“He’s lost it,”was Paul’s prognosis as we watched our fellow writer shamble down the corridor like a zombie staggering to catch up with its horde, in a hurry but not really hurrying. In truth, he had all the time in the world as the show’s producers, either weary of dealing with him or simply not wishing to be reminded of the mistake they’d made in hiring him in the first place, had set him up in an office clear on the other side of the building. With accounting! I suppose it can happen to the best of us – and that’s what scares me more than anything: the prospect that I’ll wake up one morning and discover “I’ve lost it.”
It’s always in the back of my mind, from the moment I start a script and am faced with the daunting, seemingly insurmountable task ahead. Getting started is like taking that first jump into the chill lake – in and quickly back out again, then instant regret. I’ll sit at my desk, reading and re-reading the opening, second-guessing the dialogue, the rhythm. I’ll set it aside, busy myself with something else (because it’s amazing how many little distractions pop up when you’re trying to write. It’s either “Geez, I better get started on my taxes. April is only three months away!” or “Hey, it’s that episode of Gilligan’s Island where the gorilla falls in love with Gilligan!”), but eventually return to my laptop and stew. In time, and after many subsequent polishes, that opening dialogue will grow on me and there may even come a time when I’ll actually like what I’ve written (though, I suspect, I often mistake rote recitation for enjoyment). But, slowly but surely, the script gets written, page by excruciating page, until I’ll hit my stride – sometime after the third act break. Often, long after. And around then is when I realize I’m safe for one more script, that I haven’t “lost it” after all. Not this time.
Nevertheless, I’m always reminded of that writer we worked with, a guy with some impressive writing credits to his name who suddenly couldn’t write a script to save his life – or, well, his job anyway – and was perforce shunted away, out of sight, like some leper who’d somehow managed to swing an invite to the luau. How did he do it? And how did he keep doing it, getting invited to all those luaus? No doubt his impressive track record had something to do with it. But where, along those tracks, had the wheels come off and momentum kicked in to keep him right on going – his last job getting him his next, the next getting him the one after that, failures one and all but the mere fact that he’d had those earlier jobs and received their various credits fueling his glorious flaming descent? When did he lose it? Or did he ever have it to lose?
Kids can be cruel. Producers even crueler. It’s a tough business and you’re only as good as your last script. Which is why, I suppose, many writers become directors. And directors become producers. And actors become directors. And, on occasion, singers. It’s hard enough to find one thing you’re good at, but much easier to find a whole myriad of things you can suck at. Hedge your bets, baby, because Miami Vice has got to end sometime.
For my part, I’ve no desire (and, oh yeah, talent) to act. And while the idea of bestowing myself with the self-centered A Film By credit sounds like heaps of fun (you get to inflate your own contribution to a movie while simultaneously diminishing the contribution of others!), I think I’ll leave directing to the professionals. No. I think that if there ever comes a day when I look back over a finished script and am unable to find within it one thing to be proud of, I’ll just pack it in, leave the business and hit chef school.
Or cut an album.