“Think of this movie as a sausage … “

I was in a production meeting at Warner Bros. for the second Steven Seagal movie, Hard to Kill. It was called Seven Year Storm at that time. The director was Bruce Malmuth, a good guy who sadly died way too soon.

Steven Seagal in Hard to Kill

The screenplay had a car chase in it. The movie was low-budget and the sequence was scripted very tightly. Bruce however, lying awake the night before this meeting, had come up with a way to make the chase different and special. But he needed more money from the studio and an extra day of shooting. I remember Bruce rising from his chair and making an impassioned plea for just a few more bucks and a little extra time. 

The Warners executive listened calmly with no change of expression. Bruce resumed his seat. He was actually out of breath from making his fervent plea. The exec thanked Bruce for his commitment and his creativity. He saluted him as a dedicated filmmaker and a true artist. Then he said:

“Bruce, think of this movie as a sausage. It’s just another link and you’re grinding it out.”

Everyone around the table, including Bruce, burst into laughter. But we all felt a chill too, at hearing stated in such stark, unvarnished terms the reality of the marketplace.

I remember thinking at the time,

I agree with the executive. This movie IS a sausage. And we ARE grinding it out.

But my attitude toward the grinding, I said to myself, does not have to be cynical or condescending. In fact,

I am grateful as hell to be here working on this sausage and to have a chance to grind it out.

And furthermore …

Nobody, including the studio and the studio executive, can stop me from giving my all to make it the best possible sausage.

In the end I got fired off the picture. You won’t find my name in the credits. But I still agree with what I thought then.

Every project doesn’t have to be Citizen Kane. It’s okay to work on “B” movies and “C” movies or to write trade ads for Preparation H. As long as we do our absolute best and keep our eyes on the prize of producing, in the end, our own best material, as truly as we can to our own lights.

DO THE WORK

Steve shows you the predictable Resistance points that every writer hits in a work-in-progress and then shows you how to deal with each one of these sticking points. This book shows you how to keep going with your work.

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THE AUTHENTIC SWING

A short book about the writing of a first novel: for Steve, The Legend of Bagger Vance. Having failed with three earlier attempts at novels, here's how Steve finally succeeded.

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NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SH*T

Steve shares his "lessons learned" from the trenches of the five different writing careers—advertising, screenwriting, fiction, nonfiction, and self-help. This is tradecraft. An MFA in Writing in 197 pages.

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TURNING PRO

Amateurs have amateur habits. Pros have pro habits. When we turn pro, we give up the comfortable life but we find our power. Steve answers the question, "How do we overcome Resistance?"

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29 Comments

  1. Jackie on February 9, 2022 at 3:49 am

    A truly noble principle, this above all, to thine own self be true. Giving your best, no matter the circumstances is the only way to live. I’ve worked lousy day jobs to support the writing and art, cleaning houses, cleaning animal crap, outdoor jobs in mud, heat, and cold, and gave all my best. I moved on only when asked to compromise principles. Success can be defined beyond the monetary. Never let the bastards get you down.

  2. Joe on February 9, 2022 at 5:39 am

    I get this. I’m supposing that if “Resistance” has a close cousin, it’s “Perfectionism.”

    • Mike Collins on February 9, 2022 at 8:13 am

      excellent point..thank you

      • Kate Stanton on February 9, 2022 at 10:51 am

        I used to work with a man that came from nothing. He worked his way up the corporate ladder. During his training seminars, he would inspire new employees with personal anecdotes of his frat boy days hustling at Burger King in order to pay for college so he could get a formal education. He said he’d clean up shit in stall 2 then head to the fryer (hands washed of course!). I’ll never forget when he told the room–“be a star where you are”. No matter what job you have at the moment, it is preparing you for your purpose. I love this. Do your absolute best and keep your eyes on the prize! I think the dreaming is the best part anyway!! Thanks, Steve!

        • Maureen Anderson on February 9, 2022 at 11:35 am

          Once upon a time I wanted to work as a beverage girl at a buffet restaurant, but I was only fifteen. The law required you to be sixteen. So I lied. So, apparently, had several other teenagers. One night the dessert girl got an attack of honesty and confessed to the floor manager — during a huddle in the walk-in freezer where they kept tubs of cherry filling and whipped cream and chocolate shavings — that she was underage. She got fired instantly, and the manager said, “I know there are others.” He started with the salad girl and worked his way back down the line toward the beverages — and me. One by one his employees fell like dominoes.

          I was sick. I waited for the axe. Instead I got, “Please tell me you’re not…” I’m not saying I worked any harder than the others, but the manager apparently thought so. I kept water glasses filled and coffee pots going and checkout girls backed up as if entire civilizations depended on it. I didn’t know there was such a thing as a “nothing” job — turns out there isn’t — and I gave this one everything I had. When I got a ten-cent raise — from a dollar sixty-five an hour! — well, I still get a little puffy thinking about it.

          “How long before you’re sixteen?” the manager asked. A couple of months. He patted me on the back and said, “Let’s just see how it goes…”

          Oh!

          At the ripe old age of fifteen years and ten months I was already a big fan of working hard. But to have that hard work rewarded in such a unique way, I was hooked.

          • Kate Stanton on February 9, 2022 at 12:56 pm

            Your story just made me smile, Maureen! I giggled at the dominoes analogy. Hard work does pay off! 🙂



          • Brian Nelson on February 9, 2022 at 3:03 pm

            I agree with Kate! I had a smile on my face as I read your post! I served food at a restaurant when I was 17/18 years old. Too young to work in the bar until one evening when there was a no show. The bartender and I hit it off famously…and I was regularly scheduled as the bar server from then on.

            Guess how old Brigadier General Gavin, Assistant Division Commander of the 82nd Airborne was on D-Day? 36 years old! We call those Majors or Lieutenant Colonels in today’s Army…and we WON WWII.
            bsn



    • Tolis Alexopoulos on February 10, 2022 at 2:38 am

      I am stuck between Perfectionism and Perfection (the humanly possible, the one that is flawless -I figured that for my taste it exists!) a long time now. And I can’t tell if it is Resistance or exactly the opposite of it. It seems like Resistance on first sight, being stuck in very few chapters for more than a year. On the other hand, the end result is SO beautiful and flawless, when it comes, that maybe Resistance was the urge inside me to go reach the end. I fear the bag of winds and myself simultaneously.

      I guess Resistance must have levels on the same project. The higher expectation we have on it, the higher the level of Resistance will be, the harder (even extremely harder) it will be to work on it. And I guess then that there must be a limit where a woman/man can reach, which is the limit of time. If I’d leave myself write this book to absolute perfection, my lifetime seems it wouldn’t be enough. But that is impossible, I must also work for the means to survive, etc. I wonder what the balance is. I can’t tell so I follow the Authentic Swing, it’s a fugitive.

      It’s as if Resistance is and isn’t at the same time. As it is neutral, as it is only a reference point. This thought could be tricky indeed, letting it conceal itself, but the opposite side is that we can (and should?) actually dedicate our whole life for a project, if that is what our soul asks? I bet our own soul tests us, and if we indeed follow it to the end that she asks, it won’t let us wait all our lives to make something meaningful, instead one surprising day it will say “you are really my faithful servant, take what you came here for (the completion of the project)”

      Phew, a mess of thoughts! Thank you all for your great opinions!

    • Doug Setter on February 16, 2022 at 10:03 pm

      Yep. Perfectionism is what stops people from starting anything of value.

  3. Stephen S. Power on February 9, 2022 at 7:21 am

    I always liked how Leonard Malkin judged a movie: How well did it do what it was aspiring to be? African Queen was 5 starts for doing one thing. Terminator was 5 stars for doing another.

    To mix metaphors a bit: Don’t be the weak sausage link. Be the strongest.

  4. Nathan on February 9, 2022 at 7:38 am

    Steven I really needed to read this today. I produce courses for a company for a living, and lately, I’ve really felt that I’ve just been “grinding it out”. But I need to recommit to quality and professional effort regardless of how I feel about the work.

  5. Richard T. Ritenbaugh on February 9, 2022 at 7:39 am

    Even grinding sausage, done right, can be mighty satisfying.

  6. Jack Price on February 9, 2022 at 7:45 am

    Every project holy. Every intention holy. Every moment holy. Every action holy. A tough standard to live up to but a worthy aspiration.

    • Brian Nelson on February 9, 2022 at 1:49 pm

      Jack,
      I think the same thing when I read 1 Cor 13. Nearly impossible task, but is anything more important?

      Everything is Holy. Thanks. That was good medicine today.
      bsn

  7. Tom Vandel on February 9, 2022 at 8:15 am

    Movies and novels are commodities like everything else I guess.

  8. Zhivago on February 9, 2022 at 8:56 am

    Hmm, interesting that anything by Orson Welles is the benchmark against which the sausage-measuring contest takes place. IMHO one of the most overrated figures of the past century. Now if you’d said William Goldman…

  9. Ben Richardson on February 9, 2022 at 9:57 am

    Or, perhaps stated another way, maybe we should approach every project as if it was Citizen Kane, even if in reality it’s Preparation H.

  10. Tom on February 9, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    When I first worked for FOX, the bosses were the worst (they got a lot better). All the employees were barely phoning it in, like Jake Gittes says in Chinatown, ‘doing as a little as possible’. I thought, ‘Screw it. I’m going to give as little as possible, too.’

    In two weeks I was completely depressed and despondent. I had a ‘midpoint shift’, and decided I was going to give 110% every moment from that point on.

    That worked. From then on I was happy in my job for the next 23 years.

  11. Jeffrey Sexton on February 9, 2022 at 12:58 pm

    “If you are writing about baloney, don’t try to make it Cornish hen, because that is the worst kind of baloney there is. Just make it darned good baloney.” — Advertising legend, Leo Burnett

    You’re post reminded me of this quote. I love this quote and I love this post.

  12. Brian Nelson on February 9, 2022 at 2:05 pm

    In high school our theme was to do as little as possible to still get an A-/B+…but smoke as much weed as possible. “…spake as a child…”

    Many have touched on this—but what I didn’t know while personifying Jeff Spicoli as much as possible—but the joy is in getting lost in the work from hard effort. Sometimes we find Flow and are transported to another plane of existence.

    So many reasons to give one’s best, but the realization that therein lies happiness took me decades to figure out.

    “You will bear no sin by reason of it when you have offered the best of it. But do not profane the sacred gifts of the sons of Israel for you will die.” Numbers 18:32

    Whether is it to God, or our highest ideal—we need to give our best, and NEVER dismiss the earnest efforts of our fellow man. Make the tastiest sausage we are capable of.
    bsn

  13. Lisa Parker Hyatt on February 9, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    Thank you so much Steven….your words are so cosmic and arrived at the perfect moment in my life today….

  14. poppy playtime on February 14, 2022 at 2:20 am

    Thank you! I look forward to seeing more posts from you, this is what I was looking for.

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  16. Mike James on March 15, 2022 at 3:03 am

    I’m so glad you found this helpful, It’s definitely eye-opening when you start learning about this stuff.

  17. Ricky on March 29, 2022 at 11:16 pm

    It seems I have homework to do.

    Thank you, Steven.

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