This past February, I met with a script consultant, someone my coach suggested I work with as part of our plan this year to get my screenplay "industry ready." These terms. If anything, I'll at least have a knapsack of critical phrases in my arsenal. Returning home from a long weekend in Lake Tahoe with the family, I anticipated walking that Monday afternoon into an avalanche of criticism, the kind of notes that take an ax to every idea you've ever had, or at least the ones you once fondled with pride. Writing a screenplay can be grueling and the necessity of quality feedback, good or bad, is something every writer has to learn to accept.
Everything you read about how astonishingly bleak a pursuit a career in screenwriting is and how stacked against you the odds are is maddening. You sit in a chair, face the nude visage of a blank screen and type away. Aimlessly at times. You can be soaked in pride at the start of the night and by the end you're ringing your dreams from a towel. It's a struggle every self-proclaimed writer faces: the work itself, and the initial reaction that very work inspires, be it your own or someone else's. But that feedback is critical. As hard as it may be to swallow, it's what chips away at the wall you've built around yourself to reveal the confidence that finally allows the veil to be lifted. It just never comes that easily.
As the call with my consultant approached, I still had to decide on a place to take it. I wanted somewhere quiet. Hearing the not so subtle outbursts of our three year old son Joseph while absorbing why my character arcs and plot points are a bunch of horse shit was not an appealing image. Although a Starbucks seemed possible, and only a little trite, I chose a pub and the alluring calm of an empty weekday patio. All roads led to Britannia Arms on Almaden Expressway. What better spot to welcome the slaughter of my ego.
At the hand of luck, or fate (not something I truly believe in) there was not a single person on the patio that day. I was completely alone, my notebook, iPad, phone and total willingness to day drink being my only companions. I had never spoken to a script consultant before so I didn't quite know what to expect. Although I had done a ton of research on professional readers and listened to many a podcast about the various things consultants tend to focus on, I went into the meeting exposed. We covered plot, structure, characters, tone, motivations and the overall writing itself.
What was only meant to be a 90 minute session lasted almost 3 hours. Where some notes she gave me were certainly hard to stomach, others validated the time spent ogling a computer screen. We set a deadline for the revisions and agreed to come back together at a later date to review the changes. As I write this, having met my deadline while Die Hard (of course!) plays On Demand, I feel a wave of excitement come over me. I could easily be detecting the sour whiff of an impending rejection, like a dog barking before an earthquake strikes. But whatever it is, it will be the result of hard work.
So Where does It Go?
After watching the almost always maligned Academy Awards and seeing artists I admire recognized for their work, I play dress up in my head and fantasize about where this road could lead, and when the high fades into reality, where it also never will. Society loves to tell you the things you want to do will never happen. But what if it did? That's the question every person should want to answer for themselves, no matter the intended goal. What if I fail? What if I'm laughed at? What if I'm forgotten? None of these questions are more terrifying to me than “what if I never fucking tried?” If real life were a horror movie, that question would be my masked killer.
I’ve written about this before so I wouldn't blame anyone for thinking that I'm repeating myself. But the world can be a puppeteer if you allow it. It will thrive on your indecision, pulling at your veins to influence your every fucking move. If you've seen A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (with one of the greatest scenes ever) you know what I mean. Do the unthinkable. Open the door and embrace the criticism. Sharpen every knife yourself that aims to stab you. Before you know it, those blades will dull themselves. But listen. Learn everything you can. Keep your art in motion. Sing. Write. Dance. Paint. Whatever your passion may be. Do it. Don't wait for it. It will never wait for you.