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Posts Tagged ‘Dreams on Spec’

My favorite shot in Dreams on Spec, a documentary on screenwriting, is where one of the writers trying to breakthrough is eating out with his wife and child. He tries to tell his wife (who works full-time and has the insurance for the family) about trying to get actress Terri Hatcher to read his script.  But his wife’s eyes are vacant and she appears uninterested probably from years (decades?) of hearing about his dreams deferred.

It’s a subtle moment and easy to miss. But the moment is not lost on the director and/or editor as they follow that moment with this quote by writer and therapist Dennis Palumbo;

“A writer’s life and a writer’s struggle can be really hard on relationships, very hard for your mate to understand. Your ups and downs, the fact that you’re spending all of these hours doing something that doesn’t seem to have a tangible reward. Not to mention the financial strain. Because for most writers they have to take day jobs that don’t bring them the kind of money and security that their mate would want, particularly if children start coming into the equation.”

When I was in film school in L.A. I worked for a short time at Frank’s Camera in Highland Park. I sold a camera one day to a fellow who worked in film production and I asked him if he had any advice and he looked at me dead in the eyes and said, “Don’t get married.”

It doesn’t take long to realize that 16 hour days (sometimes away from home), or days (or weeks, or months) without work is not usually conducive to a normal, healthy marriage. If you’re just starting out on your creative journey it’s best to be honest with yourself and your mate if you chose them to go on the journey with you (whether on the production side or the writing side), and you need to realize that if you go down this road it’s like joining the circus. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But not everyone likes the freak show.)

(Nov. 5 insert: As an example here is a note in my diary from 2007 that I just came across while cleaning up. “Yesterday I flew after a shoot in Charlotte to New York to Minneapolis to Waterloo, Iowa arriving home just before midnight. I repacked my things and went to sleep around 2AM, woke up at 5:30 AM to catch a 7AM flight out of Waterloo to head to San Francisco for a shoot.” Not a typical 24-hour period, but not a totally unique experience. )

Over the years I’ve been able to make one keen observation from at least the perspective of my male friends who have pursued careers as musicians, artists, photographers, writers or filmmakers, and that is the number one occupation for their spouses to have is in nursing. (Second is physical therapist which is really in the same camp.) I’ve given it a little thought and I think the reason is that nurses tend to like what they do, make good money, work irregular schedules and tend to be nurturing individuals.

Just making an observation. They tend not to teach those things in school.

By the way, I see where Frank from Frank’s Camera is still alive though his building just outside downtown L.A. is for sale for $5 million. Man, I should have stuck with camera sales.

Scott W. Smith


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As you watch the documentary Dreams on Spec you wonder if writers as a group aren’t just plain delusional. They live in a world where they are creating fictious stories in their head. Stories that are sometimes clear in their minds but that others don’t always see.  And there is a fine line between being delusional in your writing and being delusional in your life. It’s no wonder why so many writers struggle with drugs, alcohol, depression and strained relationships. (And sadly being published and produced doesn’t seem to be the cure.)

Every writer who has struggled with a story for years believes that there is a hill just beyond the horizon that if they can get over that hump then the waiting world will finally see their brilliance and shower them with adoration. (Or at least they’ll be able to pay the bills for a while.) So if you need a little hope today here’s a quote pulled from Dreams on Spec that may help you keep writing another day.

“I had a screenplay once where I was 90 pages in and I knew it was all over—I knew it was a disaster. It was driving me crazy because the studio had gone down a path with me so there was no getting out, and I didn’t knew how to get past these 90 pages. And then it all worked out. And the change which made it from absolute despair—that there was no way to save it— to it all working out was minute, but key.”

Producer/Director Writer James L. Brooks speaking about his script Terms of Endearment which went on to win five Academy Awards including three for Brooks (Best Director, Best Picture, & Best Writing).

Scott W. Smith

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Last night I watched the documentary Dreams on Spec which is a look at screenwriting from the perspective of those who’ve made it and those who are trying to make it. It’s reminiscent of Comedian which features Jerry Seinfeld’s behind the scene look of those trying to build a career as stand-up comedians. Both should be required viewing as they give a glimpse of the uphill battles, pitfalls, and realties of a creative career.

Dreams on Spec was written and directed by Daniel Snyder and in between profiling three screenwriters at various stages of trying to break into the industry he shows interviews with screenwriters Ed Solomon (Men in Black), James L. Brooks (As Good as it Gets), Nora Ephron (When Harry Met Sally) and others. I thought I’d pull some quotes for you this week, but I encourge you to watch the doc.

First up is writer/director Gary Ross (Seabiscuit):

“I think that it’s very easy to kind of give it away—give the definition of success away—empower other people in determining whether or not you have talent. And here’s the catch-22, the more you do that the less you’ll be able to write. That’s the hard thing, because writing is all about preservation, and strength and authority in your own voice. So if you give that voice away by guessing (Ross points to others) what you think, or what you think, or what you think as you go, you’re gonna have less to say and less to be able to write about, and less of an authoritative voice and then it goes away.”

Each of the up and coming screenwriters featured in the doc represents three common  stages of writing. There is one who keeps plugging away despite year after year of rejection, one who has mild success in actually getting a low budget script produce (walking away with around $20,000 and keeping his day job), and one that appears to quit. That probably covers 99& of the writers who will write the tens of thousands of scripts this year.


Scott W. Smith

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