Confessions of a Failed Screenwriter
An old friend posted a photo on his Facebook page. The image was of me, Peter Burke, and Steve Werblun caught in mid-stride into a would-be/might-have-been career in screenplay writing. My first impulse was to smile and reflect on the chaotic and fun days. But it also made me squirm a little.
The photo was taken while we were working on a screenplay loosely based on my research for a book about Jack Kirby‘s amazing 52-year career in comic books entitled “The Art of Jack Kirby” (Blue Rose Press). As it turned out, THAT book was the trigger point for many other projects.
A year before the photo, Peter and I started work on Jack Kirby’s unfinished novel, “The Horde” (with permission from Jack and Roz Kirby). Then Peter and I hatched a short-lived deal with Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) to develop some animated projects inspired by Jack Kirby. Kevin lost interest when his own business deals started to run into trouble.
Soon after the Kirby was published, I found some folks to option a screenplay I wrote about an American land developer who gets lost in Bali but finds his soul. It was a kind of metaphorical journey of my life, I’m sure. After buying a copy of the Kirby book, Brandon Braga invited me to pitch stories to the Star Trek television franchise. I ended up selling one story for ST: Voyager (Time Again) and one for Deep Space Nine (Meridian). Don’t look for my name credit though – I cashed out, which in retrospect was a dumb idea. The writer’s journey is filled with weird little twists and turns, and many potholes.
In the meantime, as wannabe screenwriters were concerned, we were better off than a lot of others. For one, we each had good day jobs. Peter was a successful music producer and has gone on to work on a few Broadway productions. Steve was a successful storyboard artist, and one of a few artists that worked on the OJ Simpson trial. I was (and today I remain) gainfully employed as a freelancer in public relations and content creation. Well, I’m still working on that “gainfully” part.
Thanks to Peter, we also had a hip place to work: the corner of Hollywood and Vine, 8th floor of the office building known locally as the Hollyvine Building. It lost some of its hipness after they renovated the place; now it’s just trendy.
And yet, despite our many advantages and opportunities, the doors failed to fully open for us. But is that any surprise? The painful reality is that most screenwriters fail. What I mean by that is that the overwhelming majority, something like 90 percent, end up with nothing. Industry lore says that for every screenplay produced, there are 1,000 read and rejected, tens of thousands rejected on the first read, and hundreds of thousands that never even get a chance.
“With odds like that, who in their right mind would try this?” I complained to a friend of mine who was then working as a reader for a production company on Sunset Boulevard.
“Half of being a successful screenwriter is tenacity, the other half is patience,” he replied.
I couldn’t grok patience back then, so I quit and froze out the entire experience from my life. In the glare of hindsight however, I owe the experience so much more. I am the writer that I am today because of the work we did up there in Peter’s office. We busted our butts, and all we got was a bookshelf full of unused screenplays. In the process, I gained skills and so much valuable writing experience. Instead of being grateful, I skeletonized the entire episode of my life and closeted it as an embarrassment.
Meh. I could be so damned shallow sometimes.
Several years ago, I returned to personal writing, partly urged on by a teenage daughter who likes my “funny stories” and who has honed promising writing skills of her own. Yes. A fragment of the old dream has returned. Maybe I’ll pen another non-fiction book; maybe a novel or two.
When I see this photo now, I see writers reaching for unreachable dreams, but I also see friends having a good time. I’ve always had plenty of tenacity, age has earned me some patience. Now I have perspective. The writer’s journey continues.
Thanks for the humble reminder Steve. Thanks Peter, for some terrific lessons.