Monday, July 23, 2007

Don't Let Your Dreams Ruin Your Life

The New York Times has an interesting article about the film industy's recent "PitchFest" in Los Angeles. For $395.00, you, the hinterland screenwriter, have seven minutes to sell a Hollywood broker on your story. "[F]ewer than one in 10 pitches were worth following up..." cites one industry rep. Another says listening to screenwriter ideas is only "sort of invigorating." And an agent confesses "I feel like I’m on ‘American Idol,’ and I’m crushing people’s dreams..."

The article is a good companion to a letter popping up on Craigslist (I found it through the "BS Observer" blog) labeling unfair the constant practice of "paying" creative people with a "great opportunity" to show their work instead of money:

"Would you offer a neurosurgeon the “opportunity” to add your name to his resume as payment for removing that pesky tumor? (Maybe you could offer him “a few bucks” for “materials”. What a deal!)"

I link the two pieces because most of those 200 PitchFesting screenwriters have other jobs and write on their own time. All of them wrote their scripts for free - it's the industry standard, and they're called "spec scripts." Hollywood even knows your chances are miniscule - the industry constantly bemoans the sorry state of most scripts.

But there are plenty of screenwriting gurus who'll gladly take your money for a chance to sit at their feet. If you add the $395.00 PitchFest entrance fee - really $400 with today's economics - to your writing time, plus the costs of copying, computer programs like Final Draft, and contest entry fees, you start to wonder if it's worth it. Especially since the odds are you'll never see your screenplay produced.

One of my guilty TV pleasures is "America's Got Talent." I watch it for the real talents, not to laugh at the acts that bomb. The contest seems to breed many mediocre acts who claim they're pursuing their passion and doing what they love. They sink significant amounts of time and money into getting themselves just a notch above the next person; could they be using their energy to pursue other things?

Society puts enormous pressure on us to achieve great things no matter what we do - and especially when in pursuit of our dreams. There should be no fault in trying, then moving on if doesn't work out. Seth Godin's got a book which I believe is all about this. Titled The Dip, it's been the first message I've seen that says it's ok to quit when hard work isn't getting you where you want to go.

I also believe there are alternatives to full-out quitting. Pamela Slim's post titled "5 Reasons to consider downsizing your vision of an ideal life" at her blog "Escape from Cubicle Nation" contains some awesome advice that won't put your dreams on the chopping block. And wouldn't you know, Penelope Trunk addresses this same issue today in "Choose a career path that makes you scared of failure" at her blog "Brazen Careerist."

Full disclosure: I'm in the middle of "nixing" my dream to win the Best Screenplay Oscar for a number of reasons, mostly outlined in the post series "It May Not Be Your Passion If..." And I'm really delving deep into finding what other things I might be better at, that I'd really love doing.

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