A perfect hiatus day.
Sleep late. Get my hair cut. Go to the shrink, where we determine that while I love my mother with a suspicious intensity, she is nevertheless undeniably lovable. (We also disagree over who’s more attractive, Jan or Marcia Brady. Finally, I’m makin’ progress!) At lunch, I meet my writing partner, Eric Preven, at the Farmers Market, a venerable collection of fresh-food stalls and restaurant counters near my house in the mid-Wilshire district. Farmers Market is an institution: For 70 years the out-of-work L.A. screenwriter has been coming here to whine and dine, and hopefully to bump into somebody useful. My favorite spot is the Gumbo Pot, which looks out across a small courtyard toward an outdoor bar, where regular blokes–and actors playing at being regular blokes–drink beer and watch cable television all day long in the sun.
We’ve been here before, slouched over a mess-o’-Cajun with our yellow notepads, planning our future projects. I call it the No-Power Lunch, but Eric hates the term. One of his self-appointed roles in our collaboration is to banish negativity, even before I’ve had the chance to really show any. “We’re not out of work,” he scolds. “We’re under contract, people are asking about us. We’re just using the time to sharpen our portfolio, raise our profile, write some new material …” Of course, he’s right, but part of our curious dynamic is that one of us must always gravitate to the contrary position–even, and sometimes especially, if we don’t actually believe it to be right. Which is why, though relatively worry-free, I find myself troubleshooting everything that can (and therefore must) go wrong. Eric bats me away. As far as he’s concerned, our half-empty cup runneth over.
The first task at hand is to write a new “spec script.” For some reason that has never totally made sense to me, the way writers get jobs on TV shows is by showing a sample of a show currently on the air. (A well-written play, a stellar feature script, a highly praised novel–these will almost never cut it.) So our current and most pressing task is to write a fresh spec to send out to executives and “show-runners” to remind them how good we are. Eric wants us to write our version of the series finale of Seinfeld. This is, I inform him, with the kind of tact required in a delicate creative discussion, “a fucking terrible idea.” Nobody in the know has been doing Seinfelds for years. “All the more reason,” he insists. “It will stand out like, hopefully, a very attractive thumb.” I run through the reasons. Everyone is so familiar with the voices of the characters on that show that mimicking them no longer seems like an achievement. Besides, the show is tapped out; not even the current staff can conjure a fresh or funny episode these days. We decide to move on to the leading candidate for a hot new spec, the nascent NBC hit JustShoot Me, and resolve to call our agent for tapes and scripts so we can get up to speed.
It’s a strange thing to write with someone. Eric and I have known each other for 14 years–been close friends for 10 and written together for four. And I remember, before we hooked up, when friends in the business tried to warn us that what we were taking on was dangerous–not just dangerous to our friendship but dangerous. A partnership is like a marriage, they said, only harder to get out of, because once “this town” has a fix on you as a member of a team, that’s who you are in perpetuity, whether you like it or not. Fortunately, it’s worked out well so far. But not everyone is lucky. There are countless stories of teams breaking up and not being able to get work. And there are the truly dysfunctional teams: One pair we know is in couples therapy. Even more sad: Another–highly successful–team we know has been together 20 years, through divorce and personal disaster, long enough to be able to say their collaboration is “the best relationship we’ve had.”
What works with Eric is that even when we’re fighting fiercely over where to put the comma, or when to have the starlet slip on the rug, we always crack each other up. How? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a chemistry thing. There’s a scene in the underrated Jerry Lewis movie Funny Bones where Lewis tries to get his son, a struggling comedian played by Oliver Platt, to quit the business. “There are two kinds of funny people,” Lewis says. “Some can do funny. They say funny things. Others are funny. They’ve got funny bones.” Eric is the latter. He’s got funny bones.
A perfect hiatus day.