When failure is not an option
'History of Violence' screenwriter John Olson never gave up on his
path to make a Hollywood movie.
The Scriptwriters Showcase is a three-day conference from April
7-9 where students can interact with successful writers and industry
executives, pose questions and enroll in panel discussions regarding
moviemaking in Hollywood. Sponsored by Final Draft, Inc. and scr(i)pt
magazine, this year's keynote speakers include recent Oscar winners
Diana Ossana ("Brokeback Mountain"), Bobby Moresco for
("Crash") and Josh Olson for ("A History of Violence").
Freshly nominated for an Academy Award for his adaptation of "A
History of Violence," screenwriter Josh Olson deliberated the
significance of perseverance while strolling through the busy hallways
of the Sheraton Universal Hotel at Universal Studios, the site of
this year's Scriptwriters Showcase. Olson is relatively new to the
scene, yet has suddenly found himself in the company of all-stars
like Diana Ossana and Bobby Moresco. Apparently, a shot at a little
gold statuette can do that. Like the nearly thousands of struggling
young screenwriters who move to Los Angeles each year in hopes of
"being discovered," however, Olson's story is full of
He has failed, several times in fact. After a string of shorts
and several straight-to-video films, Olson's career seemed to be
going nowhere. Then he made a splash at the Los Angeles Film Festival
and the rest was simply preparation for "History." So,
how did he do it? The answer: "stick with it." This succinct
colloquialism is the writer's mantra for surviving the filmmaking
Olson explained, "There is no set path for success in this
business … everyone has their first bout with failure and
the number of people decrease by half each time." Those who
have a backup plan inevitably end up using it, and an aspiring Hollywood
writer is no exception. One little dance with failure and writers
are throwing off their shoes and complaining of calluses. Little
did these now destined-to-be-midlevel businessmen realize that the
dance was simply the two-step leading up to the tango.
Now Olson is finishing up "Monster" with New Line Cinema,
a film that he optioned out of his own pocket. Simultaneously, he
just began casting for the short film, "Until Gwen." Based
on a short story from the writer of "Mystic River," Olson
is amped to start this new project, calling it "simply amazing."
So, it appears that after several years of rejection and frustration,
the writer has a slate full of productions and an Oscar nomination
to his name.
Aside from a relentless streak of stubbornness, Olson suggests
that actually having talent tends to be an advantage in Hollywood.
"There are crazy people out there who think they are good.
(In reality) they are delusional and have no talent whatsoever,"
he asserted. Olson always knew he was a strong writer, but talent
couldn't prevent insidious thoughts of doubt from creeping into
this head. "I had no other marketable skills," he chuckles.
"I mean, it's scary to think, 'What if it doesn't work? Am
A common sentiment among young artists (translation: indebted college
students), Olson again stresses the importance of "sticking
with it." For the aspiring filmmakers, the only advice Olson
can give is to believe in your talent and press on relentlessly.
And perhaps learn to tango.
"When failure is not an option" is the second in
a two-part series on the Scriptwriters Showcase.