So you wrote a script. I already know it’s amazing. It came straight from your soul. It feels like lightning on the page. I do not doubt that it is.
This is the part that will hurt, so let me hold your hand – be prepared to make it yourself.
In fact, the more fiery and human it is, the more likely it is that you will need to be this baby’s midwife.
I know you already know that. That’s why you set it in one location.
But I also know that in your gut, you’re hoping someone is going to love it enough to make it their own. You’re setting the bar low enough so that your script has a wider pool of suitors.
It’s alright. You can say it.
No one is going to marry your script.
I mean, I can’t say for sure. But I can make an educated guess. You know how I know that? Because you don’t have any produced credits. Even if they are crap, they are worth their weight in gold.
But you can’t get produced credits without someone loving your writing. And then deciding to produce it. Then taking it through development and pre-production. Then production. And the last and most important hurdle – post-production.
That’s a lot of love. Who’s going to love that script that much except you?
I gave up on being only a screenwriter. I now call myself a filmmaker because I will do whatever it takes to get a film I’m passionate about made.
Why did I give up on writing, something I’ve done since I was six years old?
I was spending too much money for not enough results.
I spent about 200 to 500 dollars a year on competitions, courses and writing-related stuff. The more desperate I got, the higher that number went.
I spent much more than that on films. The budget for my first short was 2350. The second was around the same.
However, the first led to the second being commissioned by Blacktown Arts. I got a grant of $2000. So that covered most of the budget. It is also a proof of concept for the project, I’ve been gnawing on for close to a decade now, Whose Wife Is It Anyway.
Do you know what it’s like to see characters that have been in your head for eight years come to life? To borrow Mastercard’s tagline – it’s priceless.
Just Food played at the Lonely Seal International Film, Screenplay and Music Festival. And it’s a semi-finalist at the Made in the West Film Festival this year.
Now those are results.
I got precisely nowhere.
Well, not nowhere. But all of the movement that happened in my career happened at the same time. In the summer of 2014 just before Isa was born.
I got into the second round of the Sundance Screenwriting Labs. Plus, Geoff LaTulippe selected me to be one of his #sixweekspec ten.
And since that time….a good three years later, the needle has not even moved a single jot. No, not even quivered.
Now you might be thinking that perhaps my screenplays weren’t that good. I would have liked to have known that. Anyone who wants to master a craft needs feedback to do so. None of the contests I entered gave me feedback. Only one of the courses did.
Now you might also be thinking, that since I only write Muslim female protagonists, that the industry is racist, sexist and Islamophobic. I will not disabuse you of that notion.
I got very poor feedback.
I am actually pretty grateful for this.
A few times, the feedback I received was demeaning, even pejorative. Some people were definitely on a power/privilege trip.
Other times, the feedback was tough, no doubt, but still loving and kind and encouraging. People said to me, “Yes, there is a problem. But you definitely can fix it. Here’s a few ideas, take ’em or leave ’em.”
Those few disappointing conversations taught me what good feedback looks like – lovingly honest, not brutally honest. We want to elevate both writer and script, not crush both.
Writing was tough on my mental health.
I often had severe bouts of depression. Usually preceded by the constant rejection. It was less the rejection and more the feeling that I had no way to measure my success that got me down.
Even if I were to become a professional screenwriter, it appears I’d still be doing oodles of free work for little or no actionable feedback. It’s just that unlike now, I’ll be getting a paycheck once in a while.
The change I want to see starts with me.
With all of the above in mind, the question became like a clanging fire alarm in my brain. Why am I doing this? Why am I writing films? Because I love films. And there aren’t many with people that looked the people I love i.e. my family. Ordinary everyday confused complicated wonderful weird Muslims.
I waited and waited and watched and wrote. But it became apparent that, unless I made them, my children will grow up in a world much like the one I did.
The TV and the news will demonize us. We will seclude ourselves in cultural enclaves and nurse an ever-growing list of resentments. We will live and die not knowing what it is to be heard or to be seen.
That might sound rather dramatic but it feels like this has been going on for generations.
If pop culture is our collective unconscious, why aren’t the 1.8 billion Muslims of the world featured in it? Except in terrorist or victim garb? Growing up, when I didn’t see myself or anyone like me onscreen, I didn’t feel like my contribution to society would be valued. Which means I was either depressed or mad. Never healthy places to be.
I have a few friends who are doing very well as screenwriters, so I’m not saying at all that my way is the highway.
However even they wouldn’t disagree with some of the liabilities I’ve mentioned above. What do you think? Is it worth it?
Look, I’m not going to lie. Film-making is a tough gig. But dude. There are many many many upsides to it too. Plus, my roundabout jack-of-all-trades history is actually an asset in film-making. More on that in another post.
P.S. Are you Muslim? Would you like to see a Muslim not be a terrorist or a battered woman onscreen? If so, please fill out this teeny tiny itsy bitsy survey. It’ll only take 4 minutes but give me heaps of valuable information.