Monday, October 11, 2010

It' doesn't get easier with age

I've been reading a book called Fifth Avenue, 5 a.m. about the making of Breakfast At Tiffany's with Audrey Hepburn. The movie was nominated for 7 Oscars and won 2 for the music, including the song Moon River. George Axelrod was nominated for the screenplay from Truman Capote's book and Audrey Hepburn was nominated for best actress.

In the book Hepburn makes an interesting remark about acting, "it gets harder and harder, I really die a million deaths every time, my stomach turns over, my hands get clammy, I wasn't cut out to do t his kind of thing".

I thought about this for awhile and realized that I not only agree with her, but that I feel that way as well. The best time for me is when I get hired to write a screenplay.

The worst time is the day after.

Why? Because I realize that I have to write the screenplay because the commitment is there, there's a deadline and people are expecting it to be done. And to be good.

When I'm doing a spec script, one that isn't commissioned, just an idea that I got that I hoped would sell, it's a lot easier. There's no pressure to perform.

But when I'm hired, it's a different story. I gotta work at it. And I just know that they won't like it and drop me and hire someone else. Sure, there's moments when I write something that I think is brilliant.

But that doesn't mean the world will think it's brilliant. Or more importantly, the producer won't.

And I would have thought that with age and experience, that it gets easier. But it doesn't.

When you're starting out as a writer, there is some pressure, but you have very little experience in the way of the business.  As a result you don't bother to worry about things like "notes from the producer", hell, it's just fun. You got a job writing and most of the time you're high on life.

But after about 5 years of writing your doubts begin to grow, at least mine did. And this continues as you write for producers or actors or whomever and for the most part, get rejected.

A screenwriter friend of mine who is quite a writer once taught a class in screenwriting. At the beginning, he asked his students to write a 20-30 page screenplay. After a week or two they brought their screenplay in. Dennis Clark, the screenwriter accepted the screenplays and piled them on his desk.

Then he dumped them into the waste basket.

Then he told them that was their first lesson in screenwriting. Rejection.

A little harsh? Yes. But Dennis was right.

Only actors get rejected more than writers. I have 34 specs, but they've all been rejected. And that doesn't mean they're bad, it just means they haven't found someone who connects with them.

Today I got an email from someone who actually is considering a screenplay I sent him. The problem isn't the script, he loves it, but it's whether or not he can finance it. And that is another conundrum, someone may love your script, but if they can't find the money it's not going to get made.


Ironically more experience doesn't necessarily make it easier, as you can see. I've gone through dozens of development executives and producers and directors, some of whom like my work, some who don't, some who can't find the money and some who aren't sure.

Another element of my writing, is that it's not usually what is getting made, I was never really a good commercial writer, I couldn't write a comedy if my life depended on it. My best work is what's considered "soft material",  Emperor of Mars,  which always comes up, is like Stand By Me,  the Christmas script, out later this year as a movie, is about a family in turmoil.

But ultimately, it's about finding that one person who reads your story and connects to it somehow, like the woman who liked the Christmas script because, one character in the screenplay, in her words, "reminded me of my two daughters".

The script had been on a pile of scripts at Hallmark for nearly three years until she picked it up and read it.

Once a screenplay that I may have been hired to write is finished, I usually ask for a few more days past the deadline, so that I can just "make it a little better." I really don't do anything but I want them to think I really, really care about the story.

And I really do, but I'm almost terrified to hand it in and when I finally do, they almost always ask this dreaded question;

"So Jim, what do you think of it?"

They want me to say it's great, it's brilliant, it's the best thing I've ever written. But my stock answer is usually; "It's a hundred pages."

Because every time I thought it was great, they didn't like it. Well, at least it seems like every time. And when I thought it wasn't good, they thought it was.

You never win.

I know there are writers that are more secure than me, but with the experience of years, I've learned to protect myself by expecting rejection rather than acceptance. And most of the writers I know are the same. And the ones who aren't are lying. Or delusional.

Bottom line is that me and Audrey have the same problem but I couldn't imagine doing anything else. 


  1. Interesting post, the more you push the harder it gets, and thats when folks give up. Be the 10% that keeps going.

  2. You're right, you keep going, everyone who knows me knows I never quit writing, no matter how broke I was. There's a price for that too, marriage and a few other things but ultimately we all pay a price for our choices and if we can live with that, we're good, if we can't then it's probably not a very nice life.

  3. A good reminder... thanks for the post... back to work - one word at a time...