Sue the Screenwriter on sending her work off the cliff of judgement

Posted in Blogs, Literary

SUZANNE KELMAN, Feb. 1, 2013

“Jumping off a Cliff and Shouting Wheeee!”

When I was in my 20s, I had an incredible experience while I was working and living in Spain. I drove out to the lakes in mountains of southern Spain and leapt from a high cliff into the clear blue waters 20 feet below.

Now you are probably thinking, so what? But for me, a confirmed acrophobic, who likes her feet planted firmly on the ground at all times, it took a couple of glasses of wine and a lot of coaxing from my dare-devil friends on that trip.

I still remember as I stepped out into absolutely nothingness, the sheer fear that raced through my entire body, only to be followed by acute feeling of exhilaration and the need to scream “wheeeee” about halfway down.

Being a writer can sometimes feel a bit like that.  I think one of a writer’s greatest thrills is to have the work read aloud to them, and one of a writer’s greatest fears is to have their work read aloud to them.

I have had exactly that very experience in a darkened black box theatre on a Sunday afternoon in December in North Hollywood.

It had been just about a month before when I had received the exciting news, that my current script “Illusion” had not only placed in the top three in comedy category, but it had been judged by Scott Rosenfelt (producer, “Home Alone”) as the best overall script of the competition.

To say I was ecstatic is an understatement, there was dancing and hooting and hollering as I read the email titled “congratulations.” It outlined in great detail the girth of exciting prizes that I would now be receiving including my main prize, a staged reading of my script by professional actors in a theatre in LA.  My husband was practically packing before I finished reading out the sentence to him.

As the weekend of the reading approached, all I could think about was a nice sunny weekend break in California in December with my family and my writing partner who was joining me for moral support.

And to be honest I didn’t give the actual read through an awful lot of thought, until the morning of the event.

It was about the time I was staring down out my California breakfast that I realized a group of strangers were about to read my script, out loud, to people.  What if it wasn’t funny? Or the story was flat, or it didn’t make any sense!

It didn’t seem to occur to me during this inner dialogue that if the producer of “Home Alone,’ one of the most successful Christmas movies of all time, liked it, and then maybe it wasn’t so bad. This thought didn’t occur to me because the dreaded writer’s curse of self-doubt had leapt up at me from my scrambled eggs like Jaws and wasn’t about to let me go.

So there we were an hour later, in this lovely black box called “The Rose Theatre” in Burbank.  We walked inside, and as we did I overheard the actors talking to each other about their characters, my characters, discussing them at great length as if they were real. And it was right then I had that leap in my consciousness.

I had created something that was about to become real; brought to life by these actors, and the rush was intoxicating.

So, I just couldn’t help myself as we settled into to the darkened theater and the stage manager read the words, “fade in…” and started the first line of my script; my 5-year-old self couldn’t help but gather herself for a story. So what if it was mine, this experience was exciting.

I did the expected “writer” thing as they read for 90 minutes. I took notes and outlined text that didn’t work in my copy of the script, but honestly all I could think the whole time was about the amazing journey I was on with a group of people who seemed to actually like the story, they laughed, they cried, and at the end they clapped and then I cried.

Yes, it was intimidating, and yes it was incredible, but more than anything it was real, and it was my work and now as the actors claimed their characters it was their’s too.

And as I watched the audience react and enjoy it, I found myself thinking there is nothing more exhilarating then leaping off a cliff with absolute fear and half way down finding yourself needing to shout wheee!!!!

Suzanne Kelman is a multi-award winning screenwriter. Two of her screenplays have been optioned and are in development, while another is in pre-production and due to begin filming in Europe in 2013. Kelman currently enjoys teaching screenwriting classes each month at her home studio in Bayview. If interested, email for details.

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