Friday, August 15, 2014

Let It Bleed

Did you ever have any doubts about your decision to be a writer?

by Paul D. Marks

Every minute of every effing day!

The end.

Well, the end of the first part.

The Other Part:

I think every writer—at least this version of EveryWriter—has doubts about our decision to be a writer. It’s like those Facebook memes that go around: This is what my friends think I do as a writer. But what we really do is toil in the salt mines of our minds. I’m not saying it’s the down and dirty work of toiling in real salt mines. But it’s also not as easy as some people think.

Like Red Smith said, “There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.”

That’s all there is to it.

My writing life has been all over the map. From op-ed pieces to radio scripts and script doctoring to short stories and novels. And though it’s always been a roller coaster, I was always glad to have the opportunity to express myself and be creative. Despite the idiots one sometimes has to deal with.

I like the writing—not so much the biz side of it.

So let’s talk about the...

...Doubts and Reasons to Quit:

1) No one really understands what you do. I made my living rewriting other people’s scripts and optioning my own spec scripts to various people. One of the hardest parts of my film work was that, as a rewriter, there was no screen credit, so my dad could never figure out what I did for a living—and certainly didn’t understand how it all worked. Couldn’t take his friends to Westwood and show them my name on the silver screen. That was frustrating, but not as frustrating as dealing with some of the personalities. But did that (no screen credit) make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell, no. I just started writing short stories and novels. You get credit there...most of the time.

clip_image0042) No one respects what you do: I once had a producer threaten to send his friends in the Mossad to get me when we argued about a script I was working on for him. I was warned about him before I started, but I thought I’m a brave soul, I’ll give it a shot. He’d hired me to write a script based on his idea—then hated everything I came up with, even though it was exactly what we’d talked about, but it wasn’t him, his writing, in every nuance. Hell, he should have written the damn thing himself... But he couldn’t and wouldn’t. No he’d rather just threaten me. So, of course, I sat up every night with night vision goggles, a CAR-15 (it was a while ago), flame thrower, a couple-a cruise missiles (Tom Cruise Missiles ‘cause he could protect the hell out of me) and an AWACs circling overhead, and lay in wait for them to swarm the hill behind my house. A .50 cal would have been better than the CAR-15, but since they never came I guess it didn’t matter. Maybe they’re still on their way and I seem to have misplaced the CAR-15. But did the Mossad threat make me doubt my decision to be a writer, hell no. I just bought myself a new Kevlar vest.  : )

3) Everyone thinks they can do it better: And then there was the Golden Turkey Leg. I had a spec script that dealt peripherally with Voodoo, but it wasn’t “supernatural”. Another producer wanted to make it more mystical, scary, more Voodoo-ey, sci-fi, sleazy, seedy, make-Ed-Wood-look-like-a-genius-bad, and to that end he wanted me to add something about some golden object that was magical and mystical and for want of a better word I called it “the golden turkey leg”—well, not to his face. He also wanted me to bring a character back from the dead—now that’s Voodoo...ey—turning a pretty good thriller into a grade Z schlockfest horror story that would even make Roger Corman at his cheapest cringe. Then, as if it couldn’t get any weirder, he knew the “perfect” guy to do the theme song: Michael Bolton. And when I say he “knew” Michael Bolton I mean he really did; they were buds or something. And no offense to anyone who likes him, but he’s just not my taste. Give me Ian Gillan and Joey Ramone. So maybe I’m glad that that one never got out of development hell. And he wanted Armand Assante (whose name he kept mispronouncing as “Assant,” leaving off the “ay” at the end) to play the lead. He would have been great for the part when he was younger, but I had nightmares about the producer approaching him, mispronouncing his name, and the actor being so offended he would refuse the part. Then to top it all off, my wife and I were at a toy show in Pasadena (one of my hobbies is collecting old toys) and we ran into said producer, who’s there with his wife and kid, maybe around six or seven years old, selling old dolls. So, he asks me to look after said kid, who at least was a sweet said kid, so he and his wife can walk around the toy show, unfettered. The worst part is he wasn’t even selling the kind of toys I was looking for. So in addition to working on screenplays, I’m also a great babysitter, I just don’t cook or do windows, except Microsoft Windows. And another one bites the dust, another one that never made it to the silver screen, but at least I got paid. But I plan to turn them all into novels someday. They’re already “outlined,” as the screenplays are sort of like outlines. Were this producer’s ideas better? Well, if you like Golden Turkey Legs, I suppose so. But did that make me doubt my decision to be a writer? Hell no, I’m a glutton for punishment.

Reasons to Stay:

Because you can’t do anything else, literally, despite the BS. So you just open that vein and let it bleed.

Or as the Clash said, “Should I Stay or Should I Go”—“If I go there will be trouble, And if I stay it will be double.”


Meredith Cole said...

No matter how hard it is to write a novel or how ridiculous the publishing industry can be, I'm grateful every day not to be working in film and television anymore! I've tried to write a film script about some of my experiences, but they're so ridiculous no one believes they actually happened...

Love that Clash song, BTW...

Susan C Shea said...

What great stories! Love them all, especially the hot shot producer who also sells dolls...I often thank fate that I can write because I know from experience I was a lousy waitress, my feet hurt when I was a sales clerk, I was embarrassed to do in-store modeling, and I have trouble with arithmetic.

Paul D. Marks said...

Meredith, I guess we could say ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. I tell people these stories sometimes in various situations and they do have a hard time believing them, and those are just the tip of the icebrg. And I actually did write a novel about a screenwriter in Hollywood. A satire – what else could it be? And it got accepted for publication at a major publisher in the late 80s/early 90s, I think. But then they got a whole new editorial staff and my book was swept out with the new broom and since the humor was topical it needed a major rewrite...which I’m still in the middle of. But you should go ahead with your script, “based on a true story.” :) And yes, great Clash song.

Susan, yes, you can imagine my expression when I saw that producer selling dolls. Everybody has their hobbies. And definitely a good thing you can write ‘cause even if you were a good waitress, your feet didn’t hurt and you weren’t embarrassed to do the modeling, isn’t writing more fun, creating worlds that never existed. Pretty cool.

Robin Spano said...

Oh you are so right. Your opening lines said it all.

Paul D. Marks said...

It does feel that way sometimes, doesn't it, Robin.