Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Ladder Climbing

I've been feeling a touch jaded lately. And I don't like to feel that way. I like enthusiasm and positivity. I'm a hopeful realist. I realized my glumness is because there's no new tidbits to get me fired up. I've been working my ass off. Things are progressing. There's been some nice things happen. But there's been no new peeks lately.  And then I thought about ladders.

I think the journey of screenwriting like a series of ladders. And what you get excited about depends on where you are on the ladders.

Here's my ladder analogy...

There's the "hobbyist ladder". This is the one where you really have no fucking clue, but writing is the bomb. You're filled with hope and ideas of success and getting involved in the whole world of screenwriting, but you haven't quite committed to it. You might not tell anyone you're writing. You've never had professional feedback. You're not even sure what that is. Your mom likes your scripts. By the time you climb that ladder, you've made the commitment to learn the craft. It's time to get serious about becoming a screenwriter. Many drop off here or just stay on this ladder, where it's fun.

Next, you jump over to the "amateur ladder". This is the learning ladder. The social ladder. The ladder of hard work and dedication. The ladder where you enter the society of writers. Courses, books, articles, webinars, social media, you troll professional blogs and are a sponge. You find your homies (writing groups). You write a lot. You get better. You get professional feedback. You get better. You enter contests. You get better. You rise in the ranks. You might win a few. You get some reads by legitimate execs. You might make a short or help on other people's. Then you maybe get a manager, or get an option, or contracted to write something. Feels great to be at the top of this ladder.

And then you jump to the bottom of the "professional ladder". This is the ladder where you're trying to get paid and eek out a living as a full time writer. You get pro champions for your work. You build relationships with producers/directors. You probably write on spec for "up-and-comers" in the hopes that something will come of it. You might make more shorts. You might get small gigs, and then hopefully bigger ones, that pay... And climb that ladder.

The higher the ladder, the less people are on the ladder with you. At the bottom, there's a shit ton of climbers. You're climbing all over each other, hard to tell everyone apart. But if you are original enough, good enough, then you might be able to catch a higher rung and climb. The higher you get, the farther apart the rungs are. The pro ladder is a long and hard fucking ladder. You grow tough. Calloused. You may get a bit dinged up. But you hang on. Because you've just climbed too many damn ladders by now to give up.

I don't know what the pro ladder looks like after that. Maybe once you really break in with the first decent sale, or the first film produced, or a well paid contract the rungs start to get closer together again. I live in hope to see that part of the ladder. I imagine that section is really fun and crazy. Like Wonderland in a wild, action-packed theme park. There's flying monkeys and carnival mirrors.

Then there's the "elitist ladder" (or A-list ladder), but I have absolutely no clue what that ladder looks like. I'm sure it's made of gold, and there's beautiful people serving you champagne and feeding you grapes while trolls lurk behind the ladder and try to push you off. Maybe.

SO... that's the ladders.

Side Note: Of course, everyone's series of ladders are going to be slightly different, but you get the general idea.

I think on each ladder, there are different things to be excited about. I remember almost shitting my pants when I won a few comps. I mean, the bubbles came out, I was ecstatic for months! I felt a great sense of accomplishment. When I first started getting reads from proper execs!?! Holy shit, that was awesome. I mean G. Del Toro's company was reading MY script! Fuck me. I was sure each time (in the beginning) there was a big deal waiting for me. And when I got a manager, I celebrated like mad. And all of these things were absolutely valid excitements. I was climbing. Moving "onwards and upwards".

And all you can really see from the ladders are the rungs below you. But the ones above you are in the clouds. You can't anticipate those. Like life, I guess. But I think the more rungs below you, the more you learn to temper your excitement, because along with more accomplishments, there are inevitably more rejections too. And if you allow the roller coaster to get out of hand, you're going to barf. Maybe even let go of the ladder. So, I guess it takes more now to get me excited. It needs to be something new.

My short script won 2nd place recently in a comp, and I wasn't even excited. No bubbles. Shame really. What we get excited about shifts. Now I'm pumped about a potential book option. Things that will help me keep climbing. And yesterday, I got a whiff of something very exciting, but it's WAY too premature to even think about, let alone speak about. That's the other thing... you learn WHEN it's appropriate to even allow yourself to get excited.

It's an individual sport of climbing ladders. But it's great to be excited for someone else's achievements, regardless of where you or they are on the ladders. You can relate if you've already been on that rung. You can get a glimmer into the clouds if that rung is above you. And you can just be damn happy that someone's climbing those ladders, just like you are. There's strength in that. Comradery. There's no limit on goodwill. God knows we can use all of that we can get. I think that's a good way to avoid falling too far into the jaded pit. I'm very grateful for my homies. You need friends to laugh with on those fucking ladders.