Guns, Gams & Gumshoes

A defense attorney & PI who also happen to be writers

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Bored to Death: Tips from a Couple of PIs Who’re Also Writers

Posted by Writing PIs on October 16, 2009

private eyeWe’re hooked on Bored to Death, the new HBO series about a writer moonlighting as an unlicensed private eye in a state that requires licensing (ahem).  The latter point is a stickler with us because no way a person in any state that requires PIs to be licensed can simply place a craigslist ad that says “Hey, I’m unlicensed, hire me” as though that makes it all okay.  Sooner or later (more like sooner) a real PI, or someone associated with the regulatory agency, will see that ad or hear about the unlicensed PI’s activities, and the moonlighting will come to a cold-hearted, screeching halt.

But that aside, we love the show.  Love the goofy premises, love the pot-smoking magazine-editor boss George Christopher (played by Ted Danson, who steals the show), dig the PI’s sidekick pal Ray (played by Zach Galifianakis of The Hangover).  Being a couple of PIs who also write, we emphathize with the PI-protagonist who steals time from his writing to sleuth.  But being real-life PIs, we have to offer him these tips on being more professional:

Stop drinking with clients.   Most of your clients need PIs because they got themselves into a mess if not completely because of alcohol/drugs, at least partly.  Maybe Sam Spade drank with his clients, but why get fuzzy-brained when you need your brains the most?  And, oh by the way, don’t carry weed on your investigations.  The smell attracts more trouble than it’s worth.  Of course, this is part of the charm and funk of your fictional world–and where would that Ted Danson character be without that skunk?

Stop viewing clients as potential girlfriends.  Entanglements with troubled women will only drag you down.  Cases are tough enough to work, you don’t need the extra baggage of your heart on your sleeve.  Saying that, your fooling around with fair-haired damsel clients harkens back to the fictional greats (Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe), although it’d be nice if your writers let you occasionally score like the fictional greats, too.

Lose the trench coat.  It worked for Columbo back in the 70s, but this is the digital age.  Pitch it to the Salvation Army.  Try camel hair or a nice Gor-Tex.  But then, this is an offbeat comedy, and a trench coat is so cliche, it’s funny.

Try getting a retainer that reflects the difficulty of the work.  You’re going for desperate retainers–a hundred bucks on a whim, or a freebie because you got a crush on the client.  Thought you were moonlighting to make money, bud.  Fix an hourly rate, figure the hours and expenses to be worked, and get that upfront in cash, not kisses. 

Buy a camera.  So far, we’ve only seen you documenting cases with your eyes–that’s not convincing proof.  A visit to a pawn shop for a digital camera can go a long way toward convincing a judge or anyone else that your claims are truthful.

Speaking of a judge, back to your licensure situation.  You got a problem proving any case because you’re openly breaking New York state law.  If you work a case that goes to court, you’d be in a pickle.  The court may report you to the police or even disregard the evidence you’re presenting.  After all, New York state has a very active lobby for licensed private investigators and they don’t like interlopers, even cute ones with surfer boy haircuts.  On the other hand, you’re building some great conflict for future stories–can’t wait to see how you handle explaining to the judge that being unlicensed is just part of your charm as a character.

But fiction is fiction, not reality, so we’ll be back next week, watching our favorite new fictional unlicensed PI cavorting with babes, haggling for retainers, and dressing like a surfer-boy Columbo.  Here’s watching you, kid.

Holmes

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