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Image courtesy of Red Dress Ink

Hollywood broke my heart

by Lynn Messina

The pink carpet is the moment I believe—when I open the car door and see the hot-pink carpet flanked by reporters and flashbulbs. There’s something about the way the color perfectly matches the shade of pink on the cover of my book Fashionistas that finally convinces me that this is really happening: I’m really in Hollywood, California, at a swank party to celebrate the release of my book, which a successful L.A. producer is adapting to the big screen.

I need convincing because fewer than 1 percent of options make it to the finish line and going the distance requires a massively lucky alignment of stars, both figurative and astrological. I was far too good at turning silk purses into sow’s ears to believe for a moment that I’d be that fortunate, so when the offer for the option was made, I kept a cool head. I rarely mentioned it to friends, and when I did it was only as a fun bit of trivia, like George Washington’s wooden teeth. Even when the producer attached a star and invited me to Los Angeles for the party, I didn’t dream about a larger apartment or quitting my day job.

Then I step onto the perfect pink carpet as photographers call my name and reporters ask me about my style icons. Then I pose next to Paris Hilton and Natasha Henstridge against a backdrop of my own book. Then I stand next to a correspondent for Extra while a cameraman records the interview.

Then I believe.

I commit myself fully to the dream because there can be no other explanation for why a midlist chick lit author from New York—no, a copy editor—is at the center of such a lavish spectacle. It can’t all just be smoke and mirrors. The only thing that makes sense is we’re actually making a movie.

Barely a year later, the spectacle is over. The studio has passed. The producer has moved on. The project is dead.

I take to the couch. For two solid weeks, I do nothing but read trashy novels and eat popcorn. Mourning the end of a film option is a lot like mourning the end of a relationship. Everything, however tangential, is a maudlin reminder of what could have been. Only it’s an entire magnitude worse because whole categories become painful: movies, actors, magazines, advertisements, TV. When you get dumped by a boyfriend, it hurts to listen to Adele; when you get dumped by a movie, it hurts to listen to any music at all.

Eventually, I rise from the cushions, determined to live a full, if muted, life. Still desperately sad, I write down my feelings in a journal. Rereading the entries a few weeks later, I realize my emotional ramblings form a very solid basis of an essay about the experience. An editor from The New York Times agrees, and a tiny corner of my heart stitches itself back together.

Time—and the Sunday Styles section—heal all wounds.

Then a surprise twist: The Times editor learns during routine fact checking that the producer is still trying to make the film. Fashionistas lives.

The revelation that a producer has been toiling in secret to make your movie is like discovering that an ex has been pining for you: It’s the culmination of every post-dumping fantasy ever.

This time, you think, we’ll make it work.

But reality never lives up to the fantasy. The romance isn’t as giddy the second time around: It’s hard to have the same level of trust or emotional investment, and money is tight. Months pass without a word, then years. Just as I start to believe I imagined the whole thing, I get a call informing me that the producer is now ready to formally re-option Fashionistas. She writes a check; hope blooms in my heart. OK, now this time, we’ll make it work.

Alas, the course of true love never did run smooth.

Four and a half years and countless extensions later, the option lapses, this time for good. When it does, it’s hard to say what I feel—disappointment, sure, but nothing remotely similar to the devastating loss of the first time. The option goes on just long enough for its end to have no impact on my life. By the last day, I hardly think about it at all, not even as a fun fact.

What I do think about still is the party—the crazy, surreal, absurd, fun, bizarre, wonderful party. In particular, I think of sitting in a quiet corner with a very nice reporter from Variety and discussing my impressions of the experience. While the music pounds and Paris poses, I confess that in the first twenty minutes alone, I’d gathered enough material for another book.

And so I had.

I call the novel Bleak because it’s based on the Charles Dickens classic Bleak House; it replaces the endless court case that ruins almost every life it touches with an endless film option that ruins the life of a naïve writer. She moves to Hollywood to make her fortune in the movie industry, only to discover that it’s all just smoke and mirrors. Several years later, she returns to New York older, sadder and poorer.

But, oh, does she relish her time on the pink carpet.

Lynn Messina

About Lynn Messina

Lynn Messina is the author of eight novels, including Bleak and The Girls' Guide to Dating Zombies. Her essays have appeared in Self, EW and Modern Bride, and she's a regular contributor to The New York Times Motherlode blog. Lynn lives in New York City with her husband and sons. Find her on Facebook, Twitter: @lynnmessina or at lynnmessina.com.

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