There’s something you’re not supposed to talk about when you work on a produced project. Not a subject you’re forbidden from talking about per se, but one you don’t talk about out of respect for the people who’ve toiled on the film and the vain hope you’re mistaken.
It’s a horrible, horrible realisation which crawls over you and fills you with utter dread … the moment when you see the film made from your script for the first time and realise … it’s fucking awful.
The level of input required from you varies with every project. Sometimes you’re deeply involved in the entire film making process, even down to the editing and the ADR. Other times you’re shut out completely – you’re a writer, shut up, write then get back in your fucking box.
With the first scenario, if the film’s bad – you’ve got the opportunity to turn it around. You can give notes to the director, producer or editor; you can be valuable. You can actually be the story expert they hired you to be. Okay, sometimes all that means is you get exposed to the shitness for longer; but at least there’s a chance of salvaging something.
With the second scenario, when you don’t get to see the finished product until the première … it’s horrible. You sit down in a room full of excited people, the lights roll … and years of your life unravel before your eyes.
It’s an awful feeling; truly, truly awful. Sometimes you blame yourself for what seemed like obvious mistakes in the script (although, if they were that obvious, why didn’t any of the fifty-odd people working on the production notice?); sometimes it’s not your fault and it’s just gone horribly wrong. There may be someone to blame, there may not … but sitting there watching how bad the finished product is … it’s feels like it does when you’ve been caught murdering someone.
You mouth goes dry, your hands shake, the pit of your stomach just sinks to somewhere between your ankles … it’s just … awful.
And then you have to pretend you like it.
Even when you know, deep down, everyone else involved thinks it’s a massive pile of camel crap … you just don’t voice it. Not in public, you just can’t for several reasons:
- You might be wrong. In the pub on Saturday we were discussing the last season of Doctor Who – no one could agree on which episodes were sublime and which were gobsmackingly awful; everyone had a different opinion. What if, on this occasion, you’re wrong? What if this film is a smash hit or maybe grows into a cult classic? You just don’t know and do you really want to publicly decry your own work when everyone else thinks it’s brilliant? You might be wrong.
- People involved in the film might think you’re wrong. They might love their work, it might be everything they dreamt it would be and genuinely believe they’ve achieved something wonderful. Do you really want to be the one who pisses on their deluded chips? Even months later on your own blog … these people might be reading it. When the bad reviews roll in and they feel like they’ve been mugged (which is what it can feel like), do you really want to add to their misery by agreeing with their detractors?
- You don’t want to colour the audience’s perception before they see the film, because … then they might not see the film. This is a business and you’re technically an employee of the producer/production company/studio. If you had an employee who told everyone the product you’re selling was rubbish … would you want to hire them again? Besides, if no one buys the DVD then you don’t make any money. That may be crass and self-serving but … well, fuck it: I want to eat. So does my family. And if my opinion about the film’s shitness is wrong then I may have needlessly ruined my own career.
- There is probably a 4) … but I can’t think of one right now. In fact, since I stopped for a cuppa after 3) I’ve gone right off the boil. What the hell was my point?
Oh yes. The point is, it’s horrible, gut wrenching experience. One not made any better by having to pretend you like the damn thing for months or even years afterwards.
Weirdly, at some point down the line, everyone quietly comes to an agreement about the level of direness and you’re suddenly free to admit you thought it was awful.
The knowledge this day will come doesn’t help.It doesn’t help when industry friends want to watch it and you can’t tell them not to because you have no idea who they might be friends with; it doesn’t help when the reviews attack you personally and you have to pretend they’ve just missed the point; and it really doesn’t help at the after-première party when you introduce yourself as the writer and no one can look you in the eye.
Hopefully this doesn’t happen to you too often in your career.
Hopefully you might never, ever experience this and only ever work with talented people who understand how to do their own jobs and lift you to a higher level.
Honestly, I hope you never have to sit through an hour and a half of pure turd with every minute feeling worse than the last and the ever increasing feeling of doom which just keeps getting worse and worse and worse until you think the only way to get out of here with your sanity intact is to murder everyone and burn the print …
But for those who have, are or will experience it … I feel your pain, you are not alone and it’s perfectly natural. Better days will come, just grin and bear it.