When I was a wee boy with a red fruit punch mouth and dreams of entertaining the masses, I had no concept of “show” as being a “business” despite its sometimes ominous title. Members of my family and small community thought I was the bee’s knees, the real deal, a future star with limitless potential. Flash forward to 2013 and I’ve found myself surrounded by uber talented people who’ve come from equally supportive communities battling for the same position in life I’m eager to establish. The ugly truth of Hollywood is that while we would all love our friends and colleagues to succeed, we can’t help hoping that ours is the name on speed-dial from the Weinstein’s when they’re selecting their next award winner.
Some of this may come as a shock to those of you Odd-Jobbers living outside the greater Los Angeles area, but there’s no line of producers with cash lined pockets lining up to buy your screenplay upon your taxi cabs dropping your bright eyed self on the corner of Hollywood and Highland. There’s a handful of un-gender specific hookers, a hobo in a Spiderman costume, a shit ton of waiters with a half-finished screenplay, and a whole lot of tourists that are pretty certain they’ve just seen that one guy from that one thing that they were sure was pretty good (they didn’t, it was another hobo in a costume that was more than happy to take their money and smile for their “I met Johnny Depp” photo memento.)
I’ve failed a lot in this town. I can’t count the number of “almosts” and “not a shots” I’ve had over the past decade, but I’m certain it far outweighs the number of “yes’s” I’ve gotten. The necessary thing is to take each failure in stride, learn from it, apply the lessons to your next written work, and move on as quickly as emotionally possible. I’ve been applying to copywriting jobs for months. I’ve had a lot of “almosts” and “not a shots” and not one “yes.” While I keep pressing on like a pirate sloop with shredded sails after a violent encounter with a privateer, my copywriting aspirations and options are beginning to dwindle like my bank account. My transformation of a former screenplay into a web series has gone better than I expected, but now begins the arduous task of pre-production that includes many re-writes, let downs, and a cleverly composed Kickstarter.com campaign that will hopefully bring in the necessary funds to “kickstart” the project. (For those of you unfamiliar with Kickstarter, remove the rock you’ve been living under from your noggin, shuffle your way toward the nearest mechanized Internet machine and Google the sucker. I’ll wait for it…
Total mind blow huh?
I’ll cover the aforementioned project proposal and all the trimmings of the pending pre-production clusterfuck in a later article, but for now suffice to say I’m at a standstill with said project for an undetermined amount of time.
Probably the most common note given to a screenwriter is “Act II needs work.” In screenwriting terms, this is a nice way of saying “Your idea seems marketable, your characters could work, and your dialogue sounds decent…I just don’t like your story, plot points, or the way that you’ve arranged anything.” I’ve personally received this note countless times, despite years of trial and error with different incarnations of written projects. No matter how much I think I know, I’ve learned that I don’t know as much as I think I know, and the stuff that I do know, I’ve gotten all wrong. So heed my advice, or don’t, because nobody knows anything about nuthin’. With this in mind, I’ve recently applied to grad school to pursue my MFA in Screenwriting so that I can learn a whole lot more about something I thought I knew a lot about but in actuality knew very little…I think.
I’m not entirely sure what possessed me to complete my application and mail it off to my university of choice. Perhaps, it was my growing sense of dread for my lackluster “career” and humble job as a glorified pooper scooper at a dog kennel. Or maybe in some way I felt the application would forestall my inevitable breakdown into and consuming of the melancholy cocktail of fear, doubt, and procrastination with a mixer of cynicism and a chaser of sarcasm that often accompanies those periods in between projects where all hope is lost of finding a through-line for my next potential failure. But most likely is my ever-present tussle with a moniker once given to me by my college professors as being “arrogantly ignorant.”
1. making claims or pretensions to superior importance or rights; overbearingly assuming; insolently proud: an arrogant public official.
2. characterized by or proceeding from arrogance, or a sense of superiority, self-importance, or entitlement: arrogant claims.
1. lacking in knowledge or training; unlearned: an ignorant man.
2. lacking knowledge or information as to a particular subject or fact: ignorant of quantum physics.
3. uninformed; unaware.
4. due to or showing lack of knowledge or training: an ignorant statement.
Translation: Tony LaScala was a real pompous ass in college.
It was 2005. Revenge of the Sith was disappointing millions and “Hollaback Girl” was annoying the crap out of me on an almost hourly basis. I was under a writing scholarship at the University of La Verne in Southern California, just a few semesters away from the Bachelor’s degree that would grant me backstage access to all of the top Hollywood executives and set me up as the screenwriting slash directing mogul I have yet to become. I had been taking a Masters of Writing class from the head of the department, and had skipped reading most of the plays each week because I believed they weren’t worth my time. This had become a recurring theme in a few other classes, and unbeknownst to me, my theatre professors had a nickname for me. Thankfully one of them decided to share it with me after I made a particularly pompous declaration of poor writing quality of a play I had not even read.
INT. CABARET THEATRE – AFTERNOON
TONY LASCALA (24) sits at the back of the theatre, making snarky comments about the choice of reading by the PROFESSOR (60).
Ubu Roi sucks.
The dude’s French. It probably sucks.
So, you haven’t read it.
Don’t have to. It sucks.
I’ve defended you to the rest of the faculty, but I’m beginning to see why you’re known as “That arrogantly ignorant boy Tony LaScala!”
Tony is defensive, shuffling in his seat and raising his voice to an embarrassing volume.
I don’t need to read a bunch of plays by old dead Frenchmen to determine whether they’re any good! I am a Writer and a real writer doesn’t have time to read!
Like an addict I denied the glaring truth for months, defending internally my outbursts and lack of commitment to writers more proven and more driven than I was at that time. I cannot pinpoint the moment that I accepted the moniker as truth, but I do remember the relief I felt. Without intending to I had learned one of the better lessons I believe a writer can learn, “take the note.” If ten people tell you Act II needs work, Act II probably needs work. Since that time I have gone back and read each of those plays my professor assigned, and I’ve come to the conclusion that many of them were pretty good. I still think some of them are overrated, but at least now, I have a basis for my opinion.
My fellow Odd-Jobbers, do not make the mistake of being “arrogantly ignorant” about your writings. Each project teaches me more about the craft, and each “Hollywood type“ encounter teaches me more about the “business” of show. I applied for my MFA for a lot of reasons, but the most important of those is that I understand one fundamental truth about myself, I’m not a finished project. Act II still needs work.
…I Salute You,