But then there are the things I can’t control, such as:
My title (think of it as my “rank” in the Scrivener Army). Given my years of experience, technically at this point my title is “Co-Executive Producer,” which is just one notch under the top slot of “Executive Producer.” WGA union rules – thank god – prevent studios and networks from forcing us veterans to accept noob titles… and noob paychecks (in a sense, “demoting” us), which, given their druthers, they’d do in 1/88th of a heartbeat. While this makes getting a job tougher for me (vet titles come with vet paychecks, and studios/networks are notoriously tight-sphinctered), these rules are absolutely vital for lower- to mid-level Writers, since most of us in this town are weak and fearful and would probably blow the first person to guarantee us a job. Correction: blow that person AND their pet ferrets. However, if there are only two upper-level “slots” open, it’s generally a good bet that…
…the showrunner’s friends will get them. Having attained the rank of showrunner, it’s likely that the Writer has been in the business long enough to cultivate friends who’ve been around just as long as he has. Those friends need jobs, too. And it’s always easier to hire someone you’ve worked with before rather than take a chance on someone new, because that new person could turn out to be either a) useless, b) insane, or c) a complete fuckhead. If the showrunner still has a slot left open after offering it up to his friends, then come…
…the Suits’ friends. Studio and network executives also have friends. (I know. It’s so weird.) And because they’ve helped the showrunner get his show running, in the Versailles-like protocols of Hollywood, they’re due a modicum of quid pro quo. If they suggest one of their Writer friends, and that friend isn’t immediately and obviously a), b), or c), the showrunner may feel obligated to hire said friend. However, if even the Suits don’t prevail, there are always…
…the overall deals. Overalls (not the Osh Kosh kind) are exclusive contracts that Writers sign with studios or networks in which they’re paid a certain amount of money regardless of whether they’re actively working on a show or not. (This is basically just a way for studios/networks to say to other studios/networks, “Neener neener, wiener! This is MY toy and YOU can’t play with it!”) So naturally, when it comes hiring time, the studios/networks will push the showrunner to hire an overall-dealer to work on the show, so that the overall-dealer earns that money the studios/networks are already shelling out. It’s as close as they come to getting a “free” Writer.
There are about forty other considerations that have nothing to do with me, too, but this is starting to sound like sour grapes –
– when all I really wanted to say was, Despite getting punched in the junk, I’m not taking it too personally, because almost nothing in this business is personal.
It feels personal, sure (what junkpunch doesn’t?), but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my many years of slaving away over a hot Final Draft, it’s that there are so many variables involved, it’s a miracle that any show gets made, that anyone gets hired, and that anything gets done.
But what about the impact of The Pilot Season Experiment in regards to my rounds of meetings? Wasn’t that what this whole series was all about?
Like all of my fellow faux-scientists, I’d love to say that I got definitive results: that it either made an ENORMOUS DIFFERENCE!!! or, conversely, ZERO DIFFERENCE!!! But I think the truth hovers somewhere in between – and has more to do with how I felt – than how I was perceived.
See, before going into this year’s round of monkeydancing, I was feeling kind of low.
Not so much “What’s it all about, Alfie?” as “Ohhhhh, balls. The expiration date stamped on my ass is getting closer.” And yes, I can assure you: every person in Hollywood has an expiration date stamped on their ass.
Hold on, wait – let me rephrase that. Some of us have expiration dates, and some of us (sorry to steamroll a dead horse here, but you can’t untrue a truism) – namely, straight white men – have a much more elastic Sell By date. You know, a sort of suggested idea of when you’ll start to get E. coli if you hire them – but then again, maybe they don’t have E. coli at all, and you can risk it. For example, Clint Eastwood has been officially and universally declared E. Coli-Free In Perpetuity. You can hire Clint ‘til the day he dies – and probably after – without so much as a tummyache.
The rest of us – y’know, the vaginas, the ethnics, the ethnic vaginas – get a damn-near definitive stamp slapped on our rumps on Day One. The gay white guys get a stamp, too, but it’s not in indelible ink, and can be switched to a Sell By date at any time, depending on how much money they rake in for a studio/network.
So the question is, when is that expiration date?
Well, unless you’re extremely, extremely fortunate (like Robin Green of “Sopranos” fame – though it should be non-judgmentally noted, she partners with her husband, the straight-white-male Mitchell Burgess), you top out in your early fifties, if not before. And no, I’m not speaking anecdotally. Check out the 2011 WGA Executive Report (Figure 13), where you’ll find that TV writers’ salaries peak between the ages of 41–50, before dropping drastically in the next demographic.
And that’s including straight white guys.
So you can imagine the vaginal expiration.
As a matter of fact, aging – or in other words, my starting to nudge up against the 41-side of that 41-50 demographic – is one of the reasons I undertook The Pilot Season Experiment to begin with (not to mention the reason I shot poison into my face). Women in their late 20’s and early 30’s – those chicks to whom the years have yet to be unkind – are mostly lower- to mid-level writers. As I explained above, it’s much easier to get a job at that level; between the ages of 25-35, I wrote for five different shows, almost continuously. But once you’ve reached a certain “rank,” you’re either lucky as a motherfucker to get on a show, or lingering like a wraith in Development Hell (posts to come on that topic soon).
Hollywood says it wants veteran Writers, people who’ve had experience, people who’ve gained wisdom and insight into how to do the job well. But when they say “people,” what they really mean is “the white folks with schlongs.” (Come to think of it, that’s what “people” has meant since the founding of America, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.) Considering I have no intention of chopping off my boobs or sewing on a dick, this makes me… what? A greater risk? A poorer Writer? A non-person? A total fucking alien? All I know is, this:
…is so much not a joke in Hollywood that it makes me want to punch someone else in the junk.
Alongside my expiration date, my main impetus for trying The Pilot Season Experiment was that women – regardless of their experience, and much more so than men – are judged on their looks. (I feel like I just wrote, “Oh and by the way, water is wet and dirt is dirty. Just so you know.”) Thus for this year’s Merry Go Round O’Pain, I tended to my appearance much more than I did when I was younger.
When I was in my late 20’s, all I had to do before a meeting was read the script, throw on a tank top, and make sure I wasn’t actively bleeding from the eyes. This year: I got Botox, bought Spanx, cut my hair, wore make-up, dressed in clothes that made me look “responsible” and “together”…
…and still didn’t get hired.
So what was it?
My looks, my age, my personality, my connections, my reputation, my writing?
(Did you even notice that writing came in last on that list?)
As I said before, it could be all of those things, it could be none of those things. Hollywood is a fickle beast – actually, it’s just an enormous hairy asshole with tiny ephemeral moments of joy tucked up inside it – so I’ll never truly know for sure.
What I can tell you absolutely is how I felt during it. And that is…
I felt stressed (more than the usual for pilot season). Uncomfortable. Fake. Frustrated. Inadequate. I was resentful that I had to do any of this shit at all. Often I felt like the battle was lost before I even got out of the shower, since I knew I was about to kowtow to societal expectations.
Basically, trying to play the game made me miserable.
And maybe that’s why I didn’t get hired.
All I know is, before I started all this nonsense, I was pretty goddamned happy with myself. Not happy with being unemployed, of course – though the dress code of “pajamas” is nice – but happy in my own skin? I think I can say yes with almost 97% of my being. (That self-loathing 3% is because I don’t call my family often enough, I spend too much time on Twitter, I don’t drink as much water a day as they say you should…) I was just fine being me — being Mere, the regular old Mere – until I started dissecting the nature and implication of appearance, then striving to “keep up with the Rashida Joneses,” so to speak.
Then I felt terrible about myself.
Having Botox made me think about how old I was getting. Chopping my hair off and dying it crimson made me wonder if I was too old to be doing that at all. Wearing Spanx made me confront (and intensely dislike) my generous Hips and Ass. Buying new clothes made me think about how skinny I used to be, but am no longer. Applying eight different kinds of make-up made me wonder what was wrong with my real face.
What I’m saying is, for every step I took to “improve” my looks, it was one more step down the spiral staircase of self-hatred.
And seriously, girls, how fucked up is that?
That all those activities deemed “necessary” to appear more competent (no exaggeration: read this) could make at least one woman (me) feel worse and worse… it’s a vicious circle whence the only escape is to do one of two things:
1) Either totally succumb and go full-on Aspiring Miss America
2) Tell the Normies to fuck off.
So if The Pilot Season Experiment has had any definitive result, it is this:
I will never again try to be anyone but myself.
Because goddammit, I’m pretty fucking cool.
Granted, I may have a filthy mouth, creases between my brows, weird hair, oily skin, a fat ass, and a preference for clothing that, in a pinch, can double as a medieval tent…
…but I’m also happy that way.
Besides, I’ve been pitching a new show around town lately, and I may be employed (and out of my pajamas) quicker than I want to be, anyway.
Cross your fingers.
And fuck your SPANX.