Monday, February 25, 2008

Travelogue #27: The Complete Story of How I Came to Korea

Four months. That's how long I've been here.

Last year, I thought I was headed somewhere else...


Let the word rest on your tongue a minute. Ca-li-for-nia. Let the familiar pictures unreel in your head: smog, palm trees, Paris Hilton... and me? Well, I've watched every episode of The OC and Entourage, and I've visited San Francisco once. (My memory: So. many. hills.) But there's one more thing: I want to write movies.

Hollywood, here I come.

The year is 2007 and the month is February. It's cold, even in Atlanta, Georgia. I'm a senior at Emory University, and I'm punching through the third draft of my thesis: it's a screenplay, and I'm frankly obsessed with it. I scribble down scenes in class when I should be learning Freud. I bother my poor girlfriend about why I changed three lines on page sixty-two. When I'm at the gym, I wonder if my advisor is right, if my script does "need more sex." When I try to sleep, I can't. I thrash through my blankets. So many pages and so many lines, none of them quite there, not yet.

I want to tweak the script until it sings off the page. My plan is to send it to two
fellowship contests: the Nicholl and the Disney. $30,000 is in it for the winners, and in my hazy thought bubbles, I imagine myself as one of the lucky ones. I mean, I've nurtured this baby for countless hours. I've sweated every punctuation mark and every line break. I want success badder than Dustin Hoffman wanted K-Mart underwear in Rain Man.

But I have to cover my bases. I secure
a job interview for a teaching agency that places college grads into California high schools. The idea is that I could make money teaching English while establishing legit contacts in the "biz". That could work, couldn't it? I learn that new teachers begin as intern assistants notching a salary in the high twenties or low thirties. I leave the interview feeling optimistic -

"$30,000 is nothing in Los Angeles," she snaps.

That's my mom on the phone, and she is totally harshing
my high.

"I'm not a big spender, I won't have many expenses - "

"How about your car? Gas? Rent?"

for the support."

"Alex, you know I'm always going to tell you how I feel. I don't want to
watch what I say when I talk to you."

"Yeah, whatever."

"$30,000 is nothing," she says. "I'm sorry. It's nothing."

My mom's cutting words get me thinking, not as much about money, but about the job itself. Do I really
want to teach Edith Wharton novels to snotty private school kids? And what makes me think the gig won't swallow my life whole and make establishing movie contacts impossible? After all, I'm guessing the Mr. Johnsons from 10th Grade English spend more time grading papers than they do sipping cocktails with Scarlett Johansson.

Well, there's always Atlanta, no slouch in entertainment, home to Turner Broadcasting (Think TNT and TBS). No, it's not L.A., but it's a start, and it's in Atlanta. Relief is my mom's main reaction when I tell her I'm applying for an internship position as a interactive writer. She thought that Los Angeles was too far away from home anyway.

The new plan is this: I will continue to mold my screenplay as I climb the Turner ladder, thereby wowing the pants off the network heads that brought us Joe Bob Briggs and Monstervision

But first I need to land that job. On Facebook
I network my ass off, searching for anybody and everybody under the Turner Broadcasting umbrella. I courteously but persistently message these anybodies and everybodies, and some of them agree to put in a good word for me. More than a hundred people applied for the same position as a TBS.Com interactive writer.

Dammit. I want the job.

I take a tour of the Turner campus, wanting to plant the memory of my face into this huge corporation. As it turns out, I'm one of twelve to make it to phone interviews. Yes!

Things are looking up. I turn in the fifth draft of my script "Mystery Boy" to the Emory Creative
Writing Contest, and I win the first prize. It's not a fellowship, but it's more than just a pat on the back. My mom's giddy and my dad's pleased. My decision to abandon a law school path suddenly doesn't look so ill-advised. I start dreaming big and bigger: that TBS job? If I knock down the interviews, the gig is mine. The screenwriting fellowships? One just might be attainable. My quarter-life crisis looks to be in the rear view; the future is no longer scary, it's exciting.

I make it to the top three candidates for the position. I'm confident; I figure if I was strong enough to
make it to the top three, even if they don't give me a position as an interactive writer, they might find another place for me. The in-person interview goes smoothly, and Bill McLochlin, Editorial Director of Digital Platforms, tells me, "It's going to be a very hard decision...we'll definitely let you know one way or the other on Wednesday."

On Wednesday I stare at my phone so often that my eyes hurt. In my journal I write, "4:25 is when I start getting nervous..thinking, now, NOW, is when the phone will brrring. Now it'll happen. Or now. At 4:31 it'll happen... should I look at the phone or not look at the phone? Fuck it's 4:43. Fuck it's 4:44. Wouldn't they call earlier, in case they couldn't reach me? Does this mean I didn't get the job?... Close, getting very close to 5, each minute passing another punch to the gut. Why can't they tell me? Why won't they call? Why am I so out of the loop?"


"Still no word. No email, no call. About an hour ago I took matters into my own hands. I gave Bill a ring. Beep, beep, beep, voicemail. And I left it, same content as my email. I just want to know. I just want to know dammit."


"They said it was very close and they really liked my writing...but in the end the deciding factor was the winning candidate had more web experience, had his own domain. 'Sorry to be the bearer of bad news,' he tells me."

I know it'd be an overreaction to say I'm crushed. "Disappointed but not devastated," is how I put it to my mom. Disappointed but not devastated.

A week later, I graduate college and go home to Germantown, TN. Not exactly a hub for the entertainment industry. I try my Facebook way of networking, this time targeting messages to Paramount Pictures employees. Most of the replies I get are politely unhelpful, except for one that cuts right to the meat: "Pack up your shit, load it into the Camry, and get out here...I know it sounds crazy...but that's what everyone does. Trust me."

That's what everyone does?

"Once you're out here, get a temp job. Get on the lists of all the temp staffing agencies and you'll get gigs all around the city in various roles. From there you make your contacts and make a name for yourself...and don't be afraid to go out on weeknights and mingle at the bars/clubs. Everyone goes out and socializes and networks."

What the hell does any of this have to do with writing and being a writer?

Rationally I understand the advice this guy was giving. I'm not that naive, I know Hollywood is not about "art." But I guess it was easier to shrug off those not-so-pleasant social-climbing realities when I was behind the grass walls of Emory doing nothing more than, well, writing.

And what about that writing? I reread my script and begin to feel strangely detached from its content. The results of the fellowship contests come and go and I don't win a thing. I know I love writing, but do I love screenwriting? Do I love working within its machinelike
structure? After much thought, I don't think I do. And as for L.A., I dig Entourage, but I have no desire to tap glasses with Ari Gold.

My dream doesn't look like my dream anymore. It's not about giving it up; it's about starting over. I have less than $900 to my name, so I find a job at a used bookstore, I eat at Chilies with my parents, and I start this blog and write like a madman. And...and...and...I wait...for

In July that something new comes in the form of a college friend and a teaching opportunity in Korea. I read about it late at night and I feel an unmistakable buzz in my fingertips. Korea Korea Korea. Teaching. Writing. Living.

A new dream.



Anonymous said...

This inspiring post indicates how flexible you can be when necessary. This trait, along with your hard work and dedication to your craft, will benefit you immensely in the long run.

You will always live a good life, Alex, and I'm hoping you find your "dream" job no matter what that may be!


Alex Pollack said...

Thanks, Jan! I appreciate your always-generous words.

As for the piece itself, as I was writing it, I worried it was in danger of turning a bit self-indulgent, but in the end, I felt that anybody can relate to the idea that dreams change, and that deciding to pursue a different one doesn't mean failing; in fact, it can very well mean succeeding. It doesn't matter if that dream is to become a doctor or a farmer or a interactive writer. The point is, we be growin'. We be growin'...

And as for my mom, she did indeed tell me thirty grand was "nothing" in LA, but I don't want to give the false impression that she was ever anything but supportive of my goals . Perhaps she just knew before I did that L.A. just wasn't my jones...

Anonymous said...

Dude, your sister is hot...