Finding my voice in writing, that act of you reading my words and hearing me saying them, is a most important milestone for writers. Finding your voice is a place a writer wants to get to. It’s what distinguishes you from others.

Numerous people over the years have noted they hear my voice when they read my words.

That didn’t happen by accident. The first pieces I ever wrote where my voice could be heard were in the late 1970s. That blossoming of finding me in the mix exploded in the 1980s. I was writing some pretty edgy shit, but it was rough around the edges. I happened into pockets of greatness in my early work, but much of that was not craft. It was nearly accidental.

I was raw. I needed help. The help of other writers. People who knew more than me. And I had to be in receive mode. Not Doug Bari hair-on-fire mode. Mouth shut. Listening to people who see your spark and want to take a chisel to your missteps.

Over a decade ago, I was invited to join a local screenwriters group. You had to be referred to get in. I was talking to a producer friend of mine and she said, “You need to stop writing in a vacuum. You need to be with other people who do what you do.”

And that’s when she told me about a local “secret” society of screenwriters. She got me the invite. I was hooked from my first meeting. Not only did I meet people who became friends, I met some true artists who really had a handle on what they were doing when they sat down at a keyboard. I met people who walked into the room with no agenda except to guide you to better outcomes in the work.

In late 2008, my mind hatched an idea to write a story about intolerance toward gay people. My twist was the guy isn’t gay – he’s a werewolf – society just treats him with the same filters.

When I wrote a first draft of my FAUX PAWS screenplay in 2009, I was okay with what I’d done. My screenwriter friends weren’t as okay as I was. They took turns kindly slicing and dicing – then frosted my drubbing with brilliant alternatives I had not considered. I did not go away mad. I went away determined.

A year later, I came back with a new version, hugely different from the first. I thought I had it in the bag.

My screenwriter friends didn’t like that one either. But once again, after the beatings, my morale improved. I was more determined than ever to get it right.

I came back a year later with a version that was half first draft and half second draft.

One of the senior writers looked at me across the table and said, “You keep waffling. Instead of having a werewolf who’s persecuted like he’s gay, just go for it and make your main character a gay werewolf.”

I’ve been fortunate to have my share of lightbulb moments in this life. That was one of ’em.

On the drive home, lightbulbs continued to come on except it was more like flashbulbs popping. The gay werewolf idea was inspired. And then it hit me. “There’s two of them! Buddy movie!” I was slapping the dashboard. “Of course!”

And that’s how we got to my gay werewolf couple. That’s what writers do for each other. “I’m not going to write it for you, but I will offer ideas you might not have considered.”

In the early 1990s, I led a playwriting group in upstate New York. Even though I was the only person attending meetings who had not published a play, the writers asked me to head things up. What I lacked in publishing creds was countered with actual production credits. I was a playwright by definition – I had been writing and having my plays produced in community theater environments for over 15 years at that point. Every month, it was usually the same group of folks. I suspect many of those writers I loved getting together with have passed – the regulars were all significantly older than me and I was bumping 40 at the time.

I liked that group.

While our writing crowd was usually solely composed of stalwarts, newbies occasionally joined with both good and bad results. Some new writers came there to do the work. Other new writers only wanted us to help them before they quickly exited the scene. In order to curb “drive-by” writers, our rule was you had to attend at least one meeting before you could introduce your own work.

At one point, there were two young people who weren’t writers of plays who wanted into the circle. As a group, we deliberated allowing newbies with no theater creds into our club. The decision was made – maybe we needed fresh blood. It would perhaps rejuvenate us.

I’ll call our lab rats Debbie and Rick.

The experiments did not go well.

Debbie was the first one in the barrel. She only lasted for 2 meetings.

Each month, a member was asked to bring a play of theirs and read a scene or two out loud. It was my turn to read aloud the first time Debbie sat down with us. I chose a scene from my play MANY STICKS which I’d had produced in Germany several years before.

I acted out a funny scene in the play that involved a conversation between two men and a woman.

Debbie sat upright, nodding occasionally.

Debbie called me a couple of weeks before our next meeting to tell me she was inspired and was writing her first-ever play. In fact, it was the first time Debbie had ever put a toe into the creative writing pool. She was super excited and wanted to know if she could read from her new work at our upcoming meeting.

I said yes.

When our get-together rolled around, Debbie was all smiles. She was giddy to share.

Debbie began to read. She wasn’t 2 lines into her scene before other writers started shooting me looks across the table. Debbie was reading my stuff. Verbatim. Let me repeat. Word for word. My lines. My words. My characters, albeit with different names. She laughed at each punchline of mine she’d stolen.

Debbie finished and gave herself a pat on the back for a job well done. She closed her notebook and wanted to know what we thought.

At first, it was just silence.

I cleared my throat. “Umm, Debbie, does any of this sound familiar to you? Like something you’ve heard somewhere before?”

Her face corkscrewed into a question mark. She placed a hand on her manna-from-heaven manuscript and doubled down with confidence on her newfound genius. “I was lying in bed and these scenes just came to me.”

One of the other writers sat up straight in his chair and made solid eye contact with Debbie. He tried to be tactful. “Some of these lines you read for us today sound like passages from Doug’s play that he read from last month.”

Debbie was not shy. Not about fake writing anyway. “No, I didn’t copy from Doug’s play.” She was pretty sure of herself.

One of the other writers leaned over the table and she just said it. “Actually, I think the words you read today sound just like Doug’s.”

At that point, I felt free to pile on. “Debbie, those are my lines. Word for word.”

Debbie didn’t want to hear it. She wasn’t embarrassed being called out, she was downright pissed. Defiant. She never came back. Okay by me.

It wasn’t long after Debbie’s attempt at plagiarism when I got a call from Rick. Rick was a young guy in his 20s who had written his first play and had heard about our group. He wanted to know if he could join.

I said yes.

Rick came to his obligatory first meeting, sat quietly, and before we concluded, he asked if he could bring his new play to the following month’s meeting.

I said yes.

When the next month rolled around, Rick sat with perfect posture in his chair, his new script open in front of him. Like Debbie, Rick couldn’t wait to share.

There were some problems with Rick’s work. Number one, it wasn’t a play. It was a TV pilot for a sitcom. There really wasn’t much to like about it given its poorly drawn arc-less characters, weak dialog, and one over-arching problem: It wasn’t funny. I’ll go a step further. It was terrible. Just Godawful.

I decided to take the easy way out. I tried to rid us of Rick on a technicality. “So Rick, I think the problem we have here is we only deal with plays. We don’t work with TV scripts.”

Rick was undeterred. “But don’t you think it’s funny?”

I knew some things at that point. I knew Rick’s script sucked. I knew our group only worked on plays. I knew Rick was going to be a drive-by – that once he’d used us, we’d never see him again. In light of all the things I knew, I still felt an obligation to try. That’s the Leo in me. Loyal to a fault. The other writers in the group knew better and refused to take possession of Rick’s hot potato. I made a side agreement with Rick and took his script home to critique and give back to him.

If I thought the scenes Rick had read to us aloud were awful, there was more awful to be had. He’d naturally put his best foot forward in front of the group. By Rick’s own admission, the scenes he hadn’t shared with us in our meeting “needed work.” They say you can’t polish a turd. For some reason, I’m always thinking I can, you know, if I do it slowly enough. When will I ever learn you can’t frost dreadful and make the cake taste good?

I am eternally grateful for the tutoring I’ve received in my writing life. That’s why I try to pay it forward. Me. Leo the lion. Loyal to a fault guy. I took a deep breath and sat down in a chair with Rick’s script. I spent hours critiquing and putting together a detailed write-up on something I knew would never see the light of day. I even spent my own money packaging up Rick’s script and my notes, and mailing it back to him.

Rick was not appreciative of me burning the candle late at night to critique his work. He called me a couple of times during the evening when I normally don’t appreciate phone calls. More than once, he opined that I just “didn’t get it.” I weathered his retorts without baring my teeth.

Just about the time Rick was making me consider a restraining order, he stopped calling. He never came to another meeting. A couple of months went by. I thought I was rid of the turd.

No.

It was a Saturday night. 10:30 PM. Our phone rang. “Who the hell is calling at this hour?” I grumbled to Judy as I pushed myself up off the couch.

It was Rick. He was jazzed. He’d cajoled some friends into polishing his turdish sitcom. The purpose of his call was to ask if he could borrow my expensive video camera to shoot his pilot. I told him no.

Pause, pause, pause.

“Why not?” Rick asked.

“Well, number one, what if something happens to it? Who pays for that?”

“We won’t break your camera.”

“Famous last words. My answer is still no.”

That’s when Rick decided to go off on me. He went from asking a favor to belligerent in the space of 2 seconds. He got testy. “You just don’t like me!”

I had to admit, as a straight-man, he was hitting it out of the park.

“Just tell me the truth!” he demanded.

I have a part of my brain that snaps. Once I get to that seeing red part of my reasoning, I am not in control of my actions or what comes out of my mouth.

He turned up the volume. “You should be supporting me! Why won’t you help me?”

Snap.

Oh, I felt it.

Every speech I’d ever made to Rick in my head was about to be distilled into a few sentences.

“Okay, here’s the deal, dude. Number one, you’re calling me at home on a weekend at 10:30 at night. Number two, you appear to have absolutely no interest in getting better as a writer. You have committed the cardinal sin in entertainment – you’re boring the shit out of me. And three, I don’t like your script. And now that I think about it, I don’t like you much either.”

Pause, pause, pause.

Rick pipes up with “Can I still borrow your camera?”

I don’t often hang up on people. But that time I did. And I never heard from Rick again.

If he’s still on the planet, Rick probably tells people I’m a dick. In Rick’s case, I wear that as a badge of honor.

Sometimes it pays to say no.

Case in point. In 1995, shortly after my encounters with Debbie and Rick, I wrote a play that was my take on the rising tide of violence in our society. I felt driven to say something. My draft of BEYOND MERCY was written on days and weekends when I spent 3 weeks in San Diego working nights training Marines in IT stuff. When I flew home to upstate New York with my handwritten draft, it was twice as long as it needed to be. When I say I type too much, I mean it. I often write much more than ends up in the final product. The draft I brought home was a 4-hour play. Eventually, months later before production began, the script was whittled down to a running time under 2 hours.

I think it was my 2nd night home. Judy and I were hanging out in our living room and the kids were occupied upstairs. Judy looked at me and said, “You know, in all this time I’ve known you, you’ve never read a new play to me. Read your new script. Entertain me.”

Okay.

Judy started out in a sitting position on the couch in front of me. A rapt audience of one.

I started acting out my new play.

She made it through the first 90 minutes of my 4-hour performance before she slumped and her eyelids fluttered. In fairness, she held up more than most would. The initial slump manifested itself 15 minutes before the completed slump and subsequent nod off.

When she offered up a light snore, I stopped my riveting performance. She opened an eye. “No, keep going. I’m listening.”

Okay, no, you’re not, but I’ll keep going anyway.

I finished the last two thirds playing to my wife playing the part of a doormat who occasionally stirred enough to mumble, “No, I’m listening.”

That was the last time Judy asked me to do that and it’s been well over 20 years, so the wound must still be fresh.

Every once in a while, I get approached by someone who wants to be a writer. They want my help. I have begged for help myself on occasion, so when I’m approached, I try to do the right thing.

The old saying goes “If you want to write, don’t. But if you need to write, do.”

I am a needy guy who has met more than his share of wannabes.

In the early part of 2001 when I worked in Norfolk, Virginia, I came into contact with Matilda who sat across from me in an IT shop. Matilda overheard me one day on the phone discussing a shoot location for our third feature COLD READINGS. Matilda couldn’t wait for me to get off the phone.

She scooted her chair over my way when I hung up. “I couldn’t help but overhear. Do you make movies?”

“I’m trying to.”

She leaned in with “I have an idea for a movie.”

Normally when you get solicitation in that vein, you’re screwed. The first time it happened to me, a co-worker approached with some notes scribbled on a bar napkin. It was literally a bar napkin. He told me how he and a friend had been drinking and came up with an idea for a Christmas movie. He went on to reveal that Santa is evil and so are all the elves. He got excited.

“No one’s ever done this before!”

Then he stared at me. Waiting.

I stared back and asked, “So then what happens?”

“Oh, I don’t know. That’s for you to figure out. You’re the writer.”

Then they get all generous and offer to give you the bar napkin for free. “Take it. All I ask is free tickets to the premier.”

In your head, you’re thinking, “Okay, well thanks. When I get finished with the years of script development, fund raising, putting a cast and crew together, shooting, editing, and distribution it’s going to take to make YOUR idea into a movie, I’ll have to remember to give you a jingle to make sure you get your free tickets to the premiere.”

Still, you take the bar napkin. No reason to hurt anybody’s feelings.

See, that type of shit does not help me.

Script is king. I really believe that. I can make a good movie with a good script if all the other elements are in concert. A crummy script will yield a flawed movie no matter what. Screenplay books tell you that a viewer knows within the first 10 minutes whether a movie will hold up. The same goes for the screenplays they’re built on. You know pretty early into the read whether it’s going to suck or not.

Matilda not only had an idea for a movie, she had actually gone to the trouble of writing a first draft of the script and she wanted my input on it. I smelled trouble and told her I was too wrapped up in COLD READINGS.

Months later when filming was long over, she approached again. With script in hand. Please, Doug. Help me.

I knew her script wouldn’t be good. So I compromised. I told her I didn’t want to read the whole thing, but if she wanted to give me the first 10 pages, I would take a look. No promises. She shoved the first 10 pages into my hands without further invitation.

There’s a movie that came out in 1980 called HEART BEAT. Not too many people even know it exists, but it’s always been a favorite of mine. The story revolves around seminal figures from the Beat Generation. Sissy Spacek plays Carolyn Cassady to Nick Nolte’s Neal Cassady and John Heard’s Jack Kerouac. One of the sequences involves a young unpublished Jack Kerouac taking his book ON THE ROAD to various publishers. One editor reviews Jack’s novel by declaring, “That’s not writing, it’s typing.”

I went home with Matilda’s first 10 pages of typing.

As I stared down at the top page rife with misspellings and grammatical errors, I felt a decision had to be made. Either I was going to go for it and really take Matilda to task or I was going to not read it at all and just give her papers back.

Then I felt the snap. And I will be candid. The snap can be fueled with a vengeance of sorts. Like, okay, if you’re going to force yourself on me, I’m going to make you pay. Hopefully the process ends up being constructive.

I decided to redline her pages like a real editor might. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. Her formatting was off. Her dialog and characters were incredibly bad. But I didn’t just tear down things in her writing – I gave her helpful suggestions and encouragement. Some crazy part of me wanted her to make it right. I was fair, but direct. It took me a while, and when I finished, those pages looked like sheets they’d wrapped the bodies of Bonnie and Clyde in.

The next day I took Matilda’s 10 pages back to her. She cowed a little in my presence and asked, “Was it bad?”

“Well, let me put it this way. When you’re done looking at my notes, you’re probably going to be mad. And one of two things will happen. You’ll get so pissed, you’ll go and rewrite it – or – you’ll get so pissed, you’ll never want to write a screenplay again. Either way, I will have done my duty.”

That sounds a little cold when I look at my words in print. Perhaps I meant to be. Because that’s when she said, “But isn’t an editor supposed to take your ideas and correct all that stuff for you? Don’t they understand the brilliance of the ideas?”

A week later, Matilda came back to me and had rewritten the first 10 pages. In retrospect, maybe I should have been meaner. I applauded her tenacity and wished her luck. She offered her pages to me for a second critique.

In that particular case, I did not say yes.

Several years later when I had moved from Norfolk to work in the Charlottesville area, Matilda cold-called me one day. I don’t even know how she tracked me down. Quite frankly, I was a little taken aback. She told me she’d totally rewritten her screenplay and had been rejected numerous times by publishers.

I tried to stay positive. “I’m still getting rejections, so don’t feel bad. You don’t need a lot of buyers, just the right one.”

Then she said she was considering giving it up. She’d sent her screenplay to a coverage house that provides a professional critique for $600. Places that do that are pretty much in it for the money and once they have a fish on the line, they tend to milk it. But with Matilda, they took her $600 and then they took an approach not designed to milk more money. She read me the first sentence of their critique.

“You have no business being a writer.”

2nd sentence. “Please stop.”

I have no idea why she sought me out to tell me something unflattering about herself. After she told me what they’d said, she laughed. I did too.

And that was the last gasp from Matilda.

Getting to receive mode can be a difficult path. That’s people in general, not just writers. Some people never get there. For me personally, it took a long time. Decades.

In Stephen King’s excellent non-fiction book ON WRITING, he delves into the process writers go through. There’s a section on handling rejection. When he was a budding author, he viewed rejections as potential interest – as in, if someone took the time to send you a rejection, they at least thought your writing was worth looking at. Even a form letter rejection encouraged Mr. King. And if the form letter had an added handwritten note at the bottom from the reader, that was gold to Stephen. He kept his rejections pinned to a bulletin board so he could admire them.

I buried mine. For a long time. Even though many of the form letters had personal notes attached.

In my early playwriting days, I spent much time and effort, not to mention postage, sending my unpolished plays to playhouses and editors. I got a fair amount of passes. In addition to getting my share of form rejections, I also remember more than one rep actually sending me a letter telling me why I got rejected. They would even encourage me and ask me to send them things in the future. Did I see that as good? No. I didn’t see it the same way Stephen King did. I’d get mad. “They just don’t get it!” I would exclaim as I stomped around the room.

The struggle getting to receive mode varies widely depending on the individual. Hell, it varies widely in me, depending on the day. At least I don’t stomp around anymore. I try to make good with the opportunities that come my way.

I wrote a screenplay 10 years ago about bullying and coming of age. I only sent it to one competition and I got bounced. However, they sent a letter explaining why. One of their primary concerns was that the story wasn’t grounded in truth. Their first choke during the read was an early scene on a school bus in 1969 where a kid is literally getting his ass kicked by bullies on the way home. The reviewer couldn’t comprehend that. “Don’t you know there are bus monitors? There’s no way this could happen,” wrote the critic.

The day the rejection letter came, Judy opened it and read it first. By the time I got home, she was not happy.

“What are they talking about?” Judy fumed. “They didn’t have bus monitors back then!”

My reaction was the opposite of my main support act. I looked at Judy and chuckled softly to myself. My reaction was half “What’s it going to take?” frustration and half “They just don’t get it.”

In the years leading up to that moment, I might have had a more negative reaction myself. But I had finally found comfort in receive mode. I would figure out a way to get that bullying story out. So I spent a year novelizing it. Many readers have commented how cinematic the book is. Well, now you know. There’s a reason for that.

As you can see, you not only have to be in receive mode, you have to be able to discern what opinions matter. In my particular circumstances, an opinion from an unbeliever actually did matter because I squeezed lemonade out of the situation. I have to remind myself that as a young writer, I would have gotten my written rebuke and lost it. I would have given up and not written the book. Receive mode is good.

Decades ago, I sat next to a professional reader who was on a trans-continental flight. He was on a development team that read scripts for Lawrence Kasdan who at the time had scored huge success with a Best Picture nominee he directed called THE BIG CHILL. During our conversation, I revealed I had scripts of my own albeit not screenplays. It would be a while before I got to those. I didn’t have a dog to put in the fight, but I was fascinated picking his brain.

At one point, he just leveled with me.

“Look, every day when I show up to work, the mailroom has dropped off another 80 scripts and I have to get through all of them by the end of the day because the next day, there’ll be a new stack of 80 scripts to wade through. Now my job is to find a diamond in the rough in these stacks. Don’t you think I want to find that diamond for Mr. Kasdan? Don’t you think I want nothing more than to walk into his office holding up an undiscovered masterpiece? Of course I do. But the reality of the situation is I don’t have time to read them all. So I don’t. I look for any reason to pitch your script into the circular file. If I find a typo in the first few pages, into the trash. If you got our name wrong on your cover letter, into the trash. If I had a fight on my way to work in the car with my girlfriend and your script starts with a couple having an argument? Into the trash.”

When you send in scripts blindly, or even not so blindly, you are at the mercy of the initial reader. For the most part, readers don’t get paid well, they’re treated badly, and they are often struggling writers themselves. You have to hit all the notes perfectly with your script and do it without knowing your audience. There’s so much luck involved, it isn’t funny.

When I was living in Virginia Beach in the early 2000s, I’d written a horror script called THE FARM that registered in a couple of competition first rounds, but never progressed. It was a first draft. I knew it was not fully baked. I posted it on the Francis Coppola screenwriting hub where writers are encouraged to critique each other’s scripts.

I got a phone call from a development wing at Warner Brothers. Yeah, I know. Surprised the hell out of me. We started out on as good a foot as possible.

“We saw your horror script on the Coppola website. We liked your writing chops. We want you to write for us.”

“Anything specific you wanted me to change in my script?”

“Oh, we don’t want your script – we want you to write something new. One of our ideas. We need to have a conference call to discuss it.”

The call was set up for a couple of days later and I spoke with 2 reps – the one who contacted me was joined by his boss.

After the intros, the boss did all the talking. They wanted me to do a spec script. Translation: The writer does their part up front for free and then if the movie gets picked up, the writer gets paid.

“So what’s your idea?” I asked.

A mental drum roll played out on their side and then the boss proudly proclaimed, “It’s never been done before. Yeti meets MTV.”

Silence on my side.

The boss says, “You know who Yeti is, right?”

“Yeah. The Abominable Snowman. Okay. So Yeti meets MTV. What happens?”

Boss man was incredulous. “How should we know? You’re the writer! Figure it out!”

Yeti meets MTV.

I must admit I was temporarily jealous there are people getting paid in development think-tanks to come up with high-concept ideas like Yeti meeting MTV.

After I hung up the phone, the junior guy called me back. The boss had given the go-ahead for me to write for free. I didn’t have the same screenwriting software they used. They overnighted a package. I still have the Fedex envelope with the Warner Brothers return address label.

Initially, I made out on the deal. I got some expensive software for free. But an old friend once told me the lessons in life that only cost you money are the cheap ones. It’s the emotional lessons in life that tax you the most.

My next step was to write a feature-length movie about Yeti meeting MTV. For the first few days, I pondered the possibilities without typing a single character. I was stumped.

But I was inspired despite my stumpiness. By sheer coincidence, I’d just finished a second book about The Endurance, a ship helmed by Ernest Shackleton. The Endurance was built in 1912 and was claimed by the ocean in 1915. Shackleton famously set out to explore previously unexplored parts of Antarctica. The Endurance got stuck in the ice. Mired. The wooden ship was eventually crushed by expanding ice and swallowed by the freezing waters, forcing the crew of 28 to abandon ship, whereupon they drifted, camped on floating ice. I won’t try to trivialize their amazing adventure by condensing it, but the bottom line was after almost 2 years of living in harrowing arctic conditions, every single one of those shipmates made it home.

As I said, I’d just finished my second book about Shackleton’s ill-fated voyage. And I knew Yeti lived in the cold, possibly in residence at the top of Mount Everest. I was fully equipped to write a fake Yeti story.

A week into my thought process, I was walking our Boston Terrier Caesar and the story came together and presented itself to my mind’s eye. MTV would indeed meet Yeti. The story nut was cracked and over the next 6 weeks, I cranked out what I thought was a pretty good first draft spec script. I emailed it to my bros at Warner’s.

Another conference call was arranged so the boss’s boss could attend.

Before the conference call, I got a pre-call from the guy who had originally reached out.

“Yeah, so, my boss’s boss is kinda funny. There are certain things in scripts he doesn’t like.”

He proceeded to go through notes of contention from his boss’s boss. The notes obtained from the boss’s boss were myriad. There were all kinds of things he hated about my script.

The screenplay opens with a sentence detailing gales that create white-out conditions. I then go on to describe the storm in progress.

“Yeah, so, my boss really hates that word ‘gales.'”

“Why?”

“He doesn’t know what it means.”

“Oh. It means high winds.”

“Yeah, I know that, but he doesn’t, so he wants that word taken out.”

I wanted to be in receive mode. I held my tongue.

There was something on every page that had bothered the boss’s boss. Litany. There was a litany.

Days later, my appointed time with the boss and now with the boss’s boss, rolled around. We introduced ourselves on the call. I went straight to the tongue I’d been holding. After the boss’s boss introduced himself, I said, “Hey, I have just one thing to say to you.”

He paused and asked, “What’s that?”

“Gales, gales, gales!” I joked.

There was silence on the other end. No laughter. The boss’s boss was not amused by my insolence. Nope. He went immediately to angry.

The rest of the call did not go well. On the other end, I could hear the boss’s boss angrily flipping pages, calling out plot points he despised as he went.

During the climactic ending, a small rescue plane is used to fly near the top of the mountain. The boss’s boss thought a helicopter rescue would be more exciting. But I knew that wasn’t possible. I’d spoken with a helicopter expert who explained to me that a chopper doesn’t get enough lift in thin air at high altitudes. It would be impossible for a helicopter to get 3 miles high.

I proudly explained why a helicopter wouldn’t work. My knowledge did not deter the boss’s boss.

“Doug, this is fucking Hollywood, okay? Put the helicopter in!”

Writers I know are quick to warn you: Don’t let the facts get in the way of the drama.

Near the end of the call, the boss’s boss ran through some scenes he wanted written in. He told me I needed to dumb it down. My story was missing some important must-have shout-outs to demographics and study groups.

The boss’s boss wanted a fight scene with fisticuffs. Two women making out. Preferably naked. Some other stuff I’m forgetting. None of the boss’s boss’s required elements fit within my framework. I was reminded of when director Ed Wood was raising money for a movie and a wealthy cowboy offered to step in and produce. The producer said he would put up money if Ed’s movie ended with a big explosion.

Ed protested, “But my movie doesn’t end with a big explosion.”

The producer smiles and says, “Oh, it does now.”

Ed winds up taking the money just to get his movie made. As they say, it’s a miracle any movie gets made.

Sometimes it’s tough to stay true to yourself.

But don’t worry.

I’ll figure it out.

I’m the writer, remember?