David Wienir, author of Amsterdam Exposed: An American’s Journey into the Red Light District, is not only a writer but also a business affairs executive at United Talent Agency and entertainment law instructor at UCLA Extension. Prior to UTA, he practiced law at two of the top entertainment law firms where some of his clients included Steven Spielberg and Madonna. Amsterdam Exposed was a labor of love for him and it almost reads like a love letter to a city he spent time in as a young student.
Gone Bazaar: Tell us a little bit about your background as an entertainment lawyer and writer.
David Wienir: Growing up, I never imagined being an entertainment lawyer or writer. Sometimes, life just takes you where it takes you. My writing career began when I was 23. I was in grad school at The London School of Economics. Every week I walked by Parliament. One day, I decided to send out a few resumes to various MPs, you know, to see what might happen. I figured it might be interesting. Next thing I knew, I was working with one MP to coordinate an international boycott of Campbell’s Soup and working with another on a book about British political history.
That MP’s name was Austin Mitchell. I read his books while studying at Oxford years before. I helped with the project and expected to be thanked in the acknowledgements. I wasn’t. When the book came out, I was on the cover. I was shocked. It changed my life. I went on to write several more provocative nonfiction books on topics such as intellectual freedom in higher education and the not-so-glamorous lives of Broadway stars. Amsterdam Exposed: An American’s Journey Into The Red Light District is my latest book, and the most personal.
As for being an entertainment lawyer, I started off as a First Amendment litigator at a huge international firm, but hated litigation. It was a bad combination. My girlfriend was a Broadway star in Les Miserables, and many of my friends were actors. I started doing a lot of volunteer work, both for them and others in the community. Soon thereafter, I landed a job at the top talent law firm in New York. That began my journey into Hollywood. Today, I work in Beverly Hills as a business affairs executive at United Talent Agency and teach entertainment law at UCLA Extension.
GB: Please give us some background on Amsterdam Exposed
DW: Amsterdam Exposed is the true story of when I moved to Amsterdam in 1999 during my third year of law school to write a book about the red light district, and everything that followed. I had been to Amsterdam while an undergrad, and like so many tourists, quickly wandered through the district. I wanted to get out of there fast, but was mesmerized nonetheless. The faces haunted me. I wondered how they ended up there. So little was written about the place, despite being one of the biggest tourist attractions in Europe.
What resulted was a coming-of-age story about my search for truth and love in a place I didn’t belong, culminating in a special relationship with a Dutch prostitute that changed both of us forever. The book took 18 years to write. At first, I was afraid of opening up. I was afraid to share myself. Not many lawyers write love stories about prostitutes. But I knew it was something I needed to do, whatever the cost.
GB: What inspired you to write this book?
DW: I’ve always been fascinated by how people end up where they are in life. Just like I never imagined becoming a lawyer or author, I knew most girls never imagined becoming prostitutes – yet so many do. Answering this question was certainly on my mind, along with reflecting on how quick we are to label people, and ourselves, and how dangerous labels can become. But really, it was the trust of a girl that inspired me to write the book. Once I had that trust, I couldn’t let her down. I promised I would write a book that would make her proud. It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.
GB: Any plans to make this book into a feature film?
DW: I am excited to share that Amsterdam Exposed just won the grand prize at the 2018 Hollywood Book Festival and was an award-winner at The Beverly Hills Book Awards. I have received offers from several producers to turn it into a movie, and am thrilled by the interest. I work in the film industry and know how hard it is to make this dream come true, so we shall see. But there is definitely momentum, and I think Amsterdam Exposed could make for a very sweet, moving and inspiring film.
GB: What are your favorite things about Amsterdam as a city?
DW: Amsterdam Exposed is in many ways a love letter to Amsterdam. From the second I arrived, I felt at home. The city has a way of doing that. Also, it might be the most beautiful city in Europe. A wonderland of bridges, historic buildings, and canals, the city transports you to another time. Nothing compares to the feeling of pedaling through the streets in the light rain, taking in the history and warmth of the place. It’s a tolerant city, and the coffeeshop culture has a special way of bringing people together. It’s an intensely spiritual place, a crossroads of the world.
GB: What are some of the things you most dislike about the city?
DW: Much has improved since I lived there in 1999, but the things that come to mind are the food, the weather, and the dog shit. The Dutch love for dogs runs strong, but apparently not their love for picking up after them. Also, the Dutch are notoriously cheap, something they actually take pride in. Never ask for another cookie with your coffee, or an extra napkin for your kabob. You will be unpleasantly surprised. It rains all the time and, as for the food, well, at least they have great Indonesian. Other than that, the place rocks!
GB: Can you recommend some cool places everyone should visit when in Amsterdam?
DW: The red light district is top of the list, but be respectful of the women. They hear everything, and tourism has spiraled out of control. While there, grab a pint at the Old Sailor, check out the Museum of Prostitution, and walk down Trompettersteeg, the narrowest street in the district. In warm months, spend as much time on the canals as possible, and rent a private boat if you can.
Even if you don’t smoke, there is nothing like spending time in a coffeeshop, and Green House, Original Dampkring, Noon Amsterdam and Grey Area are second to none. The parks and museums are lovely, and be sure to climb the tower of the Westerkerk after vising the Anne Frank House for one of the best views in town. And finally, for brave travelers, rent a bike and just go. Take in everything. Let the city sweep you away.
GB: How has Amsterdam changed since the late 90's until now?
DW: I knew much had changed in Amsterdam since the events of the book, but I was shocked when I returned this year for the launch and saw firsthand. The last thing I thought in 1999 was I would be writing about a world fighting for its survival.
Sadly, that is what I found. In recent years, efforts have been made to remove the red light district from the heart of the city, all in an attempt to reclaim and revitalize it.
In 1999, there were 520 windows. In 2016, there were 384. Clothing stores and cafes stand where windows once did, and working girls are being pushed into the shadows, compromising their safety. Meanwhile, famous coffeeshops like The Grasshopper have been forced to close, and new regulations continue to push the cannabis community into Spain and elsewhere. Less than half of the coffeeshops from 1999 remain. Amsterdam Exposed is in many ways a sweet farewell to a world just about gone, a journey back in time.
GB: If you could throw a dinner party for any 3 Dutch artists (past, present, real or fictional) who would you choose and what would you serve for dinner?
DW: I would choose Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and Escher. Those might be obvious choices, so I think I would invite Hieronymus Bosch, Johannes Vermeer, and Piet Mondrian. I think that mix would make for the best conversation.
Rembrandt seems too stiff, Vincent too depressing, and Escher too lost in his world. As for the menu, I would probably serve a tasty plant-based dish, just to show them something new. It would surely get conversation going. Maybe we just order in sushi.