Completing 2012

December 31, 2012

Every year I take a look at my goals from the previous year and set new ones for the upcoming year. This year I’m about two and four halves for 11. Not a great showing, but still, I think progress has been made.

  • Finish ScreenwritingU’s ProSeries and graduate into the PS Alumni.
    Done
  • 52 blog posts and 1000 visits a month by the end of the year.
    38 blog posts and about 500 visits per month. Like last year, I hit some major lulls, so the overall average is moving up, though I think it could continue to go up more with more consistent posting.
  • A stage show at TRF, getting paid a living wage for the time I put in. Write and publish a book of poetry (written by my character) that I can sell as part of that.
    No, although there has been some progress there. I expect to achieve this result next year.
  • Sign with an acting agent and land 2 auditions per week.
    Done the first part, not so much the second.
  • Land a paid screenwriting gig.
    I realized recently that I’ve had a lot of opportunities here that I’ve self-sabotaged. In 2005 I landed a paid screenwriting gig, simply because I did the work on a spec project that someone contacted me for and asked me to work on with them. Over the past few years, though, over and over I’ve seen some kind of opportunity to work on a project that I then just haven’t done the work on.
  • Edit 6 books. Close sales on two more ghost writing projects.
    2, and 1.
  • Pay off all interest-bearing debt (including the car I just bought) and max out my wife’s and my IRAs for 2012.
    Paid off a lot of that debt, though not all of it. In the process of buying a house.
  • Finish three personal writing projects, and a rewrite of one more.
    I finished that  rewrite and am finishing another personal writing project right now.
  • Semi-finalist in at least one national screenplay contest.
    No.
  • Direct a feature film, or at least start pre-production on it.
    No.
  • Bring internal peace and confidence to the likelihood that my wife and I will be having children in the near future.
    We’re pregnant! So, there’s that …

I’ve got more work to do before setting my 2013 goals, so that’s going to be done in a separate post. I’m going to plan for awesomeness, though.

 

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The Top 2 Percent

March 5, 2012

At this year’s Austin Film Festival, Shane Black said something to the effect of: Ninety-eight percent of this business is just awful. People lie, they steal, they screw with you, they ruin your work, there are thousands of disgusting, despicable people in this business that just make our lives a living hell. But we still do it. Because that two percent that’s good is so unbelievably amazing, we’re like heroin junkies looking for another fix.

I’m paraphrasing very liberally here, but go with it—I’m making a point.

I still remember when I won the part in Conversations with My Father: I was 13 years old, and of the hundreds of kids who auditioned, I was one of two selected to play this role at the Old Vic, “London’s most famous theatre.” When my agent told me, I started laughing—a release of tension I just couldn’t control. In her stern British voice she said, “Is that funny?”

“No,” I said, mustering up all the seriousness I could. I’m just . . . I’m happy.”

“Good,” she said, “you should be.”

I passed the phone to my parents, who spent the next however long discussing business details, while I spent the rest of my evening bouncing off the walls, thanking God, crying, and asking my parents how they could possibly expect me to finish my homework at a time like this.

That was the 2%. That was that moment.

Much of the run was great, too. The play starred Judd Hirsch, and before every show I’d go into his dressing room, and he’d give me notes from the night before. He was one of the most wonderful people imaginable. I didn’t think much of it at the time, it was just normal. But looking back, I realize what an amazing opportunity it was to have this legend of the theater coaching me as an actor. At one point during the run I thought I had mono, but I was just exhausted from traveling between home, school, and the theatre all day long—each about a 45 minute journey away from the other—leaving me with very little time to sleep.

But that, exhausted as I was, was the 2%.

When I was 24, six months into doing some spec work for a company in New York that was developing an animated sitcom, I had a similar experience. I was sitting at work when I got the e-mail: they were cutting me a check for $500 and were going to pay me hourly to continue writing for them. Again, I laughed, a continuous nervous exhale for several minutes. The guy in the next office over, wondering why I was doing an extended Butthead impression, asked me if I was okay. Again, I couldn’t concentrate—how could I possibly be expected to work at a time like this?

That was the 2%.

As it turned out, that was the day my career as a freelance writer began. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done—filled with struggles, failure, rejection, and a roller coaster of financial and emotional highs and lows—but ultimately one of the most rewarding, and although there have been times I’ve come close to going back to a j-o-b, in the end I just can’t bring myself to do it.

The challenging thing about creative writing is that these moments are so difficult to come by. You can spend years writing screenplays, or novels, and not get calls like this. Not get recognized for your work. So I’ve started acting again, which has a much quicker gratification cycle. A few weeks of auditions come with a lot of rejection, but my yeses also come much more regularly, affirming my sense of self-worth and the joy of working as an artist. After a play, people tell me how great I am. At Texas Renaissance Festival I won both Performer of the Day—an award given by the creative director—and Best New Character—an award voted on by the entire performance company. And last weekend, at Sherwood, the guy who created the stage act I’m participating in and has been doing it for 10 years, said “You could take a dump and the audience would love it.”

Needless to say, it was a compliment. That’s the 2%.

And although I’m exhausted, and although there’s plenty of gossip, and rejection, and nastiness in this industry, the compliments like these, and the laughter of the audience, and the occasional $20 bill in the tip box are so great, I’m like a heroin junkie looking for my next fix. Just one more. Just one more. I don’t think I can cope without one more.


Smash

February 6, 2012

Tonight at 10/9c  on NBC Smash premieres. And if you can’t wait, you can watch it right now on Hulu. Which you might want to do, because OMG beaver nuggets, this is a good one. Katherine McPhee exudes every iota of hometown innocence with jaw-gaping sexuality that you could want from an actress playing an actress playing Marilyn Monroe. The script oozes with conflict, thanks to the big egos and emotional decisions that go into this kind of subject matter, and it’s dripping with subtext, thanks in no small part to the manipulative (but very believable) villain. And although musicals always run the risk of coming off as cheesy (see Why I’m Giving Up on Glee), this one uses the music exactly as its designed: to further the story and to heighten the emotional stakes when dialogue just isn’t enough. The cheese is meant to be there, and the rest hits right at the emotional core.

I always get excited when I see shows that revolve around the entertainment industry. They always seem to have an extra spark, because the people making it really know what the hell they’re talking about, and they really care about it. And as someone who works in the industry, I get it. Of course, the same thing that appeals to me about these showbiz TV-shows – that I get what they’re talking about – may be the reason why they don’t always do so well. Studio 60 was awesome, but was doomed to a single season, mostly because the audience just didn’t quite appreciate it to the same level.

So let’s give it some love, and give Smash the opening night it deserves.


Catching Up

December 26, 2011

It’s been a while. My last post was three months ago, and since then a whole lot has happened. With the end of the year coming up, I’ve been thinking about my annual completion of goals/creation for the New Year, but in the meantime there are just so many things I want to talk about.

  • Acting: Went on cast for the Texas Renaissance Festival, and pretty much accomplished everything I set out to do. Created a swordfight that everyone was talking about. Won Performer of the Day on the third weekend, and Best New Character at the end of the season. Made a lot of friends, and had just a ton of fun. And I’m setting myself up to do more with that (hopefully in a way that I can actually make money at it) in the coming year.
  • Books I’ve read: Reading for AFF seems to slow things down on the reading front. Up to a point this year, I was counting the number of books I read, and then I stopped, because it just seems weird that the entire couple of months I’m reading 30+ scripts, I don’t get to count any of that toward my book count. But whatever. I’ve been on a crusade looking for self-published books that have sold well, as a possible avenue to finding property to adapt into movies. To that end, I just got done with Waiting for White Horses by Nathan  Jorgenson. As a storyteller I felt the drama could have been much more consistent; as a screenwriter I felt it could have been much less meandering; as an editor I felt it was way overnarrated; and as a product of the twenty-first century I would have preferred the plot move in a different direction. But the literary fictionist in me could appreciate it for what it was – a product of love, and a deeply personal story to which anyone familiar with rural America can relate.
  • Movies I’ve seen: Been a lot of these. Two of the recent ones – and also two of the best I’ve seen this year – were Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (in IMAX – totally awesome) and Midnight in Paris. Both had really well-written scripts with strong character voices.  Also watched the entire first season of Dexter (and can’t wait to see more), and got to see some amazing stuff at Austin Film Festival – the ones I still think about, and talk about, are The Artist and Butter.
  • Screenwriting: Taking ScreenwritingU’s ProSeries. Although I am, at this point, about three weeks behind, the information and the attitude of the class is really amazing, and I’m hoping to spend the next week or two catching up. Tonight I get to watch The Usual Suspects, starting with the end first. Fun. The script I’m working on is the true story of Ragen Chastain, the world’s only plus-sized professional Country & Western competitive dancer. And I’m continually taking Postville to the next level.

I guess that’s it for now. Catcha in the New Year for completion and goals.


Six Things I Can’t Live Without

August 1, 2011

Friend and sex writer Harmony Eichsteadt just posted a blog on how to answer the “6 Things I Could Never Do Without” question on your OKCupid profile. I commented with my six things, which you can read here. Three of them have to do with my chosen profession.


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