Hello fans and sycophants alike (though those of who ARE my sycophants have been rather quiet as of late – get back to your undying love!) Yes, it’s definitely been waaay too long since I’ve updated this site. ‘Why is that?’, I need you to ask to provide context for the rest of this post. To answer you, I will digress into an extended, but interesting story…
When I was returning home from Qatar, I had a lot of plans and expectations about where my career was going to go, now that I was a professional, for real paid TV writer. Before I’d even landed in Vancouver I’d already lined up several contract jobs, there was the strong possibility of LA consulting work being directed my way, and most importantly of all, I was going to waltz into any of a half-dozen offices in Vancouver and find myself representation right then and there. I’d finally snuck my foot in the door, and professional success was just waiting for me to grab it.
So yeah, none of that happened.
My numerous paid contracts fell down to ‘one’, which I then managed to severely under-bid myself in the hopes of currying favour with karma and the local scene. The LA work that was coming my way dried up for any one of the numerous reasons writing work dries up, and most shockingly of all, most agents still won’t take my calls. Oh they’re lovely people, I’ve met with several of them, and while I may be employable, the problem remains that I have yet to prove I am ‘bankable’.
So here I am, in basically the same place I was last year, struggling to figure out where the next paid writing gig is coming from. I thought this would all be easier. Then I remembered Frodo & Sam…
‘Member them? ‘Member Rudy and the cannibalistic serial killer from Sincity? They had to take a ring to a place I think. It was in movies, I guess they wrote some books about them or something later…
But seriously – Frodo & Sam have to take the ring to Mordor. Sure it starts out as a jaunty fellowship with Lucifer, Magneto, Indy’s friend Salah and the King in The North along for the ride, but the reality is by the end of three movies and sixty hours of your life, it was Frodo & Sam getting the job done.
They set out and walked further than they ever had in their lives. They crossed rivers, escaped the Nasgul, slept in different beds, killed Orcs, climbed the Misty Mountains, woke up the Mines of Moria and by the end of ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ they had made it all the way too…
Nowhere near Mordor. I mean COME ON! They spent nearly three screen hours getting somewhere, and when you see how close they are to Mordor it’s heartbreaking. They’re nowhere close.
So we go into the second film. Surely this time, after 3+ hours of Orcs and horses and Brad Dourif you’d think they’d be closer to Mordor. NOPE. By the end of the ‘The Two Towers’ they reached the GATES of Mordor. Surely this must mean their journey is near it’s end – STILL NOPE!
Now they have to spend another whole book/movie making it through the suburbs of Mordor, or ‘South Surrey’ as it would be called here, in order to make it to Mount Doom Tower in downtown Mordor (or the ‘Central Mordor District’, as the one Aussie I suspects who reads this blog might understand). I mean, it was like you could see the place from the Shire, but every time Frodo & Sam thought they were there, they discovered just how much further they had to go to reach their ultimate destination.
Success in screenwriting is like that. You cross the swamps and plains and grasslands and oceans and think you’ve made it, think you’re there, only to discover a whole new valley of competitors, production gates and obstacles standing in the way of where you want to be.
So you climb over, slide down and conquer THOSE obstacles, only to find there’s a whole new world, all new terrain of endeavours and challenges in your way. It’s like the screenwriting success is tied up in a series of sinister matryoshka dolls.
I mean, I picked like the easiest industry in the world to succeed in right? What was I doing wrong? Where was the hotline where I could just call up the Giant Eagles and have them deliver me to Mount Doom and skip all the boring spider-parts?
It was an amazing lesson, and a sobering realization all at once. Nothing is guaranteed anywhere. Four months pounding out TV scripts is great experience, but it’s not a surefire path to fortune and glory, not standing on its own anyways.
I still spend my days hustling, building relationships and expanding networks, trying to find that next edge, that next in. I can see now just how foolish I was being at first , thinking that one pro job would be enough karma to carry me through. Where I am, the work is so thin and the competition so strong that nothing can be considered a lock. Talent and skill are a baseline in this business, not an asset. I say ‘not an asset’ because it’s not like a slew of un-talented, skill-less noobs are scooping up all the work I’m trying to secure.
Okay, not entirely true. There is ONE group of people scooping up all the film work in Vancouver, but even they aren’t skill-less noobs. They’re much more dangerous than that…
If anyone is flooding into Vancouver and filling up the film jobs, it’s the shifty ‘Strayan’s! I worked on one of the amazing Crazy8’s films this year (Shuttlecock – such an awesome experience!) and there were no less than three fresh off the boat Aussies on the crew, a Kiwi, a Brit and I think there was a Red Panda as well. It was a blast, but damn! A country where Uni’s doc late assignments 1% a day (At UofC you lost 10% a day for lates until a week had gone by and then there wasn’t any point) is producing more hard-working film folk than you can throw a boomerang at. Those hard working film folk are arriving on our shores in droves, appearing in our TV shows, working our lights and keeping crafty fresh. They need to be stopped – or bought drinks and plied to help YOU find work as well. Maybe that’s a better idea.
So I’m back grinding at the grindstone. I’ve submitted myself to several screenwriter internships, apprenticeships and opportunities. I’ve already received my ‘No’ email from one of them; The Toronto Screenwriters Conference is obviously onto me and my shenanigans. (Anytime you receive an email from a contest where the first thing they tell you is how many people entered, you know you’re already out of the running. It’s never “We received 250 submissions and yours was the best! Welcome aboard!” – or maybe it is, and I’ve just never seen that, either way.)
Before I returned to Canada, I liked to think I was beyond these internships and competitions. Figured the weight of my hard work on an international program and the good vibes I was getting from people in Hollywood, closer to the action. would be my sure-fire, direct ticket to success. Work begets work, as they say. And I was working hard.
So is there a lesson, or a point to this, you wonder? I wonder that too honestly. I’m doing what everyone should be doing, following my dreams and sticking with that, not letting adversity or disappointment slow me down or stop me. But I will confess to you and only you, endless internet full of countless readers, that it isn’t easy. It’s really not. Simply keeping an appropriate, positive attitude going on a daily basis can be exhausting enough, without having to you know, live and do things.
My greatest fear in the world (well okay maybe not “greatest” – my greatest fear is that our universe is nothing more than a massive alien simulation and our particular incarnation is being used to calibrate for variables) is having to go back to a regular joe job. I have this fear because, confession time – I’m not very good at regular jobs. I mean, I’m good enough to do the job capably, but that’s it. I’m not the office go-getter. I’m not ambitiously positioning myself for that next raise. I’m not ‘management material’. My years and years in the ‘customer service’ world (the only joe jobs I’m really capable of landing) have left me scarred with knowledge of my own mediocrity. If you need story broken, or a character to take a left turn, or that big reveal for the cliffhanger, then I am sooo your guy. If you need someone to explain to you why your cable bill keeps changing, I’d sooner take the easy way out and try to reach the edge of space using 300 helium balloons and a hammock.
What’s that saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”? I believe in it, but I’m wondering if the money knows where to find me right now. I might put out a sign, just in case it’s lost or maybe it’s like Googlemaps in Iceland and they have the translations of street names wrong. Not sure exactly, but I’ll keep working and waiting for that money to show up. It has to get here sooner or later… Any day now.
Now I’m faced with those most dire of existential questions. Do I stay the course, or do I get practical? The last time I thought about being ‘practical’ I spent several semesters at UBC thinking I was going to be a History teacher until I remembered the very last thing I wanted to do was sit around with a bunch of teenagers for six hours everyday. So instead we stay the course. I’m making adjustments to keep me pointed towards my goal: I’m seeking out PA work, since that’s rarely 9-5 (at least on an extended basis) it keeps me in touch with the industry I’m trying to break open and it can put some money in my pockets while I work to pull down the next big thing.
Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from this – it’s that one job is not your career. YOU are your career, and especially in a place like Vancouver you need to be hustling your own career every chance you get. You aren’t going to slide from one choice job to another, you’re going to have to work at, hack through and cut down so many professional and personal obstacles before you can secure the next job, and the next one, and the one after that…
So yes, the road to success is like the path to Mordor: it’s full of little people, it goes through a swamp, and while it’s almost impossible to get through the main gate, you can probably sneak in the back way…