Momentum

I listen to music all the time. Whether it’s in the car, while I’m jogging, or working, there’s always something playing. When it comes to my writing, whatever the project needs dictates the playlist or radio station, and I will stick with that music throughout the creative process. Outside of the actual writing, there are a handful of songs that keep me going throughout the writing process, sort of like a creative cycle mix. Before writing something new I always listen to My First Song by Jay-Z, which is about treating every new project like it’s your first and your last. Another great motivator is The Distance by Cake.

Also on my playlist: Aimee Mann’s Momentum.

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“Even when it’s approaching torture I’ve got my routine.”   Aimee Mann – Momentum

The lyrics may be vague but the music is on message: a strong driving beat that propels you; you have no choice but to keep moving forward. Plus, it’s featured in the excellent P.T. Anderson movie Magnolia, not only one of my top ten favorite movies of all time but like Closure, a great film set in The Valley (see what I did there?!?).

This past fall I felt the stars were lining up with my career, and everything was moving forward. Closure screened at three festivals over a five week period, winning five awards total. We signed with a producers rep. Distribution seemed imminent. I started breaking out the story for the next film.

On top of that, my writing career also had momentum. I had staged readings of two different plays, productions of my play IT IS DONE at a lovely 200 seat theater in Raleigh, North Carolina in November and another fantastic production at Theatre40 in Beverly Hills scheduled for January. Starting in late September I had my writing being presented somewhere around the world through February. It was actually happening. There was momentum.

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The promotional poster for IT IS DONE in Raleigh, North Carolina.

I did a push for agents. Reached out to friends in the business to see if they would connect me with representation. Many people were supportive, but said they couldn’t help (which I totally understand). There were a few people who actively offered to connect me to agents and manager, of which I was thankful.

New Years Eve rolled around. Like any couple with young children, my wife and I had our champagne around 8pm, toasted to a productive, happy and healthy year, and went to bed by ten.

January rolled around… and crickets. The first few weeks are usually quiet in this town as many in the industry get settled after the holidays. Some say that nothing happens until after Sundance. But our phones and email inboxes were silent throughout January.

I distracted myself with the production of IT IS DONE that opened at Theatre 40 in Beverly Hills in the middle of the month, continuing to push for distribution and for an agent. It was all happening at the same time, and I was calling the shots… as long as I remained active.

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That was my promise to myself. As long as this show was running I was still active. I diligently pushed for representation, massaged contacts at theaters across the country, and kept hustling for Closure distribution.

Reviews for It is Done were spectacular. Three different theaters expressed interest in mounting their own production, on top of the half dozen contacts I was working on across the country. This was my time to move on to the next level where I would be managing my productions, creating new content, and being paid regularly. I was ready for the next level.

After a fantastic five week run the show closed… and the machinery ground to a halt.

No agent or manager meetings. No word on productions. Distributors for Closure liked the film but were dragging their feet on offers. Our plan for a spring film festival tour evaporated with each rejection. For the first time in over a year I had nothing on the calendar.

And it felt terrible. Despite all the successes of the past year, suddenly I felt obsolete and kept asking myself “is any of this worth it?”

The same went for my wife and our film’s star. Despite the release of the final season of her television show Just Add Magic in January and the upcoming release of a Netflix series of which she will be a recurring guest star, she had nothing going on as well. Zero auditions. And that number is not an exaggeration.

In the days following the closing of my play we’d sit down for dinner and not talk about the zero emails we received during the day. Or the zero phone calls. We also didn’t talk about our mortgage. Or our two young kids and how we were going to provide for them if the phone doesn’t ring.

Days turned into a week. Which turned into weeks. Then a month.

JUST FUCKING RING. One call. One ping in my inbox.

Momentum had ground to a halt.

So what to do? Exercise more and work off the pounds I put on traveling the world with the movie. Write more. I finished a play I had set aside for a year. I outlined and broke out the story for my next screenplay.

And we waited. It’s the worst part of the show biz life when that loud voice in my head says that it’s done. It’s hard to write something new if the universe (or what I think is the universe) screams “nobody cares about you” in my ear.

But I kept writing. Because that’s all I can do.

And then…

…the phone rang. First Catia’s phone. An audition. Then another. Then a callback. Then a booking.

Distributors started returning phone calls. And sharing our movie with people in their office.

And we got our next film festival acceptance. We are taking our movie to New York.

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Back to the mothership where I lived for over 15 years and where Catia and I met.

And the wheels are turning again! Things are slowly picking up. It’s hard to keep faith when nothing is happening. And it can all go away again, but in the meantime I have to keep up the hustle. Keep writing. And keep working to get as much exposure for this movie as possible.

Hopefully this time the machine doesn’t stop. But if it does, keep the faith that as long as I work at it, something else will come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Chasing the Money

Funny story about $250,000

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Many years ago, back in New York City, my comic play I’m in Love with Your Wife premiered at the Midtown International Theatre Festival. It was a fast-paced, 80 minute modern sex farce and was a hit at the festival, in part aided by the casting of a very popular 1970s sitcom star.

The very affable and big soul Ron Palillo (R.I.P.)

R.I.P. Ron Palillo, a generous man with a huge heart.

We sold out every performance (which sounds more impressive if I don’t mention it was a 44-seat house) and then sold out the additional shows added. When the festival closed, we were nominated for six best of the fest awards, winning Best Supporting Actress and Outstanding Playwriting of a New Play. The good buzz and great reviews led to meetings with a few off-Broadway producers, who felt that this play could be a hit off Broadway.

One producer went further. He had his own 165-seat theater space, which more than qualifies it for off-Broadway, and agreed to budget the play. One afternoon we sat down and figured out what it would take to make it happen. After figuring in actors salaries (on the bare minimum union scale), salaries and fees for director and designers, plus set contraction, insurance, and a healthy chunk for marketing, he had a number that would keep the show open for two months. Presumably, good press, word of mouth and a 70% attendance rate would keep the show running indefinitely. And this producer told me that number: $250,000.

I was shocked. The budget to do the show off-off-Broadway, in the festival, was just under $10,000. And we hustled to get that money, holding a live fundraiser (this was before online crowdsourcing existed) and we cut corners where we could. Even after all that, a little money came out of my pocket, not counting the hundreds of hours I worked for free.

As we looked through the quarter mil budget, that number made sense and was clearly not arbitrary. But that’s a lot of money to raise for something not permanent. One of the joys of the art of theater is that it exists only in that moment in time that you witness it. Once the line is spoken, once the lights go down, the moment is over forever… until the next night. But eventually, the show will close. This becomes daunting when I realized I needed to spearhead a campaign to raise a quarter of a million dollars for something that might be all gone in a few months.

And as I walked out of that meeting, I had a thought:

“For $250,000, I should make a movie.”

This story does not go down the road of me abandoning theater to pursue film and TV. Hardly. I will always love theater. Since that experience I have had three more plays fully produced, a few more written, and numerous productions of full length and short plays across the country. But never for a budget remotely close to $250,000. And this thought always stayed in the back of my mind: should I spend a lot of time hustling and fundraising for something that could conceivably be gone in four months? Or should I put that energy towards something more permanent?

So imagine my surprise when the same number was not-so-casually presented as a budget for Closure. My ten-year younger self would be smiling at me (and possibly wondering what happened to my hair). It seems appropriate that the same number estimated to launch my off-Broadway career be the same to launch my first feature film endeavor as both writer and director. Makes me want to play the lottery.

That’s it! I’m going to take my savings and buy lottery tickets, and use the winnings to fund this movie.

Or maybe I’ll listen to what the producer suggests first. One step at a time.

COMING UP NEXT: Hearing the script again… but this time, in front of an audience.

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.