Sunday, April 25, 2010

Without a Doubt

I can’t believe it happened again. But it did.

Our story begins 18 months ago, when I had an idea for a new spec script. The concept felt fresh and timely. Plus, it was a tent pole movie. A big flashy $200,000,000 action-adventure flick based on an obscure folk tale. A quick check on IMDB revealed that nobody had come near the source material in over twenty years. I quickly knocked out a treatment! My version was a total reinvention. I loved it. This idea would reinvigorate my writing career and put me in the big leagues.

Then, I showed my treatment to my manager and a producer friend of mine. Neither of them exactly gushed with enthusiasm. They seemed to see a number of problems with the basic concept of the film and felt the timing was bad for the source material. Although in my heart, I disagreed with their assessment, my enthusiasm began to wither. The treatment was quietly sent back to my “drafts” file to molder away with a few other aging ideas. I moved on, in search of another blockbuster; something more in line with what the “market” was seeking.

Then finally last week, I made a decision. I would dig that treatment out and write it! It was a great idea, Goddamn it! I knew it in my gut. This would be my new spec for 2010! With great bravado I announced my intention to write it to a producer-friend of mine, who informed me that I was a little late. An identical idea based on the same source material had just been sold with some major players attached. It had just been announced in the trades.

I wanted to shoot myself in the head.

The streets of Hollywood are littered with clumps of hair that writers like myself have ripped from our own scalps when we discover that our brilliant idea -- the one we've been mulling over for the last two years -- has been yanked out from under us by some other schmuck who got there first.

We all want to think we’re the talented ones. We’re the ones with our finger on the pulse. We’re the innovators, the mavericks, the trendsetters. It stings when the wet towel of reality slaps us in the face and we’re rudely reminded that there are a great many smart, ambitious people out there who are also plugged into the entertainment zeitgeist.

Goddamn it.

Sadly, this is a lesson that I seem to be destined to learn over and over again. I’ve often allowed a small doubt (especially if expressed by someone else) to blossom into a roadblock. Even more sadly, I have no one to blame but myself. Entertainment is a risky business. Representatives and business associates, when asked for their opinions, tend to err on the side of caution. I get it. Nobody wants to be blamed for having steered a friend or client in the wrong direction, causing them to waste a ton of time on an idea that might never sell. For many of us, all we need is the slightest shadow of a doubt and - bang! - we abandon our idea and go searching for something more commercial, more perfect, more safe.

What is so infuriating about these situations is that we should all know better. The most successful projects I’ve worked on were all born out of an impulse; a flash of brilliance that seemed to come out of nowhere. Each of these projects seemed to instantly possess it's own vivid, truth-filled life. All that was needed was someone to commit it paper. Almost without exception, when I listened to that impulse – and ACTED on it -- the project seemed to do itself.

If you are in possession of what you think is a great idea, I have a piece of advice for you: Don’t talk about it. Instead, treat it like a new toy. Take it out of the box and start playing with it right away. Squeeze it. Bounce it against the wall a couple of times. If it breaks, it wasn’t such a great idea after all. But if it continues to keep you engaged and entertained; if it gets bigger; more vivid; more full of possibilities, you might be onto something.

And why do I advise you to not talk about it? Because unfortunately, being creative means living in a perpetual state of insecurity. We are all a little scared of taking responsibility for our talent. We all want some reassurance that we’re clever and deserving of success. Talking about your ideas to your friends can actually create that warm, fuzzy feeling. Having your buddies serenade you with a few choruses of “Wow! That’s a great idea!” will satisfy your ego and your ego could care less if you ever write that script.

Mark my words, friends. Praise for an idea is nothing but a hand job. It’s nice, but there are better things out there.

If you truly think your idea is good, make it better. Then, make it great. Just do it.

Being ballsy is a gift. Most of the true innovators in this business possess an extraordinary ability to say “yes” to their own ideas when those “in the know” are busy saying “that'll never work.” Do the names Tarantino and Cameron ring a bell? The good news is that being ballsy can be learned. Not to get too spiritual about this, but having talent means that for reasons no one fully understands, you are connected to an ever flowing stream of ideas. They are not just “product” for the studio. They are your reason for doing this with your life. Treat your ideas like your offspring. Conceive them. Grow them. Deliver them into the world.

In case you’re wondering why I’m delivering this little pep talk, it’s because apparently (based on recent events) I need to hear it myself. Over and over. As many times as it takes until I learn to stop farting around and start saying “yes.”

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Shameless self-promotion:
http://daviddeanbottrell.blogspot.com/2010/04/thank-you-los-angeles-times.html

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5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Your generosity is writing such an essential message HAS to create MEGA KARMA for you. Your ruthless honesty shows you are both courageous and magnanimous, and I truly believe ("not to get too spiritual") you will sell the next one VERY SOON. xo

Anonymous said...

Aw, I am sorry this happened. I won't say "to you" and make you a victim, since we know you are not. Sometimes, though, a sorry is just good for us. Sounds like you have the best instincts for your business and need to just roll with them, regardless of what others have to say. Nurture those babies you give birth to, they may support you in your old age.
reeter

Scott Ganyo said...

Excellent insight as always. We're all so fragile and self-doubting that it's far too easy for us to accept roadblocks that we believe are probably there anyway. At least by sharing you've been able to wring some good from a bad situation. Thank you. (And you'll get the next one!!)

Sarah L. Knapp said...

Thanks for this little piece of advice David. After reading Blake Snyder's books where he says to shout your ideas from the rooftops and chat up every person in line at Starbucks, I was starting to think I was too protective. But apparently I'm not the only one who thinks it's okay to play it close to the vest;-)
Happy writing this week!
~ Sarah

Action Breeds Action! said...

DDBottrell! I loved this little pick me up! Thank you for sharing this important lesson to just say yes!