The Bad One

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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.

Sometimes in movies or TV shows, there's a moment where a character reveals something about himself, something embarrassing or humiliating, but something he hopes other characters share. And after an awkwardly humorous pause, it turns out they do, and the characters are drawn closer together thanks to the one character's willingness to be honest and vulnerable.

Okay. Here goes.

It doesn't matter how good you are. You can be a wonderful writer – or director, or actor, for that matter – and have a string of accomplishments to your name. You can have awards and money or just a great reputation as someone who does excellent work.

But somewhere inside you – somewhere you hope deep – is a truly awful piece of work. A funny script so unfunny – a scary script so unscary – a terrible script so unfixable -- that it's hard to believe it actually came from you. That you typed it.

We all have one – at least – really inexplicably bad piece of work in us, and it's going to come out. I mean, it just is. Going to come right out.

The trick is somehow to engineer things so that your really bad stuff – maybe even that one unredeemable piece of work – comes out early in your career, before anyone is really paying attention. The slick move is to bury the bad under subsequent layers of good. And if the good stuff is really good, sometimes when people dig up the bad stuff – they look through old files, the sift your IMDB entry, whatever – sometimes looking back, through the lens of your good stuff, the bad stuff doesn't look so bad. It's got a context. It's in perspective. You've lucked out.

And it will be luck, because there's really no way of managing this, no way of finessing the timing here. All you know for sure is: at some point, you're going to embarrass yourself with some really stinko work. It's like, someone has taken one Diet Coke from the refrigerator and shaken it for twenty-five minutes straight. Eventually, you're going to open that can.

I keep saying “you” and “your” because I want to involve everyone in this, I want to implicate the world, I want to convince everyone – especially myself – that what I'm describing is a universal experience. Talented people can produce truly awful stuff. And the reason I need to make this a global issue, and to drag everyone into it, is because I have done just that. I have just written a terrible script

Oh, I'm sure it's fine, is what people have been saying to me for the past few days. You're just being too hard on yourself. Too critical.

I am not being hard on myself. I don't even know how to be hard on myself. The script I just wrote is embarrassingly awful. Noticeably bad. Disappointing to the people who were expecting it to be better, or good even, adequate.

In fact, this week, I couldn't even bring myself to do what I usually do here, for four minutes every week. I couldn't tell a funny little story about my funny little life in the entertainment business because there's nothing funny about it. My bad script has come oozing out. It's all over my shirt and the floor and it's working its way into the fibers of the rug. And the only thing I can think to say that makes me feel even a bit better is: this happens to everyone. This is universal.

So you know that moment in the movie or TV show where a character reveals something about himself and other people chime in to tell him he's not alone? This is that moment. This is that movie.

Don't leave me hanging.

That's it for this week. Next week, I fix that script. I mean, how hard could that be? For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.



Rob Long