So much time, so little to do

Strike that, reverse it.

When it rains, it pours. A fine analogy unless you are an Aquaphobe.

Very quickly, my writing plate is full. Well, never fully full, as I can always fit in more work (try me, universe) but if all goes well I will not lack something to write between now and early August. In fact, at times I will be working on three scripts simultaneously.

There will be something very exciting to announce soon. I can’t go into details yet. Some things still need to be finalized. I don’t want to put my cart before the horse. I don’t want to count my chickens before they turn into Chicken McNuggets. I can’t row my boat if the lake is dry. I won’t shoot the fish if the barrel has already gone over Niagara Falls. And of most importance, I won’t roll on a bed of money if I’ve already ripped the tag off the mattress.

You get the point. I’m generally a private person, and rarely talk about things until after the ink has dried on the contract. Especially now, in this world of social media (hello, this is a blog) people need to be cautious about what they talk about publicly. More details to follow, I promise, but for now know that this week and next is all about writing one screenplay, revising another screenplay, working and rehearsing a play, and drafting notes on a third screenplay.

Stay tuned…

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You should pay more to go to the movies

This Sunday my wife and I have a rare night off. What shall we do? Maybe see Ben Folds Five play at The Greek. Or maybe see Before Midnight, the new chapter in the Hawke/Delpy/Linklater story. For the concert we can get decent seats for $60, not counting parking and any food or beverages. Too much for us to spend right now, so going to the movies is a nice consolation prize. But is it a consolation on our wallets? The closest theater to us, The Arclight, will sell us two tickets for $32, not counting parking or food/drink.

That’s still a lot of money. This also may explain why I can count on one hand the number of movies I have seen in the theater this calendar year.

Every filmmaker dreams of seeing their movie on the big screen. I’ve been fortunate enough to direct a feature that did make it to the big screen, at least for a few showings. It was wonderful. A joy to celebrate your work with 500 other people.

But realistically, that isn’t going to happen. Thousands of feature length movies are completed a year. Only a few hundred make it to the big screen, and most of those are franchises, star vehicles, or movies based on board games.

No, this doesn't really exist...yet.

No, this doesn’t really exist…yet.

These days independent movies can be considered a success if they get any distribution. While my end goal of this project is to see my movie in the theaters, I am pragmatic. I will be happy to complete it and have it available, no matter the medium.

That said, it’s a shame that we aren’t going to see smaller budget films in the theater as often. But I believe there is a solution.

People should pay MORE to see a movie in the theater.

What? You cray-cray, Alex. You are koo-koo-nuts, to use one of my wife’s favorite phrases.

Pay more? What the f&^k?

Not my idea. In a recent speech at the University of Southern California, Steven Spielberg (I think he’s a director or something) said that the future of the movie going experience is tiered pricing.

I say bring it on.

The middle class of movies (like our country, sadly) is disappearing. There are blockbusters that have budget’s north of $100 million, and there are “arty” or “indie” or “poor” movies with budgets anywhere from $1,000,000 down to a case of Red Bull and a dream. The middle ground movies are going extinct.

So why should we audience members pay the same for two entirely different cinematic experiences?

Major blockbusters are an experience. Big stars. Great effects. Sometimes nifty 3-D glasses. Often surround sound meant to scare the crap out of you. Comfortable seating for 1,000. It’s a fancy experience, and we should pay fancy prices. IMAX and 3-D screen tickets are already close to $20 each. I say, jack em’ higher, and charge more for the premium seats than the ones on the side or in the back (or lord help us, we got to the theater late and have to sit in the front row). Tiered pricing.

If you are going to see a low budget movie, you should pay less. A lot less, in my opinion. This way smaller movies will get a chance to have larger audiences. More of these movies will make it to the big screen and have longer box office runs, even if it’s screening in the janitor’s closet of the multiplex. More access means more opportunities.

Am I crazy? No, this already exists nearly everywhere else in the commercial performing arts world. You can see great off-off-Broadway theater for about $20 a ticket. Want great seats at Book of Mormon on Broadway? That will cost you anywhere from $70 to $477, depending on where you sit and which night you attend. Broadway and off-off-Broadway are both live theater in New York, but the pricing is extremely different.

What a sec…$477 for one ticket? Holy shitballs.

Praise the lord and pass the loot.

Praise the lord and pass the loot.

What about different pricing at the same event? Well, you can sit at the bleachers at Yankee stadium for $15 or you can wave to your family on TV from behind home plate for $300. Same game. Concert venues have been that way for years. Use binoculars in the cheap seats, or pay a lot more for Mick Jagger to sweat on you.

Let’s add this wrinkle: want to see Star Wars Episode 7 on opening night? Or opening weekend? That will cost you more than if you wait a week. You want to be the first of your friends to rant or rave on Facebook, then you should pay more for the bragging rights. And why not? If you want to fly the day before Thanksgiving as opposed to the week before, that will cost you. Timing is everything.

Skeptics (like you, if you are one) might say that this is a punishment for the working classes, as they are more likely to see the big blockbusters while the intellectual elite (or the cool kids) go see the lower priced indie movies. Ignoring the class-ism of that, people of all demographics go to the big movies. The smaller movies are even more varied as big budget ones, so I believe the indie audiences are even more diverse, anyway. As for paying more, people will pay. I remember when New York City started making it harder to smoke cigarettes. First they taxed smokes, then taxed them again, and again, making a pack of cigarettes more than double the national average. Smokers grumbled and (rightfully) complained about the inequity, but I do not know a single smoker who said “packs went up 30 cents? Again? That’s it, I’m quitting.” Nope. People will be willing to pay more for what moves them. It’s an event.

I don’t have a particular plan on how to do this (nor would anyone in show business listen to me if I did) but I believe that all movies are not created equal and should not be treated that way. However, experiencing art with other audience members is invaluable, and we need to be encouraged to get off their asses and their couches and SHARE an experience with other people, be it live theater, movies, sports, or music. As long as they don’t do this at concerts:

Are you REALLY going to watch that video you are shooting again?

Are you REALLY going to watch that shaky Counting Crows live video  ever again?

Stimulate your brain. Motivate your ambition. Enjoy yourself, and enjoy others. And if paying more for bigger movies means we can pay less for smaller movies, and see more movies in the theater, then count me in.

Professional Procrastination

As readers of this blog know, I have been bouncing between two projects with impending deadlines. This past weekend I finished an outline for a script I have been hired to write, and I then turned my full attention to revisions of a new play which will get a staged reading in July. I promised my director I would get her the latest draft by early next week so she can get it to actors and start the rehearsal project. It’s coming along nicely, but slowly…if only there were more hours in the day.

IF ONLY THERE WERE MORE HOURS IN THE DAY?!?!?

I have ZERO cause to utter that statement, that cliched but often true fragment of a sentence, “if only there were more hours in the day.” What is my excuse? I work a part-time job to supplement my writing income, so 20 hours a week isn’t enough time to declare that I’m too tired from work. I don’t have any children yet. I’m in a healthy, wonderful relationship so I’m not exerting any energy on finding a partner. I never turn on the TV and channel surf.

So where does the time go?

Procrastination

The answer is easy…this is America, bub. If you’ve got a spare second, we’ve got a way you can waste it. So rather than doing the writing I should be doing (!) I’m going to analyze exactly how I spend my spare time, and what I am going to do about it.

First off, there are some distractions that I will not figure into the equation:

* The aforementioned day job. 20 hours a week. Necessary.

* Sleep. 7 to 8 hours a night does more for my creativity than anything else. Sleep stays.

* Exercise. Sure, I could be fat and out of shape and not be considered an anomaly in the writer community, but I’d rather not.

* Food. I love to eat. Who doesn’t? Food isn’t going anywhere, and like sleep, if I don’t get enough my creativity levels off.

* Theater/movies. I probably see a play, play reading, or movie at least once a week. I have to experience things as they are meant to be experienced (not reading about them, or watching them from my couch). With an audience.

* Dinner with friends. This happens once or twice a week. Social interaction is obviously important, and as a writer, you need to hear people speak, to absorb their cadence. Any writer who is a hermit will write characters that all speak or sound like the voices in the writer’s head. Scary stuff.

* Sex with my wife. This stays. Not negotiable.

Okay, even with all those “distractions” there are still plenty of ways I can waste time. After a lot of very scientific research (or just thinking about it) I came up with my list of biggest distractions, and what I plan to do about it. By the way, this post took days to write because of procrastination.

Facebook: We all know it. Even those six people who are not on Facebook know what it is. My problem isn’t that I am a Facebook Fanatic, as I probably only post a few times a week (including linking this blog). My problem is that it’s too damn easy. First off, I get a lot of news from the book, as people love turning Facebook into their own personal CNN. Secondly, it’s just easy. We all live in a world where we can mask social anxiety or boredom by checking in, be it emails, Facebook, Twitter, or what have you. It’s now second nature to check Facebook for me. Sometimes that lasts a few seconds, but sometimes I get in a wormhole of Facebook nothingness that lasts hours. And it is all not necessary. And it is all unimportant. Sure, there are the occasional important messages. But for now, for me, they are occasional.

Solution: Check in once a day, usually in the morning. Check messages. Send messages. Post pithy and brilliant comments wherever appropriate. Click on all the links to articles that interest me at that time. Close Facebook. Do not open until the next day.

Baseball: If my earlier post didn’t tip my hand, I am a baseball fanatic. Baseball haters say there are too many games, but that’s part of the appeal. From April until October, baseball becomes part of my day to day life, and when my team has an off day (which happens once every two weeks, take that football) I feel a little emptier. However, that also means that from April to October, my productivity decreases. Fortunately my team (the Baltimore Orioles) aren’t quite the TV draw out here in sunny Southern California, so I don’t watch three hours a day, seven days a week. When games are televised here, it is a rare treat and I soak it in. Yesterday, for example, the O’s played the Red Sox on the MLB channel. Fine, watch the game, then sit down and do work after it ends around 7. Well, the game lasted 13 innings. I got some work done during that time, but not a lot.

Even when games are not televised,  I can follow the games online and successfully waste time. Living on the east coast, following games starting at 7pm isn’t a terrible waste, as I’d check scores before and after dinners and shows. But on the west coast, most games start at 4pm. That’s prime work time for me. Even if I keep the browser open in the background of my computer, it’s easy to click and follow. That can break up my productivity.

Solution: Keep the browser closed when working. Resist the urge to turn it on. And if games are televised and I’m working on a deadline, record the game and stay off the internet. After all, a recorded three hour baseball game should only take 90 minutes or so to watch when fast forwarding through commercials and slower moments. Which leads me to my next distraction…

DVR: I rarely watch live TV these days. I NEVER sit in front of the TV and channel surf. Yet I spend a lot of time watching TV, because I DVR anything that is remotely interesting. It’s supposed to be a time saver; watch when you want to watch, fast forward what you don’t want to watch, and live your life more. Right? No. I just record more, and feel like I’m lagging behind if I don’t watch things right away. The world is going to know what happened on last night’s Mad Men before me, and then tell me about it without my consent on Facebook! Also, I feel oddly productive if I increase the capacity of DVR space by watching and deleting a bunch of stuff. See, I’m being productive, right? Right? Umm…

Solution: Stop watching so much TV, idiot. It will still be there, that’s what the technology is for. And if I’m worried about someone spoiling a show on Facebook…stop going on Facebook! Easy.

Those are my big three contributors to my lagging productivity. The solutions are going into effect next week…I have a lot of crap to cram in before then. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Status Report

Another week down, more work done, and more to do. Here’s how I spent the week, in case any reader out there wants to file a report with the productivity police.

I am almost finished with the outline for the script I have been hired to write. The director and I have been working on an outline for a few months, but now it’s my time to polish it, smooth it out, and make it coherent to people other than the two of us. Almost finished is good, but my deadline is tomorrow, so much more work to do.

Because of that, I have not really touched the play that will be presented to The Actors Studio, even though I promised the director I would get her a new draft my June 15th. My priority is on the screenplay right now. However, the changes I want to make are on a low simmer, and I’m thinking about what I need to do, even if I am not doing it yet. That pot should be boiling over by the time I wrap up the outline tomorrow, so I’ll be more than ready to dive in and make changes.

So that leaves the screenplay for the movie that this blog is supposed to be about. As I predicted last week I will be pushing work on that a few weeks, but certainly not abandoning it. So much to do, so little time.