(World With)In a World…

2013’s In A World… (written by Lake Bell) is one of the best American comedy scripts of the past few years, in its tightness and elegance, if not in the number of knee-slapping moments.

It’s a story of a family going through a crisis – or crises, since the Solomons, like many families, have their freakouts in clusters. It’s a feminist call to action that also has something profound to say about Jewish-American family life. And it’s among the most accurate portraits of life in L.A. in “the biz” that we’ll ever see – among the people who aren’t celebrities and won’t ever be, but who are quietly climbing their professional rungs. But mostly I keep coming back to her script.

She does it in the first ten minutes. First the heroine, Carol, gets a gig as a vocal coach. Then during the titles we learn all about the “world of the story”: the voiceover profession has just been thrown into a free-for-all, since its star Don LaFontaine – who in real life was the Wayne Gretzky of voiceover artists, and really did die in 2008, no doubt prompting something like this plot in some households – has died.

Then Carol’s father comes home in the morning, presumably, we soon learn, from his girlfriend Jamie’s house, and rousts his adult daughter Carol out of bed. One short scene, and we already have the whole conflict: She’s trying to get ahead in the voiceover world herself, but settling for jobs as a vocal coach – on top of which, she really just wants her father’s love. Her father Sam, who’s established in the profession, thinks she doesn’t have the chops, and is suddenly a lot more inclined to withhold his love, since Carol’s being snarky about dad’s new girlfriend, who’s just a year older than Carol.

We’re barely into the plot, but the conflict is all there already. Not to mention “the world.” That’s what a good story does, it creates its own reality. Its own mini-world: the voice profession. And then a mini-mini-world within that: the Solomon family. That’s why stories about crime families and rock bands and police departments all work so nicely. Their miniature hierarchies lend themselves to contested power dynamics.

Lake Bell (Carol) with the sexiest man in America Fred Melamed (Sam).

Lake Bell (Carol) with the sexiest man in America Fred Melamed (Sam).

So, by around Minute 12, Don LaFontaine’s trademark line “In a world…” has been tactfully avoided since his death, but now the studios are ready to start using it again, and every voiceover artist in town wants to be the one who gets the gigs that say it. So what does Sam do in the very next scene? He promises to throw his professional support behind another voice, a handsome prick named Gustav.

A purist would say that Bell’s script needs to make up its mind whether it’s farce or romantic comedy, since she has elements of both in the plot. You could even argue that the message-heavy climax is undermined by this lack of focus, but I never minded that for a bit. The setups and payoffs are so delicious up to that point, I was ready to let her have it, and say whatever the hell she wants. I especially liked the farcical side:

While Carol is riding high, she is booking the most coveted gigs and has been sleeping with Gustav besides, and has a good reason not to tell her father about it. Her father hears from Gustav, in explicit terms, that he had sex with their rival; her father, not realizing he’s talking about his own daughter, urges Gustav to “give her one for me.” Great writing!

Loving L.A.

I always say, New Yorkers love to talk about how much better life is in their city than in Los Angeles, and Angelenos spend zero time worrying about it.

Another dismal day over the Academy of Something or Other.

Another dismal day over the Academy of Something or Other.

I love Los Angeles! And not because of the small differences obvious to anyone who spends a few days there: the weather’s perfect, the apartments are bigger and the radio’s better. And it’s despite L.A.’s one massive flaw: that it bought into the automobile lifestyle so completely that life is an exercise in avoiding traffic jams. As the twin siblings of the entertainment business, their major difference is that the New York industry will always be the poor neighbor to Wall Street and the rest of the business centered here.

I just came back from a week in L.A. for some face-to-face time with my partners on two projects. I’m always impressed by the thoroughness of people’s knowledge of “the biz” out there. To be caught not knowing a major cast member of a hit TV show – even a show that people may quietly admit is “not that good,” meaning, “it’s dreadful” – is a gaffe. It’s your job to know these things. I say “Wait, who?” the Angelenos’ eyes widen just a bit as conversation continues. “There’s a high brow among us.” Soon enough, they’re referencing The Act of Killing, or a recent Argentine film: They watch them too!

Mostly there is a difference in the work ethic of the two cities. In New York, “You should be working harder” is the default solution to most problems. In Los Angeles, the solution is “Work smarter.” Keep your eyes open. Be flexible. The answer may be easier than you imagine. Any writer wondering “How many more drafts of this story do I have left in me?” should probably take in some L.A.