I’ve been rejected a lot. The first time I can recall being rejected was when I didn’t make the basketball team in the fourth grade. I had no shot at making it, because it was a fourth-sixth grade team, plus I was terrible at basketball. This didn’t hurt because I had no personal stakes in being on the team. The next major rejection was in the ninth grade, when I didn’t make the St. Peter’s Prep freshman basketball team. A lot had changed in those five years, and one of the main things was that I was now obsessed with basketball. (I was only marginally better as a player.) I survived the first round of cuts and practiced with the team for a week. For those few days, I was living the life I had imagined. That all came to an end when they posted the final cuts for the team. I was informed by my classmate (and freshman basketball star), Jerry Healy, that my name wasn’t on the list. I thought for a second (or hoped) that he was messing with me, but my name wasn’t there. That hurt. I would have been the worst player on the team, more mascot than anything, but that would have been fine. Better than fine. I came close, but wasn’t good enough.
The next big rejection was my senior year when I was wait-listed, then rejected from Georgetown. It wasn’t crushing, but it was my first choice. And I was still obsessed with basketball. And Allen Iverson was a Hoya.
Once again, close but no cigar. (My SATs were a bit low, only 1210. I had done well on practice tests, scoring well over 1300, but decided not to take them again because I was “rejecting” all the stress my classmates were feeling from the test… So maybe I wasn’t smart enough for Georgetown anyway.)
I was rejected by plenty of girls during high school and college. Of course it hurt, but it also helped me with my new passion: writing. I was starting to find my voice, even if it was the cliché voice of the shy guy who pines for the incredibly attractive, supremely intelligent, amazingly down to earth girl with a great sense of humor who loves all the books, movies and music that I loved.
Looking back, if I had made the basketball team, or gotten into Georgetown, or had a girlfriend, I would never have felt the need to write. I would have been happy. I would have put my passions and energy into something else. Something big… I’d probably be the President of the United States right now and Donald Trump would still be on The Celebrity Apprentice.
I’ve written before how it was my rejection from film schools that brought me out to Hollywood. That rejection was good for me. Just like all the rejection that came with writing and getting my ass kicked on a regular basis once I got here.
All those rejections were painful. But I was young and I recovered quickly. I could erase doubt with a six pack and get right back to thinking up the next idea. Those rejections were fuel. They made me want to get better. I believed I could get better. And I wanted to get better.
Let’s jump ahead to August of 2016.
Four years after we started shooting The Shower/Killer Party.
Those were a long four years. The movie nearly ruined me. It took up so much space in my life that I struggled to find room for anything else. Family. Friends. Fun. It was just me and this movie. Ahab and his white whale.
I could divide those four years into distinct halves.
The first part was making and finishing the movie. Even after we finished our principal photography in September of 2012, I was sustained by the hope and motivation that I could make the movie better. Editing. Pick-ups. A day of reshoots. Music. Sound. Color correction. The movie wasn’t finished until August 2014. Two years later, that was the movie, for better or worse. (I should also note that we started our festival run in October 2013. The festivals were a salvation during that dark period. That was my favorite part of the process. That was the reward.)
The second part was also fueled by hope and motivation. We were motivated to promote the movie and reach a wider audience. We hoped it would be well-received. We finished our festival run in January 2015 at Macabre Faire Film Festival where we won awards for Best Feature and Best Director. It was a great way to close out that part of the process.
The next step was finding distribution, “delivering” the movie, and prepping the release. This is when things started to move at a glacial pace. (I suppose with the melting glaciers, that phrase may be obsolete in a generation or two, or mean the opposite…) I was burnt out at this point, and I wish I was better equipped to handle the delivery, make a trailer and help design art work. Such is the life of an indie filmmaker. This step took about twice as long as it should have. Instead of the movie coming out in 2015, well, it didn’t come out until August 2016… Lessons learned.
I started writing again in 2014. I had gone from writing/developing almost every day from 2001 to June of 2012, to working/agonizing over the movie. So just sitting at the computer again was sweet relief. It was therapy, because it felt good to write. I could leave all the shit behind and spend time with new characters. The only problem was it was just therapy and I wasn’t rigorous enough with my development process and rewriting. If I’m being generous, some of what I was doing was 50% good. Some 20%. Some maybe 5%. The first thing was 0%. But I was working in a range where maybe 1/3 of what I was doing was good, and that’s a terrible percentage for writing. I think you have to be in the 90% range. At least I have to.
So I was in purgatory because I couldn’t move forward and it was a prison of my own design.
We worked very hard in the weeks leading up to the release. We received a tremendous amount of support from friends and family. I was stressed, but it was good stress because I believed everything would turn out OK. That’s how I had survived the four years. And it’s how I survived the eleven before that.
Everything did not turn out OK.
We got some good reviews. We got some bad reviews. I let the bad ones get to me. The movie didn’t have a sustained run on the iTunes charts.
We were not gonna be a little, little movie that could… I started feeling depressed. I was having anxiety. I constantly felt like I wasn’t getting enough air into my lungs. I was walking around with a hair-trigger, hoping some idiot would set me off and I could knock his teeth down his throat.
Probably the worst part of all this is knowing that I should be happy. That I’m fortunate. I have a great wife. Wonderful, healthy kids. Loving family and friends who have always taken care of me. But I was miserable.
I had lost hope for the first time in 15 years. No light at the end of the tunnel. Just despair. I had failed. I had wasted four years, if not fifteen. I was about to turn forty and life and reality were staring back at me in the mirror and it was ugly (and needs to lose 20 pounds).
I had never felt that way before and I didn’t know what to do. So I prayed. Over and over. “Lord, help me get through this. Give me strength. Please give me strength.” It became my mantra. I didn’t try to make any bargains. I just begged.
The thing that provided my breakthrough was an email. And not a good one. A shitty email from someone who was supposed to work for and help the movie reach a wider audience. An email which was sent to the wrong person: me. (He also blamed Russia for the email.) I’ve met amazing people during the last four years, and I’ve met some real dickheads. This guy is King of the Dickheads. Just take your worst Hollywood stereotypes and dump them in a gas station toilet and he’s what crawls out. I was ready to hurt him and that’s when I knew it had to stop. King Dickhead was my sign to let go. Not forget. People have supported us financially, so I can’t just walk away and pretend it never happened (But I can dream about it!). I realized I had to let go of the anger and despair because they were simply pulling me down and drowning me. I saw where I was going, and I was able to put on the brakes before it was too late… I had made plenty of mistakes, I had done what I could to fix them, but in the end, I lost.
Then Trump got elected and I turned forty, so it was really time to snap out of it.
I made it through, but when I stood on the other side, I still had to ask myself if I wanted to keep going. Did I have the heart for it? The stomach? Was I stupid and insane to keep trying?
Was trying to have a creative career in Hollywood the same as trying to make the freshman basketball team? I could get a taste, but I wasn’t good enough to stick?
I still don’t know the answer. I don’t feel the same way I did four years ago. I’m guessing that’s a good thing. I learned a lot.
I used to think big picture thoughts. Now, if you’ll pardon me, my sights have changed. I’m not thinking so far ahead. I’m also thinking about television. I still wanna make movies, but after the last four years, I’m not gonna go charging up that hill right away.
I need to write. And I need to write better than I ever have.
So it looks like television will be my line in the sand. I’m gonna give it the old college try and if that doesn’t work, then it’s on to Lourdes.
I don’t love L.A. I guess it’s because I’ve always been on the outside, looking in. If I’m remembering correctly from my days as an English major, like Ethan Frome looking in on the dance. Forgive me if I’m mistaken, Dr. Monahan. (Being a waiter at a good restaurant means a healthy portion of my customers are having meetings about film and tv projects… Salt meet Wound.) I like the weather here. The food: Mexican, fresh fruits and vegetables. We’ve made good friends. I love Wild Card and where my kids go to school. I guess I never thought I’d live in L.A. for too long. I thought I was coming here to learn and succeed and I’d go back and make movies in NJ/NY.
I think now I’m desperate to stay, because that would mean success.
The pain of the last four years almost broke me, it was so close. But it’s also given me enough fuel for one more run. I’m not going without a fight. I still believe that I can get better. I still want to get better. I still wanna know that I did my best. That I did everything I could to make it.
The clock’s not ticking. Too late for that. It’s loud. The bell’s ringing.
A little Metallica to play us out: