Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

“Think of This Movie as a Sausage”

By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 23, 2015

[Don’t forget the huge savings on our Black Irish Christmas Special—the 7-Book Megabundle for Writers. Keep a couple for yourself and spread the rest around to “worthy recipients.”]

A few years ago I was working on a “B”-movie at Warner Bros. There was a car chase in the script, and the director, who was young and on fire to do something really special, came up with an idea that he thought would take that scene from good to great. He went to the office of the Warners’ exec who was in charge of the production (and thus controlled the budget) and made an impassioned, on-his-feet plea for an extra X thousand bucks, just to make that one scene a showstopper.

Anne Hathaway, the original.

Anne Hathaway, the original.

The exec listened patiently without saying a word. Then he stood, crossed to the director, put his arm around his shoulder and said, “Bruce, think of this movie as a sausage. It’s just another link and you’re grinding it out.”

(This is all totally true, by the way).

At the time I remember thinking, “This is Hollywood moviemaking at its cheapest, laziest, most cynical worst.” I was outraged.

But a few days later I got to thinking, “You know, the exec is right. This movie is just a sausage, and we are just grinding it out.”

On the other hand, I like sausages.

Why not make a good sausage?

Why not make a great sausage?

Whaddaya think? Was War and Peace a sausage? Was Hamlet?

On the one hand, they definitely were. Both were hard slogs, long grinds. Both required serious, workmanlike patience and tenacity. I don’t know this for a fact, but I’ll bet Will Shakespeare was working at the Old Globe with a producer/financier whose point of view was not far off from that of our exec at Warners. He, the Bard, was probably writing two or three other plays simultaneously, pitching three or four more at the Royal Court and the Dramatists’ Guild, while fending off Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, who was challenging his authorship (along with Sir Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, and William Stanley, the Earl of Derby), all the while operating on four hours of sleep, not to mention dealing with crazy actors, late payments of royalties, his landlord clamoring for the rent, the tax collector seeking overdue imposts, while trying to maintain a harmonious relationship with Anne Hathaway (the original one), his wife.

I can picture Will, dashing from a rehearsal or a table read of his next comedy back to his cubby at home so he could return to work grinding out HamletHamlet was Shakespeare’s twenty-second play. It came between Twelfth Night and The Merry Wives of Windsor. Was there an evening when the playwright smashed his quill pen into his writing desk and, gnashing his teeth, troubled deaf heaven with this bootless cry: “Damme! This sausage is killing me! Forsooth, lemme just grind it out and get it done with!”

What I’m trying to say is, in the end, I came very much to appreciate our Warner exec’s point of view.

Of course we’re gonna work hard on our next book/movie/startup.

Of course we’re gonna beat our brains out to make our stuff great.

Of course we’ll obsess. Of course we’ll go OCD. Of course we’ll drive everyone around us crazy.

But maybe it’s okay once in a while to pause and remember, “It is only a sausage and we are just grinding it out.”

In the end, I hear, we’re all gonna be sausage. So maybe hanging onto a sense of humor is a happy antidote to preciousness and to taking our work and ourselves too seriously.

P.S. the executive in this story (I’ll spare him the embarrassment of naming him) had done a number of good movies before the one we were working on, and he went on (he’s still going strong) to do other seriously excellent films afterward. He was, and is, by no means a frivolous player or a hack.

Maybe he understood something that the rest of us didn’t.

 

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

14 Responses to ““Think of This Movie as a Sausage””

  1. December 23, 2015 at 6:25 am

    Dear Steve/Shawn/Callie,
    I had the pleasure of handing out a few books from both this year and last year’s Christmas Mega-Bundle the post couple of days.

    Due to the Black Irish initial generous, freebie of Lion’s Gate, it was with true joy I gave the hard-cover copy to another friend yesterday.

    Tim Ferris always asks his Podcast guests which book they hand out most frequently. For me it has historically been “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by Richard Bach, that book spoke to me at a very young age and still does.

    War of Art and Turning Pro have recently become my favorite books to recommend and give as gifts. Giving a book as a gift is such a reward, especially when I know how much it will resonate with my friend.

    Thank you. Love the blog post, but what I love more is the consistent home I have found at stevenpressfield.com (pressfield always triggers my auto-correct by the way…)

    I wish you all, Black Irish Books, the blog readers & posters a wonderful holiday season. This site has influenced my life in a positive way.

    Thank you again. I know this effort is for reasons that are way beyond commercial reward, I just want you to know that the effort is worth it for one dude living in the rain-sodden Pacific Northwest.
    bsn

  2. Joanna
    December 23, 2015 at 6:30 am

    “Damme! This sausage is killing me! Forsooth, lemme just grind it out and get it done with!”

    Oh man. I can’t stop laughing at this. What a great post.

    Also, thanks again Black Irish for the incredible megabundle. That package was seriously fun to open!

  3. December 23, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Interesting post. It reminds me of advice someone said to me recently regarding finishing work. He said, “look Jonah, this photograph is not your life’s work, just finish it, and move on.”

    In a way, he was saying the same thing. Just churn out the sausage, and move on.

    Jonah

  4. Mary Doyle
    December 23, 2015 at 6:34 am

    Thanks for another great post and for another great Christmas bundle! I passed Story Grid on to another writer and donated the rest of the bundle to my public library for its bookstore. I trust these books will find the right readers! It’s fun spreading this particular kind of wealth around – thanks again to everyone at Black Irish!

  5. December 23, 2015 at 6:44 am

    Thanks for the generous bundle of books! It’s truly a treasure trove I got myself for my birthday this month!

  6. December 23, 2015 at 6:59 am

    Great stuff. The line from the producer should go up framed in my writing office. (Hey there’s another side project for you guys: inspirational posters to kick writers in the rear!)

  7. December 23, 2015 at 8:13 am

    The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    • December 23, 2015 at 8:25 am

      You beat me to it, Erik!

      Nice post. Don’t we all take ourselves just a smidge too seriously? I for one have been working on a sausage for far too long and its about time to eat it.

      Merry Christmas!

  8. Marvin Waschke
    December 23, 2015 at 8:54 am

    On my software development team, we had a phrase for the point in a product release when all the significant defects were removed and the gold plating had begun : “time to push the pineapple” (out your butt).

    • December 23, 2015 at 9:39 am

      Never heard that before, Marvin. That is great! (So visceral.)

  9. December 23, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Dear Steve, Shawn, Callie,

    Thank you so much for your work and dedication to supporting and nurturing writers and authors in training. Thank you also for the Writers’ Megabundle. With the exception of An American Jew – all the books are going into good hands and hopefully will create lasting fans.

    Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and look forward to more great insights on this blog. Thank you
    Vlad

  10. Tina Goodman
    December 23, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    So, the director decided to change his assignment, he wanted to make a different movie, not the B movie that he was hired to direct.
    Good post.

  11. Monique
    December 23, 2015 at 1:30 pm

    Awesome post!! Thank you for the ever present reminder. It’s an on-going question for my husband and I who are professional creatives. At what point, do we let go of the relentless perfectionism and OCD attention to detail and just get it done and move on. Thank God for deadlines or we’d overspin projects and ultimately kill the ideas. A good producer\director buddy of ours, who is astonishingly prolific and never gives less than 200% is always telling us to not overspend thought. Just do it, finish it and move on. There’s something to that!! We find we do better work now. :)

  12. Monique
    December 23, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    P. S. Please forgive the grammar mistakes. I dashed off the last post. 😉 on another note… Thanks Steven, Shawn, Callie and Tim for all the blogs, podcasts, books and whatnot. They are a dream and a refreshing reminder when we get slogged down by the machine. Kudos and Merry Christmas!!!