IF YOU LIVE IN LOS ANGELES and make a living as a writer, particularly as a journalist, then people likely have a preconception about you: You’re doing it only until you sell a script.
The belief is understandable. The entertainment industry means glamour. Journalism brings ink stains (if your publication still prints) and, more frequently, a desperate pursuit of web clicks. Hollywood success blasts your name across a huge screen, or at least millions of little ones. Journalism delivers a 10-point byline that most readers ignore.
Selling a script to a studio, network or streaming service brings in a check with five to seven figures. Journalism, well — suffice to say, few do it for the money.
Real journalists, goes the argument, flock to places like New York, Washington, D.C., or London. If you’re telling stories in L.A., then it must mean you want to tell stories in Hollywood.
That may be the case for some journalists, and I have nothing against anyone pursuing that path. But I have a confession: I have never written a script. In fact, I have never even tried.
Not only have I not sought to land a film deal, but I have never drafted even the first page of a treatment. I have not searched for a TV agent with a sample episode of “The Simpsons” and my own spec script. Nor have I offered up a video game concept. I don’t have a great idea for a short.
But here is the craziest thing of all: I’m completely fine with this. More than that: I’m happy having nothing to do with Hollywood.
I have nothing against “The Industry.” I watch ridiculous amounts of TV and numbers of movies. I have friends who are successful writers, actors, producers or show-runners, and I know how much time and heart they put into getting where they are. My wife makes a living working long hours doing script supervision on commercial and film sets.
I’ve dabbled with “the biz.” When I arrived in L.A. a few decades ago, I had gigs as a production assistant on music videos. I had signed up with one of those temp agencies that drops you into Hollywood jobs, where I got to witness agents screaming at their assistants (the cliché is real). I did some freelance script coverage, earning tiny sums to do the first read of a script sent in by a nobody without an agent. Higher-ups would look at my encapsulation and decide if reading the script was worth their time.
I was probably average to awful at most of these pursuits, and later brushes with “The Industry” went nowhere. A junior agent who liked a magazine article I wrote invited me to lunch, and as we parted ways he proclaimed, “Let’s keep the momentum going.”
The momentum did not keep going.
My work as a journalist did.
Early on, I wrote a number of entertainment industry profiles, including stories about rising actors. I enjoyed the work, and I didn’t yearn to create characters those actors would inhabit. Weirdly, and completely accidentally, I began getting assignments to write about news, business and local politics.
I soon found that, even if these lacked the buzz associated with the entertainment industry, they often demanded more of me as a writer. I appreciated that challenge more than the idea of tightening up a script’s third act.
Over time, I found myself writing about subjects including land use and the power plays in City Hall, topics that would surely turn a pitch meeting into a three-minute, no-we’ll-call-you visit.
I see a fantastic story arc in my dozens of articles about the 2022 election cycle that led to Karen Bass becoming mayor of L.A., but I’m not dumb enough to think it would make an eight-part streaming series that more than 50 people would watch.
Again, that’s OK. I’m lucky — I’ve been able to make a living digging into subjects I know are important to the city. My dreams have nothing to do with the Dream Factory. I don’t need to see or be seen power lunching with an agent or a producer at Mr. Chow or the Polo Lounge.
Heck, I wouldn’t know what to say, or where to park.
I love the writing I do — stories about Los Angeles, for Los Angeles. I’m Hollywood-adjacent, and that’s more than enough.