Author: Will Phillips
I’ve mentioned my love of the website Kickstarter.com before, and Hollywood Failure is another book that we stumbled across on that site. The author seemed funny enough in his video and indicated he had already written the book (which is usually the biggest hurdle to somebody self publishing) so we contributed some money to help his goal of publishing the book become a reality. There’s a genre of books on Kickstarter that we (my wife and I) tend to avoid, and it’s life stories by people that aren’t famous and also don’t even lead particularly interesting lives. It would probably be more accurate to describe this book as fitting into that genre, but had Phillips done that I know I would have skipped out on it and that would have been unfortunate because I enjoyed reading his debut work. I’d recommend reading this book if the description sounds funny to you and then finishing this review because I’m going to give away a lot (although I do have some reservations about what audience would most enjoy it).
**Spoilers from here on out, although the end of the book is given away on the Goodreads blurb** Tom “The Fever” Seaver is a Production Assistant (PA for the cool kids) on an animated series where the head writer likes to shoehorn human voices onto animal characters. Tom has goals though; not content to do bitch work for other people, he secretly aspires to writing his own comedy show. I say secretly, because he goes about this by occasionally sucking up to writers on shows or mentioning a single script he’s worked on, not by actually trying to break into the writing field. Throughout the book he’ll switch jobs, girlfriends and modes of transportation, all while staying the same basic person (“The Fever!”) throughout.
Why am I assuming this is a mostly true story? Well, the author seems to invite a little detective work by the not so subtle hiding of actor and tv show names. The description of the first show Tom worked on obviously struck me as very Family Guy-esque. His followup endeavor about a housewife who tries to become a rock star on the “Estrogen” network, didn’t ring any bells, but complaints about a cast member provide a description for an actor who could only be Richard Ruccolo had me checking his IMDB page and finding a show called “Rita Rocks” that matched the plot described by Phillips. The amazing Internet movie database even lists Will Phillips as staff member, and his own IMDB page includes “Family Guy,” and two other project that Tom Seaver described working on, a CBS procedural (“Cold Case”) that got cancelled, and a web series about FBI agents (“Murder Squad”). (Why not just search Will Phillips on IMDB? Because there’s a ton of Will Phillips on there, damn you people with common names.)
Am I assuming that the entire story is true based on the author choosing a setting he’s familiar with? For the most part, yeah. There’s a few other things that contribute to that feeling: the frequent allusions to Tom going by “The Fever” had me laughing that Will Phillips likely went by “The Thrill” growing up. In the acknowledgements page Will mentioned having a twitter page, which I looked up afterwards and believe I’ve located (@The Thryll), and also thanked a girl named Kirsten (which is a common name) and of course there is a Kirsten that played a very important role in the story in his life. It’s possibly that was a fake name, but I doubt it because Phillips has too much fun with the name in a very relatable way. The gimmick car and Flair chop scene also seemed too ridiculous to be fiction, sadly for the author.
I read a ton of books, and normally I don’t go snooping around like a detective afterward. Honestly, that was a lot of the fun for me reading this book was getting a little gossip about barely recognizable entertainment industry figures (my money is on Ian Gomez being the kind of guy to donate a weekend to helping on a web project) and feeling like I had to earn the knowledge through some online sleuth work and my own knowledge of Hollywood. That on it’s own would not be enough to recommend reading a 250 page novel however.
The best aspect of this book for me was the humor. Some of it was lowbrow, but it was proud in its juvenile humor. Any book with an extended sequence on sharting will likely not appeal to 100% of the population, but not everything is meant for everybody. There are also about 12 to 15 professional wrestling references, so a working knowledge of Ric Flair will also add to your enjoyment of the humor. The sexual sequences were handled well. I was reminded a bit of High Fidelity by Nick Hornby in the honest, self-deprecating manner they were addressed. Some of the humor could be categorized as “bro humor,” where Tom can seem anti-gay or anti-woman depending on his anger, and his classification of Mexicans (while probably flattering) is certainly rooted firmly in stereotypes.
The more frustrating aspects of the book are inherent in the plot (and likely the author). Although Tom realizes his roadblocks are internal, he doesn’t overcome them. In fact, Tom self-sabotages himself in his work, finances and relationships. The two main arcs throughout the book are his work on a web series and his relationship with Gracie. The situation described to the reader is that Tom could maintain and improve both of these and be happy (or at least happier) but chooses to collect unemployment and be single instead. The climax of the book (if this sort of episodic storytelling can have one) is the end of his relationship with Gracie. By the time Tom has lost all his money, ended another relationship and spent too long on a Pawn Stars fantasy that anybody with a brain knows will never pay off the reader is ready to check out and Phillips wisely does the same in a two page wrap up.
For a self published book, the book was well edited (I only caught one word omitted around page 165) and a pleasant typeface. The covers on every self published book I’ve ever read get a bit more warped than other books after reading and this was no exception. Any hopes of more of a character arc would really be hoping for an entirely different book. Instead of hoping for that, I appreciate the humor and series of humorous events in Hollywood Failure and found it an entertaining read.