Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"The Earl Pomerantz Movie Festival"

Recently, I spoke about a joke I wrote in which the Voice-Over Announcer intones:
“This program has been brought to you by Desoto, the car they don’t make anymore.”
Well, today, it’s “The Earl Pomerantz Movie Festival”, featuring three movies they never made.
During my working years, I wrote three spec movie scripts, “spec” meaning that rather than having a paid assignment to write a movie script, you write it, and try to sell it afterwards. Creatively, the “spec” approach is more fun, because, as your own boss, you can write it any way you want. The “down-side” is, as your own boss, you’re unlikely to pay yourself anything. Even if you did, the check you received you be going into the same account it came out of.
Bottom line – zero.
There were two occasions when I was hired to rewrite movie scripts, but those didn’t fare any better than my originals. The scripts were re-assigned to other writers, and they both eventually got made, though as TV movies, rather than features. The other writers got the credit rather than me, which is fair, because their scripts got produced, whereas mine did not. Though they might have thanked me for demonstrating how to do it wrong, so they could focus their time going in a completely different direction.
There were also two other movies I was asked to rewrite, but I turned them both down. One of them was Sequel 4 or 5 of the Cannonball Run series – in which the producer was looking for a “character rewrite.” Which in this case meant making the characters more human between car crash explosions. I told him that Cannonball Run’s core audience came for the car crash explosions, and spending valuable screen time on “character enrichment” would only make them fidgety. The producer bought my argument. Once again, I had talked myself out of a job. Though not a good one.
Okay, so that’s my resume of movie assignment failures. Now for the originals. Which, as aforementioned, are three in number.
Wait. Lemme say this first. Movie scripts are hard to write. It’s interesting. I almost went back and rewrote that sentence to say, “Good movie scripts are hard to write.” But I was right the first time. All movie scripts are hard to write. They all require time, energy, discipline, perseverance and enormous amounts of paper. Along with an idea which, even in a not good movie, has to appear, to the writer at least, to be worth doing, and continue to feel worth doing throughout the process.
It’s the same with what I’m involved with here. I have to believe every blog post is worth writing, or I couldn’t write it. Each time I write one of these, I have to have faith in what I’m writing and confidence that I can pull it off.
Jumping around, but not really.

A couple of weeks ago, we attended an evening featuring writer Judith Viorst, who, among other books, wrote the children’s classic, Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Viorst, now hitting eighty, was asked about her process. Paraphrasing, she said when an idea came to her she believed would make a good book, she wrote it.
You see that? Just like me. Only with me it’s a blog post, and with her it’s a book.
With screenwriters, it’s a movie script. That’s how it is when you’re experienced. An idea comes to you you believe has merit, and you write it. The “Intimidation Factor” is long gone. There’s no, “Ooh, it’s a movie script.” They’re professionals. They’ve done it before; they do it again.
Of course, it’s harder when you’re getting started. You don’t have a track record to buttress your confidence. But it’s still good to know that the challenge is not insurmountable. Others have written books, screenplays, series episodes; at some point, they actually take these activities in stride. It’s tougher for the person who hasn’t done it yet, but with the precedent of others, you know with an indisputable certainty that
It can be done.
I have written elsewhere that, though they’re both scriptwriting, the technique of writing half-hour comedies (the ones performed in front of a live audience) is fundamentally different from writing a movie script. What works in one format is rarely appropriate for the other. The first step is to recognize that. And the second is to retrain yourself, guided by an understanding of the difference.
That’s a technical adjustment, and its importance cannot be overstated. But the other adjustment may be even more important – the adjustment your mind makes that allows you to believe that what you’re trying to accomplish is doable.
Man, that was close to a pep talk. It’s a little embarrassing. Especially coming from someone who can’t do it anymore. I believe I can write blog posts – most of the time – but my faith in myself in more challenging formats – poof. The Confidence Cupboard is bare.
You know what? I’ve got a lunch date, a haircut and an acupuncture treatment coming up; for me, an extremely busy day. I think I’ll stop here, and talk about my movie failures tomorrow. Hey, I haven’t posted anything on my Twitter place for a while. Maybe I’ll tweet that.
“Tomorrow’s blog post on earlpomerantz.blogspot.com: Original screenplays that nobody liked!”
That’ll pull in the masses, don’t you think?


Neal... said...

I imagine this is no consolation whatsoever -- and is certainly not meant in a gloating way -- but there's something oddly comforting for somebody trying to be a writer to learn that somebody obviously successful and talented faces the exact same setbacks and challenges as you do when trying something new or different.

I can't put my finger on why, but it's quietly inspiring too...

Mac said...

It's good to read that other (successful) people have the same confidence wobbles that I do.
I've started several spec scripts which I was really excited about - couldn't write them down fast enough. Then, twenty pages in, realized it was basically the same story as some film I'd watched years ago and forgotten about. Once I've got past "Can I do this?" I spend ages on "Did somebody else already do this?"