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When little fish swim

A Whistler screenwriter pitches at the Banff Television Festival and celebrates the survival of O

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By Rebecca Wood Barrett

"I have little hope this writer will complete another draft."

These were the parting words in a critique I’d received from a screenplay funding agency. I seethed with anger, and, unable to retort against this personal attack, I swiftly sank into a foggy depression. The critique was my first, and I didn’t understand the difference between professional analysis and irresponsible, bitter criticism. I quit writing.

Three months later I read the report again and saw that some of the comments had merit. This was a turning point for me. My jellyfish skin had grown a little thicker. I picked up my pen and started scribbling once more. Now that I’m conscious of my knee-jerk reaction to criticism, I simply indulge in the moment, and then promptly get on with the work. I have a fantasy that one day I’ll meet that anonymous author and say, "Listen jackass, I wrote another 10 drafts of that screenplay. And I received development funding from another agency. Did you hear the film won Best Picture last year?" The first two parts have come true, and the last, well, you can call me an optimist.

It takes a healthy dose of both optimism and pessimism to be an artist. You have to be convinced you have talent. (Otherwise, why bother?) You must equally be convinced that your work is complete and utter crap. Your Optimism motivates you to keep slogging away, and your Pessimism makes you a supreme self-critic, ensuring your work will improve. Ping-ponging between O & P is like being on a roller coaster ride, with long, excruciating stretches of anticipation, sickening drops and the giddy joy of having survived. Last year I sent out 21 applications to various filmmaking grants, festivals, workshops and contests. I received 21 rejections. My P was thoroughly trouncing my O.

I fear my skin is now too thick. I’ve turned crusty. I’m a rhino and so I decide to quit filmmaking. Since one of my short stories was recently accepted for publication, I rethink my "true calling" – I’ll be a fiction writer instead. And then I download the e-mail. "Congratulations on a successful ‘New Players Pitch’ submission! Our selection jury has chosen your project ‘Wild Life’ to be pitched to an audience of programmers, financiers, and buyers at BANFF 2004."

I’m floored. I’d forgotten I’d entered the contest, thinking at the time that I didn’t have a hope. I laugh out loud in disbelief. Begin repeatedly muttering, "I don’t believe it." I’m going to the 2004 Banff Television Festival to pitch my half-hour comedy series Wild Life , in front of a ballroom full of people. People who buy television shows just like mine.

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