In about an hour, I'll be at the studio to be fitted for my Criminal Minds wardrobe. Tomorrow, I start work on the show.
The script's been rewritten a few times since I first read it, and I've been able to read each draft in its entirety, which has been really interesting to me as a writer, as I track the changes and try to figure out what network and studio notes they were intended to address. It's got to be so difficult for these writers to take a certain scene or character in one direction, write really great dialog and stuff to get them there, and then be told that they have to throw it all away and take things in a different direction. And do that three times in five days. I honestly don't know how they do it.
People ask me all the time if I'm working on a screen play, or if I'm interested in writing for television. In fact, a staff writer from a show we all watch told me last year that I'd fit right in on that show, and that I should think about taking my writing career in that direction.
I said thanks, but no.* I know how hard it is to write a good story with compelling characters and an engaging plot. I also know how arbitrary and soul crushing the entertainment industry is, and that's just as an actor. The people who write for television are basically writing the equivalent of thirteen features a season, serving several different masters, including the show's producers and the people at the network. For a fascinating insider's view of this process, you must read John Rogers' posts about his show Leverage:
(There are more Leverage posts, but that's a good place to get you started.)
I had a hard enough time coming up with something clever to write every week for Games of Our Lives and Geek in Review, and in both of those cases, I only had to make one editor happy. I don't even want to think about what it's really like to make a whole bunch of different people happy, especially when all of those people work in the entertainment industry, and there are millions of dollars at stake. I have nothing but respect for the people who can do it.
Anyway, this post is about changing gears, so I suppose I should get to that.
When I went for my Criminal Minds table read last week, one of the writers introduced herself to me and offered to answer any questions I had about the character and script. My first instinct was to ask if I could some sit in the writer's room and take notes, but before I could jam my foot in my mouth, I reminded myself, "You're here as an actor. Do your job." It was then that I realized I'd have to switch gears before I started work on this show. I'd have to take off my rookie writer's pants, and put on my veteran actor's pants for a week. That sounds simple and logical, but it's been tough, especially because I was really building momentum on these short stories I've been writing. I guess it's a good problem to have, though, so I'm not complaining.
This week and last week have been weird for me, because though I don't think of myself as a full-time actor any more, I can't deny that I'm super excited to bring this character to life, and I'm proud of myself for booking the job. Allow me to quote Shane Nickerson: "There's something to be said for not needing it and not seeking it, isn't there? I won't say not wanting it, because I am too keenly aware that no matter how much we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we actors may never stop wanting it, somewhere deep inside." That is 100% true, and I'm not even going to try to deny it. As much as I hate dragging my ass all over town for auditions, and as frustrating and demoralizing as the whole process is, when I'm actually working with other actors and creative people to take words on a page and bring them to life, it's almost worth it.
Almost. Which is why I've mostly traded taking the words off the page for putting them on it.
Yesterday, I tried to spend the day writing. For eight hours, I did everything I could to knock ideas out of my head and give my characters interesting things to say and do. I failed in every attempt at masonry, growing more and more frustrated with each highlight and delete. Finally, I accepted that my internal creative CPU wants and needs to be doing actor things, like breaking down scenes, developing and understanding this character, and learning my lines. Luckily, I've done this long enough that it's all second nature, and it's all deeply satisfying, so it doesn't feel like work at all.
You know, it feels strange, but also good to change gears for a few days. Hopefully, I won't grind them too much.
*There's been a lot of confusion about this, and I want to clarify: I wasn't offered any jobs on any shows. I was told by an experienced writer that, in that writer's opinion, I would be able do it if I wanted to, and I said I wasn't interested in that kind of thing, because I don't believe I have what it takes.