Confessions from a Failed Screenwriter
An old friend posted a photo on his Facebook page. The image was of me, Peter Burke, and Steve Werblun hamming it up during a break. My first impulse was to smile and wince (a little). Those were some chaotic, and fun days; the camera catching us mid-stride into a might-have-been career in screenplay writing.
At that moment, we were working on a “bio-pic” screenplay, using my research for a book about Jack Kirby‘s amazing 52-year career in American comic books. My book, entitled “The Art of Jack Kirby” (1993, Blue Rose Press), was also the trigger point for many other projects.
One of the first triggers: Peter and I were given permission by Jack to work on his unfinished novel, “The Horde.” One of the Kirby book’s early boosters was Kevin Eastman (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), who helped Peter and I hatch a short-lived deal with 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 book was published, I ran into some folks who hired me to write screenplay about an American land developer who gets lost in Bali, but finds his soul in a metaphorical journey of spiritual discovery. I met Brandon Braga at a book signing held at the Golden Apple on Melrose. Braga loved the Kirby book so much that he 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.
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 99 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 even attempt it? I worked briefly for a production development company on Sunset Boulevard and found my answer: Half of being a successful screenwriter is tenacity, the other half is belief in one’s dreams. It also takes a huge amount of patience; patience I didn’t have. 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 embarrassing failure.
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 what may have been 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.