The Downside of Up.

If you told me ten years ago that I would write a movie that would be produced with a multimillion dollar budget, I would’ve called you a big fat liar. Now, if you also told me that the movie would end up causing me severe depression? I would’ve slapped you in the face.

Before I get into this, whatever this is, I want to get something out of the way. The below will probably sound very complainy and whiny and ungrateful for being in a position that many would KILL FOR. I get that, I really do. However, that doesn’t change how I feel. I knew getting into this business would be filled with ups and down. Many of them, but with me, I feel like it’s been mostly downs with a few flashes of ups that eventually turn into downs. And it fucking sucks.

I moved to Los Angeles in 2011 and shortly after was hired by James Wan (my friend/mentor) to write a movie based on an idea of his. Holy fuck, this was amazing. It was one of the best things to ever happen to me. Still is, actually. I’ll never be able to fully thank James enough for getting my foot in the door. If you don’t know James, he’s a mensch. Success changes a lot of people. Not James. After writing the script (in twoish weeks) things started to move fast. Execs at Paradigm read the script and really liked it. They wanted to move quick, bring it to Toronto film festival, package the film to shoot ASAP. It’s a cliche but it’s just so true. Everyone here is in such a rush to wait. It’s, “We need this script NOW… So we can sit on it for a few months.” But you know, while back then I didn’t get it, now I know how long these things truly take. And you know what? That’s OK. It really is. I’m not writing this because my first film took four years to make. Because many movies, most movies, take around 5ish years anyway. That’s cool. What ensued after I wrote the movie was what only could be described as the craziest emotional rollercoaster of my entire life. Also, I had no one. I was young and didn’t know any other writers in the business. I was on my own for this ride, but hey, I bought the damn ticket.

Hope. I recently wrote a line of dialogue in a script where a guy was talking about his father’s life advice he received. “Hope? Hope is just another thing to kick you while you’re down.” I wrote this line last year during a time of severe depression. And I feel this way right now. I’ve felt this way for a long time and I know, it’s stemmed from the experience making this first film. August 2011 up to February 2013 was the biggest blur of my life. It crawled by, however, in retrospect, it seems like a flash in time. During the duration of this rollercoaster ride, we went through countless directors, script changes, production companies, meetings, etc, until finally the script was purchased by The Weinstein Company in 2012. Fucking great. Best news I ever heard. I cried. I’ve probably cried dozens of times during this experience and I’d say less than 10% were happy cries.

So the gears were finally moving. The movie was moving forward. We hired a new director and we were off to the races. Keep in mind, during all of this I wasn’t really paid so I still had a day job working as a post producer. After hiring the director and going through some script changes, we finally were headed into preproduction. Again, holy shit. I remember getting the phone call from one of the producers saying, “Very happy to give you the news that tomorrow, we’re headed to Louisiana to start preproduction. We’re gonna start casting right now, and crewing up. Also, we may have found the HOUSE we’re gonna shoot the film in.” Then came another one of those 10% cries.

The next day? Those cries turned into the other 90%.

I remember exactly where I was when I received this phone call. To this day I see this moment so vividly because my knees actually buckled. I never thought that was a real thing. It is. The call was from one of the producers and he knew it would be a huge blow to me. He was upset for me and for the project. I could hear that in his voice just from the labored, “Hey. Max…” I don’t remember the exact details but in short, the studio had fired the director (the first day of preproduction) and was closing down the office and sending everyone home from Louisiana to halt preproduction until they could find another director. This isn’t normal. Sure there are ups and downs of every production but I’ve been told throughout this process by many many people that the circumstances surrounding this film have been out of the ordinary. My first film just so happens to be this painful anomaly. This news set my psyche back HARD. Real hard. I remember after he broke the news I was speechless. In a daze. Shocked. My hands trembled as I thanked him for telling me personally and hung up. My eyes immediately welled as I stared out onto Ventura blvd from a window. Then, I sucked in my tears and punched a concrete wall. Mistake. It hurt. And it wouldn’t be the first wall I punched. Despair is the best word to describe it. I was hopeless. My hope had run dry.  

We wouldn’t find another director and actually get back to Louisiana to shoot the movie for almost a year. It was like my career reset. It was a cold, numb year for me. BUT, deep down, there was a minuscule amount of hope I had. That sliver of hope was all I had. I would get depressed and realize, fuck, what the hell else can I do but hold out hope? However, during this time, I lost any sense of security. Security that things would actually work out. I’ve had the rug pulled out from under me many, MANY times with this film and it was engrained in me to worry and panic and not believe things were actually going to go through.  That feeling still is inside me today. If I heard good news, I’d scoff and say, “I’ll see it when I believe it.” But, through all that, it happened. The film was shot in February 2013. I went to set for a few days and while I was treated like mostly a nuisance, (that’s how it is being a writer on your own set, you’re usually just in the way) it was still a magical few days. Seeing the characters, the sets, the dialogue, everything I wrote come to life. Fuck, it was great. After the film was shot it went through a very typical process. Editing, focus screenings, etc. It was so hard waiting through all this, on pins and needles, waiting for a release date but I waited. Because guess what? The movie was shot! That’s all I was worried about because of all the hurdles we had to jump to just start shooting. I remember the first day of shooting I felt this strange sense of relief wash over my psyche. Like, oh, you’re okay, the movie is gonna actually happen. It’s ACTUALLY HAPPENING.

The waiting game quickly turned painful as the months droned on. And on. And on. When finally… we got a release date! Again, I remember exactly where I was when I heard this news. I was in the elevator, about to pick up an engagement ring I had made for my soon-to-be fiance. “They’re releasing the movie WIDE in December (2014). 2500 screens minimum.” Now… this is huge. It’s bigger than huge. A WIDE release wasn’t really what we expected. We didn’t want to get our hopes up so we predicted a smaller opening first, then maybe a bigger one if it did well. BUT a damn WIDE RELEASE??? Amazing. Right? Wrong. A few months before December’s supposed release… I got more bad news.

The studio would no longer be releasing it wide in December. They said it would probably be released sometime in early 2015. During the course of the last year, the movie came out. Not here in the US, but EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD. The studio sold the foreign rights to the film and let them release it before it came out in the US. This isn’t usually how it works because when a movie comes out overseas first, it’s usually pirated and it hurts US sales. So, I got to sit back last year and watch as the world saw the film. Everyone except my friends, family, peers, the business, etc. The people who mattered to me. The entire time all I did was hold out hope, every day, that it’d be released soon. Soon. Any day now, right? Right? RIGHT?

One of the hardest parts of this was that every time I’d get bad news, I’d have to relay it to my friends and family who inevitably were on this ride with me. I’d have to let them down once again. It was really hard not to feel like complete shit after telling them time and again, “Hey, great news!” Followed by the inevitable, “Hey, bad news…” It’s awful. The repetition is the worse part because eventually when I would tell anyone something good was about to happen… they became like me. That, “I’ll see it when I believe it” mentality. I can’t fault them for that, however, it didn’t help me retain hope.

Here we are now. February 2016. Exactly three years after the film was shot. The film has not been released domestically and recently, it’s come to light that it’s looking like the film will never be released here in the states. It will sit on a shelf in a proverbial vault. Do movies get shelved? Every fucking day. Are many people affected? Of course. That makes this even worse. It’s not just me who suffers from not having the film released, it’s the hundreds of people who were involved. From the director to the actors to the production assistants. These people worked HARD on this film. And now, to not get to share their hard work with their friends and family? That’s fucked up. Of course things can change, the movie could eventually be released, but as of now, it’s not looking good.

I didn’t expect my first film to be a masterpiece, billion dollar box office smash. I just wanted it to be. At the very least. The worst part was being let down. Time and time again. To have hope tear me down. To continue to be strong because it was all I had, and again… be knocked back down to the ground. Again and again. And to save time, I’ll just say that the ‘bad luck’ I had with this film echoed onto many other projects throughout the years. Like losing a job not because I had a lesser pitch but solely because at the last moment the director decided he wanted the writer to be from the UK . The list goes on. Maybe for another post. Probably not.

What the fuck was the point of all this? I have no clue. If you’re reading this and you’re in the business you’re probably thinking, “welcome to the fucking club.” If you’re out of the business you’re probably thinking, “you lucky son of a bitch, complaining about having a movie made.” I guess I lose either way, but the point of this isn’t to win. It’s to share. That’s all. What have I learned? I’d love to say patience. I’d love to say that this has turned around and made me a better person. But I don’t know if it has. Jaded is word I hate saying but it’s unavoidable. I’ve tried during this whole process to occupy my life and my mind with other things but it’s hard with a constant stream of bad luck. It’s worn me down. As I write this I’m not in the best state of mind. I’ve felt pretty hopeless these last few weeks in general with the state of my career and now, hearing the news that the movie won’t be released has beaten me down once again.

So. What now? Where do I go from here? While murky,  I see light through the darkness. Not much light, but I’ve never needed much hope to get me by.  Because even still, hope is all I really have right now. I still write every day and am involved in other projects of course. I’m still a working writer, fighting for another chance. And thankfully, I’m surrounded by amazing family and friends. Most importantly, Jen, my future wife who has put up with my insane state of mind during all of this.

I told myself time and time again, through all of this shit, that THIS was the final straw. Whatever THIS was, whether it be losing a director, losing a release date, or the other countless downs I went through. I said earlier that at times I was hopeless… but I don’t think that’s true. I may have believed it at the time but in retrospect, there was no way I was hopeless. Because guess what? I’m still here. Writing this made me realize that I never actually gave up hope, even when I felt as if I did. That all the downs in life have not only made the ups more sweet, but also have strengthened my ability to hope. At the end of the day, it’s all we have. It’s our battery through life. It’s what drives me. Well, that and spite but we’ll get into that in another post most likely.

Here’s to hope.

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5 comments

  1. ikonmediahouse · March 19, 2016

    Welcome to the fucking club, indeed, I am learning that one. Lol

    Like

  2. Lee Gabel ✏️ (@LeeFGabel) · March 19, 2016

    I read this and say, “I feel your pain, Max.”

    While I never achieved the success you did (and what you describe I do consider success… you broke through), I decided to refocus and begin writing and self-publishing novels instead. I have 100% control of my stories now, and if they fail, that’s on me alone. It’s liberating.

    But my screenwriter heart will always beat, and my love for movies will never wane.

    All the best,
    Lee

    Like

  3. Pingback: Following the dream is not all it’s cracked up to be: A story of failure. – brislinwire
  4. Stanley Pomianowski · April 1, 2016

    The system sucks. I’m a writer from Orlando and I’m working on making my own film with my friends because I’m tired of other people deciding my future. With gear so cheap and high quality these days it’s almost crazy to not be making stuff all the time.

    Like

  5. Pingback: Here’s What Happens When Your Dream Filmmaking Job Ends Up Being a Nightmare | indiewire

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