I’m not going to deny that I may have just a teensy bit of bitterness in life. My obituary will hopefully note many of my better qualities, from my typing speed of 90 words per minute (which I’ve just removed from my resume because I no longer want any jobs where typing fast is an essential skill — after years of those jobs, my wrists hurt), to my ability to charm people’s moms, to my fondness for pretzels. I do love pretzels. But if the word “bitter” sneaks in there, I can’t blame anyone. Even if it’s preceded by the words “virulently”, “agonizingly” or “soul-crushingly”. Hey, I’m not one to argue.
My only mention so far on Defamer was as “a frustrated writer”, and though it stung at the time, they weren’t too far off, even if they weren’t referring to the best example. It’s hard to be a writer without being frustrated — even, I’d imagine, if you’re a successful writer. I’d never claim that my frustration is any more than most people’s, only that it can be virulent, agonizing and soul-crushing if I dwell on it too much.
What brings on this self-reflection? A few days ago, I read that someone I know sold a script. Now, I know what Morrissey says on the subject, but if this were a friend we were talking about, that’d be different. In fact, I also have a friend who sold a script recently, and I’m really happy for him. Really. Virulently, agonizingly, soul-crushingly happy maybe, but definitely, definitely happy. See? Here’s a smiley face to prove it. :0)
As for the other guy, well, here’s what happened. I knew him from film school, but I didn’t know him very well. Several years ago, when we were both just out of school, I ran into him outside a movie theater, and we started talking. We talked about the things frustrated writers talk about, including what we were working on at the time.
I don’t remember exactly what was said, because it wasn’t until later on that I’d realize how important this seemingly insignificant conversation would turn out to be. At the time, I was about halfway through writing a screenplay. I was really excited about this particular script, and I was at a very optimistic place in my career. My last script had been optioned by a studio, I was with a pretty big agency, and I was very hopeful about selling the new script when it was ready. And for some reason, I did something I rarely do.
I told the guy what my script was about.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, and I know I was vague, but I told him.
That was Saturday. On Thursday or Friday of the following week, I read Variety and saw that an idea with a very similar premise had just sold. And guess who the writer was? Now, I know what you’re thinking: how could someone write an entire script in one week? Well, he didn’t.
As it turns out, he had a very high-powered manager, and managers love to brag about how good they are at selling things. So his manager blabbed the entire story to the trades: Unsold writer calls him Monday morning with a great script idea he thought up over the weekend. Manager loves the idea, tells him to write up a treatment. They fax out the treatment a couple days later, and by the end of the week, they’ve got a deal. (There was no mention of where the unusual sense of urgency to rush their project to the market came from, but I think I have an idea.)
I’ll admit that his idea was different from mine. When I told him about it, I had been purposely vague enough that he couldn’t steal it. But even though his idea wasn’t a carbon copy of mine, it definitely “borrowed” essential elements from mine and was clearly “inspired” by our conversation. (If I’m being vague again, it’s not just because I’ve been burned before, but because you never know who reads your blog.) He made a lot of money off it, and he’s made a good career as a writer since then.
As for my script, it went out about six months later, and it didn’t sell. To be honest, the guy’s treatment had little or no effect on my script, which failed to sell for a lot of other reasons that had nothing to do with him. And that put me in kind of a nebulous moral/karmic area. What he did wasn’t really stealing, and it didn’t end up hurting me. But it was definitely shitty. So I couldn’t sue, and it didn’t make sense to spend the rest of my life cursing his name and wishing for his downfall. I simply shrugged it off, and moved onto the next script.
But a little bitterness? Sure, I think I’m entitled to that.