The French philosopher René Descartes is credited for whittling down what it means to be human to its barest essential: the ability to think. Word on the path was that Descartes felt more proud of discovering how much better potatoes taste fried than boiled. But centuries later the frog remains best known for penning the definitive catch phrase, “I think, therefore I am.”
There were, however, those who wondered if this “genius” had simply started a sentence and never finished it. Maybe they figured he’s a philosopher, so he’s more of an ideas guy. Or thought they could come up with better ending to: “I think, therefore I am… (INSERT phrase here).” These folks became writers.
Some of these writers felt particularly inspired and determined to come up with a decent ending. These visionaries believed they could also create original beginnings and middles. They were identified by their peers and, however insufferably, by themselves as authors. Much to the chagrin of Descartes, Parisian authors were particularly grating and referred to themselves as “auteurs”. They also referred to themselves in the third person.
Another faction of writers wanted to do as little work as possible. They gained footing under Louis XIV’s reign, starting with the King himself. Apparently, a scullery maid called her entitled boss a “son of a chien” and the prick thought she’d nicknamed him the “sun” king. He then ordered that “sun king” be monogrammed on every towel and tunic. He even gave them as gifts to his servants, which, of course, no one could then re-gift. Louis XIV decided this was a hilarious turn of phrase, and once this baboon called himself a writer, well, everyone and their mother followed suit.
Still, these writers, hacks, and auteurs had more in common with one another than with their fellow countrymen, who assumed all there was to life was churning butter and, occasionally, taking in a sword-swallowing show. Moreover, outsiders saw writers as one monolithic group who all “looked the same.” This was, in fairness, not a racial slur, as writers generally lack muscle mass. Writers were their own breed. They started to dress alike. Even female writers sprouted facial hair and wore Old Balance sneakers.
As with other minorities, they were often shunned. Like those who had forgone traditional fields like soil tilling, they paid the price. Parchment didn’t come cheap. If a writer landed a coveted staff writing position with a Lord, his highness could be cheap. Rumor has it that the Kings were almost as bad as Arianna Huffington when it came to paying their scribes. Fun fact, Martin Luther was one of the first writers to strike!
So writers started to band together. They formed unions, shared office spaces, and, for better or worse, started teaching courses on the art and craft of writing to aspiring writers. Sure, there were debates about the merit of this one’s declaration and that one’s fable, but by and large writers knew not to judge a scroll by it cover. Like they had any control over marketing experts back then either!
Instead, they knew that bottom line, or the only one a writer really needs, then as now, is that, “I write, therefore I am.”
When I pitch studio execs whose egos are inverse proportion to what they contribute to society, I try not to imagine them naked. (It would be more upsetting if I found myself attracted to them.) That said, I do wonder what it’s like to have everyone and your mother incessantly pitch you. What is the most absurd pitch? I imagine it goes something like this, and it’s probably already been being made……
* * * * *
Dear Mr. Rudin,
Congratulations on FISTULA: THE MUSICAL! It was so generous of you to fly that Sudanese woman in for the Broadway premiere. (Though crass of her lawyer to ask you to pay for tailoring her kaftan to fit a colostomy bag.)
So I wanted to follow up about WOMB BOY! My 3-D animated thrillerdy about a dude trapped in his mom’s womb. It’s a cross between THE CURIOUS CASE of BENJAMIN BUTTON and the real life story of Terry Schiavo.
When we meet WOMB BOY, he’s an All-American every dude, who happens to have never left his mother’s womb. (His mother just thought she was, like most Americans, obese). At first, WOMB BOY makes do. He enjoys free rent and meals, leeches off his mom’s wireless, and works out on the zip line, aka the umbilical chord. That is, until his mother decides to get her tummy tucked.
Enter the evil Dr. Heimlich, who sucks out her innards, including Womb Boy’s main source of protein: placenta. It’s during this invasive surgery that Womb Boy overhears Dr. Heimlich reveal how he then sells placenta on the black market to hair care companies. Womb Boy isn’t okay with Dr. Heimlich robbing innocent women and children of their prized placentas. But in salvaging his mother’s placenta, Womb Boy must cut the umbilical chord and come out of the womb. It’s not an easy journey, even for a super hero.
Anyway, I sent WOMB BOY to your assistant’s assistant! Thank you, again, for your consideration.
Otherwise, I’ll see you at Grandma’s for Hanukkah.
The idea was to integrate my Big Media work life—executive producing television series—with my Hudson Valley domestic life. I’d base my next show here, run it from home in Ghent, making use of all the local places and people I’d come to know over two decades as a weekender. I’d score financing in Hollywood, and bring the money and the production back home. CSI:Hudson.
“Hudson?” the studio exec said. “Where in New York is that?”
“Upstate,” I told him.
“Like Buffalo?” He knew Buffalo, because a bunch of writer-producers, like David Milch, come from Buffalo.
“South of Albany,” I said.
“Lots of snow,” he said.
“In the winter.”
“My son goes to boarding school up there somewhere.”
“Which school?” I asked.
He hit the intercom. “Call my wife. Find out where Buffalo goes to school.”
“Your son’s name is Buffalo?”
“Like Mailer’s kid,” he said. “Norman Mailer. The writer.”
“I know his work.”
“Hell of a writer.” He hit the intercom again.
“Put a call through to Norman Mailer, will you, Hon?”
“He’s dead,” I explained. He blinked. “I’m pretty sure.”
“That fucks that idea,” he said.
“NAKED AND THE DEAD, right. War series. Perfect if we go into Libya in a big way. Three theaters. They call wars theaters, you know that? Cool, huh? Everything’s show business. And just the title. You got naked. You got dead. Sex and violence. Who can go wrong with that? You sure he’s dead?”
He hit the intercom again. “NAKED AND THE DEAD,” he told his assistant. “See if the rights are available. Shoot L.A. for… Second World War, right? We build bars, whorehouses, backstreets, Paris, London, whole nine in a pocket, dark interiors.”
“THE PACIFIC,” I said.
“Shit. That’s easy. We’re on the Pacific.”
“My series,” I said.
“I love it. Small town. Big city cop retires, goes back home, small town upstate, runs their diddly-squat police force… We’re talking like a real close gene pool. Incest. Go to the county fair, everyone looks like they’re wearing the same mask. Lots of drugs behind the abandoned WalMart. High School date rape. Underage hookers. Meth labs in the woods. Everybody’s got at least three guns. Pit bulls. Dog Fights. Everyone hates the rich New Yorkers with their second fuckin’ homes. We get in bias crime. Muslim family runs the local 7-11. Son in rebellion, daughter, no way she’s getting the clitorectomy. Family strife, old fashioned kitchen sink drama. We go for Emmys. New York actors, trained actors. No pretty boys. Sexy yes, but soot-smudged faces, authenticity. No bullshit. I love it.”
“I can have a draft of the pilot in six weeks,” I said.
“You’re the man.”
“I’ll let my agent know.”
“Tell him not to rape me. I love this project too much.”
I stood up. “There’s an old factory in town,” I said. “Perfect soundstage. On 100 Centre Street, we built a production facility in a month for a million. Hudson’s cheaper than Queens. Most of the New York City crew comes out of Nyack. They just drive an hour north, instead of an hour south. Easier commute. So many actors in Columbia County, and south, Bedford, Katonah. We could probably use locals for half the cast. The rest of the cast—who wouldn’t want to spend a season in the area?”
I put out my hand, which the exec grabbed and squeezed. “I wish every deal was this easy, “
“Me too,” I said.
I was at the door when he said, “You know…” I turned around.
“I got to level with you. You know me. No bullshit, right?”
“You got your New York City cop, right?”
“Get some hard-body-going-nowhere in features, thirty-something, right?”
“Got shot on the job. Disability. Retired early, good pension.”
“But instead of upstate New York, he retires to Venice.” I looked at him.
“Venice Beach,” the exec said.
“Come on, guy, you film in upstate New York, all that cold, half the year the gals are bundled up in cable knits, parkas, you don’t see their titties…”
I wrote a novel instead.
DAVID BLACK is a novelist, journalist and screenwriter. For television, he has written episodes of HILL STREET BLUES, MIAMI VICE, LAW & ORDER and CSI: MIAMI, among others. His most recent book, THE EXTINCTION EVENT, was just published in paperback.