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Recap: Bobette Buster at Q Los Angeles 2013

The gold that everyone in Hollywood was looking to find was story.

The way that you arrive in New York City expecting to be mugged, or in Bogota expecting to be kidnapped and held for ransom, I arrive in Los Angeles fully prepared to feel inferior. That’s why the stories I’ve heard of people (from Lana Turner to that guy you went to high school with) leaving their Middle West origins to stand in the unending sunlight and get discovered, always baffle me.

Don’t they realize, I wonder, that everyone in Los Angeles is just like them? For pete’s sake, I want to tell them, stay in your hometown, where people regard you as an original.


Bobette Buster–besides having the greatest name you can find outside of a 1930s comic strip–is a professor at USC, a consultant to many major movie studios, and apparently a regular at Q conferences. She deals in the buzzword I currently dread the most. You know the one…


In fact, Ms. Buster’s talk was the kickoff for Q Los Angeles conference–a discourse on the art of storytelling. Gag.

I mean, not really…truth be told, I want to learn the art of storytelling as much as the next poor creative slob.

But I don’t want to learn it like all these other people. I want to be the One. With integrity. With originality.

The first thing you learn when you come here is to be your best

To my relief, Ms. Buster didn’t use her fifteen minutes to expound the moral importance of Story (no “broomstick” mentions here).

Instead, she taught about story by telling a story.

The story she told was about Los Angeles.

I should mention that despite my fear and loathing of Los Angeles, I’m also fascinated by it. Apart from its jaded attitude…or maybe because of it, who knows?…it’s a beautiful place. No matter how many monstrosities of modern architecture they build, the city retains this 1950s glamor. Even in broad daylight, the place looks noir. Cruising past the palatial Deco hotels and the Spanish Revival bungalows, you can as easily imagine a housewife in a perky little apron serving Ovaltine to her husband, as you can a couple of gangsters beating to death some poor sap in suspenders while some Marcel-waved dame looks on in horror.

I can, anyway.

If New York looks like endless money, Los Angeles looks like eternal youth. There’s something both glorious and sinister about that. Equally glorious and sinister is the tale Ms. Buster told–of Samuel Goldwyn and Walt Disney and Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, but it’s all one tale–of a guy who came out to make some money the way so many other people were making money, got boxed out by the moguls, bounced back with a whole new way to do it, and ended up in company with those who had originally opposed him.

As we all know, new cinematic empires were born from the innovations of these scrappy, indomitable men. What’s odd…or glorious and sinister, if you like…is that the vibe that overshadows Los Angeles isn’t creative innovation, but a brooding oligarchy of financial empires.

If that sounds dramatic, remember it’s L.A. we’re talking about. Their economy runs on drama. In the midst of all its beautiful people and idyllic places, when a silence falls, you can sense the low thrumming of industry. You realize that this isn’t beauty for its own sake; this is beauty for profit.

That’s what imbues Ms. Buster’s Los Angeles story with pity and fear, though more like Citizen Kane than Sophocles. What started out as raw and abrasive and yet somehow noble in these storytelling enterprises ends up being massive, money-bloated, and part of the system it used to defy.

But they still tell stories. And, perhaps more importantly, they set the stage for new innovators to show up and buck the system.


I’m not sure this is what Ms. Buster was getting at, in her lecture. (If you want to hear a slightly different version of it, you can download it here.) But this is what I heard:

Originality for its own sake is just as much a tail-chasing enterprise as chasing after money or fame. It doesn’t matter if you’re the only one who can do what you do. What matters is that you are here to do it. It might be in service of something way bigger and more important than you…if such a thing can be imagined.

Because people were demanding stories, they got better.

 (Photo: © Flickriver)