Anywhere you go in this day and age from Los Angeles to Afghanistan, you can sneeze and hit a screenwriter, a director, an actor or someone who just wants to hold the boom. I live in Orange County, a place that is quickly being marketed as the next “IT” place. Yet, I and my fellow writers can’t be taken seriously – even when we sneeze. I have my name on three different projects currently. One script I adapted from my father Alejandro Morales’ novel, The Brick People. One that I am working on with my brother, Greg Morales (a doctor in Los Angeles) and our good friend, Craig Gill, about the traumas of young refugees from Sudan coming to America. Finally, one I co-wrote with a coworker of mine, Charles Crowley. This last one is based on the life of Tina Modotti, the talented Italian photographer turned political activist.
I met Chuck at Ensign Intermediate School in Newport Beach. We are both educators. He is an Instructional Aide for Special Education and I teach Language Arts. We discovered a common passion for film, and eventually Chuck approached me with the idea of adapting Elena Poniatowska’s lyrical novel, Tinisima. I was seized immediately by Tina Modotti’s story. I related to her devotion, admired her talent and envied her drive. She was truly compelling and quite beautiful. Drawn by the project, we got right to work.
Now we’re done, but it’s practically impossible to get somebody to read it. We’ve sent out many inquiries and copies, and we get the consistent response of “We do not accept unsolicited scripts.” We need an agent, but we can’t seem to get the attention of an agent unless we already have a name. It’s a sad and cliché “catch-22.”
We are proud of our work and think it’s really damn good. Granted neither of us are producers, but I have studied film. In 1994, I graduated from Columbia University in New York City with a degree in Film Theory. I’ve watched all the classics, taken classes with Andrew Sarris and James Schamus, and learned editing from James Mangold. I believe I know a little of what makes a good movie. (At least my parents hope so, because it wasn’t a cheap degree.) Yet, my knowledge is insignificant if I’m not a Coppola or willing to sell my soul to the industry.
Like most industries we are told that we must pay our dues to get in the door. I tried. I worked as a production assistant. My job was to pick up food for lunch and dinner – usually Koo Koo Roo, El Pollo Loco and KFC. Apparently the taste difference was significant enough to send me half way across LA in three different directions for the same meal. My job was to deliver scripts at 3AM to Santa Monica, the Hollywood Hills and Ventura and to be back by 6:30 to start the coffee and get the bagels. I was constantly flummoxed. What kind of training was this supposed to provide me?
I separated myself from the industry and pursued a career in education. I now look back more objectively. I realize as an outsider trying to get in another door, that the training creates closed doors. Many of those that are in positions to open doors won’t because they are so bloodless from dealing with their own “paying your dues” crap.
I and my fellow OC writers are a community of people whom have chosen to live our own lives outside the Hollywood bullshit. In my opinion, it is this cancer of self-involvement created by the borderline torture the newcomers are expected to endure that is ruining the quality of Hollywood productions. People have lost sight of the art and seem more entrance by the fame and recognition. I’ve chosen to find another way. I haven’t found it yet, but I believe there is a way to open those closed doors without having to compromise my integrity. I know that here, beyond the Orange Curtain, is a market that somebody will tap into and find gold. Some day some sneezy, little executive looking for the new frontier will come knocking at our door. Meanwhile we will keep plugging away. We will keep writing, and we will keep knocking at those doors. Yes, in the OC, we too can sneeze and hit a thousand writers, directors and actors. I am confident that if we continue to adhere to our love of the art and continue to feed our passion for good stories we will blow those doors down real soon.