Jeff Astrof has 100 days off. See how he spends them.

Day 95

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I don’t like learning lessons.  Mostly because the lessons are seldom, “You see, it doesn’t matter what you eat,” or “Turns out, girls love guys with fat asses.”  I met a fellow writer friend for coffee this morning and we were talking about hiring season.  It’s always a weird conversation where you talk around things like where you interviewed, and how it went and what shows you liked and what shows you hated for fear that the other person just got a job on one of the shows you liked or hated.  My friend, who is a much more spiritual guy than I, said he was once taking a walk through his neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon with his wife and he asked himself, “Mark, what do you want?”  Then he said to himself, “I want to create a hit show that is a critical darling.”  I didn’t ask what his wife was doing while he was having this conversation, but that’s really his business, not mine.  He then told me he asked himself, “And what would you be doing right now if you had a hit show that was a critical darling?”  And he answered, “I’d be walking with my wife through our neighborhood.”   Of course, my first reaction was, “Sure, but you’d be wearing a much nicer jacket.”  But not so deep down I got his point: he already has what he needs.  I had similar thoughts through my 100 days off during the Writer’s Guild Strike where I started to teeter on depression because of my lack of income.  I then thought to myself, “What would you give to have yourself be healthy?”  And then I thought– thought, not said, I mean, who the hell says it to themselves– “and what would you give to be married to a beautiful woman and have two beautiful kids.”  And then I thought, “Well, I gave up several million dollars by leaving the show “Friends” early–”  and then I interrupted my thought to think, “that’s not what I meant: what would you give to have a happy marriage and two healthy if sometimes annoying kids?”  “I would give everything.”  And then I realized, I still had a great wife and two healthy kids, and I didn’t have to give up everything, so I’m way ahead of the game.  I still cried myself to sleep that night, but still, I had learned my lesson.

I knew I would be getting a follow-up phone call today from my agents, but I decided I wasn’t going to wait around all day worrying.  My wife and I decided to do something that a married couple only fantasizes about doing during the day when the kids are at school– see a movie at 10:30 in the morning.  For some writers, seeing a movie is work because they find themselves critiquing dialogue and trying to figure out what scene is coming next, and where the act break is and how the writer of the movie has established characters and on what page the inciting incident happens and… blow my head off please.  I’m at the movies to escape, pure and simple.  And occasionally to guess what’s going to happen, but that’s it.  My wife and I had been talking all hiatus about seeing movies during the day while I was off and this was the first one– 95 days in.  It was going to be good to relax and enjoy a good comedy.  Of course, the first two previews were for movies written by people I’ve worked with.  Many people ask me why I don’t write movies.  The simple answer is, it’s hard to write 120 pages of something–as I look at my 300 page journal– something with mass appeal— okay, better.  The other answer can best be answered by a conversation I had with my Senior Agent a few years ago at lunch during a particularly difficult time for sitcom writers.  Agent: “So what are you going to do?”  Me: “What do you mean what am I going to do?”  A: “For a job.  I mean, the sitcom market is awful.” M: “What?  You’re my agent.  What are you going to do?!” A:”Well, I’m actually not doing much agenting anymore.” M: “Then why are we at lunch?”  A: “I thought it would be nice.”  M:”It’s really depressing me.”  A: “Don’t be depressed.  It’ll be fine.  You can diversify.” M:”I was thinking maybe I could write a movie.”  A: (Snort laugh) “The movie business is the only thing worse than the tv business right now.”  M: “Are you paying for lunch?” A: “Of course.  I had a great year.”  Anyway, as I mentioned, I love my agent, but sometimes his hard truth hits a little too hard.  The people who wrote the movies that are coming to a theater near you shortly did not get discouraged when their agent told them the feature business was dead, so good for them.

The movie started and I snuggled into my seat, needing a good laugh.  Just then, my cellphone lit up: it was my agent.  For the first time since I’ve owned my iPhone it told me when someone was actually calling, not four minutes afterwards.  I clicked, “Ignore” and showed my wife how dedicated to her and our shared experience I was.  The phone then rang again, I looked at my wife who said, “go ahead” and I ran out into the lobby to answer it.  It was both my Senior Agent and Junior Agent on the phone, which is the equivalent of having two doctors call you at the same time: they ain’t calling to say, “One, two, three: PERFECT HEALTH!”  What they were calling to say was that the show that I got an offer on was not able to meet my asking price.  I got indignant, forgetting my rule about behaving in a way I’d want my kids to emulate– or the popcorn vendor in this scenario– and told my agents that that was unacceptable and they would have to counter.  The studio’s response, in an irony only recognized by me, was the same response I gave my friend when he asked me to come in and pitch stories: “You can shove it.”  Of course, I’m paraphrasing, they had some legalese in there but the gist was the same.  My agents told me to relax– did they not realize who they were on the phone with?– and they would wait and see how things unfolded.  I asked if it would be a good idea for me to call my friend, who was the show-runner to advocate for me and they said, “Yes, at a certain time, but this is not that time.”  I said okay and hung up the phone then immediately called my friend thinking that one second later was the certain time my agents were talking about.  I left a long rambling message to my friend, the kind that you would erase if the phone said, “If you are unsatisfied with your message, please press 9”, but after four and a half minutes, the computer operator just said, “You have exceeded the time limit.  goodbye.” and sealed my neurotic rambling forever.

My agent called back a short while later with some news: another show was now showing interest in me.  While I really liked that show, too, I didn’t really know the show runner.  “Great.  What do I do?”  “Just be patient.”  “Patient.  Got it.”  I then hung up the phone and sent my friend an email.  After a few hours where I was steaming over the indignation of being “overpaid” instead of “way overpaid” I finally got in touch with my friend and told him how upset I was.  He then told me how hard he had been working to get the studio to offer even what they offered.  He told me he went out on a limb to advocate for me and that if I really really really pushed him I might be able to get more, but it would come at his expense and the expense of the show.  It was something only a friend would do.  So I did something that a friend would do and backed off.  I told him I had to talk to my “people” which was really my wife.  I told her about my conversation and how I would be earning less this year than last–still more than the guy who killed bin Laden, but still, it’s not a good trend in a town that loves trends.  I also told her how it didn’t make sense to me on a spiritual level because I know that things happen for a reason and I know that I spend my money wisely, giving a lot of it away to charity and my kids’ school and replacing things that the dogs chew up.  And she said that maybe this meaning of this job isn’t to make the most money, maybe this job is about working with a friend and being on a team– she said “meaning” instead of “lesson” because she knows I hate lessons.  Last year I made more money because I was the boss- but that’s not my job this year.  This year my job is to be a team player, which is sometimes harder for me because, let’s face it, who doesn’t like to be the boss, and also because I always throw myself completely into everything I do.  “So I should take the job?” “I’m not going to tell you what to do.”  “Should I wait and see–” “Take the damn job!”

So I did.  And I will be working with a good friend who truly wants to see me do well, and I will have the opportunity to make a friend look good– which is not an instinct cultivated in Hollywood, but if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it’s not to let Hollywood dictate what’s right and wrong.  The deal should close tomorrow.  Above all, I am grateful to have a job.  Working with friends.  On a funny show that I will do my damnedest to make funnier.  And the hours will be long and I will be surrounded by food, so I hope what they say is true: “It doesn’t matter what you eat,” and “Girls like guys with big asses.”


Written by 100daysoff

May 18, 2011 at 10:52 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. This girl will always like your ass.


    May 18, 2011 at 11:14 pm

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