DIARY OF A LOST SCRIBE
Is it too late to join the circus?
by Carlo Dall’Olmo – President and Board Member of PSA
When I was a child, I wanted to join the circus. I thought being a clown would be the coolest job…traveling the world, hanging out, handing out balloons and wearing funny clothes – what else could you want? As with most childhood dreams though, I grew up and decided that I the circus just wasn’t for me. Though I romanticized traveling the world with misfits, I thought I would be more practical and decided on a more respectable career – writing. Now before you go off and start snickering (I can hear it already), understand that when I decided I wanted to be a writer, I was still living at my parent’s house with very little understanding of what it takes to “make a living.”
I went into this writing thing with stary eyes and enough ignorance of the process to believe I could succeed. It was the 90s after-all…all you needed was a good idea and a paper napkin and the world was your oyster. When I made my way out to Hollywood, rumors were flush with the ease of success. Everyone and his brother were landing deals – you didn’t even need a full script to succeed. Imagine that…no real work and success was all but guaranteed. Forget the rigors of clown school – the movie business was going to my thing.
The Bloom Falls Off The Rose
I get out to Hollywood, get into film school with 3 scripts under my belt expecting the industry to just knock on my door and fight to buy my scripts. I sent my scripts out to what seemed like 1000s of agents, probably more like 50 with all the same response “Thank you for your submission but it’s just not what we’re looking for.” At first, I thought maybe the agents didn’t know what they were talking about. Maybe they were just bitter writers themselves and couldn’t tell real talent when they read it. I continued writing, continued racking up points at Office Depot with ink supplies and copies.
Then one day, I am having lunch with an assistant friend of mine who worked for some of the creative executives at a major studio and asked him to read my work. If there was anyone who would give me honest feedback it’d be him. He agreed and three weeks later we met again. We chitchatted for a bit, he told me the great stories he had been reading and passing along to his bosses and then quickly pivoted to my script. I asked him if he had read my script and what he thought about my story. He paused, for what seemed like a lifetime and then said, “Yeah I read your script. Great concept but there isn’t a story there.” My jaw dropped. He must be kidding. What do you mean no story – there was 120 pages of story there. He proceeded to tell me that my “story” had no character arc. The characters didn’t change – they just stayed the same throughout the script with a few cool things sprinkled in. I was devastated.
I got home that night and just cried. All the hope I had of succeeding as a writer – just thrown out the window. I flopped down on the couch, flipped on the TV ready to call it quits when a program came on that caught my attention. It was a talk show – not sure which one but the host had a clown on as their guest. The clown was discussing how he got to be a clown, the schooling, the struggles and how much he loved his job. It was like divine intervention. He said as hard as it was to become a professional clown, he wouldn’t change it for the world.
Nothing Worthwhile Comes Easy
As I sat on the couch, mesmerized by the conversation, it hit me – maybe what I needed was more education and a different attitude toward the craft. It wasn’t about the quick buck or fame and fortune as originally sold to me but about learning to tell a great story. I had always loved writing but never knew much of the business. It was at that precise moment, as the clown was telling me about his passion that I realized what needed to be done. Call divine intervention, luck or whatever you want but nothing comes easy that’s worth anything. It takes hard work, dedication and above all else a love of the craft – be it clowning or writing. If you don’t love what you do, then you’ll never progress. With that, I hunkered down, started reading everything I could get my hands on about the craft, took classes and really devoted myself to learn.
Now 20 plus years later and some different life choices, I am still learning – still trying to figure this thing out. I love the craft and I still love telling stories. Nothing will change there. Whether I become a professional writer, I’ve decided, is less up to me and I am okay with that. Some days I look back and wonder what would have happened if I took up my original passion? I wonder if I would be in some foreign land traveling from town to town or would I be working at some stationary fairground handing out balloons to unsuspecting kids? Most of all though I just wonder if it’s too late to join the Circus.
About Carlo Dall’Olmo
Carlo Dall’Olmo is a screenwriter and the founder/organizer for Phoenix Screenwriters Association (PSA). When not writing or running PSA you can find him on the sidelines cheering on his 14 year soccer obsessed son.