I’ve had the privilege of teaching a course at USC Film School, for MFA students, on creating stories and selling them. Informally, USC calls this their “Pitching Class.”
I regarded my goal for the class as slightly more expansive. I wanted to create a gateway of knowledge and confidence for the students, between the academic and the business worlds. To help them articulate what they had created and to try and guide them to surviving long enough with the best hope of selling themselves and their ideas.
I am not a product of the education system, in fact I left school at 15, in England. But I am a survivor who has loved the freedom of creating dreams and trying to realize them on the screen, since my partner John Watson and I founded our own film company (now called Trilogy Entertainment) when we were in our early 20s.
In order to teach, I had to ask myself questions. How had I survived in this business? Why was I still dedicated to taking the giant risks of time and resources of writing spec scripts and trying to sell them? How do I overcome my ever present “imposter syndrome” and fear of failure? On reflecting, I decided that my primary secret to survival and occasional success in this business has been a cliché. Passion.
It feels “cheesy” to hold out an overused term like “passion” to a room of 30 incredibly articulate and creative people. But when I look inward and ask myself: Why am I in this game? What keeps me writing and taking the pain of constant inevitable hits of rejection? I had to say that my emotional armor has been my desire to see my ideas grow into movies. But not just any ideas … I could look backward and see that the projects that I abandoned were usually ones that I thought fit someone else’s goals. They chased a fad. The projects I stayed with had welled up from my subconscious and had often seemed far less commercial. Yet, strangely when I add up the averages, I have fought longer and harder for these personal scripts. I went back and re-worked them more often to try and make them clearer and better. And I have got these made more frequently.
By overcoming my doubts and letting my inner voice write, I think I was creating from my real instrument. The part of me that is in touch with my deeper subconscious observations, my feelings, my life experiences, and the plain imprint of my inherited DNA.
I do feel unashamedly passionate about these pieces. And they come in all flavors, comedies, fantasies — historical epics. But they all have an imprint of my voice. I call them “Life Scripts.” And I am convinced that even if they don’t sell, I have helped myself tune and improve my instrument when I write them.