Friend of this blog, Sean P. Carlin, wrote a moving and fascinating post about quitting the screenwriting industry at forty — and turning his focus towards novel writing.
As you’ll see, he had been working in Hollywood for over a decade, and so the decision must have been a hard one. And yet he clearly feels excited about his new writing plans, and the novels he’s working on.
At the beginning of my thirty-ninth year, I initiated, either by coincidence or subconscious design, a trio of unrelated long-term projects. The first, of course, was my novel. After years spent trying to sell mid-budgeted genre material to an industry that was no longer buying—I’d signed with my first manager, after all, at twenty-two—I walked away from screenwriting. I wouldn’t necessarily say it was a difficult choice—any more than climbing off the Titanic and into a life raft would’ve been—but I certainly felt the weight of it. I’d spent thirteen years in Hollywood, after all, playing the game, fostering relationships, taking meetings, pitching production companies, cranking out specs, and dealing with more industry assholes afflicted with an incurable condition aptly termed “confidence without competence,” and quitting meant, in many respects, starting from zero again: None of my hard-earned associations in Tinseltown would be worth a damn in the new frontier of publishing. All the sacrifices—uprooting my life to Los Angeles in the first place—could be deemed, from a certain point of view, in vain. But I knew this much: Staying the course, to use a tired cliché now forever associated with epic geopolitical failure, was only going to result in more squandered time, more second-guessing down the road. And with forty looming, I felt I didn’t have any more time to screw around.
It was the best professional decision I ever made. I’m in the most creatively happy and productive period of my life, and my forthcoming novel, Escape from Rikers Island, is a source of pride and personal delight I can’t wait to release into the world.
The post also offers some insightful and bracing comments about the difficulties of building up friendships in the screenwriting industry (or any other artistic field).
Relish your true friends, Carlin seems to be saying.
None of us have very many friends, and anyone who thinks they do is a fool, or otherwise far more fortunate than I—and I’ve yet to meet a luckier man in that particular regard.
I can’t speak to how this applies to other industries (just as fittingly, I’d wager), but it’s important for creative professionals—writers and filmmakers, aspiring and otherwise—to understand that you have no friends in this business. Your colleagues aren’t necessarily your friends, much as you might have in common. In the end, they’re vying for the same finite breaks as you, so don’t confuse camaraderie—which has its own type of value—for friendship. Your agents/managers certainly aren’t your friends. Never forget, no matter the opportunities they may facilitate for you, the nature of their existence is parasitic: They’re only looking out for your professional interests insofar as those align with their professional interests. That’s not to say it can’t be a mutually fruitful affiliation, but don’t mistake it for what it isn’t. In a creative business like Hollywood, we spend a lot of time with likeminded colleagues bonding over common cultural touchstones, developing our wildest fantasies into saleable products in a collaborative atmosphere, investing our time and shared passions in projects that we all want the best for; under those circumstances, it can be easy to confuse what is at heart a working relationship for something more profound—a friendship. It is no such thing. Differences in taste and opinion or unexpected changes in priority are often—usually—the death knell of such associations, no matter how secure they seemed as recently as last week; at any moment, happenstance can expose their fundamental fragility, and that’s not the stuff of friendship.
Which is not to say that’s a bad thing. Are you friends with your accountant? Your barber? Your doctor? Of course not. Those are unambiguously transactional relationships, and so should be the case with your representation. The sheer amount of schmoozing required in Tinseltown, however, and the fact that we lay our souls bare in the material we produce, often leads us to believe the people with whom we’re working are more than mere business advisors or colleagues—that they are, in fact, friends. They aren’t—nor should they be.