How Dare I Do This

It’s been an exciting few weeks since my last update about our fundraising push. We have over 35 investors on board who have pledged more than $80,000 towards making our movie. We still need over $50,000 to reach our budget, but if we can cut the difference in half then we will launch a crowd sourcing campaign for the rest.

Despite having a long way to go in a short time, it is amazing and a bit terrifying that we have raised as much as we have. That’s over 80,000 examples of faith in that I can deliver this movie. Looking at it another way, it’s like more than 80,000 George Washingtons judging me if I fail. That’s like a filled stadium! Too overwhelming. Let’s just say 800 Ben Franklins.

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“Either write something worth reading, or do something worth… wait, HOW much does your movie cost? And what’s a movie?”

Of course there is doubt. I wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t, right? As a freelance writer and director I deal with doubt on a regular basis. Successes are fleeting, and rejections sometimes stick a long time. If you have two minutes, Ben Folds and Nick Hornby do an EXCELLENT (and slightly NSFW) job in the song “A Working Day” to describe what it’s like to be a writer. For example: “Some guy on the net thinks I suck, and he should know; he’s got his own blog.”

In fact, the pledges from investors are very encouraging. I feel empowered by their faith and desire to go on the journey with us. Sure, there have been a lot of rejections from potential investors, but that is to be expected and is not daunting.

However, a few rejections gave me pause. The gist of their comments are simple: “I would rather spend my money helping our country right now, as we are in a bad place.” Another potential investor delayed the investor conversation because of planning a benefit to support child refugees.

Yes. Absolutely. There is nothing more important than overcoming the obstacles to human rights in our country in the coming months and years. I have been calling, writing, and marching. I am nervous for the future for us all, especially my two year old son. We are at a dangerous crossroad right now…

…so how dare I think about taking money from the greater good for a selfish cause like making a movie?

Taking this even further, some of the people who have already pledged to invest are going through hard times right now, and I’m talking EXTREME hard times: sudden loss of loved ones, dying pets, career changes. Surely I should let them off the hook with their investment and let them focus on their grief and troubles.

Furthermore:

  • This movie won’t save the world.
  • This movie isn’t important. (I just watched 13th. THAT is definitely an important movie and if you haven’t seen it already, see it tonight.)
  • This movie won’t solve any of our nation’s problems.
  • This movie will cost money that could otherwise go to help people out.

So with all that’s going on out there, why make this movie?

And here’s where I’m drawing a blank. I’ve spent the last two days staring at this screen, willing the words to come. And I can’t. This is where I’m supposed to turn this post around and talk about the importance of art. The importance of going to work every day no matter what. How we should all just keep going with our lives.

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But I can’t say that.

Because this movie is definitely NOT more important than protecting women’s reproductive rights. This movie is definitely NOT more important than making sure people of all color, gender, and sexual orientation are free to live as themselves without fear of the government or hate groups persecuting them. Same goes with religious freedom for those practicing ANY religion, or those who don’t practice any religion. This movie is NOT more important than saving our earth from corporate greed, and protecting the environment from humanity, as if we weren’t the most important creatures on this planet. This movie is NOT more important than helping refugees who are giving up everything they have just to escape danger. This movie is not more important than caring for dying loved ones, burying pets, healing from horrible injuries and illnesses, and putting food on our table while helping others put food on their table.

This movie is so unimportant. And I can’t pretend otherwise.

But I’m still going to make this movie.

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M Day

Tomorrow is “M Day.” The first big moment of truth in this process. The hurdle which, if we jump it without falling on our faces, will take us a huge step closer to making Closure.

Tomorrow is the day we ask for money.

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Readers of this blog know that this script has been developed over the years, readings have taken place, and I’ve distracted myself with thoughts on random movies. The script is in great shape. We have a budget. We have a timetable. We are ready to go.

So how did we get here? Beau crafted a budget. A modest budget, but one where everyone gets paid, where we can rent all our equipment, and our cast and crew can eat real food that I won’t have to steal from a dumpster between set ups.

Next, I drafted a pitch document. This is a shiny email-able PDF with pictures and charts and words, all talking about how awesome this movie will be, and how amazing Catia, Beau and I are. Did I lay it on thick? You betcha! If I can’t sell myself and this script, I don’t deserve to be the captain of this ship.

Finally, the three of us compiled a list of possible investors. They range from investors from previous projects, family members, supporters of the arts, industry veterans, wealthy-ish friends, and basically anyone we know who may have an interest in what we are doing. And an interest in becoming a movie producer. And that is the carrot we are dangling.

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For the right amount, your butt can sit in this very seat!

At increasing levels of financial support, the credit potential gets greater: Associate Producer, Co-Producer, Executive Producer, it all depends on how much someone is willing to invest.

How much are we looking to raise? You’ll find out down the road. But to get on board, we are looking for minimum investments of $5,000. Are YOU interested in getting on board? Drop me a line and let me know. Happy to send you a shiny pitch doc and take you out to lunch.

So here goes nothing. And here goes everything. Stay tuned, and hopefully soon we’ll give ourselves the green light. And like Tom and Cuba said…

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The Juggler

As I mentioned in my previous post, one way to stave off The Beast is to shake it up and work on something else. That is a risky move, because as soon as you stop work on a script, there likelihood of never completing it increases. That said, I find it helpful to move from one project to the other, for a few reasons. First, it’s a surefire way to avoid writers block. Don’t know what the next moment is about? Go to another project. Second, it allows ideas to marinate. Just because I’m not working on something doesn’t mean it isn’t creeping into my subconscious. So when I go back to a project, there are already new thoughts raring to go.

Also, marinades are delicious.

But sometimes, script juggling comes out of necessity. And in the past month or so I have had to juggle FIVE different scripts. I don’t normally like talking about scripts before a draft is complete, but I trust you good people out there on the internet will keep this a secret. Right? Right?!? Write. Okay, let’s juggle.

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Not creepy at all.

Closure: Of course, this is the script that is the basis of this blog. I received notes from my producer, and all I had to do was make changes. Easy, right? Well, considering this is the only project without a deadline, it will often be on the back burner, placed in the back seat, enter through the back door, or any other similar analogy. That said, I recently dedicated a large block of time to getting it done, blocking out every other project. And I did. The latest draft was sent off to the producer yesterday.

Mayor of the 85th Floor: A full length play about squatters living in the Empire State Building in a possible near future when our society is in the process of breaking down. If Closure has spent time on the back burner in recent weeks, then Mayor of the 85th Floor has been tucked away in a box in the attic. I have been developing this script for years now, and for the past two years I have been guided by acclaimed director Asaad Kelada; we are both members of The Actors Studio Playwright/Director Unit. We are scheduled to present the first act of the play at the end of March, so out of the attic and onto a burner.

Guellen, Kansas: A ten-minute play I wrote as part of the playwrights lab at the Antaeus Theatre Company. A fun and quick diversion, the play had a staged reading as part of their Classics Redux series in January. Gotta love a project that goes from conception to completion in a matter of months. Consider this: from conception to opening night, new shows on Broadway average six years of development.

Untitled Woody Allen Spring Project: Okay, that’s not really the title. Also, I’m not working with Woody Allen on anything (yet). Back when I was working film in New York, the Mayor’s Office of Film and Television released a list of everything shooting at any given week in the city. Woody Allen’s movies were always untitled until the very end, which I think is a great way to avoid wasting time coming up with a title. All of his films went by “Untitled…” until, well, until they didn’t. So what does that have to do with me? I’m writing a new film as part of a writers group, where we individually go from concept to finished first draft in ten weeks. We are in week seven. Needless to say, this project, a sports comedy with heart, is on a front burner for the next few weeks. I have a lot of work to do, and can’t waste any time on a title (although I have one).

Planet Island: A very cool, sci-fi TV series about an island that appears out of nowhere in the Pacific that overnight is inhabited with…

…well, I can’t give EVERYTHING away in my blog!

Do any of these stories interest you? I would love to hear your opinion on any of these scripts. Want to be a reader for me? Let me know.

Bonus fact: I can juggle. For realz.

Hiatus/Exile

Following the reading, I met with the producer over lunch to discuss how it went, including going over the feedback we received. We both felt pretty positive about the current state of the script. We discussed improvements and the next steps. I had applied to two different screenplay development labs, but we wouldn’t hear from either of them for six months or so. Outside of this project, he was about to embark on three months of various projects which would consume all of his time. I had deadlines with the screenplay I was hired to write, plus a collaboration on a TV pilot was nearing completion and taking up a lot of my time. We both decided to step away briefly, focus on our paying work, and reconvene in a few months and dive back in.

So that was three months ago.

Nothing has changed. The project is going forward. Sadly, the screenplay development lab submissions are no longer pending. But as for the script, literally nothing has changed. The script collects virtual dust in a folder on my hard drive (and a backup folder in the ether, I’m not totally careless). But it feels like a lifetime ago since I did any work on the script.

And in that lifetime doubt creeps in. Is this script any good? Does anyone care if this gets made? Will this actually make a difference in my career, or in the world? Will the production company that hired me to write those other screenplays be happy with the final product? Will my wife’s new TV show be good? Will our son continue to be a great sleeper at night? Will the Orioles make the playoffs? Will Bernie Sanders be a viable candidate?

See how easy it is to get derailed when there isn’t a deadline? And that’s how it goes, my focus is on other projects, and then this script pops into my head. I know I have revisions to do, I know I can do more hustling to get it read by more people. But I have to get through my other commitments and, like all of us, daily life, before I can fully attack the script again. I am the leader of the Closure army, and I am in exile.

Hello? Anyone there?

Hello? Anyone there?

So what can I do? Not much, unless I can find an additional five hours in the day. I know that this too shall pass, and soon enough I’ll be back into it, but with each day and week away I feel further adrift, as if it will never happen. So what can I do?

I can sharpen my skills. In my spare time (ha, what’s that!) I read the excellent screenplay writing guide Save the Cat. The book has been around for a decade, but it is often referenced by other writer friends of mine and by producers in meetings, so I figure it was about time I read it. It is incredibly helpful. In the more recent years of my career I’ve become increasingly aware of how important structure, outline, and planning are in the creation of an excellent script. The more I write, the more the structure of the story becomes easier to create, but sometimes I don’t outline or solve every piece before typing “FADE IN” on page one. I did not outline Closure before I wrote it; instead I had a number of plot points I wanted to hit and I made sure I hit them. Now, a few drafts later, the structural problems with my script are clear, and the book certainly helped recognize them. Are these problems in my script fixable? Absolutely. Would these problems in my script have existed if I outlined in more detail? Maybe.

So when my current projects end in the coming weeks, I will dive back in with the script. And I have already planned my attack. And somehow, planning an attack makes this hiatus feel less like an exile.

The results are in…

There are milestones in the development process. Finishing a first draft: check. Having a reading: check (I’ve now had two, if you are keeping track). And once you put the script out there in the world, the next step is getting feedback.

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As mentioned in my last post, after the reading I handed out a short questionnaire with targeted questions. Without structure, feedback can be very unhelpful. My least favorite type of feedback is when people try to get you to tell a different story. “What if the girl was a robot and she could fly?” That might be a great idea, but not for my script. Basically, if a note can start with the phrase “if this was my story, I’d…” I don’t want to hear it. If it’s your story, tell your story. This is my story, dammit.

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Some writers disagree with me. Some writers find those type of notes helpful. Those writers can hear all kinds of feedback and sift through the dirty water for the gold nuggets. Not me. There are times when I need help for specific scenes or story developments, but only when I solicit for it. Otherwise, I don’t have time to sift through the silt.

This is why I don’t necessarily like an open discussion. The questions I asked were crafted to this story, although some of the questions were based on questionnaires at many screenings and readings in the film industry, so I am certainly not breaking any new ground here.

Since you don’t know the story, some of the answers may not make sense. So without further ado, here are the results:

What was your favorite part of the script?
The scene between Nina and the Superior (40%)
Odd scenes (20%)
The rooftop attempt at Nina’s life (20%)
Other (20%)

What did you like least about the script?
(Everyone wrote a different answer)

Was anything confusing?
Nothing was confusing (40%)
Anything relating to the club (20%)
Ending (20%)
Other (20%)

Who was your favorite character other than Nina (the lead)?
Franklin (the gay cop) (50%)
Jack (the desperate writer upstairs) (40%)
Others (10%)

Does the script feel too expositional, like a Law and Order episode?
No (100%)

Was the amount you learned about Nina’s past too much, not enough, or just right?
Just right (80%)
Not enough (20%)

Would you see this movie if you didn’t know anyone involved in making it?
Yes (100%) (although one person said it would depend on the cost of the ticket)

A lot can be gleaned from this small sample size. I haven’t overwritten the exposition. I’m not putting in too much of Nina’s back story. There is nothing in particular that multiple people dislike, so I can ignore the results of that question since I can’t take every note.

Which brings up an excellent bit of advice given to me years ago about feedback. If one person gives you a note and you disagree with it, it’s only their opinion. However, if THREE people give you the exact same note, then you should give it some serious consideration.

There were other readers who could not make it to the reading itself, but volunteered to read the script and give me notes. I did not ask these people the above questions, but rather let them give any notes they want. Using the rule of three people, here are the notes that I am keeping:

* Since Nina is a stranger in a strange land, I can go further with the oddness and idiosyncrasies of all the supporting characters. Think more Coen Brothers and more David Lynch, but in my style, not theirs.

* Nina needs to be more active in finding out information about her sister. Much of the information is handed to her.

* Hugo should be a darker character.

There were other notes to consider, but since they were isolated notes I shouldn’t take them as seriously as the others. Not that they aren’t serious suggestions, but if I’m on the fence about a note, and I only hear that note from one person, I need to trust my instincts.

So now it’s time to dive back into the script. I am confident that what I heard in the reading and the insightful notes given by a variety of people will no doubt guide this script to a better and stronger place.

The Next Step: Reading

Now that we have a budget (which is still only an estimate at this time) it’s time to focus once again on the script. The producer wants to hear the script out loud. There was a casual table reading last year, but this will be a step up. Instead of in a friend’s apartment, we will have this reading in a more professional environment. This time, there will be an audience of sorts: potential producers, trusted writers and directors with script evaluation experience, and other potential collaborators.

So I booked a theater in the Victory Theatre Center in Burbank. The 49 seat space was perfect, feeling almost like a screening room. We assembled the cast, most from the previous reading joined by a few recommendations from the producer. We invited a select group for the audience, and about a dozen were able to attend. The reading went off without a hitch. My biggest mistake was not taking a photo of the reading for this blog. So instead, here’s a selfie of me and my drooling son:

This has nothing to do with the reading. I promise I won't forget to take pictures at other important times!

This child has nothing to do with the reading. Just a reminder to keep taking pictures of the process!

Some of the lines didn’t work, and some of the acting wasn’t right, but generally I was pretty pleased with the whole evening. The audience was engaged, laughing at (some of) the right times and, of most importance, paying attention throughout. No creaking of seats, stretching, or other rumblings.

We chose not to have a post-reading discussion. Instead, I had a half page questionnaire for the audience to fill out, with the following questions:

What was your favorite part of the script?
What did you like least about the script?
Was anything confusing?
Not counting Nina (the protagonist), who is your favorite character?
Do you feel the script is too expositional, like a Law and Order episode?
Was the amount you learned about Nina’s past too much, not enough, or just right?
Would you see this movie if you didn’t know anyone involved in making it?

While the audience filled out the form, we served wine to the cast and audience in the lobby, drinking and discussing for a few hours. On the whole, it was a positive experience. Every creative endeavor should end with a party.

Coming up next… the results from the questionnaire are in!

And the Award goes to…

It’s tradition to take a long break in Hollywood at the end of the year, usually from mid-December until after Sundance. A time to reflect. As we wrap up award season in Hollywood (a.k.a. that time when we get nothing done but slap ourselves on the back) I would like to reflect on the past year in movies and pop culture, and offer my own personal awards based on what I have seen, read and heard. Keep in mind, this is highly subjective. I am the only voter, which makes my awards have a voter pool only slightly smaller than the Golden Globes.

Favorite Movie of the Year: Birdman

Runners up: Boyhood, Whiplash

Nominees for outstanding movie of the year that I have NOT seen (but people all say I should see, and I hope to get around seeing soon): Guardians of the Galaxy, Selma, Snowpiercer, Force Majeure, Top Five, Dear White People, Ida, A Most Violent Year, Love is Strange. What should I see first?

Best New TV Show: Transparent
Runner up: MarriedDidn’t see it? This family dramedy that premiered on FXX this past summer is very similar to the new HBO show Togetherness. VERY similar. Both are great shows, but only one came out in 2014.

Best TV Show that’s been around for at least a few years: Mad Men
Runners up: Girls and The Mindy Project

Best TV Show that’s been around for 30 years: Jeopardy

Most overlooked actor this year for award consideration: Miles Teller in Whiplash. The man is in every scene, banging the shit out of those drums and bleeding from his soul (and his hands). And in the middle of it all, it’s astonishing to remember that he is not a drummer. He is an actor.

Most overlooked actress of her entire career for award consideration: Kaitlin Olson for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Hands down, the funniest physical comedic actor working on television today. The show is always overlooked at Emmy time, most likely because of it’s crass humor; at times it feels like a live South Park episode. In it’s 10 seasons on the air (that’s right, an entire decade) they have been nominated twice for outstanding stunt coordination. They are all deserving of awards, and Kaitlin Olson as Sweet Dee leads the pack. Whenever I need to laugh, it never fails to watch Sweet Dee attempt stand up comedy:

Movie that was much better that I thought it would be: Wild. I was expecting a lamer version of Into the Wild. I’m not going to say Wild was a better movie, but it certainly did have a more enjoyable plot.

Movie that was worse that I thought it would be: Foxcatcher. Not a bad movie, just boring.
Runners up: Magic in the Moonlight, Jersey Boys (and I had low expectations going in), The Judge (at least, the first 20 minutes. I did not watch any more.) Foxcatcher certainly wasn’t as bad as the runners up, but I had higher expectations for it. The other three movies I knew were going to be mediocre to terrible.

And a little about music:

Album of the year: Lazaretto – Jack White. Like the audio equivalent of an excellent Western.

Song of the year: You Go Down Smooth – Lake Street Dive. I don’t know why this isn’t everyone’s favorite song of the year. The clip below is great, but doesn’t do it full justice without the horn section.

My music choices were very a limited pool. Here is a complete list of every album I purchased or received as a gift that was released in 2014: Lazaretto – Jack White, Bad Self Portraits – Lake Street Dive, Black Messiah – D’Angelo, Turn Blue – The Black Keys, Anthem for Underdogs – Ben Wise, This is All Yours – Alt-J, and that U2 album that I never listened to but is on my iPhone somewhere. I purchased other music in 2014, but not from 2014. Clearly, I need more new music in my life.

What were your favorites of the year? What did I miss in movies, TV, and music?

It is now February 2nd. I am done reflecting on other people’s work. Now back creating my own work. The next blog post returns to my filmmaking mission, with actual updates and developments! Stay tuned…