Seventeen Month Experience
Eighteen months ago we made a decision as a family to take on a new chapter in our lives. Earlier that year (2012) I was engaged in talks with a production group for a progressive studio concerning a pilot I had written several years earlier. A friend with whom I have worked on screenwriting jobs for television over the years had pitched my idea which she thought was awesome from the beginning to an executive over drinks one night, she did an amazing job too because less than a week later they called me.
My wife was thrilled with the idea of me being offered a once in a lifetime opportunity and my son liked the idea of having his dads name in the credits for once; it had come down to vanity for me I suppose. After several long family talks we agreed that it would be worth the move and the change of scenery for our family, it would be a welcomed distraction but only with a four year contract which they offered. I signed my first non commissioned job in a decade as ‘Chief Writer’ and it felt pretty impressive. Over the next month I started with my goodbyes, or see you laters’ as we called it, because we were coming back. Unfortunately after my wife visited California with me, some things changed with her business and she would not be able to make the move. Long story short-I managed to work out an agreement with my new employer to travel back and fourth until such time that she (they) could move out with me.
Everything started off pretty well, as I learned the new environment I was writing in, wrote with a brilliant group of artists and picked up on the needs and wants of directors and producers fairly quickly. I also befriended many of the lighting, wardrobe, set designers, sound engineers and many others which are behind the scenes of every production. The project moved along fairly quickly as I was told on a regular bases, even asked to slow down on occasion by my managers. I spent 10-12 days in Burbank and then home for a similar amount of time where I learned how to use many secure servers to keep updated and meet with project staff. I cherished every moment I had with my family when I was home. I worked at visiting as many friends as I could in the short spurts, hell I even worked on building an out door deck on the house which we were going to put off since we were planning on renting the house while we lived out west. Things seemed to be rolling along pretty well.
One afternoon when I was heading back out west I got stuck in Dallas after plane was rerouted do to weather I received a call from my sons school, my son was being disciplined by an abusive teacher for an infraction he didn’t commit. My son was in tears on the phone while still another teacher witnessed the event and sided with my son but wouldn’t confront this said teacher because she too was scared. I made a split decision as a father to return home immediately and deal with this issue. I was taught early in my career to deal with personal issues as if they had 24 hours to live and only you knew it. I called through to my office and explained the situation, I was going to miss a finance meeting the next day, other wise nothing was planned. Made it to the school 18 hrs later, resolved issue without incident. Come to find out, the teacher had been written up for abuse of power on several occasions yet every time no parent had committed to dealing with him. After a night of hugs from my son and wife I left again, only to arrive to a meeting where I was to receive a disciplinary letter for my actions. I excepted my written warning like a responsible employee and when asked why I reacted the way I did, I explained to my managers that my family has always and will continue to come first (which I had explained during my interviewing process). I received a snarl from the one young woman and a smile and nod from the other as I walked out of the office to my cube. Later that night I received a few phone calls from project partners sharing their praise of the situation and how I handled it but also explaining that this company wants me first before family.
Over the next few months I worked without incident and made every deadline as they arrived early. I watched as my staff writers were moved around to other projects, my managers were changed several times and at one point I was working on my own for several weeks. I met writers and artists from other projects, some were brilliant and others who were nothing more than fakes and story thieves. I enjoyed listening to people in the business talk about their experiences and when asked I shared some of my experiences as a ghost writer and self employed writer and author. I learned many screenplay writers I met were terrified of writing as an author, stating the idea of having to complete a project all on their own was more than they could imagine.
The day before I was to leave so I would be home before spring break and a well deserved mini vacation I was asked to lunch by an executive producer. After small talk and a few beers he informed me that his niece who is 24 years old is visiting and he wanted her to attend an intimation only event as my date the next night. There were so many things wrong with this picture I didn’t and couldn’t be part of it. I explained how I had already declined the invite and was not on the guest list. He told me he had already contacted the planner and had me placed back on the list. I explained how I had to leave in the morning to make it home for spring break and our vacation, I also reminded him that I was married and I really wasn’t comfortable with the idea. He didn’t appear terribly upset, however I could tell from his reaction, he was hoping for a different response. I made it home in time to turn around and have a family week. Three days later I received a call informing me of a mandatory meeting the next day, guess who called the meeting, which I obviously was going to miss. When I returned to my office the following week I was presented with another reprimand letter stating that I had agreed to attend all executive meetings on the project. I was later told by another writer, they didn’t really do anything at the meeting except change some wardrobe and delete a minor scene.
The icing on the cake was a month later. I had made sure I was free to attend my sons graduation where my wife and I also make a donation through our foundation and speak to the young people about the importance of a good education. Less than an hour before the event I receive a message explaining the network wanted to discuss the schedule in an hour and I ended to be in my home office for a webinar. Frustrated because I didn’t really have any say in the schedule and it was not discussed earlier I replied carefully by sending my regrets and sharing what I was doing at that moment. My reply fell on deaf ears as they proceed to explain that this was no excuse and we would have to discuss my actions the following week.
I sat down with my 4th project manager and several other executives the following week when they explained to me the project was probably going to be shelved for a period of time. Not familiar with exactly what this meant they explained our project was not trending high enough at this time and they were replacing it with others they had started. They explained to me how I still have part ownership in the project and if I wanted to continue writing with the group I would have to move out to California full time and write as a staff writer. I listened to what they offered and asked to discuss it with my wife.
After 17 months I had learned something I already knew , my family and home mean more to me than any amount of money or vanity ever would. I never disagreed with any of my disciplinary actions because I knew what was right and wrong in my mind. There is a reason for only three staff writers having children and why many of them are not married or even considering settling down. I respect their commitment to the art but I learned it is not who I am. There are certainly way to many secrets as well; I heard someone explain there was only one other place where there were more secrets than Hollywood and that was the Vatican, I believe it. I am a writer, storyteller and obviously comfortable with split personality disorder, but I am a crappy actor, and I found myself having to act more and more. It was a privilege to work with so many talented artists of their craft and learn of the culture, surfing, parties, chilling as I often heard it called.
Later that night I called my wife and explained the situation, this time she asked me what I wanted and she would support it 110%. I told her what she expected to hear “it is time to come home and stay,” I could see her smile through the phone. The next day, when I met with a project manager and the HR person who I believe was also an attorney and shared my experience and decision with them, the rest is legalese. I still own the project in part and I when they decide to continue on it I have the option to move out permanently or sell it. I know what I will be doing already but it is good to have a little vanity. Now I am back to writing on my own projects and working with friends from the comfort of my own home office in little old coastal Georgia, where live roosters crow every morning, horse manure lingers in the air and the sound of gun fire means dinner not sirens but the real difference is having my wife and son only steps away when they need me.
in The Sanctuary.