In the spring, maybe summer of 2001, I read this in-depth article about television and film writers in one of the trades or maybe the LA Times. I'm not sure what the focus of the piece was, but what I remember was the palpable bitterness and disillusionment of the writers interviewed. At the time I was living a hand-to-mouth existence; a starving writer, working on spec scripts and living off of the charity of my friend at Bravo who got me a gig writing one-minute bumpers. The article made a deep impression on me. I was stunned by the level of discontent experienced by these very successful men and women. From what I recall the core of their anger was about creative control and respect. They were pissed off because the studio system always put commerce before creative integrity; they saw their work being compromised and dumbed-down time and time again. They wanted more power, more respect, more recognition. They were the A-listers and they all sounded fucking miserable. And I remember thinking -- What the fuck? Really? You have these amazing gigs, you get paid a shitload of money to do the thing you love and all you can do is bitch about what you don't have? They're behavior seemed completely irrational and I have a very vivid memory of saying to myself -- "Man, if I ever get a gig like that, I'm never gonna be that fucking ungrateful."
Over the past few months I’ve been experiencing a growing sense of disconnect from my creative passion. More and more the thing that I love to do is becoming just “a job”. Without knowing it, I’m turning into one of those writers who I swore I’d never be -- I have it all and I hate it all. I’m a fairly self-aware cat, so when I get to these places, I am forced to ask myself, “How the fuck did I get here?” In my inventory process I was surprised by how little I had to dig to reveal the truth. It’s quite obvious what turns passion into dissatisfaction - money.
Every writer has their own process, but for me, creating an imaginary world, characters, conflict, mythology is almost a spiritual exercise. I know that sounds goofy, but it’s the only way I know how to describe it. You see, I didn’t become a writer -- ten years ago, I was given the opportunity to realize that I have always been a writer. Telling story is my gift, it’s the thing the universe demands that I do. That discovery was a grueling and painful process for me. But that’s why I love to write, it’s why I’m driven to obsessive perfection -- I’m making up for a decade of lost time. I see every word on the page as divine direction. Really, I do. Hence, the Messiah Complex.
Which leads me back to the path of disillusionment...
Good writers begin with a deeply personal process that generates inspiration that we hope ultimately lands on the pages of a script. After that experience, we take that work to market, with the desire to impress and engage others with our art. If so, that body of work is purchased and transformed into a commodity. In that instant, our creation is no longer a personal extension of ourselves, it is now a tool of commerce that serves a greater entity. Here in lies the painful paradox as I see it -- from that point on we are still expected to generate deeply inspired work even though our baby is enslaved to a different master. So we sweat, bleed and toil for the thing we love without nearly the same level of gratification. It doesn’t matter who you work for or the nature of your project, the guy in the suit can tell you he’s all about the creative process, he understands artists, this is a safe forum... it’s ultimately all slick shit. Once you generate something that has commercial value, creativity falls low on the list. You are owned and money will always be the directive. Yes, that’s an extreme generalization, but the point is, especially with TV, the medium was solely created to generate income. The stuff that happens in-between commercials is secondary. Always was, always will be.
I guess that inevitability is catching up to me on Sons. I was under the false impression that the more successful the show became, the more room I would get to do it. But the opposite has occurred, the better the show becomes, the more corporate scrutiny I experience. This reality is chipping away at my spirit. At the end of my 80 and 90 hour weeks I start to ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Lately, my answers aren’t that convincing. And when “money” is my only response, it’s time to walk away.
The solution? I’m not sure. I’m not a quitter and my ego is too big to entrust the show to anyone else. I’ve contemplated setting myself on fire at Pico and Motor, but that seemed a bit extreme, even for me. So I guess I press on and continue to make the emotional and creative adjustments. In recovery, we talk about how expectations are future resentments. That’s very true in this case. I guess I need to stop going to the butcher shop for candy. I show up wanting something sweet and tasty and always end up with a slab of bloody entrails.
I love what I do and need to find a way to bring back that love. My life is always about finding the balance between love and fear. Perhaps that’s the bigger lesson here -- learning to stay focused on the love while I'm being bombarded with everyone else's fear. Easier wished than employed. Guess I have some tuning up to do this hiatus. I know I didn't work this hard to be miserable.