Chatting with Will Smith, sitting next to Kevin Costner at the school play, watching your kid skate with Danny DeVito’s; who wouldn’t want to enter this gilded world? Especially if your dream is to write the kind of scripts that folk like this star in..and which can make you very, very rich.
“I made and lost a small fortune in Hollywood,” says Tim, who now lives in slightly-less gilded Ashley Cross.
“If you get the machine behind you...”
But if you don’t?
"Hollywood is a bizarre place, it’s the only town where you can die of encouragement,” he says.
But, as he relates in his book about the family’s seven-year sojourn there, you can have a hell of a lot of fun along the way.
“I’d written a few sketches for Spitting Image and Max Headroom and then I got some scriptwriting work for George Harrison’s company Handmade Films,” he says.
Buoyed by this success, having sold a script in America and after losing the day job in advertising, he decided it was ‘now or never’ and moved wife, Jenny, and children, Mary and Mousie, to Tinsel Town.
They arrived with eight suitcases and moved into a friend’s garden shed. Well, pool-house, which sounds only marginally smaller than something you’d find on Sandbanks.
And that, says Tim, was one of the first things they noticed, the sheer size and scale of the place: “We met a family whose house was so big they often phoned the kids to find out which room they were in,” he says.
They soon discovered they were living in a city of 17 million people with more than 25 million registered cars where one in six folk work in the creative industries.
While Jenny took a job in a tough Los Angeles school, Tim busied himself writing and pitching to whoever would give him that precious ten minutes.
However, the true nature of the competition only dawned on him when he learned that even the immigration officer at the airport was writing a script and he was informed: “Every year there are something like 100,000 new screenplays registered with the Writer’s Guild of America.”
So he entered the fray and managed to get face-time with a number of Hollywood’s finest.
“I’ve worked with Bill Murray, Bette Midler, I thought she might be a diva but she’s lovely, so is Goldie Hawn, her secret is that she radiates interest in other people,” he says.
Will Smith was another charmer.
“We were with him and this ageing producer from New York who wanted him in a movie,” remembers Tim.
“He kept talking about homies and hanging and stuff; it was cringe-making, it was like a black version of The Office and Will and his friends didn’t know where to look.”
He also managed to get into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s legendary trailer, a ‘Colossal Winnebago, I’ve seen smaller houses in England’. The actor was surrounded by his entourage.
“It’s just like the emperor’s new clothes, you’d ask them a question and they’d all look at him and if he nodded they nodded,” remembers Tim.
And what’s he like? “Very nice and his teeth are incredible, I’ve seen smaller teeth on horses.”
Fortunately he didn’t share this opinion with the future Governor of California; Tim soon learned how things work.
“If you go to a party that someone well known has thrown you can talk to anybody because they assume you’re like them,” he says.
However: “At parents’ evening I’d often find myself sitting next to Kevin Costner but you can’t really ask him if he can have a look at your screenplay there just like you couldn’t start talking to Danny De Vito about business, even though you both take your children to the same ice-skating rink.”
His book is packed with hints and tips to help the unwary Brit in Hollywood, from always booking the table next to the loo at posh restaurants if you’re trying to meet people because: “Even A-listers have bladders” and: “Aim as high as possible, never aim to meet the second or third in command anywhere important.”
In the end, after seven years, they decided to return to Blighty because, he says: “I had more work promised in England than the US and my mother was ill.”
Now he writes, runs a creative agency and also teaches at the Arts University in Bournemouth and doesn’t regret a mad minute of the family’s time in America.
“In the end my book is the story of a family trying to make a new life abroad,” he says.
“We just happened to choose Hollywood.”
- Adventures In La-La Land by Tim John is available from Amazon