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Hollywood Future Past

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On November 27th, the striking members of the WGA held a rally on Hollywood Boulevard. As I walked towards the rally from my car, I could feel the sound of the helicopters beating down around me. It was one of those silver fall afternoons, the sky distant like winter, but it was still warm.

Walking up a side street, all the different Hollywoods crowded up around me – each taking its turn in a funny mish-mash of things that Hollywood has become. The old and new are here, the scummy and debased side by side with the hallowed playground of the glitterati. It’s a thousand bars and tourist shops, museums and places where they sell scanty vinyl underwear, wigs that look like flames and super-tall patent leather boots. The tourists are pale and wide-eyed, there are laconic, loitering men who glance sideways to see things.

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I’ve spent a few drunken nights here, skipping over the stars in the Walk of Fame, saying each name like they deserve to be remembered. I’ve been to the new places, with sparkly walls and low sexy lighting. I’ve been to the older places, with their vinyl booths and slabs of roasted meat. I’ve danced in front of the refurbished movie palaces, exotic dreams of another century, one that worshipped movement and light, ticking them off like rosary beads as I passed down Hollywood Boulevard. I stood beneath the Scientology Building welcoming a new century, music thundering in my ears, glitter stars falling all around like snow.

When Patrick Verrone spoke before the march from Ivar to Hollywood and Highland, he talked about how Unions had started at the Knickerbocker. I looked around, and thought about the aptness of the area as a place to assert our value. We had come back here, to Hollywood, to the heart of things, to see where we were from.

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I thought about that as we marched down Hollywood Boulevard. It wasn’t long before we crossed Selma, where the barn (now referred to as the Hollywood Heritage Museum, and located in one of the Hollywood Bowl parking lots nearby) that Cecil B. DeMille used to film the first full-length movie in 1914, was located.

We gathered, along with the SAG members, the teamsters, the nurses, the drum circle and several large trucks, at Hollywood and Highland, which has gained some notoriety for being one of the ugliest buildings in Los Angeles. I kinda like it though because it was built with a nod to history, as so few things are in our city. Its elephants on pillars and its Babylonian arch are inspired by the set of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance. After the movie bombed, the set remained at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset (where the Vista Theater is now) for four years, crumbling until it became cheap enough to dismantle it and take it away.

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Hollywood and Highland itself was once the Hollywood Hotel, the center of a sleepy tea-totaling village. At first, they refused to even rent rooms to the actors and other film people who showed up, but the hotel soon became the center of the industry – the place where everyone stayed, held meetings, went to the Thursday night balls to see and be seen.

Of course, things look a little different since our spiritual forbearers came west to take advantage of the full, bright sunlight and the good weather. The orange groves have been replaced by Hooters and shops selling cheapie tourist tchatchkes. Hollywood has fallen on hard times and come back. Now, alongside the sex toy shops are hip bars and restaurants, like Geisha House, Parc or L’Scorpion. No matter how expensive they are nor how well heeled their clientele, they still set their Louboutins down on the Walk of Fame, alive with the glitter of fool’s gold -- a zillion flecks for all the people who were duped into coming out here to roll the dice. For each one who failed and hurt. Who left dreams behind. The Walk of Fame is made of those dreams, walked by the ghosts who’ve gone before. As writers, as professionals, we’ve all lived those moments and for whatever reason – maybe luck, maybe tenacity, maybe talent, we got the chance to do what we love.

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History is circular. When Hollywood began, there weren’t unions, because the writers were the studios. Technology is bringing us back to that, where someone can write and produce something that looks and sounds every bit as good as something from a studio and then broadcast it to the whole world in an instant. The world is changing, the business is changing.

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Both the WGA and the AMPTP would do well to remember where we came from. Instead of divisions and percents of percents and who’s right (the writers) and who’s wrong (the studios), remember the similarities -- that pioneering spirit that we are all the inheritors of, the spirit of those who came out here to prove themselves in a new medium, to make stories with light.

Rally photos by heathbiter, via flickr, Egyptian and Chinese photos by Jacy Young