Some Days You Eat The Bear … Some Days The Bear Eats You

I haven’t been doing much blogging lately. I have been working my ass off trying to fix an idea that I had for a screenplay, but which just got away from me.

That’s the thing about writing screenplays. You set up a premise, you establish characters and if you’re really lucky they will tell your story for you.

But sometimes you can get overzealous and let the characters get away with stuff you never intended for them to do.

When that happens you have to stop, read everything you wrote carefully and then leave it for a couple of days and try and figure out how things got so wild and wooly, especially since that was not your intention.

Eventually, if you are emotionally invested enough, a solution will present itself. In the case of the screenplay I am writing, it was simply adding a character and establishing a relationship with another character. That’s if you’re lucky. In this case, I was. In other cases, I have had to scrap entire screenplays because they simply became too complex for their own good.

Writing screenplays is actually a default skill I developed when I realized that I had neither the patience nor intellectual stamina it takes to write novels, which are Herculean tasks. And my admiration of anyone who manages to pull that off is boundless.

I actually wrote a novel back in the day. It was about 400 pages and it stunk. But I got it out of my system and it was one of the great object lessons of my writing life because it taught me where the upper limit of my writing skill actually was.

Once you have written a novel, even a crappy one, writing a screenplay seems quite manageable, and the results can be gratifying up until you have to go to the next level and actually sell something to somebody who is going to make a movie out of it.

This is where the Bear inevitably eats you. The movie business is fifty shades of hellish, and the people who survive and thrive in that business are not necessarily the best writers, but the best self-promoters and hustlers.

The amount of work you have to do after you write a screenplay is probably about ten times as time and energy-consuming as the original writing was.

When I was a much younger guy, I went through that process, the meetings, the re-drafting, the creative input from without, the budget woes, the whole Magilla. It is not for the feint of heart. It is a soul-scorching process. So my admiration for those people who actually make it through and have even one good credit is also boundless.

The other thing that writing screenplays has taught me is that I have to treat this process as a hobby and not a career path.

I’m an advertising animal. I know my way around that world. And I have done enough advertising over the years to be able to speak about it in an informed way. But more importantly, I am able to help people build their businesses with the skills I have in this area.

This is where I get to eat the Bear. And there is always a job or two on the burner, despite the fact that I have more or less retired.

The bottom line here is that, at least for me, there are things I do for money and satisfaction and things I do just for the hell of it.

Right now I am focused on the latter. I may sell something to somebody sooner or later. But I’m not out there pushing it. Life is way too short to be banging my head really hard against that titanium wall.

So I send out one query a week. That’s fifty-two in a year. And who knows what can happen? The best part is that the more I write, the more I learn about structure, the easier the next self-generated project becomes.

I currently have one 4-part limited series drama, 8-second draft features, 3 first draft features, and 2 half-written features.

So once I do get discovered, if that ever happens, I’ll be ready to firebomb them with so much material the poor fools won’t know what hit them. LOL.

PS: I do have 2 produced features, but that was long ago and far away.


Jim Murray
Jim Murray
I have been a writer since the age of 14. I started writing short stories and poetry. From there I graduated to writing lyrics for various bands and composers and feature-length screenplays, two of which have been produced. I had a  20-year career in senior positions in Canadian and multi-national agencies and a second career, which began in 1989, (Onwords & Upwords Inc), as a strategic and creative resource. Early in 2020, I closed Onwords & Upwords and effectively retired. I am now actively engaged, through blogging and memes, in showcasing businesses that are part of the green revolution. I am also writing short stories which I will be marketing to film production companies. I live with my wife, Heather, in the beautiful Niagara Region of southern Ontario, after migrating from Toronto, where I spent most of my adult life.

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  1. Your story and my story are both, sadly fairly typical in this industry. Mainly because it really is a buyer’s market and they are always doing tons of research to see what could click with audiences. It’s funny, because I watch a lot of movies on Netflix and most of the are no great shakes. Going the agent route was something I tried a while back, turned out to be just a lot of extra work turning a screenplay into something it wasn’t when I wrote it. All I could think of was these people don’t really understand stories or marketing.

  2. Jim, great story. We have much in common. I, too, had a career in advertising and marketing but my heart is in screenwriting, a journey that commenced over eighteen years ago. It’s been a bumpy ride. I’ve come so close, only to be derailed time and again. I had a feature optioned by the EP of “The Dallas Buyers Club,” but that fell through when he decided to take his company in a “truth-based-only projects direction.” Have had some crazy reps. My current manager is basically useless so I do a lot of pitching on my own. I’m still at it but sometimes I wonder why. Thanks for sharing this and I wish you the best of luck. Feel free to email me if you ever want to share “war stories.”

    And, Dennis, thank you for tagging me!