This entry has a lot more to do with writing than the last few, I swear.
Hello reader (or ‘readers’ if I dare inflate my ego a tad.) More words typed from the far side of the world, talking about the act of typing, or more likely typing about the act of typing. My reader (or readers… if I dare to dream) may have noticed that I was missing a blog post last week. We’ve done our very best to find it, but when I tried to report a missing blog post to the police they refused to take my call. (I’m not sure exactly who it is that’s screening the police’s call these days, but I gotta say they are good.)
Truth be told (with a mix of Freedom, Beauty & Love thrown in – )
I wanted to write a post last week, but I just didn’t have the time. I didn’t have the time because I was buried under a metric f**k ton of writing, exactly the reason I’m out here. So I’m not complaining. In fact I’m thrilled beyond belief to have the problem of ‘I’ve got too much writing to do’.
So I did what a professional does. I hid under my blankets for several days, played a lot of Final Fantasy on my phone and fretted about how I would get the work done in the ever shrinking portion of time I had been given.
Kidding. Kind of. I was actually very good at managing my time, if ‘very good’ is translated as I literally didn’t leave my computer for seven hours straight for several days on end in a valiant attempt to smash out the best work I could in the least amount of time. My motivation for doing this? I wanted to absolutely floor the other writers around me with the level of work I was capable of doing on an incredibly tight Star Trekkian kind of timeline. Also kidding, kind of…
You see I consider myself the ‘unproven commodity’ in this group (That’s me borrowing a term my sometimes representation back home used for me, to my face, a while back. Like the other term I’ve been called out here, ‘Vaudeville’ I’m going to wear it as a badge of honour for the rest of my career. “Created by A Once Unproven Commodity”) In this context I use it as such: One writer on our team has known the head writer for years, so the head writer had no concerns in terms of what he knew they could do. The other writer on the team has been working in Hollywood for a few years, and wouldn’t be in the position they are if their work wasn’t any good. I was the oddball, the unknown variable – And based on some of my anxiety in the first few days, they may have been a little skeptical of just what I could produce.
So I asked to go to script first. Never having really been under the eyes of working professionals before, even I wasn’t sure just where my work stood. If there was a lot I still needed to learn, or if there was a lot of ‘massaging’ that needed to be done with my style, I wanted to know early while the head-writer was still available here in Qatar (they have since returned to La La Land to administer us from afar on Google-hangouts – PLUG!) I’d prefer that kind of feedback face to face so I could determine what adjustments were needed promptly.
So I busted my ass to get everything done as fast and as quick as I could. I handed it in, and I waited to hear back.
Waiting to hear back is something every writer knows about. The benefit for me was that the head-writer was staying a floor below me on the hotel, so it wasn’t like he could disappear and forget about me for months (the way some people with your work in their hands can.) I wasn’t looking to be praised or coddled. I wanted to show that I was dedicated to doing the best job for the project that I could, and if that meant I needed to make some huge leaps in my skill level, I wanted to get started on that as soon as possible.
I won’t repeat what was said to me when the head-writer finally brought me in to talk about my work, that’s something for my biographer to listen to decades from now. I will say that the ‘Validation’ part of this blog title comes from that meeting though. There was no need for my apprehension or anxiety. My work would most certainly stand up to any of the other writers, and to most any professional writer I would run across. Sure maybe not against Sorkin, Gilligan or Weiss, but I had definitely secured my place in this job, and in all upcoming jobs in my future on the strength of my performance here. It felt pretty damned good.
I think more than anything (aside from being paid more than peanuts to do exactly what I wanted to be doing) this is what I was hoping to get out of this experience: A barometer of just where my abilities placed me on the scale of professionals. I was warned not to let the whole thing go to my head, and that a writer is only as good as their last script, and I BELIEVE that whole heartedly. I don’t think I’m the type to let some good news completely warp my self perception, and the only real satisfaction I take from hearing things like that is the knowledge I can do this again, and again, and again. I could’ve come out here and discovered that while I was ‘pretty good’, I still had so much growth to do that my hand needed to be held through all the difficult parts, but that wasn’t what happened.
I’ve worked real damn hard for years now, crafting a style that’s my own; Punchy, fast paced, fun to read and unique, while at the same time being recognizable, understandable and not off-putting. It’s clear I’ve succeeded. And I’ve learned some important things from the professionals I share the writer’s room with daily: If what you put on the page is clear, understandable, and clean to read it doesn’t really matter what your ‘style’ is (as long as you still format it correctly).
My scripts are always full of SFX cues done up with ” *’s ” – *BANG!* *KA-PWING!* *RATTA-TAT-TAT*. I don’t know where I took that from, and dare I say I suspect I may have just coined it myself, but the head-writer said he thought it was a really great way of working in SFX without having to write up ‘SFX’ every time. For the sake of keeping the formatting in the show’s scripts the same we removed the asterixes, but I was encouraged to continue with that format in my own work. I finally came to understand that the ‘rules’ we’re taught for screenwriting are more about getting everyone on the same page for how screen-stories are told, rather than a codex on how to write the ‘perfect script’.
If I want to get anywhere I need to stand out, get noticed, rise above the crowd, pee into the wind – wait… no. Not the last one. But the others. I spent some time in the last year working on a project or two that I thought would be money earners, but I wasn’t passionate about. Guess where those got me? But when I held a reading for something I loved writing and then used something else I loved writing as a reference, I found myself with this job. I know that this business feels like it’s more ‘who you know’ than how talented you are, and there’s no denying that making contacts and being easy to work with goes a very long way, but having something to say and a great way of saying it is just as important. There’s no doubting that I’m lucky as holy-shit to be where I am, as this job could’ve gone to any number of skilled writers who happened to know a certain director, something about the timing and the way it came about pointed it at me, and I was not going to waste it.
Because luck matters. Luck matters big in all of this. There’s a trick to luck though. You can make your own. You can’t do that by design or by rote or by will, but you can make your own luck by practice. If you have one ‘absolutely magical’ screenplay that you farted out of your unicorn butt as a flawlessly perfect first draft that deserves to be made by the greatest artists, so you will only show it to the most skilled and priviledged, you’re gonna have a real hard time finding it the ‘luck’ it needs to get anywhere. But if you have a dozen screenplays on their fifth rewrites being read by friends on their spare time, entered into competitions and performed out loud in group readings, you have a much bigger ‘net’ to catch your luck. Writing is rewriting (says the guy who HATES proofreading his posts before they’re published…) and work gets better with every iteration. HAVING work to read is also a plus. Writing samples are a great deal more useful than anyone would ever think.
Screenwriting isn’t about your inspired idea being able to surpass all odds and get made out of the blue by a magnificent artist. Screenwriting is about hustling, hustling, hustling. Hustling yourself, hustling your work and MAKING people notice you. I know this, because I spent a LOOOOOONG time waiting for my truly unique and intelligent ideas to be appreciated for what they were, movie gold. Guess how far I went with that attitude?
It was only after I gave up on how awesome I thought I was and instead started to really focus on the craft that I started to get somewhere. In this case ‘somewhere’ felt like a rally car stuck in the mud, but eventually those wheels found a tiny bit of traction and my rally car took off, barely missing the foolish spectators who line the road of all those rally races.
I stopped thinking my ideas were special and started thinking that what I was doing was a skill that needed practicing. I could still write my wicked-cool screenplays with my awesome nichecore characters and concepts, but I needed to be able to show that I was more than just a presumptuous, entitled artist. I needed to show that hard work was what was taking me places. Now those who know me (and have employed me – sorry dudes, seriously) in the past have known that ‘hard work’ wasn’t exactly something I was much into at all…
That was, until, I found out that I had the REAL potential to actually make something of this screenwriting thing. One person I need to give super mad props to regarding that is my amazing, inspiring, ever suffering (of me) wife. She has never let me hide behind a lack of desire to achieve. Sure it took her nearly a decade of prodding and ultimately connecting me with a (super wicked cool) life coach to get me there, but we eventually did.
Once I realized that I could do the work, and in doing the work I could get my concepts the attention they deserved, everything started to change. I still haven’t sold or optioned any of my nichecore epics, but I’m a lot closer now than I ever was before, when I was waiting to be noticed for my perceived genius. If you think you yourself are a screenwriting genius, put in the work, get in the hustle, and prove it to yourself so you can prove it to the world.