Talent, Failure... or Both?
Yesterday on John August and Craig Mazin's awesome podcast Scriptnotes, they repeated the mantra of theirs that "Talent Will Out," assuring me and my fellow hopeful-wannabes that despite the current contraction of the industry, if we write an amazing enough script then Hollywood will (somehow) hear about it and beckon us lovingly into the fold.
Booyah for me, amiright?
People like my stuff and wanna work with me. I'm good at what I do. Heck, even John August himself once quoted me on his blog.
It's only a matter of time.
For the zillionth time.
A few days ago, some other Wannabe Screenwriter who I didn't know checked out MY SCRIPT-SAMPLES WEBSITE, and then wrote to tell me it looked like I'm doing well for myself.
Har-dee-frickin-har, har... sob.
When it comes to my writing, I feel like a massive failure.
But contest results don't matter jack-bo-diddly in the world of professional screenwriting, and I self-published those books—which, despite the reviews, have never sold at more than a trickle-pace. Nobody cares about the writer of short films and, oh, and that feature I got produced (the one crawling along in post-production)? Well, I actually produced it myself. With a director who's a good buddy. So it doesn't really count.
Not to mention the amazing opportunities I've BLOWN over the past six years of doing this. Here's a list of the ones I can remember, off the top of my head:
- A childhood friend stuck his neck out to put an early, sucky screenplay of mine in front of the acquisitions guy at the major production house where he works (like, one of the very biggest), because it was a Nicholl quarterfinalist (woop-dee-doo) and because I asked. I'm probably now on their poo-list.
- Through a friend of my mom's, I got a not-ready draft of a screenplay onto the desk of a super-connected, respected Hollywood producer (whose work you've heard of), and the people he paid to read it were very... not-fond.
- I was in talks with a billionaire film-financier to write something for him and when he started to do the whole billionaire thing and insinuate he might like to write it with me, I said just the wrong thing that made him walk away.*
Over the past six years that I've been seriously writing, I've received probably over two hundred rejections from publishers, literary agents, and magazine editors. I've had three or four short films fall through. I've had meetings with producers who were enthusiastic about every aspect of my screenwriting but the part where they'd pay me for it. I've thrown more money than I could afford at contests, fellowships, grants, the frickin' frickitty-frick Blacklist website, and applications for scholarships to workshops—with largely-negative results.
So when some well-seated pro says, "Talent Will Out," all I hear is this:
"If the stuff you've written so far didn't suck so bad, you wouldn't be such a failure."
I can think about that all day, if I want to.
- I can think about the contracting book-and-film industry.
- I can think about the fact that there are way less jobs, and way more (bitter, self-important) gatekeepers than ever.
- I can think about the opportunities I've blown.
- I can think about the people who've raved over my work and promised to share it with that super-connected guy they know and then wait—what—where'd they go?
And I do think about that. A lot. More than is healthy.
Most of the time, though, I just keep writing on through it. Keep planning for the next short film, and feature. Keep believing that there's enough value to my stories that it's worth doing odd manual-labor jobs and watching my genius-brilliant wife suffer at a crappy retail-job-that-doesn't-pay-a-living-wage (because: cycles of poverty, that's why) in order to keep me writing them.
The inspirational tag at the end of this says that I haven't actually failed... I've just learned a bunch of things that wouldn't work for me.
And that's fine...
If I live to see the other side of it.
If I don't—if I die before I figure out how to get someone to pay me more than pennies and put my stories up on the big screen—then I'm just a guy who figured out a lot of things that didn't work for him.
So I'm looking for the joy.
No... I'm grasping for the joy, believing that it's there and that it's not found in just never weed-eating another rich guy's horse-fence, nor rebuilding another deck in Babylon ever again.
It's found, rather, in doing a good day's work, and then leaving all those found-out-what-didn't-works at the desk so I can be present with my son, when he wants to toss a baseball. Being there for my wife when she wants to tell me about her idiot-customer-day. The joy is found in the amazing menagerie of wrens, sparrows, cardinals, and cowbirds nibbling seeds four feet away from me right now, right outside my office window. It's fresh spinach from the garden, and an encouraging phone call to a friend.
Not from, TO, because there's more to life than selling a screenplay for a bundle and buying a Tesla so that Tesla will do well and prices'll come down for all the rest of you poors out there, and the planet will be saved.
There are so many things I don't have and never will.
Maybe professional writing success.
I can't control that, but I can do my work and move on, with as much gratitude as I can muster for all the things I do have. Maybe I'll never get to walk into a theater I didn't rent and see a movie I wrote up there on the screen... but I'll have lived, I think.
Failure and all.
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*"No," maybe? That's billionaires for ya.