Friday, October 19, 2007

Shooting the Moon

I wonder how many people achieve their career goals. You hear it all the time: someone with a life-long dream to become President only became a Congressman; a high school football star wound up only being a third-string NFL quarterback; the law school grad who wanted to make a difference as a federal judge was only a prosecutor. To most people, their accomplishments would be revered. But in their minds, they failed.

I think about that in terms of the film industry. I know M. Night Shyamalan wanted to be the next Hitchcock, but now audiences have gotten over him. I wonder if my old professor resented that he only had one script made because he dreamed of becoming a big-time director. I read articles about all these screenwriters who talk about failing in their pursuits even though they had written some of my favorite films.

It’s easy for us lowly creatures trying to break into the industry to say these guys take things for granted. Surely a Spielberg-wannabe who only became a screenwriter would take solace in relating his career to someone like us. But let’s turn the tables: are we really setting the bar high enough?

I think of the old adage that says if you shoot for the stars, you’ll at least hit the moon. What then of the people who only shoot for the moon? Within the artistic hierarchy that is Hollywood, I wonder if that’s where prospective screenwriters typically aim. I know people who just want to get a script made. But that's just a stepping-stone for my friends who want to become A-list writers, with an outside dream of winning an Oscar. And that in turn is a step for those who want to revolutionize film as we know it.

The number of people in the world who actually realize their goals must be small; the number of people in the film industry who do so must be minute. The hardest thing about the industry to grasp – at least for a guy from a blue-collar town – is that all the effort in the world will not guarantee success. And at NYU I was surrounded by professors whose knowledge of screenwriting I would kill for, but who, in their own expectations, failed to meet their goals.

Coming up short is disappointing, and in many cases can be uncontrollable. I think that has led me and my friends to make our goals more realistic. But maybe we need to aim for the stars. And if we only hit the moon, maybe we'll have the serenity to appreciate the view.