Thursday, September 03, 2009

Bite The Bullet

My thesis professor once told me that he always gives his script to his wife because he knows she'll be flat out honest with him and tell him what's working and what's bullshit. I've always been a little hesitant to give my writing to my girlfriend. I'm not worried about how much she knows about screenwriting. She knows enough about the craft and is more involved with the entertainment industry than I am right now. There's just something about getting criticism from the person I wake up next to that scares me from time to time. I can deal with her being frustrated with my choice of tv shows, or with my wastefulness of faucet water, but her being frustrated with my screenwriting is often more than I'm willing to deal with. I usually opt not to fight my battles so close to home, but sometimes you just have to bite the bullet. I did more than bite the bullet. I put the gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger, and in a Fight Club kind of way, I feel like it saved my life.

A few months ago I was feeling none too thrilled about life. My girlfriend was feeling more like a roommate, she was making strides in the industry while I sputtered, the lease on my interest in my job was expiring, writing was slow, and my closest work friend and confidant was leaving the office to face her unknown destiny. I tried to fall back on my writing and completed two first acts to two different scripts. I enjoyed the concepts and hope to return to them, but the pages weren't fulfilling. I did something I've never done before. I abandoned my 200 million dollar concepts, dug real deep to get to the marshmallow of my personal emotions, and poured it all out into a minuscule budgeted, character driven script. It was a different animal. Those closest to me would be able to point at specific characters and events and say "Wait, I know that." It was the most personal thing I've written to date, a 90 pager about a recent grad who begins to question his current path and the relationships surrounding him after experiencing a traumatic work incident. So much of this script stemmed from feelings towards my girlfriend, some positive (love, admiration), and some not so positive (jealousy, envy). Even though the script was a work of fiction, it would hit home with her and had the potential to cause wounds. I felt it would be an extreme one way or another. Either she would be pretty upset and uncomfortable that I could write something like this without her having any knowledge of the process or content, or she would appreciate the invitation into parts of my life and value what I had chosen to share with her and what I had been able to create from those feelings. Despite some cautioning from the league, I gave her the script.

Around 10pm last night I got a voicemail from her stating that she'd read my script and she wanted to talk about it. Oh no. She can't even wait until she gets home from her late night commercial shoot to tell me how awkward she feels. In perfect dramatic fashion I couldn't make out the second half of the message. "I hate you" jumped through my mind, but it turns out it was "I love it." In our five years together I've been fortunate enough to get my fair share of "I love you", but this was the first "I love it", pertaining to a screenplay. I called her and we talked on the phone for half an hour about the script until she absolutely had to get back to work. I can't remember a time we talked for half an hour on the phone, and I can't remember a time she felt so strongly about one of my screenplays. You have to factor in the emotional connection to the material, but it was more than that. The discussion was surprisingly less personal but rather focused on the script as a story and how it might play out on film. I was so excited and relieved, because it just wouldn't have been fair to me to love the script as much as I did and have her not enjoy it.

In writing my untitled piece I not only got back on track with my writing, but I had put myself through self therapy and was feeling healthier. I felt better about my relationship with my girlfriend, my job situation (used to be a fatal tailspin, now just a loss of cabin pressure), and my emotions concerning my friend who had moved on. On top of that, I now have a very affordable, character driven script that I'm confident is pretty good. Lucky for me I get the league verdict on that later tonight at our next meeting.

I love the league and respect their opinions, but this might be the one I put my foot down with. I feel like I wrote it the way I wanted to write it and the way it needed to be written. There were so many moments when I felt the urge to make traditional screenwriting choices, things that would crank up the drama and solidify structure. But each time I tried to make those choices I felt like I was betraying the script and losing the human element that made it real. There are a few elements I'm open to changing, but I will most likely be stubborn as a mule regarding the vast majority of edits. That stubbornness might not make the script better, but maybe it will. Right now it doesn't matter, because I feel I've completed something more important than material.