Today’s piece is written by David Dean Bottrell, full-time Feature writer (“Kingdom Come”), part-time TV Actor (“Boston Legal”).
Since I started walking the picket line back in early November, I’ve had a lot of time to think and a few things have occurred to me. First off, speaking as a feature writer, I’m astounded at how many friends the TV writers have. Seemingly, all these people have to do is turn around and they run into yet someone else they know. It’s unnatural. I’ve never been particularly popular which is why I became a writer in the first place. It was my chance to punish the inner circle that never had anything to say to me. Suddenly, it’s high school all over again (except in front of Warner Brothers). Secondly, (thanks to the AMPTP), I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the actual value of writing. And I’ve thought a little about why I keep choosing to do this particular job.
It certainly isn’t because of public demand. Not only do those damn TV writers have too many friends, they also get to regularly experience seeing their work filmed and watched by millions of people. I’m a screenwriter and a successful one to boot. Successful in the sense that I write enough screenplays each year to pay my bills, contribute to my retirement account and take a modest vacation. That’s about it. Many of my scripts have “almost” gotten made. One actually did. It was co-written with another writer who to this day hates my guts, so I’ll decline to mention her name here. The script was largely drawn from true stories about my family — which somehow through the process of “development” became a story about a black family. The resulting film was basically still the story of my family – but played by black people. During its release, I spent many happy evenings at the Magic Johnson Cinemas watching my movie over and over. I loved hearing the black people laugh at my family and more than anything I just wanted the chance to do it all over again. But the real truth is I rarely get to write for audiences. I write for producers, development people, studio executives, talent agents and movie stars – most of whom seem to really enjoy my writing. So much so that they often contribute ideas to make the script better. Small things like changing the age, race, profession and gender of the leading character or perhaps altering the location, historical time period or galaxy in which the story takes place.
When these requests come my way, I always feel suicidal. I never think I can do it, but then somehow I do. I had a shrink a few years ago who once said to me, “Gosh, it must be so wonderful to be funny.” To which I responded, “No, actually it’s not.” In the life of a writer, the blessing is also the curse. We walk around looking at people, feeling like we know them in some way. We envision their circumstances. Invent their conversations. Fill in the blanks. And before long, we are filled with empathy toward these virtual strangers and want nothing more than to re-imagine the course of their lives somehow. But carrying all those unwanted observations around gets heavy after a while. It makes us a little sad and the only way to free ourselves from that melancholy is to put that imagined knowledge to use – by creating a funny, not-so-funny, meaningful, scary and totally unnecessary story out of it. And hopefully if we do our job well, somebody will see some truth in our efforts and they will laugh or cry or be outraged or at the very least feel brave enough to get out of their bed tomorrow morning.
So in a sense, when it comes to my profession, I never really had much choice in the matter. Like my height, hair color and shoe size, nature seems to have chosen for me. Writing is the most effective anti-depressant I have ever used. I am never happier than when I’m writing. I’m never sadder than when I turn something in. I don’t know what the economic future of my profession will be, but I know that I will always find a way to write. Will I ever get another film made? I have no idea. Does this job make any sense as a career choice? I couldn’t tell ya. All I know is I turned my fourth draft into the studio on October 31st and I now hear that everybody “loves it!” This week, they love it. So until next week arrives, I’m happy to be the writer of that script. Oddly, no sooner did I hear this news than I suddenly had an idea for a new script that I think could be really funny. Wow, do I love that feeling. If all the TV writers in the world called me tonight and invited me to join them for a beer, I’d turn them down. I’d rather stay home and work on my first act.
WHY WE WRITE is a series of essays by prominent – and not so prominent – TV and Film writers. Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform all writers. If you’d like to comment, or tell us why you write, visit the Why We Write WordPress site or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.