Choosing to Fail - Journey from Writer to Scripty


By Emily Blake

I like to joke that I came out of the womb with a pen in my hand. My whole life, I never wanted to be anything but a writer, and shortly after grad school I discovered that screenwriting was the style for me, so I packed up and moved to Los Angeles to make it happen. I got a job as a high school English teacher and wrote on weekends when I wasn’t exhausted from dealing with teenagers all day.

After a few years, an action comedy script I wrote called How My Wedding Dress Got This Dirty was a finalist in the TrackingB contest. I got a manager and an agent and my time had come. A producer attached, although there was no money yet. I did the water bottle tour. Everyone told me I was gonna go far, kid. It was only a matter of time. And I believed them. My friend John Gary calls this “The Hope Machine”.

I guess I started to notice the problem when I had this meeting at a studio where the guy thought he was meeting a comedy writer. Sure, I write comedy, but I am an action writer first, and I have always been very clear about that with everyone I meet. My script was funny, sure, but it was also full of fight scenes. I guess nobody told this guy that, because he was not prepared to meet an action writer at all. This was not an isolated incident.

That’s when I started to realize that it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve fired a gun or how much knowledge I have about MMA, or even how great my action scenes are, as a woman, I will never be the first writer anyone thinks of to write an action film. I’m funny, so I’m a comedy writer. You want action scenes, you hire a man.

Not every producer I met felt this way, and I definitely have to give a shoutout to the producer I met at Sketch Films, who absolutely got what I was throwing down. I would work with him in a heartbeat, which is also a testament to how you can leave a pretty strong impression on people in this business, so behave yourself.

Anyway, in the next two years, I was never offered an opportunity to pitch, despite constantly being assured that I was amazing and wonderful and the next big thing, (I was on the 2012 Young and Hungry List! Look it up!) I wrote more scripts, but they never really went around beyond a few small production companies. The producer attached to my feature asked for another round of free rewrites that I declined.

And then they all just lost interest.

It’s demoralizing. They build you up so high, and then they just disappear from your life and forget your name. That happens to many writers, regardless of gender, but for me, it was especially hurtful, because I feel like I never even got the chance to present the best version of myself.

I was absolutely despondent.

As I tried to claw my way back in, I started to produce short films. Along with a great team, I made a short film called Tenspotting that I wrote with a friend of mine. I produced two other projects from friends of mine. At least I was making things.

That’s when I got very lucky and landed the writers’ PA job on the revival of Prison Break. That was by far the greatest job ever, and I learned a ton from working there, including what happens in post. I started to pay attention to the job of script supervisor and I realized that that job requires skills I naturally have.

“I missed my calling,” I told our script coordinator.

“No you haven’t,” he said. “You can still go do that if you want to.”

He was right. When my job at Prison Break ended, I put out the word that I’d be willing to work as a script supervisor for free to get some experience. I did two jobs. I LOVED it. I was respected and important and I went home every day feeling good about myself. And I was undeniably good at this job. I’ve been working my way up ever since and now I’m making it my career.

Am I giving up writing, the one thing I always knew I wanted to do? Does this mean I’m not a writer anymore? Did I give up my dream? Isn’t that sad?

Those thoughts are always in the back of my mind, but then I remind myself that I can still make things when I want to. Nothing will stop me from writing a script when I feel passionate about a story, and nothing will stop me from sending it out. Nothing will stop me from making a short film with my friends, which I am currently preparing to do in a few months.

Since I gave myself permission to try another career path, I feel relaxed and happy. I get to work on cool projects like Or Die Trying, which was a great experience. I wake up every morning and immediately search for anyone who needs a great script supervisor. I’ve started to get recommended to other filmmakers.

I see Tweets every day saying “Never give up! Keep trying!” And sometimes they’re right. I would have said the same thing a few years ago. I’m sure I did say that. A LOT. But you also shouldn’t feel bad about yourself if you give up “the dream” and swap it out for something you can enjoy doing right now.

There’s a quote I love from MMA fighter Chael Sonnen: “They’ll tell you that failure isn’t an option. That is ridiculous. Failure is the most readily available option at all times. But it’s a choice.” I choose to fail. I choose to get out of a lifestyle that made me feel worthless and swap it out for one that makes me feel good.

I will always love writing, and I will never stop working on scripts, but these days I only write what I want to write, and only when I want to write it. I still get to make cool things with cool people. And you never know – my script isn’t dead. Someone, somewhere might pick up one of my projects – maybe my TrackingB script. Maybe my Nicholl semi-finalist (Oh yeah, I got a big boost of hope out of that one too) and say “YES WE WANT TO MAKE THIS!” and then we’ll see what happens. But in the meantime, I’m okay being a failure. Twenty-year-old me would probably be super pissed to hear me say this, but I just really love being a scripty. If this is my life, I’m okay with that. 

Jessica ToscanoComment