(photo by Christopher Payne)
When the prod. co. with the first look with Sony showed interest (please see post behind this one, 'Starting Out') I thought Yay! I've made it! They introduced me to five agents and I picked one. I started looking at houses to buy. Four months in the prod. co. disbanded and I got the script back. I stopped looking at houses.
My agent sent the script around and suddenly it was hot. Aents at William Morris and CAA called - I went back to the real estate listings. My home would have at least three bedrooms.
Then just like that my script got cold.
I had been writing a new script, JOYVILLE, a dark comedy about competition. I gave it to my agent and she took it out. A V.P. at a dream production company loved it. He nurtured the project through the gears of his co. and at the top it came down to my script and an action pic. Action won. The V.P. called my agent and said,"I'm going to fuck my boss for not making this. I'm giving it to the competition." He gave it to a producer at Brillstein Gray. She read it and loved it. I was back to four bedrooms.
Two weeks later she left on maternity leave.
A manager liked my first script and wanted to rep me. "What can you bring to the table?" I asked. He brought me an Oscar winner. The Oscar winner's current movie opened and bombed. She got into bed and wouldn't get out. The manager vanished. My script , again, was cold.
My agent sent JOYVILLE to Howard Stern's production co. His head of development loved it, but not for Howard Stern. I told him I had another script and pitched the project the Sony group liked. There was a great part for Howard Stern in it, too. The HoD read it, thought the part was too small for Howard Stern, but was I interested in TV? I was very interested in TV. The HoD gave me a headline he saw on CNN that he thought was interesting. Could I do anything with it? I took the headline, blew it up into a show and when I finished we were happy with it. Finally, I had something moving in the pipe.
I saw a contest in The New Yorker in collaboration with HBO: write an episode idea for THE SOPRANOS. There would be five winners and I ended up being one of them. I turned the idea into a spec script and my agent gave it to a TV agent at her agency. Suddenly I had meetings with Dick Wolf's guy (LAW AND ORDER) for a new show they just shot a pilot for. The meeting went well, the show was something I could definitely write for, when would I move to LA? NBC dropped the pilot. The show was now dead. I met Sydney Lumet's showrunner/TV guy. We clicked, it was great, then his show didn't get picked up. Goddamn.
My TV agent came to New York, we had a strategy meeting, then he vanished. Literally. Rumor had it he had two wives and one of them found out about it. He was in Spain, Portugal, maybe South America. I was on Shit Street heading toward Fuck-You-ville.
I wrote a horror movie. Even for me it was a little too far out.
Painting and drawing had been going well and I got into a big show. This would be the one that would catapult me into the world. The show opened, my phone started ringing, I got reviewed well, it even sold okay. When the show came down and it got quiet again. Very quiet.
I had a studio visit with a major museum here. It was the worst studio visit I ever had. (Two months later the curator came back and bought a painting, for herself, not the museum. I still didn't get in the show.)
Part of my agreement with Howard Stern's production company was I would get the TV series back, sole owner, if it didn't go into production in three years. I got it back. Because I was focusing almost exclusively on TV, my relationship with my film agent ended.
I was brought in to adapt an Elmore Leonard short story for a TV director. A month later the financing fell out.
I could go on. There's a lot I'm forgetting, blips I'm leaving out, grants I was short-listed on, etc. Every time I got something I was sure it would rocket me into stratosphere, it would be the one. Instead it was just a baby step. I kept telling myself no matter what, keep going. So that's what I did.
Then then three years ago I didn't want to anymore. I'm hardy, a New Englander by birth annealed by New York City. I've been mugged at knifepoint by a tranny (she was better dressed than me); chased by a machete-wielding crackhead; was wrong time/wrong place for a suicide (he jumped in front of a subway); and had a neighbor hang himself from a landing above my door. I've seen things I wished I never saw and have done things I wished I never did. I've had as much inside chaos as outside, then seven years ago I punctured an artery cutting a bagel. Sitting in the trauma unit at St. Vincents pushed me to a bottom, which slowed me down enough to peer inside. I started sorting through the past and present and two years later my mother was diagnosed with lung, brain and bone cancer.
Two years into her illness was three years ago. If you've ever been close to someone with an illness like this there's a moment that gets crossed when you know they're going to die, for real, no matter what. Not next week, not next month, but this year will most likely be your last together. When I saw that point I was traveling nonstop to be with her, my career was stalled, I was stalled. One day I came back from visiting her and sat down in the middle of the path. That's how I pictured it, my life as a pine needle path through trees. I sat down and didn't want to get up. Wasn't going to get up. I felt done, with what I didn't know. Whatever it was, I was quitting.
I had never, ever done that. To sit down meant I was a failure, a loser, someone who had lost the fight. I sat there not caring. It was like I emptied out: worry, concern, care, angst, passion, fear and joy - it all became inert. I sat there feeling nothing.
Two days later Diane called. "What are you going to do about it?" she said, tough friend she is, then added "Get up and get going." I put my feet under me and stood up. I wasn't relieved or happy or sad or optimistic. There was no cheerleader saying This is good! You're back on your feet! I was still empty, simply up.
I roamed aimlessly around my house and the next day I roamed in a muttering, puttering and scratching kind of way. Which meant there was life brewing. I cooked dinner, put one foot in front of the other, watched traffic. I got an idea for a new project, a one-hour pilot about a group of teens that would be fiction, but personal. Very personal. Personal would be new for me. What was strange was how calm I felt even though I had just done the worst thing I could ever do, give up. The calm gave me a moment of objectively and I asked myself why it was the worst thing, why quitting scared the shit out of me. And it hit me that the calm I was feeling was lack of fear. I had given up, done the one thing I swore I'd never do, and now I was on the other side of it.
I wrote the pilot and a new world opened, personally and professionally. A head fuck got replaced with faith. I didn't see it coming. It so wasn't how I thought things went.