Monthly Archives: February 2014

I, Maple

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t takes 40 gallons of maple sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup. You tap a tree, extract 39 times what you need then boil it down to get to that one sweet result.

The success ratio of cold querying scripts to Hollywood executives and getting a positive response is comparable. None the less – and I will live to regret this statement – I miss querying.

Here’s where we’re at: After a month of negotiating, I accepted a producer’s offer to option Script #1. However, another month later and I haven’t heard jack from my lawyer. It seems unlikely that the producers have changed their minds, but the wait is a little tough to bear. During this time I also haven’t heard from my manager. As he’s also slated to be a producer on the film, I expect he’s keeping his distance until the deal is done.

So in a way, I’m exactly where I was at this time last year: No manager, no lawyer and (as of yet) no deal.

The difference? I can’t query.

Since aligning myself with Manager I’ve written three new screenplays. All are presently sitting on a virtual shelf. Collecting virtual dust.

This never happens to me. For years now, I’ve been completing scripts and immediately launching into the process of emailing executives to solicit reads. It’s how I’ve widened my network of contacts. It’s how I landed Manager in the first place along with this option deal.

Now, however, my scripts – like me – sit and wait.

I’m not sure how this is supposed to go. Or even that there is a supposed to at all. When I first started out with Manager he told me that I wouldn’t have to query any more. That he’d be doing that for me now– Hearing that was like music.

What I didn’t factor into that proclamation was that this would also mean I’d be on his schedule. And he’s a busy guy. Not to mention he’s got a reputation. So he’s not just going to send out anything and everything I hand over.

My relief over never having to query again has turned to restless, fidgety pacing.

I get that Manager’s not going to be there ready to read at a moment’s notice. That makes sense. He’s gotta move at the industry’s pace. A slow pace. Not to mention, not everything I generate is going to be worth sending out. I’ve written over twenty screenplays in the past couple years. Only one’s gotten optioned. It’s better than the maple syrup ratio but that’s still a lot of sap to boil down.

But I can’t help wake up every day, see these scripts sitting here and think to myself, nothing is being done right now to further my career. This material is just sitting here. In my querying days I’d be hammering out loglines and getting this shit read!

I have to remind myself that this is a process. That if Script #1 starts to make some noise, then the town will wonder what else I’ve got to offer. That they will come to me– To Manager.

But that’s still a while down the road. And in the meantime I miss the activity of actually working on my own career. It’s hard to ease off the reigns.

The first time I did so in while was taking last weekend off to pursue a new interest. Tapping maple trees. I’ve thought about it for a couple years now since moving out into the sticks but never looked into it further. Last weekend I spend an entire day reading and watching videos about it.

I was super excited! Yeah, I get excited about this stuff. Eating directly from nature is huge deal for me. And that I work in a starving artist type field and often find myself literally scavenging for food in the woods, is not lost on me.

But this maple thing should be fun. And I haven’t really given myself the opportunity to consider anything fun in a while.  In the coming weeks I’m going to get myself outfitted to tap the maples in my yard. I’m going to build an outdoor boiler. With any luck, be swimming in syrup by April.

It’ll be a good distraction. Give Manager a chance to do his thing. To boil down my supply of sappy writing and see if anything sweet emerges.

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Worst blog ever.

I started this blog as a way to keep notes for a would-be memoir. Should my career ever escalate to a point that such a thing would be interesting to others. And I started it at a time when things were really taking off. I had a script that was getting read, I was getting calls, I’d landed a manager, I had option agreements on the table– Things were happening. These days however my biggest project is looking in to tapping the maple trees on my property this spring.

 

I had no idea things would slow down to this point. It’s not good blogging. I apologize to those of you diligently following. I will keep at it. When there’s something to keep at. Things actually are still happening on the film side of things. They’re just happening far away from my little forest.

Stay tuned.

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February 26, 2014 · 3:12 pm

Getting Noticed

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utomatic doors don’t open for me.

Seriously. I’m always pushing these things open. Or shoving the sliding ones aside like I’m breaking in to a derelict spaceship. Maybe it’s the way I move. Something about my gait. The optic-sensor-absorbing quality of clothes? Maybe it’s my years of stealth training– Whatever it is, if you’re an automatic door, I am incredibly difficult for you to detect.

A friend of my wife like creature is updating her resumé. I didn’t know that people still had resumés. It’s not something I’ve encountered much in the film industry. Though I have encountered it. Which is hilarious for a screenwriter– It’s usually just a list of titles you’ve written that haven’t gone anywhere. But I digress.

Wife’s buddy is updating her resumé. These days this also means updating your profile on any number of career websites such as LinkedIn. So Wife’s friend has been bouncing her profile off Wife for her opinion. Wife’s been bouncing it off me for mine.

Now, Wife’s friend is a writer. That puts a certain amount of pressure on your autobiographical profile. Or should. Because not only do you have to impress with your work history but it has to be really, really well written. First impressions times two.

And you can’t really go third person on it can you? Because then you’re just farming the job out to another (presumably better) writer. That or you’re writing about yourself in the third person. And that’s not only kind of pitiful* but it still doesn’t negate the impression that you’re too lazy to write it yourself.

*Been there. Done it. No judgements.

This subject always reminds me of a bit of early internet lore. A viral email that went around years ago. It was reported to be a college admission essay that got the author into NYU. Though that rumor was not entirely accurate, the piece known as 3A Essay, apparently did win Hugh Gallagher a highschool writing contest and was included in his college application. And he did eventually attend NYU. Whatever the details, it’s no doubt helped the author with his career. Written as a short autobiography it begins I am a dynamic figure (read it here).

My point being, if you’re a writer and you want to get noticed, there’s one very important and fairly obvious way to do that. And it’s not by listing accomplishments or previous work experience. No one knows the exact details of Hugh Gallagher’s biography. And no one cares. Because his talent is undeniable.

So that’s what I told Wife. And what she told her friend. Her friend decided however she’d rather play it safe. List a bunch of her very valuable and unique skills like her attention to detail and how she’s very hard worker who loves a challenge. Memorable stuff.

If I were looking to hire a writer, I’d personally be looking for a more dynamic figure.

Because it’s a tough industry. Doors don’t just open for you automatically. At least they don’t for me…

Seriously, I can just stand there waving my arms and I get nothing. I have to draft in behind people. I don’t get it. Am I really that two dimensional? Maybe I need more iron in my diet. I hope I’m not a ghost. Maybe I need more sun. Looser fitting clothes? Would stomping help? What about a big hat?

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Less Important Things To Worry About

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y wife is an extrovert. That means she best sorts out thoughts by vocalizing them. I like this about her because I like her and I like listening to her talk. These days however Wife’s mainly been chatting about the mundane day to day problems of her friends so occasionally I allow myself to slip off into my own concerns. (As an introvert, I can do this without moving my lips.)

Here’s where I’m at: Little while back I accepted the offer from Producers seeking to option my script. That is to say, I gave my lawyer the nod to accept their offer. Since then I’ve just been waiting.

It’s been a couple weeks.

Of waiting.

Now, I’m nothing if not patient. You have to be to write. To query. To churn away at this for years with no guarantee of any results. So I don’t mind waiting.

Except… This is kind of a big deal. And if I just accepted their offer, then where are they? Shouldn’t everything be wrapped up now? Shouldn’t we all be celebrating? Shouldn’t we be getting to work? How does this normally go? I have no idea. When should I expect to hear from them? Where’s Manager when you need him?

Etc.

I wouldn’t call it worrying. Worrying denotes some form of panic. And I’m not panicked. But when you have nothing else to do but wait… The mind wanders.

It’s an opportunity to imagine scenarios. Dark scenarios. Frustrating scenarios. Catastrophic scenarios– The hub of which is often the nagging notion that perhaps… They’ve changed their minds.

And it’s not that I couldn’t bounce back from that. Not that I couldn’t walk away from it entirely. It’s that: What a ridiculous waste of time this has all been if that’s the case.

Friends ask me how things are coming. Naturally I made the mistake of telling a few friends and family about the potential option agreement. So now there are expectations.

How’re things coming with all that?

Nothing yet… Heh… Oy.

For the most part I just wrestle with the wait on my own. Keep it inside. Feel sorry for myself that I’ve come all this way and now I’ve got to stand here and wait forever.

Tired and fatigued from wondering what-if all day I tuned back into Wife’s chatter. About the mundane day to day of her friends. She’s got a friend with a minor infection. Been hearing about this for the past couple days. Seems however that despite the antibiotics used to treat said infection, her friend isn’t getting any better. In fact, I hear now that I’m listening, her friend’s getting pretty concerned. See there’s cancer in her family. And she’s even had some scares herself in the past. Now she’s waiting on test results.

Waiting.

That sobered me up. Have the Producers chosen to back out of the option agreement? Probably not. Probably just busy. But whatever the reason and however long it takes, I can be sure of one thing: When I do hear back from them, it absolutely and positively won’t be to tell me that I may or not have cancer.

So I should just chill out. Be happy I’m as lucky as I am to have this kind of stuff to worry about.

And listen to my wife more.

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Hurry Up And Wait

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hen you say it all at once, it sounds great. First we get the script optioned. Then come rewrites. Finding a director. Getting it out to the cast wish list. Once things pick up speed, a trip to Los Angeles. Three or four meetings a day for a week. Have to make sure we have other projects ready to go. To pitch. Widen my profile. Meet the town, etc.

Sounds like a lot.

After years of trying, never knowing if it’s even gonna get somewhere, it sounds like the start of a whirlwind.

So far though… Not so much. Not even a little gusty over here.

Being an independent (creator, producer, freelancer, whatever) my whole life has always meant setting my own pace. And I like a constant pace. I like to be busy. Very busy. I don’t vacation. When you love what you do, you don’t need to get away from it. You don’t even need the rest; that’s what sleep is for.

Hurry up and wait. You hear this expression a lot in the entertainment industry. And I’ve always handled the wait portion by doing other things. Usually shaking every tree that I could to bring a project to fruition. And if it doesn’t come to be then I’d move on.

Right now, though, my best bet at success requires me to wait. There’s only so much you can prepare on your own before you need action from others. And action from others seems to be the crux of the business side of show business.

So I’m adjusting to this new pace.

It’s not great.

Idle hands are the blog’s play thing…

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Cereal Opportunity vs. Serial Opportunities

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 enjoy breakfast cereal. And I’m not picky. I’m not much for marshmallows in the morning, but other than that, I’m happy enough with any of your basic corn, wheat or rice based contenders.

A few years ago, General Mills offered a free movie pass in every box of their varied breakfast cereal brands. For a cinephile, it seemed a little too good to be true… And in my experience, a true opportunity is a rare thing.

I’ve got a friend, however, who calls me up all the time with “opportunities.” He’s a typical Canadian film jack of all trades. Actor, writer, grant application filler-outter. And to him, everything is an opportunity.

Calls for scripts by anonymous producers. Sketchy overseas investors looking for material through a friend’s roommate’s brother. This kind of thing. He even signed with a person calling himself a literary manager who’s never had a script sale, nor another client and who by all other accounts isn’t even in the film business.

Phone rings: I just heard about this great opportunity.

I bought a couple boxes of the General Mills cereal that contained the movie passes. I would have bought a couple boxes anyway. The passes just helped me choose which brand.

I had to verify this offer.

At home I took a look at the passes. The fine print, of course, is only printed inside the box. Expiration dates, eligibility, restrictions. Everything looked alright… Real good, in fact…

I called the cinema. Bypassed the automated system. Human agent. They confirmed they accepted the General Mills tickets.

Hm… So far so good. Better make a trial run. Wife and I go check out a film. Movies are expensive. And being in a feast or famine industry, some years can be pretty lean. So this was a nice treat for us. Most important, the passes were accepted.

Free movie. No strings. On boxes of cereal that I’m going to consume anyway. Now that’s and opportunity.

On the drive home we hit the supermarket again. Cleaned them out of the brand that contained the movie passes. Only eight boxes left – our secret was out. We headed for another store. Jackpot. A freshly stocked aisle.

I did a little mental math on the spot. This involves a lot of time and blank staring on my part. I’m not terribly bright. The price of different brands verses the weight of each box. The best value for the money. And how many weeks between now and the expiration date on the passes. How many bowls of cereal before the best before date on the boxes.

My Punch Drunk Love moment.

We filled a cart. No limit per customer. Thirty boxes. Enough passes for the two of us to see at least one film a week for the four month offer period. Enough cereal for a year.

Over the next few weeks I became an expert at x-acto knifing the coupons out of the boxes blind without opening them and without puncturing the bag inside.

General Mills has run similar movie pass campaigns in our region every year since. Always at the same time, February to May. The campaign’s have gotten progressively less desirable since their inception. Two for one deals. Free small popcorn or drink. This year you have to register online; no doubt a data mining trap. It’s never again been as lucrative an opportunity as that first run.

If true opportunities are rare, then opportunities that just present themselves to you are one in a million. This was such an occasion. Frivolous as it may seem. And I still vetted it thoroughly before cashing in.

My friend never does. He throws himself at every offer that comes along. And it’s never worked out for him. Not once. And best I can guess it’s not out of stupidity but sheer desperation.

I sympathize. I think we’ve all been desperate at some point. You don’t push a shopping cart stacked with thirty boxes of Oatmeal Crisp to the register without having experienced a certain amount of dejection. But you don’t slide those free passes across the counter at the box office for the next four months without a little bit of grin either.

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If It’s This Lonely at the Bottom, The Top’s Looking Bleak

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hen I was a little kid my mother brought to me to a specialist. A specialist of what, I couldn’t tell you. I was just a kid standing in my underpants in some old dude’s office. I was there because there was something not quite normal about me. I didn’t quite fit in at playschool or  kindergarten or wherever. Or so my mother had been told. Or had inferred.

I wasn’t a spaz or a daydreamer, violent or a paste-eater. I just didn’t fit in. That was kind of the best way they could describe it. Applying my adult understanding of things, I’d argue now that it was because I was looking around at the spaz, the daydreamer and the paste-eater wondering what the fuck? Why am I in here? When can I go home?

But as that little kid, apparently I was just frustrated and couldn’t explain why.

Luckily, growing up, I wasn’t too much of an outcast. Despite having all the makings of one. This is due in large part to the friends I fell in with. Good people. Smart people. People who knew that maybe there was something a little bit off, but didn’t hold it against me.

(Note to self: Hug friends.)

When you’re kids you share a lot of the same interests by default. School activities, games, entertainment. It’s not til you get older that the division become more apparent.

College for some, not for others. Those in college choose separate disciplines. Then comes the job force. Yet more disparity between what each of us does for a living. And not just in our fields. But the language of our fields.

Many offices share a shorthand. A couple of my buddies may not work at the same company or even in the same field, but they both understand office politics. None of them, however, know what a logline is.

I’ve hung out with the same guys my whole life. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized I had nothing to say to them anymore. Not about work. Not about the things that were exciting to me. Important to me.

But c’est la vie, mes amis. Only a fool complains about the rain.

You make do. It wasn’t long before I found a second circle of friends. Film friends. People who at least drank from the same pool of experience.

Lately though, a new phase of life or career or career life is ebbing in… And it’s pulling me away from the film friends. Not intentionally– They still understand my professional experiences better than anybody. But I’m starting to see that even that won’t last.

It’s a combination of regional disaccord and– how do I put this without sounding like a douchbag… My success.

Nope, still sounded kind of douchy. But that’s the fact of the matter. My film friends are Canadians trying to make a go of the Canadian system. They may know what a logline is, but they don’t know what it’s for. They may have hired a lawyer once or twice but they still don’t know the difference between an agent and a manager. I’ve quickly moved into new territory. And I’ve got nobody with whom to discuss it without an entire preamble explaining industry jargon.

Again, all sounding really douchy. Not meant to. They know what they need to know. I didn’t know these things a few years ago but it’s the direction I’ve chosen. I’m no better a writer or entrepreneur than any of them.

It’s just a new discipline. A slightly different world. Once again, I’ve lost the people that I used to be able to talk to.

I’m alone out here.

Not alone, alone. Not alone socially. Or familially. Alone professionally. Without a peer group. And a peer group could really help under these circumstances. To bounce ideas off of. To compare notes with. To ask questions. Because with what relative success I have found, I’m still way down here at the bottom and there are gonna be questions.

I’m sure it’ll change. Eventually. Like before, I’m certain I’ll find new cohorts. Pal around with them for a while until again I find myself not fitting in.

My head was too big for my body.

That’s what the specialist concluded after examining me as a child. He told my mother that I was frustrated all the time on account of having to balance my unusually large head on top of my puny body.

That’s what he came up with…

T’was a different time.

I’d have asked for a second opinion. Mom, however, presumed that as my body grew to fit my melon so too would I eventually fit into the world.

She was half right.

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