So I’m having a Rat Pack moment the other day, sipping a martini and listening to Frank Sinatra singing “L.A. Is My Lady,” a song in which he uses the City of Angels metaphorically for his romantic relationships. Yeah, it’s just a typical Thursday for me, when it strikes me that my own version of the Chairman of the Board’s hit would be “Writing Is My Lady.” And I know what you’re thinking: “Mark’s probably just saying that because he’s currently single and tends to see everything in the universe as a metaphor for a woman.” Okay, that’s true. You know me so well. But all that’s beside the point. The fact is that the arc of the script-writing experience absolutely parallels that of a romantic relationship. No, really. So quit giving me the stink-eye.
The genesis of every great script is the same – finding that amazing idea, the one worthy of several months of the writer’s time, multi-millions of the studio’s budget, and $12 and two hours of each audience member’s life – give or take $35 for a large popcorn and a box of Milk Duds. Oh, sure, we writers can have dalliances with an array of perfectly adequate ideas, but the great idea, like the great romantic partner, is rare. Which is why when we encounter either one it feels like magic. And why they throw money at a good idea like Russell Crowe tossing a telephone at a hotel desk clerk’s head – without fully thinking it through.
Naturally, we want to explore that magic. Find out everything we can about our idea, or about our romantic partner. Spend time with her, him, or it. Converse. Research. Run a background check. It’s The King and I’s“Getting To Know You” phase in which, whether it’s a wonderful idea or an amazing romantic partner, I notice that suddenly I’m bright and breezy because of all the beautiful and new things I’m learning about her/it day by day. Disgustingly sappy? Sure. But it’s okay, ‘cause I’m in love with a great idea or a great woman. So pour on the sap. It’s chocolate to me, baby.
Once I’ve spent enough time in the cocooning phase with my new PSO (Potential Significant Other), it’s time for us to appear together in public as a couple – our coming out, as it were. Show ourselves off. Let the world know of our love. Similarly with the written idea – we take it out of the drawer, run it by our friends, neighbors, fellow writers, for their feedback, hoping that they’ll equally embrace our idea and romantic partner – though for them, singing Rogers & Hammerstein is completely optional.
If the feedback is positive at this stage, we up the stakes, taking the idea to the next level – agents, managers, development executives. This is potentially the most dangerous level, because the idea can be killed here for any number of reasons: “It’s derivative,” “It’s already in development,” “Not commercial enough; it’ll never sell.” The equivalent danger territory here in romance is introducing our PSO to our family, whose negative response can cause the relationship plug to be pulled faster than Ricky Gervais being invited back again to host the Golden Globe Awards.
At a certain point, we push aside all our other writing projects – and dates, to focus exclusively on this one writing project – and date — that has so captivated us. Our friends have no need to ask what we’re working on or whom we’re seeing, because those ideas/PSOs are with us all the time. We eat, sleep and breathe them – which can’t be healthy, but what choice do we have? We’ve become obsessed.
Yet obsession seldom lasts. Eventually, the initial flash of excitement over the script dims, as we settle into the hard work of writing. The relationship’s honeymoon period often ends as the couple deals with the day to day challenges and conflicts inherent in making any long-term relationship work, and the writer in making the script work. Finally, if we manage to solve all the script’s major problems, we’ve truly bonded with it. We’re engaged.
From there, it’s smooth sailing ‘til we finish the script, perhaps allowing ourselves the relief and joy of a celebration to acknowledge the important accomplishment. And likewise, of course, to acknowledge the completion of our life as a single person – the bachelor party.
And before we know it, we’re entered the period of registering – at city hall for our marriage license, at Bloomingdales for our wedding gifts, at WGA Script Registration for, well, you know. Registering the script gives us some degree of legal protection, just as the wedding makes our marriage legal.
At the subsequent wedding party, we appear for the first time in public together as husband and wife, fully registered, with all due legal protections. And when we walk into that movie lot office to pitch our script to the highest-placed executive our agent can talk into a meeting – we also do so as writer and script, fully registered, with all due legal protections.
Aah, this is the honeymoon period, in which the writer has not a care in the world; just every expectation of the ultimate in gratification – selling the script. Just as on your honeymoon when you might be offered drinks at poolside or on the beach, movie studio assistants offer the writer drinks before the pitch meeting. Okay, they’re bottled waters, but they’re still drinks. And after each pitch session, the writer turns to his agent, manager, or writing partner and asks the equivalent of the honeymoon’s, “Was it good for you, too?”
Invariably, as the pitches continue, instances of negativity rear their ugly little heads. Development executives point out weaknesses in story, character, theme, and dialogue. There’s trouble in paradise at home, too. Just three short months ago, your blushing bride was referring to you as “Mister Perfect.” Now, however, she is truly miffed that Mister Perfect: a) constantly leaves a snail-like trail of clothing, food and newspapers throughout the house wherever he roams, b) can’t stand her mother or most of her other relatives, for that matter, and c) somehow neglected to mention that he’d rather impale himself on a javelin than become a father.
Flash forward. Your script is rejected everywhere. Your agent informs you that your script is dead in the water. Your agent also informs you that you are dead in the water – and drops you from his client list. This coincides, of course, with your wife filing for divorce. So, suddenly, you’re unmarried, unrepresented, miserable, and convinced that you will never again find someone to love, or success as a writer. Days, months, or years go by. Then, one day, you meet this really cool woman… and get this really exciting idea for a movie…
So, yes, writing is indeed my lady. It’s every writer’s lady – or gentleman, depending on your preference. I’ve been through all these stages with both my women and my writing, and I definitely have a love-hate relationship with both. In fact, just thinking about it suddenly gives me writer’s block. So I’ll let Frank take it on home, with a bit more from “L.A. Is My Lady.”
The music she moves to is music that makes me a dancer,
I brought her my wildest dreams, and she came up with the answer…
It may not have lasted, but each time I thought it was heaven…
[Note: “L.A. Is My Lady” was written by Alan Bergman, Marilyn Bergman, Quincy Jones and Peggy Lipton Jones. And no doubt songwriting is their lady.]