by Ola Zaltin
"So your mother thinks you're a screenwriter; what does Hollywood think?"
I honestly don't remember where I heard this line the first time, but I know it was a long time ago. Mid-nineties, perhaps, when I was just starting out at as a screenwriter. At the time when all was wonderful, twinkly shiny perfect and new. When the world was wide open and the possibilities were limitless. When I thought I'd have Sharon Stone on speed-dial within the year (yes, that long ago) and rent a modest apartment in Westwood, L.A. and go to meetings with my CAA agent in a not too distant future. I thought Hollywood was just waiting for me to enter center stage, and what my mother thought, well, that didn't really matter that much. When you're 25 you really do know it all.
Alas, this did - for reasons inexplicable - not happen. Yes, I wrote a handful of short films that film students and film-critics saw. I wrote one feature film, that 7534 people saw. I wrote for an early Danish crime series, and later on for Wallander in Sweden. Meanwhile, some of my friends and former film school mates are making big dollar and working for international shows (Homeland, House of Cards, Wayward Pines, etc). Me, I've been struggling creatively and economically for the last six years. Yes, six (6) years.
So why do I keep doing it, trying to live that writing life?
Well, the easy answer is, of course, that I don't know how to do naught else. I don't even have a license to drive a bus (though I have been checking out what a license costs). I can't teach, coach, draw, interview, delegate, supervise or take memos. Nominally, yes, I could do all of that. But in today's world, I'd need at least a 3-year diploma from university, a fat CV and heavy recommendations just to get me through the door at a job-interview, never mind the gig itself.
That being said, there's another deeper reason to why I'm not quitting this writing life just yet. I'm stubborn and I love it: I'm addicted.
I'm addicted in the worst way. I'm addicted to not knowing how to pay the rent next month (pondering this as I write). I'm addicted to worrying when the next gig will come along. I'm addicted to the next, unknown challenge. I'm addicted to unexpected stuff landing in my lap; a sudden pay-check, a quick translating gig, mentoring a young unknown. Addicted to the idea that pops into my head so hard and immediate that I have to jump off the bus and get out pen and paper and jot it down before I travel on. I'm addicted to pitching crazy stories to bored producers, dreaming up wild new TV series to directors already busy and lying awake at night plotting and planning my next stratagem to resuscitate my so-called career. Sometimes this game is shit, truly really deeply horribly gut-wrenching shit. But when it's brilliant, it outshines everything else. That's why I'm still at it.
As long as you keep going, you haven't failed yet.
Fall down seven times, stand up eight.
Mistakes are proof that you are trying.
Do it now - "one day" is just another word for "never".
The motivational bullshit is endless.
That being said, there's something to it. We all make mistakes, we all want to give up, we all dream. Hopefully, you keep going. Myself, I often think of a snippet of dialogue from James Cameron's The Abyss. Hardcore engineer, queen-bitch of the universe Lindsey Brigman, upon starting her descent into the deep is wished 'good luck' by the guys on the surface. Without batting an eye-lid, she responds: "Luck is not a factor."
And it’s the same with many things. Luck isn't a factor, unless you're playing the lotto. Success with writing is keeping at it, day after day, rejection after rejection, year after year. I know some quite successful authors; men, women, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, Irish, Dutch. They come from different backgrounds, write different genres and styles. But the successful ones have one trait in common: they produce text, non-stop. They are disciplined, they don't give up and they keep at it.
Rejection, failure and adversity comes to all of us. I once met Ed Saxon (long-time producer for Jonathan Demme) who introduced himself to us - this was 1994 - as "Who am I? I'm the guy who said no to producing Jurassic Park. I said to Steven, 'who the hell wants to see a movie about dinosaurs?!'" (See how I get to name-drop and quote someone doing it? Sleekit me.) Anyway, Mr. Saxon was somewhat miffed, given the box-office numbers that movie about dinos achieved.
Thing is, we all go up and we all go down, law of physics. But in the end it's not about luck, it's about stamina, the pure will to persevere. Here's another classic bullshit motivational line: "Success is 90% hard work and 10% talent." The worst part is, it's true.
Win some, lose some: keep at it.
I, for one, shall keep on keeping at it.
And screw Hollywood - my mother still thinks I'm a screenwriter.