Sprinting toward the finish line

Much to do this week.

Two deadlines, both imminent.

Sweating through my pen!

 

That half-assed haiku is brought to you by caffeine and forced distraction. The deadlines approacheth…am I prepared? August 1st (that’s in 5 days!) is the deadline for turning in rewrites of It is Done. I took notes from the director and my own notes, and dove back in on the adaptation. First printing out a paper copy (don’t worry, mama Earth, I’ll shred and recycle it when I’m done) and then drastically marking it up in blue, which is actually my favorite part of the writing process. A page with lots of edits, cuts and notes is a sign that I am doing my job. Once I’ve gone through the edits on paper, then it’s back to the computer. Finished paper edits a few days ago and I’m knee deep in rewrites. If all goes according to plan, I will finish computer edits by tomorrow night, then on Monday I’ll print out a new copy (I know, I know) and do the process all over again. Turn it in on Wednesday.  Then the real work begins.

The other script deadline is August 15th. First draft of a script. Which is actually a second draft…I mentioned in an earlier post that no writer worth his or her salt ever shows anyone a first draft. We may TELL you it’s a first draft…but it ain’t. That one I had scheduled six weeks to write, then a week off, then a week to edit, which means I am in my final week of writing, which is about right, as I’ve just crossed the 70 page threshold. Next week will be busy. Heck, this week is busy. But it’s my job.

FAILURE

One of my other writing projects distracting me from the raison d’etre of this blog is my play Little Black Boxes. This play is a drama about five strangers who all happen to be in the same place at the wrong time. Outside of a casual reading in my apartment, this play had never been heard out loud in public. As a new member of The Actors Studio Playwright/Director Unit, I am allowed to present the first hour of any play. All I need is to connect with a director interested, and then once given a date by the Unit coordinators, the director will cast and rehearse the show. We presented the play this past Monday, the final session of the Unit before it adjourns for the summer.

I can say that this presentation was, to date, the lowest point of my writing career. Worse than rejections from festivals and competitions. Worse than reading the bad reviews that came in minutes apart for my musical Election Day. The absolute worst. It was a failure.

A reading is an experiment. It’s not about presenting a complete, Broadway-ready show. I have watched readings at The Unit that are in varying stages of completion, from near-polished pieces that are ready to be staged, to half-baked thoughts that have no place being read out loud. That said, since this is my first presentation for The Unit, I wanted it to be the best it could be. I found a director who liked the script, and she and I started meeting about it a few months ago. She put together a cast. We rehearsed. But during the rehearsal process, I had a sinking feeling about the script. I was passionate about the subject matter and the characters, but I didn’t know if it was interesting enough. Also, I know the format of the play, which is all monologues without any character interaction, is polarizing in this group, as some members don’t believe it is a proper form of theater. I disagree, but it’s risky to present something that I already know some people will dislike. But I must remain true to the piece.

The reading began, and it felt slow…because it was slow. All the characters speak in monologues and there is no interaction with other characters, so it’s up to the actors to keep the pace going…and the pace died a slow death. I could hear the audience breathe…and possibly snooze. Also, the only real rule about presenting to The Unit is that the excerpt must come in under an hour. We had timed it out to 61 minutes at our last run through, and that was before I made another round of cuts. We’d be fine.

But we weren’t. The pace died and was quickly buried and forgotten about. 20 minutes into the reading I knew we were going to go long. Stuck in the back, I could barely stay in my seat, squirming all the while. Catia, my special guest in attendance (no outsiders allowed, generally) knew, mouthing “pace” to me. The pace. “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time.” I feel ya, MacB. Any other comments, while you are here? “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying Nothing.”

"Is this a mediocre play I see before me?"

“Is this a mediocre play I see before me?”

Harsh. But not far off the mark.

It was slow. And more boring than I feared. And the kiss of death in theater…predictable. I could throw the director and actors under the bus for their transgressions, but in the end the weight and blame has to land squarely on my shoulders. I blew it. And I knew it. And now I had to sit there and take my licks, as time kept slowly ticking. 6o minutes…65 minutes…70 minutes…mercifully, after 73 of the longest minutes of my life, the stage directions reader said “end of selection” as polite applause accompanied the lights coming up. It was over.

I had failed. It was a bad reading.

epic-failure

The group, about 75 people, broke for coffee outside the theater, and to no doubt pre-discuss the slow train wreck they just witnessed. I didn’t have the heart to go out there, staying in my seat in the theater with a very supportive wife who asked if she could do anything (other than quickly and mercifully strangle me, I couldn’t think of anything). Then as people filtered in, I took the stage with my notepad, and waited to be joined by my director and the moderators.

I was surprised to find that the feedback session was much easier to bear. Sure, it was harsh. One moderator asked me “have you ever written a play before?” A fellow playwright commented that she “didn’t like any of the characters at all.” The crowd debated if this was, in fact, theater. But that aside, it was easier for me to sit on stage and take the punches than it was to sit in the audience and watch my play burst into flames and oh, the humanity, burn out. Because the feedback session was other people talking, some positively, about my work…and their words were their opinions and nothing more. The play itself was all me. The feedback session ran longer than most of them, about 45 minutes, and after it a few unit members came up and congratulated me…on keeping my composure. That in itself is a victory.

Yes, I could make the statement that all failures can lead to victory if harnessed correctly. You could tell me that someday I’ll look back on this and be thankful. Well I’m happy to tell you that almost immediately after the feedback session I was thankful, and if that didn’t perk me up, going home and cracking open a bottle of wine did. But even with a little perspective (and more as each day passes) that doesn’t change the fact that I failed. And it was a mess. And awful to sit through. And I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy.

But I’d do it all over again.

Exciting Update! (or, how I learned to stop worrying about doing revisions and love the process)

This blog was created to chart the progress of a movie I will write and direct. This week I have made zero progress on that script. None. Not one inch of forward progress. And yet, it has been a pretty productive week.

Let me back up. A long time ago (December of 2009) I had a nightmare. When I woke up that nightmare became an inspiration. Later that day that inspiration became 27 pages of a new script. Within a month I had a completed draft of a play called It is Done.

In early 2011 I got together with some of my favorite theater actors and director, and we staged a reading of the script as part of a reading series at Astoria Performing Arts Center in New York. That led to another reading at The Dramatists Guild. One thing led to another, and we were able to stage a production of the play, which is set in a bar, in a private bar in Midtown Manhattan, in late 2011. And it was good. And the audiences and (most of) the critics agreed.

Ean Sheehy, Catia Ojeda and Matt Kalman in the New York Production

Ean Sheehy, Catia Ojeda and Matt Kalman in the New York Production

In early 2012, my wife and I decided to give Los Angeles a try. The streets are paved with jobs, and there aren’t ANY writers in L.A. so producers  should all be clamoring for my skills, right? Right?!? Well, as an added incentive, the co-producers of the New York production  wanted to stage a production there, so what better calling card for my writing career, right? And so, It is Done was done at the Pig ‘n Whistle, a bar in Hollywood, in May of 2012.

NOT the cast of the Hollywood Production, with apologies to Andre Tenerelli, Michael McCartney, and Catia Ojeda

NOT the cast of the Hollywood Production, with apologies to Andre Tenerelli, Michael McCartney, and Catia Ojeda

And it was good. And the audiences and (most of) the critics agreed. And so did a movie producer. A college friend of mine runs a production company, and one of her co-producers loved the show and felt that their company should turn it into a movie. This was appealing to me. So I signed a contract. And so, It is Done was to be developed by Ambush Entertainment, out of Los Angeles. And that was another reason that convinced me and my wife that setting up our home base in Los Angeles instead of New York was a good idea.

And then, months later, I got a phone call from my friend who runs the production company. Turns out the producer who wanted to make my play into a movie left the company, so they were not going to make It is Done. That producer even left moviemaking for reality TV, so he couldn’t take the script with him. It is Done the movie was done. Depressing? Sure. But it was very considerate of my friend to let me know; they could have easily just sat on the script until the option ran out. Contrary to what you may have heard about show business, honesty and respect are still commodities in this town.

And then, months later, I am hired to write a script for another director. And while we are working on that script, he lets me know that he has a window to direct a movie in the fall. However, he doesn’t feel our script, or any other he has in his arsenal, will be ready to go into pre-production later in the summer. But do I know of any writers with scripts that take place in minimal locations?

And that is how It is Done moved from Ambush Entertainment to MirrorCore Productions. And is scheduled to be shot in Colorado in November. THIS November.

All this means that I have work to do, as a revised draft of the screenplay is due by August 1st. A very real deadline.

So while the script I should be telling you about is stagnant, I am getting closer to having a movie made. So really, I’m staying on topic, right?

Stay tuned…things are getting busier.

Do I have a short attention span, or…hey, look at that puppy!

Last month I wrote a post about time management, and how I could improve my productivity. I singled out my biggest time wasters and how I would address them, thereby increasing my productivity. I’m happy to report that I have taken my own notes, and getting more done in less time. I am nearly 30 pages into a script I started less that two weeks ago, have taken notes and done revisions on another, and am about to start work on a third script. Problem solved. The end.

However, now that I have addressed my time wasting habits, I’ve noticed a muscle that is extremely out of practice…my attention span. And I’m sure I am not alone. How long does it take for you to be doing nothing to check your phone, or your Facebook, or change the channel on the TV, or stop what you are doing and do something else? How long is the lull in conversation before you go to your phone? My guess is not long. We’ve been bombarded our entire lives with stimulus, and that increases more and more. TV shows have more commercial breaks than they did 10 years ago. Movies are generally shorter, and when they go over two hours it’s an event, and it’s noticed. Even theater has quickened the pace, as 90 minute one acts are becoming more and more common over two act, two plus hour evenings. We need and crave visual stimulus. Now.

Wait where are you going? I’m not finished.

You may have noticed that this post doesn’t contain any pretty pictures, so if you are still reading this, then you don’t suffer from attention disorder as bad as most of us.

So what’s the point? I’ve noticed that I cannot sit still for too long without getting restless or moving around. There are always dishes to do, bills to pay, shiny objects to lo0k at, etc. There is always something to take me away from the monotony of what I am doing, even if that initial monotonous activity has only lasted a few minutes.

When I worked at a law firm, I noticed that lawyers log their time. It’s natural, they get billed by the hour and each precious second they work for someone should be billed; that’s how they make money. They would log it to the 10th of an hour, so every six minutes is a new block. They would rarely clock in only six minutes on any particular case, but you never know when there is one short phone call to be made. There is always a distraction, and I would guess the lawyers, on an average 12 hour day, would log in 8-10 hours of official business.

I took that model with me, logging my time when I work, breaking my day into 15 minute blocks. The good news is that it forces me to stay on task. I can’t stop working and check email if I want to stay on the clock. The scary news is that often, a 15 minute block of time seemed to last a while at times. I rarely go 30 minutes without breaking, and on occasion (once a week or so) I could make it as long as an hour without checking the clock.

So what’s happening to me? Am I not an artist like those in the past who slaved over their works and emerged, 18 hours later, exhausted but victorious in battle? Can I really create something of value only working 15 minutes at a time? Sure, a little each day is better than nothing, but how much better?

So, I’m going to stretch myself. Ignore the phone and other distractions. Work on those muscles and get back into fighting shape. After all, when I get back on a movie set or in rehearsal for a play, it’s going to be high levels of concentrated work, for hours at a time. I’ve done it before. It just takes a little training.

By the way, I was “interrupted” while writing this entry. Three times. I have my work cut out for me.

And congrats to you for finishing this post. You earned that game of Candy Crush.