thousand movie project turns three

Kinda weird I forgot to mark the exact day but, yeah, the end of November marks three years since I launched the website for Thousand Movie Project.

            It was my hope that I could get this whole thing done within four years, but that’s not looking so feasible at this point. Probably gonna take five, maybe six—which is a good pace quicker than the seven years I originally planned but, still, it would’ve been cool (and I think more marketable as a narrative) if I could’ve binged my way through these thousand movies over just the course of a couple calendars.

            Alas, life happened, and while the Project maybe won’t end up earning me a book deal once I’ve finally written and posted my essay for moviepicture n.1,001 (which is 2013’s Life of Pi, by the way), I don’t suppose I’ll have any regrets about having embarked on it. I’ve learned a lot from the Project, made friends because of it, gotten out and about and tried new things. Opened myself up a bit.

            I feel perfectly content and even fairly proud of everything I’ve achieved in the Project up to now, but last week I got a rejection from an agent to whom I’d sent the 90-page proposal for the Thousand Movie Project book back in July. I think I submitted it to about twenty agents, maybe thirty, and this guy was in the top five because our interests aligned so perfectly.

            In the past five years I’ve queried maybe 300 agents across three different books and, in all of those uniform rejections, maybe seven have been personalized; and I was so hungry for a personalized rejection on this particular book, so I can have an idea of what to change, that when I finally got that personalized rejection, and found it even more crushing than the standard form letter (guy basically said it was a good idea, poorly written), it got me thinking seriously about the fact that this whole Project might not amount to what I wanted.

            Or it might not culminate in what I wanted. Thousand Movie Project has already generated a few thousand pages of writing and, if all goes according to plan, it’ll generate a few thousand more. I’ll watch another thousand hours of movies and read another few dozen books about cinema and the subjects it steers me toward.

            I’ll grow.

            But I embarked on this whole thing with a book deal in mind as like the end goal—conceived of the Project, frankly, as like a long, fun, arduous means to an end. Now, I’m realizing there’s a very good chance it might not work out that way. That the odds of getting a book deal are in fact probably stacked against me.

            And frankly, as I’ve been confronting that reality, I’ve been surprised to find that I’m pretty cool with it.

            I mean obviously I’d prefer that this culminate in a career but, y’know.

            I wrote recently about this encounter I had with an influencer in the world of business, entrepreneurship, inspiration—I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about her but I’ll keep her anonymous just in case. Anyway: I got her on the phone after a while and I was gonna write some free blog posts for her and, conjuring some performance of professional confidence, told her that if she liked those free ones, and wanted to go forward with an arrangement, I’d charge her a hundred or so dollars per post—no harm done, though, if she just wanted tot ake the freebies and run.

            She was game for it. And I set out to work.

            Well, I tired and tried and tried and it just didn’t work. I couldn’t write what she wanted me to write, what I told her I would write, and I just never got back in touch with her.

            And why couldn’t I write for her?

            The same reason, I think, that I was so incredibly miserable writing for the ghost writer (apart from the fact that he was wildly abusive and mercurial).

            For all that I love writing, for all that it’s tangled up in my identity (such as I see myself), it seems I can’t conjure two fucks from a flame when it comes to writing stuff that doesn’t interest me.

            In I think the second volume of Simon Callow’s wonderful Orson Welles biography, Hello Americans, he writes that Welles was “constitutionally incapable” of doing anything he didn’t find interesting. I underlined that passage and sat with it for a while. The phrase still crosses my mind.

            But this idea of living at the mercy of your interests prompts this tug-of-war in my head where I think that I’m just being a diva to say that I’m incapable of doing a job when, in reality, I just don’t want to—but there’s also a part of me that thinks, yeah no, this is a perfectly legitimate perspective to have on the subject of writing. I can bus and serve tables, I can mix cocktails, I can tutor students at a college across town and shuffle pizzas in and out of ovens—but when it comes to writing, it does seem like I can’t do a good job unless the thing I’m being asked to write is inherently interesting for me, and if I’m given the necessary leeway to write it the way I want to.

            And since I’ve finally found my rhythm here with the blog, and I think have found found my voice with it, I feel like I should just keep doing it this way. Be consistent and prolific and honest and fun and…maybe something will happen.[1]

            Another reason that the third anniversary of the Project is getting me to think so seriously about the book deal that might or might not be waiting for me at the end of the line is because I’m really burned out on dealing with the whole publishing world. The queries, the proposals, the agents, the hurry-up-and-wait. Now, let it be said: I maintain the position I’ve held since I first started dealing with agents in 2014 or ’15: every person I’ve encountered in the publishing orld, from agents to publicists to editors and critics and the like, has been an absolute sweetheart who, often as not, is likely to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to extend a young writer the courtesy of feedback—usually by way of answering a tweet or responding to some very niche question via email.

            They’re enthusiasts, these publishing people. They’re on the side of books. Carrying a torch for something that seems to be always fighting off the dark.

            Alas, the whole business is a drag, and it’s gotten me thinking seriously about self-publishing and also, since the Project has opened me up to the world of podcasting )which, having made some headway toward finally figuring out my style, I’m loving with a passion on par with what I feel for writing), I’m thinking about maybe just persisting in these same veins forever: blogging, podcasting, the occasional movie review or thinkpiece for some online outlet or other.

            The reality is that I can do this forever, all of this collective work, and still never make a splash in the world. I could also write or record something tomorrow that strikes some Secret Chord with the audience and makes the Project a household name. That’d be nice.

            But frankly, the former is fine with me too. That I should be afforded the anonymity to go about the world and observe things and talk to myself about them, talk to You about them on some or other platform—that’s pretty nice all on its own.

            Maybe when I’m 55 and my shoulder hurts and I’m constipated and not wanting to go to work as a server for my twenty-fifth consecutive year, I’ll be saying, “Fuck, I should have tried harder to make a career of sitting at a desk.

            No telling where this’ll go.

            But this I can say for sure: if I could go back to my 25-year-old self on the last Saturday in August of 2016, while he was sitting, after work, at the head of the dining room table and watching, in quick succession, the first two movies off the List, making notes about how to find the next dozen or so—if I could show him where the Project’s ended up, I’m pretty sure  he’d be pleased. It’s gotten some attention and it’s made me, I think, an empirically better person (better-read, more rounded, more historically and culturally savvy; more compassionate; a better writer).

            And what else shoulda  creative person strive for?

            This year, finally, with Adam & Eve’s sponsorship of the podcast I’m generating a small (but interesting) income from my creative work. That it should have taken three years for this to happen would no doubt have proven frustrating to me at 25, and I might have been discouraged from embarking, but, from where I’m standing now, it makes all the sense in the world. I frankly feel like I’ve only just recently figured out what the hell I’m doing here.

            And I’m glad that there’s so much left to be done.


[1] A digression that probably won’t mean much: as I get farther and farther from Thee Ballad of Philicio Nightly, a novella I wrote and self-published on Amazon a few months ago, I’m starting to think that this particular hangup is what the story’s actually about, underneath all my bullshit prose styling and sex-obsessed nonsense. It’s about a guy who’s way more attractive and socially successful and wealthy than I am, obviously, but who’s also adrift, and trying to find his place, his lifestyle, as he inches into his thirties and sees the world maybe pressing convention on him. I feel silly to ever talk seriously about my fiction in conversation but this little footnote way down at the bottom of a too-long blog post feels like a safe space where I can riff about it in a long indulgent way—mainly just to say that the story’s about chasing romantic partners with whom the protagonist (like me) can forge intimate, naked, confessional dynamics whereby he’s exploring, comfortably and at length, his hangups, fears, ambitions and aimlessness and self. Think it’s pretty clear to me now that this is what I’m doing with my own dating life, my sex life: accumulating confidants, people who—by merit of their own professionalism and maturity and well-adaptedness—have the authority to forgive me my eternal adolescence. Philicio Nightly glorifies pillow talk—as I’ve also done in the podcast—and which is one of my favorite things in life. Sitting in the dark at an unreasonable hour and talking in a gigglesome confessional way. In fact, by that definition, this whole blog is kinda like one endless session of pillow talk. There’s maybe also something significant and metaphorical (in that tricky subconscious way) about wanting to talk with somebody in the dark. Not wanting to have to see them too clearly and read their reactions. I was in a job interview recently where the general manager of the restaurant asked me to define “active listening,” and I told her I think it’s when you make noises of assent, understanding, and every now and then feed back to the person some fragment of what they’ve said so that they know you’re following along. She said yeah, that I’ve more or less got the gist of it, but then elaborated to say that (apart from the astonishing number of interviewees who’ve never even heard the term) “active listening” involves reading the person’s eyebrows, their posture—their everything. And maybe I find that shit overwhelming? I mean here we are, You and me, way down here at the bottom of the post and, frankly, this is the only part of the post that won’t be subjected to several drafts. All that stuff up above is heavy and sincere but only down here, away from it all and in smaller font, do I feel like You an I can really talk in an intimate way—the downside being that it doesn’t have the sort of carefully-honed concision that makes for good enjoyable writing. Ahdunno what my deal is with confession stuff. I was just telling a friend about the same habit I’ve talked to You about: I go on a date with somebody, I deflect the questions they ask about me about myself, but then, when I go home and realize they didn’t press me for personal details, I feel offended, hurt, like they weren’t interested enough to get to know me. Then I think, “Well, good for them, cuz I’m probably not that interesting to begin with.” But so why then am I writing thousand of pages about my private life for You to consume? Is this born of a conviction that I am interesting, or that I’m not, and that if I wanna express myself it should be, like, somewhere out there in the ether. Clearly there’s some hubris, right? There’s an old joke: Q: What does a writer say after sex? A: “…but was it as good for ME as it was for you?” The arrogance of taking for granted that You were totally satisfied, but the narcissistic uncertainty about whether I myself am happy about it. Anyway. Back to the text.

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