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Maryberry’s Hollywood Part Two (THE MIDDLE BIT)

Welcome back to the long and winding road that is the recapitulation of my Hollywood Days. I can’t believe you’re still with me. As any second act, this one is the longest and meanders around. Consider yourself warned.
We’re now a bit further down the road. I found a flat in the lovingly dodgy heart of Hollywood with a fantastic taqueria nearby, settled in, and got going on some sort of daily routine of living, writing, and miscellaneous work. I started each day with a run in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, listening to Aerosmith. I placed my writing desk at an angle so I could see the humming birds outside my window, doing their humming thing around the lemon trees.
I started working with a few small productions. One that sits very fondly in my memory was a costume gig I landed through an acquaintance. I had done some costuming back in Vienna so I felt girt going into this little production. It did quickly bring me back down to Earth, as I was asked to conjure up not only futuristic police uniforms but also a space suit, complete with oxygen tank and helmet. The team was extremely supportive and just lovely throughout. Kat Burns, the producer, still sticks in my mind as one of the most bad-ass amazing women I’ve ever had the fortune of working with. She could steer an ocean cruiser into outer space single-handedly if need be. I was in awe at her patience, efficiency, and generosity. Should you know her or ever make her acquaintance, count yourself lucky.
Here’s a blurry still of the film (currently in post-production, Dir. K Michel Parandi), because I’m a bit amazed I actually pulled it off:

Then I started working with another quite spectacular short film project that proved exciting, exhilarating, enriching and finally, soul-crushing. But more about that later.
By this time, I had developed a condition latin-ally known as Alopecia Areata, an autoimmune reaction to stress. There was a lot that happened at the time, too much to mention and really none of your business, with my family, with myself and my dreams, my frustratingly bureaucratic environment that just put hurdle after hurdle in front of me – everything around me sort of fell to pieces. So yeah, stressed I was alright, fighting at so many fronts, and AA was my body’s reaction to it all, adding yet another battle to the war.
For those who do not know: It’s circular hair loss. While it’s not dangerous whatsoever, it’s a nightmare come true. Remember the 1996 witch flick The Craft? Remember Christine Taylor’s character sitting in the shower room, watching her hair soar to the wet ground, crying “It just keeps falling out”? That’s really what it’s like, bawling your eyes out in the shower, watching your thick dark hair wash down the drain in strands, cursing the injustice of it all. I do not wish this condition upon my arch-enemies: while it’s not conveniently lethal enough to kill anyone, its psychological toll is too great.
After browsing through LA’s dermatologists, winnowing the botoxologists from the real doctors (because the last thing I needed was a guy telling me my nose needed fixing) I found a nice one in Santa Monica who pushed injections in my scalp, and put me on a diet and some fun medication with hairy side effects. Of course, there is no quick-fix for hair loss. Hair grows back so slowly. I cried a lot during those months. I felt terribly alone. My family and friends were on the other side of the Atlantic and I hadn’t made a close enough friend in LA yet, who I could talk to. The silver lining here? Well for one, I had to realise that I’m more attached to my head hair and the notion of beauty surrounding it than I had imagined. Then more importantly, I realised I had to look out for myself and my health a little better.
I witnessed my relationship falling apart in front of my eyes. It was a long-distance kind of thing and as much as I needed my partner to tell me “hey girl, I understand your pain, but it’s only hair. Everything’s gonna be alright”, he wasn’t able to give me that. He was very busy with his own life.
To focus more on my health, I retracted from work a little, a choice that was later going to be hurled back in my face by the director of this spectacular project I was involved in. Sadly so, because I really liked this project and the people I met on it.
What kept me afloat were my weekly writing sessions with my writing partner Kayne who I had met at uni in New Orleans. He is the most lovable weirdo and funniest, wittiest dude I know, and I adore our scripts. With him, I learned that two brains are thrice as creative as one.
My mum, probably afraid her daughter was going to die bald in overseas solitude, popped by for a few weeks to cook for me and get me back on my feet. We travelled around the state a wee bit, and I finally got more comfortable with my situation. My forever friend Bernhard visited me shortly, but he was in such emotional turmoil himself, we could just cling to one another to keep us from falling. Then, at precisely the right moment, my dear friend and gorgeous wonder woman Isa flew in and spend a month with me in LA and road tripping around the country. Life became easier, smiling became easier, and some of that weight was lifted off my shoulders. I think you can see this in my face:

Now, as to this spectacular project I was talking about. It was spectacular in many ways, it had high-caliber producers and talent attached, and it was spectacular in how it went down for me. I had been working with them for quite some time, doing a bit of work on the script, overseeing the Kickstarter campaign, handling everything to do with writing, and then was asked by the producer to also show my face on set during the actual shoot. Now, this producer, a southern European male with a propensity for chauvinism, was okay. He wasn’t particularly jolly, but with a bit of effort and professionalism, work ran smoothly.
However, he brought on board another producer for the shoot, who *sigh* tapped into the same old same old. Since I was supposed to work for the production department on set, I was asked to assist this new line producer. Let’s call him Mitch. When we first talked on the phone, we had a decent rapport, and we arranged to meet up for a pint before the shoot to discuss things. After all, I had been with the same crew for months now and could fill him in on any issues we were having.
He then emailed me a picture of himself in the bathtub.
Meet up we did and yet again, I found myself in the weirdest situation of having a guy in front of me who wanted nothing more than to make love to me and “protect” me from the evils of the world, as he said. I recall actually laughing at this and then apologising for it. Mitch was a weedy man. His wingspan was half of mine, and on the downside he was considerably older than me. I quickly lost all respect for him, aided by the fact he couldn’t hold his liquor. There was no evil in this world, or the next, Mitch could possibly protect me from that I couldn’t handle myself.
But what can I say? I had to continue working with this guy very closely. He kept sending me endless messages to which I replied with one word sentences (mostly “No”). Now, because I’m a technophobe, I only had a cute little flip phone that couldn’t do anything but texts and calls. Because Mitch’s messages were so long, they arrived in disassembled chunks, often not in the right order, which didn’t make them any more digestible. I told him again and again that nothing would ever happen between us, that I really wasn’t interested, but he was a hard nut to cram back into the ground. Thankfully, once the shoot was underway, my role on set switched from producing to scripty, so I managed to put some distance between Mitch and myself. He tried to send me more photos, but luckily, my flip phone couldn’t receive them.
This all sounds much more horrible than it really was. Mitch was just a clumsy nuisance, but not evil at heart.
Sadly though, this middle section of my LA stay ended with a heartbreaking experience when I clashed with the director of this spectacular project.
In all honesty, there was a lot that made working with me difficult: I couldn’t be available 24/7 because I only had a flip phone without internet. I wasn’t willing to be available 24/7 because of my sickness. And I wasn’t mobile because I had given my car away. These factors made collaborating with me tedious, I fully understand. But then, I’m only human and haven’t been brought up with an LA work ethic.
Here’s a bit of philosophy, so bear with me, if you like.
For a writer, or any artist really, the industry’s work structure is or can be pretty soul crushing. It’s like being a Mistress, a casual lover:
Everybody tells you not to ever take anything personally. Whatever people fling at your head and your heart you MUST assume is not personal. But there’s an intractable dilemma involved: As an artist you cannot really ever work without using a bit of yourself, and a part of your heart and soul. As an artist, your very essence is what they pay you for. And they want, no, they NEED you to put your heart and soul into the project, so you can do your best work – for them.
Because we’re expected to give our heart and soul, like the Mistress, we simultaneously make ourselves vulnerable to heartbreak. And like the Mistress, you have to realise that despite pre-orgasmic promises of a bright future you will never be the wife, and they will never take responsibility for you. They may ask for your heart, but when they squish it under their Chuck Tailors they tell you it’s not supposed to have feelings. “No hard feelings” is the actual phrase they use. They’ll tell you not to take it personally, because that’s what professionals do. You’re supposed to take insult and vituperation like an ice cube submerging in whiskey, waiting for it to slowly melt away in the soothing warmth of its alcoholic friend.

And they are actually right. You shouldn't have hard feelings towards anyone, because it's exhausting and wears you out. And they’re not worth it in the long run. Shrug it off and move on. There's only one direction and it's forward.
Luckily, I’ve only received two “no hard feelings” emails in my life. The second one happened recently and didn’t really matter to me, but the first one came from afore mentioned director.
I liked this dude, so let’s call him Draco. We worked well together, or so I thought, and I was happy with the output. I got to write a lot, which made me happy, and I felt I did have an impact on how the production ran. The shoot was exhausting fun. I cannot quite tell you when things changed and what happened, but it went down in the most uncomfortable way possible. Draco had said a couple of unfriendly things about me behind my back, because he was dumb enough to do that. Of course, I got wind of it and then wrote him an email kindly asking to put his cards on the table and not to resort to communication fails. Which is what Draco did in a fairly harsh way. I’ve forgotten some of the exact wording – my suppression process is super sound – and I don’t want to go back and relive his reply. But to give you the gist: He did have a lot to complain about - that I had retracted from work, that I hadn’t answered that one email in a timely manner and thus proved unreliable, that he apparently saw early on I wasn’t cutting it, that he felt I was a bossy person (bossy was his word, whereas I’m more inclined to use assertive), and as he didn’t enjoy working with me he wasn’t planning on keeping me involved any longer. But of course... no hard feelings.
It was very hard for me to not have hard feelings at the time. I felt some of the things Draco said were too personal not to take personally.
“Don’t burn any bridges” is what they say, also. I happily burned this one, since I had no intention of crossing Draco river ever again. I saw a turd swimming in it.
See, I can get personal, too.
I would like to end this section on a positive note.
I met so many lovely people on this project that I think fondly of, too many to name them all, but there’s two in particular I will forever hold dear in my heart. One of them is Steve Itano, a Seattle-based master 1st AC, who is just such an absolute pleasure to have around. I could spend weeks with him, listening to his yarns and set stories. And then there’s Ryan Henneman, a disgustingly talented art director and LA native, who is not only deep and smart but also makes the list of potential dream husbands, because he can build a rocking horse for your kids out of paper clips and chewing gum. I have to smile every time they pop up on my social media feeds.
As far as screenwriting is concerned I kept writing during those months, of course. I did a few blog entries and wrote two TV specs as well as two feature specs. I finished and rewrote the script I had started out with Stu (see, I told you the timeline was kinda off), and I adapted a short story by Hans Christian Andersen. Both are not among my best work, but as I mentioned earlier, one has been optioned, and the other one has at least three lovely scenes in it that I’m proud of. And you know, the more you write the better you get. That’s actually so. At the end of the day it’s all about practice and the persistence to put your butt in the chair, your hands on the keyboard, and start typing, every day.
The purple straw and the tour bus in the background give the location of my mobile writing office away, while the desktop image, well, that's just wishful thinking:


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