Let's Get Personal
by Craig Kellem
Most of the articles that Judy and I share with you guys have to do with the techniques of screenwriting, marketing, and related areas. We rarely get personal about ourselves. Judy's turn will come down the line but, in this issue, I wanted to tell you something about my own creative journey since a creative journey is what most of you are on. Perhaps we can relate.
At one time I represented talent for a living. I was an agent at what is now ICM, one of the three biggest agencies in the world. My job was to get clients of the agency on TV and to "discover" new talent. The agency represented people like Barbra Streisand, Richard Pryor, Jodie Foster, Diana Ross, Liza Minnelli--the list goes on and on. I represented them as well and signed many great talents such as George Carlin, the rock group Spanky & our Gang, and also production organizations through which we "packaged" TV shows. I lived for my clients and derived great pleasure and profit from their successes.
After an exciting and wholesome experience as an agent, I went to work for Lorne Michaels, whom I met while packaging Lily Tomlin specials for CBS (for the agency). Although this was not a great time in my life, (my mid life crisis came early), I still had the rich experience of being part of the launching of SNL, and also produced other projects for Lorne like the infamous movie, The Rutles.
With all of this splendid experience, you'd think that I would have been satisfied (and I should have been). But I always had a longing to be "more creative" and felt hungry and wanting when I observed certain people around me, particularly writers.
With all my experience and savvy, I didn't have a clue what to do about it. The notion that there were special people out there who had "talent" and others like me who did not permeated my sagging belief system.
The heart is a lonely hunter.
So, after leaving New York and coming back to LA, I longed to try something new. This was to be a very fertile time for me, but I didn't know it at the time.
I had a friendship with a guy who was skilled at "coaching" people. After constantly hearing about my unfocused ambitions, he gave me some serious professional advice. It was to change my life!
His first suggestion was that I simply list my goals.
What goals? Never stopped to consider them since I was always going too fast. "Let's skip that," I retorted and "cut to the chase." He pointed out that "cutting to the chase" had its limitations and sent me home to work. HIS way.
OK, OK-- I scratched it out. Goals--immediate ones; intermediate ones; then the long-range, "sky's the limit" batch. Sounds easy, huh? Well, it is until you actually employ this method and then sit back and look at what you really want in your life. Here it was, on a big chart and in my face. It was there for all the world to see, especially me. What my heart ached for was finally documented.
And that was just the beginning. Goals dont mean much, he pointed out, without methods to achieve them. So he had me identify timetables for achieving them and methods of identifying progress. Hmm..it was getting serious. I suddenly had lots of things to do. And most of them scared me silly because facing what you really want creates beaucoup stress.
I went to work...reluctantly. Since many of my goals reflected the yearning to develop ideas, I started to list them on index cards etc. I had only a few at first. More came as I gestated. So I was suddenly cast into the role of an idea guy. I had always been one but never acknowledged it. But it was hard to deny it once I had adopted this new enterprise. After a couple of weeks I had a few decent notions. But it was time to do something else --my impatience and resistance started to seep in. I wanted to cut to the chase again.
No way. I was just beginning. My friend told me that what I needed to do was to work "thickly." I didn't like the sound of the metaphor. It sounded like real work.
This guy was much bigger than me so I had no choice but to continue.
My daily diet was pumping out ideas and developing them. Each day I tended to them and to my surprise --they grew. I was getting hooked.
My friend had other activities in mind for me that would be instrumental in building momentum. He suggested that I join a little acting group as an adjunct to the writing process. I later discovered that acting can be a great complement to writing because it gives you a very visceral sense of dialogue, etc. Acting!! Hey man I was an ex-agent. Ain't nothin more oxymoronic than an agent who gets on stage.
Talk about busting an image!
The man was relentless. He wanted more.
Next, he suggested that I identify myself as a writer. Forget it! No way!! This was a felonious notion.
But he persisted, pushing me to embrace the self-declaration of being a writer and, though I resisted letting the words leave my mouth, each and every day I continued to ACT like a writer. Forging ahead however imperfectly.
Well, as John Lennon used to say, "life is what you're doing when you're making other plans." My plan was to try this, probably fail and then escape. But what I was actually doing was acquainting myself with my writer's soul and pumping out the goods. Capably!
Developing ideas is an interesting activity. Two things happen when you do it on a regular basis. One is that your relationship with your subconscious and your creative guide gets keener and ideas begin to flow. You begin to write on the walls. The other is that as you grow ideas, some take flight as if on their own.
This is powerful stuff.
Without going through every detail of the process, at some magical moment in this year-long enterprise, I crossed a bridge without realizing it. My desire to "become creative" had happened. The criterion for this was not the one I thought it would be --namely someone else's acknowledgement; the town's acknowledgement; the Academy's acknowledgement etc. It was simply about what I was actually doing and how I felt about myself. I HAD BECOME THE THING THAT I WANTED TO BECOME SIMPLY BECAUSE I WAS DOING IT!
Even when I started submitting stuff and received the inevitable turndowns, I was too on fire to let it matter very much. There was always another page to rewrite, or material to Xerox or something to dream about.
One project in particular seemed to want to happen. It was a TV idea about a bunch of "reporters in jeans" who went around the country in a rock n roll kind of bus, hanging out and reporting on hip, contemporary and far out stories. This idea consumed me, and I began the painful process of seriously trying to make it happen. Talk about the impossible. In actual fact, I was just another unemployed, ex-somebody, wannabe burning with ambition but out of touch, in a way, with reality. But I knew one thing about the biz: all successes are predicated on miracles.
And indeed, it would take a miracle to make something happen with this project which, by this time, was just about the most important thing that I could identify in the Universe.
I believe that if you try hard enough and that if the dream is worthy, and if cosmic powers wants it to be, it will be. I had had experiences in my life which had already reflected this. And I also knew that it's hard to beat a guy who's pumping it out every day and trying to do the next "right thing."
Synchronicity was coming my way. NBC was looking for a reality show and a producer they contacted had heard about my fully developed project. (This was due to the dreaded networking imposed on me by my friend). One thing led to another --we got a shot to pitch it.
We just missed selling this show. By the time we arrived the network had bought something similar. Oh well.
But the momentum of wild industry and zeal was still resonating and manifested concretely when my partner happened to tell me about a development job at Fox. More synchronicity!
In a zillion years I would have never thought of myself in connection with development because I had never considered myself a creative person--that was until now.
Hey baby, just give me a paintbrush. Creative! Are you joking?! I'll show you creative!
When I went for the interview I was bursting with creative energy. Despite the fact that I was still collecting unemployment, I was full of myself and could talk turkey with the powers that be. What a change it was. Guess what, I got the job.
Once in the new pilot seat and with a lot of help from other creative people (with whom I had only imagined working during these grand and desperate development days), I got the show (which had so burned in my heart) on the air. It was a late night pilot that only aired once but it was received nicely and it launched a new career. (It's a great story how it all went down, I wish I had the space. Suffice it to say that it was the thrill of thrills).
The point of it all is this: I had learned how to mount a crusade and "work a program" fueled by my greatest dreams. This came through stating goals, taking chances, changing personas, being willing to be extremely uncomfortable, and working my butt off.
One other mighty thing was also acquired in this process--discipline. At the time the D word was not quite in my vocabulary. I had always struggled with my share of procrastination. In Scott Peck's classic book "The Road Less Traveled," he points out that some problems are solved by some discipline, and all problems are solved by total discipline. He's right. Through this STRUCTURE that had been so generously created for me, I began to dismount the resistances that had haunted me my whole life. What a change. And I now found myself in the company of people I had long admired who never seemed to fight themselves in the pursuit of doing what they needed to do to succeed. Holy s----, I was like them!
Instinctively I realized that this was a source of power that was limitless. I have used this model for many years now. And it has paid off in spades.
I wanted to share this with you, to bear in mind, as you realize your own creative pursuits. For me, this magical and cathartic time changed my life forever. Out of it grew subsequent development jobs at Universal, writing and producing credits, and a deep sense of completeness and satisfaction. It also steered me into a kind of life's work capper--working with other writers and helping them realize their dreams.
Copyright 2003, Hollywoodscript.com LLC., All Rights Reserved.
[return to home page], [return to articles]