Why would anyone leave behind “hobnobbing” at the homes of Sting, Roseanne Barr, or Joan Rivers?
The sheer romance of Hollywood, and hype, the luscious frivolity and gorgeous glamor, all ensconced like a movie within a movie—the Southern California of it all. Like Icarus flying high above the drudge and turmoil of everyday life, just knowing your wings would never melt. The rubbing elbows with the insanely famous, or very famous, or just famous movie stars. Crashing the ubiquitous Oscar parties strewn all over “the strip”—the famous Sunset Boulevard. The bright lights that draw you to it like a moth to a flame.
I worked on it all. I worked on the movies and the music videos. And the TV shows, the MOW’s (movies of the week), and the pilot shows during pilot season. I worked on food commercials, car commercials, and clothing commercials. I worked low-budget, no-budget, and dream budget shows. My job? The art department. I was a set dresser, lead man, painter, prop guy, and even drove the 5-ton trucks because I had a CDL (commercial driver’s license). (My credit nickname on some of my IMDB credits is “Big Ton.”)
My entre to Hollywood was the world-renowned UCLA film school, where I studied screenwriting, directing, and producing with my fellow students, Academy Award-winning directors Gore Verbinski and Alexander Payne, director Shane Black and noted television producer Jeffrey Bell. Friends of mine who work “below the line” (in the art department, or as grips, gaffers, painters, transportation, etc.) all have IMDB credits a mile long.
There are two ways to enter Hollywood from film school—from the top or from the bottom. From the top means your film or script hyperjumps you directly into an “above the line” directing gig, or screenwriting offer, or both.
But if you’re like the majority of film school grads, you start again at the bottom. You work on every low-budget film, TV show, and commercial you can get your hands on. And you don’t let them know you graduated from film school. No, siree. Not unless you wanted yourself laughed out of work. Because the real work is learning the craft of making films. The very long hours (minimum 12 hours a day). Learning who all the behind-the-scenes players are and who knows what, when, and where. Learning from the old-timers all of the million tricks that go on to a screen and the politics behind the scenes. Learning how to segue from show to show, so that you can continue to work.
Then the magic moment arrives. All the grunt work and long hours finally pays off. You are handed that obscenely rare gold Willy-Wonka ticket to Wonkaland—the ultimate movie pass of all time to anyone who wants to work Hollywood—the Motion Picture Union Card. And the only way to get is by working on a film that goes from non-union to union. Even the stars can’t wheedle their offspring into this part of “the industry.” You earn this one with a lot of sweat, grit, and determination. Then you begin to make real money. And work on the “big” films—the big features. Or work at the studios, on a hit TV show, or endless pilots. Great medical, retirement, benefits up the ying-yang. You are now part of the legacy and lottery that is the Hollywood film family. You truly have made it to the land of the silver screen.
Was it great? Was it fun? Was it wild? Yes, and yes, and yes.
But something was amiss in the land of forever happiness. I began to notice cracks in the gold façade. I saw hidden hints of unhappiness I hadn’t noticed before. I began to understand how easily the golden handcuffs of money and prestige could be so easily slipped on over one’s wrist until one day you realize that the dreaming is over, and now you are locked into the Hollywood grind.
How fleeting the luscious frivolity and gorgeous glamor. The elbow-rubbing with all that famous fame and fortune. The seductiveness of being the insider in star land. That thirty years later you would wake up from the dream and realize it was all spent in dreamland. That’s the writing I saw upon the wall.
But as with all good screenplays, there arrives the pivotal moment upon which the destiny of the entire universe resides in the action of one person.
One day a friend of mine at Universal Studios, a guy who had worked on sets for a million years, a guy whose stories about the business were endless and fascinating—I asked him. “Was it all worth it?” Well, that was the million-dollar question you never ask because the answer did not fill you with awe. It scared the living bejesus out of you. “Nope. I never saw my kids grow up. I divorced twice. I made a lot of money. I owned a lot of toys. But what do I have to show for it after 35 years? My kids barely talk to me. I’m mostly alone and I’ll retire alone.”
Crap and wow. That’s when the Hollywood dreamed ended for me. That was THE wake-up call of wake-up calls. That’s when I knew it was time to get out. I was only five years in. I did not want to end up with the self-chosen burden of unhappiness to haunt me in Hollywood for the rest of my life.
That’s when I took to the road and headed west. Not to actual west of the Pacific Ocean but the west of America, where people lose themselves to find themselves. And that’s what I did. A “drive-about.” Where one can meditate upon endless miles of blacktop, the engine purring a constant tone poem like the drone of a Tibetan chant. This blue-highway contemplation forcing the quintessential questions of mortality—why am I here and what is my purpose?
After a few thousand miles, I ended up in a 3-bar town on the Arizona/Mexican border. I asked for work and the universe handed it to me in the guise of a local cowboy. My new job? Putting up a fence on a nearby ranch—a barbed-wire fence. Hammering in fence poles with a pole pounder for as far as the eye could see. When I was done, he’d come out and we’d string up wire. How fitting. Having been raised around ranches as a kid, I had returned to my roots.
My home was the back of my pickup truck. My shower, an old horse trough filled with water. I cooked by camp stove and ate by campfire. The stars were brilliant and there was not a human light to be seen. This was my new existence. I couldn’t imagine going back and was terrified at going forward. It was here, amidst this desolation and aloneness, I had truly leapt off the cliff of Hollywood, into the great abyss of the west, praying for the universe to somehow catch me. And it did.
A slow miracle appeared. An idea that was born of this life transition. I picked up the pen again, and the pen roared back to life.
After having published in my early twenties, I had not written a book in years. Now I began to write as if my life depended on it. The premise? A father who would never live to see his kids, leaves behind a compendium of practical, moral, and spiritual letters that would eventually be a guidebook to life. How fitting that the universe brought me here, writing on the back of my pickup by lantern light, to begin my real life’s work.
But the book, to eventually be called, The Legacy Letters, and its awards, were still years in the future. Now I would have to finish the fence. And then work as a cowboy on a small nearby ranch. And then meet my wife-to-be, while working as a wrangler for a friend of mine. And then get married at the ranch. And have a son together. And all the while, in this Walden Pond time of life, I would continue to write and ride, and ride and write until I finished the book.
Now far from the delusions of glitz and glamor, fame and fortune that would have beguiled me into a life of golden unhappiness. What an amazing and strange journey to happiness and contentment.
I remember reading many years ago about a prayer the Buddhist monks would intone, and that in my spiritual infancy, I could never quite understand. “Please Lord Buddha, give me a problem so that I may overcome it.” Finally, I’ve grown up enough to understand why anyone would want a problem to overcome. And why we must leave to find out how to return.
ABOUT CAREW PAPRITZ
Carew truly lives the central message of The Legacy Letters to “live life to the fullest,” creating such innovative and adventurous one-of-kind events as his “First-Ever Book Signings”–on top of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, the Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska, and on horseback at a Barnes & Noble in Tucson, Arizona (amongst many others). Before Amazon, Carew’s First-Ever Delivery of a Book by Drone made headline news. Carew’s YouTube “I Love to Read” series and his annual literacy-driven charity event, “The Great Book Balloon Launch,” inspire kids and adults to rediscover the joy of reading! And to inspire more kindness and civility in the world, Carew started National Thank You Letter Day–Nov.14th, in which he created the world’s largest handwritten thank you letter, stamp, and envelope–the size of a high school gym–to help spread the word about writing thank you letters!