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We are the Fools Who Dream

29826475976_f173df6900_bWe all come to Los Angeles with a dream.

It’s cliché to say because the idea of it is ingrained in the American psyche: Hometown hero boys who come off of Greyhound buses in Hollywood with hope in their hearts, and pretty girls who were big names in small towns now praying to become stars on a sidewalk. It’s not only America; people all over the world have joined in that chorus, crossing borders to arrive on our shores.

They come to be a part of the dream, the dream that a lot of us have: To make it, whatever that “it” may be. It could be stardom, it could be a new life in a new country, it could be any number of things. It really doesn’t matter what that “it” is exactly. It’s different for everyone.

After all, in Los Angeles, we are the fools who dream.

That’s the main line in the song “Audition” from La La Land, and with good reason: Because to the rest of the world, we are fools. Ask anyone in New York, San Francisco, almost any resident of another big city, and there is usually a roll of the eyes about us. “The people there are so…” and then you fill in the blank with whatever you like. They don’t know we are so much more than that. After all, in order to survive this city we had to learn to stop caring what people thought of us a long time ago; those who do usually end up on the Greyhounds back home.

We don’t listen to them, because they don’t know the people who live here. We are the immigrants and the fresh-eyed optimists, coming from all over the world with all different backgrounds and shades of skin. We are the freaks and the disenfranchised, trying to escape our pasts. We are the strange ones who couldn’t settle for ordinary life, couldn’t bow our heads in submission to those who thought they knew better.

You know those people. They are the ones who tell us to hang up hopes along with our childhood dreams, which were cute when we were of smaller stature. It’s time to tie nooses around our necks to head to the office or strap a child to our bodies. Their chorus is, “Grow up!”

Apparently, wanting our lives to be better than the status quo was for children. So we come here to Los Angeles, where the clothes were casual and there was still room to breathe — even in the freeway traffic jams and smog.

We are here to pursue. Here, where you sit on the side of Mulholland Drive, with the stars of the city sprawled at your feet. Here, where the Pacific Ocean meets the sand and summer seems to linger eternally. Here, where the sizzle and the smell of bacon wrapped hotdogs from street vendors trying to make a buck fill the night air and we line up at the taco trucks to share a laugh and a bite. Here, where we come to thrive in the sunshine and pound our laptop keys in the coffee shops.

Our dreams are all different and yet the same. Because here is home. It is what we have created, all of us, together as residents of this city.

No matter where I’m coming from, when that downtown skyline hits my eyes, I know I’m safe here. It’s been that way for as long as I can remember, even when I used to live somewhere else. No matter what you change in your life, you can’t change where you came from.

In a weird way, I came back home all those years ago to make it. My make it, though, wasn’t for fame. It was for freedom. To have it, it meant the anonymity to grieve, followed by the courage to become. Only a bustling city, full to the brim of fools and dreamers, can you get something like that.

Somewhere in the suburbia where I fled, I’m sure there are men and women who once knew me and call me a fool. Perhaps I am. Perhaps I always was. There was a rebellious core in me back then that was fighting against the suburban box, full of chain restaurants, unnaturally clean sidewalks and emerald-colored laws, perfectly cut.

Maybe it was because I was meant for red Chucks and graphic t-shirts, not billowing housewife skirts and ballerina flats. Maybe it was because of my discomfort in McMansions and gravitation towards the Spanish style architecture of my grandparents’ home. Maybe I saw myself more in the people who came here trying with hopeful eyes rather than the ones who settled in for the as-is, lofty in dismissing the dirty city.

In Los Angeles we are not above it. We live in the grit, thrive in it. That is why this city fights so hard, from the street corners all the way up to city hall. This is a difficult city to be in, we know this. But we don’t give up. We will never give up.

We sling espresso shots and shots of tequila across bars, knock on your doors to deliver food, drive Lyfts, take out trash, wash dishes and serve food to demanding patrons. Almost every person in this city has a story about the time they put in for their dream, and we wear those days like badges of honor.

And even when we do make it, in that great “it” that lies somewhere in our sunshine filled universe, there is no pause. We work the long hours, writing checks for our bills and driving to get to wherever we’re going. And yet at the end of it all, we’re still typing away on our pilots, singing on stage, cooking bright foods, opening shops, telling stories and jokes to waiting audiences.

We don’t stop. We will never stop. Because we are the fools who dream.

You can’t extinguish that with 10,000 realities and hundreds of neckties. You won’t break us by dismissing us. We, from the immigrants to the faces on a Greyhound bus, are the Angelenos who make this place what it is. Together, we are united in something bigger than ourselves.

There is a song in all of us, each individual heart, and we sing it proudly and as loud as our voices can go, to the point where the world begs to see it. And with a light of the screen, a voice in our ears, the note of a song, the dream comes alive again. And it is the fools who make it.

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Deconstructing Hollywood

Hollywood is ingrained in the American DNA. It is a part of us, the message we send to the world about western culture. Even though Hollywood itself is not a pretty area of town (as only locals know), it’s the idea that comes with the name that sells it. The world funds this place, this concept, this crazy idea. And it all goes under a brand that lives on a hill in Griffith Park.

For those of us in the greater Los Angeles area, we live Hollywood more than the rest of the country. It surrounds us and gets under our skin, both the good and the bad parts. There is a sense of dreaming out here under the bright golden sun that can’t be replicated as well in other parts of the county. It’s why people come from all over the country on Greyhound buses, as the cliché goes. They want to be a part of this. And honestly, I can’t really blame them. It’s kind of amazing.

In the greater Los Angeles area, we’re all really a part of this industry, whether we’d like to be or not. I grew up with my dad bringing home editing bays for me to play on and Variety magazines to read. I swam in the lake at Skywalker Ranch as a kid and rode around the Universal backlot on a golf cart as a teen. My first term paper in high school was on the technical aspects and history of Citizen Kane (my idea). My parents encouraged my creativity. I was a part of Hollywood without being in the industry. But those of us who were raised in Los Angeles and its surrounding suburbs had similar experiences.

We knew celebrities growing up before they got famous, and often they were insufferable then too (trust me — ask anyone who knew Kim Kardashian when she was young. They all have the same story). We know people who have met celebrities or worked with them, and we all have stories if we have run across them. There are nice stories in there, as in, “I once had martinis with George Clooney at the Smokehouse and he was the coolest guy in the world” stories. But more often than not it’s the bad behavior, ranging from crazy coke parties to the numerous women shipped in like party favors, that most Angelinos remember.

In the past, it used to be that these people would be shrugged off. It was show business, and for the people involved in it, if you didn’t put up with the crazy antics that people with money would create, someone else would. We would nod at them during the day and at night share our insane stories with friends, not thinking anything about it. After all, it was the way it was. How could we change it?

It hasn’t been an immediate change, but the tides have been starting to turn over the years as to how the industry deals with bad behavior. And Cosby is the clearest evidence.

Bill Cosby was a part of the very fabric of our lives the idea that Hollywood shipped out for the world to see of American life. He had been a part of this entertainment industry for almost 50 years, telling jokes and creating sitcoms, hosting television programs among other such things. Here and internationally, he was a star.

As we know now, that entire time he was sexually assaulting women. It was a take on the famous casting couch myth: Beautiful young women wanting to make it in Hollywood, and he would offer to mentor them. He would make them a drink and they would black out. They would stand up for themselves, and he would ridicule them. When they wanted to talk about it, people would shrug it off and let it go; after all, who would believe them when this man had not only a squeaky clean image, but more money and power in the industry than most people had?

I wish I could tell you that Cosby was alone. It’s a lie. How many women have I talked to over the years that are actresses — serious actresses — who had higher-ranking men try to take advantage of them? How many Hollywood men have used their power to get women into bed with them, and the women went because they felt like they didn’t have a choice in the matter? And it has never stopped — to the point where the other day, one of my comedian friends was in an elevator and accosted by a guy who wanted to have drinks with her. He claimed to be a high-end producer and said that this was “a relationship business.”

Meanwhile, it seems to translate into what we see on screen. When casting calls go out, you read offensive language that no one bothers to correct, particularly aimed towards women. We are reduced to types: “ugly,” “girl next door,” “hot,” and “too big to be a woman, but there she is.” And then these roles get minimal exposure, maybe a line or two, if that actress is lucky. Meanwhile, the stories that are told are mainly male stories, and if they’re male stories, white male stories. There’s has never been room for anyone else. People have wanted to fight the system from the inside, but the inside has laughed it off and tried to push them off as if they were “little people” who didn’t know, couldn’t know. After all, this was Hollywood.

Over Thanksgiving, I spoke with my uncle about the Cosby case. He recalled visiting a friend in Vegas who was working with Bill Cosby. “Women were just lined outside the door. He was always a philanderer,” he said. “I don’t believe he raped women, though. He could get anyone he wanted.”

My dad and I sat there flabbergasted, trying to explain to him how the evidence was stacked against him, from 20 different women testifying to Cosby’s own comedic bit about Spanish fly. We had to remind him that rape wasn’t about sex, but about the power Cosby had as an individual with money. Rape was just one of the many abuses of it.

There, laid out in front of me, were the three generations of Hollywood: My uncle, who would shrug his shoulders and turn away from unacceptable behavior, pretending he didn’t know; my father, who would stand up against it but be shunned by people in higher positions of power; and me, who sees the change occurring and is willing to stand up and wants to be a part of it.

The social media age given people who don’t normally have a voice one that resonates and can make the world shake. It gives a rallying cry to voices that weren’t as loud before. It has allowed us to gain more information than we could in the past and make more informed decisions in media, and able to shun unacceptable behavior publicly.

Women are responding to harassment and fighting back against the Hollywood status quo, whether it’s by using the Bechdel test in trying to give more of a voice to women, responding to sexist casting calls or even putting their money more into movies with female lead characters than other movies. It’s incredible to watch us the power shift.

We still have a long way to go — women only hold three percent of decision-making positions in Hollywood and there are still improvements to be made in helping women advance in post-production, direction and more. But we are starting, and we will only grow. The Cosby case is a reflection of how far we have come. I keep reading in articles that people believe the story will die soon enough when there is a new focus. But it’s not going away. Bill Cosby is being held accountable, and while he thinks he still lives in that Hollywood age where celebrities can hide their bad behavior and make up for it in other ways, it doesn’t work that way anymore. This is a new era that will not put up with it.

When we make Hollywood a safer place, imagine the creativity that can come to the screen from everyone — men, women, black, white, Latino and more. When we keep deconstructing, we break down the walls so that the world can see us. And they need to see Hollywood, the real one — the grit and the love, the passion, sweat and tears by people who understand the responsibility we have as artists. It’s the reason why we love this place. It’s how we have ended up calling Hollywood home.