City of Broken Wind

(FORTUNE Magazine) – AH, HOLLYWOOD! Land of bull. You know what I'm talking about. The word, with eight letters, signifies one of the key materials on which we build our business universe. For purposes of this column, we will employ its four-letter variant: bull. Today we concern ourselves with the capital city of the Left Coast of this great mercantile nation. Certainly, the juicy red center is just as awash in the substance we're talking about as either of the lightly seared blue portions of our republic. But when it comes to pure, unadulterated bull, there's no place like L.A. So many games! So many players, each a master of a kind of discourse that lies in the foggy land between truth and falsehood. Here they all are: the whiners and the shiners, the grabbers and backstabbers, the speculators and get-back-to-you-laters, the purveyors of hope to dopes and dope to the hopeless, the seducers and losers, the geeks and freaks and the kissers on two cheeks; the occasional saint mixed in with all those who ain't. All of them filled with dreams and schemes held together by a thick poultice of the substance familiar to artists worldwide.

Here they are: the agents and sub-agents and sub-sub-agents with their eye on the boss's leather recliner; the actors and subcontractors; the hopped-up show-runners and denizens of the lower depths waiting to pitch the network head of development, if they could just get him alone in the men's room for 30 seconds; the rumpled reporters and sodden bloggers and guys who live off junkets; the few at the top who wake at 4:00 A.M. to find out whether they're still in business--here in the only place outside Iraq where your friends are as dangerous as your enemies.

Nobody picks up their phone. If you pick up your phone, you're so over. "She's in a meeting," they say. She's gotta "return," always. "She'll return," they say. That means either she will or she won't.

"They like you for it," says the agent to his client, who is 23, tall, with a shock of dark hair and eyes the size of saucers, and who just arrived from New York after starring in a few Off-Off-Broadway plays. "They think you're perfect for it," says the agent, and the guy goes home and tells his wife he may soon be quitting his job in the mailroom at Morris. The next day they cast Kevin Federline in the pilot.

"He's a friend of mine," says the movie studio executive. This means that they worked together when they were both developing dramas for a now-merged television syndicator, and they hate each other's guts. They comb the trades every day looking to see which of them has moved incrementally higher on the greasy totem pole of the business. When one of them slides down a rung, the other takes him out to drinks at Spago or the Ivy and shines some light up his butt. Both appreciate the exercise.

"You've got a green light at HBO," they say. This means you may have another meeting on your project in the next six months. But that's good, even though it is 98% bull. Out here, when the bull stops, the project is dead.

"We'll do lunch!" they say. And you might, who knows?

"We can't do it without you," they say. But they can.

"You look great!" they say. And maybe you do. Maybe you do look great, even if it was hard to squeeze into the monkey suit for your seat at the Golden Globes this year, and you have to comb your hair a little longer to make it look convincing, and the person on your arm is a different model than he/she was last year. Yeah, maybe you do look great. Maybe you even feel great! Why shouldn't you? You are great! Everybody tells you so, while you are telling them the exact same thing, so what's the point of not believing what you hear?

What's the point of not believing that you have that role, that your script is in turnaround, that Brad or Britney or Bart Simpson is interested in your project? Hope! It springs eternal. And its greatest fertilizer is the substance that feeds the dreams that keep the condos full from Santa Monica to the Inland Empire. Hope! It does a body good.

And so it flows. From them to you and through you back into the balmy L.A. night, a world fueled and made possible by ... It. Because without It, we all go back to Pittsburgh or Bridgeport or Petaluma, to a world where there perhaps isn't quite so much bull around, but not quite so much hope either.

And in the end, who knows? A little song? A little dance? A little mulch down your pants? A little water? A little sunshine? Sometimes the stuff of life sprouts from the most unlikely locations. And somebody's gotta make it.

So let's have lunch, dude. I'm buying.

STANLEY BING's new book, 100 Bullshit Jobs ... And How to Get Them (Collins), is available at finer bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at