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Monday, January 26, 2009

If I Knew Then....

Gary Goldstein, the erudite and inspired producer of PRETTY WOMAN, is working on a set of audio books for screenwriters. I am honored to have been one of the professionals he has chosen to interview with my consulting as a jumping off point for my particular input. The title of my section is: If I Knew Then What I Know Now - and it's aptly titled. I was going to pull some of the questions from that section for today's blog but I think I'll leave that for the actual interview this Friday. But it inspired me to share with you today what my biggest What I Know Now lesson was. Well, it's not really one lesson, it's a bunch of lessons and if I had to be pithy and use one word to describe that group of lessons I would say it's: PATIENCE.

There is an urban myth among screenwriters - particularly newer ones, that goes like this:

I will write a script, I will query with that script, I will get repped, the manager will sell the script and I will put hundreds of thousands of dollars in my bank account and I will buy an island somewhere, equipped with a Blu-Ray, a private jet and dancing girls with coconuts. I will be interviewed, I will go to the premiere of my movie, I will be employed thereafter as a working (and somewhat vaunted) screenwriter. I practice my interviews in the shower now. I'm a genius! Why didn't I think of this like 10 years ago when I had that crappy job! Screenwriting is GREAT!

I thought all that stuff would be true too. I really did. You know, probably without dancing girls, more like I don't know, Viggo Mortensen would be my best friend and I would order trays of crudites from my chaise lounge by my pool, but of course, what a bitter lesson it was so learn the truth. My truth went something like this:

I will write a script and I will query and get no bites except from that one guy in Florida. I will feel excited but vaguely uneasy. Nothing will happen with that script. But hey, I must be pretty good! I will write another script and the same thing will happen except I get absolutely no replies to any of my queries. I will read about other people selling specs and buying islands and feel embittered or maybe impassioned and I will be tempted to quit in a huff but I don't. I keep trying. I will feel like I don't possibly have time to write when I have my job and my family and the stress of life. But I'll keep writing anyway. I will buy numerous screenwriting books and read them all and know that this next script is finally gonna be the ticket. It won't be. I will enter a competition nobody's heard of and place. I know it doesn't matter in the big picture but it feels great. So I keep writing. I finally query a manager who asks to read the script. He passes. I am bummed but at least something happened. Another manager, another read and a meeting this time! A real meeting! Would I like a water? Why, yes I would! Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

I fast forward, six or eight scripts in and I get a manager! A real one! From LA! One with a reputation! I am very excited, I made it over the moat! I'm in, guys! They like me, they really like me! The script "went out" and got some "fans" but no sale. Whiskey tango foxtrot! I'm somewhere between disappointed, bitter and a little wiser. Ahhhh, expectations, they must be managed. I tell myself this is normal. And as I look around at others in my position, I see that it is. AHA - this is the journey! I keep writing.

Every script I write gets better than the last. I look at the first script I ever wrote and I cringe. I can't believe I thought that would get me repped. I take classes. I live my life. I go to screenwriting events. I make lots of friends who are writers. I keep writing. I grow more circumspect. I stop focusing on getting repped and sold and I start focusing on writing a great script. And now I am finally at the place where something might - might - happen for me. And I keep writing. And I get repped yet again. And I get real meetings. Then nothing happens. But I'm not that upset by this - I take this as a challenge and I keep writing. And I write a script with a partner that gets me high level studio meetings and I'm picturing my island and nothing happens. I keep networking and I keep writing and I gain a reputation as a good writer who is "good in a room." One of my scripts gets a very successful producer attached. He takes the script to DreamWorks. And I wait. And I hope. But I know I won't be crushed if it doesn't happen because I've been down this road and I've grown as a writer and I know that this is a solid script and that I've got more like that in me.

I'm no longer picturing a private island but rather a decent paycheck and an open door for more meetings. I've come to relax into the journey. And I look back at the ridiculously high expectations of my earlier days and I wince - but I realize that this is the journey of a writer. It's like having a child - you can't know how hard it is or you'd never do it. You have to start out with high expectations and ideals. You can't know how circuitous this journey is going to be, or how long.

And that is the wisdom I have to pass along to you on this fine Monday, Wavers. I can't tell you to manage your expectations - you still think the journey I have been on will not apply to you. Oh, you won't admit it, of course. But deep in your heart, you think your path will be much, much shorter. That's okay. I felt the same way. You can't go around it, you have to go through it. Your path will be unique but it will have similar signposts. You might have three ineffective managers. You might have five. You might grab the brass ring on script number four and manager number two. But you can't know that - all you can do is hang onto that determination and not be swayed. As long as you keep writing and keep improving (that's key) your path will continue to unfold before you. Just keep swimming, as the Ellen DeGeneres fish said in NEMO. You know, whatever her name was. Just keep swimming. And now that tune is stuck in your head. You're welcome.


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13 comments:

David Kassin Fried said...

Dory. And right on.

Racicot said...

Hello Julie.

How many scripts did you write before you 'found' your Thriller genre?

As always, thanks for the posts.

Julie Gray said...

@David - RIGHT. Thank you. Great character. Is the tune stuck in your head? It's stuck in mine so that plan backfired!

@Racicot - I wrote let's see, a drama, a lame romantic drama and three romcoms before I wrote a thriller and came into my own in terms of voice, execution and a modicum of success (see blog post).

Luzid said...

Julie, any chance you could drop a logline for one of your scripts on us? Something that you'd feel comfortable sharing?

I know I'm not the only one curious to know what kind of stories you create! : )

Julie Gray said...

Think HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE meets WHAT LIES BENEATH :)

Désirée said...

What a lovely post. Thank you.

JPS said...

Damn, Julie, I'd say you got it just about right!

And Luzid, what do you mean "you create". This is a team effort, kemosabe!

Julie Gray said...

@JP - yeah I think that's a pretty fair upshot, don't you? And yes, Luzid, the logline I am obliquely referring to is a joint effort and no, I don't feel comfortable sharing the actual logline because the material is currently in play on the market. That said, JP, I think Luzid and other Wavers are curious as to what kind of material turns me on; I seem so nice and smiley but I actually love exploring the darkness when it comes to screenwriting. With a partner is more fun and productive but even on my own, that's my passion.

JPS said...

In private, Julie is a goth. There, I've said it. The piercings? Oy, don't ask. The tattoos, puleeze. I keep three paces behind her so people don't think I'm a goth, too.

Seriously, Julie is exactly as she is here and at the Script Department: tough but caring, sweet and smart, great to have a drink with, and, best of all, the finest writing partner one could ask for.

Julie is, at heart, a terrific writer of comedy, but she brought this extraordinary idea to me, as a writer of novels (and scripts) that have been judged by some to be thrillers (or to have a certain crossover tendency as such), and we took off with it. We work exceptionally well together and we turned her idea into what we feel is a first-class script.

As Julie says, we can't discuss the logline, but I think she's described it perfectly. Now our next script is a different matter... But not a word about that, either.

Over to you, Ms. Wave.

Luzid said...

@ JPS:

My apologies! I didn't mean to slight you (didn't even realize that her partner posted here).

I've only met Julie once, but she does seem pretty awesome. Great conversationalist, no question!

rachel said...

yeah, yeah. i heard viggo digs the goth girls. julie - thanks for your honesty and inspiration yet again. i'll be sure to visit when viggo is putting the conditioning treatment in your sunkissed hair by said pool.

JPS said...

No problem whatsoever, Luzid. My appearance can be put down to stealth and all the other underhanded things I Iearned in my wayward youth.

Did I write Julie is a goth? Well, she has asked me to correct that: Julie is a god.

Hmm...

Well, I would go halfway and make her semidivine, which ain't bad. But she's the best writing partner you could imagine, and we have fun working together, to boot, even when the material is starting to blur before our eyes and characters we swore were in this story have suddenly...disappeared.

Julie Gray said...

Alright, I'll cop to the tats but I am no goth! LOL JP (re disappearing characters!) True that. We've had to take so many notes on this particular script that it has changed, then changed back again then changed back yet again and it has become a blur. But it's been fun. And now we wait.