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From Option to Premiere: A Writer's Journey #2

September 2, 2012

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To paraphrase an old military adage: movie-making is a lot like war—long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of life and death.

And so … I (we) wait.

Let us recap the process so far, the process every writer can expect after optioning a script:

#1: Flurry of excitement, lots of Skype chats, phone calls, warm and fuzzy emails and team bonding.

#2: Legal documents signed, more bonding, producers move into packaging hell and money meetings.

#3: One or two status updates to keep me in the loop (always good for team dynamics), more packaging/money meetings.

#4: Hurry up and wait (the motto of every movie production), flurrying stops, emails go to a trickle, Skype seldom used—the “cone of silence” has descended.

We are currently in #4. This is the step that can drive any writer insane if they are not careful. In my case, I’ve been here so many times that I’ve learned how to negotiate step 4 with a certain degree of aplomb. The skill called for now is healthy detachment, while trusting that the producers are producing, the lawyers are lawyering, and the various unseen forces are moving in the shadows of pre-production; all working to move things forward.

But, what is detachment in this case? The consensus definition goes something like this: throw your hands up into the air, walk away and be done, because there’s no point. Walk away before you’re pushed away. Let go of it before it lets go of you, etc. Detachment in this sense is a form of preemptive strike. Well, that’s not detachment as I see it; that’s just cynical passive aggression. This gets you nothing.

Healthy detachment means being in the moment with intensity, passion and focus and in the very next moment being willing to let go and move on, satisfied and ready for whatever might be next. A perfect example of detachment is an infant who is determined to grab mother’s pearl necklace. All day long this kid grabs at those pearls determined, intense, undeterred, reaching and missing, reaching and missing—and when she finally grabs them, in the very next moment she lets go and is done, moving on. All that intensity doesn’t lead to disappointment or anger or resentment, or a refusal to let go of this thing so long sought after—no, it only leads to the next thing. What new shiny baubles are out there to grab her attention and her attachment?

That’s where I am now; I’ve grabbed the pearls, held them and have let go. Again, not cynically, not disappointed because things aren’t happening fast enough, or ruminating because I’m not getting cc’d in all the production office email chains. Things are still very much alive. The necklace is still dangling within reach. It’s just time to move on and know that when the time is right the pearls will be there—until they’re not. There are other shiny baubles.

Healthy detachment is a critical skill for any writer. Learn it, practice it, rely on it. You will be so much happier, and healthier, if you do.

(Note: The project title is Billy Miske, based on the true story of an American boxer in the 1920s who literately sacrificed his life to fight one last boxing match to save his family from ruin. U.K.-based M4West Pictures, Ltd. is the production company lead by U.K. producer Rebecca Tranter, with Stephen David Books producing in the U.S.)

Please read the first post in the series to get a better orientation as to the purpose and reason for this column. You can click on this link: First Post to read.

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