The Nightmare of Living the Dream

Hello?  Hello?  Is this thing on?

I’m slowly coming to realize that I’m not much of a blogger.  It’s funny, I started this when my now-two-year-old daughter was born and I didn’t have the energy or focus to work on my scripts; I needed some kind of creative outlet, so I decided I’d write about my new life as a father and how those responsibilities clashed with my screenwriting ambitions.

Then something happened.  The Wedding Comedy, the script I’d optioned right before the Peanut was born, gained some traction.  And then, after overcoming a number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the producers found a director, they found independent financing, they started casting.  As 2009 turned into 2010, I began rewriting.  And rewriting. And rewriting.  And while I was rewriting, I was trying to be a good dad, a good husband and a good employee at my day job.

Not surprisingly, the blog fell by the wayside, which is sort of ironic since I had entered a period of my life that was actually worth blogging about.  But something had to give.  All my life I’d dreamed of having a movie made, and here I was, with a movie finally in pre-production.  What never factored into my fantasy was the fact that I would still have the demands of the day job and my responsibility to my family while juggling the endless phone calls and emails from the producers and director about the pages I had just delivered, the pages I was about to deliver and/or some new idea that was supposed to be integrated into the story that would then — whoops! — completely change Act III, so I would need to get that fixed ASAP.  My wife half-jokingly began referring to the director as my “other wife.”  The Missus (the real one) was incredibly supportive, but after countless evenings and weekends spoiled by an unexpected phone conference or request for a rewrite, the tension began to rise at home.  It kept rising for the first five months of 2010.  I can see how Hollywood can destroy the personal lives of those involved if you’re not careful.

Don’t get me wrong — I was well aware of how lucky I was to have this problem.  I was living the dream.  It’s just that the dream came at a price that I never, ever expected.  Part of the problem was simply a function of the situation; it was a low-budget production ($2.5 million), and my paycheck, though much-appreciated, wasn’t enough to allow me to write full-time.  I’m not a WGA member and the production company wasn’t signatory, so the Guild guidelines for rewriting didn’t apply.  I actually didn’t mind the demands for constant (free) rewrites; I wanted the movie to be as good as it possibly could be, and part of me appreciated the challenge of incorporating the never-ending notes as we marched toward the April start date.  But the pressure was rough on me, and rough on my family; most of my work was done at the crack of dawn, or on my lunch break, or late at night after the kid — and occasionally the Missus — went to sleep.  I had grown accustomed to writing at odd hours after the Peanut was born, but for the first time I HAD to do it, because pages were due the next day.  Department heads were waiting for the revisions.  I had to deliver.  And I did.

I wasn’t present on the set for the first day of shooting, but one of the producers recorded some footage of the first shot of the day and emailed it to me.  Watching it almost made me burst into tears as I was sitting at my desk at work.  It had been five and a half years since I had first thought of the idea for my stupid script, and here I was, watching the first take of the first day of principal photography.  I received constant updates from the producers over the course of the shoot and actually visited the set a couple of times; watching the director shoot coverage was an education in and of itself, and it was nice that people seemed happy to meet the writer.  Or at least they faked it well.  The demands for rewrites abruptly ended; all of the hard work and seemingly crazy demands from the director had, much to my shock, actually paid off. I was the proverbial fifth wheel when I was on set, and that was fine by me.

Production wrapped at the end of May.  The director spent the summer editing; I was invited to watch the work in progress and did minimal rewriting of the voice-over I had written earlier in the year.  I attended a test screening of a rough cut; hearing an audience full of strangers laugh at my jokes was an incredible experience.  Hearing them NOT laugh at them, less so.  But I’d done it — holy shit, I wrote a movie.  Is it a good movie?  I hope so, but I honestly can’t tell.  There are parts of it that I dislike — things that I was forced to write, occasional bits of improv by the actors that I had no control over and that I don’t think work very well, clunky dialogue of my own devising that I would give anything to rework.  But that comes with the territory, and on the flip side, those negatives are outnumbered by the things that I absolutely love — moments in which the actors perform something in a way that I never envisioned, or they change a line to something far better than I wrote, or scenes that come to life in the cutting or the way the camera moves or how a music cue just pulls everything together and makes it better than I’d ever imagined.

The movie still isn’t done; I think the picture is locked and they’re working on audio now.  I haven’t seen a cut since August, but I hear it’s almost ready, and then they’re going to try to secure a distributor.  I have no idea what’s going to happen, and in a weird way, I don’t care — right now, I’m just trying to land a new agent, circulate my latest spec and finish the next one.  The movie is out of my hands.  Hopefully it’s good and people will go see it and I’ll get more writing work in the wake of its success, but at least I know that I did what I could to the best of my ability and under the circumstances presented to me.  The fact that I even got to this point — selling an original screenplay and seeing it produced — is an achievement in and of itself.  The fact that I did it without getting fired or divorced or committed to the nearest psychiatric ward (albeit barely) is icing on the cake.

Now I just have to do it all over again with a new script.  And hopefully not drive my wife crazy this time.

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4 Comments on “The Nightmare of Living the Dream”

  1. William Says:

    Just stumbled across this after not coming to the site in a while. All I can say is a big congratulations. I’m not even close to that experience right now but I felt it as you were describing it. Great to see you pushed through and kept it together. Finishing is everything.

    • WriterDad Says:

      Thanks! Yeah, it was a pretty incredible experience, even if at times it really felt like a “be careful what you wish for” scenario — one that I’ll be happy (and unbelievably lucky) to deal with again, of course. 🙂 It’s funny to think that if this had happened to me ten years ago when I was single and child-free, it would have been a completely different and, frankly, easier ride… but ten years ago, I would never have had the life experience to even come up with the movie idea, let alone write it. I guess slow and steady sometimes really does win the race.

  2. Spencer S Says:

    wow. what a great post. I’m an unpublished screenwriter/father as well and often dream of how wonderful my life will become when I have a script sold and produced. Your post was like a splash of cold water in my face. Selling a script can be just the beginning of a very difficult road.

  3. WriterDad Says:

    Well, hopefully the water in the face wasn’t TOO cold — there’s no question that it was the opportunity of a lifetime! Yeah, if a WGA-signatory production company had bought my script it would have been a very different working situation, and yeah, it was hard to navigate the rough waters of movie vs. family life, but I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. And who knows — maybe somebody in a similar situation might handle it better than I did. Don’t let my reality tarnish your fantasy… and thanks for reading!


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