“Looking out on the world beyond him”
He sees it, so close he could touch it.
So he goes for it.
Confident, at last.”
Those last few words put down marked the beginning of a queasiness in my stomach that persisted.
It was either the result of a stomach bug that had caused my festival-bound friend Chadd Harbold to “shit his brains out”, or the kind of feeling you get finishing your first screenplay.
Of course, the phrase “finishing a screenplay” is a misnomer. What you get at the end of writing such a thing, especially when it comes out in bursts from week to week, is something that is barely cohesive, riddled with typos and grammaticql errors, the product of rushing every week in brain-crushing guilt to finish your 5-8 pages to bring in to show your peers or not.
In a way, finishing work or writing pages does share a lot with the stomach bug Chadd had: since what you have is probably shit but you can’t wait to get it out.
A “blue” comparison I know (or dare I say, a “brown” one), but an apt one, if you asked me, particularly on the night of my writing group when I finished the pages.
It’s also worth nothing that in the film world, a screenplay is never completed until the film is almost in theaters, sometimes.
I have described screenwriting before as a “Pyrrhic art”, because if you attain success, that is the sale of a screenplay, you have essentially written something no one will ever see. Unless you are an auteur and write your own scripts that you direct, you are selling your child essentially to a director or producer who is not only allowed to rewrite the script as many times as he or she may please, bringing on various writers, but also filming it however they want, adding another level of interpretation. It’s like a giant, comical game of telephone, in that way. Except it takes that child’s game and applies it something you might profoundly care about.
Still, the young screenwriter puts that out of mind for now and celebrates for a time, the first of many finishes of his work.
Now, I was ready. I had already begun to think about my next project, an adaptation of the life of George C. Tiller and was eager to see how this would go over, how it would play.
I felt a sadness at leaving my characters behind. I felt a sadness at leaving the script.
But at the same time, I was filled with that gaul-y confidence, the feeling of inevitability, of bringing your work to your peers, into acceptance, into the unknown.
“I hope we can still be friends after this.” Jesse told me as we headed out of the writing group.
He was joking, of course, but the look on his face was one of sheepish uneasiness.
For Jesse, along with the other members of my writing group, who I had meant to surprise with the ending of my script, had just, as politely as they could, panned the shit out of it.
“Dude, I mean, come on.” said Andy, in his half-disbelieving SoCal drawl. “You couldn’t think of anything else?”
I didn’t know what to say.
I had founded my writing group as a way to get out pages, week-by-week, to add social pressure to the guilt of not writing, figuring that while it was easy enough to lapse into self-neglect, my personality wouldn’t allow me to think I was letting down my friends and people who had confidence in me.
More than that, I wanted to stay in touch with people: former film students, writers and actors. I wanted to see what’s up and read pages that I enjoyed reading in a casual setting, like the best moments of the writing classes I had taken at school, which were packed with friends like Rob Malone and Blake LaRue who brought in pages that were always funny and weird and a pleasure to read.
The group had gone on well, but it appeared that I had gotten spoiled on the praise I had received so far for my pages.
Writing the way I did, up until the last minute, hurrying and half-assing my way to any usable printer and exhaling only when I sat down to read had given me swells of self-satisfaction at my success, since I felt not only that my writing was accepted, but it was accepted in spite of meticulousness. That I could write well without, well, earning it.
It only fit that at the apotheosis of my efforts, I found myself dashed.
If you think that’s all melodramatic, I’d refer you to the words of my comedy writing teacher, D.B. Gillis, who once told me:
“The first response of any writer to a critque of his work will always be: fuck you, die.”
As the group split up from Caffe Dante, I trudged home, feeling the music that accompanied depressed characters from the television show “Arrested Development” play me off.
One thought in my head: Well, at least that girl, who couldn’t show up, wasn’t there to see this.
I should remark that failure artisitically has only brought me success in my past life at New York University Film School.
In my freshman photography class, the failure of my pastiched attempts at describing the world around me lead me to do more introspective work, which the class loved.
In my sophomore class, my attempts at specific one-line jokes of a film, fell flat, so I made sure every film I made told a story.
As a junior, I was too scared and dismissive of my own abilities and let a friend help direct my film, the recognition of which sent me into acting and directing class I loved.
As a senior, my first two scripts were flatly denied by my teacher, which pulverized me every time, to know something that’s come from you is inadequate, until I made my third script, which made me proud.
As a lover of women, I never tried to dress well or stand tall until an ex-not-girlfriend called me up to tell me she’d fucked my doppleganger, a move that acted like a slap-in-the-face towards some sort of recognition of self-appearance.
You could call this a positivistic narrative, a narrative of progress that I am imposing, the kind that people criticize when they discuss the falsehood of history.
The only response to this I could have, is that the idea that we are progressing in our lives, or moving forward, is what keeps us sane.
Like wearing a beloved hat, it’s unsure whether or not the hat makes you look cooler, except that you feel cooler wearing it.
If that makes any sense.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that I’m unsure what I’ll do with the end of my screenplay, but that it’s only the first finish of many.
And life marches on.
I moved into my new apartment today.
It feels smaller, though I am told over and over that it isn’t.
As I packed up my life of the previous two years, the same friends who hated my pages, came to move my furniture.
“My one rule is that I’m not touching your undies.” Andy told me, as we packed the apartment. “It’s like Pretty Woman, where she doesn’t kiss on the mouth.”
And now I’m sitting here, adjusting, to an apartment that was much like my previous one, but feels different all the same.
I feel odd and I’m still not sure I don’t have Chadd’s stomach virus.
But it isn’t about how I feel right now, but how I feel tomorrow.
Is what I think.
Is what I get from all this?
Alright, that’s pretty lame.
“I’m heading home later.” Rob, formerly Beardo, texts me. “I need to make my Washington State homage to The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.”
“How about The Fast and The Furious: Drunken Hobos in Olympia?” I suggest.
“Only if you’ll be my brother.” Rob tells me. Then:
“Hurry up with you’re response. You’re letting me down.”