The Benefits of Pursuing a Stupid Dream
It’s not an Oscar or an Emmy, but I’ll still take it.
I awoke a couple of weeks ago to an email congratulating me on winning the grand prize in a screenwriting competition. The award was for a romantic comedy I completed earlier this year.
I was surprised. The script had been doing well on the competition circuit and had picked up feedback such as: “The strength of the writing suggests there could well be interest from multiple venues. The interesting and faceted characters can easily attract the appropriate talent.” It now ranks in the top 8% on a website that tracks how scripts fare in global competitions.
But frankly, I was never expecting the grand prize. I’d have been thrilled just to be a finalist.
Most such awards go to action movies, dramas, and high-concept sci-fi flicks…not rom-coms.
Basically, it was a nice way to wake up.
Even better, the award came with a $1,000 payday.
My quasi-agent/representative in Hollywood was even more excited by the news. She immediately asked me to send her the award-winning iteration of the script, which she has taken to a director she’s friends with who produces movies for Netflix and the Hallmark Channel, among others.
I share this not to pat myself on the backside, but because I think there’s a bigger message: Chase your dream, no matter your age.
It’s a cliché, for sure, but we all know that standard trope about looking back on your life and regretting not doing X.
For me, X was writing a screenplay that actually made it onto the big screen (or the small screen; I’ve also written a few award-winning pilots for TV).
It’s precisely why when I lost my job in 2017, I took stock of what I really wanted to accomplish in life.
I was 51 years old. I’d written multiple books. I’d been part of a team nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I’d had my byline on the front page of one of the world’s most respected newspapers (The Wall Street Journal).
The only missing, personal accomplishment—the one that meant something to me in a truly visceral way—was writing a movie and seeing “Written by Jeff D. Opdyke” on a movie or TV screen. It was a dream I’d harbored since my university days.
And, so, I dove into my savings and headed back to school at UCLA to study in its screenwriting program, and to fund my life for an unemployed stretch of time in Southern California. The cost of both combined was a substantial hit to my wallet, without question.
But I’d make the exact same decision today.
Too often we find reasons to keep putting off the dreams we have. Whether it’s some kind of exotic travel, living abroad, or reframing your life as a butcher, a baker, a candlestick maker…inertia is the albatross draped around our collective necks.
It makes it easy to push aside the dream for a little longer because you have time and there are other things to do first.
Only, a “little longer” soon passes. And then a lot longer passes.
And soon enough…the dream is dead.
I knew I was going to be mad at myself if I’d never taken the chance to chase this particular dream.
The truth is, my rom-com might never make it onto a screen of any size. The real-life, sports-drama script I optioned last year—my first sale!—might never see the silver screen either. Every TV pilot I wrote might die with me one day.
So be it.
But at least I gave the dream a good chase.
And at least I will know that my writing was good enough to earn accolades—and a little money—in a very fickle Tinseltown.
So, I guess here’s the message: Chase the dream. Start today. You only have the rest of your life to do what matters most to you.