I couldn’t understand why no one saw what I saw in the story I had written.
But after some time thinking about it, I realized the issue wasn’t that no one saw what I saw in the story I had written.
The problem was I had not written what I saw in the story.
Someone said to me once that talent is in the recognition, not in ability. In other words, talent is the capacity for a particular skill. Talent is in recognizing a good idea, but craftsmanship is the grinding hard work that transforms the idea into something else. Craftsmanship and talent are both important, but craftsmanship is what gets the job done. Raw talent only goes so far. Work will outwork talent any day. If you can choose between the two, choose to be a hard worker over being talented.
From that point of rejection, I certainly felt the sting and incomprehension of the work I had done being overlooked. But instead of giving up on the project, I just gave up on showing it to anyone, and I went back to the challenge of figuring out what was the heart of the story and how to express it better.
I thought long and hard about why the story was powerful, and what was it about the story that was compelling? I realized that I had not captured those ideas that I was attracted to in the original version that had been rejected.
It went through a few more iterations here and there, but no real major breakthroughs.
It was only when I went to Krakow, Poland for a weekend (I was living in Prague at the time, and it was a short trip up by train), that I went for a long walk around the city center, just thinking and thinking and focusing on the theme and what made the story tick.
I broke it down into single word themes, single ideas and concepts, and then spread those ideas out and asked myself again and again “how can I get those single word ideas across in the form of a story? Throw out the idea of fitting a particular model or style, or even history. What sequences of events would best express those ideas, instead?”
After about four or five times circling the center of Krakow, I had a major breakthrough. It was a freeform recognition of how to express the theme. And from that came the structure of the story.
But that’s just the capacity to recognize the path. The work would be in traveling it.
I returned to Prague and rewrote out the spine of the story. I did the work.
I sent it off again, sure that I had finally nailed it.
But it was rejected and ignored a second time.
Now, I was sure to not ever send it off to anyone again. Ever. Not after I wasted my time in Beautiful Krakow walking in circles.
But I kept eyeing it in my mind’s eye, late at night, or when something reminded me of it. I couldn’t leave it alone, so I would return back to it and whittle away at it a little more, but still never brave enough to send it off for anyone to read again.
After learning that other more influential people were also trying to make a movie about the same subject matter, I grew cynical and decided I’d give it one last effort and let the cards fall where they may.
I did pitch the story and actually got some exceptionally great reactions, but it never went anywhere. The anguish of knowing that others would inevitably make the movie before me was a pain I didn’t want to go through once all my own resources had been exhausted, and after I had sweated my soul into the work.
Better to not have fragile dreams.
So, I went on my way and tucked the script away, never expecting to return to it, other than often sometimes using it as a basis to build my visual portfolio to get jobs as a concept artist.
Finally, around 2009, I saw a movie, Waltz with Bashir, a film told in a simple animation style. When I saw what Ari Folman was able to accomplish, it sparked the idea that I could do the same. I didn’t need approvals: If I could teach myself how to animate, I could make this movie in my pajamas.
Some more time passed, the idea zig-zagged and fell apart, I never did it, and then I moved from Europe back to North America. And the idea resurfaced again.
Finally, I announced I was going to move forward with that idea and make it. I started the animation process, but continued to keep that script to myself. The sting of rejection is real – But, I think it’s not actually the rejection that is debilitating.
What’s debilitating is telling it without receptive ears can diminish it’s power in the creator’s mind. The introspective process means that, like a surgeon's hands, the power that's operating must remain protected.
But at some point, the creator must be willing to release it into the world.
It was only this past year, after some frustrations working on others’ project and a few key meetings, that I decided to give the script itself another go. To send it back into the world.
I entered the script in one, somewhat large contest, and continued on about my business.
Last week, I happened to check the status of the contest, and noticed the script has made it into the quarter finals.
It seems the story has resonated. Finally.
The work, the craftsmanship, has caught up with the capacity to recognize a good idea, and, even if it goes no further, my story found some kind of an audience somewhere. Some reader or readers somewhere were able to recognize something in the story that I saw too.
But that screenplay's structure has changed very little in ten years. And now, it has made it into the top 5% of all contest entries.
All I needed to do was release it.
And that’s a good reminder to tell my younger self: the kid walking around Krakow, Poland, who, instead of being a tourist, was content circling the city again and again, wrestling with the dilemma of how to never have to face the question of why no one saw what I saw in the story I had written.
I guess I have finally have written what I saw in the story.
The Journey Continues