Alligator Tales: A Cheesy Way to Start

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.

4 thoughts on “Alligator Tales: A Cheesy Way to Start

  1. Larry Kostroff

    There’s no one–I read many–that I resonate with more than Pen Densham.
    I agree totally with the comments of Deke; thanks for the term “imposter Syndrome”.

    I’ve also taught classes at various schools–sans degrees–and identified “passion” as the duct tape required to keep us all–student and teacher–toiling away at the craft.

    Keep your articles coming.

  2. Eilis Mernagh

    Totally agree with this – I spent four months working on a script with a producer and eventually decided, even though the script was probably better than it had been originally, to pull the plug. Because the script wasn’t mine anymore and I had lost all passion for it. Sure, it was slicker, but something had been dropped along the way and that was its spark, the thing that kept me coming back to it.

    Writing is a compulsion, one I sometimes wish I could kick so I could get some nine to five and be satisfied with that. But in reality, I wouldn’t swap this addiction for anything.

  3. Shirley

    This is so interesting to me since I am the product of the education system trying to keep my “passion” from being killed along the way (that is, before I graduate) by well-meaning professors. Anyone crazy enough to want to do this (writing) needs passion.

  4. Deke

    Thank you. Now I know what I have – “Imposter Syndrome”. I always feel after writing or getting notes back that I am barking up the wrong tree and not really the writer I think I am. Then later, I just feel compelled to write again. Take another shot. I think all writers must feel this way beacause I’ve seen it in other blogs. Are we all insecure, self-doubting, introverts? It’s a wonder we keep at it. Just happy to see it stated by someone with success under thier belt.