Friday, February 12, 2010
My Friend The Screenwriter
I have a good friend who is a talented screenwriter. He has worked with the most imaginative and creative directors in the world. In fact, his name is on some groundbreaking films as a creative consultant. I won't mention his name to protect his privacy and will just refer to him as W. I met him in a workshop he was giving in Marin county about 20 years ago. At the time I was working on a story idea my colleague Carla Zilbersmith had given me while we sat and ate a Chinese meal at a now defunct Berkeley restaurant. A lot has happened to the three of us since then. Carla had a gifted and promising career as a singer and actor for many years and then contracted ALS, a wicked disease; W. worked in house at one of the most famous studios in the world as an esteemed colleague of the biggies, got divorced and left his lucrative position; and I actually grew up, a rather notable accomplishment for one who was rather thick headed and decidely without any role models to show me what growing up actually meant. I suppose I accomplished other things as well like dragging a dead theatre department back to life, writing some surprisingly good plays and film scripts, making an award winning short and establishing myself as an innovative teacher. I also went through a painful and gut wrenching divorce, got in a lot of serious trouble at work and became a militant anti Bush person openly supportive of some pretty controversial figures. Like I said I was growing up. I saw W. today after about a year of not having contact and we had a long, leisurely and delicious lunch together. We shared intimacies about our lives in a way neither of us was capable of in the past. It felt really great. But we also talked about that story idea that W. had asked to take control of 3 years ago. He's been developing it into a screenplay off and on for a while. I used to think he would never finish it because he was such a perfectionist and well, frankly, I just could not imagine the reality of what he was doing. I could not imagine the depth that he was seeking in this story through these characters because I had only seen the film as a popcorn movie, nothing more. But W. had always envisioned something great in this story idea. It had captured and obsessed him for years and today for the first time I understood why. The story's scope is enormous. Not only does it shapeshift and time travel but it deals with the most important parts of our collective lives: the loss of American ingenuity and community. He's in it up to his armpits now and he said it was the most important creative endeavor he had ever undertaken and I believed him. I think he's writing as if his life depends on his finishing it and you know what? It does. I don't know what this is going to turn into for him, for me and for Carla but something tells me that when W. finally types Fade Out, he will have written something remarkable. Everything we artist types do should be aiming at that star, everything we do should push us past our preconceived notions and tight boundaries into the possibility of the extraordinary. I am learning that in my acting classes, in my attempts at writing, in my teaching and interaction with students and friends and in my close personal and intimate relationships. It's a great lesson to learn because every moment of every day feels richer to me and I feel more alive. I wonder where this knowledge of the divinity in each of us sat for most of the years of my life. I think it was hunched down inside a cave poking its wary head out, looking for a safe haven. And finally, finally, I realize there is no safe haven. Everything is fraught with peril so why not just jump into the abyss while you have the chance and go for it? W. is doing that. Carla certainly is. And now I am doing it as well. I suppose there was a reason the three of us connected two decades ago. Our time is now. And guess what? So is yours.