Op-Ed: Learning the Hollywood Vernacular – and the Meaning of “ Validation ”
In the original version of “A Star Is Born,” almost all of the scenes reinforce the film’s function as a Hollywood commercial. Released in 1937, it was the story of a young woman named Esther Blodgett, played by Janet Gaynor, who wants to leave North Dakota for Southern California. (It’s a different image from his many remakes, although this one also grafted onto another great movie, “What Price Hollywood?” from 1932.)
At first, Blodgett’s Aunt Mattie is insensitive to her niece’s ideas. “She’s just a silly little girl whose head has been turned by the movies.” As soon as she forgets everything, the better off she will be. Blodgett replies, “Why will I be better? What’s wrong with wanting to go out and do something on my own?
Between 1890 and 1930, the population of Los Angeles grew from 50,000 to 1.2 million. The movie industry has evolved at the same time, from silent movies to walkie-talkies, from low-level “flickers” to the “big screen”. In the 1940s, there were more movie theaters in the United States than banks. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce actually issued notices discouraging people from moving to Los Angeles. An ad I found showed a crowd outside an employment agency. “Don’t try to get into the movies in Hollywood until you’ve gotten complete, candid, and reliable information,” he says. “It can avoid disappointments.” At the bottom it read: “Out of 100,000 people who started at the bottom of the screen fame ladder, only five made it to the top.”
The “Hollywood” business had produced a strange vocabulary. An actor was “in” a movie but “in” a television show. In a scenario, a character can be “aged”, “aged” or “colored” if the character appears too white. The “gaffers” were electricians, as were the “best boys” and “best girls”. “Apple boxes” were, in fact, apple boxes, which for some reason remained a staple of high-tech productions.
When producers offered a review of a performance or script, they “rated” or “gave ratings”, and for actors and writers alike, receiving ratings was a burden but also a sign of existence. ; getting grades meant you were working.
My wife, Rachel, and I worked together as a screenwriting team. One evening we were invited to a dinner party with a successful showrunner, a man who had created several great TV shows. He told us that the team of writers on his last show wanted to invent a doohickey that you could plug into a phone, so anytime you had a “notes call” with executives you could press a button every time. once an executive made a comment, and the phone would. sing one of the many canned responses: It’s a great idea… I hadn’t thought of it… You might be right… It’s a great idea… You might be right….
The showrunner’s phone rang. He left the table with an expression of concern. When he returned, Rachel asked, “So when do the grades stop?” He looked a little shocked and explained that the call he had just received was from the head of the network, to give him notes on the scenes they had filmed that day.
The way people in Hollywood see themselves or are seen by others often requires labeling. One afternoon, a successful director at a party complained about “karaoke stars”. A karaoke movie star, he explained, was an actor who wanted to be a movie star so badly that they seemed desperate; even if they did become a star, they would still seem like one. Chris Pratt was the best example, he thought; in the world of sport, Novak Djokovic?
On a New Years Eve party, an aspiring director asked how the year had gone for him the year before, said, “I was trying the whole narcissism thing for a while. It was good, it was good. But then I started to get lost. I had no idea who I was anymore.
One day at lunch, a writer friend said that a big movie star told her that morning on a conference call that she was the most desirable thing in town. (“Desirable” being a euphemism for the word he actually said.) It was a few months before the #MeToo movement began in earnest.
In the same call, the star asked if she would go on a date with a studio executive they knew in common, to potentially secure funding for their project. “You know how the city works,” added the star. The friend wasn’t sure how to respond. She told him she was busy; she spent the whole day writing in bed. “Okay, don’t move, I’ll send it right away,” he said.
To be sure, the city-state had a lot of vocabulary that wasn’t unique to Hollywood. A “SigAlert” was a roar of traffic. “Gray May” refers to overcast weather, frequently extending to “June gloom.” As exposed on the sketch “Saturday Night Live” “The Californians”, it remained the habit to invoke the freeways with specific articles, as in “the 405” or “the 101”, recalling the time when the freeways had. still names, before they became just numbers. As in the first pages of Joan Didion’s “Play It as It Lays”, published in 1970, the protagonist Maria drives “the San Diego to the port, the port to Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana , the Pasadena, the Ventura. “
And the pink vans parked around Burbank’s Topless Maids ad actually depicted housekeepers working at the seminary. There were also notice boards on Sunset that advertised “Sugar Models,” for anyone interested, as a sponsor or downline, to enter into a transactional relationship. A UCLA relative said, “Need a summer job? Date SUGAR DADDY. “
In Hollywood, when a producer called you to his office for “a general” – a get-to-know-you-meet – his assistant would often let you know in advance whether you would be “validated” or not.
The word mainly applied to parking. Producers’ offices often had valet parking, or were located in buildings with parking garages, and the phrase meant that the producer would cover garage or valet costs. But the broader meaning also had a bearing. The producers saw themselves as those who knew a good thing when they saw it. The best were curious and caring. The worst was fear and envy. And some meetings with producers, generally surrealist, lacked labels.
One morning we went to Santa Monica for a little general, a little not: a pair of successful producers wanted to turn one of our scripts into a TV show. A friend of ours, acting as an intermediary, met us in the lobby. The producers, two middle-aged white men, escorted us all into their conference room and said they had bad news: they had reread our script that morning and changed their mind; They weren’t interested, but since they had booked the time and we had parked in their garage, maybe we would go and listen to some of their ideas? Ideas that they did not yet have but which would be in fashion on the spot? Because maybe we’d hear an idea we found interesting, take it home and turn it into an “on-spec” script – a phrase that producers use to mean “for free” – and bring it back to them. for them to examine? Was it cool?
The men turned in their chairs and found themselves facing a large whiteboard.
“How about that,” said the first to the second. “Imagine a 19th century town that still exists today, unknown.”
“Of course,” said the second. “Is it in America?”
“It’s in America,” said the former. “Maybe in South America. No, America. “
“Like ‘The Earth time forgot.'”
“Yeah, ‘The Town Time Forgot.'”
“So they have power?” Electricity.”
“Let’s say they have power.”
“But no phone.”
“What do you mean, they’re churning butter.”
“It’s like those Amish kids who get kicked out for a year.”
The second producer turned to us. “Do you see what we’re saying?”
“We want to see what these people are doing,” said the other. “Politics. Bowel wrestling and sex and all. What makes us listen to the next episode? I need something to grab hold of, something to hold onto.
Silence for a moment as they turned to the whiteboard.
“About that -” the first said, in some confusion. “Do they know the modern world? The people who churn the butter.
“Maybe. But no phone.
“Maybe one or two people are coming from outside.”
“Because there is a murder.”
“But it’s Shakespearean, it must be Shakespearean.”
“‘King Lear.’ You have to put some of it in there.
“They all want this,” the second told us contemptuously, and the first agreed, although it wasn’t clear here who “they” were – the audience, the networks, the other producers. “Listen, that idea,” he said, “that might not be good, but here’s what you need to know: Give us a world we’ve never seen before. This is what we want. This is what they want. Give us that.
After another hour the receptionist asked if we needed validation, we said yes, and she stuck several stickers on a ticket stub to pay for our parking. Unfortunately, the guard in the basement parking lot told us that the receptionist had made a mistake; she had only applied enough stickers for an hour of parking, but the meeting had lasted an hour and 15 minutes. An unvalidated parking spot in their garage costs $ 50 per 30 minutes. The meeting cost us $ 25.
“Really, the only thing you can hope for in a meeting like this is that you don’t get hard in the parking lot,” our friend said. “Like we just fucked each other off.”
Hollywood is an interesting and strange place to work. In subsequent meetings, if things were not going well, Rachel and I would look at each other and act out how a butter churn works. But sometimes it was easy to get upset.
One morning, we visited a large wig producer at their offices in West Hollywood to pitch a movie idea. In the conference room, six people were seated around a modern coffee table. The table was dark and bare except for a small mirrored coaster and three lines of cocaine. It was like a trap. Should we recognize that the drugs were there? Did someone forget to clean up a party? Were the lines meant for us, like coffee?
Rachel later figured it out was something else: a coaster sold by artist Nir Hod, printed with realistic-looking white powder. “There is a certain magic in solitude,” the artist explained in her statement about the piece. “It’s not about drugs or glamor – it’s about the inner world, where you can dream, love, and seek greater truth – it’s about a feeling of being connected to something. ‘also human. “
The churn rate is real.
Rosecrans Baldwin is the author of several books and the co-author, with Rachel Knowles, of the documentary “Stone Locals”. This article is an adapted excerpt from his new book, “Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles,” which will be released on June 15.