This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
A friend of mine told me the following story, which I assume is true because it doesn't involve money:
He and his partner had just worked out a treatment for a new animated series. Armed with drawings and sample dialogue, full-color renditions of all of the characters, and even some sample voices, they march to the office of the studio president to present their show.
The new series follows the life of a perpetual loser -- a panicky guy who's a cog-in-the-wheel, lives with his parents, brims with unrequited lust, surfs the Internet for free pornography, you know the type -- and chronicles his triumphs (few) and his humiliations (many). Think Charlie Brown all grown up and you'll have the idea.
In an act of inadvertent cruelty, though, they based many attributes of their lead character -- including, unbelievably, his appearance -- on one of the presidents of the studio. Sometimes the creative process is like that: you can spend months and months recreating what you already know, and bits of your familiar life appear, even in something as trivial as a treatment, as out-of-the-blue-sky wholesale fantasy. It never occurred to them that they had modeled a character after this guy until they were in his office with a few other executives getting "notes;" on the treatment.
Halfway through the notes, the executive picks up the sketch of the main character -- a sketch, essentially, of a younger him -- and taps it thoughtfully. As he looks at the sketch and chews his lower lip, my friend's eyes dart back and forth between the two of them, and suddenly, like an ice cube down his back, he sees what he has done. His partner makes a similar realization and freezes, pen poised over pad.
"It; seems a little familiar," the executive says, slowly, and they know that they're sunk. He's insulted, hurt, furious -- he'll take this whole episode as an elaborate insult delivered in his office and with his money. They'll have poisoned the friendly relationship they have with him and the studio -- a relationship that allowed them a huge amount of autonomy -- and nine months from now they'll be assigned to some rotten show they broadcast in the afternoons, aimed at kids with no friends.
"Familiar;?" my friend asks. If it's possible for a voice to sweat, his was sweating.
"How; so?" he continued. "Do; you mean -familiar' like as in -family?' As in -this guy looks like a part of our television family?' Or do you mean it like -I've seen this guy somewhere before?' Because, I mean, how could you? How could you? It's totally made up. Like from..." He snaps his fingers. "Like; from thin air," he says.
The studio chief looked at him strangely. "No;," he says, "I; mean that the colors that the artist used look a little -Simpsons-y'. Maybe we should go more neutral."
"We;'ll take a look at that," my friend says thoughtfully.
The meeting breaks up. The junior executives file out of the office and they pack up their notes. As they leave, the executive calls them back.
"I; know what you're doing," he says, breaking into a wide grin. "And; it's hilarious."
The sweaty voice again.
"What;?" my friend asks. "What; are we doing?"
The studio chief mentions one of the junior executives who was in the meeting. "You;'re basing your character on him, right?"
My friend reiterates that it's all make-believe pretend.
"You; writers!" the studio president says. "You;'re so mean. Funny but mean."
And they slip out of the office.
People rarely recognize themselves. I suppose this is why so many parents of writers are still on speaking terms with their children.
That's it for this week. Next week, we'll work on our autobiographies.
For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.