A Brief History of My Experience with the Craft and in the Trade
I’ve been drawn to writing and directing my entire life. I have memories of writing a 12-page adventure story for my 4th Grade teacher, and directing history re-enactments on VHS camcorders in 9th Grade summer school.
I love stories in most every medium. Films. TV. Novels. Graphic novels. Video games. It doesn’t matter what it is. And I don’t just watch or read or play them. They sear into my mind and soul. I think and speak and live in stories. It really is that simple.
I’ve been crafting stories for coming up on 25 years, all of it self-taught. I never got a degree in literature or film. Like many people, I graduated from the school of hard-knocks at the university of life, all night classes. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As for writing, there’s a Latin phrase coecus scribendi, meaning “an uncontrollable urge to write”, and it’s true. I love the very act of writing itself. With a pencil, pen, chalk, keyboards, whatever. It doesn’t matter. I feel compelled to do it, and there’s a well within me that won’t stop.
Over the last 20+ years I’ve written novels, screenplays, TV pilots, short films, TV spots, newspaper and magazine articles, movie reviews, a web series, web spots, blog and social posts, poetry, academic papers, and on and on. Come to think of it, the only mediums I’ve never written in would be theater and opera, and I’d much prefer to keep it that way #StayInYourLaneBro
All in I spent about 10+ years chasing Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Steinbeck in the NYC publishing industry (they weren’t there), then another 10+ years chasing Kasden, Eszterhas, and Koepp in Hollywood (they were there, but so were a whole lot of other people with ideas and laptops).
As for directing, I spent 15+ years directing, editing, and producing videos, short films, and web projects. And no matter how large or how small the project was, they were all Lawrence of Arabia to me.
After many years of
crawling up a mountain of broken glass writing spec scripts, shooting indie projects, and hustling contacts, I finally broke into Hollywood.
Within a couple years of breaking in, I had compiled a dream team I had no business of having (seriously). I had an attorney at the same law firm who represents Spielberg, Eastwood, and Oprah. A manager at the biggest management firm in the world (literally). And a NYC literary agent who regularly took down 7-figure deals.
While I was not walking with the Lord at that point of my life, I know in my heart the only way for all of that to come to together was from the Lord (especially if you understand the circumstances that made it all happen).
Over a period of the next 5 to 7 years the team around me gave me mind-blowing opportunities no one in my position had the right to expect.
On the film side, I developed and wrote multiple feature film projects with heavy-hitting A-List producers who already had global franchises on their wall. I had countless meetings at A-list production offices and studios with known people. I worked on film projects that were attached to global brands and was given VIP red carpet at every turn. And I pitched ideas endlessly to more people than I ever thought possible. All day, every day. In person. On the phone. Everywhere.
On the TV front, I developed pilots and series ideas at legendary TV production companies. I worked on a TV pilot / series with an A-List actress who was the star of the #1 show on television while we worked together. One series I developed was adapted from an autobiography written by a guy who’d been to warzones and broken bread with warlords. He’d survived things people aren’t supposed to survive. Seen things people aren’t supposed to see. Done things most people wouldn’t do in their dreams, let alone in real life. Yet even he struggled to understand Tinsel Town, as did I.
I have endless stories, and along the way I met all sorts of people. Endearing people. Nefarious people. Sincere people. Struggling people. Talented people. Talentless people. Mensches. Maniacs. And everyone in between. I met people who cared completely about the craft of storytelling, and people who cared nothing about the craft of storytelling, only about what a life of storytelling could afford them.
After 20+ years, I learned the craft of storytelling from the ground up. I learned the hard way. Through experience. Through failure. Through repetition. Repetition. Repetition. I learned what makes a great story, and why. Why some plots work, and others don’t. How to find the kernel of a story and water it. How to develop characters, and why motivation is everything. I learned how to gather the elements of a story, and how research can simultaneously be a blessing, and a curse.
Most importantly, I found my voice and learned my own process as a storyteller. It’s a process no one can steal or buy or inherent. A process you have to earn through time, energy, and ceaseless hard work.
Deep down inside, I was empty and burned out. Every project I worked on was as secular as the day is long. The stories overflowed with crime, violence, money, drugs, sex, broken characters doing broken things, and everything the darkness uses to deceive and destroy. All the while, there was always a deep yearning inside of me to work on something meaningful. Something that mattered. That would touch people. I knew it was inside of me, but I couldn’t understand what it was, or how to get it out. So I just leaned on what people wanted, which was ammunition for the secular cannon.
Beyond that, while I certainly learned the craft of storytelling, after all those years of blood, sweat, and tears, all the sacrifices my wife, children, family, and friends made along the way, not one thing I ever wrote or pitched or developed in Hollywood or the NYC publishing industry ever came to a successful fruition professionally or financially.
Not. One. Project.
When the cloud of lead settled and the last frames faded to black, I had worked for decades, yet, to the outside world, it was like I didn’t exist at all. And it left me with one simple question: “Why?”
It was a question that wracked my soul. I didn’t understand how it was possible to go as long as I had, to work with the people I did, at the levels I did, and see every project fall short.
Projects would be in the hands of people who said they were going to option them or buy them or finance them only to change their minds the next day. Literally. Projects would be on the table completely tee’d up, only to watch financiers balk, producers walk, or encounter a black swan events like a writer’s guild strike, or the collapse of the global finance markets.
One example of the insanity was a signed 6-figure contract in my drawer that the company decided to not pay even though the work had been delivered. And instead of engaging a prolonged legal battle with known players in the industry, I walked away devastated, confused, and broke with everyone around me wanting an answer I couldn’t give them because I didn’t know it.
Is some of this normal? Yes. Some of it is. But all of it? No. Not even close. Not by a longshot. How do I know? My own manager (a 20-year veteran at the most prestigious firm in the world) told me he had never seen anything like it, and that by all accounts, based on his previous experiences, he should’ve sold at least three of my largest projects over lunches.
Year after year passed and it became clearer that something was standing in the way of secular success. No matter what I did, nothing changed. And it went from wracking my soul to breaking me completely. Literally. Figuratively. And spiritually. To the point where I walked away from the storytelling industry altogether. I had become too disillusioned. Too bitter. Too broken.
A couple of (incredibly difficult) years later, when I finally asked the Lord to come into my life on a cold desert night, not only did He come into my life in a super powerful way, but He finally answered the enigma of my storytelling failures with the following five simple words:
Dead seeds in unfertile soil.
With those words the Lord revealed to me that I had taken a skill set He had bestowed upon me in my mother’s womb, a skill set He had given me to use to glorify Him and His kingdom, and I had chosen (poorly) to use it to glorify the Fallen World with secular projects. And there was no way He was going to reward me for those flawed endeavors. Not then. Not now. Not ever.
As the Israelites wandered 40 years in the desert due to their hard hearts and sin, I too had wandered the deserts of secular storytelling for decades until I finally decided to give up my sin and hand my hard heart, mind, body, and soul over to the Lord. And when I did, He was ready and waiting to use the skills He blessed me with for His original purpose.
That’s how GOOD the Lord is. He is the very definition of love, grace, and mercy. No matter how long you’ve run from Him, no matter how you’ve misused your skills and talents for other means, your soul, your life, and your original purpose remain of constant value to Him. He will never deny your return to Him. And He will use you, your life, and your skills to glorify Him and His kingdom…if you let Him.
As for me, I will only write and direct projects that glorify the Lord and His kingdom, simple as that. In fact, I wouldn’t be able to do anything otherwise now. And the success of the projects are tied to their completion, not a paycheck. My victory comes in completing the work for the Lord and watching Him do whatever it is He wants to do with them after I deliver them.
In the end, I can’t help but be reminded of Hannibal from the original A-Team when I think of the Lord looking down at me after all this time, and simply saying, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
Me, too, Lord. Me, too.
December 31st, 2020