Chapter 17: Inspiration

March 31, 2009

The New Year was under way and I was eager to tackle Mission Statement 2009.  First things first, I needed to seek out some inspiration.

Thomas Edison once said that “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”  Fortunately for me, Edison didn’t muddy up his quote with any qualifiers or pesky ‘plus or minus’ phrases that are used so often in research and statistical analysis.  I happen to sweat quickly, regularly, and profusely, which leads me to believe that the ‘inspiration’ factor of the equation carries extra weight when it comes to Jesse Gavin, relatively speaking.

I’ve always been one to seek out inspiration, and over the years I have come to believe that the most effective inspiration comes from either people I know, or those that are in the same boat.  As good as Philip Seymour Hoffman may be, his performances pale in comparison to seeing Kira Sternbach on stage, in terms of inspirational value.  If a good friend of mine is a force to be reckoned with (talent-wise), then his or her landing a role and becoming successful is like a major drug binge for me (inspiration-wise).

Hemingway hit the bottle; I hit the off-off-Broadway circuit.

One of my dear friends from New York City, Rachael Hip-Flores, deservedly landed the lead role in a new Web-Series on Strike TV.  Normally the phrase “web-series” makes my skin crawl, as it tends to be industry-speak for “don’t have to pay anyone or waste time with pre-production or create anything of value,” or some slight variation of this basic standard of shaziness (“shazy” – varying degrees of lazy and shady).  Every kid out of film school that doesn’t have enough drive to raise a budget or fill out paperwork quickly learns that he can call himself a producer and/or director when he talks to girls at bars by simply making a web-series.  “The Networks are scouting the Web these days for their new shows” is the sort of phrase that he’d use.

Strike TV, however, was conceived during the Writer’s Strike to give creative control back to the ones wielding the pen.  Consequently, a lot of carefully thought out, respectable productions found funding based on Strike TV’s challenge to members of the Writer’s Guild: “create original programs for the Internet and we will provide you with a website and ad revenue.”

I was thrilled to find out that Rachael landed a choice role in a series written by Susan Miller, whose credits include The L Word and Thirtysomething.  The series is called Anyone But Me, and focuses on “a new generation searching for love and belonging in the post 9/11 age.”  Rachael plays a sixteen year-old girl who faces the culture shock of moving from New York City to the suburbs.  We see her have to say goodbye to her girlfriend in Episode 1, introducing a side of her that she has yet to really tell anyone about in her new home, her sexual preference.

Ah, the suburbs.  They just don’t invite anything out of the norm.

A few days into New Year’s I was still hungry for inspiration, and a notice popped in my Facebook about the latest Episode being available online.  Sweet!  I brought up the site, selected the new episode, and maximized the screen.  As I was doing this, my roommate Jimmy moseyed in from wandering out and about and asked what I was watching.

“My friend back in New York got a lead role in a web-series…did you want to watch?”

“Yeah man, fire it up.”

I started to play Episode 4, and popping up onto my screen were two scantily clad female teenagers under the sheets, gazing amorously in each other’s eyes.  The scene lasts about a 60 seconds, and before it was halfway through, Jimmy interjected:

“Dude.  I swear to God.  I wrote a scene JUST like this before.  I mean, like, EXACTLY like this.  Back when I was in film school…” – Jimmy began a tangent about film school, and I ended up pausing the episode.  In general I like to focus on what it is I’m watching, and Jimmy seemed like he had switched gears from watching the show to telling a story, so I paused and gave him my attention.

When he was done, he sat back on his bed and grabbed his laptop.  I started the Episode again, from the top so that I wouldn’t lose any of the flow of the writing.  I was fifteen seconds in when I heard Jimmy get up from the other side of the divider.

“Dude, I’ve seriously written like…Fifty scenes – EXACTLY like this.  Like two chicks hanging out, you know…”

After a third attempt to watch the Episode, I realized that I would have to wait until Jimmy was not around.  Unbeknownst to me, Jimmy had apparently penned quite a few scenarios that involved two young girls lying in bed with very little clothing on.  I wasn’t able to read any of his work, but I suspect their function fell more under the category of “gratuitous” than the scene from Anyone But Me, which could best be described as “heart warming”.

The preceding three episodes set the stage for this intimate reunion of Aster and Vivian, as the latter’s move to the suburbs had placed her in a setting way out of her comfort zone.  We get to see Vivian truly relaxed and at peace, in stark contrast to the anxiety induced by her fish-out-of-water predicament.  The scene further builds the relationship with Aster, something we really only got to see over cell phone calls and text messages.

Jimmy didn’t have to watch the first three episodes, however, to see the most brilliant aspect of the scene: the teenage girls in bed.  He was able to relish in the knowledge that he had already thought of this long before Susan Miller.  In this industry, however, enjoyment quickly gives way to that nagging regret: why didn’t I shoot my stuff when I had the chance?  Here it could have been Jimmy directing the scene instead of Tina Cesa Ward.  Maybe there could have been an additional make-out sequence?

It was at this moment that I was reminded that the best and most important inspiration in the world was not going to come from Philip Seymour Hoffman or even Kira Sternbach, but from the real life characters I have the chance to experience if I get my head out of the laptop (as I wrote this, I took a quick look around the Coffee Shop and it’s just a bunch of writers on laptops, so maybe this is one of those rare exceptions).

When people ask me why I want to be an actor, I always think of Dale the Dishwasher.  My first job at age fifteen was scrubbing pots and pans in an upscale Italian joint (where I met the infamous Bucci).  Although we shared the same duties, Dale was my senior by a solid twenty years.  Having grown up in the suburbs (much like the area Vivian loathes so much), I wasn’t accustomed to those that made their way through life on minimum wage.  At first I thought of Dale as, I regret to say, a bit of a joke.  He was the sort of guy we made fun of in High School or on Hockey trips.

I remember asking him out of the blue one day, for fun, “hey Dale, you ever been hit by a train?”  He spent a solid seven seconds reflecting before his definitively doofy response, “duh…nope!”.  I wish I could say he didn’t precede most of his regularly incomplete sentences with the word ‘duh,’ but let’s just say I no longer view the creator of the Goofy character as a man with an impressive imagination.

The truly defining moment for me was the day Dale started asking me questions.  It was during some down time on a Tuesday shift, and he had a grounded energy about him that led me to believe he wasn’t hung over (this is the man that would hold his arms out and shout “gimme” when cases of beer were carted by).  He asked me about school, what subjects I was taking, what I like, what I didn’t like.  He asked about my family, how my (previously employed there) brother was doing and asked that I say hello for him. 

As silly as this sounds, this is the day Dale became a real person to me.  I started to learn more and more about him.  He lived with his mom, who was sick.  He had moved in to take care of her, after his father had died.  I saw him one time taking a walk with someone, and asked him the next day at work.  “Oh yeah, that’s my buddy Larry”.  The fact that the guy was named Larry was hilarious, but I was more moved by what I could sense was his life-long friendship with this guy.  They drank beer and probably went to strip clubs when possible (I know what you were thinking there with that Larry part, but Dale was all about the ladies, just ask the flummoxed waitresses).

This was the beginning of my love affair with people.  I’m not saying I had a love affair with Dale, I mean, what would Larry think?  But Dale was the first person I ever moved past the stereotype of.  He was just a regular guy like me that lived a different life.

One of my biggest fears of moving to Los Angeles would be that I would be around lots of fake people.  But there’s no such thing as a fake person!  That’s the best part.  It might get kind of boring being around a lot of Hollywood-types, but I was fortunate to find a house with all sorts of wacky characters.  None take the cake more than my roommate Jimmy.

Jimmy has easily been my best friend since moving to Los Angeles.  Hailing from Upstate New York, we have a very similar outlook on the world.  He’s a wake-with-the-sun sort of a guy, and likes to wander.  He likes hockey, grilling, and movies.

There were two fundamental differences, however, between Jimmy and I.  These didn’t cause any tension, but rather served as defining factors for our experiences.  The first was that Hollywood was not Jimmy’s place.  I would have given anything to have lived with this guy in Colorado or Hawaii, but Los Angeles isn’t his thing.  He moved out to pursue work in film production, but his heart was in it.  He wanted to direct.  The second difference was further exaggerated by California’s medical code regarding glaucoma and the like.  Jimmy gets headaches, see.  So Jimmy gets medicine.  It’s not that he couldn’t get this medicine elsewhere, just not from state approved dispensaries.  He’d have to get it from the street corner.

Jimmy didn’t dig Los Angeles.  Jimmy got stoned.

And thus we begin the Jimmy Chronicles: Jesse’s first time moving past the stereotype of a stoner.

Thomas Edison: I’ve got some sweating to do.


PREVIOUS CHAPTER: Mission Statement 2009

NEXT CHAPTER: Inspiration Meets Action