“Note to self: You need to get better.”
I think you have to be somewhat delusional to come to Hollywood and try to make it as an actor or a writer or a director. Everyone here is a pretty crazy. I mean, you have to think you’re the exception to the rule just to set foot in this town. To stay, you have to believe it.
When I arrived in L.A. I thought I was a good writer. I’d write a script and think it was great and then I’d be surprised when someone didn’t like it. I’d shake it off and move on, but I was taking my licks.
I was young and I could bounce back a lot faster from those wounds. Mentally and physically, I was fresh. I was eager. I had a purpose. I’d just keep plugging away. I knew I’d figure it out. I knew I’d get better.
I took classes. I interned as a writer’s assistant. I read books. I read scripts. I studied movies. I joined screenwriting groups. Most importantly, I kept writing. There was nothing else I wanted to do.
Eventually, my writing improved. I placed in a few screenwriting contests. 5 1/2 years after I moved to L.A., I got a literary manager, Mike Kuciak. Mike has challenged me and pushed me to become a better writer. He’s a good coach, and I’m lucky he rolled the dice on me.
I’ve changed a lot after all these years in the L.A. wilderness, getting my butt kicked and serving the people whose careers I want. I’m not just older and fatter.
It’s a combination of hardness and vulnerability. When you’re told you’re not good enough for long enough, it sticks to you. Maybe it becomes a chip on your shoulder, maybe it makes you withdraw so you can’t be hurt. Whatever it is, doubt forms and you have to fight it every day or else it will eat you up.
They say boxers get knocked out by punches they never saw coming. It hurts like hell to be surprised, to find out you’re not as good as you thought you were. But I think there’s a more lethal form of rejection: Having your worst fears confirmed by someone else.
“I’m not good enough and now everyone knows it.” That’s the liver punch that drops you to the canvas and no matter how hard you try, you’re not beating the count.
With that first cut of The Shower, I knew the truth.
It was unwatchable.
But I fooled myself into believing it was better than it was. I think I had to believe it for a while, just to get to the point where we could finish it and show it to people and have them tell me the unvarnished truth.
After I got off the phone with the distributor, I let myself be angry for a while. I knew things were bad, so I indulged in the pain. It was a pity party, a wake, and a funeral. I wallowed in my misery. All my mistakes and shortcomings as a filmmaker were on display in 82 minutes of high-definition hell.
The Shower was the biggest artistic endeavor of my life.
It was me.
And I sucked.
On January 4th, 2013, The Shower was on life support and its chances of survival were grim.
It was conceived with the best intentions, but this is what happens when a waiter and a group of restaurant workers with no film production experience try to make a movie. Its flaws can be fatal. Its wounds too grievous to overcome.
None of this is personal. It’s Hollywood. There are no participation ribbons.
My illusion of making the mumblecore Shaun of the Dead was gone completely.
There would be no Sundance. This wasn’t Clerks or The Brothers McMullen.
I had made my own private cinematic disaster.
But that phone call was the best thing that could have happened to me and to the movie.
Everything became clear. And breathtakingly simple.
The movie needs to be a lot better.
I need to be a lot better.
I had to do whatever I could to move the needle from “UNWATCHABLE” to “WATCHABLE.”
I knew it probably couldn’t be done. But there was only one way to find out.
And fortunately, I’m the exception to the rule.
Next time: Hey Guys, Let’s Make a Movie! (What you don’t know can’t kill you, but it can hurt you really, really bad.)