How many of you find yourself in this place: Trying to figure out if your Dream Job is more a job than a dream?
I know, it’s a silly question really … unless you’re a college student wrestling with her choice of major. Or a writer wondering if she truly wants to court MGM … or Barnes and Noble. Hollywood or New York. Movies or books. Working for someone else (a Job) or in my coffee shop (a Dream).
I’ve been paddling around in this boat, seemingly in circles, as the current of time pulls me inexorably into my senior year in college, and my life into that phase where it’s either put up, or shut up.
Most of my life I’ve spent outlining, pondering, daydreaming, brainstorming, scribbling, writing, revising and agonizing over stories I thought would one day become novels. It’s what I’ve known since I was a wee tykette, after discovering libraries as safe havens for geeks, where bullies feared to tread (all that knowledge threatening to dissolve the ignorance that made them who they are).
My eyes glittering, surrounded by endless shelves of books, each one full of . . . Potential: knowledge and experience and stories my quiet little life had never dreamt of. I began to consume books like potato chips.
The science fiction and fantasy section was an especially tasty place to begin ingesting the material in that place, but then I branched out to other parts of the Dewey Decimal System when I found a plethora of other fun things to learn, things that made my classes at the time seem horribly boring in comparison (I’ll never understand how public education manages to make something like History so indigestible). I would inexpertly regurgitate bits of things I’d learned on my own, as little stories in the margins of spiral notebooks meant for more academic scribblings–then full sections in the back when the margins became too constricting.
I got hooked on writing very early. But did I ever decide what I would ever do with it? What industry, if any, would I pursue with this practice? How would I apply myself?
Like I mentioned, the novel had always been my default target, simply because it was what I’d known. It wasn’t until well-meaning peers and fellow students started reading my stuff and commented on the how “visual” the scenes were that I began to consider switching to moviemaking. What an intriguing idea . . . !
Several years ago I actually finished one of the many story ideas I’ve been collecting (I counted 98 separate story folders on my hard drive recently) as an actual “Novel” . . . (wake and cue orchestra). It became a 650 page monster, full of quirky fun dastardly bastards and unappreciated heroes. My first readers seemed to love the thing, but it was far too big for a first time author to publish. I marked it down as a practice exercise, shelved it and moved on.
Then came this new love affair with the movie genre and all its lovely constriction: 120 pages maximum (unless you’re Kevin Kostner), one page per minute of movie time, no internal thoughts, everything is visual, out in the open. I thought to myself (rather unvisually), “there’s what I need to battle my page-monsters! I’ll write movies!”; the constrictions of the form actually turning me on.
I worked my way through an Associates degree with that idea in mind, then my Junior year, proudly proclaiming myself a Film major. I was ready to write a dozen Blockbusters all by myself, once I truly learned how.
Only it’s not quite that simple. If it ever was …
Everything in life has a trade off. This one has a doozie: When you work in film, you can make a boatload of money, if you’re a success, but you don’t get to call any shots. Not one.
The moment you write a story and sell it in Hollywood, it’s not yours anymore. Unless your name holds a ton of cred, like perhaps Stephen King–and even he has horror stories of his own with Hollywood, which I find deliciously ironic–you lose any right to the story. You typically lose any revising rights, as well. If you’re smart, you turn your back on the story altogether, because Hollywood loves to rewrite, repurpose, revamp, reimagine . . . until the original story can no longer be resuscitated.
Very few stories make it through Hollywood intact, unless the story has already grabbed up a serious cult following in the form of . . . wait for it . . . a novel!
Think J.K. Rowling, J.R.R. Tolkein, or PG Wodehouse (and most of Stephen King). New authors, like myself, won’t be found on that list … yet. We’re on that other list, the one that’s titled “bend over and get ready for unwanted collaborationism.”
Hollywood is a hugely collaborative industry. Everyone who has anything to do with a movie (look at the credits … there are thousands!) has an opportunity to tweak the story, if not grab a pipe wrench and twist it into something else entirely.
Novelists, on the other hand, get to call all the shots. Sure, they make far less money generally. “You can’t make a living writing books – but you can make a killing,” I’ve heard said (anyone know by whom?). But when I write one it stays written. And I don’t have to move to L.A., where you basically must live to make it as a screenwriter. When would I have time to write if I’m stuck in traffic all the time?
So, here I am, asking myself the Big Question: Is Film really where I want to be? I have a year to figure it out. In the meantime, I’ll be here in my coffee shop, writing … something. A good story, I hope.
A good story will work anywhere.