Getting It Right The First Time -or- Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda.
We’ve all heard of experiencing the phantom ring of our cell phones on silent mode when we don’t actually have a cell phone anywhere on our bodies. We get that brief tickle and our brains say to us, “Hey dude! Answer your phone!!”. Well, in addition to the phantom ring, I sometimes experience phantom fat. This is when the parts of our bodies that used to jiggle when we were carrying that extra weight feels like the jiggling is sometimes still there even though we’ve lost all that extra weight. It’s the memory of jiggling. But my weight loss isn’t what I’m writing about today.
I was perusing some old files on my web site the other day. As my site is now essentially a scrap book for my children, I felt I should go through it and rid it of some of the less appropriate content. It wasn’t long before I felt a slight discomfort, and it had nothing to do with the spicy sausage I ingested at lunchtime. As I read through my old blog entries I noticed an embarrassing pattern. Several of the posts were announcements about projects I was working on at the time… but to date, haven’t finished.
I think that’s one thing a lot of creative types have in common. We share an unbridled enthusiasm for starting a new project but how many of us ever get around to completing them. I’d wager the statistics are low. As I click through my blog I see entry after entry, article after article about new and exciting projects I was planning on releasing to the world but for one reason or another they ended up collecting dust on the shelf.
Now, I’m not one to avoid blame when the responsibility is mine, but I took comfort in an article I read (and I’ll be damned if I can’t find the link to it now – or I’d post it) that talked about how many creative types come up with ideas and they suddenly begin to fantasize about the end result. This usually consists of visions of lots of money and a great deal of prominence amongst their peers. Call it fame and fortune. Having said this, the artist sits back and relishes in a job well done… even though he hasn’t started a damn thing. We put our effort into the fantasy of succeeding and lose our focus on what needs to fill the gap between point A and point B. This made so much sense to me because it’s EXACTLY what I do EVERY DAMN TIME I get a new idea!!
Here I am, midway through my sixth decade (I was born in ’69 so put your fingers away, it’s accurate) and what do I have to show for it? Professionally (and I’m taking about my current day job)
I’m doing very well – no complaints there. Creatively, artistically… nada. And with the exception of one of my projects (superhero-themed short film “UNITED”) making the front page of the Toronto Star, I’ve come up short on everything else. Lots of great ideas, plans and intentions… but… still waiting for a big break.
I remember a time in the early nineties. I was in my second year at the Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) in Calgary, Alberta. At some point during the school year, I had sent off artwork to Marvel Comics. I had big plans on becoming the next Todd McFarlane. Months later, I received a two page rejection letter from “new talent manager” John Lewandowski. Most people would have crumpled it up and tossed it in the garbage but I saw it for what it was… instructions on how to succeed. Every paragraph started with “You need to work on…” or “You need to develop…” Marvel was telling me exactly what I needed to know to get my foot in their door. And how’d that all work out for me? I put his letter in my files and that was the end of it. I had the intention of doing all John had suggested but… twenty four years later and I’m no closer to drawing Spider-Man comics than my 5 year-old is at winning the Nobel Prize for advancements in science.
I’ve had many ideas since then. And how have they panned out?
2012 – The Guardian
This is an idea I came up with back in high school. It’s a story I’ve fine tuned over a couple of decades but it never made it beyond a torn file folder full of development sketches and a few coloured drawings collecting dust at the bottom of my closet.
La Femme NIKITA – The Comic
I worked behind the scenes on this Warner Brothers TV series From ’96 to 2000. I coordinated the story department and drew the show’s storyboards. I also came up with an idea for a comic based on the show. A quick flight to LA, a meeting on the WB lot and a few weeks later I found out, although they loved the idea and wanted to run with it… they had the rights to do a TV series but couldn’t get the rights to do a graphic novel. Dee-NIED! Mov’n on!
I came up with this one when I was literally standing inside the f$%#@ing middle of the great pyramid of Kufu (the largest of the three great pyramids in Cairo) in January of 2000. I poured my heart into that cartoon strip and it was the closest I came to getting the attention of one of the largest syndicates in the US. Amongst a pile of generic “Dear Sir or Madam:” rejection letters (enough to wallpaper a small bathroom), I received a lovely hand-written letter from Mary Fischer of Tribune Media Services. It started off with, “Handwritten letters are not the norm in this business unless we see promise in someone’s work…”. They liked my work but in short thought the Egyptian theme wouldn’t be accepted by readers. So… onward.
I loved this strip too. It was titled after the street on which my wife and I bought our first house. It was the story of two fraternal twins who drove their parents batshit crazy. Writing the strip was almost effortless. I sent it off but got generic rejection letter after generic rejection letter.
Pip and Earl
This one didn’t even make it beyond one comic strip. I trashed the idea deeming it too limiting. I would have drawn myself into a corner.
Here’s a story that tugged at my moral fibres. All because one of the three aliens in the story was hooked on weed. I had big problems with that mainly because of certain career goals. Regardless, as hard as it was, I had to shelve that idea and move on to…
I opened my big mouth to quickly on this one. Initially the brainchild of two talented writer friends of mine from my film and TV days, I convinced them to let me have at it since they had no plans to develop it into the feature film it was intended to be. I adapted it into a comic book and got about sixteen pages into the story then… baby number two came. Life just got in the way.
It’s not just a song by the Crash Test Dummies. I came up with this idea for a film about a pumpkin that comes to life an befriends a troubled little girl who just moved into a New England town. Together they change the town’s downer attitude and make it a fun place to live. Meh!
“That One Idea” – Reality TV show
This was dead in the water even before the ship left the dock. Still, we had a great time filming a good chunk of the pilot episode, including scenes from a Star Wars-themed short film in which I found myself sporting stormtrooper armour, trudging my way through deep snow in sub-arctic temperatures on frozen Lake Muskoka in Ontario, Canada. We had intended to create a reality TV show about three middle-aged geeks in search of that one idea that would break the Internet. Something no one had ever thought of before. But the only trouble was… everything had been thought of. We just couldn’t come up with an idea. Plus, we all have young children, jobs, wives, no money and no time to commit to a TV show. Thanks again life!
But really, I could go on and on about all the times I’ve failed but the way I see it, it’s less of a failure and more of a life lesson. Many of our greatest creators experienced failure after failure before they had one great hit. As proud as I am of my UNITED project, I’m hoping it’s not going to be my greatest piece of work. I’ve made myself look like a fool by announcing on social media time and time again my latest and greatest projects only to burn out before the flame can grow into an inferno. My new modus operandi? “Keep my big mouth shut!” Like in my film/TV days, I’ll work behind the scenes. I have a couple of things on the go right now but I’m not going to say a damn thing about them!