Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chapter Eleven - Part Two - Commercial Peach Growing

Lack of enthusiasm is what gets most commercial peach growers out of the business. I can really understand that. One crop in every six to seven crops fails. Boy, does that sound familiar, only the odds are even greater for failure in Hollywood. This is an old story already on my blog, and my last trip around this block, I promise. There are all sorts of factors to making a successful career in any business. In peach growing it comes down to proximity to the markets, and frost. In screenwriting it does matter a bit if you're inside Hollywood or out, wherever you live you need to work those connections you have to the business, and frost can be related to "dumb luck," which many credit with making, breaking, reviving and surviving a career as a screenwriter.

The reason you want to plant a private or commercial orchard on a hill is to reduce the frost factor. You see the cold air and water sink into a valley, and if your peaches sit in that cold air, and waterlogged soil they will not thrive. So, how can one increase the elevation of a writing career? I tell my students all the time that "credibility" is the key to life in Hollywood. Everyone you bring your script to must be convinced that you live to serve the writing craft. Writers with produced scripts proudly list their "credits" at the top of their resumes. This comes before their philosophy about the thing they've written or the hopes they have for future works. Credits speak for themselves.

Credits lacking in produced scripts, a writer can begin to point to other accomplishments in the written word: magazine articles, produced plays, published stories and books, and even blogs. The point is to boost oneself and one's writing above that soggy, frosty valley of "never done this before." But, for most new screenwriters "never done this before" is what they present to agents and managers. They cannot be surprised then when those agents and managers give them the thumbs down, the frosty letter of rejection, leaving the writer in a soggy bog of their own creation.

I've got some luck on my side. I've got some odd credits. I've got some people in the business. I cannot boo-hoo my way into that soggy bog without some great effort to fail at the first sign of success. It's that first thing, lack of enthusiasm, that gets me. Let me repeat, in peach growing success comes down to proximity to the markets, and frost. I've got the metaphor taken care of for scriptwriting then. I don't really understand it. I want to be enthusiastic about my most commercial concepts, but I have an internal hedging my bets feeling of "it isn't exactly right." Every script I've ever written has felt like a race to get it done. It's been like trying to force trees to produce fruit before they're mature, I suppose. I just couldn't conceive of doing it without some kind of pay off and reward because my survival felt like it depended on a sale.

Of course, I've managed to survive for years without too many sales, and so I have to look at that spuriousness finally and say, "Nope. It really doesn't matter if I sell this right away. I'll find a way to keep my head above water in the meantime." This is a matter of course for anyone planning to plant an orchard from seeds, from the pits, but a philosophy I have never before embraced for any of my writing. My writing has always seemed desperate in its clawing to success. This is the first time in my life that I feel like I can take a deep breath and consider what the hell I'm doing as a writer from the perspective of thriving rather than surviving because someone believes in me and understands that in the best of times the writer's career that has deep roots and succeeds five out of six times takes the passage of years and a narrow focus on the craft to mature. This may ultimately be the "dumb luck" I missed out on before, and much more important to me than all of the "credits" I've used to elevate my writing above the fog. It increases my enthusiasm for the inherent risks involved with such ventures, and allows me to consider seriously whether I shall go commercial or heirloom in my work.

Even commercial orchards, grown from saplings, sturdy stock, take three to four years to produce fruit. I've never before been able to have a stable enough personal life to think three to four years from a starting point. I tell you that I am in such a new world, I might as well be a Spanish conquistador with a pocket full of peach pits.

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