Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Pressure can be a good thing:

“Look what I just made up! No way I could ever have come up with that, if I weren’t under this tremendous pressure!”

That’s when pressure helps – Superman squeezing the lump of coal so hard, it becomes a diamond. I’ve done that. Other creative people have done that. The pressure was intense and we created a diamond. It’s the most wonderful feeling in the world.

What’s considerably less wonderful is, under similar circumstances, sitting in a stall in the Men’s Room, hugging your stomach and rocking back and forth, whining,

“I can’t do this!”

I’ve done that too. More often than I’ve done the diamond thing. Both are a product of pressure. But this product sends you running for another product – Tums.

There are two types of pressure. One type is actual pressure. The pressure, where an objective observer can observe the situation and say, “There is pressure in that job.”

The objective observer will unquestionably find that pressure in the work that I did. Because that pressure is there.

There really is a script that’s in terrible shape. And it needs to be fixed tonight. When the actors arrive for rehearsal tomorrow, they expect a rewritten script.

That’s better.

So it’s not just a matter of rewriting it. Anybody can do that; you just use different words. The trick is to take a flawed script, and make those flaws go away, as a result of professionally applied improvements.

Improvements, which, in the case of comedy scripts, must also make you laugh.

That’s not so easy. And you can’t pass the buck. Excuses will do no good whatsoever.

“We ran out of paper.”

“The rewrite room felt clammy.”

“They left off the almond chicken from the dinner order. Almond chicken is my lucky dish. I’m not funny without almond chicken. Where’s my almond chicken? I need my almond chicken!

Sorry, pal.

Almond chicken is not the issue here.

It’s you.

You’re in charge. You’re running the show. Success or failure? – It’s entirely on your shoulders.
Your bosses pay you a lot of money. They bankrolled the show. If it’s cancelled, millions of their dollars go down the drain.

Cancellation also means actors will be thrown out of work. Plus, dozens of crewmembers, every one of whom will come up to you later and say, “I don’t understand it. I love this show!” They could be sincere. Or they could be angling for a job on your next project, which will, hopefully, not tank.

Your family will pay the price for a failure they had nothing to do with causing. I remember reading about the young son of a baseball pitcher, who was heard to cry,

“We have to move, because my dad can’t get anyone out.”

Same with comedy:

“We have to move, because my dad can’t make anyone laugh.”

And then there’s your reputation. That’s up in smoke. And say goodbye to your carefully nurtured self-image. You think you’re a writer? Well, maybe you’re not. Maybe you were lucky. Maybe you’re a fraud. And if you are a fraud, and you’re not a writer, then who are you? What exactly is your value on this planet?

Wait a minute. I started talking about actual pressure and I morphed almost immediately into Panic Mode. That’s so me. I feel the heat, even retrospectively, and it’s “Hello, Mr. Scaredly Pants.”

On second thought, there’s only one kind of pressure – actual pressure. You do enough bad work, and you’re looking for an alternate source of income. That’s real. What I thought was the second kind is not a second kind of pressure. It’s just an unhelpful way of dealing with actual pressure.

What is the helpful way of dealing with pressure? Well, you don’t have to be a Pollyanna. “I love this pressure! Pressure is great! Bring on more pressure!” I knew writers like that, and I always wanted to kill them.

The answer to handling pressure is you focus on the work. It’s as simple as that. The pressure is definitely there. The challenge – one that I regularly failed – is not to make things worse by dwelling on it.

The unglamorous solution is you put one foot in front of the other till you reach “Fade Out – The End.” Of course, that’s easy for me to say now. I don’t do it anymore.

Though the problem’s not entirely gone. Every day, I feel the pressure of coming up with something for this blog. I have to admit, though, I’m handling things a lot better these days.

And that’s it. I’m done.

The pressure is off.

Until tomorrow.

Oh, my God! What am I gonna write tomorrow?


A. Buck Short said...

Extremely well expressed – and evocative. I really enjoy your it’s the journey not the destination blogs, but just five words: “EARL, GET AHOLD OF YOURSELF!” Your Man of Steel analogy reminded me of a related example of where not only pressure is needed but cooperation masquerading as resistance.

You know that bit of action where the thug attacks Superman with a knife; but since he’s, y’know, impenetrable, the stabbing only results in the knife being bent against Superman’s chest? Now we already know how powerful Superman can be – coal into diamonds, lemons into lemonade, etc. But think about how strong that thug would have to be to be able to bend the knife against Superman’s chest? Try bending a knife against a cement wall. That’s either got to be an extremely cheap knife or a really strong crook – not to mention cooperative. Oh, and five more words, “Olsen, don’t call me chief!”

WV - dragoons: alt. def. -transvestite thugs.

JED said...

I also like the image of Superman (in the old George Reeves version), when the bad guy is firing bullets at Superman. Our hero just smiles as the bullets bounce off his chest. Then the gun runs out of ammunition and the bad guy is reduced to throwing the weapon at Superman. For that, Mr. Reeves ducks. Why wouldn't the gun just bounce off his chest like the bullets?