When I enrolled at the Vancouver Film School for 2005 I had two simple goals for what lay ahead during and after my year-long intensive study of the art of writing for television, film and new media: Get paid to write* and make a movie. In the summer of 2010, I was lucky to see the latter through as we began the production of the feature-length independent film “Do Something With Your Life”, of which I wrote the screenplay.
Writing is weird. Art is weird. We talked a lot about community, supporting other artists, working with people both liked and respected for their talents: everyone working together to get better and make better projects. For a long time, this shared mentality lead me to opportunities I would never had even with VFS on my resume: I was able to write and help make** 40-something sketches, two seasons of a webseries- writing and acting in it- I did stand-up comedy, wrote sketches for a bunch of groups and helped produce sketch shows***, work-shopped stuff with other writers, gave notes for projects in production, and I even appeared an iPhone videogame for a popular SyFy series as a monk AND a pirate. When I start to reflect, listing those achievements, (as mundane as some of them may be****) I get a sense of pride I haven’t felt since I was active in the community. That’s weird to me, because for the last 3 years it’s pretty much been petulance and anger.
I stopped writing because of a crippling sense of self-doubt. There’s this thing with show business- and with that term, we’ll encompass everything from Hollywood blockbusters right down to work-for-free theatre- where once you prove a certain level of competence, the compliments and gushing become overwhelming. It’s great at first- it’s a push to create more and strive for bigger things when your peers and to a lesser extent, your competition are telling you how great that thing you wrote is- but then you start to notice the same comments and level of admiration is almost benchmarked, and absolute dog-shit work***** is treated the same way. It’s like every project is a macaroni and glitter collage, and everyone will react to it like your mom would. I quickly figured out that this is probably because most people are inherently nice and positive, and also because they want to work on things and you don’t get to work on things if you’re an asshole. So some person you meet after a show or in a bar asks you what you thought about their thing: you throw down the compliment because what else do you say? “Your sketch about the zombie orgy was funny, but the ending was weak and you could have easily made the zombie who was into S&M and the zombie who wore leather pants the same character. Also maybe cut down the cursing. I counted 76 fucks. The sketch was 4 minutes long.” I can tell a buddy that, but I would have done it when I read script six weeks, well before it went on stage. This consistent practice of “praise everybody” quickly eroded a hole in whatever organ gives you confidence****** and I started to wonder if I was on that other side of the coin. Further to that, if I was just mediocre and these kind words were nothing more than, well, kind words, what the fuck was the point of trying anymore?
Back to the petulance and anger thing:
In what could best be described as a series of unfortunate events, my self-doubt was compounded by an inability to rationally and clearly express my issues with the people whom I had these close creative relationships. I didn’t receive the kind of support I expected, nor did I reach out in perhaps the way they expected. As the saying goes: Out of sight, out of mind. I grew to hate the movie I wrote because the people I worked so closely with didn’t seem to give a shit that I wasn’t writing anymore.
About a year in to my creative exile, the feature was screened at a small arts festival. The name of my movie was plastered on the marquee at the Rio Theatre in Vancouver but I was too pissed off to pose for a picture. I really regret that. I should have a framed photo of me next to it, with a shit-eating grin a mile wide. But I didn’t, because all I could think about sitting in that theatre- when every joke got an embellished laugh, or when our friends cheered wildly as each name appeared in the opening credits- was that if this movie is so fucking great, and I’m so fucking funny, why doesn’t anyone give a shit that I stopped writing?
When I finally had a copy of the movie on DVD, I started to make the rounds showing it to friends and family who couldn’t see it to the Rio. Every imperfection was magnified by repeated viewings, and never was it more apparent that I needed to get the fuck out of Vancouver because I was slowly turning into my protagonist, and my protagonist was a goddamn piece of shit. If time travel were real, I’d zip back to the summer of 2011 and whisper something inspirational in my 26 year old self’s ear ******* and cross my fingers he would come to this realization sooner than I actually did.
So here I sit, 4600 kilometers away from Vancouver, both physically and existentially. For the first time in a long time, I’ve been able to sit down and write without hating it within two pages. I don’t know if I have a future in writing in any regard, but I’m going to fucking try. I’m reminded of a song lyric:
And if all you ever do with your life is photosynthesize
Then you deserve every hour of these sleepless nights
That you spend wondering when you’re gonna die
Unfortunately the completed feature film “Do Something With Your Life” is not available to stream or purchase, so the best I can do is the trailer and production draft of the script. Annotations follow.
Do Something With Your Life Production Draft
* I was paid $77.00 when my short film Forked was screened at the Brampton Film Festival in 2006. No one was ever able to explain why they paid me.
** On set, I usually sat around, making myself available to assist with dialogue changes, jokes, whatever last minute tweaks were needed. If called upon, I would hold the boom mic or a bounce board. The other 98% of my time was spent cracking jokes while quietly praying that everything in the movie would come together and it would be something I was proud of.
*** Which meant I showed up to rehearsals, making myself available to assist with dialogue changes, jokes, whatever last minute tweaks were needed. If called upon, I would give simple blocking suggestions or help assemble the props. The other 98% of my time was spent cracking jokes while quietly praying that everything in the show would come together and it would be something I was proud of.
**** I only did stand-up comedy three times because I was not immediately successful at it.
***** Writing is free. To me, the greatest sin with independent film is not spending enough time on the script and rushing right into production. The world has enough beautifully lit, edited and shot movies full of terribly clichéd dialogue and trite conflicts. If you’re going to put that much effort into production, why not spend an extra week on your script? A dude building a house doesn’t quickly jot out some plans and then start pouring foundation just because the materials have arrived and he’s antsy to get going. “The bones of this room are here, we’ll just wait for the contractors to show up and let them improv a bit before we start building.”
****** I would assume heart, brain, liver or penis.
******* “Fuck this shit. Go home, pound away at the keyboard. Do it for yourself because doing it for others, or doing it because something NEEDS to get made is fucking horseshit and you know it. Everyone is different and can’t read your mind, so you can be honest with people and accept the consequences or continue to brood quietly about people who you damn well know wrote you off a long time ago. Watch your fucking movie again: Mike Browne, your protagonist… oh and by the way that’s a way more common name than you think. Within four years there will be a politician, UFC fighter and teenager murdered by police all sharing that name. Nice tribute to your friend Scott, though. Anyway, Mike Browne, as you have written him, is a pot-head man-child who thinks the world owes him, but doesn’t give anything more than 60% and expects that to be enough. He’s a loser. He’s so much of a loser you didn’t even give him a good ending. He just goes along sad, then happy, then sad, then really sad. Is that what you want? Never do anything creative for anyone but yourself. Unless there’s money involved. Then sell out as fast as you can. Money is great. I love you buddy, even if I don’t always tell you that.”