The best job I ever had was working for Tristar Pictures in NYC as a freelancer in the late 1980s. About once every three weeks, they’d send a bike to my office in the Chrysler building on 42nd street (my day job was in advertising) with a film script or the rough cut of a new film, and I’d have the evening to think up forty alternative titles. It was a doddle, and besides, I loved doing it. These were the days before home computers, so I depended greatly on reference books — Bartlett’s Quotations and Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable being my favourites. It was all about making associations, looking up lines of poetry, thinking laterally. Not unlike the horrible job of coming up with book titles, only not so fraught, as someone else was making the final choice.
I’m afraid to say I didn’t work on any particularly memorable films, and was not entirely surprised to hear that Tristar folded not long afterwards. To this day, I can’t help feeling I might have been slightly to blame.
For this service, you see, they paid me $1,000. Twenty years later, I would still consider that brilliant pay for an evening’s work — it was an absolute fortune back then. Unfortuantely, they never used my film titles, a fact which worried me so much that I phoned the boss one day and said that honour required me to resign — they couldn’t keep hiring me when I was obviously no good at the work. Mr Tristar sounded truly astonished. “But we barely use any of the work we pay for!” Oh. So concluded my first lesson in the film business, 1980s-style.
My Tristar job paid for the move I finally made from New York to London in 1989, with the proceeds of twenty evenings work to live off until I could somehow sort out a work permit. Which I did, eventually, by marrying the man I met at a party on my first day back.
Since then, I’ve had too many jobs to count. Mostly they’ve been pretty awful. But the next best one has been writing books, which provides satisfactions greatly superior to writing movie titles that never got used for mediocre movies that hardly anyone saw and no one remembers.
But writing books is much harder work. And hour for hour, it doesn’t pay as well either.