Go to any Urth Caffé or outdoor patio in this city that sells decent coffee, any line for an overhyped party or club where photographers are lurking, any power gym or yoga class that puts its name on tank tops for sale, and you’ll find them. They are the would-be screenwriters who’ve finished 11 pages but can already recite the recent prices paid for spec scripts. The would-be actors thinking they’re just one showcase away from quitting their day jobs. The would-be directors fretting about street cred when the only movie they’ve helmed is in their head. The would-be agents suggesting ways to fix Gwynnie’s flameout before phoning the trainee program for an interview. The would-be executives greenlighting their generation’s Pulp Fiction before scoring a part-time gig as a reader.
All are the Wannabes, sui generis to entertainment, and specifically to Los Angeles. Hopped up on hope. Drowning in dreams. Yet showbiz depends on their survival. Otherwise, the myth of Hollywood would seem a lot less elitist and glamorous; that club exists only as long as it won’t accept civilians like them as members.
Sure, it’s easy to wince at the Wannabes’ naiveté and enthusiasm. But their cluelessness also allows them to put up with all the screaming, rejection and slave wages that characterize the Industry. At their best, they’re like adorable pets who continuously bestow unconditional love even though they get mistreated over and over. At their worst, they’re those masochistic plebes in Animal House bending over in their underwear and begging to be whacked on the ass: “Thank you, sir, may I have another?”
They come out here from flyover country with little money and no contacts only to live in their AMC beaters or crowd onto stained futons. They praise each other’s work, but secretly wish failure for everyone but themselves. They have a friend who knows someone who works for A Famous Name, and who offers a vague promise to slip their scripts, head shots and resumés to the right people even if that’s just a euphemism for the wastebasket. They wait for stardom, success or succor because it wouldn’t be as sweet without the sacrifice. When fame or fortune doesn’t happen right away, they blame their own bad timing and linger. After still longer, they rewrite the Third Act, they change thesp teachers, beg family and friends to finance an indie prod, take temp work anywhere even remotely connected to entertainment and sneak onto studio lots.
What they never do is give up and go back home. And that’s why I adore them and their never-quiet lives of desperation, because their stick-to-itiveness constitutes the Best of Los Angeles. Spontaneously generated, thriving without benefit of nurturing, unstoppable as well as unfathomable, the Wannabes are always around to remind us of the serendipitous nature of life here. So next time you spot them, applaud.
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