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The Hollywood Way: Failing Upward

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We’ve all made mistakes that we deeply regret.  A few years back, I got swept up in a tumultuous, oft-violent relationship that resembled Ike and Tina Turner’s marriage in “What’s Love Got To Do With It”.  Except… I was “Tina”.  That’s right, my ex slapped me around like an eight-year-old’s birthday pinata.  (If only I was full of tasty candy instead of tears.)  Of course, I wasn’t proud of being knocked around by a rail-thin, vegan wafer-eating yoga instructor.  So, I did what any normal red-blooded guy would do–I wrote a movie about it.  A comedy movie!

I said, “Where is the humor in domestic violence?”  I thought:  what if it was the 1970′s and you had a singing duo who were the most loved musical couple in America?  Except behind the scenes she beat the crap out ofhim.  Sort of “Sonny and Cher” meets “War of the Roses”.  And so the the concept for a funny movie was born.  My writing partner and I pitched idea to Jack Black, who then took us to a studio where we sold the idea.

The lesson?  Bruises heal, but money lasts forever.  Thanks angry anorexic ex!  You just bought me a house!

And that’s what I call “Failing Upward”:  taking an otherwise embarrassing or humiliating personal situation and spinning it into Hollywood gold.  Why shy away from your worst blunders?  Expose them to world and see where it gets you.  Audiences want to see real human drama, and they want to laugh at real human pain. Your human pain.  That’s why “The Hangover” worked.  It was based on a real experience by a friend of the writers.

It all goes back to what comedian Bobby Slayton said, “If you can’t laugh at yourself, make fun of other people.”  I guess that makes me the “other people” who get laughed at.  Who cares?  I think it was the great violinist Ozzy Osbourne who said, “I’d rather people laugh at me than cry at me.”  Here, here!

When I was nominated for the Razzie Award for Worst Screenplay in 2005 for “Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo”, I didn’t run away to Bali and hide my head in the sand.  I went to the Razzie ceremony with the co-writer of “The Dukes of Hazzard” (also nominated) to accept my award.  I lost.  But still, it was an honor just to get nominated for “Worst Screenplay”.  Because anyone can write a good movie.  But it takes real talent to write one of the five worst movies of the year!  Or the “Worst of the Decade” according to Roger Ebert.

That indomitable spirit moved Jamie Kennedy to ask me to be in his documentary ‘Heckler’, which examines what it’s like to be an artist attacked by critics.  I was in the film for all of 20 seconds.  (Rent it on Netflix and see if you can find me.)  What came out of my appearance in ‘Heckler’?  Absolutely nothing!  But it was fun, and I could say I was in a film with George Lucas and Rob Zombie.   All because I co-wrote a terrible script, which I took credit for!

I barely made it through law school and became an incompetent public defender who lost every case.  I’ve been engaged three times, all with disastrous results.  I was hit in the eye by a flying dildo at a live Swedish sex show.  And I’ve included all of the above in some movie script.

Maybe you’re not a scriptwriter, but you can still apply these time-honored principles of “Failing Upward” to your own life.  Don’t shy away from your goof-ups or be ashamed of them.  Embrace them.  (People seem to like George W. Bush a lot more now that he wrote a book admitting to everything he did wrong.)

Realize that you have to take risks before you can fail.  Turn a positive into a negative.  Like that crazy guy in Florida who tried to shoot all those people at the school board meeting.  Even at point blank range, he didn’t hit one person.  What a terrible shot!   (It was the worst shooting since that kid in “Pulp Fiction” who missed Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta after jumping out of the bathroom.)

How could crazy Florida shooter have turned things around?  Instead of killing himself, he should have gone to rehab with Lindsay Lohan, signed a book deal and gotten an endorsement from the company that makes laser sighting.  “Next time, I’ll use Bullseye”.  See, that’s failing upward!

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