Wednesday, March 3, 2010


               Our best built certainties are but sand-houses and subject 
                    to damage from any wind of doubt that blows.
                                            - Mark Twain

Am I going to get this movie made?

Will I ever write another screenplay?

If I do, will they like it?

Screenwriting and making films can be compared to many other jobs except for one thing; we're selling dreams not  a physical object. Sure, it's shown through a projector and onto a screen but the image tells each of us a story, some will like it, some will not. But if it's good you'll remember it the rest of your life.

Well, okay, I'm being a little pretentious, not all movies are special, nor are they great. Some are just bad. Others are horrible.

But again, that drives the point home. Filmmakers can give you a good experience or a bad one or just a mediocre one. And most times the people who made it don't know until they've finished it.

And that's where more doubt comes in.

I'm doing a side job now, a rewrite for a screenplay that wasn't very good from another writer. In fact it was pretty bad, not the writer's fault, they just didn't have the experience to make the screenplay very good.

There's a lot of that now. Anyone who can shell out $150 for screenwriting software can call themselves a writer. And they do. Kind of like someone buying a model airplane and is now ready to fly a 747.

I had read the screenplay and realized it needed a lot of work to make it even readable. And I don't really like doing this and the money frankly wasn't great. But I decided to do it for three reasons: 

  • There were some special considerations to this story that made me want to help the writer, some very unusual ones which I won't get into because of the serious nature. 
  •  I knew I could patch it up to make it more saleable. 
  •  I wanted to test myself again, I haven't written a screenplay for almost three years. I did some polishes but that's minor stuff. This was a Page 1 rewrite, meaning every page needed work. .
 So I said yes and then I waited.

And waited.

No. It wasn't for the first payment.

It was because I was scared. I wanted it to just go away.  I wanted to wake up that morning and hope it was gone. Why?


That's it. Having written over 70 screenplays,  17 of which were made and 30 hours of episodic TV and at least 30 spec scripts, I was unsure.

I didn't think I could write it. I didn't think I was good enough.

30 years of rejection does that to a writer. Remember out of 70 screenplays, only 17 were made. That's 25%.  75% of my work on feature screenplays was passed on or turned down or given to another writer. The odds are not great.3 to 1 that they won't like it.

The funny thing is that any writer, any honest writer will say the same thing. The same goes for directors and for cameramen and... for actors.

We are an incredibly insecure bunch of people, as Sally Field said when she won her 2nd Oscar. "you like me,you really like me".

And there I was. I had a job. Not a big job, but something to do besides trying to develop and fund 3 movies for which I was not paid.

A friend of mine goes through doubt because they are having to work at a second job to support this life of writing and believe me, that is not easy. Just try it sometime. But we have no choice.

To quote my friend quoting Stephen King, "it's not like we have a choice".

People say, whattya mean, you got a choice, settle down to a paying job like the rest of us and just get along.

The truth is, we can't do those jobs. Or we can't do them very well or enthusiastically.

I once had a job where I was sitting in a shopping mall getting people to guess the number of jellybeans. Honest. I did this. It was a thing to get newspaper subscriptions and at the end of a week I hadn't signed one subscription. Not one. 

The newspaper ad guy says "Jim, everyone sells at least one". Not me.

I worked as a medical writer once, doing Workers Comp cases. I was great an editing transcripts of doctors and lawyers and injured workers. I just didn't do the technical stuff well.

I worked as a limo driver and got lost or refused to speed or run redlights. A Canadian trait no doubt.

I had an office job once, editing a travel guide of Las Vegas and had to listen to gossip about other people in the office and had to listen to gossip in the cafeteria and the elevator. And I had to show my work every few hours to the head editor. I lasted 2 weeks.

And yes, I was fired from each of those jobs.

So when it comes to writing, we have no choice, it's the only thing we can do reasonably well and have an opportunity to express our feelings. Because it's all about our feelings. We want to tell stories and to have people smile or cry or get angry. Because it makes us feel good.

"You like me, you really like me". 

Insecurity? Damn right. For whatever reason, distant parents, getting beat up in school, having kids laugh at us for the way we talk, a bad relationship, or just marveling at sunsets on the prairies or the way a waitress wipes tables. It is so remarkable to us, the little things in life and we want to share them.

And much of the time we do it for free. I've been asked to do free rewrites or polishes on almost every job I've had, except for those with great producers like Steve White and David Bixler and a few others. The other producers always ask for a "little bit of fixing up" even though it goes against WGA rules.

So why do it?

Because if you don't, they'll hire another writer and pay them for the rewrite and not hire you for the next job up the road.

So much for protection from WGA.

But I know we're not the only ones.  I know there are creative people be it in industry or business (well, honest ones) and other jobs. I know someone who loves to cut lawns, who is proud of the evenness of the grass and the edging lines.

My dad was a great mechanic, he used to listen to the sound of a Ford V8 engine and smile after he tuned it up.  He'd look at me and nod. No words needed.

And another friend of mine is an oral surgeon and she gets up at 5.30am and writes a few pages of her latest screenplay for maybe an hour and a half and then she has breakfast with her family and then goes to work at her dental office.

You couldn't get me up at at 5.30 for anything, let alone writing. 

And I still want that rewrite to go away.

Because I know I can't do it.

Or you won't like it. 

So after a week of using every excuse to not write, I settled down Sunday, something I rarely do as it's a day of rest, right?  But I hammered out 1 page. Not a lot, not a little.

And it all came back. That flow of energy started up, I had an idea for the next scene, and maybe one after that.

I did 5 pages in 90 minutes.

The pro from Dover is back!

At least until tomorrow when I face that damn blank page again.


  1. Thanks for that. I'm going to quote Diana Keaton, quoted by Halle Berry who received a letter from her after she won the Oscar. Keaton said:

    "Winning an Oscar is not necessarily the best thing that can happen to you."

    She was warning her. It's not only the pressure, or wondering, 'where do I go from here' but also, 'can I repeat this performance? Am I really any good?'

    I get that. I know you get that. And so does everyone who tries to make it creatively.

    But it's nice to know we're all in it together.

  2. I saw a clip with Sandra Bullock regarding the movie she's up for... she said the best thing about it was getting to work again, getting a job.

    Never goes away, does it?

  3. "The other producers always ask for a "little bit of fixing up" even though it goes against WGA rules."

    Not true. Studios can't ask. Producers can. You don't have to do it, but they can ask.

  4. Not sure what you mean but reality of the situation is they all ask for free work, producers, studio, stars, you name it. I'm not referring to screenplay magazine articles or websites, just 30 yrs in this business.

    Assuming you're going by WGA rules, that's one world, and then there's the real world that's a little more devious.