The sure thing

Everyone starts somewhere.

Except for the extremely fortunate ones like Theodore Roosevelt, and the extremely unfortunately ones like Abraham Lincoln, most of us begin life simply average.

What it comes down to is what course of life we choose for ourselves.

Most decide without having to decide that they would play the game run by the house. The house’s rules are their bread and butter. That’s how they fit in, to feel safe and secure. What it also implies is that the society demands that they strive to go to the best of the best since kindergarten, so they are ahead at every single step. They even have to have the best burial plot.

Usually this is a particular crop of exceptional test-takers, overachievers, IQ lottery winners. Statistically speaking, they are still the minority. They won because it’s in their factory default mode.

The prospect for the rest of us seems gloomier than ever. We’re unhappy, unsatisfied, uninspired. Because we are never going to be able to reach the shiny object that seems just a tad out of reach. 

That leaves us to the last thing we can control: what we choose for our career. The sure-thing careers are lawyer and doctor. If you happen to love these jobs, then hooray!  If you graduate with a student loan, once you are in practice, your future immediately becomes a sure-thing even if your work ethics is just moderate.

Now, what if you are like me, who dreams to be a writer, not in your next life, but right here right now in your current body?

What I can say from my own experience is that graduating from Francis Coppola’s UCLA Film School doesn’t guarantee you the sure thing. Getting picked by a top-notch Hollywood producer when I was still in film school doesn’t get you to your end goal.

The truth is, if you get into the film industry to feel secure, you should get the hell out before you set your foot in.  The film industry is the last industry that would give you that. You have to earn it for yourself.  Word by word. Script by script. Day after day. Night after night…

But if you do enjoy and admire a good story, maybe you would appreciate working above-the-line in the film industry. 

Don’t tell me, surprise me.


Yours truly,


Picture Credit

Today is Thursday
the last day of March, 
and the fourth day into the new quarter.

At the pitch session yesterday, the instructors asked the first-year screenwriters about what they have learned, and second-years about their advice to the first-years.

Here is my learning as a first-year— Just keep writing.

For most students, two years is all we’ve got. Less than a year ago, we met with our second-year mentors at the department orientation. I had butterflies in my stomach not knowing what was ahead. Now I can no longer call myself “fresh meat.” And the second-years are doing their last quarter.

How time flies!

I am still debating whether I should do a third-year. Maybe, maybe.

But what struck me with the program is this — while our minds are still lingering on the last story we created merely twelve weeks ago, now we need to come up with something completely new.

The program encourages original new stories than rewrites.

That I can’t agree more. If the story is there already, you can always rewrite during your free time borrowing fresh eyes from your writing cohorts. I feel that during the quarter, we should just hash out new stuff. It’s how we grow muscles.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have issues with rewrite during the quarter. But, money-wise, I don’t think it’s savvy investment. Time-wise, not so much either. While the rest of us start afresh, most re-writers get lazy bringing in their first act from the previous quarter. They run out of gas fast. They have the vantage point maybe till mid-quarter.

Through my observation, rewrite with the class requires a lot of discipline. You have to have a fresh and critical pair of eyes looking at your old stuff. And you should be prepared to have a complete overhaul on the story.

Truth is, I am fascinated by the messy creation process. As a writer, we reboot like the computer system, start anew. We get to know the characters in the new story till we know them to the bones, during when we write the shitty first draft. And then, we rewrite. Finally we are done, for now.

I used to consider myself a perfectionist with grand pride. Now so much less after I finished the two quarters. You have to let go the notion of “I have to be perfect before showing anyone my art, my work.” It’s impossible when you have to hash out stuff each week at the writing workshop watching people tearing down your beloved brainchild. But once you let go, you become so much more thick-skinned towards the critiques. Some are useful. Some less so. You grow wiser taking critiques with a grain of salt.

They can’t do you harm if you stop take yourself too seriously.

But do take your work seriously, if you want to be treated professionally as a writer.