Here is what I have been doing with my life since leaving the NHL
I’ve written/I’m writing a screenplay.
To avoid any confusion, let me be more specific. I’ve written a screenplay that will likely never turn into a movie, that not one person of power in Hollywood or any other city in the world has said, “I have to have that, so quit your job that has a steady paycheck and terrific health insurance, name your price and let’s get this thing produced.”
Let’s start at the beginning.
In September 2012, there was this thing called the NHL lockout happening. With massive restrictions on what I could write and say, it leaves you free time. A lot of it.
Around that time, I was in Toronto for a writing conference. My friend who worked in the NHL office there wanted to meet for drinks and food, and he had a proposition for me. A friend of his who worked in Los Angeles and had movie connections but no writing acumen was looking for someone to write a movie about hockey. He had an idea, but lacked the means to execute. So my friend recommended me to him.
So I sent this person an old screenplay (which is terrible and will never be seen) I wrote a long time ago. He liked it enough. So I sent him an outline for the current movie idea. He liked that a lot. So I sent him my idea for the first 30 pages. He really liked that. So we signed some documents, and basically became partners on this thing.
To say I’ve spent nine months working on this screenplay makes it sound like I have been working on it a lot more than I have in reality. Sure, during the lockout that lasted until January there was plenty of free time. When you don’t have to spend days and nights in a rink working a game, you have free time. A lot of work happened during that period of time, sure.
Then the season started. With a compressed schedule, it was far more difficult to write. Sometimes I’d go two or three weeks without even opening the Word document that contained this screenplay. But the season progressed, and so did the story. My partner would read, offer notes, I’d revise, he’d offer notes, I’d revise, etc. etc. etc. rinse, lather, repeat.
During this time, things changed in a major way at my place of employment. Us writer types were told about a change of philosophy. For a good four years or so, we were all about original writing, game coverage, features, analysis, all that jazz. I’m not sitting here telling you we were ever a true journalistic news site — MLB.com and NFL.com were light years ahead of where we were in that regard — but we were slowly taking strides away from worrying about PR and team reactions to negative news and that type of thing. It was a fun place to work that you felt was going in the right direction.
But that philosophy changed. We were told that going forward, we were no longer being judged on “original writing,” and instead we were being judged on how quickly we could rewrite breaking news from other people. For example, a reporter in Vancouver tweets that Roberto Luongo is starting over Cory Schneider. We would now be judged on how quickly we could rewrite three paragraphs about that and get it on the site.
Game coverage was also being reined in, and while a feature on Luongo or Schneider wasn’t frowned upon, it wasn’t what the site would be about.
Around that same time in March, my partner and I felt pretty good about the screenplay. We had received some really positive feedback about it and we felt like it was at a point where we could begin showing it to the right people in a couple months. It wasn’t ready, it needed more work, but we were coming down the home stretch with it.
Here’s where I made one of those incredibly stupid life decisions.
The playoffs were right around the corner, and covering the playoffs is by far the most fun time of year. It’s two months of travel, non-stop writing and late nights and long days either at the rink or traveling between cities.
However, the playoffs were right around the corner, and while covering the playoffs is by far the most fun time of year, it’s two months of travel, non-stop writing and late nights and long days either at the rink or traveling between cities.
I had two choices: 1) stick it out at NHL.com through the postseason and enjoy a steady paycheck, but dedicate about 53 total minutes to the screenplay over the course of two months, or 2) quit to spend those two months dedicating as much time as possible to the screenplay, leaving myself jobless, health-insurance-less, and perhaps never employable again.
Being the logical, intelligent person that I am, I chose No. 2.
I gave my five weeks notice (five weeks!), said my goodbyes, and here we are in early July and I’m still wondering if I made the right decision. I think I did. I guess. I don’t know.
It basically came down to this: I really, really want this screenplay to work. I probably want this more than anything I’ve wanted in my life, and I was at a point in my job where I wasn’t happy. Things were changing there. So the last thing I wanted to do was look back on my life in five years and wonder if that screenplay I wrote that time would’ve worked if I would’ve dedicated more time to it instead of sticking it out at a job where I wasn’t happy.
Having said all that nonsensical crap about being an artist and dedicating time to my craft, if I was at a job I loved, I would have made both things work. It’s no offense to anyone there who will read this and roll their eyes and do a double wanking motion, but it’s just how I felt and that’s probably just as much my fault as anyone else’s.
So since I left at the end of April, my life has been the screenplay. And SVU reruns. And Bones reruns. Again, when someone says, “I’ve been working on my screenplay for two months,” first off, punch that person. And secondly, you may have an image of a person of sitting at a desk, crumpling paper, throwing pens across the room, screaming, huffing and puffing, crying and punching the keyboard for hours on end, but it’s really not like that.
There’s a lot of thinking, but there’s the writing and rewriting and revising and editing and reading notes and deciding which criticisms you value and editing and revising and rereading and rewriting and getting more notes and tweaking and reading and fixing that typo on page 87 and cutting that scene down by a page and changing that line to this line and saying the lines out loud to see how they sound and deleting that because it sucks and fixing that page break and wondering if that character’s name is too weird and reading and editing and oh look more notes and this criticism makes no sense and oh yeah I hadn’t thought about that scene in that way let me make this more clear and reading again and man I need a shower and my god this block of type needs to end right here.
It’s really weird. I feel like I’ve put in a lot of work over these two months of psuedo-unemployment…actually, I *know* I’ve put in a lot of work. But when you write hockey stories and they go up on a hockey site, you can point to that hockey site and say, “Look! There is my work! I did work!”
With this screenplay, it’s just you and a Word document. It doesn’t go anywhere. You are working on something that there is an excellent, excellent chance may just wind up being a really old file on your computer that when you search for it under “date modified,” in 2016, it is below three years worth of fantasy football cheat sheets. You know you are working hard on it, but it’s a weird kind of work. It’s like doing 1,000 pushups every day for two months but seeing absolutely no change in your body.
So that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve had a couple people who read screenplays as part of their jobs look at it, and again, the feedback has been tremendous. I’m not getting into plot or anything like that, but there’s one compliment I’ve received multiple times that makes feel good about a story I’ve read so many times I can’t tell what it is anymore. They’ve said, “I read screenplays all the time and just about all of them take me a long time to get through, but I flew through yours in less than a day.”
All writers have different things they like to hear about their work, but when someone tells me something I’ve written is that easy to read and really funny, honestly, nothing better for me.
So, we’ll see. We’re going to start shopping it or whatever the Hollywood term is for what I’m doing shortly, and we’ll have an idea of what’s going to happen not longer after that. I guess. I don’t know. My god what have I done with my life?
I’m really hoping to know what the screenplay’s fate is by the end of September. While I have some money saved, I don’t have a trust fund and eventually I will need a job that pays the bills and October will become the time I started having sweaty panics about finances. Hell, I’d take one now, but I wouldn’t want to take a job now then cut out in a month or two, either.
If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But I know at the end of this process that some are calling the worst career move ever made by someone who writes for a living, I won’t have any regrets.