A Sore Subject

I have had so many inquiries from those of you who have been following my journey this year, regarding my having taken a job with a friend to write a screenplay.  I have posted many funny and amazing stories about this journey of taking one man’s experience and writing a screenplay that does justice to his extraordinary moments.  All in 120 pages.

My work on this project took five months of my life and led me to amazing people and my going to The Film School in Seattle, fly fishing with Tom Skerritt and his wife Julie, finding amazing mentors to work with me, learning about fundraising and producing. What I have learned about myself as a writer and about the business of making movies has been invaluable.

Yet, what I have learned about the way the industry works has been disheartening even more so than I already thought I was aware of.  In the end, as those who become agents or lawyers in the mix do, the project was taken away from me, contracts disregarded, I was not paid and my friend vanished in search of Hollywood.  So I lost a friend. It is always hard to deal with any disappointment or feeling of betrayal anytime, but when it happens with a friend, I am always stopped in my tracks and need to find my way to making sense of what happened.  And I notice here that I use the phrase, “I am always”.

What I have come to know is that betrayal is commonplace.  Betrayal is to be expected.  Betrayal is in fact …necessary.

The irony is this.  My very first screenplay of nearly 20 years ago was entitled “A Necessary Betrayal”.  It is very appropriate that I must revisit my premise in that screenplay in my own life.  The pitch went something like this: “The wife of a pedophile priest finds her own dark side in the arms of another”.  Very melodramatic eeh? The rub in that story was….who did the betraying?  Did the priest betray the wife and the children or did the woman who dealt with her pain and claustrophobia in the church, betray him?  Did they each betray themselves and their higher sense of what is right?  All of the above.  So, in that story the pain of the betrayal by someone she loved led her to see how she had betrayed herself and in fact was capable of the same things she railed about.  Hmmm.

Wiki says this about betrayal: Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals.   It always seems easier when it is an organization or anonymous person you feel backstabbed by, but when it is your family and friends it is an entirely other thing. We least expect betrayal from those we have learned to trust. The hardest part of this story is the need to ask this question:  How am I responsible and how did I contribute to the outcome and create the betrayal?  This question is far more difficult to sit with than the event of loosing a job, or pay or a friend. Because if we answer the question honestly, we cannot be a victim.

In the end this question leads to our inevitable responsibility for “self-betrayal”.  I, in fact, did not listen to my inner voice whenever it cautioned me to not take this project.  I over-road my inner knowing for the glimpse of a possible future for the story I was writing being on the screen. This was no different from my friend over-riding his loyalty to our agreement for the lure of a possible bigger deal in Hollywood.  Therefore, as within, so without.  OUCH!  My inner reality of self-betrayal was mirrored by the circumstances of betrayal in my relationship to my friend and the project.

This awareness is life changing.  In embracing the painful truth of this, there is no victim.  I am not done to.  I am a creator in my own outcome. In all honesty if I had listened to my own voice from the beginning I would not have taken the project.  I believe this wholeheartedly.  Bravely, each of us would do well to look at those betrayals in our lives that we hang on to or feel so effected by.  Affairs, swindling, robberies, cheating, broken promises done with intent, broken contracts for a better deal.  How have we contributed to those outcomes?  Has our fear created a response in kind?  Have we failed to speak up when we see injustice happening?  Did we fail to confront our deep intuition that a husband is cheating or a boss is ripping us off?  Did we have our head in the sand?  Why?  These are hard but necessary questions.  Blame is far easier than self inquiry.

Being a victim in life is far too easy.  Feeling victimized carries with it powerlessness.  Taking responsibility for the outcomes of our love or business relationships is a stance of power and personal responsibility.  I am endeavoring to stand in this place even in the midst of disappointment, loss and financial difficulty and dust myself off.  I need to embrace my tendency to believe in only the best in a person and not see other signs that I might act upon to protect myself or create clearer contracts in life.  From this vantage point the loss of this amazing project is simply “a day in class”.  A master’s level course in knowing myself and standing up for what I know to be true.  In this case I can be grateful for the learning so it may not happen again. I have become sensitive to the signs in myself and around me that I overlooked before.

And what I know is that the betrayals, especially in the entertainment business, are inevitable.  I am stronger and more prepared in myself to do a better job of taking care of myself and seeing the industry for what it is.  So, in the end I can thank my friend for all I have learned that I would not have without him and my future involvements will be clearer and more tuned to my own needs and knowing. I can only wish him well and will be the first in line to see the movie if it comes to a theater.

The post script in all of this is a silver lining.  As this project that consumed most of my life slipped away, a space was left, and experiences and opportunity that could not have come my way have.  Projects much closer to my heart and more tuned to the person I am are now available.  And I have finally started to do my own project, a story needing telling that I would not have gotten to for a long time if there had not been room made for me to fill.  I learned that what I am even more passionate about than writing for film is producing.  This is a new awareness for me as it is unbelievably exciting.

So, before I sat to write an answer to all the questions I have been receiving, I thought long and hard about what to say.  Knowing the subject of betrayal is a sore one for most of us.  And I knew I needed to be very candid about myself…publicly.  But, I think that what has come with age is my deep awareness that living a life un-clothed is far more interesting, invites far richer and real engagements with people and allows me to find the honest answers in myself to share with you.

Thank You.

Life as a Movie

We see a close up shot of a grey river inching over the rocky bank, as the swollen current rushes in torrents past a quaint cabin.  It is dark. We see, through warmly lit windows, white papers spilling over couches and chairs, dishes piled high on the counter, and a woman, who may have been in her pajama’s for days on end, hair disheveled, wild-eyed at her computer, writing feverishly.  Is she calling for help on the only communication device she has, asking to be airlifted out of the god forsaken wilderness by helicopter before she is swallowed up by the river or even worse? There is a knock at the door!

She wonders if the scene she is beginning to write on her computer will ever be completed and becomes confused about whether the story she is writing is the wrong one:  As the camera moves in we see on the blue computer screen, these words.

 “Scene opens with instant close up shot of a man in blizzard conditions, face barely visible under the neoprene climbing mask, struggling to summit the last few feet of Denali.  We see no one else but him.  He is exhausted, unable to breathe at 20,000 feet as he is reaching for a hand and then foothold.”

Maybe being swept away in the current of a freezing river, only to be washed ashore and taken in by a pack of wolves where she becomes “Wolf Woman” and terrorizes other tourists that do not suspect that being lost in the wild might be a dangerous proposition, is the real movie.  Or maybe she is held as collateral for the white slave trade that is in partnership with the Meth labs dotting the barren landscape….maybe she should be writing this story.  Hmmm which would make a better movie?

So, my week in the wilds of Missouri marched along to include mud, rain, Todd wandering unshaven, a wild man,  on the back roads in his Hummer in order to find a new way to get out of where we were since the river might have been uncrossable.  Possums on the porch, an eerie absence of all animal life, save the occasional squirrel and yes the birds finally returned.  But not many of them.  The time turned me from sceptic that where I was could be hospitable or in fact endearing.  The stark area we were settled in became the perfect remedy for an overactive mind and rest settled deep into my bones.  The time with Todd went from two frazzled visionaries, to two rested, well fed, laughing people thrown together by an idea who produced a product far from my wildest expectations.

Now, I have the task of taking a week of inspired ideas, crazy excitement and scenes that made both of us cry and put it all on the written page which translates to each page being one minute of screen time.  My first job, the harder one, is to make the first five pages, the first five minutes, so inescapably tense and mesmerizing that ever single person that reads it either wants to buy the story, put hard cash and their first-born on the table and get the movie made.  Studios want only to see the first five and if you hook them you get asked to send the whole screenplay for consideration.  This is what I am doing now that I am tucked back with my less than wild cats Snow and Hazel,  here in Asheville.  I have my purple comforter pulled up all around me as the cooler air of winter is dancing through the trees outside my window and oddly I find myself missing Missouri.  Who would have thunk it?

Next stop Virginia.  But that is a another story.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Mary Oliver