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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Return of The Beast

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.” Winston Churchill

The Beast came calling last night. At 3:30am, waking me from a deep sleep. My first thoughts upon seeing him at the foot of my bed was that his timing was so cliche, in the middle of the night. I expect more: The Beast is stronger, more cunning than that. He visits at any time and any place: in the car, walking with my son, watching TV, eating, anywhere. Only when I’m sitting at my computer, or in the middle of the night, is it not a surprise.

“Your script is terrible.”

I sigh, grab my pillow and get out of bed. I go downstairs to try and sleep on the couch; no need to wake my wife with his grumbling and seething, and my inevitable tossing and turning. The beast glides down the stairs after me.

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“No, no, it’s not terrible, it’s just cliche. Boring. Who wants to see your story? Who’s going to care?”

Ah, there it is. I’m not bad, just mediocre. Thanks, Beast.

“No problem. Just trying to save you the trouble of putting in effort.”

Leave me alone, dude. I have a busy day tomorrow. Lots of writing, you know. A number of different writing gigs.

“All mediocre. Unimaginative. Rote.”

Five different projects right now. All different. Interesting. Vital.

“Are any of them paying jobs?”

Well no, but the potential-

“Potential and a buck will buy you a shitty cup of coffee.”

I don’t drink coffee.

“Yeah? Writers drink coffee.”

Well, I drink soda.

“Soda is for adolescents and diabetics.”

I turn to my side on the couch and try to drown him out. While I attempt to sleep, The Beast perches on the coffee table, talons crusted with dried blood. Of course it’s mine.

No matter where I am or how fast I run, The Beast finds a way to show up. At any step of the process, the beast is there:

“That’s a terrible idea.”
“It’s a decent idea, but it’s been done before by people more talented than you.”
“No one will care about your idea.”

That one is a killer. No one will care. Sometimes I finish scripts that I think are great, and they wind up collecting dust on my hard drive. When I’m feeling down and bitter, I joke to myself ‘congrats! I can’t wait to print my new script out, then set it on fire.’

But that’s not me joking. That’s The Beast. And he’s not joking. Oops, I mean: And He’s not joking.

Why is The Beast so formidable? Because he knows me. He knows all of us. Every artist has a beast, regardless of the medium. And we artists know that-

“Oh, so you think you’re an artist, now? What gives you the right to lump yourselves in with people who have actually accomplished something? You’re a hack craftsman. At best. At worst, you’re a wannabe-”

Let me finish. We artists know that our Beast is waiting for us. Waiting for us to lose concentration, to lose faith, to become distracted or intimidated. Our beast can sense it, and waits around the corner for us to make the wrong move.

But there is good news: the beast isn’t invincible. I found a way to keep him at bay:

Keep going.

That’s the secret. Keep writing. Keep creating. And in this particular appearance, I have an advantage: I have five scripts that need work, and a few of them have immediate deadlines. Deadlines are great to shut up The Beast. There’s the ten-minute play being staged this weekend. There’s the first act of a full-length play being staged on February 22nd. There’s a screenplay I’m writing for a writers group where we have ten weeks to complete a script. We are on week four, revising the outline. Not to mention my new TV pilot which is complete, and Closure, which is the film project that this blog chronicles.

And that’s the secret. Keep writing. When The Beast pushes too hard, I switch projects. Clear the mind. Frighten (!) The Beast.  And when he comes back, switch it up again. Because The Beast hates progress. The Beast hates creativity. The Beast hates completion. And he can sense it. He knows when I get close. And that’s when he pulls out the big guns:

“You are an amateur.”
“You started this blog three years ago and you still aren’t satisfied with the script or raised one dime of the budget. It will never happen.”
“You’ve been writing for a decade and you still haven’t received a big payoff.”
“Your wife makes a good living in the arts, and you don’t. Clearly you are inferior.”
“You think the 28 people who read your blog really give a shit about any of this?”
“You are a white male. The majority of scripts are produced by your kind. You don’t have the challenges the system presents to minority or female writers. If YOU can’t get it made, then you must really be inferior.”
“You’re in your 40s. You are past your prime. If you couldn’t find your way in your 20s or early 30s, it’s never going to happen.”
“How are you going to provide for your son? You need to think about a real career.”

The Beast leans back and smile. He’s proud of himself. He sits on my coffee table, upright and regal. I shrink into the couch, struggling for breath. It’s now 5:00am. My kid will be up in 90 minutes. Two hours if I’m lucky. And then I’ll be groggy all day, which means I won’t get as much done. It’s a vicious circle, all artfully conducted by The Beast who has done this for centuries, closing the box on infinite dreams and then locking it shut.

Unless…

I finish the script. That is the only way to emerge victorious. Get it done. Get to “The End” or “Fade to Black” or whatever it takes to bring closure. Because once it’s done, it exists. And existence is proof. Proof that doing something I love is real.

“But what if no one reads it or sees it? Or worse, what if no one likes it?”

That’s not my problem, I think as I type “Fade Out.”

The Beast recoils and backs out of the room, tail between his legs.

Yeah. Damn right.

A Brand New Season

In case you were wondering, it has been nearly four months since my last post. That’s a lot of time spent at the window of your computer, silently weeping, and anxiously awaiting my return. At least, that’s how I like to envision it. Worry not, readers… I’m back!

Rather than dwell on what caused the absence in this blog, I would rather pretend that I was on hiatus for the summer and now we are in a new fall season. With that in mind, welcome to the season premiere of the Makin’ It blog, about one man’s attempt to make an independent film.

I supposed I should update you, and recap what happened since we last went on hiatus. Firstly, there’s this guy:

Smiley Leo

What’s up, blog readers? I’m brand new!

Yes, it’s a new season, so the producers decided that we need to add a newer, younger and cuter member to the ensemble. That’s so Raven.

That’s right, on July 29th, 2014 the result of the most important collaboration in my life emerged, blinking, screaming and instantly lovable. Of course, everything changes from this point forward. My wife and I vowed that we would incorporate family into our pursuit of our creative endeavors, rather than sacrifice what we have built and achieved in order to provide guaranteed stability. This is not to say that we are destitute, and this boy is just one lost paycheck away from being dropped off at the doorstep of Our Sisters of the Wayward Accident or put in a reed basket and floated down the L.A. river, where he would undeniably float for five feet, then get washed “ashore” on the concrete embankment. (It’s very dry here.) No, what I mean is that we will continue to do what we do, and if we have to give up a vacation here, a fancy meal there, or going to the movies again ever, in order to continue on track, we will do so.

With that in mind, I am happy that I am able to continue what I have been doing, sacrificing mostly sleep. Closure, the script I plan on shooting, is coming along. I have completed the second draft, and will send it off to my manager this week. That said, this blog may take a dramatic and unexpected twist as another script of mine, which was previously unavailable, may become my next project to direct. More on that later this season.

Other highlights include wrapping up the first draft of a script I was hired to write for 13 Stories Productions, a new production company based on the Sunset Gower studio lot that is launching in January.

There is another screenplay I may be hired to write, details pending signing of the contract. And a new TV pilot.

Also, my new play Mayor of the 85th Floor is complete and will be workshopped later this season. Hopefully, it won’t be as disastrous as my last staged reading.

So stay tuned. I promise regular updates, and more than that, progress on bringing a script of mine into production, with me at the helm, soon.

Welcome to the 2014-15 season. It’s going to be a fantastic journey.

Reading Recap

Two days prior to the reading, and I am all about revisions. I would happily delay work on the script and procrastinate (look, more baseball on TV!) but I wanted to get the script to the cast at least a day in advance so they could have the option of reading it in advance. Plus, to be green, those who had e-readers needed to get it on their devices. So I worked late into Thursday evening, and Friday before and after work I continued my paper edit. By 5pm I had completed paper edits and sat in front of the computer to input all the changes. By 6pm Catia had returned from her commercial shoot, and since it was her birthday, we opened a bottle of bubbly to celebrate, then I continued with my paper edits. That is one stereotype I do not fit, the writer who drinks through the process. Fortunately I was almost done and I nursed my glass. Around 7pm I finished, saved the script, and sent a pdf to the cast. No proofreading here, gonna fly by the seat of my pants.

Saturday a quick trip to the local copy store to print out copies for the e-readerless (double sided, you’re welcome Mother Earth) and before I knew it, time was up. Let’s begin.

The last time I heard a script read out loud was my debacle with The Actors Studio in July. I was not concerned this time; after all, it’s a closed reading, just a handful of talented actors who all happen to be friends. A few other respected listeners. A positive room.

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Talented actors hard at work.

And it went well. The pace moved quickly. There were more laughs than I anticipated. The actors connected with each other. Sure, the flaws were glaring when the dialogue was heard out loud. It didn’t go far enough with some of the protagonist’s obstacles, and some moments weren’t believable, but all in all it was a success. The script works.  With a little reworking and revision, this could be something. I am satisfied.

After the reading I opted not to have a group discussion, which sort of threw the cast for a loop. Ordinarily following a reading everyone would sit around and discuss, but since we started a bit late and since the reading was turning into a birthday party for my wife with other guests about to arrive, I decided to abandon the usual critique session and talk to people individually or in smaller groups, throughout the evening. This worked out surprisingly well as people could speak freely without considering the opinions of others. Plus, this allowed me to hear similar opinions without worrying about bandwagon opinions, which are those from people who might agree with something that they wouldn’t have considered on their own. There was some general consensus, though:

* The script is too procedural. Much is revealed in conversation, which isn’t active. And similarly:

* Be more visual and less married to text. A common problem for us playwrights who switch to film. Not insurmountable, my scripts are getting more visual the more I write, but something to always consider. Talk in images when possible. One great note I received from a writer friend who watched the reading is to consider approach each scene as a dance.

Now I will take a few days away from the script to stew it over, but I am encouraged and excited to take this to the next step.

Okay, here’s the truth…

So I have been lying to you.

Want to get it out there, right from the beginning of this post. It’s not a huge hypocritical event, like Eliot Spitzer simultaneously prosecuting hookers while spending time with hookers, but it is a lie nonetheless. So here goes:

In the past few weeks I have not done a single revision to the script.

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I’ve claimed in previous posts that “I’m going over my script” and “I’m back in. Ready to work. Opening the file.” Lies.

Wait, don’t click off this page! I can explain! Really! Don’t go!

I have the best excuse in the world for not working on this script:

Because I’m working on other scripts. Two, to be precise. It’s time to be open about my writing habit…I’ve been seeing other scripts.

I have found out over the years that I can work on two scripts simultaneously, as long as I separate the time between them. I have often worked on a script in the morning, then after a lengthy break of working out, lunch, meetings (or sitting on the couch watching the new season of Arrested Development) I can sit down on an entirely different project without mixing the broths. Once I figured that out, I was able to make it a good habit: one script in the morning, another in the afternoon and evening. And I have two very good reasons why these two scripts are taking precedence:

1. Money. Yep, that’s right. Someone is paying me to write a script. And as anyone in this business (umm…any business) knows, a money job takes priority over a non-money job. The contract has been signed, days have been spent working on the outline, and script writing begins very soon. There is a timetable, a great story, and momentum. And, lest you already forgot the beginning of this paragraph, money.

2. A deadline. I am a new member of The Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit, and I have received a date for a reading of one of my new plays: July 15th. I have a director. She is assembling a cast. And I have a deadline: by June 15th revisions need to be finished. While I will likely continue to revise up until the reading, at the very least I need to give the director and actors a script that I am confident to present, and I’m almost there.

This post isn’t a complaint about working. It’s not a humblebrag. It’s just me telling the world that I have been lying about working on the reason for this blog’s existence, and I will need a few more weeks off before I can jump in.

I will not be taking a hiatus from this blog. Forward progression continues, as my writing constantly gets better the more I do, so this particular project will improve as well, right? At least, that’s what I believe. So keep coming back here, and I’ll keep updating.

And hopefully, but the third week of June, I’ll be an honest man again.

Until then, consider this a working vacation.

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Risky Business

As I’m going over my script, many negative thoughts race through my head. Actually, to be more precise, the positive thoughts race through my head. The negative thoughts saunter in, crack their knuckles, cross their arms, and stare at me for hours on end before ambling off. Most of my negative feedback can be categorized by one question: is it worth it? Will making this film fulfill some purpose in the world, however small, or will it be a grand waste of time?

Then, back to back to back, this past weekend I witnessed three examples, in three different mediums, of those who took a risk, put themselves out there, damning the consequences.

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First I shelled out the bucks to see The Great Gatsby in 3-D. This movie has been polarizing, as is nearly everything by Baz Luhrman. People love his stuff and go on opening day to all his movies. People hate his stuff and will refuse to see anything of his anymore. I’m sort of in the middle, as I enjoyed Strictly Ballroom, loved Romeo and Juliet, and was initially meh about Moulin Rouge, but like it more with each subsequent viewing. Like 99% of the moviegoing public, I did not see Australia, and can live a long happy life without ever seeing it. The Great Gatsby, however, left me feeling meh. The 3-D was a wasted experience and totally unnecessary. The acting was generally good, and while the first 75 minutes was great, the second 75 minutes could have been cut in half. But what is important here is not what I thought of the movie, but the fact that Baz Luhrmann made it. He took a widely regarded unfilmable classic tome and made it watchable. He did it, regardless of the naysayers who probably screamed about leaving that classic alone. And I admire him for doing it. Love it or hate it, it exists, and there is nothing we can do to take that away.

Nicole Erb and Bo Foxworth, both excellent.

Nicole Erb and Bo Foxworth, both excellent.

The next day I went to see The Crucible at Antaeus Theater Company, a North Hollywood theater group that specializes in the classics. I don’t normally seek out the classics when I seek entertainment, let alone a nearly three hour drama about witch hunting, but we have friends involved with the company so it’s always good to support. And boy, was it worth it. The co-directors took a huge risk by directing most of the blocking out to the audience, as if we are looking at a split screen. For most of the play (except for a few organic “truthful” moments between characters) the actors did not directly interact with each other. A bold and risky choice, which was very effective.

Drugs!

Drugs!

Later that night I watched Mad Men. I have been a fan of this show, and when the writing, acting, shooting and design are in sync and firing on all cylinders, there is little else in the creative world that can match it. This particular episode was dazzling, beginning with all the creatives at the ad agency taking speed to cram in more work during their weekend into a drug fueled explosion of creativity, and the show itself kept pace. It’s very difficult to create a film or show that successfully replicates for the viewer what it is like to be on drugs, but this show succeeded. So I imagine; I have never been on speed. But regardless, it FELT like I was on speed, so it succeeded. A drug-fueled hour of television is risky business on television, even in the cozy and more forgiving confines of cable. However, the series would have been successful without this episode, which while not feeling necessary, certainly enhanced the plot, arc and drive of the season. A risk paying off.

All three of these productions, in different mediums, took huge risks. For the most part, these risks paid off. When thinking about my little script and microbudget production, I need to stop worrying about the consequences of risks and just take them.

You Crazy Dancing Helicopter

This week Catia and I went to dinner with our friend James. It was one of his last nights in town for a few months, so for his last supper, so to speak, he picked the venerable institution, The Musso and Frank Grill.

Musso and Frank’s has a rich history. I am quickly learning that anything over a few decades old in Hollywood is considered a classic, so to dine at Hollywood’s oldest eatery, around since 1919, is the SoCal equivalent of walking the Colosseum in Rome. And it does have a rich history: Orson Welles regularly held court here, as did F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler, Ernest Hemingway, and Charles Bukowski (although presumably not at the same time…that would have been a perfect storm of neuroses and alcoholism). Alas, while still an institution, the place has faded a bit (but the prices are VERY contemporary). I’m sure in its heyday it was packed, but on a weeknight the place sort of looked like the bar in The Shining. No starlets or writers holding court, but there were a couple of reality stars tossing back martinis and shrimp cocktail:

When he was 36, she was a fetus!

When he was 36, she was a fetus!

Over the meal James was mentioning reading a script recently, and how he was bored from the beginning, which got me thinking about my own script. Is it interesting? Does it jump out at you from the beginning? There needs to be set up, sure, but all good writing captivates you from page one and never lets up. But there is a fine line: this does not give permission to throw in bells and whistles on every page. Constant overstimulation is a bad thing…unless you are the gentleman in the above picture, presumably.

Keep it interesting. And not just to me.

While we were wrapping up our meal, and the reality stars were giggling themselves out the back door (they really did seem very much in love), I noticed the only other active table. Two gentlemen at a four top, having a very heated conversation.

And they were deaf.

Hands flying. Faces expressive. And not something you see every day (unless you are actively involved in the deaf community of course).

I have two supporting characters, both imposing figures, who have a few scenes together. Their relationship needs to be dynamic in some way. What if one of them was deaf? There is no reason not to make it happen. Do I know sign? My signing knowledge is limited to “you crazy dancing helicopter” but that’s not important. Write it, and someone can help me make it happen down the road.

Keep it interesting. Life should occasionally have some crazy dancing helicopters.

And maybe I can cast that couple in the roles.