It came like a bolt from the blue. I wasn’t looking for it. Didn’t need it. But there it was. Shocking, electric—the question that wouldn’t go away. “What is the worst movie ever made?”
LIGHT BULB! ... THEN ACTION
When the “Eureka!” moment happened I was supposed to be concentrating on a lot of other things: getting an American agent interested in my screenplays; working as a full-time film critic and doing freelance on the side to help pay the rent; being a good partner to Clare and a dad to our 14-month-old daughter Ava. But once I saw an egregious little tween comedy called Material Girls and then discovered it was at that very moment the user-voted “worst movie ever” on the Internet Movie Database, the question wouldn’t let me be: What really was the worst movie ever made?
Material Girls sucked, definitely, but I’d seen worse—hell, I’d sat through Santa With Muscles starring Hulk Hogan just in the course of doing my day job. The question then that spurred my quest felt right. It was something I had some experience in and was passionate about but one I couldn’t readily answer. Above all, it was an answer I had to have. No doubt you have a bunch of such questions that relate to where you’ve been and what you’ve done, or what you’ve read and thought and wondered. Imagine one of ‘em grabbing you and not letting go.
But you have to rise to the call. Here’s the thing: rather than just think on it, I acted. I jumped in the deep end—buying hundreds of bad movies on DVD and VHS so I could spend a year watching one really terrible film a day until I found the worst one. Financially committed, I couldn’t back out. I don’t suggest you need to go as far or spend as much, much less on crappy videos, but making it real to yourself—committing—means you can’t then dismiss it as a flight of fancy and back out. I’m thankful I didn’t. Setting a date and doing it pegs the mind, heart and soul on something external. It becomes a narrative, a spine to which you attach experiences and recollections.
CRAFTING THE ONE-YEAR MEMOIR STORY
It’s a segmented memoir—you don’t need to trace your grandparents’ hometown—and a prism through which you view and record events as the quest continues. This memoir form bridges the disciplines of journalism, investigation and analysis while allowing you to present a portrait of yourself in a specific time. In our post-modern culture, it also allows for a lot of jokes and references and subversive asides as you traipse your merry way to quest fulfillment.
Happily, it’ll never be a field of pretenders because you have to be genuinely passionate and curious about your question, but also realistic for yourself and your readers. Can you really become a brain surgeon? Is your struggle not to eat chocolate for a week really that harrowing? But if you decide to build a house with your bare hands or volunteer at the local thrift shop or climb the fourth-highest mountain on each continent, then you might have a bit of fun.
As you progress, take notes. You’re not going to remember all of this stuff and the beauty of such a memoir is in the details. The passengers on the bus, the song on the radio, the color of the sky, the comment your other half made last night and how you feel about this in relation to your quest: this is what will make your memoir vivid. You’ll be writing this backwards to some extent later but you’ll be surprised how much of the first-draft thoughts matter. And make it to the printed page.
The thing is, and I can’t emphasize this enough: Get started.
IS YOUR IDEA/QUEST BOOK-WORTHY?
The ultimate test of whether what you want to do is worthy of a quest memoir is this: Is it something you really want to do and, moreover, something you’d read about? If the answer to both of those is yes, then do it. Once you’ve done it, of course, comes the really tough bit—writing your quest into book form, finding an agent and getting published. If you think your quest is hard, whether it’s hugging 100 dolphins or becoming the world champion at rock-paper-scissors, be prepared for a secondary slog that’s equally challenging.
I was lucky enough to get a recommendation from an Australian friend which landed me with Hannah Brown Gordon of Foundry Literary + Media in New York City. She loved my idea, liked the two rambling chapters I’d written and saw something in the similarly discursive pitch I’d cobbled together. She and the Foundry team helped me hone those chapters and craft a proposal that was also a chapter-by-chapter plan.
Your quest will be your own journey. But just as you’ll need family and friends as your support team along the way, you’ll need a terrific agent and editor to help you turn your experiences into a book. But that’s for down the road. Maybe four weeks from now. Maybe four months. Of four years.
For now, getting started is where you begin. As my novelist friend Mic Looby told me twenty years ago: “Don’t agonize.” It’s possibly the best writing advice I’ve ever heard. Think about it, talk about it but most of all, get on with it. Get on with your wonderful, tiring, frustrating, rewarding and illuminating journey. All else will follow from that first step.
This is guest blogger Michael Adams on set
of George A. Romero’s Survival Of The Dead,
"playing"—what else?—a zombie. Besides
writing a book on finding the worst movie
ever made, Michael is a magazine contributor
to publications such as Empire and Rolling
Stone. And, for a brief shining moment, he
was co-host of The Movie Show.