# of pages written: 6½
# of days left to write 1st draft: 103
When I was nineteen I dropped out of college and moved to LA to be an actress. Looking back on it now, it seems insane and naïve and super-ballsy, but at the time it made sense to me. When people gently suggested that I finish college first, I said, “Hollywood is obsessed with youth! I’m young now. Why wait?”
Besides, if I racked up three more years of student loans, I would have no choice after college but to settle down with a sensible full-time job so I could pay them off. (I bet that’s what my family was hoping I’d do instead of the whole crazy California idea.)
Of course, I didn’t end up becoming an actress. Now I wonder if I might look back at my decision to move to Cape Cod and “focus on writing” in the same way. Maybe, ten years from now, I’ll think, gee, that was insane and naïve and ballsy of me. But right now, it makes sense.
* * *
When I was in LA, I learned that you can’t get auditions without an agent, but you can’t get an agent without being in the union, but you can’t get into the union without working in the industry, which you can’t do without an agent. It’s sort of this big circle with no entry point, but the most important thing seemed to be getting into the union: the Screen Actors Guild.
There are a few ways to get into the union, but most of them involve being rich and well-connected. The only option that seemed available to me was doing extra work.
The way is goes is this: every television and movie production has to hire a certain number of union extras. The union extras make twice as much money and get other perks, like guaranteed meals every six hours.
Once the production has hired their stipulated number of union extras, the rest of the extras can be the cheap, low-maintenance, non-union extras like you or me. So here’s the trick. Let’s say that a union extra doesn’t show up for work one day. To fill the quota, they still has to pay someone as a union extra. So they give you, a non-union extra, a union voucher for the day. Not only do you make more money, but now you have officially worked as a union actor for the day! Collect three of these vouchers, and you are allowed to join the union.
And so I entered the world of the background extra. I have a lot of stories about this. A lot of miserable, degrading stories of what it’s like to be treated like a set prop instead of an actual human being. The phrase “we need some more bodies over here,” comes to mind.
But, I was naïve and hopeful. And young, dammit! Didn’t Hollywood want me?
I had visions of a director’s eyes resting on me and saying, “that girl. That one right there. She’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.”
And so I tried to be the best dang background extra ever. I figured if I followed directions and maintained high energy levels, I would be noticed and rewarded. I just had to stay positive and really embrace my role as “girl walking down the hallway” or “flesh-wound patient in the ER.” There are no small parts, right?
I worked on a roller-disco scene which involved skating around the rink for upwards of eight hours. I worked on a nighttime pool party scene that involved standing outside in forty-degree misting rain in a bathing suit while production assistants in down jackets shouted through their megaphones, “Background! Stop shivering!”
And at the end of every grueling day, when the P.A.s handed out our vouchers, I thought for sure I would be rewarded for my hard work and dedication. Surely the P.A.s would notice me. They would bestow a union voucher on me for never complaining, or for continuing to roller-skate while everyone else was collapsing with exhaustion. “I present to you, Eva Langston, this union voucher,” they would say, “because you didn’t shiver once, even though it was obvious you were coming down with the flu.”
But that, my friends, is not the way the world works. Especially not in Hollywood.
I did not learn this, however, until I made friends with a girl who had recently gotten her breasts done. She was nineteen, and her mother had paid for them. “If you’re really serious about your career,” the girl told me, “you’ll get your boobs done, too.”
Geez, I’d never even had braces. Crooked teeth and small boobs – how was I ever going to make it in L.A.?
Meanwhile, this busty friend of mine had just gotten her third union voucher from doing extra work. “How’d you do that?” I asked.
“Are you kidding? I slept with the P.A.” She shrugged and flipped her hair. “Well, the first one I got just by totally sucking up to this one P.A. But the other two I got from going up to the P.A. and suggesting we hang out sometime and…you know.” She shrugged again. “It’s just how this business works.”
When I didn’t say anything, she raised one perfectly-plucked eyebrow at me. “Marilyn Monroe did it, you know.”
And now this girl with the fake boobs and slutty ways was in the union and about to get an agent. While I had zero union vouchers, zero auditions, and an acting teacher who had just told me I needed to lose ten pounds.
I felt like an idiot.
I wasn’t going to be rewarded for hard work after all. No one was going to notice me in the background and hand me a union voucher or a starring role just because I seemed sincere and hard-working. At that moment, I realized I actually had no idea what I was doing.
I always try to work on my novel in the morning. When I get burned out with that, I eat some lunch, and then I try to do some research on writing-related jobs, agents, magazines, contests, blogs, publishers, conferences, opportunities, etc. And it’s starting to dawn on me just how much I don’t know about making a career out of writing.
Apparently there are all sorts of people I should be following on Twitter. All sorts of newsletters I should be reading. All sorts of online sources I should be checking. All sorts of conferences I should be attending. It’s not that I don’t have time for all of this, I just don’t have the gumption.
Here’s what I always sort of thought would happen:
I would finish my book, (that I worked very hard on), and send it out to agents. One of them would like my book and take me on. She (I always imagine my future agent to be female) would find me an awesome editor and get my book published by one of the top-notch houses. From there, they’d take care of the publicity, and all I’d have to do is approve a book jacket and go on book tours and start on my second novel.
But what I’m realizing is that publishing a book, and making a career of writing, is so much more complicated than that, and I’m feeling overwhelmed from all the information that’s out there. I’m wishing that someone could take me by the hand and lead me through the maze – tell me exactly what to do – but instead I have to figure it out myself, and I’m not sure where to start.
In many ways, I’m beginning to feel insane and naïve. And not so ballsy anymore. It’s much easier to be brave when you don’t have any idea about the hardships ahead.
There are different paths to getting into the actors union – some classier than others – and the same can be said for making a career out of writing. I might need to wander around a bit until I find a path that I can follow. At least I don’t have to worry about getting a boob job.