My Unbelievable, Sometimes Horrifying, Ever-Perplexing but Entirely True Adventures in the Film and TV Biz: R.I.P. 9-5
Part Five: It’s About Time
And so I quit my 101st day job. There would never be a 102nd for this boy.
I had no savings; all of my money went to bills. This time, there would be no turning back. I personally had no safety net, but my wife was working full-time so there was at least some income coming in. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this strategy, but neither would I necessarily steer anyone away from it.
Base your personal answer if faced with this conundrum as to who you are as a human being. Who are you inside?
Are you an artist? A leader? An entrepreneur? An honest laborer?
Not a one is better than the other. But you need to decide that answer. I always knew that I was a writer. Throughout all the jobs, all the travails ... I never lost sight of my being. Writing was no longer - if it ever was - solely a passion, or a chosen profession.
It was my identity.
I wrote my book about surviving the day job experience (it’s long out of print, and presently unavailable), and spent the time I would typically spend at work sending out resumes for writing assignments ... while enjoying a wholly unexpected benefit of being an new author: Being paid to speak about, and being invited to sign, my new tome.
I began traveling throughout the United States as an “expert“ on artistic careers.
My routine was changing. I veritably lived on Craigslist. Following back-to-back films, and a book, I was on a roll. The writing jobs came. By the end of the year, I had earned more from Craigslist than I had in any year-long period working full or part-time making some other entity wealthy.
I believed I could sustain. It would not be easy: Craigslist was also - and remains - a haven for scams, and writing work that paid pennies per hour. I needed to kiss many frogs to hit the real opportunities. For every ten resumes sent, an average of one ”gig” was legitimate. A 10% reversion rate. From that 10%, I competed with dozens if not hundreds of other candidates. When I attained a new assignment, I added it immediately to my resume.
These projects did not earn me any bonafides in terms of perceived ability to work on larger, big-studio projects, but the experience, and the discipline utilized to garner that experience, was of immeasurable value.
I proved to myself that yes, indeed, I can write for a living. The question then became, What is it, exactly, that I ‘want’ to write?
As with the day jobs, I found myself becoming comfortable. That trait would prove to be a personal, ongoing battle. I was getting paid to write. Being a little “woo-woo” about it, I was meeting my destiny.
But I wanted more. I strived for a shot at industry respectability. It was not enough to simply pound a keyboard, and deliver projects for which I had no passion. It was time for me to break into the real film and television worlds, those produced by studios, and networks. I’ve done a few smaller films to this point. It was time to attain the next level.
Months later, I met my friend, writer Dan Yost, at Starbucks. Dan had written one of the preeminent independent films of the 1980s, Drugstore Cowboy. Many viewers did not know that Drugstore Cowboy was based on a true story, as the film was not marketed as such. It was, in fact, based on the life of James Fogle, Dan’s lifelong friend.
During our meeting, Dan showed me a box. Inside of the box was a stack of perhaps 200 handwritten letters, written by James to Dan during the former’s various stints in prison. Dan and I agreed to develop a TV show together about those letters.
Neither of us had ever sold a TV show before, but that didn't matter. We all had to start somewhere.
Dan and I teamed with another producer, and we set to pitch Dave Madden, who was then the head of FOX Studios.
Of our group, I was responsible for the pitch. I had diligently prepared ... and then the evening before we were set to go, Dan brought a certain YouTube clip to my attention: Dave, the executive we were pitching in the morning, had posted a video about “exactly” how to pitch him.
Immediately, I regretted watching it. It was nearly midnight, and our pitch was hours away. Suddenly, I had to unlearn what I had learned.
(Note: There is no one way to pitch; everybody and every company has their own rhythm. I always suggest doing your own online research as well. I still do after all these years.)
We’re all sitting, Dave looks at me and says, “You’re up.”
I look at him, didn’t say a word for a moment - getting my partners nervous - and elected for this impromptu ice-breaker: “Dave, I just have to tell you. I was prepared, so ready ... until about midnight last night, when the asshole to my left showed me your pitch video.” They all laughed nervously. “Now I’m all ferklempt and I’m blaming you.”
Everyone was stunned. Dave broke into a broad smile. “Love it. I’ll give you two minutes.”
I pitched the project, and we sold it.
You never know.
Here is the actual video I was sent the night before our pitch. Dave’s advice is priceless. The above exception aside, you really do have less than a minute to capture the executives’ attention ...
I had made some films, and I had just sold my first TV project. Why then, did things only become harder from there?
You will never believe the conclusion of this saga.
TO BE CONTINUED ...