Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles’

Homelessness… could never happen to me?

August 28, 2015

(Scroll down if you just want to see the pictures)

The subject of a screenplay I’m writing said something in answer to an interview question: that before she went to America, she imagined it being this perfect world, this wonderland free of prejudice and poverty. Having seen the USA with her own eyes and worked there a month, she returned to South Africa with a new appreciation for her homeland.

This is the truth. South Africans visiting Europe tend not to encounter real life there. But, take the train a few miles out of Barcelona’s quaint center, and you’ll see where how most people really eke out a living, in high-rise apartments. Maybe it’s better than where they came from. Maybe it’s not, but they’re in love with the dream.

America is both worse than I ever imagined and better than I ever dreamed. And yes, I’m staying, on what’s charmingly called an “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” visa. I must love it here, or I wouldn’t have gone through the trauma of the tough and bank-balance-erasing application process, just to complete a few projects!

But it’s no easy ride. Recently I’ve been reminded of how easy it is to fall off the wagon in America, and how hard it can be to get back on once you’re off.

You see people living under bridge and you think: “Well, that would never happen to me.

I work hard! I don’t suffer from PTSD. Any psychological conditions I suffer from (like radical liberalism) are manageable. I’ve got some sources of income to fall back on. I never sign up for new credit cards, no matter how many offers those snakes at American Express, Capital One, Chase and the other banks send me without my consent, to an address they shouldn’t have in the first place… “

But because I’m home to South Africa for a while, I had to give up my apartment. It’s rent controlled, which means it only cost me $800 a month when I moved in. I gave notice a month ago. Last week, I saw my apartment advertised at $1025 a month – because rent control only lasts until a new tenant moves in. I’m going to have to find about 20% more rent money when I return, to live in one of LA’s cheapest neighborhoods!

And that got me thinking: What if I went away to Iraq for two years to fight a war, came back damaged and with a missing leg, serious PTSD, and a drinking problem? How would I ever find my way back home, then?

The truth is, very few people do.

Hence this rather fiery NEWS24 COLUMN.

The tunnel. Is there any way out of this?

The tunnel. Is there any way out of this?

The resident. He kisses pigeons. His nickname is “Birdman”.

House, phase I

House, phase I. Just a drawing on a wall, with the owner sleeping in front. This is back in December 2014 – note the Christmas Tree and snowman.

homeless before

House, phase II, after a few weeks of habitation.

Current house, with “Stunning Mountain Views” courtesy Skidrobot.

Homeless people are everywhere in California. It's not the America you see on TV, that's for sure.

Homeless people are everywhere in California. It’s not the America you see on TV, that’s for sure.

Elbow live at The Wiltern in my Los Angeles

May 29, 2014

Living in LA can be lonely when you’re single, don’t really drink and don’t have that community you spent your 20s and 30s building. But sometimes it’s all wow and no downside. Like tonight. I’m getting to see Elbow ( one of my favorite bands ever) play live five minutes drive and 30 minutes parking from my apartment. Since it’s music to slit your wrists to it almost feels appropriate to be standing in line alone.

Who named this street "Ethanol". Secret genius, as this corner is a favorite with Hollywood's homeless drunk population, and it's rich drunk population.

Who named this street “Methanol”. Secret genius, as this corner is a favorite with Hollywood’s homeless drunk/druggie population, and it’s rich drunk/druggie population.

The long line moved fast, and then we were in. The place has a bar in every available space and service by a waitress with an illuminated tray in the theater itself.

I've always wondered what it was like inside the Wiltern. Now I know - it's amazing.

I’ve always wondered what it was like inside the Wiltern. Now I know – it’s amazing.

The bathroom. Nothing changes wherever you go. "So and so is a slut whore bitch" "So and so is an asshole" "Here, look, a cat."

The bathroom. Nothing changes wherever you go. “So and so is a slut whore bitch” “So and so is an asshole” “Here, look, a cat.”

The nosebleed seat I got was almost a pleasure, simply because the building was so beautiful. Anyhow, you don't go to SEE Elbow, so much as to listen to them.

The nosebleed seat I got was almost a pleasure, simply because the building was so beautiful. Anyhow, you don’t go to SEE Elbow, so much as to listen to them.

And I listened. And I cried. “Mirrorball” always gets me. First the tingles, then the fucking tears.



And after the show, I went to buy ice cream, then took a side street back to my car.  And after wishing I wasn’t quite so far away from my favorite band for most of the show, guess who I run into, out for a smoke behind Dennys? Elbow. They looked smaller off stage, even though I was closer now. They listened politely and exhaustedly as I gushed my thanks, feeling my faith in miracles restored.



LA’s ever-shifting wall-art world

April 17, 2014

Most of the art I get round to seeing is painted on walls. I love the people who beautify the city I live in with their work.


A new one. I gather it’s all about peace and love.


“All you need is the right kind of love”. Don’t I know it. And if it’s out there, it’s out of reach right now. A married friend recently gave me a well-meaning lecture about how hard love was – as if I didn’t know. But I still think life is better with it than without it, and I still believe finding it is sadly, rare.


Yeah. But do it the right way. I love how you don’t even see the car advert dominating the wall.


Check out that cell phone that uses the pipe of the building as an aerial. One of my favourites, which I pass almost daily.


The beautiful Wiltern. I wish I could live inside it. I must go see a band there sometime. Somehow managed to miss Amos Lee when he played.


On an electricity box opposite the big Wiltern… a little Wiltern. So cute. I hope nobody messes it up.


A lot of the wall art that survives unscathed over the years does so because it’s high up. But unfortunately nobody’s too high up to hide from capitalism.


Don’t remember where I took this. It’s so cool.


Some places need art more than others. I nearly missed this one, just after a burned out building.


Someone has badly defaced it so it almost blends in with the lost, run down strip of Chrenshaw, with $20 tattoo parlors, pawn shops and 99c stores competing for sparse clients.


Punch-in: It’s like whoever defaced this with crude, pointless black paint doesn’t realise how what they are doing just underlines what the words are telling them.


Punch-in: A woman passing saw me looking at it and stopped to talk. “I watched the artist painting this for half an hour,” she said. “The kids who drew all over this should be arrested. That’s what we need. Zero tolerance. I live around here but it’s so dangerous.” Then she crossed the road and I wondered if I’d ever see her again.


Punch-in: It’s called “The Gift”. Hey whatever you think of what the artist is saying, it’s still something better to think about than what car to buy, or which four letter words to tattoo on your knuckles.



Stencil art is big in Cape Town too. Damn the moron with the purple crayon!

But hey, let’s end with my favorite, of all time, so far unblemished.


Because in this sometimes lonely city, the writing underneath the angel picture says: We are all angels with one wing. We can only fly holding each other. I also love the paintings on the wall of the Peter Pan Market and 99c Store opposite it.

Los Angeles: A tale of 255 cities, and counting

March 5, 2014

I spend hours in my car some days, stopping to use a bathroom, pick up another coffee, shovel a sandwich into my mouth… and what’s struck me the most is how disjointed and changeable LA is.

A few roads from extreme wealth – extreme poverty – back to extreme wealth… Limousines fight for lanes in the traffic with guys pushing shopping carts. A begger in Beverly Hills has a sign: Beverly Hells. He says he’s hungry. I didn’t know Thunderbird was a meal, but I guess it’ll do for him just for today. I wonder if he’s a screenwriter?

Wall to wall white people in one place. Then suddenly you’re grabbing lunch in what Fox News would call “Not even America”. There’s Chinatown, Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Little Ethiopia… etc etc.

LA feels like a place that’s grown and been destroyed and grown again without much planning.

This, of course, is part of my city’s beauty.

Don't mess around in this neighborhood... I drove past twice, to see what happened. Nothing did. Then again, I'm white.

Don’t mess around in this neighborhood… I drove past twice, to see what happened. Nothing did. Then again, I’m white.


About 50 meters from the no cruising sign. This place. I love the police lights on the roof. And I shudder to think what kind of tattoo you get for $20.


It rained this week. We were mostly glad, because there’s a drought. But the traffic in LA was worse than ever.


Believe it or not, this is the sign for a grocery store. Where I will never shop.


Olympic Blvd looking oh so California, as traffic ruins another sunset for millions of Angelinos.


I will never understand this… how Americans don’t like to have people cheering for the other team in the same bar / stadium / town. It’s so childish.


Jesus Save…. and then it cuts off. Huh. Does he? I see this every day. I just love where it is, right in front of this city full of sin.

Parking in LA is the tampon of living in LA

February 10, 2014

It’s bloody hell. Actually that was a gratuitous pun. It’s a pain in the ass… no I don’t do that with tampons. Okay, done with the puns, then. Parking…

You can live in a suburb, like mine, where you rarely need to walk to do your daily stuff. I have coffee shops, supermarkets… and amazing 24 hour spas, cheap massage places, great takeout, all within 10 minutes’ walk of my apartment.

2014-02-09 15.36.36

Boba. Coffee Boba. Apparently this will kill me. But have you tasted it? It is heaven.

But even if I didn’t want to leave my neighborhood, I’d still have to move my car at least once a week, on Wednesdays, for 3 hours – and that’s if I were not parked in the anti-gridlock zone (move your care between 7 and 9am) or on the street cleaning street (move your car between 2-5am), or the no parking on Thursdays zone…

You can live without a car in LA – there is plenty of public transport everywhere except Santa Monica. But why would you want to? If you wanted to live in a village, you wouldn’t be in LA to start with. Only the rich people in LA want to live in a village (they live in Santa Monica) because hey, rich folks can leave the village in a limo whenever they like. The point and joy of Los Angeles is how much it has to offer. The small problem with it is that it’s so sprawling and crazy that you absolutely need a car to actually LIVE there… and that’s why parking is like tampons here. Why tampons?

Cause, sure, you could make do with rags, or pads, for a few days, or just squat over the toilet. But who wants to do that? Nobody, that’s who.

So of course, everybody overcharges like crazy for parking in LA. A spot with an automated gate will push your rent up by $300 in Hollywood. Something off street will be around $75. And there’s a queue for that. It’s about two years long in Koreatown. I often park about 10 minutes walk from where I live. I have a sure bet spot that opens up often outside what I suspect is a crack house.

Head to a popular beach for a dip? Parking is $15 flat at Huntington. How about Hollywood Boulevard? Well, it’s $5. I’ve been here so long I was excited by that price, tonight. That sounded cheap.

I parked in a 2-hour government run parking spot. $4 for that two hours. Then I ran back and fed the meter for another 20 minutes – 50C. Then I left the event I’d been invited to by Eventbrite, by someone I still have not identified. But thanks – a really cool gig called Hollywood Shorts. More on that sometime soon.

Can you read the sign? It says five dollars, right?

Can you read the sign? It says five dollars, right? Wrong. If you get to the gate, it says $5 per 30 minutes in very, very small print. Flat rate is $20 til midnight.

Ready for kids?

August 27, 2013

I love this billboard, as someone who realized that since men were more scared of babies than aids, condoms were my best bet,


Funny, True or False: Soundbites from a WGF screenwriting masterclass

July 2, 2011

What makes a great writer? Who knows. But I’m working on finding out, or finding that in me.

When I applied to film schools in the USA I decided where to apply based on the following three criteria, in this order of important. 1. were they still accepting applications for fall 2010 2. were they considered to be one of the top 10 film schools offering a film-making MFA? 3. Were they anywhere near LA? 1. ruled out NYU, Columbia, USC, UCLA and a number of other top 10 schools. And that’s how I wound up at Chapman: the new kid on the film school block.

Writers are the nerdiest in an industry of nerds. Okay, some of the stars are "cool" kids. A few directors scrub up okay. But the rest of us are kinda nerdy. It was a massive relief when the well-lubricated post-event mixer was held in the library, because it's the one place where you can legitimately stare at the bookshelves at a party instead of "networking". Although I am proud to say I was networked by two guys, one of whom might actually be a real writer.

I spend less time in LA than I imagined I would. My school is really good, and with professors like Anna Waterhouse, Toni Spiridakis, James Dutcher, Jeff Phillips and Paul Wolansky, I’m learning a lot, fast. But I did make it out there Saturday 25th for a Writer’s Guild Foundation day-workshop comprising masterclasses and panels and featuring a bunch of great working screenwriters/directors/producers, in order of appearance:  Nicholas Meyer (Elegy, Star Trek VI),  John August (Big Fish, The Nines, Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, Charlie’s Angels), Ted Elliott (Pirates of the Carribean and a crapload of other stuff), Derek Haas (3:10 to Yuma, Wanted and others), John Lee Hancock (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Blind Side), Leslie Dixon (Overboard, Mrs. Doubtfire, Pay it Forward, Limitless and many more) and Elizabeth Hunter (Charmed, The L-Word, E.R.). Talent managers and producers JP Evans, Lawrence Mark, and Marc Platt joined the final panel.

Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of any of them except John August. That’s normal. “Famous Screenwriter” is a contradiction in terms. And since so much was said and I am short of time, I’m just going to collect my favorite and funniest quotes of the day. If you want to learn more, read the book. What book? Whatever book.

On Drama and Audiences: “It’s a question and answer between you and the audience.” In the book, the ending can be sad and subtle. “In the movie, you have to blow up the bridge”. “Audiences may be stupid, but they’re never wrong.” – Meyer. “If you give the audience a sense of trust in the structure, they’ll work with you to tease out the story – they will look for the cause and effect, they’ll stay interested [as a result of their expectations].” – Ted Elliott.

On Mel Gibson: His movies are all ‘Hamlet without the doubts’ When watching Braveheart: “Nobody making this movie is taking this story seriously.” They’re just “remaking Sparticus with all the elements put through a blender, meaning reduced to bumper stickers.” – Meyer.

On the power of movies: “A movie can make you care passionately about something you never knew existed before.” Like sheep drovers in Australia (The Sundowners).- Meyer.

On the power of movies: "A movie can make you care passionately about something you never knew existed before." Like sheep drovers in Australia (The Sundowners).- Meyer. Of course, you probably couldn't get this made now. "Sales departments have taken over deciding what movies to make. Stories have become slashed up into demographic pie wedges."

On using Narrators: As Billy Wilder pointed out, Narrators allow you to avoid ‘overstructuring’ and also they make room for satire. – Meyer

Structure is when stuff happens.” – August

On Adaptating books for screen: Nicholas Meyer memorises / rewrites the book by typing up a long summary and thus making the story his own.

Two things people write that nobody should be allowed to write: “He has a smile that doesn’t quite meet his eyes.” “She’s pretty, but doesn’t know it.”  – A sort of chaotic agreement between the Elliott, Haas, Hancock panelists.

On Screen directions: “They take me out of a script. I’m enjoying it and then suddenly I’m thinking ‘It’s 98 degrees and where’s craft services.'” – Hancock.

Writing is… “developing ideas you’re not going to use. Writers block is not ‘not enough ideas’, it’s ‘too many ideas that you can’t decide between’.”

Biggest Mistakes: “Avoiding conflict by failing to speak up when I saw things going wrong on set.” – Meyer

On “Predictability: It’s good for boyfriends. It’s bad for action heroes.” – August

When it comes to writing action and description “Specify the minimum” – Meyer.

What a producer wants is “Something that’s the best version of what it ‘wants’ to be. – Dixon

On the fast pace of today’s films: “In the old days it happened like this. Character says: ‘I’m gonna go to Paris.’ They buy a ticket. They get on the plane. They fly. They arrive. They go to their hotel. They have a shower. Then they go to Paris. Now they say ‘I’m gonna go to Pa–‘ and the next thing they’re in Paris being chased by somebody.” – August.

Getting it made depends on passing the Saturday Night Test. Do you want to go watch “A dying Animal” or “Elegy”? Elegy, right. Same story, different emphasis. “Maybe you can convince them to take a flier, but there are only x number of Friday nights, only a certain number of movies that are going to get made.” – Meyer

“Whenever I’ve violated the ‘would I buy a ticket’ rule, it’s been a disaster.” – Leslie Dixon

On  getting your Passion Project made: “Wait for someone to become a star. Hang onto it. There will be new names, next year.” – Leslie Dixon

What about film school‘s screenwriting rules? “They’ll tell you ‘don’t write the stuff a director can’t film’. I say screw that. I might write a whole paragraph about what the character’s feeling.” – Haas

The game is played like so:A story is a con-game and a writer is a con-man. And not because I have enormous confidence, but because I can instill it in you, and make you listen to what I say. You’re the only expert on your own story.” – Elliot 

Creative methods vary: “There are two basic creative methods.” Mozart, who just played billiards and wrote in his head and ‘copied it out’ and Beethoven, who edited a lot. – Meyer

On overcoming ‘writer’s block’. “You start off with nothing but every possibility.” Fey space in math’s. “Each time you make a decision you eliminate every other possible decision. Make the decision you consciously think will NEVER get you to the next point in the story. How do I get from B to C? I’m doing 7.pi.” – Elliott

On rejecting the Hollywood Formula: “It’s like trying to fake a hard-on. It just doesn’t work.” – Meyer.

On writing, pure and simple: “You have to believe in what you do. I’m not writing to satisfy the expectations of 60 million people i’ve never met.” – Meyer.

On why ‘pure and simple’ is a pipe dream. “The idea of writing for yourself is a statement of fear. I don’t know about the rest of you but I love the Monty Python scetch that is about a joke that is so funny that everybody who reads it, dies. I want people to understand what I write in exactly the way I intend. I am writing for everybody. The danger in Hollywood is when someone says ‘write something you don’t believe will be good’.” – Elliott

On Actors: “50% of your dialogue won’t make it. An actor will say: “You know that big speech I have about the labor unions in America? I can do that with a look.” – Meyer “Every Actor has one question they want to know the answer to about your film. ‘The director… is s/he crazy. Are we going to have to pull the boat over the mountain?'” – Meyer.

And ya, so…

A South African filmmaker wrote an article (for some reason, filmcontact failed to award him a byline, so I have no idea who he is!) assessing the state of the South African film industry, and saying we need better writers and directors in South Africa. I guess this is good news for me. Presuming  I’m “better”, that is. I suspect I’m learning to be. *update: Story by Ronnie Apteker, a South African producer. Thanks Nadia for that info.

Nude ladies, “Friends”, pool, karaoke and hamburgers at Barney’s Beanery, West Hollywood

March 24, 2011

Do I have to blog about it every time I go to Los Angeles? Well, probably, until it stops seeming like a place of magic and dreams; everything I expected of it and more.

Traffic. Rain. 35 Miles in three hours. Thank God for CD changers and conversation.

Been going to LA a lot at the moment because the Writer’s Guild is holding a weekly interview / screening / discussion series with famous TV writers – last week was an amazing session with Steve Levitan of Modern Family. Today I got roped in to checking out Friends‘ Marta Kauffman and David Crane. And I didn’t expect it to be half as amazing as it was. I loved it so much that I now… briefly wanted to watch the whole 10 episodes of the series for (believe this or not) the first time. I doubt I’ll actually go through with it though, don’t worry.

The original pitch and treatment. Check it out - it seems Friends was originally titled "Bleeker Street" (like in the sad Simon & Garfunkel song) and later the slightly cheerier "Insomnia Cafe".

Anyhow, we wound up at Barney’s Beanery afterwards. It is awesome – and proof that America will turn anything – ANYTHING, NO MATTER HOW ALTERNATIVE – into a commercial undertaking. The place is basically a collection of all the USA’s rock ‘n roll glorification, thrown together in a faux dive bar atmosphere, with a technology coulis.

Great burgers, better mash, and a beer list that made me very happy. A 10pm happy hour too. And all the healthy options and mild food choices that keep All-Americans and Hollywood types content.

Of course, you want it to seem “real”, right?

This picture of a sexy lady pasted on the booth wall, the slightly worn leather seats, and the Wednesday night karaoke all contribute to the pleasant illusion that you might be somewhere in the real world.

LA: How is this is not as good as it gets?

March 3, 2011

I drove to LA for a meeting yesterday morning. I felt like a real screenwriter. You know, driving to LA with a pitch to meet a director in a coffeeshop. On too little sleep. Let’s just say it – it felt real and unreal.

I feel a rising excitement as I get closer to LA, as the grafitti and wall art gets more sophisticated, as the drivers get ruder and the smog gets thicker.

The thrill is still not quite gone.

And sure, it might not work out (thought the meeting went well) but I’m just enjoying this. This is the time when, even if I’m consumed by panic, there’s still time to dream. Everything could still be perfect. And LA is a wonderful place to dream because in LA, a dreamer is never alone, although not every dreamer can afford the coffee.

"I promise you are not just a waitress" - a poster stuck to an electricity box opposite a french bistro staffed by suspiciously attractive waitrons who are probably, actually, actors.

I sat next to two old guys. They were discussing something one of them had written. On the left, two women gave each other notes on a screenplay. A few tables down, two Americans had an intelligent political discussion about Libya. Then went back to discussing a movie they’d like to make. Dreams, dreams, dreams, everywhere here.

If I’ve learned anything in the last four years is that nothing – no matter how wonderful or how terrible – is impossible. I could… find love? Maybe when I’m not looking for it, cause like, I need it like I need a hole in the head. Another hole in the head. It’s possible.

My fellow-blogger Dorothy Black ( collects pictures of "random hearts". Here's one I photographed. Spotted on the floor of a coffeeshop in Vermont Ave., Hollywood.

Or I could wind up a struggling screenwriter, working somewhere, writing something, living in a small but beautiful apartment in an area with really good fish tacos within walking distance.

I could live here. I'm a single.

Or they might send me home to South Africa, where I could… write that movie nobody here ever sees. Or that movie that wins a foreign movie Oscar. Same thing really – except then South Africans won’t watch it either.

Or... they say the sky's the limit. What was once in that building that's now leased as storage? Who's the latest porno superstar at Adultcon? And where are all these cars going to? What new building is that orange cement mixing truck mixing cement for?

I guess I hung around for a while. I bought three different colors of nail laquer so that I could paint all my nails different colours. Then I left. And on the way, I passed this writing on the wall: THIS IS NOT AS GOOD AS IT GETS.

Right now, just being near this alleyway leading to a dumpster excites me.

500 feet of LA Street in a few photographs

November 19, 2010

I’m obsessed. I’m writing so much. But I did go to LA today, and I took some photos of graffitti. I think I’ll just post them without comments… I want to live there so badly, every time I visit.

La Woman

Cows... with a bowl of water to drink from.

She Guevarra?

Arty rebellion on W. Third St.

We skipped the mall... another time.

Simple and effective protest, probably done with toxic paint that is almost certainly a by-product of the gasoline industry.

Oddly, McDonalds is running a campaign at the moment. It's called "Monopoly is Back". No irony there... at all.

If you wait just a minute...

... the lights change.