A while back, I self-published a novella called The Summit to the Amazon Kindle. The story’s about an alien invasion of Las Vegas in 1962. Who was there in 1962 to repel the forces of evil? That’s right, the Rat Pack. Sinatra, Martin, and Davis Jr. save the day — with an assist from a certain Catholic president. It turns out I made some critical errors in turning that novella into a screenplay. Learn from my screenwriting failures.
The book drew almost instant attention. Don’t get me wrong: it did not and has not sold well (I have yet to crack the Kindle marketing code), but some good eyes fell upon it.
I posted a link to the sales page on my Facebook profile, and a few friends relayed it to their own networks. One of those friends (oh, let’s call him “Ernie”) just happened to have a professional screenwriter amongst his group of pals. I’m sure you know Facebook is ephemeral. Posts quickly drift away, often seen by only a handful of folks. It’s sheer luck that a) Ernie shared my post and b) this screenwriter (let’s call him “Dave”) saw it while having his morning coffee.
Dave read the novella and asked Ernie for my email address. Ernie, of course, obliged and Dave contacted me to express his interest in translating the story to film.
Let me say upfront that my experience with Dave couldn’t have been better. Dave suggested that I write the screenplay because the narrative voice in the novella was, in his words, idiosyncratically mine. I agreed and, with Dave’s generous coaching, produced a screenplay we were both satisfied with.
I should say as a side note that The Summit changed significantly in its abortive journey to the multiplex — and it was me who suggested many of the changes. Prose and movies are different mediums.
Using his considerable resources, Dave laid the screenplay on some important desks. Ultimately, however, a professional screenwriter doesn’t have quite the reach of a professional agent. Not a problem. Dave got the script to an agent, and the agent agreed to represent me. Every writer’s dream and I’d fallen into it ass-backward. (Don’t hate me. I’ll be the first one to admit that this series of events was roughly 10% talent and 90% luck.)
Anyway, the agent — let’s call him “Roger” — took the baton from Dave and ran with it. He got the script onto even more high-profile desks. People I knew from credit rolls were reading my script — and liking it.
But not liking it enough.
After a while, a consensus formed, and it went like this: “This is a fun script, but you’re crazy if you think a studio’s gonna bankroll it.” Why were people saying that? Well, for good reasons, actually. All the leads of The Summit were in their forties, the movie featured some crazy effects sequences (which translates into dollars), and it would’ve been a bitch to market. In short, it was box office poison.
Fine, you might say. It was a foot in the door and it cleared the way for bigger and better. What happened next, though, was not all puppies and sunshine — and it was my fault.
I choked. Not right away, but I did choke.
Before the period I’ll call the Great Self-hate began, I wrote like a madman. I finished three feature films and three or four television pilots. Only two of those scripts made it into Roger’s hands. Most of that output I deemed sub-par or too subversive for Hollywood. In a lot of cases, my judgment was sound. However, in the midst of my downward spiral, I became less and less able to judge my own work. Eventually — deep in the throes of a slow-motion flop sweat — I stopped writing altogether.
Opportunity knocked, and I pretended not to be home.
Recently, I looked over some of that material and one nearly complete script stood out. It wasn’t bad. I dusted it off and finished it. An excellent outcome, but I’m still troubled by my Lost Weekend. What is it about humans that we actually listen to our own inner demons? Why are we so quick to sabotage ourselves?
Damned if I know.
Anyway, what can we learn from my screenwriting fail? “Try not to be a self-loathing quitter”? Maybe, but that’s a little pat. As I say, I’ve got no clue.
I wish I had a better idea just in case it happens again.