Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Chapter Two - Part Two - The Heart of the Clod

This part of the clod is so hardened and big to me that I don't think one blog entry is going to even make a dent on it, but here goes.

Choosing to write screenplays is a ridiculous proposition at any time in life, but particularly in middle age. The entertainment industry is very young or very old. Middle agers who haven't made it have moved into other industries. Middle agers who have made it tend to orient themselves young and not really acknowledge that they are, in fact, half-way through their blessed lives. So, when confronted by a middle-aged writer, telling a middle-aged story, they cringe. I know middle-aged screenwriters who go to great lengths to look 20 years younger than they are, and sometimes they really succeed. It's not pure vanity. It's survival.

So we're left with the older and the younger majority of Hollywood. The older Hollywood moguls understand that they just want to hang out with their friends. They've paid their dues. They don't have anything to prove. They just want to have fun finally, and working with hungry middle-agers holds zero appeal. The younger Hollywood has everything to prove. They want to make the big discoveries, create their teams, be the edgiest and most commercial creators in THE UNIVERSE. Being around writers who are their parents' age gives them the creeps.

Every year there are tens of thousands of screenplays written. How many movies do you see per year? Yeah. The ratio is pretty bad for screenplay to movie. And, STILL, there are bad movies made and distributed. It's not fair or pretty. There is nepotism and pure dumb luck at work in screenwriting. On average about 400 scripts get bought per year. Okay? Do you see how ridiculous it is? Each studio actually has a roster of screenplays that are already in line to be developed, and they're looking for specific ideas to fill in the few blank spots they have, and they don't advertise what those items are in any organized fashion. If you're lucky enough to have an agent or manager, they might hear a clue over a lunch conversation, but that's about as much information as you're going to get as a writer, and most writers don't have agents.

The sobering reality is this: screenwriting is a shitty career until you make it. I haven't really made it yet, though by the standards above at least I've worked for pay here and there along the way which in any other industry would look like failure, but in the screenwriting trade makes me nearly a star. I can't be sure that it isn't my own fault that I haven't hit the mark. Frankly, I've been distracted. It's taken me years to understand screenwriting's nuts and bolts. I started off backwards, ready with the writerly style but no nuts and bolts. And, I resisted those nuts and bolts. I resented them. Part of my delight in writing has been the act of discovery, but honestly it just doesn't work in screenwriting very well.

So, what this has to do with the heart of the clod is that mostly while I've pursued screenwriting I've had to work other jobs to survive. I feel like this split in my focus has been my excuse for not making a real go at it for years. I literally have had the fantasy that somehow I would get a whole year sometime to do nothing but write screenplays. OMG. When will I grow up?

You hear of actors who have gotten down to selling their furniture in order to eat ramen on the floor while they wait for the audition that will finally prove them a star. Well, I understand this, but I have two kids, a mortgage, and I'd like to be doing something for the world I live in. I am down to my bills and I can't cut anything else out without switching our diet to ramen. I have to earn a nut, a pittance really, to cover our bills. When I worked in Hollywood I could have earned this small amount of money in three days a month. But, now out here in the hinterlands it looks like I have to earn a million dollars! The pay scale is so bad here for Colorado writers that working at Starbucks looks like a better option.

So, why continue to pursue this insane dream?

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