Some ideas take days, weeks. This one takes three seconds.
It comes to me in a flash, at 5.30 one Saturday morning, when I’m knee-deep in snow in Yekaterinburg, 1400 kilometres north east of Moscow, temperature minus 40C. I’ve had enough of this place, this job. I need time out from training journalists. I need a change. I want to chase my dream. I will move to California. It’s as simple as that.
Twenty minutes later I reach my desk at BBC School. I sit at my computer, log into the chat room and type with numb fingers: Sorry I’m late, 35 cm of snow last night. My five colleagues are already online. Most of them are in Los Angeles, where it’s 5 pm on Friday, and they’re chatting about going later for cocktails by the ocean. We’re learning how to write and sell a movie script. I ask our trainer if I should move to Los Angeles. He replies with an icon : )
Six months later, I’m standing in an empty apartment looking down at tanned swimmers. The landlord tells me those neighbours are friendly and work in the industry – actresses, editors and producers. He’s probably bullshitting but the apartment is clean and well located. “Twelve months?” I ask, and he hands me the lease form. “Welcome to LA,” he says. His wig is the worst I ever saw.
I spend a week furnishing my new home, buying a car, registering for screenwriting classes at UCLA. The neighbours are curious more than friendly. But Daphne from next door is very helpful, smiling with those big blue eyes. She’s 70, Jewish, born and bred in LA. She knows the score and she senses I could use a friend. Soon, she is my best one.
When I’m not attending class I do my laundry or cycle the boardwalk at Venice Beach or drive up to Malibu and swim in the breakers. I sign up for the LA marathon, why not. Best of all, my script is going well, sci-fi with a twist. You always need a twist. My tutor Anne seems genuinely interested in helping me get it right. She knows people in the industry.
One weekend, my block buddy Daphne invites me to a barbecue at some big house on a hill to meet her family and friends. We sit on a terrace sipping beer. The other guests are real estate agents and teachers, programmers and surf dudes who say Hey instead of Hello. They’re easy company and wish me good luck. But the guy who arrives wearing a bathrobe and flip-flops is morose and distant, chews a chicken leg and seems as if he could not care less about this pale-faced Brit who took a sabbatical to develop a script. He drifts back to his buddies.
Driving home, Daphne asks if I had fun. Then she tells me that Bill-the-bathrobe recently earned $2m for co-writing a comedy, starring Jim Carrey. I stare at the traffic on Santa Monica Boulevard. Why was Bill so unfriendly? “Because in LA, you’re competition,” says Daphne.
“No way Daphne, I’m a neophyte.”
She smiles and says: “Not if you know words like that.”
The millionaire’s attitude leaves me in a state of paralysis for a few days. I stare at my laptop, convinced that my sci-fi script is weak, amateur. I should have stayed in Russia, training journalists in the sticks. At least they were friendly. Screenwriting is lonely. Why even bother?
My luck turns after my next session at UCLA. My tutor Anne introduces me to a friendly middle-aged couple visiting campus. John is an experienced movie director and Mary is a well-connected producer. They respect my spontaneous decision to move to LA. “Decent script too,” says John.
A week later, I visit their home in the Hollywood hills and inspect their stack of videos. They have worked on almost 300 TV movies. We sit at a big black table. Mary flips through my script, scribbling her red pen, telling me how to improve it. “And then what?” I ask. John pats my arm and says: “We’re going to make this movie.” I stand in silence, stunned, staring at the ocean through his big window. A gull soars on a thermal because it’s easy when you know how.
I drive back to my apartment. Is this a dream? No. I work my ass off for two weeks, night and day, swapping drafts with them by email. Finally, John is happy and Mary will chase the money. They’re confident and I’m walking around in a bathrobe and flip-flops.
They take a short vacation. I fly to Indonesia to train journalists for 2 weeks. I tell people oh sure, my first movie is in development. But I get worried when the emails from LA stop coming. Eventually, John writes and tells me he’s bored with Hollywood. He wants to teach at UCLA. Mary has applied for a job at the Gene Autry cowboy museum in Griffith Park. They need a change. My move from Russia was kind of inspiring. The idea came to them in a flash.
(This story was first published in FHM Romania, Sep 2011 and reappears here with permission of S.C. Sanoma Hearst Romania SRL)