Confessions of a Guy (Almost) Too Hard-Headed to Learn | Script Revolution

Confessions of a Guy (Almost) Too Hard-Headed to Learn


Rockstar member John Ellis, an all round great guy and long-time member of Script Revolution, has been attending our Shootin' The Sh*t with Shane meetings on Zoom during lockdown. As a result of talking in depth with a long-time established producer, John has had a revelation of sorts which has caused him to re-evaluate his core goals behind screenwriting and break out of momentum paralysis by making an essential pivot and finding a new route to his destination - CJ

I’m an idiot.

My wife tells me I shouldn’t call myself names, it’s detrimental to my mental health. Sooo, let’s say I’m “hard-headed.” Yeah, that’s the ticket. I’ve been cavorting in the playground of the School of Hard Knocks for a long, long time. There’s an old saying in the Navy’s nuclear power program (yep, back in the day I was learning how to run a nuclear submarine, until my girlfriend broke up with me and I went AWOL—see first sentence above):

Guy walks by and sees a nuke banging his head against a wall.
Guy: Hey, buddy, why are you banging your head against the wall?
Nuke: Because it feels good when I stop.

Okay, stand-up isn’t my path…

Segue alert!

That’s what this ramble is about. Our paths as creatives, the steps we have to take to achieve our goals.

I’ve often given advice, in Stage 32 Lounge Discussions, that you, a person, need to decide what your goal is in this industry. Really look at what you want to do, what you love to do, what you seem to be talented at, and set that as your ultimate goal as a film/TV/book/art/acting/music/etc professional. Because each goal has a different path. Once that goal is clarified, the path to it becomes clear, too. And taking the steps along that path is the way to achieve your goal.

Another gift of unwanted advice I spout is: “Do it yourself. Don’t wait for anybody to do it for you. Go completely indie, to hone your chops, to get noticed.” I often quote Beck/Wood’s tweet about how to break in the business. Overall, this isn’t bad advice, IMO—if you’re smart enough to take it. For me, however, instead of, “physician, heal thyself,” mine should be, “idiot, listen to thy own advice.”

There’s that word again.

But it’s apropos. I’ve spent 20 years focused on making it on my own—being indie; thinking my goal was to write and produce my own stuff, completely independent of the “establishment.” I’ve spent over $120K in the last two decades producing (short films, webisodes, trailers, comic books, among other things), pitching, getting coverage, going to workshops, blah, blah, blah… All for nothing. At the beginning of that 20-year train wreck I quit my job to become a “producer” (thank God they hired me back 5 months later—I was broke); I drained my 401k and tapped friends and family for money (and ultimately filed for bankruptcy). All the while thinking I was getting somewhere, that I was travelling down the path to my goal.

I wasn’t.

What I was doing was wasting time and money and effort—sure, you can say all the waste really wasn’t, it was a learning curve. But what a brutal, idiotic way to learn! When will I graduate from TSoHK?! How many 2X4s upside the head does it take to change one guy’s mind!?

Well, here’s the good news: I think I might have finally left the playground.

Thanks to CJ Walley and his Script Revolution, I recently sat in on a video conference with him, a bunch of great people (mostly writers), and an actual working, successful film producer, Shane Stanley. What an affable, down-to-earth, accessible guy! What we discussed, the stories he related, caused a paradigm shift in my thinking. The answer was lurking around in my brain and had been for a while (as revelations often do), but Shane’s words turned a spotlight on those thoughts, brought them to the fore, and “forced” me to face the truth.

The problem, for all these years, hasn’t been the path; don’t get me wrong—following whatever path, taking the needed steps, is still, I firmly believe, the only way to achieve your heart’s desires, to fulfill your passions.

The problem with me wasn’t the path—it was the GOAL.

My focus was always “indie”; I looked at Hollywood and saw nothing I wanted. Not the egos, the politics, the bullshit, and decided there had to be a better way. And I’m sure there is--that indie, for many people, IS the way to go. It just isn’t for me.

The truth is, while I love the creative part (collaboration, team-building, brainstorming and the like), I HATE the less glamorous side—the business, the politics, the egos. I’m a good writer; I’m a helluva lot less-good businessman. And definitely not an entrepreneur (which most producers really are).

The upshot is, after all this time and money and effort and tears (not an exaggeration), I finally got it through my head that my goal needs to be, be a writer—not a producer. Certainly not an INDIE producer. Which, BTW, my wife has been telling me for 26 years (please don’t show her this—she loves being right!).

So, final bit of advice: really examine yourself in the coldest, harshest light as you can; no delusion, no wistfulness, no hard-headedness; and select that perfect goal for yourself. THEN follow the path to get there.

In other words, don’t be an idiot (and I mean that in the nicest, most healthy way…).

About The Author

J.E. Ellis's picture
Real name: 

I'm a published novelist (“The Essence of Humanity,” “The Hordes of Rage”) and produced screenwriter (“A Glimpse of Heaven and a Taste of Hell,” “The Harvesters”). Working, always working on more projects!

Also, working a full-time job (30 years a truck driver). I don't know why I put this in, but people seem to be impressed by it. Maybe more than by my writing! :)

I can't think of anything else to put in this bio - I guess I suck at writing about myself.Read more



John Hunter's picture

Many have wiped away bitter tears, myself included. In a clinical re-re-re-examination of my journey..."It either happens, or it don't." There are no A's for effort or rewards for time invested. There simply is no set formula for success.

Paul Grammatico's picture

Great article John! Enjoyed "seeing" you at the Zoom meeting!

J.E. Ellis's picture

Thanks, Paul! Looking forward to "seeing" you again!

Teresa Barber's picture

The experiences shared in the meetings are not something ANYONE will ever learn in a classroom, which makes the meeting so much more educational and interesting! Way-to-go John and sorry I missed Saturday!

J.E. Ellis's picture

Thanks, Teresa. I'm sure there'll be more! And yes, though the School of Hard Knocks is rough, it's better than film school, IMO.