The Theory of Chaos

Monday, December 11, 2006

It's better than a seven-year itch

I had an e-mail exchange with my agent today – bringing her up to speed on my professional and personal lives, and how they were affecting one another, and what any of it has to do with why I don’t yet have for her the re-write on my treatment for a new sexy teen comedy.

Her response was more directly encouraging than I’m used to from her – I think I touched a sympathetic nerve. She told me that everything I was going through would feed into my work, and that when it comes down to it, Hollywood is filled with what she calls “seven-year overnight sensations”. Now you might see that as stereotypical agent nonsense, but I understand what she was getting at.

By way of illustration she referred me to a recent Variety article about Jason Reitman. Reitman, for those of you who haven’t made the connection yet, adapted and directed
Thank You For Smoking, a movie which I thought turned out pretty well, and was produced by the same people who purchased my script.

Reitman and I are only six weeks apart in age, and that’s worth noticing. I’ve always been of a mind that, if you’re going to compare your career track with someone, aim high so you can feel
really bad. If I’ve got a surge of confidence in me there’s nothing for deflating it like telling myself where Spielberg was by this age.

Jaws checks and prepping Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that’s where he was.

But what’s useful about looking at Reitman, besides the smaller ego bruises it leaves, is that, yes, he got his first feature released this year and it was an excellent first time out. He may see award nominations for writing. But it took
six years for him to get that project made. And he had:

A) Personal wealth
B) Training and experience from school and multiple short films
C) A father who was one of the most commercially successful directors of the last generation.

Sure young Jason had the talent to not need to trade on his father’s name, I’m the first to admit it. But when Michael Eisner and Arnold Schwarzenegger are guests at your wedding, it’s easier to get your calls returned, and movies don’t get made unless calls are returned.

I come from a family that has, from my father’s long labors, scraped its way from lower-middle-class to middle class, and my bank account has never been too fat. I didn’t go to film school and I didn’t know one damn person when I got to Hollywood. Any beachhead I make in this business will be my own and I intend to be damned proud of that.

Now my agent couldn’t have known this, but today is just a week off from the seven-year anniversary of the first day of my first movie business internship. And since then I’ve had a script sold and a story optioned, and made fans at a few production companies who will read any new script that bears my name.

I haven’t made a splash, but I’m here, and achieved enough that staying here doesn’t yet seem ridiculous or futile. And I haven’t given up. If the moment ever comes that I “arrive”, that the town finally knows my name, they’ll ask “where did HE come from”? They always ask that. I’ll be an overnight sensation. But it won’t be because I arrived yesterday.

A writer can always find the gloomy side of things – in the e-mail I sent her I laid out two new story ideas and she had not a word to say about them. I could speculate that she didn’t even get to that point in the e-mail, or if responding to everything I said was just too exhausting and she wanted to immediately address the cumulative effect 2006 has had on my already-bipolar self-confidence.

I found myself hoping that by “seven-year overnight success”, she’s starting the clock from when she took me on as a client. That would give me a little more time before
she stops returning my calls.

But overall I see optimism in this. I always tell my screenwriting students that the only sure path to success is to become too talented to ignore. Time for me to apply my own lessons again.


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