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.

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.

Spitzer

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.

Spitzer 2

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.

Unknown

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.

The Verdict is in…

I sat down to read the script for the first time in nearly two months. For the past few weeks my practical side was preparing me for mediocrity, while my ego was preparing the Oscar speech. Unfortunately, the pragmatism whispered by the practical side was drowned out by the cacophonous marching band of my ego, and all rational thinking had been thrown out the window. I started to read, readying myself for the best screenplay this side of Chinatown.

Well, it ain’t no Chinatown. It ain’t even Big Trouble in Little China. It’s nothing if not Nothing But Trouble.

They all know your script is in trouble

They all know your script is in trouble

The problems starting hitting me almost from the beginning. The story alternates between moving at a glacial pace to leapfrogging over important facts. Two different characters sound exactly the same, and could very well be the same character. The arc of my lead character at times was a horizontal line. The ending was so abrupt it was if I ran out of time at the computer lab in college.

It’s bad. The worst script I have ever read. The worst script  ever written. If I succeeded in anything, it was making Joe Esterhaus look like Arthur Miller, and Ed Wood look like William Shakespeare. I have elevated everyone else in the pond by sinking like a stone.

Okay. Breathe. Is it truly that terrible? Focus on something good, man.

Okay. Well. Some of the plot twists took me by surprise, and I wrote them. The story is still original and compelling. The ending sucks but mostly because I gave myself a deadline and didn’t finish it properly, and only a few (admittedly large) tweaks will fix that up. Also, there are some  jokes, and they aren’t terrible.

So is it a terrible script? Or is it a great script?

Neither, of course.

But of more importance, at this stage of the game it’s still MY script. I’m not sharing it with anyone, not even my trusted close confidants who are the first to read my scripts.

In short: I’m exactly where I am supposed to be.

Just make it less sucky.