A few months ago, my friend Bill (another writer) was hired to come up with ten viral video concepts for the film “It’s Complicated.” The plan was for the stars of the movie to film a video as a promotional piece, to be shown on the Funny or Die website. The concepts didn’t really have to have anything to do with the film. They just had to be funny ideas that featured the stars of the movie, and that could be done on a shoestring budget.
Bill immediately called me to help him brainstorm and write. I was not only flattered, but thrilled. Because have I mentioned that the stars of the movie are Alec Baldwin, Meryl Streep, Steve Martin, John Krasinski, and Hunter Parish? In other words, we’d be writing ideas to star those Stars. Bill asked Jaye (the exec at the production company who hired us) if we could possibly write the concept if it was picked. Jaye responded with a casual, “Eh, Martin will probably want to write it himself.” Meaning…Steve Martin might actually write something based on my idea! And even if he hated it, he’d read it! Steve Martin’s brain would touch something my brain touched!
Bill and I got together for two full weekend days and brainstormed and wrote and brainstormed some more. We finally came up with what were, in our humble opinions, ten stellar ideas. We showed them to friends, friends thought they were hilarious. We showed them to friends of friends, more hilarity ensued.
On Monday, we sent them to Jaye. And we got an email back a few days later informing us that Jaye had actually asked several writers to come up with concepts. He told us that ours were the most “on the mark.” And they were also “pretty f’in hilarious,” a sentiment that was echoed by Jaye’s boss, an even higher up exec.
Needless to say, Bill and I were plenty excited. Could we really have just come up with an idea that would star Steve and Meryl and Alec and John and Hunter? (At this point we were very comfortable calling them by their first names.) We waited. And waited. And waited and waited and waited.
Finally we heard from Jaye again. He said that they had asked more writers to come up with even more concepts. And the budget probably wouldn’t even allow them to do the video anyway, so thanks and goodbye. The end.
That experience, in a nutshell, is why I stopped screenwriting. It’s more than a roller coaster ride, it’s one that brings you up, shoots you down, then throws some pickles at you while dancing the hora. In other words, it just doesn’t make sense. There’s no logic to it whatsoever. I can’t see a ladder or steps or a logical journey to a goal no matter how much I zoom out. I understand that the field is extremely competitive; I know that the money, politics, and egos involved can make any project go haywire at anytime. But as the lowly aspiring writer, I just can’t fight my way through the maze anymore. I can’t find my way out. Call the helicopter and pick me up.
I’ve gone back to fiction writing and it really feels better to me. Yes, I know it’s another highly competitive field, paved with half-finished novels and broken hearts. But at least I see a logical progression to it. It may take me years to get from one rung to the next one up, but at least it feels like climbing a ladder and not struggling in a swimming pool full of jello.
Maybe I’m fooling myself, and getting a story published will be just as nonsensical and impossible as selling a screenplay. But I really don’t think so. And I’m going to allow myself to believe that for as long as I need to.