I often wonder if there’s ever going to be a time when handing in a first draft doesn’t fill me with terror and self doubt?
Do writers ever reach a stage when they know everything they submit will be liked? Or at least of a standard that people know they can develop this mediocre first draft into a working script?
It’s not so bad when you’re working with the same producer or director for the second or third time – you have a track record, you know they like your work at least enough to re-hire you; but submitting a script to someone new, someone who isn’t going to take a shit draft from you, knowing you can pull it out of the bag next time – that’s terrifying.
It’s almost as if every new person has the power to decide whether or not you can actually write, whether or not you are actually mediocre enough to earn a living or merely deluding yourself on a daily basis.
You’d think a track record would banish these fears, you’d think the fact you’ve impressed people enough for them to hand over money, get actors on board and get the film into production would suggest, categorically you can write.
But there’s one inescapable fact that hits you in the face every time you go to the cinema – bad scripts get produced every day.
Producer likes your script – what the fuck does he know? That doesn’t make it good, it just makes it vaguely commercial. Assuming he’s not a complete twat.
Director likes your script – so fucking what? Maybe all he’s looking for are pretty pictures he can add to your words. Plus, he may be a twat too.
Actors like your script – do they? Do they really? Or are they so desperate for work they’ll do anything? Maybe they just like the fee? Or perhaps they just think they can make their character work? I remember Michael Caine saying something along the lines of:
“You look at a film and you think ‘that’s a bad film’. I look at the film and say ‘that film bought my mum a new house’.”
The crew – they don’t care, their work isn’t judged on the overall quality of the film. Lighting technicians are judged on the quality of the lighting. You can light a pile of shit magnificently … it’s still a pile of shit. They’ll work again, you won’t.
All of these people, everyone you’ve worked with up to this point may well be a know-nothing loser. What if this new guy ACTUALLY knows what he’s talking about? What if this time you’re stepping up into the big leagues and they’re going to laugh at your pissy little script?
“That sort of thing might fly in the shit hole you’ve been playing in, but not in this town, buster.”
Self belief is a wonderful thing, but self belief without evidence to back it up is just arrogance. We all believe we’re good writers, that we CAN write … most of us are wrong. Initially, you have nothing to go on but self belief, possibly deluded arrogance. After a while, you start getting positive comments – no one wants to take a risk on you, but they believe you can write. Shortly after that you get people producing your work and paying you – that’s got to be the most positive affirmation available.
Bearing in mind, no matter how good your script is – when people watch a film and say the script was excellent, they haven’t actually read the script – they’ve watched the film. Films/scripts – not the same thing. IMDb comments, Rotten Tomatoes, reviews, personal attacks/compliments – they don’t always apply to you because you’re rarely in control of how much of your script makes it to the film.
Of course, sometimes it’s wholly your fault/success and the specific plot point/bit of dialogue is no one’s responsibility but your own.
The problem comes with constantly seeking new people to work with, new ways to move outside your comfort zone. You absolutely can’t afford to keep working with the same people because they might all turn out to be twats and you’re back where you started.
Or, of course, they might all become successful and move on to real writers, leaving you behind. Either way, you have to keep looking for new people and new projects.
And that’s where the fear leaps back into your life. What if this guy works it out? What if this guy realises you’re fucking rubbish and can’t actually do what you profess? Your business card may say ‘writer’ but that doesn’t mean you can actually write. Hitler’s business card probably said ‘conquering hero’ as opposed to ‘evil, murdering cunt’.
Or maybe it didn’t. He’s a prime example, I suppose. The guy gets rejected from Art College so he invades Poland. Maybe that’s my future? Maybe this guy reading my script right now is thinking “He can’t fucking write, but maybe he should go and have a pop at Poland?”
And how fucking come it takes them longer to read the script than it does for you to write it? Do they read one word a day and then meander off to think it over?
“AND. Hmm … yes. AND. Interesting. I think I’ll leave it there for today.”
Don’t they know I’m shortening my life considerably with each passing minute? My hair’s going grey with the stress (which, being ginger … not necessarily a bad thing), my nails have been bitten so much my fingers are now bloody stumps and I haven’t slept for days. Days!
I mean, I’ve slept most nights, but the nerves are keeping me up for four or five hours a day! I can’t cope! Tell me you fuckers! Just fucking tell me! Have I wasted my entire life on a dream I can’t possibly achieve? Should I kill myself in a very public manner in order to atone for the shame I’ve brought on my family? I’ll do it. I’ll fucking do it. I’ve got the knife right here … or is the script okay, but needs a bit of work?
Jesus, what’s taking you so long? Just fucking tell me. TELL ME!
Oh, the phone’s ringing.
Right. Be brave. Be bold.
Hide behind the sofa, he’ll never find you there. If he doesn’t tell you it’s shit then you can waft along on the heady scent of self-delusion for another few hours.
Wait a minute, he can’t see me behind the sofa over the phone. Just as well, because my bladder had a little spasm and these trousers stain really easily.
Right, fuck it. I’ll let him leave a message and then I’ll listen and find out the verdict on my own. If it’s bad news, at least he won’t be able to hear me cry.
Here we go.
Maybe I should just finish what I’m doing first? Because if it’s bad news I’m going to be all depressed and then that will ruin Mandy’s night and … yeah, I’ll just finish what I’m doing.
I’ll just finish living first. I’ll check that message in forty or fifty years time.
Hang on, is that the house phone ringing?
Don’t answer it! Don’t … shit.
“It’s for you, it’s that producer.”
Fuck, I can’t take this, my heart’s hammering, my hands are shaking. Have I fucked up? Is this the day my dreams are dashed and my career ends? Have I reached the minimum required standard? Is the phlegm floating in the toilet a more useful contributor to society than me?
In short, can I or can I not write?