It happened last Tuesday. Around 3:00 pm, to be exact. I was at my computer working on a pitch for a TV series when the phone rang. It was the producer of a film I had written. "The studio called," he said. I sensed a slight hesitation in his voice. "Yeah, they're going a different way with the next draft." The way they were going, as it turns out, was not my way. He was calling to tell me I was fired. Suddenly, time sort of stopped. Then something happened that I thought only occurred in movies. I had a flashback.
Well, more of a montage, really. I revisited the moment, five years ago, when I had originally sold this project on a pitch. Quite a bit had happened in those five years. I had, of course written many drafts of it. I had also moved back east, gone through a horrific break-up, lost all my money, returned to L.A., fired my agents, changed managers and had inched five birthdays closer to the grave. During that same time, the movie had gone into turn-around no less than three times. Several directors and a couple of movie stars had come and gone. I had seen the film announced with great fanfare in the trades (twice) and for a period of time it had (oddly) even been listed in my IMDB credits despite the fact that not a single frame of film had ever been shot. In some development circles the script became mildly famous for the sheer number of times it had risen from the ashes. Recently, a new director had come on board with a fresh and dynamic vision for the film. I had already written two drafts for him by late October and the studio (once lukewarm on the project) now seemed genuinely behind us. In fact, all news emanating from the palace had thus far been excellent. Enthusiasm was high. When the WGA strike finally settled, rumor had it that the head of the studio had sent down a set of "polish" notes. Once those were taken care of, we were going to talent! I was ready. I was excited.
"They're going a different way..." The producer then told me what sort of writer the studio wanted to hire next. "Why?" I asked. Was there a specific reason? The producer didn't seem to know of one. Apparently, he hadn't asked. I offered a theory. He had no opinion on my theory. I asked if he might be willing to ask the studio why I was being canned. Everyone had been so happy with my last draft or so I was told. Who was having problems? Was there a chance that I could address their concerns and save my job? He thought it was "unlikely." I heard the deep, hollow thud of the palace door closing. I was fired.
Okay, I've been around. I'm not unaware of how these things work. It's not that I don't get it. I do. Someone was unhappy. Chances are I will never know exactly who. I can, however, guarantee you this: Over the next six months I will hear at least three totally conflicting versions of who signed my death warrant and why. None of them will make any sense. And it doesn't really matter. This shit happens. There was just one little problem. I loved that script. Its core story was based on something deeply personal and I was tremendously proud of it. It was solid and funny and human. It was my baby. And now at a very crucial point in its journey, not only had I lost custody, I had lost visitation rights.
The next few days were a little rough. As sometimes happens when I get a piece of bad news, it quickly attached itself to other bits and pieces of my life that I wasn't too crazy about and together they formed a little train called the "Loser-Land-Express." Not only was I fired, I was also old, ugly, unmarried, poor, talentless and fat. Despite pep talks from my manager and some other folks who care about me, the cloud continued to hover. I returned to work on my TV idea and managed to make some decent headway. I did some research for a new feature idea. I scribbled. I ate bad food. I went to the gym hoping for redemption. I tried to be nice to others. And I wondered (yet again) why I'm in a business where people are always telling me to "not take it personally" and why I have such a hard time doing that. By the end of the week, things had improved a little. I was reminded (yet again) that the only real salvation is the work itself. As anybody who writes movies for a living can tell you, occasionally the speeding car has to go over the cliff and burst into flames. It can't be helped. For reasons that may or may not make sense to you, sometimes it's just your turn to be the human sacrifice. Maybe the director wants your job, or the producer thinks you're lazy, or the exec doesn't think you're funny or you used too many big words in a meeting and somebody got intimidated. What the fuck? We can only do our best.
When news of the ax falling on my swanlike neck got around, a fellow writer (and good friend) called to console me. She reminded me that being fired is not unlike a love affair coming to an end -- full of high drama and low behavior. It was depressing, sure. Debilitating, of course. But in a sense, I was free now; free to move on; free to discover a new, exciting and more fulfilling love. I thanked her for her insight while secretly thinking she was utterly full of shit. But then I realized she had a point. Writing (like love) is transformative. And (like love) I'm almost always willing to believe in it and be led by it - often down some very unexpected paths. Hmmm. An unexpected path. I like the sound of that. It might make a great title for that short story about my dad I've been meaning to write. I love that story. I wonder if today is the day I'll actually start working on it. They're going a different way. What a coincidence. I am too.
Copyright 2009 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.
David Dean Bottrell is an actor ("Boston Legal") and screenwriter ("Kingdom Come") who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv