Once, a long time ago, I was meeting some animators at a restaurant for lunch. We were doing a project together, but we had never met in person. This happens often when you work with animators or special-effects experts: they mostly stay indoors, sketching on animation cells or working on computer models.
But the project - a complicated cartoon story with a lot of drawings and characters - was rapidly becoming a "hot" item for the network we were working with. And I felt that since the animators were doing most of the work but I was getting most of the money, the least I could do was buy them lunch.
It was a busy restaurant and people kept streaming into the place, and although I kept scanning the crowd for the animator guys, I had no idea how I'd recognise them.
Until they walked in, that is.
Appearing in the doorway was a huge guy, tall and round and completely dishevelled, in a T-shirt that ended about four inches before his trousers began, and a white batch of exposed belly jiggling out like he was wearing a wide belt made out of bread dough.
Next to him was a tiny little guy in green felt trousers, a cowboy shirt, and a funny pointed hat.
"Ah yes," I said to myself. "Those guys are the animators."
People in this business, in other words, tend to dress the part, and these guys dressed like two cartoon characters, which I suppose makes sense if you spend all day drawing cartoon characters. Better that, is my thinking, than dressing for the wrong role, which is something I've done before.
Early in my career, I went to the first reading of my first television script in a new jacket. I bought the jacket the way you sometimes buy things for a special occasion - "I'm going to need a new tie for this event," you sometimes say to yourself. "I need a jacket for this big reading," I thought, because I imagined the scene as being fraught with complicated signals and important messages to send to the crowd.
The first reading of the first script for a new television series represents a couple of million dollars of studio and network money. Gathered around the table and lining the conference room walls are executives and agents and managers and an entire constellation of people whose job it is, essentially, to watch the writer-producer do his job, and whose car payments and school fees are almost entirely dependent on this thing working.
So don't show up in a T-shirt, in other words. That was my thinking all those years ago. I don't wear T-shirts anyway, unless I'm at the beach or at yoga, unlike a lot of my writer colleagues. The way I look at it, unless you're a very well-known guy - what we in the business might call a "writer/producer vet" - it's a good idea to signal to the folks in the room who are paying for everything that you've got this thing handled. Even if you don't, which you don't, because nobody does.
"I should wear a jacket," I thought. Jeans and a nice shirt and a jacket - basically the uniform of an English teacher, which is what I was only a few years before. But because I was excited about the big day and wanted to feel powerful and in-charge, I bought an expensive and smart Ermenegildo Zegna jacket to wear that morning. It was a beautiful piece of clothing: a terrific fit, fabric that felt soft and expensive, but with a subdued quality that said, "I am confident and secure and I have this entire production under control."
Except I forgot to remove the tag. Well, not the tag, but that thing that they put on the sleeve, by the cuff, the playing-card sized thing that says the size and the fabric and some meaningless other numbers. Somehow, in my excitement about the day, I forgot to remove that tag. And somehow, too keyed-up about the reading, I didn't notice it rubbing loudly against everything it touched.
Instead of looking like a sleek and dapper young show-business powerhouse, I looked like a guy who just robbed the Zegna store.
"You've got the thing still on," an older writer said to me quietly, as I took my seat at the table.
"You can always tell who the writer is," he said, as I yanked the tag off, taking with it a large patch of fabric, "in any room, in any outfit."
Which is true, just as you always know who the animators are when they walk into the room. We've all got a part to play in the entertainment industry, and there's a wardrobe for every role. Mine, sadly, makes me appear ridiculous no matter how much money I spend.
Rob Long is a writer and producer based in Hollywood
On Twitter: @rcbl