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Giving up?

Giving up

Hooray for me. My agent, Marc, is currently negotiating with a major cable network for rights to CARNIVALE.

My pilot, VEGAS BELLS, is winding its way through the studio poke. A second pilot is under serious consideration by yet another cable network, and a third, ETERNAL BLISS, has just gone out to the representatives of an extraordinary actress, and Marc tells me they love it.

Meanwhile, two of my feature scripts, ARROYO SECO and THE TRIBE, are generating considerable heat, and I am co-writing a third with Jan Fischer, DEAD SILENCE, that will (if it turns out half as good as it feels right now) blow a few suits away.

Now I know how thrilled you must be for me at this point. If youre a writer, you may be muttering Fuck him. What a dick.

Hell, depending on your mood, you might even be projectile vomiting.

At the same time, the angel on your right shoulder is whispering, Shame on you. Dan has been selflessly sharing his experiences, detailing his mistakes so that you wont be stupid enough to do the same when its your turn in the barrel. Hes worked hard. If anybody deserves it, he does.

Okay, maybe Im laying it on a little thick . . .

I should mention that most of these wonderful things are happening as a direct result of the creation of this website. Even though was never intended as a showcase, it seems to have functioned that way.

(Dear God, does this mean I have to thank Al Gore for inventing the Internet when I accept my Oscar?).

Oh, and speaking of God, thanks again for creating tireless, intrepid development execs like Robert. And thank you, Roberts Ex-Girlfriend, for dumping him and thereby depriving him of anything better to do than relentlessly surf the web in search of fresh material.

But you want to know a little secret?

In the months prior to developing, I was within a heartbeat of giving up.

That's right, boys and girls. I was ready to shuck the whole dream and devote myself to day-job hell. Even though Id been produced. Even though people told me my stuff was good. Even though I knew at a gut-level it was good.

Follow me, if you will, on a short trek through the mists of time...


1993: Im somewhere south of Mesa Arizona on the set of my first produced project, BLIND JUSTICE. Im being treated like some exotic prince. PAs are fetching me soda. Famous actors are speaking my words. The studio is putting me up at a golf resort. Im feeling, as you can imagine, pretty damned good. Yet, in the midst of this personal victory, a thought occurs to me, This could be the only thing you ever see produced.

Does that get the Gold Medal at the Low Self-Esteem Olympics or what?

Not only did the notion occur to me, but I couldnt shake itno matter how hard I tried for the duration of the shoot. And post-production. And even at the premiere.

I knew I needed to hit the ground running, so I wrote a spec, DOWNSTREAMERS. Set in Alaska, it featured a female protagonist in an outdoor action/adventure. My agent sent it out with high hopes.

Oh, no!

It turned out that Meryl Streep was making an outdoor adventure, RIVER WILD. Though its plot was totally different, the elements were the same.

Everybody passed.

I then got an assignment off a pitch, NON-STOP. Its a disaster movie set in San Franciscos Trans-Bay Tube, a tunnel that runs under the bay.

The first draft was met with studio ambivalence that delayed development for six months. Finally, notes were proffered and a second draft was completed on the very day Sylvester Stallone signed to star in DAYLIGHT for a competing studio

DAYLIGHT is a disaster movie set in New Yorks Holland Tunnel, which runs under the East River.

Uh-oh. Those pesky "elements" again. The deal was deader than Princess Di.

So I picked myself up and started again. I hammered out a few specs that pleased me, but not my agent. Then I got the tiger by the taila high concept in a neglected genre that it simply could not miss.

Vietnam (and Oliver Stone) had put the kibosh on rollicking war comedies in the tradition of MASH. But then we had the Gulf War.

A war we won.

A good war.

And nobody had exploited that. The only Gulf War project out was COURAGE UNDER FIRE. A good movie, yes, but not one that exactly had them rolling in the aisles.

An entire generation had been cheated out of the kind of smart-ass characters that made Donald Sutherland a star. And I loved those movies. So I wrote SAND RATS, a swaggering KELLYS HEROES meets INDIANA JONES action/comedy about a tank-squad that heists an ancient Babylonian treasure in the heat of Operation Desert Storm.

It was a good script. I sent it to my agent. He informed me that Universal had another project, THREE KINGS, in development.

It had similar elements.

Even worse, George Clooney, the very star I had in mind when I wrote my protagonist--a sexy, brilliant, courageous, distinctly American con-man, Sergeant Charlie Novak--had signed for the lead in THREE KINGS.

Fucked again.

The only producer who considered it came back with the following note: "How is the audience going to root for a bunch of guys who commit a crime?

Gee.Silly me. To think an audience would be interested in seeing a bunch of American G.I. Joe-Lunchbuckets successfully steal $14,000,000 from Saddam Hussein, arguably the biggest prick to roll down the pike since Adolf Hitler . . .

I guess I just dont have any commercial sense.

You know those stupid movie trailers? The ones where the guy says, In a world. Where black is white. And wrong is right. Comes a man. Blah, blah blah . . . Well, that pretty much spells out the way I felt.

Clearly, I was totally out of step with the audience at large. Hell, I wasn't even doing the same dance. The movies I wanted to seethe solid stories, the exquisite screen-moments, the anti-heroeswere anachronistic. Or lame. Or both.

Black was white.

Wrong was right.

The low-point of my little creative crisis came when I saw THE ROCK.

Here was this huge, loud mess that made no sense whatsoever. The plot and characters had absolutely no internal logic. It seemed each sceneeach shot, for that matterwas an independent element wholly separate from all the other scenes and shots. The dialogue was a collection of obnoxious sound bites. And there were plot-holes big enough to fly the Hindenberg throughall of them simple to fix.

Yet no one had bothered.

Nevertheless, the audience laughed and screamed and responded positively. And it was making an absolute killing at the box-office.

Was I insane?

Im a populist. I actually love studio movies. Ive always had nothing but disdain for elitists who sniff at mass entertainment and champion overly intellectualized, self indulgent art-house dreck masquerading as film (or, as Curly Howard would say, "fil-im").

Yet there I was, staring in horror at this bloody third-world bus-wreck of a movie, thinking, Am I the only one whos noticing that this is utter and complete shit?

It got worse.

After the movie, my wife, Jenny, and I had dinner. I sat there for twenty minutes, giving a tedious point-by-point analysis of just why THE ROCK sucked. Normally, I dont play Roger Ebert, but in this case I was speaking for the sake of my own sanity. Like a newly minted schizoid, I desperately needed to hear someone else say, Oh, sure. I hear voices too. All the time.

However, my wife didnt know that.

All she knew was we hadnt even ordered our meal yet and I was boring her silly. Unaware of my fragile mental state, in an effort to close the subject, Jenny said the worse possible thing she couldve said:

I didnt think it was that bad.

This part is embarrassing:

I actually wept. Tears of rage and frustration and impotence. People at other tables were staring. My poor wife was utterly confused and embarrassed. And why was I crying?

Because I knew that even if I tried--even if I was paid ten-quajillion dollars, even if I was told my children would be executed if I failed--I could not write a movie as relentlessly and brazenly dumb as THE ROCK. I just dont have it in me. I dont know how to be that stupid (although I suppose that, were my childrens lives at stake, Id be forced to spend part of the ten-quajillion on a trans-orbital lobotomy).

At that moment, I felt washed-up. I also felt very, very alone.

For half a year, I didnt write anything. What was the point? Then my friend and mentor, Jan, called me. She, too, was going through a similar crisis. She had an idea, though. A film she didnt think she could write herself. She generously invited me to collaborate on what would become THE TRIBE.

As we wrote, my depression lifted. I began to feel strong again. The work was good. Even if it turned out we never sold THE TRIBE, it beat the shit out of electro-shock therapy.

I decided to make one more hard run at it.

I picked myself up, brushed myself off, wiped the blood out of my eyes, and created this site. I sent out query letters. I started calling in favors and shamelessly exploiting every contact I had.

It worked.

But what if it hadnt?

The truth is, Id likely fall into another depression. Maybe it would last a month. Maybe it would last a year.

Then Id pick myself up, brush myself off, wipe the blood out of my eyes, and try again.

Failure is the great sieve. Failure thins the herd. And failure is inevitable. The measure of your talent and fortitude is how you deal with it.

Will you lie in the dust and wait for the the buzzards?

Or will you handle it like Conan on the cross and play dead until that fucking buzzard gets within biting distance, then chomp down on it's pink, wrinkly, turkey-neck until the bones cackle like rotten wood and its steaming buzzard-blood courses down your throat, sating your thirst in order to fight another day?

Its up to you.

And what about those fortunate souls who seem to effortlessly break through?

Pity them. Because when failure comes, they will lack the psychic arsenal necessary to overcome it. And their misery will be much greater than yours because theyve tasted success.

And what about those fortunate souls who seem to effortlessly break through and never, ever fail?

Name one . . .


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