Often on Cloud 109 (best blog in the universe) I'm reading Peter Richardson's fascinating accounts of the greats of comic art and writing, and the dismal truth dawns that most of these guys were chewed up and spat out to watch their creations soar to the heights while they expired in the gutter, usually with the consolation of a bottle of Jim Beam in a brown paper bag. And then you spend a little time working in videogames or TV or movies and you begin to see a pattern. It isn't just comics. Wherever there is creative talent there's a rip-off waiting to happen.
Jack Ember delivers a passionate speech about this in Winter. It comes close to the end of the book so I won't spoil it here. He seems to be talking more generally, and indeed I guess he is. When creative talent gets chewed up, that's the perfect Platonic embodiment of money oppressing labor, after all. But the wrath, determination and socialist sentiments expressed by Mr Ember come from Leo's and my personal experience. It's a theme David Mamet explores in many of his movies, such as The Spanish Prisoner, above, or The Verdict, below. (Though I should add that Mr Mamet is hardly going to want me lumping him in with us socialists; sorry, sir.)
Anyway, there's never any point in being defeatist. When you talk to people who want to oppress you, if you dig in they will start to talk over you. That kind of person views all talent as unworldly, so they will alternately try to bully or charm you. They are trying to turn you into a victim. This you must resist. It is said that genius is always to be found begging at the gates of wealth, but that is old business thinking - the zero sum game. There are now investors and business partners who have the vision to seek a new model with creatives. They are out there; you must find them. As a creative man or woman, you must learn enough about new business thinking to talk to these worthwhile partners and forge win-win deals. Remain positive and there is nothing apart from the raw quality of your work to prevent you climbing up the ladder to a new and better creative/financial model.
Here, like the stages of Dante's hell, are the thresholds you must cross to get there. Forewarned is forearmed!
1. At this stage, people are not interested in your project. They don't just pass on it, they act as if Derren Brown has put them under a hypnotic compulsion to ignore it. If you give it to friends and they don't give you any feedback, that's actually a good sign. It means that they don't know how to break it to you that they found it too weird. Too weird often (but not always) equates to original, which is what the project needs to have any chance of reaching stage 5.
2. People try to shoot the project down. This means that they feel there is a serious risk of it being successful. Tellingly, they see that as a risk to themselves - in most cases, they're envisaging that it will be a success for someone else. So they tell you all the reasons why you should abandon it. "Science fiction is not testing well with the 8-12 year-old ABC1 female demographic." Again, take heart. If they actually thought it wouldn't get anywhere, they wouldn't bother trying to discourage you. (Also, anybody who thinks that kind of marketing speak has anything to do with creative success is a moron anyway, so do you really care about their opinion?)
3. Now it's getting serious. People will come out of the woodwork telling you why you won't get anywhere without them. I'm not talking here about potentially useful partners like investors or publishers. These are people who you're not even sure exactly what they plan to do for you. They keep everything vague, which favors them because they don't have anything concrete to bring to the deal. You can recognize them in an instant by the lingo: fluent bullshit. Sit it out - they're just the early swarm of parasites that tells you real partnerships and deals are on the horizon.
4. Success is close now. You can smell it. Serious players turn up wanting a slice of your project. The only problem is, they don't want the goose (that's you), they just want the golden egg. Money will be offered. More money than a ditch-digger could make in a whole week, yay. This is the reverse of stage 1, as gradually you'll notice at meetings that people are talking about "our" project. Yeah, they like it now. They want to go home with it, and you're just the old chaperone who's getting in the way. The history of creative endeavor is a bloody battlefield littered with talent left clutching a few dollars while the big boys sit on piles of gold sucking their cigars. They'll do it without a qualm - they don't even think you deserve it. After all, they did all the work, didn't they? Beware of this stage. Having come this far you're probably desperate for a payday, but don't weaken.
5. Real success is when you find partners - publishers, studios, investors - who both have something real to contribute and see you as more than an upstart who found a treasure map in the attic. They know that you are the best champion the project will ever have. They figure that having created it, you might just come up with even more good stuff next week. As this type of deal is a genuine win-win, each partner may have smaller percentages but of a much bigger pie. I should add that few creatives ever get this far - most sold it at stage 4 or earlier to pay the rent. But if you have a good project, believe in it. The only thing that stops you reaching stage 5 is all the frogs you need to get through to find a prince.