Thursday, January 20, 2011

You've gotta have friends

I often give the advice that if you're serious about pursuing a career in screenwriting you should move to Los Angeles. I don't often mention that if you can, it's best to move there with people you know.

When I came to L.A., pretty much the only people I knew were two girls who had graduated college with me. They got settled a few months before I did and when I came out here, I was lucky enough to get an apartment just a few minute-walk from theirs. A one-bedroom apartment. Frankly, despite the expense, I kind of preferred it this way. If you live alone, you can't get screwed if one of your roommates decides to move out. You're in control of your own destiny.

I should probably explain that while I wasn't exactly a "loner," I wasn't too keen on roommates. I'd had a single room for most of my time in college, and while I had a lot of friends, in looking back I see that I treated most of those relationships as one might work-related acquaintances. There were a few close friends, but when distance severed many of those ties, it was more akin to removing a layer of clothing than amputating a limb.

So I didn't expect it to be much of an issue that I only knew a few people in LA during my first several months. But it was. Life is boring when you have no one to talk to. My friends' jobs meant they were often up very early - meaning they weren't much for staying up late. Plus, we were all poor, so it's not like we'd go out often. When I didn't have a job, there were weeks where I'd only see them once or twice, and then pretty much spend most of the time in my own "Fortress of Solitude" - which was just about as barren as its namesake.

Even when I got a job and made a few friends there, I still wasn't terribly social - and this would continue through much of my first year in L.A. But things eventually changed. Another friend of mine,had moved out the previous summer with two guys from school, and upon his return to L.A. after the New Year, his roommates informed him that they were breaking the lease, leaving him homeless.

This friend hadn't yet set L.A. on fire, and it was at this point where he could have easily turned tail and run back home too. I surely expected this, which is why when it was suggested I could move into his apartment and take over the lease with him, I balked. First, I hated where his apartment was, and second, I figured in six months he'd be retreating back East and I'd be the one stuck either moving out or finding a new roommate. Sure, he was a friend, but we still weren't extremely close.

So it was decided he'd move into my apartment and crash on the couch while he weighed his options. I wasn't terribly keen on this either - the place wasn't huge and I'd not had a roommate in a long time. But like I said, I had a strong feeling he was planning a move back home, so I reasoned it wouldn't be terribly long. And hey, he was a good guy and a funny guy, so at least it wasn't like I was opening the door to a creep.

My most vivid memory of those first few weeks is that my new roommate was in the midst of losing his part-time job and was spending a lot of time at home. In fact, when he became fully unemployed, he happened upon my collection of Buffy and Angel DVDs and did a massive watch of about 7 seasons in three weeks. I also remember discovering that (*gasp*) I liked having someone around in the evenings and on the weekends. He and I had always gotten along, but we really clicked as roommates. We both had aspirations to write and would spend hours bouncing ideas off each other, punctuated by long discussions of comic book geekery and the like.

All told, we were roommates for over five years, across three apartments. In that time, we had three additional roommates come and go. (There were two insane months where we had four people living in our two-bedroom apartment when several friends found themselves apartmentless. We swore we'd never repeat THAT mistake!) I remember lots of Margarita Mondays, a great many late night trips to the Snake Pit, Canter's and Swingers, far too many nights watching bad movies and discussing our own ideas or pop culture until 3am.

Somewhere along the way, this transient who once spent all day lying on my couch in his bathrobe while he binged on the oeuvre of Joss Whedon became one of my best friends. And without him, I would not have befriended many of the people I consider my best friends today. The people he met through his next job proved to be a cool group of young adults who quickly became close friends and creative collaborators.

As the first few friends from school left L.A., he and I evolved this running joke, wherein we were characters on a TV show and all of our departing friends were merely supporting players who were being written out as the writers either decided their characters had run their course, or were being sent off to anchor a spinoff.

So in that sense, it was through him that my "cast" finally gelled and became stable. I know my ensemble today because of him, not only because it's through him that I met those people, but because being his roommate broke me out of my shell. If it wasn't for him, I might still be in that one bedroom apartment, maintaining little more than business-like relationships with those I know.

Check that. Without that support - without the emotional and creative support of those I've known over the last several years, I might very well have given up on LA.

That's why this past week has put me in a reflective mood, for my friend is leaving for at least a year to take a job on the other side of the country. It's a great opportunity for him, and I wish him well, but he will be missed. He's the Denny Crane to my Alan Shore. Or the Alan Shore to my Denny Crane. Some days I'm not sure which of us is which.

So if you make the trip out to L.A. to make it in this business, I hope you're as lucky as I was to have someone like that.

And to my former roommate: I want you know that this departure will NOT be because you're setting up your own East Coast spinoff! Sure, we know a lot of people who left because their plots had run their course, but you've got plenty of stories to tell here. You've been dropped to "recurring" not fired as a "regular." You'll be back on the main show for cameos, and this is just a brief "write-out" while the actor playing you does a movie or tours with his band. You'll be back, even if we have to head east and drag you back.

Good luck, my friend. And know there will always be room for you on my couch.


  1. A lovely post, and a great tribute to your friend.
    I do believe, however, that "loaner" is actually spelled "loner" (as in "alone").


  2. Great story, Bitter. Without him you might have been the Lonesome Script Reader.

  3. That is sweet and...unbitter!

    It is also very true, even more so when your 30 something year old friends all marry off and start having kids...sigh. and if you are perfectly content watching movies, reading and writing, it is so easy to end up spending more and more time alone.