Photo: Peter Hoare
As I write this, I just signed a contract to executive produce a pilot for Comedy Central. The ink is still drying. And a mere hours earlier, I emailed a bona fide celebrity the latest draft of a screenplay we're developing together, which he's attached to star in.
I didn't write that paragraph to brag. I wrote it to set up the story of how I got here, and how you can get here too.
In November of 2007, nearly six years ago, somewhere between 7 and 8 pm, I sat in my car in the parking lot of a Chili's in East Northport, New York. There I sat, listening to the radio while shoveling an appetizer sampler that I had just ordered from the Chili's to-go window into my stupid mouth. Now, you may ask, why did I order an entire appetizer sampler for myself when it's clearly meant for a group? Also, why couldn't I have had at least a shred of dignity and waited until I got home to eat it? The answers to those questions are not significant. But what happened next is.
As I sat there, knee-deep in Southwestern egg rolls, a song came on the radio. It was "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads. And while I have always dug the Talking Heads, the song merely served as the soundtrack to my pre-diabetic feast. That is, until the chorus hit.
"You may ask yourself, 'Well, how did I get here?'"
For some reason, when David Byrne sang those lyrics, they hit me like a punch in the face. Let me explain.
I’ve always been happiest when I was creating and entertaining, or at least attempting to entertain, in some way. I'm a Leo in every possible way. From an early age, I knew that I wanted to either write or direct films. Anyone who knows me can attest to this. In many ways, it's what defined me as a child. But during the sea of alcohol, women and post-adolescent debauchery that was my 20s, I lost sight of what truly made me happiest.
It's something that happens to too many of us. We gradually relinquish the hope of making a living out of doing something we're passionate about.
And while my life was nothing to actively complain about, I was still worlds away from where I felt I belonged. I had a desk job that I had absolutely no passion for, and if I didn't do something about it, that job was no doubt going to become my actual career, a career that I'd one day retire and collect a pension from.
What the f*ck? How did I get here?
The very next day, with zero prior experience, I started writing a screenplay.
Well, actually, no. I didn't start writing a screenplay. I started a journey of sorts, one that I'm still very much on today -- and that led me to screenwriting. Prior to that day, the only writing I had done was college papers, Facebook updates and the captions underneath lewd drawings on various Long Island bathroom stalls.
But after that car feast, I had tunnel vision. I zeroed in on what I wanted. I outlined. I brainstormed. I read. I wrote. It's all I did. I wrote and I rewrote, which I've come to learn is the most time-consuming part of the writing process. And then, once I had a first draft, a 100-page comedic screenplay that I was preposterously proud of, I thought to myself, "Well, what now?" I was a guy with zero writing experience in New York, where every kid at NYU has a screenplay that they're touting as the next big thing. And they're formally trained, and they're younger.
That didn't deter me. I wanted this. Prior to this experience, I'm not positive that I ever really truly wanted something before.
However, having a finished screenplay means absolutely nothing. A feeling of personal accomplishment aside, I could have 100 screenplays. I still had absolutely no "in" as far as getting my work read by anyone who could make something of it.
People in Hollywood don't read unsolicited material, which is to say, material not presented to them by an agent or literary manager. And then, in a frustrating catch-22 of sorts, agents are reluctant to read material from first-time writers. It's a hurdle that's hard to surpass. However, I found a way -- by being the most annoying, albeit wonderfully bearded, son of a bitch in the world.
I, by using a website called WhoRepresents.com, which is a site listing the names and (sometimes) contact info for anyone who works in the entertainment industry, emailed and faxed everyone. Agents. Managers. Lawyers. Writers. Actors. The prostitutes certain actors frequent. The alien Tom Cruise writes his checks to. In one day, I literally sent hundreds of emails and almost as many faxes to strangers -- strangers who were in no way interested in reading my crap. But I didn't care. I had nothing to lose. I'd have sent a gaggle of carrier pigeons to Judd Apatow's house if I had them readily available.
Luckily for me, trained birds weren't necessary. One agent responded. That's all I needed -- one "in." I, more motivated than I'd ever previously been, was determined to turn that inch into a mile.
Genuine motivation goes a long way. Allow me to get my hands on a spoon and I'll be goddamned if I don't find a way to tunnel out of prison.
Four years later, not only is that very screenplay currently in development, but I also have two others in various stages of development within the entertainment industry. And, on top of that, you're reading this right now. And, more important than anything else, in this one aspect of my life, I'm truly happy.
Now, please don't confuse what I'm saying here. I'm, by no means, writing this to sound like a "pompous preachy prick" or to try to make it seem like I'm some kind of a big shot. Trust me, I’m far from it. I spent last Friday night, a 31-year-old single man, in my one-bedroom apartment, in my underwear, playing Mario Kart. I'd bet Clooney has never kicked off a weekend by yelling, “F*ck you, Diddy Kong!”
A big shot, I am not. I'm just a dude who writes screenplays, TV shows and Internet columns. But guess what? That’s exactly what I always wanted to be. Four years ago, I decided what I wanted to do, I rediscovered what made me truly happy and I made sure that I got there. I wasn't content to just sit idly by and let life's current pull me out into whatever apathetic sea I was drifting toward.
People get lost. Sometimes you think you’re headed somewhere, but then life gets in the way, and it causes a butterfly effect of sorts that sends you to a place that you never dreamed you'd wind up.
Don’t be afraid to stop and ask for directions.
Four years ago, I made a conscious effort to become the man I am today. I ain't special. It's something you can do, too.