They say you can't ever know if the Path Not Taken was the better choice. But maybe you can.
This piece was really relatable to me. I tried to make it as a screenwriter and actor for several years before getting back my travel roots. When I was pursuing screenwriting and acting, I was sucked into the world of egos and scams. In my case, it was mostly producers and industry professionals trying to get me naked, which lead to a few chapters my parents weren’t too fond of reading in my book Living with the In-Laws. The superficiality of the film world and the amount of trash screenplays being turned into movies got to me, so I went to university, started traveling again, and noticed it wasn’t just the film world that was all about money and “making it,” but American (in my case Canadian) culture.
Now I’m in Spain, and nobody asks me about my job or salary, which feels nice, being broke AF and all. When I think about my career goals, I feel like a failure, but here, people are more interested in the person I am, what I’m learning, my experiences, and of course, when I’ve available for a beer and tapas.
That being said, I still love film and screenwriting. I’m slowing working on a new screenplay that I could produce in Spain. Have you had any experience screenwriting outside of the Hollywood scene? I wonder if screenwriters not trying to make it Hollywood are less miserable.
The one experience I had selling something to Hollywood made me want to peel my skin off, so this really made me feel better about moving to the mountains.
Couldn't agree more about thoughts on "making it" and creative work. It's hard to always give the advice "human first, writer second" because I know just how people feel starting out, but the last thing I want to do is to keep hustling to make not-quite-enough at something I love doing (this is why I keep copy editing).
Oh, I love this so much. I do a lot of "what if" thinking, and I know I shouldn't. Middle age has definitely brought with it a lot of reflection, but I also know that I am happy with our life right now. We've had to go through some real shit to get where we are, but I am the woman, writer, and professional that I am because of all of those experiences and I like who I am 😊
Our lives do take us on quite a ride, and not always along the roads we'd mapped out. Of all forms of writing, it does seem that screenwriting is the most brutal. You're always at the mercy of the non-creative money people who can't see beyond the bottom lines. Art means nothing to most of them unless art can sell. The old days of low-budget quiet slice-of-life films seem to be gone, and that's a shame.
But being a nomad, traveling the world and sharing those experiences with thousands of readers who can't wait for the next installment ain't peanuts!
I love what you and Michael do here. I would have loved your films, too--I just know it.
I never made a serious run at trying to be a professional writer. However, I relate to your story a great deal because it has its analogs in a lot of different careers. From teachers to certain areas of law practice to restauranteurs, etc, etc, the difficulty of getting paid what one is worth for the very hard and dedicated work one puts in exists in so many unexpected (and expected) fields. I spent 12 years practicing criminal defense in the Bay Area and just barely eked out a living. I left for a job elsewhere and it's been much, much better. I too often wonder what if I had stuck it out. Maybe I'd be successful and still living in San Francisco, a city that is absurdly easy to fall in love with. But I also love where I live now and hope to join you very shortly on the nomadic trail.
Yeah! I love this. I love how Life moves us in the right direction. Every time. You made good choices Brent, it just took you a while to realize it. I get it. At 72 I recently wrote a post about redefining success. Finally got it that it wasn't about the (symbolic) oscar. It was about a life well-lived, living from heart and intuition. I hope I get to meet you guys one day. That would be awesome!
I just have to say Michael, you look faaaaabulous!
Awww, that warmed my heart. And the last sentence was gold.
This piece made me think. I also wished (& sulked & cried) on & off for 20+ years about living in Africa for most of my 20’s & all of my 30’s. I focused on what I missed. I am finally coming around to seeing all that I gained.
Wow, I knew it was a tough life, but it’s now worse than I ever dreamed. I enjoy reading you hear, but I confess I can’t conceive of what it takes for a screenplay.
Nomading sounds ever so much better! And you can still write, and be back in LA in half a day if something breaks, right? Think how deep in the hole you guys might be had you stayed in EXPENSIVE and increasingly depressing LA. Or Seattle, similarly descending into madness.
I hear so many stories of how long “overnight success” really takes! One of my favorite authors had his first book in 2009 optioned right away, but Netflix just made it last year. They changed the h€ll out of it, but it did well. The Gray Man, by Mark Greaney. (Yes, my guilty pleasure is action books and movies.) Mark did a great interview with Joe Rogan.
I’ll bet you could get on Rogan’s podcast. You are both fascinating people with cool experiences.
In fact, you two could do your own podcast about your lives and travels. You could do the video on your phone, walking around and in hotel rooms, no problem, post them to Rumble, ITunes, iHeart and (ugh)You Tube and even Twitter. Get advertisers. Or make your videos subscriber only on Locals or Patreon. I know there are a lot of ways to monetize stuff.
You can do audio group chats now on Twitter, let followers know, you pick yourselves and possibly a guest as moderators, everyone else listens and raises a hand if they wish to speak. They can be of wide interest like the travel, or special interest like LGBTQ+ or whatever you like.
And still work on books and screenplays. But evolve and adapt to new media avenues. Feature films are not the only money around.
Develop some cool merch, t-shirts or whatever, sell through outlets that make and distribute, you never handle a thing. There are several, mind a blank at the moment. I need to save these ideas, though!
Thanks for a great article, even though you took issue with my favorite city of all time, L.A. In truth, when I first moved to L.A. to go to college, I hated it for about 6 months. But I was determined not to run home like a couple of my friends did after short stints in San Francisco and San Jose. I never wanted to go back to the sundown town of Escondido where I had grown up. After about 6 months, I started enjoying the City of Angels. Unlike you, however, the only connection to the "industry" I really had was going to a lot of movies at the theatres. I did have my brush with fame, however, when I played an extra in the unforgettable movie, "FM". I was in the concert scene at the Cocoanut Grove at the Ambassador Hotel. After that experience, I knew moviemaking was not in the cards for me. The longer I stayed in L.A., the more I began to appreciate the "other" L.A. I graduated from college as a Geography major and started my career as an 8th. Grade teacher in a Catholic elementary school. I've long since left the Catholic school system, but I'm still a teacher today. I discovered some really beautiful spots in the City of Angels which I visited frequently. I met some really nice, genuine people far removed from the entertainment business. I even learned how to navigate L.A. without a car! That was a sure sign of the Apocalypse. Although I haven't lived in L.A. for over 40 years now, I live in a suburban enclave of a city which is quite a lot like L.A., San Jose. I've come to love San Jose just as much as I ever loved L.A. But L.A. will always hold a special place in my heart. It's the place where I finally grew up.
I've been thinking lately how I made the right choice of day job--a (relatively) stable field where I was employable and had salary and benefits far beyond what I could've made as a writer. The money I've made in my entire writing career is less than what I made in 6 months at the day job. But more than the money, I realize that psychologically, writing would have been a poor choice for me as a main career. The uncertainty, the insecurity, the constant rejection, are all detrimental to my mental health. Creating as my second job meant that I had the freedom to do projects I wanted, and even though I worked very hard, I could "let go" of the results.
The film industry seems like uncertainty on steroids. I so admire people who could make it in that field--as well as those who know it's not for them.
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This was a great piece of writing. Thank you! I think we can all relate to feelings of regret and what if’s about the past, and yet, as you point out if we had done things differently we might not have met the people we loved, or found something even better. I too could not stand L.A. and my husband got a job with the forest service there and left within a week even though they told him it would ruin his career because he just couldn’t stand it. Some places you know are right and some places you know immediately aren’t! I’m glad you followed your heart.
Not only should you have no regrets, but you and Michael may occupy one of the few "content" niches that won't be conquered by AI in the next several years. By the time GPT-7's on vacation in Thailand, the perils of screenwriting will be the least of our problems. :-)