William Hurt: What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?
Albert Brooks: Keep it to yourself.
Identifying the greatest moment of my life isn’t difficult. It was just after eight in the morning on September 18, 2008, and I had just Googled myself¹.
Self-involved though it may be to type your own name into a search field, it seemed warranted at the time. I was one of five finalists in the New York Television Festival’s first annual Comedy Script contest, and the winner was supposed to have been announced 12 hours earlier at the festival’s closing ceremonies. This posed a problem, however, as I was in Los Angeles, and the festival (as you probably guessed from the name) was in New York.
Obviously, I would’ve loved to have been there in person (and my status as a finalist had earned me an invitation). Unfortunately, it hadn’t earned me a plane ticket, or a hotel room, or you know, any actual U.S. currency. And this was a bit of a sticking point, because, well… I was fucking broke.
Four months earlier, I had quit my job as an assistant to (in)famous Hollywood film producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, so that I could write full-time. And I’d spent every day since working on my first feature spec, which I was (obviously) going to sell for mid-to-high six figures when it was finished, but which for the moment, had netted me exactly zero figures. (Well, technically negative figures if you factored in the cost of food, rent, and script brads, which my bank most definitely did.) In other words, not even the Priceline deal of the century would have been enough to get me to Manhattan.
But by the time that fateful morning rolled around, my financial hardship was starting to feel like a blessing in disguise. I hadn’t heard so much as a peep from the contest’s organizers, which I figured was a pretty clear sign that I hadn’t won. And really, who wants to blow a few grand on flying cross country to pretend that it’s an honor just to be nominated?
I did, however, want to know who had won. Mostly so that I could rub my face in the news like an owner rubs the face of their incontinent puppy in its own shit to learn a lesson. (I’m not exactly sure what the lesson was, but it probably had something to do with remembering not to get my hopes up…about anything…ever.) And so, this is how I came to type my name and the name of my script into Google’s trusty search bar.
The first result caught my attention immediately:
During my two and a half years working for the aforementioned producers, I devoured Variety and The Hollywood Reporter every morning along with a Yogurt Honey Peanut Balance bar. And while I certainly perused the actual articles, I spent far more time dreaming up fantasy articles that trumpeted my arrival as Hollywood’s next big thing. So, when I saw my name and The Hollywood Reporter in the same search result, my stomach did a back-flip.
I clicked on the link. I began reading the article. The first two paragraphs were worthless, as they didn’t mention my name even once. But then, lo and behold, there it was, in black and fucking white:
“Winning the Fox-NYTVF Comedy Script Contest was Selling Hell, Mike Maloney’s creation about a divorced couple who has to work in marketing in Hell. Maloney will receive $25,000 and a Fox development deal.”
Slowly and silently, I raised my arms towards the ceiling in triumph. It was real. It had happened. All my dreams were (finally) coming true.
(At least that’s what I thought at the time. But more on that later…)