Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Flyovers and The Far-flung

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 got passed on for a freelance gig this week because of where I live.

It used to happen every once in a while when I was querying my screenplays too. An agent or manager would – I suspect – get a look at my area code and hit me with “are you in LA?” I’d answer honestly and never hear back.

In the minds of these executives it’s just not possible to make it happen from what some metropolitans demean as the flyover states. Parts of the US that are only seen from an airplane flying between coasts.

And I’m not even in a flyover state. I’m in another country! Strike two!

By choosing to not even to consider my work, these execs figured they were weeding me out. Fact is, it’s a great way of weeding them out.

Years ago, a knowledgeable acquaintance told me that I would never get anywhere in entertainment unless I moved to either New York City or Los Angeles. It was a crushing truth I’d long suspected.

I’m not adverse to other places. I’m sure I’d hate them just as much as where I’m from. I’ve just never liked to travel. As an innate contingency planner it’s simply an exhausting pursuit. I have enough going on in my brain between bed and the breakfast table. Put that bed and breakfast table in another city and forget it, I may as well be planning an invasion rather than a vacation.

And when leisure travel isn’t even your thing you don’t typically say, hey, maybe I’ll move to another country and try to start a career.

Two years later, the same acquaintance was still jetting back and forth from NYC to LA on an almost weekly basis. I asked her whether her opinion about relocation had changed. It had completely reversed! I reminded her of what she’d told me not so long ago. She balked. Couldn’t even imagine why she’d ever suggested such a thing.

The fact was, in just two years, a lot had advanced technologically. Hell, a lot’s advanced technologically since I started writing this sentence 3 seconds ago.

Ubiquitous video chat has sort of clinched it. Short of truly experiencing my clammy handshake, there’s nothing we can’t do these days from 2,500 miles apart. The only limitation in the technology is in the person using it.

And that’s all I think about when a far-flung location like mine is a non-starter for a potential business contact. Because people willing to sacrifice the quality of their project for their own comfort are not terribly ambitious people.

But I am an ambitious person.

Just not… Y’know… Ambitious enough to move somewhere else.

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Emails That Go Bump In The Night

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he email came in late at night. I should have left it til morning. Didn’t.

Read the first few lines and was not happy.

I’m still in negotiation to option my screenplay. The prospective Producers have replied to my last counter offer. My ultimatum. The  sticking point of our negotiation has been the purchase price. They’ve been offering a flat payment. I have been pushing for a percentage of the budget (which is fairly standard, as I understand it).

They’ve finally flat out refused my request. Said they’d never accept a percentage. Gave Lawyer a final offer. They ultimatummed by ultimatum! Some new version of their previous flat rate– I skimmed it– Late, tired– Was disappointed, perplexed, a little pissed off.

Computer off. Late night talk with Wife. Told her I just didn’t think I could do it. I couldn’t accept this deal. It just wasn’t right. And if I set the precedent that I’m going to accept a lesser deal at the beginning of this – my new career – then I’d be setting myself up as a doormat for every future negotiation.

On the other hand, would there even be another option to negotiate if I walk away from this one?

When you reach adulthood and you start down the road less traveled; the road outside the 9 to 5; the road of freelance or contract work; quite early, you’re faced with evaluating your own worth. Sometimes there’s an industry standard. Sometimes – as in the case with emerging industries – things are more nebulous.

I began in new media. Decided for myself back then what I should get paid. Transitioned to a very traditional media. Film. But a the film industry is in the midst of upheaval. Things are being re-evaluated all the time. Am I now going to let someone else determine what my time and creativity is worth?

I can’t.

Ego? Maybe. A bit.

But really it’s about looking at everything I’ve put in up to this point. All that effort to hone my skills. To knock on doors. To make the right choices. That’s worth something. Embedded within the pages of my screenplay. It’s a subjective worth. But so is the worth of any painting or sculpture. Any Van Gogh or Michelangelo or child’s drawing. The difference is only in how many individuals perceive that embedded value. It’s all just paper or canvas or crayon.

My wife-like creature is my most loyal supporter. She’s been here every step. Felt every pass. Grinned with me through every unbelievable phone call. I could tell that walking away from this final offer was going to be hard on her. That was harder on me than the actual decision to pass.

But decide we did.

Computer on. This morning. I read through the email again. Pulled out the calculator. This time ran the numbers on what these producers were actually proposing…

Hang on a minute…

It’s not a percentage, true, but turns out it’s pretty damn close! The flat rate was a actually a different sort of variable dependent on a few factors. More complicated than a straight percentage but at it’s core, a simple algorithm still based upon the budget. Which is what I wanted in the first place!

In fact… At a certain budget range, I actually stand to earn more than I’d asked for. Hats off to Lawyer on that one!

Looking at these numbers now was literally night and day. A disappointing evening spent making a gut wrenching decision was premature. Foolish.

Lesson learned: Don’t open important emails late at night.

Whatever the reason for not bending on the percentage issue, these producers had basically come around to the same.

I’m taking the deal.

They can do the math however they want; let’s make a movie.

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The Danger of Becoming a Professional

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ear of failure. This is how I’ve armchair diagnosed a friend of mine. He’s an extremely creative and talented guy who’s resisted ever pursuing those talents professionally. None the less he pursues them. In his spare time. A weekend hobbiest of music and film and art. But recently my friend stumbled into a bit of a great project.

His tinkering with short film has landed him a commissioned gig directing a budgeted documentary. (I toil away for years, this guy steps in it like gum on the sidewalk – go fig). The thing is, my friend doesn’t want the gig. Being paid to deliver results; that’s not his scene. That’s responsibility or onus or accountability– Whatever it is that he’s avoided as long as I’ve known him.

Years ago. Before the word blog existed. When YouTube was inconceivable. When modems had wires and made ridiculous screeching noises. I had just graduated college and was the assistant manager at something called a video store.

And assistant manager at a video store was as far as I’d plotted my professional life.

Round about that time, a buddy of mine and I were exploring this burgeoning internet thing. This was a different buddy. What came of it was a humorous web magazine. A venue for us to air our tomfoolery to the world. It was fun. I remember one time we got mentioned on a local radio station. Our five views a day spiked to 75. Then back to five. What a hoot.

Flash forward six months and the site’s grown in popularity along with the medium. Then we get a call. We’re invited to a meeting with the organizers of the largest comedy festival on earth. You know the one. Yeah, that one.

We’re just kids (mentally). So in we walk, lambs to the slaughter, to this ridiculous corner office at the top of a very tall building. Once we dispensed with the pleasantries they asked:

So, how long have you guys been doing comedy?

Beat.

Not only did we not have an answer to this seemingly casual question, we couldn’t even really wrap our heads around it.

Professionally. That’s what they meant. How long have you been doing comedy professionally?

I’m the assistant manager at a video store– How long have I been doing comedy? What?– Corner office, guys in laid back stylish suit jackets with jobs– This wasn’t a joke, we’d been invited there as professionals. When did that happen? That morning I was just an idiot with working knowledge of HTML and some funny observations.

That was the during the dot-com boom. Much stranger things were happening. But this was our strange thing. And the reason for this meeting, the reason these kings of comedy had invited us to their palace in the sky, was to offer to buy our little web magazine.

Could have been the altitude, but my ears popped.

Between two elevator trips, one up and one back down, I had become a professional. A professional comedian as it were. Still a very odd notion to me, even – or perhaps especially – now. But from that point on I wouldn’t be able to look at anything I did the same way again.

From then on, I no longer had hobbies. I had ventures. Some would succeed, most would fail. But I made sure that everything bore the sheen of professionalism.

That’s what my short film hobbiest friend is facing now. What, I suspect, is worrying him. That once you go all the way with something, once you act the part and succeed, then you can never go back. You’ll always be taken seriously from then on. And for a lot of people, that’s too much. Responsibility, onus, accountability. Too much.

We passed on the offer. The offer from the kings of comedy. We beelined out of the building without turning our heads asking each other if those rich dudes really just asked to buy our stupid little website. We were young, charting new territory, didn’t exactly know what we were going to do next. But we knew that if they wanted what we had, we were going to hold on to it.

After all, we had to think like professionals now.

When I think about that time, I don’t wonder where I’d be now if we had taken their offer. I wonder where I’d be now if they’d never called at all.

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The Well-Meaning Introduction

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y wife’s boss offered to introduce me to a notable Hollywood producer. A retired notable Hollywood producer.

My wife’s boss offered this.

Sigh.

People who chase creative careers  – filmmakers, musicians, writers – know all about the well-meaning introduction.

Many creatives disappear into enclaves of artists similar to themselves. Keep to their own. Possibly, if for no other reason, to avoid situations like the well-meaning introduction. But those of us who maintain ties to the 9 to 5 muggle majority face it regularly.

The well-meaning introduction is when someone outside your discipline tells you there’s someone you should meet. Someone who also “does movies”.

Late teens, early twenties, you sort of say, sure. Cool. Maybe there’s something there. How can meeting new people ever be a bad thing, right? Usually the target of the introduction is no further along in their career than you. Even more likely, the kid’s interests couldn’t be further from your own.

The thing is, Mom, he’s a stop-motion animator who does television commercials and I want to make documentary feature films…

The older you get the more agonizing this becomes. Because the offers are indeed well-meaning. Not only are friends and family trying to help but year after year, you yourself get more desperate. More pathetic. It becomes more desirable yet increasingly foolish to politely refuse.

What do you mean you don’t think it would help? She’s does movies, just like you want to do! Maybe she can help you out?

Well, see, the thing of it is, she’s a makeup artist and I’m a writer…

It’s like meeting a homosexual and instantly wanting to set him up with your other gay friend. Because they must have so much in common!

The film industry is a strange beast. It encompasses so many complimentary disciplines that unto themselves have nothing to do with one another.

And even if the introduction seems like it might be a foot in the door. That the target of the introduction does seem like they’d be an asset. Like say, a producer to a writer trying to get his script read. The well-meaning introduction is never the appropriate venue.

Film people are wary of outsiders. They live and die by referrals and recommendations but only from other film people. Not from your uncle’s best friend’s next door neighbor.

In fact, an introduction from an outsider is even worse than a cold call or a query letter. Because at least a query letter falls within the acceptable parameters of the industry. It can be ignored with no hard feelings. The well-meaning introduction puts the target of the introduction into an awkward position. They can’t really say no. Have to remain polite to the third party outsider.  Presumably an acquaintance or relative. Presumably being solicited to make this introduction. Thus making the introducee a de facto nuisance even if they didn’t request the meeting to begin with.

Wow. Thanks. That’s a very nice offer but–

I’ll set it up, said my wife’s boss.

… Super.

What was I supposed to say to him? He’s my wife’s boss. He’s making an incredibly generous offer. A very well-meaning introduction. Even though, after dozens of these in my lifetime, I know exactly how this is going to go down:

Hey, Mr. Successful Producer. Nice to meet you. This is where I’m at in my career. Doing pretty well. Could always be doing better. I’m a fan of your films, by the way.

Yeah. Good to meet you. Best advice I can give you is just keep at it.

Yeah. Thanks. I was gonna do just that… So… Are you looking for any–

I’m not reading anything these days.

Right. Sorry. Didn’t think you were. Just figured I’d ask since I’m–

Yeah.

Yeah… Okay, then.

And that’s exactly how it did go down. And that will be that last we ever talk to each other ever, ever.

Just keep at it. That’s the lump sum of all meetings between individuals in respective creative disciplines brought together by well-meaning third party introductions.

But what can you do? They mean well.

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The Writer’s Voice

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 used to draw. Illustrate. I was quite good but not great.

Looking at the work of illustrators that I admired I was always enamoured by what made their work distinct. Their style. That indefinable thing that made their work special.

It troubled me. Because I knew that my work didn’t have it.

I’d queried Manager and he’d requested my screenplay. He liked what he read so he called me. What he told me in our first conversation was that he liked my voice. He was referring to my writing voice. Not my speaking voice (which is nothing special and would have been a fairly weird thing for him to say).

In addition to a unique concept, well executed, that’s what these guys look for. That’s what’s attractive. A voice. A style. Something that’s going to distinguish their client’s writing from the rest of the pack.

I used to live in fear of this mysterious voice term. I didn’t know what it meant. And although I’m a little closer to being able to put my finger on it now, it still concerns me.

What if what made my voice distinct was a fluke? What if it’s societal? Generational? What if it’s eventually drowned out by others with similar voices? What if it fades?

I thrive on control. Put great effort into all aspects of my craft. It’s hard to hear that the first compliment out of someone’s mouth relates to an intangible quality. Something I’ve somehow achieved without fully understanding how.

If I’m honest, I’m not sure that voice was there a year ago. If it’s something innate then it most certainly has taken these past few years to mine and refine. The result of a long process. May even still be evolving. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing yet. In an industry that loves to pigeonhole, how tight does that box have to be?

It wasn’t until I got away from drawing for a while and then came back to it that I noticed something. A similarity throughout my illustrations. Subject. Methods. Quirks. There was a style there after all. I couldn’t see it in my own work before. But there it is. Just like all those illustrators I admire (less their superior talent).

And I feel it now in the writing. I see it in my process. Where my notes become generic, vernacular sentences and through editing and tweaking those sentences take on a distinct style. A voice.

Now I’ve gotta hope I don’t run out of things to talk about.

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Page One Rewrite

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 had a Koolaid stand as a kid. Lemonade was kind of passé. Koolaid was the future. Sadly that was as far as my forward-thinking took me back then.

There was this neighbourhood bully. Not the demonified kind of bully we have today. Just an older kid who was smarter than me. He showed up and told me that 15¢ for a glass of ice cold Koolaid was too expensive.

I didn’t have any other customers. Just Bully Kid and his gomer of a little brother. We lived on a cul-de-sac street in a cul-de-sac kind of area. So we’re not talking a lot of drive-by traffic.

So when Bully Kid said he wanted me to lower my price, I did. I went inside. Got out my marker. Changed my sign to 10¢. Waddled my little legs back outside where they were waiting and put up my new sign.

Then he said 10¢ was too much.

I didn’t have a lot of friends that summer. I can see that now. I wanted to be liked. I wanted to have a successful Koolaid stand. I wanted to please this tough customer.

Inside. Marker. Changed my sign to 5¢. Little legs. New sign.

Nope. No sale. Still unacceptable. He wanted me to lower my price again.

Things are a little hazy after that. I suspect that’s because when a tiny, undeveloped brain is met with that kind of anxiety, tunnel vision and situational stress it kind of stops remembering details.

If I had to guess, I probably asked Mom for advice on how to please this tough customer. Then she probably chased the little douchebag off our curb because I’m pretty sure every time I went inside to change my sign he was stealing cups of my Koolaid…

Little while back I received notes on Script #2 from Manager. He confirmed my concern. The second act of the screenplay was problematic. A week later, I returned with an outline of the changes I was going to make. Of course changing the second act meant completely changing the first act and so on.

I was excited to hand in my proposed changes. Was really– Am really into this concept. Manager seems to be too.

But the outline failed to please.

We spoke about the theme. The concept. The core ideas. I began thinking my entire first approach was flawed. If I was gonna take another run at this it was going to have to be a total overhaul. A page one rewrite.

Another week and I had a five page outline for a whole new story. New locations, new motivations, new arcs. Characters completely changed. Arguably the genre had even shifted. And I was loving it.

Manager… Not so much. A total flop in fact. Maybe worse for the fact that I was really cranking along. The only thing worse than handing in something sub-par is doing so quickly.

Manager suggested that maybe it was time to work on something else. Circle back to this later. It was gutting.

Not because I had failed. But because I was a little kid again. Trying too hard to please.

I wasn’t rewriting Script #2 for me. I was rewriting it to try to please Manager. So that it could join Script #1’s ascent. And in that, I fumbled.

Writing outlines was my first mistake. It’s gonna take some arm twisting before I do that again. This action thriller genre really does not lend itself to summary. The density, I think, becomes overwhelming for the kind of complexity I’ve taken to crafting. Winds up feeling complicated.

And I’ve also learned that I have to continue to adjust myself to the pace of this industry. It’s excruciatingly slow. While waiting for notes on Script #2 alone, I’ve already written Script #3 and have several drafts of what will become Script #4.

I worry that my output will become too much to hold Manager’s interest.

That is unless Script #1 gets made. Does well. Becomes a hit even.

Then I can charge whatever the hell I want for my Koolaid. Hey, a kid can dream.

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What the word?–

Seems my last post, The Price Versus The Cost, was accidently published with the comments option disabled. Quel horror. What a terribly anti-social media slap in the face. Sorry about that, fair reader. The situation has been rectified. Let us discuss.

(Just watch – guaranteed irony and a comment count of zero.)

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January 7, 2014 · 9:46 pm