It’s been a time sharing writing experiences with you all. Since my absolute lack of professional abilities has been abundantly clear to me recently, I’m afraid I’m going to have to shut down any and all screenwriting activities going forward. Heeding the words of those who know, I’m reading the messages I’ve received repeatedly for the last several years and discontinuing this path. It’s a shame I didn’t realize sooner that the one thing I loved doing most in this world ultimately wasn’t for me.
I know nobody actually reads this, so in the end no one will miss me either. I think that’s the hardest part of it all.
Hello fans and sycophants alike (though those of who ARE my sycophants have been rather quiet as of late – get back to your undying love!) Yes, it’s definitely been waaay too long since I’ve updated this site. ‘Why is that?’, I need you to ask to provide context for the rest of this post. To answer you, I will digress into an extended, but interesting story…
When I was returning home from Qatar, I had a lot of plans and expectations about where my career was going to go, now that I was a professional, for real paid TV writer. Before I’d even landed in Vancouver I’d already lined up several contract jobs, there was the strong possibility of LA consulting work being directed my way, and most importantly of all, I was going to waltz into any of a half-dozen offices in Vancouver and find myself representation right then and there. I’d finally snuck my foot in the door, and professional success was just waiting for me to grab it.
So yeah, none of that happened.
My numerous paid contracts fell down to ‘one’, which I then managed to severely under-bid myself in the hopes of currying favour with karma and the local scene. The LA work that was coming my way dried up for any one of the numerous reasons writing work dries up, and most shockingly of all, most agents still won’t take my calls. Oh they’re lovely people, I’ve met with several of them, and while I may be employable, the problem remains that I have yet to prove I am ‘bankable’.
So here I am, in basically the same place I was last year, struggling to figure out where the next paid writing gig is coming from. I thought this would all be easier. Then I remembered Frodo & Sam…
‘Member them? ‘Member Rudy and the cannibalistic serial killer from Sincity? They had to take a ring to a place I think. It was in movies, I guess they wrote some books about them or something later…
But seriously – Frodo & Sam have to take the ring to Mordor. Sure it starts out as a jaunty fellowship with Lucifer, Magneto, Indy’s friend Salah and the King in The North along for the ride, but the reality is by the end of three movies and sixty hours of your life, it was Frodo & Sam getting the job done.
They set out and walked further than they ever had in their lives. They crossed rivers, escaped the Nasgul, slept in different beds, killed Orcs, climbed the Misty Mountains, woke up the Mines of Moria and by the end of ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ they had made it all the way too…
Nowhere near Mordor. I mean COME ON! They spent nearly three screen hours getting somewhere, and when you see how close they are to Mordor it’s heartbreaking. They’re nowhere close.
So we go into the second film. Surely this time, after 3+ hours of Orcs and horses and Brad Dourif you’d think they’d be closer to Mordor. NOPE. By the end of the ‘The Two Towers’ they reached the GATES of Mordor. Surely this must mean their journey is near it’s end – STILL NOPE!
Now they have to spend another whole book/movie making it through the suburbs of Mordor, or ‘South Surrey’ as it would be called here, in order to make it to Mount Doom Tower in downtown Mordor (or the ‘Central Mordor District’, as the one Aussie I suspects who reads this blog might understand). I mean, it was like you could see the place from the Shire, but every time Frodo & Sam thought they were there, they discovered just how much further they had to go to reach their ultimate destination.
Success in screenwriting is like that. You cross the swamps and plains and grasslands and oceans and think you’ve made it, think you’re there, only to discover a whole new valley of competitors, production gates and obstacles standing in the way of where you want to be.
So you climb over, slide down and conquer THOSE obstacles, only to find there’s a whole new world, all new terrain of endeavours and challenges in your way. It’s like the screenwriting success is tied up in a series of sinister matryoshka dolls.
I mean, I picked like the easiest industry in the world to succeed in right? What was I doing wrong? Where was the hotline where I could just call up the Giant Eagles and have them deliver me to Mount Doom and skip all the boring spider-parts?
It was an amazing lesson, and a sobering realization all at once. Nothing is guaranteed anywhere. Four months pounding out TV scripts is great experience, but it’s not a surefire path to fortune and glory, not standing on its own anyways.
I still spend my days hustling, building relationships and expanding networks, trying to find that next edge, that next in. I can see now just how foolish I was being at first , thinking that one pro job would be enough karma to carry me through. Where I am, the work is so thin and the competition so strong that nothing can be considered a lock. Talent and skill are a baseline in this business, not an asset. I say ‘not an asset’ because it’s not like a slew of un-talented, skill-less noobs are scooping up all the work I’m trying to secure.
Okay, not entirely true. There is ONE group of people scooping up all the film work in Vancouver, but even they aren’t skill-less noobs. They’re much more dangerous than that…
If anyone is flooding into Vancouver and filling up the film jobs, it’s the shifty ‘Strayan’s! I worked on one of the amazing Crazy8’s films this year (Shuttlecock – such an awesome experience!) and there were no less than three fresh off the boat Aussies on the crew, a Kiwi, a Brit and I think there was a Red Panda as well. It was a blast, but damn! A country where Uni’s doc late assignments 1% a day (At UofC you lost 10% a day for lates until a week had gone by and then there wasn’t any point) is producing more hard-working film folk than you can throw a boomerang at. Those hard working film folk are arriving on our shores in droves, appearing in our TV shows, working our lights and keeping crafty fresh. They need to be stopped – or bought drinks and plied to help YOU find work as well. Maybe that’s a better idea.
So I’m back grinding at the grindstone. I’ve submitted myself to several screenwriter internships, apprenticeships and opportunities. I’ve already received my ‘No’ email from one of them; The Toronto Screenwriters Conference is obviously onto me and my shenanigans. (Anytime you receive an email from a contest where the first thing they tell you is how many people entered, you know you’re already out of the running. It’s never “We received 250 submissions and yours was the best! Welcome aboard!” – or maybe it is, and I’ve just never seen that, either way.)
Before I returned to Canada, I liked to think I was beyond these internships and competitions. Figured the weight of my hard work on an international program and the good vibes I was getting from people in Hollywood, closer to the action. would be my sure-fire, direct ticket to success. Work begets work, as they say. And I was working hard.
So is there a lesson, or a point to this, you wonder? I wonder that too honestly. I’m doing what everyone should be doing, following my dreams and sticking with that, not letting adversity or disappointment slow me down or stop me. But I will confess to you and only you, endless internet full of countless readers, that it isn’t easy. It’s really not. Simply keeping an appropriate, positive attitude going on a daily basis can be exhausting enough, without having to you know, live and do things.
My greatest fear in the world (well okay maybe not “greatest” – my greatest fear is that our universe is nothing more than a massive alien simulation and our particular incarnation is being used to calibrate for variables) is having to go back to a regular joe job. I have this fear because, confession time – I’m not very good at regular jobs. I mean, I’m good enough to do the job capably, but that’s it. I’m not the office go-getter. I’m not ambitiously positioning myself for that next raise. I’m not ‘management material’. My years and years in the ‘customer service’ world (the only joe jobs I’m really capable of landing) have left me scarred with knowledge of my own mediocrity. If you need story broken, or a character to take a left turn, or that big reveal for the cliffhanger, then I am sooo your guy. If you need someone to explain to you why your cable bill keeps changing, I’d sooner take the easy way out and try to reach the edge of space using 300 helium balloons and a hammock.
What’s that saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow”? I believe in it, but I’m wondering if the money knows where to find me right now. I might put out a sign, just in case it’s lost or maybe it’s like Googlemaps in Iceland and they have the translations of street names wrong. Not sure exactly, but I’ll keep working and waiting for that money to show up. It has to get here sooner or later… Any day now.
Now I’m faced with those most dire of existential questions. Do I stay the course, or do I get practical? The last time I thought about being ‘practical’ I spent several semesters at UBC thinking I was going to be a History teacher until I remembered the very last thing I wanted to do was sit around with a bunch of teenagers for six hours everyday. So instead we stay the course. I’m making adjustments to keep me pointed towards my goal: I’m seeking out PA work, since that’s rarely 9-5 (at least on an extended basis) it keeps me in touch with the industry I’m trying to break open and it can put some money in my pockets while I work to pull down the next big thing.
Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from this – it’s that one job is not your career. YOU are your career, and especially in a place like Vancouver you need to be hustling your own career every chance you get. You aren’t going to slide from one choice job to another, you’re going to have to work at, hack through and cut down so many professional and personal obstacles before you can secure the next job, and the next one, and the one after that…
So yes, the road to success is like the path to Mordor: it’s full of little people, it goes through a swamp, and while it’s almost impossible to get through the main gate, you can probably sneak in the back way…
This is it ladies and gentlemen, the final ‘Qatar Solo’. My time in Doha draws to a close this very evening (or at 2am tomorrow morning, depending on how you want to spin it…) and for this grand finale entry, we’re going to explore just what brought me to embark on this amazing experience.
I’m not the type of person who was big on ‘bucket lists’. Taking most of my queue’s from my Dudeist faith, I was happy allow life to simply bring me the events it warranted as fate saw fit. (Translation: I was kind of lazy) I kinda figured that if I didn’t make a big deal out of making sure a whole bunch of things got done, I would never be disappointed if I never followed through on them*.
*This is not an ideal way to live, I’ve discovered.
But on my rather dismal bucket list was one ‘easily achievable’ objective (relatively speaking). I wanted to witness, in person, a total solar eclipse. Being a big ‘space’ kid my whole life the concept of such a simple yet awe inspiring event fascinated me. I was interested in astronomy from a young age, and if I were to drive a Delorean back in time and bring a copy of the new ‘Cosmos’ with me (I supposed I’d have to bring a Blu-ray player too for this plan to work… dammit, already I’ve over complicated things) I would change the course of my young life to send on path to being an astronomer. In fact the only thing that ever really discouraged me from being an astronomer in the first place was math. Stupid, stupid math.
Being a ‘Trek fan from the start, science and space-stuff always intrigued me. I absorbed everything I could from NOVA on PBS, and I read my parents copy of National Geographic’s ‘Our Universe’ cover to cover many times.
Space was always a big deal. Yet as time went on I found myself much more interested in telling stories that happened IN space, rather than wanting to unravel its mysteries myself. Telling stories about space required considerably less math than actually researching in (to say nothing about going there. Maybe it was being young and formative when the space shuttle Challenger disaster struck, but I was never the ‘I want to be an astronaut’ type. What I really wanted to be was Han Solo, but I digress…)
So yeah, space and stuff. Being able to witness a solar eclipse first hand was a big deal to me, and when the opportunity to travel a few hours from my home to be in the path of totality came around this August, I jumped on it. You could tell I was serious about it because I seriously booked our motel almost a year in advance. Ask Marisa how often I actually book/plan things and you’ll realize this was a big deal.
So that weekend we packed up the car, said goodbye to Thom and smuggled Lenny across the border in Ol’ Gill. We drove down to Portland with the intent of hanging around for the weekend, absorbing some culture, buying some T-shirts and drinking from some breweries. As G Dub once said in a giant banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier: “Mission Accomplished!”
From there we would take another drive about an 90 minutes further south to the true path of totality and witness the incredible sight.
Now there was one hiccup in our plan, and that was my total boneheadedness in NOT getting eclipse glasses before we left. Long story short – I didn’t bother to look for them until just before we left, and sure enough, sold out all over Vancouver.
Also sold out all over every rest stop we hit on the way down to Portland. You’d think people really wanted them or something! Marisa was not impressed with my half-assed plan to watch through a pin-hole rig (to be fair, it was a pretty half-assed plan I will admit) so she was not super happy with me. All the way to United States of Trump and we wouldn’t even be able to look directly at the sun as Fenrir swallowed it for the end-times? Bullshit!
I knew the August issue of the magazine ‘Astronomy’ came with a set of approved eclipse glasses, so the plan changed to finding a copy of that magazine. Also: nearly impossible. But this is where the first tale of meaning in this story emerges. I wasn’t going to give up until I found this magazine SOMEWHERE. No chance every copy in Portland was sold out, right? So I persisted, I kept at it. And after asking every person at every grocery store we stopped at, I located a Co-op in Portland that had TWO copies of the magazine left. Sure enough $22 US later Marisa and I both had our own guides to the eclipse and a set of glasses each.
The lesson here was not only that I didn’t give up, but that I had a goal set in my head, and I pursued it until I achieved it. I’m not saying I bent the universe to generate two copies of a magazine at a random grocery store, I’m saying I MIGHT’VE bent the universe to generate two magazines at a random grocery store. (Lenny slept through the ultimate eclipse so her puppy glasses were a big waste of time)
“So where’s the interesting part of the story?” you ask. We’re nearly 1K words in and you haven’t even started to make sense.
But I will…
Our first night in Portland I received an email from a working director I had met almost exactly a year before. I pitched him ‘Tucker’ and he told me it was the best pitch he’d ever heard, bought me a beer for it. A great guy, truly. We stayed in touch over the year but only intermittently – turns out he spent most of that year working in the deserts of Qatar on a TV show.
He emailed me because the showrunner on that very program was looking for writers to join the room for the show’s second season, and for some bizarre reason he thought of me. He asked if I had anything Sci-Fi I could read, and I said I did.
You see, I brought my laptop with me on that trip. Normally I don’t do that, but I had been in such a writing habit for the past several months that I thought it couldn’t hurt to have it along in case there was any chance for me to keep up the routine. So glad I did because I think I spent about 8 hours over two days in our hotel room in Portland making sure that the Sci-Fi script I had written for JUST SUCH AN OCCURRENCE was ready to be viewed by people.
I sent the director ‘BRIDGEHEAD’, and hoped that it would be what he was looking for.
So the morning of the 21st arrives, we leave extra early to get stuck in serious eclipse traffic, take the most convenient ‘off’ ramp we can into an outdoor mall complex about twenty minutes outside of Salem, Oregon, and we wait.
Actually WATCHING a solar eclipse as it’s happening is both anti-climatic and amazing all at once. Anti-climatic because the sun is still essentially the sun until the last few moments. Watching through eclipse glasses you can see the cookie-bite the moon takes out of the sun grow bigger and bigger, but without the glasses the blazing day-star is still putting out the same incredible luminescence as it ever does, at least as far as our primitive ape-eyes can tell.
But then things actually start to get DARK. And cold. And suddenly there is no sun. Just a brilliant DONUT OF FIRE in the sky. For an instant you know exactly why ancient people’s thought the world was coming to an end when this happened because it is so UNLIKE any other occurrence one encounters in a typical day, year, life.
And then it’s over. The reality is totality occurs for typically less than 2 minutes wherever you are, so before a song is even done the day-star comes roaring back, and it’s a fight to get onto the highway again home.
So there we are, crawling along at 20 km/h (SLOW for the American’s reading this) when I get a call on my phone. It is the lovely director, telling me he’s passed my recommendation on to the producers of a show called ‘MEDINAH’ and in all reality they’ll be contacting me with an offer to write on the shows second season.
That’s the job I just finished out here.
Why does any of this mean anything? How did the eclipse change my life, exactly? I mean it’s totally plausible that I would’ve got the call from the director had we not driven down to Trump’s America and just stayed home.
But there’s so much more at play here than just that call. In the past year I’ve learned a great deal about making things happened for yourself. I’ve been writing almost constantly for the last two years, feeling like I was forever spinning my wheels, not gaining any traction. I never stopped though. Through the rejections, the passes and the plain old ‘getting ignored’ I kept writing. More than that, I kept letting people know I was writing. I held readings for my work, I kept at it even though it seemed like I wasn’t getting anywhere.
In fact I’m pretty sure it was my most recent reading of ‘Diesel Wars’ that provoked the attention of this director. We follow the same people on Twitter, and one of my friends who came to read, the lovely and talented Rhona Rees tweeted about my reading, and I feel that the director who recommended me picked up on that tweet, remembered me and my awesome pitch, and decided he’d contact me to see if I was interested.
What I’m saying is I was definitely ‘lucky’ that I decided to bring my laptop on the trip with me, and I was definitely ‘lucky’ that a director remembered me when the time was right, but I had a hand in MAKING that luck happen. I wasn’t quiet or silent in my ambitions and dreams. Just like the eclipse, I wanted to go and do something, be a real paid screenwriter, and I went after it. Even during all those long years I wasn’t being paid to do what I wanted, I kept shooting for that target. I persisted, believing nothing more than the fact that I knew what I wanted to do with myself, and there was no way I’d be stopped by reality. I wasn’t sure I’d make it, not at all. What I was sure of was that there was one thing in the world I wanted to do, and I was going to do it, no matter what. Sure, being PAID to do it would be nice, but just because it didn’t seem like that wasn’t happening wasn’t enough reason for me to stop.
And sooner or later, come hell, high-water or a planetary alignment, something happened. If I hadn’t been writing all of that time, if I hadn’t continued to show my work to people, if I hadn’t continued to seek it all out no matter what, it wouldn’tve come together.
Just like the careful alignment of sun, Earth and moon required to give us an eclipse, and the stunningly bizarre astronomical coincidence that in this age our moon is the exact same annual size in the sky as the sun, everything came together because I was in the right place for it to come together. But I wasn’t there by chance. I was there because I had made choices that brought me there. I was there because I had fostered an environment where luck could find me. You can’t force luck to happen, but it seems like you sure can do everything you can to set up the conditions just right for luck to take hold.
I am incredibly fortunate to be in the position I was to follow my dream. I don’t doubt that for a minute. But I was there because I put myself there. Waiting for luck to find me failed me for years. Somewhere along the line I decided I would make it easier for luck to find me, by waving my hands, jumping up and down, screaming ‘Here I am!!’ and doing all the work required to be ready to grab the chance if it ever came along.
I’m starting to think that’s the key. If you want something, really want something, go after it. It’ll never find you if it can’t see you, and if you’re not screaming and going after what you want tooth and nail, how is anyone, especially luck, supposed to know where you are?
Oh hello! I didn’t see you there, readers of this blog…
I’m here to actually TALK about something screenwriting related this week! Huzzah! Go figure. And that something is Script Notes.
I’m not talking the “I just wrote a screenplay and I want notes from my friends/co-workers/family/anyone who put it in front of their eyeballs” kind of Notes…
What I’m talking about here is primarily my experience in giving and receiving notes in a professional environment – specifically as a staff writer on a TV show. It’s only an utter coincidence that this is just so happens to be the professional environment I find myself in while I write this post. Oh serendipity…
Now I haven’t had much experience with ‘Executives’ and the absurd kinds of Notes that supposedly come from them. This isn’t a blog about the ridiculous “But could your Space Whale fight a copy of the Don Simpson/Jerry Bruckheimer auto-racing tour de force ‘Days of Thunder’ at the end of the film, instead of Dave Bautista? He’s doing Guardians Vol. 3 and we can’t secure him for shooting” kind of Notes. This is about the kind of feedback you get on the script you’re paid to write on someone elses show, where your job is dependent entirely on your ability to deliver what the show runner wants and is asking for.
This list is by no means exhaustive or hard & fast. It has not been approved by any screenwriting body, nor has it met the standards to qualify as a medical treatment (so all you anti-vaxxers can rest assured that this list WILL prevent your children from contracting the autism-polio in place of REAL medicine. We know the truth, don’t we? /WINK)
So without any further padding of my word count, here are the 5 Do’s and 10 Don’ts of giving and receiving Script Notes:
DO – Take Every Note Seriously
Unlike the mythical Executive who doesn’t feel satisfied unless their desire for the blood of virgins is sated through ritual sacrifice, your Head Writer and Showrunner aren’t giving you notes just to make themselves feel good. They’re giving you notes to push the envelope of what you’ve given them, to correct a perceived misstep or to make a change that they know is going to be needed. This is elementary stuff, so it might seem dumb to spell it out, but you’d be surprised how often folks don’t take these things seriously. “In the case of our Space-Chicken, can we make him Extra Crispy? Will that fly?” (…too… many… puns…)
It might seem dumb, you may not agree, but it’s not your job to agree. It’s your job to deliver what the Head Writer/Showrunner need, and if they’re giving you a note, it’s because something in the script isn’t sitting the way it needs to.
DON’T: Push back needlessly. It’s your job to write. If they’re asking you to try something else, do it. If they want a damned extra crispy Space-Chicken, give them an extra crispy Space-Chicken. If it’s terrible and they don’t like it, let them cut it. It’s not your call, otherwise it would be your show. Remember that “Yes I can/Yes, and…” are the most powerful, future job generating phrases in the business. “No, because…” is not something the people above you want to hear in a creative environment.
DON’T: Ignore a note if you don’t like it. If the Powers That Be (above) see you’ve moved on without actioning the note in any way they’ll think either you’re A) Not reading what they’re giving you, and thus a waste of their time or B) that you don’t think they’re input is worthwhile, which is an absolute death knell if you want to keep finding work as a screenwriter. IF there is a solid, valid reason that the note is off base, you need to approach it directly and respectfully. “I feel that making the Space-Chicken extra crispy severely undermines his integrity as a symbol to the mainstream. Many more people prefer original recipe over extra crispy and we risk diminishing our exposure to the heartland if we make him extra crispy. Of course, if you feel it’s the route we should take, extra crispy it is.”
FOR GOD’S SAKES DON’T: Respond with informal slang and dismissal. “Nah homie, story don’t play that way.” May sound hilarious, but it is the HEIGHT of disrespect to the person giving you the note. There is no clearer way to say “I don’t think you know what you’re talking about” than responding this way. If you have no interest in ever being employed by this person again, fine, go for it. But remember: Everyone in the business talks, and most jobs come from word of mouth…
DO – READ THE NOTE BEHIND THE NOTE
Not every note is a directive to do a specific thing. “Great! Love it! Can we punch this up? Make it, you know ‘good’?” Is a note I’ve seen several times in this job. What’s being said here isn’t that what’ve you’ve done isn’t good (we writer’s need so much validation) What’s being said is that “You’re halfway there.” A request to be punched up is simply being asked to challenge yourself to come back for another pass and up the ante, the stakes. Set that plane on fire, make that newborn baby a serial killer, pee into the wind!
This is the ‘Note Behind the Note’, because (big secret) sometimes the Head Writer/Showrunner don’t know exactly what they want. All they can tell is they want ‘something’ to change and improve, so they rely on ‘punch it up’ to convey their general sense of dissatisfaction. It becomes an important skill to recognize what’s being said without taking everything literally. (Unless the note is “No, seriously, Extra Crispy Space-Chicken, no question”.) Since most all of writing is re-writing, this shouldn’t be a problem. No one knocks it out of the park on the first try (not even you, Doug)
They might tell you to “Try making the racecar an octopus” or “What if the fire breather guy was a vegetarian?” They don’t know what the hell they want, they’re in entertainment after all. It’s not your job to read minds, but it IS your job to think on your feet.
So instead of making the racecar an octopus, you have the brilliant idea of setting the final, epic rally car race in the city of Atlantis. Instead of making the fire breather a vegetarian you force him to team up with a play’s-by-his-own-rules, jive-talking vegan Liger for the big assault on precinct √13. If the Powers That Be are asking for a change but aren’t exactly set on what that change is, it’s up to you to be as creative as you can in solving the problem.
DON’T : Get Exasperated.You know, just throw whatever together, cut & paste and Ctrl-F search your way through a solution. “Okay, replacing all ‘racecar’s with ‘octopus’.” If you’re being paid as a screenwriter, it’s because you’re creative. The Powers That Be want you to use that creativity to solve a problem for them. That’s why you’re there. If it was a simple cut & paste job they could do it, and then they wouldn’t need you. This is the very nature of understanding the ‘Note behind the note’. It might seem a little counter-intuitive in some places, but if you’re good at what you do, your solution will be better than whatever their note was.
DON’T:Be literal about things either. If they’re asking you to add more beats to a sequence, don’t throw in a few ‘BEAT’s or cut away and add in a few more ‘CUT TO’s & ‘EXT/INT’s. They asking you to adjust the flow so that more plotlines can run concurrently, or to add to or diminish tension. READ what you’ve written, what’s prompted the note, and use your creative brain power to find a solution.
DO – BE READY TO GET IT WRONG
Because genius, this WILL happen. You will read a note about Space Whales being out, so you try out your latest thing; Moon Rhino’s, and it will be a giant disaster. Just like taking notes is about listening to what’s being said, responding to them with solutions is about being flexible. Writing is re-writing after all. We said that above and we will say it again over and over and over because – you guessed it, we’re re-writing it! HA! (So terrible… I dare call myself a writer…) So many aspects of this job are about being resilient, and taking a note, implementing it and then hearing “Nah, that’s not what I wanted. Space-Penguins? Can we do that?” can crush the dreams of your own Moon Rhino space-opera if you let it.
DO – ASK FOR HELP
One of the whole points of having a Writer’s Room is that there are MULTIPLE people there, multiple avenues to explore and utilize. If you get a note that you don’t understand or don’t know what to do with, ASK around. Find out from the other writer’s what they think. Guaranteed someone is going to have a difference perspective than you. Hell, if they’re available (and in a good, supportive, thus successful situation, they should be…) reach out to the Head Writer/Showrunner/Producer who gave you the note and pick their brain. As long as you aren’t asking them to solve the problem for you, this is a surefire way to reach the most effective solution quickly. Talking story issues out is one of the best ways to resolve them – and notes usually come written off the top of someone’s head as they read, so they aren’t actively engaging in a solution, they just know something needs to change.
You may try a dozen different iterations of a fix before one sticks. Don’t let this discourage you – it’s exactly what the job is. The joy of finding a solution is infinitely better than doing a half-assed job.
DON’T: Do a half-assed job. So the Head Writer hated your idea for a Moon Rhino episode. The worst solution to this issue is to simply say “Fine, no more Moon Rhino’s, and type in the easy out. It’s Good Enough.” “It’s Good Enough” is like saying “I don’t care.” and is another way to lose the respect of those around you. There are literally tens of thousands of people vying to be where you are, a staff writer on a TV show, and if you’re resorting to ‘Good Enough’ to get past a little butt-hurt about your solution not being great the first time, one of that horde of ten thousand will quickly take your place. In screenwriting, we all know that you can be wrong a million times and only be right once, so says the great philosopher Funky DL (as interpreted by Thomas Prime) but it’s that one time that matters.
DON’T: Close yourself off to solutions. Revising and fixing something that isn’t working is a vital skill to have, and the ability to wield that is an important part of your arsenal/toolbox. LISTEN to those around you and what their suggestions are. Your purpose is to make the best show/changes to a script that you can, and the best solution might come from outside you. Or another show. Or a book that you read. Or a meme that you saw in a Google Image search five minutes ago. This is where flexibility is your best ally. You’re being paid to come up with solutions, not to take things personally.
Which leads us into our last point:
DO – TAKE EVERY NOTE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT
There has been more than one occasion writing scripts out here where I’ve seen the seemingly callous note ‘Hate it. Let’s change…’ This doesn’t mean that you’re a terrible writer. It just means you’re generating a visceral reaction from the person who you’re writing for. Many times I have made changes, and when the scripts are passed to the higher ups, all goes well. Every once in a while though, you change something with the ‘Hate It’ sticker next to it, and when it comes back down the pipe from the Powers That Be you read something like “Not digging the Extra Crispy Space-Chicken, can we go back to the Original Recipe Space Chicken with his eleven friends & allies?”
The only authority on a show is the person who green lights the work, and your pay cheque. You work for them, and your purpose is to deliver what they need; scripts that fit the bill of what an episode is supposed to be and do. The Head Writer may have thought that Extra Crispy Space-Chicken was a surefire win, but the Showrunner and/or producers didn’t agree. That’s okay. Nobody is right all the time (except my wife) and even the people who are in charge of creativity can be off base.
DON’T: Take notes personally. If there’s little Final Draft flags all over your script and it makes you want to die because you think everything you do is wrong, that’s probably not the case. Notes are about the story, not about the person who writes them (HR is for that). A note on a script you turned in isn’t reflective of you, not even necessarily of your ability as a writer. All it reflects is the one paramount issue, the needs of the show. I’ve personally been told that about 7/8ths of what I contribute doesn’t make any sense to the Head Writer, and it doesn’t bother me at all, because they still loved the 1/8th that was left over. So much creativity gets left on the proverbial cutting room floor that what’s left over has to shine (Just ask Terrence Malick)
DON’T:Forget your place in all of this. Notes on a show are not about your preference of what you’d like to see. If a note says ‘More Cowbell’ and you absolutely cannot stand Cowbell – you think it is juvenile and vapid and completely below you, add more fucking Cowbell. The needs of the show are bigger than your ego. If it’s not your show, it’s not a judgement call on your part about what should or should not be included. If you read a note and it goes against your taste or preference, but it needs to be implemented, tough shit, you implement it. You don’t argue, you don’t fight. If you hate the material you work on so much, you need to find somewhere else to work. Ones ability to take and apply notes is not a reflection of ones tastes or interests. It’s a reflection of ones ability to do a good job in a complex and demanding atmosphere.
DONT: Make multiple people give you the same note.More absolute death. If co-writers have given you a note, the Head Writer has given you the same note, and it STILL makes it all the way to the Showrunner without being changed, who then gives you the SAME note as both sources prior, you’ve really fucked up. In a ‘three strikes you’re out’ kind of way, when other writers see you haven’t taken a note seriously and it needs to be repeated by the Showrunner before you act, you’re essentially giving a middle finger to the people you’re supposed to be working with and supported by. Good luck getting the best out of them when you need it in the future. If you get the same note from two sources, there is 100% a reason for it because it’s being noticed by multiple perspectives. Chances are good if they see it, the Showrunner will too, and if something so obvious as to have been noticed by two other points of contact makes it to the Showrunner without a fix, it doesn’t show steadfast adherence to your integrity on story, it shows a disrespect to your fellow writers and the process. Writer’s rooms exist to solve problems, not to be ignored for the sake of ego.
I’m going to be learning far more lessons than this as I go, but I can tell you picking up on these tips and running with them has been a huge learning curve for me. I can’t tell anyone how to do what they do, but I can pass on what I’ve learned and hope it makes the journey that much easier for someone else when it comes their turn to get their first set of script notes – notes that make them want to cry.
I suppose I’m going to try and fold the universe back on itself by writing a post about NOT writing. Not even quite sure how that works, but we’re going to give it a try.
Those who have been following this blog regularly (Hi all two of you!) know that I’ve been working like a Japanese honeybee on meth these past three months, essentially non-stop. (Need to raise awareness for those poor honeybees; Karoshi-bees) First it was hours and hours of outlining in the writer’s room with the colleagues. Then it was scribing my first episode for the show. Then it was filling the time in between episodes with writing my own work, plus weekly blog posts. Now I’m waiting on the go-ahead to start writing my next episode for the show (and a short wait after that until I get to my third) and filling the time in between with MORE writing for people.
That’s a lot of writing for this busy-bee.
I’ve been in this mode so long I’ve pretty much got the timing on my favourite Vapourwave mix memorized (It’s actually the best Vapourwave/Futurefunk mix I’ve found on YouTube – I love the sub-genre names we give music… Reminds me of the days of downtempo-fluffy cyber-tech-trance/hop). I don’t function well in silence, and all of my writing is done with music, usually curated to fit the mood of what I’m working on. Most of my features have soundtracks in my iPhone long before anything of them exists on the page.
I’ve been at this a long time is what I’m trying to convey. I’m currently in a re-write/franken-edit of ‘The City’ (itself named after a Madeon title track) that I’m desperately trying to make sure is ‘eyes ready’ by the time my next episode comes up. I’ll be there, no doubt, but as I worked on it yesterday I was overcome with a feeling I’m not accustomed to…
I’m tired of sitting behind this computer 4+ hours everyday in constant creative mode. Sure, after I finished ‘Titan’ last week I took a full day off (and I mean took the day OFF – I slept until [EDITED to preserve respectability] I watched a bunch of TV, ate junk and made sure to achieve exactly 0) and the day after that I went and saw ‘Justice League’ (‘Tis neither great nor bad – just ‘meh’) but that day ended with a review of our latest written episode, a process itself which requires a read-through and notes from the show-runner. While I wasn’t writing that day, my brain was still very much engaged in the creative process.
Yeah I deserved a little time off, I’d just written a feature in no longer than two weeks, while still putting up blog posts and doing the work I’m actually being paid for. Then I dove right back into what I know I need to be doing here, maximizing my writing time.
You see I live in this unique environment right now known only to rich people – I literally have almost no daily responsibilities. I have no dog to walk, no cleaning to be done, no meals to make for anyone but me. I have absolutely NOTHING but time available to me. So of course here I am trying to get as much work done in that time as I can.
Why on Earth would I sit around mainlining ‘LEGION’ when I can use this time to produce, to work? I can sit on my ass at home and justify it by saying “I took the dog to the park today and then swept and then made dinner and… did some other stuff. I earned four episodes of awesome TV.” Yet I can’t exactly do that out here. If I haven’t at least put ten pages down what have I really done with myself?
There’s a mentality among driven, hard-working people, that all of your time wherever possible should be devoted to performing, to making and to doing. That’s a reasonably good mentality most of the time. The trick of it comes when you start to hit a wall, and not like a “It’s 3 o’clock and I could really use some McNuggets” kind of wall. I’m talking about the kind of wall that robs you of your ability to care about doing the next thing, takes away from you any desire to be anything, to achieve anything. We’re going to call that wall Donnie.
I’m so glad I actually know enough now to be able to cite Donnie as a cultural reference. Donnie does nothing except drag you down and make you wish he wasn’t there (For the first 2 seasons of ‘Orphan Black’ at least – you can tell the writer’s got tired of the ‘Donnie joke’ by season 3 and decided instead to turn him into a somewhat badass) Donnie is that wall where you look at something you love and you go “I just can’t fucking even right now.” We all know how Donnie’s pudgy, helpless demeanor turned Allison into a raging “aggressively helpful” individual, and if you don’t pay attention to the Donnie wall you can become that ragingly “aggressively helpful” creative yourself.
When today came around, I realized what I needed to do. If I was going to keep loving what I was writing and working on, give it my very best and make it into something great – I needed to NOT do it. For a day. I needed to take a rest from this breakneck working pace I’ve been running at. I needed to chill the fuck out for a day.
And of course I do that by sitting here and writing ANYWAYS – but I didn’t want to lose the entire day. I just needed to separate myself from my creative functioning brain for a little bit. To those hardened, dedicated individuals who see work accomplished as their only measure of success, what I’ve just written is near blasphemy. “I should push through!” these imaginary A-Type overachiever yell in my head, as context for this post. “I need to show up each day, every day and leave my heart on the field!” “I’m just a slacker! Teddy Roosevelt never took a day off”
Or the most motivational of them all:
To stop or to falter is to be weak, so proclaims the ‘true’ big Lebowski. The Bums will always lose! There’s a lot of modern working society in North America that is based around this notion.
It’s bullshit. It’s also dangerous in my opinion. I love what I do. I’ve managed to find a way to make a living (Ha! such dreams…) that doesn’t feel like work to me, and I’m grateful for it. But even I, master of my writing domain, cannot push through forever. Sometimes I’m tired, I’m fed up, and I’m not going to take it anymore!
Even as I write this now, I’m already excited to get back to work on my next project tomorrow. This is a sense of excitement I didn’t have yesterday, looking at today going “Ugh, I need to write a blog post AND put down/edit more pages.” Not being excited for the work I love frightened me, because as soon as I’m thinking about screenwriting as work and not “The most awesome thing I get paid to do” it looses its charm. I absolutely love screenwriting in (almost, like 99%) all of its capacities, and any time I’m doing something that tarnishes that love, I need to stop and re-evaluate where I’ve put myself.
So today was a day to listen to myself, listen to what some crazy part of my body was trying to tell me, and take it easy. I’ve been learning a lot about ‘listening to oneself’ and ‘listening to one’s body’, because more often than not, your myriad of human senses, categorized and otherwise, are processing information your conscious mind isn’t aware of. How many times have we all felt that ‘something’ was wrong without ever being able to put our fingers on exactly what it was? We are much smarter critters than we realize, but we’ve been trained not to listen to most things the universe is trying to tell us.
“Whoa whoa whoa!” Let’s not go getting all ‘woo-woo’ here’ I can hear the rational part of you brain saying, dear reader. (That’s right, I can hear the rational part of your brain ticking away. Disturbing no? Doubt me if you must, I can read that too, but always know that this screenwriter is in your thoughts… forever.) I’m not about to go off on a rant about chakra’s and third eyes – I know people who get paid a great deal of money to talk about those things and if you’re actually interested in learning I can direct you to them.
My own experiences in the more ‘spiritual arts’ has been a unique one to me, as everyone who’s known me through life knows me as a rational, scientific, facts based person, and since so many of those things are less ‘facts based’ than people are comfortable with it would seem bizarre that I give them any credence. Yet, oddly enough, I’m starting to. I’m not gonna go into it here (that’s for a future blog post) but I CAN say that my life has changed incredibly (for the better) since I’ve started exploring some of the more esoteric ways of relating and understanding my experiences.
We all need to give ourselves the time we need to be. And we need to be able to do this without carrying guilt about it. I know for a fact I’ve done… a bunch of work this year (see, I can’t even exactly quantify how much I’ve done) and MOST of it has been done while I was out here. I have everything to feel accomplished about and nothing to regret, yet even I fear I’ve under-utilized my time on occasion. Good god why? I basically ‘Misery’d myself, without the need for Kathy Bates or broken ankles.
In this business like many others, work begets work. If you’re working, there will be more coming your way, and if you aren’t working, good luck digging some up. How this cycle gets broken when you can’t find work I’m not sure, but I do know that I’m here now because I kept plugging away at things without being paid until somehow I finally was.
What I’m saying is that: To everyone out there busting your ass, breaking yourself and working all your time into oblivion, take the time to listen to yourself. Some people like P Diddy, or D Money, or Po Daddy or Did Poppy or whatever he is now are the type to run at full burn all day, and catch cat-naps between meetings. If that’s how you operate, great, but that’s a level of work that freaks the hell out of me. I’ve managed to get as far as I am and build a reputation for myself among the screenwriters I’ve met by creating a very effective balance: I go hard, real hard for a duration for a few days, maybe a couple weeks, and then I back off.
Bear in mind I work pretty much everyday, usually for about 4 hours behind the keys. That’s a regular burn in my world. It’s not hard to maintain and I get plenty done. THEN I unplug and chill out and mainline some TV, because in order for me to be able to work consistently, I need to have the time to NOT work. Now sure, I’m also a married man with no children so of course I have time available to me that some others don’t – one of the reasons for that is because I’ve specifically chosen this course for my life. If I want to be able to do what I want to do, to deliver on what I want to achieve in my life, I need to be able to have these moments, this time. It’s as much of a choice I’ve made for myself as deciding to have kids is a choice for (most/some?) in our modern world. There are parents out there who are both drained and energized by their children in equal measure. In there I still encourage people to find the time to unplug themselves in whatever manner they need. Some would argue that the ‘pace’ of the modern world precludes this ‘unplugging’ – but we all make our own worlds, and your life moves at the pace you set.
What matters most is that you feel satisfied with the time you take, and not guilty. This world wants us all to feel guilty for daring to be Human, since we’re told ‘success’ is dependent on us being super-powered competitors who crush our competition into dust, but the older I get the more I understand that’s just not the way things work, at least not if you want to be happy about who you are and where you are.
I mean, look at me, I couldn’t even be bothered to turn this post into a ‘list’ of any kind. It’s really just me rambling about feeling burned out for 2500 words. I COULD’VE spent a bunch of effort trying to make this more relevant, but for me what mattered more was being able to just put it down and send it out into the world. I’m not making my fortunes blog writing at the moment anyways, so to all of you who’ve made it this far, I say:
Hello friends, creatives, fellow screenwriters and merciless self-flagellators! Today we’re going to explore 4 questions that will answer the ever burning desire among all creatives to finally know “Screenwriter is me?” (Master’s of grammer we are not – that’s for “English Majors” – blechhh. English. Who needs it? Besides pilots, diplomats, actors, scientists, the one minority guy in Indiana Jones movies, engineers, hotel workers, those few phrases in Anime…)
I have learned from my wealth of experience as a screenwriter these past few months,(please read w/sartalics – are we EVER going to get those?) that being a screenwriter in Hollywood is just as easy as everyone says it is…
But some folks out there dreaming of all the fame, fortune, wealth and power that being a screenwriter is guaranteed to bring may STILL not be sure if the most direct route to total fulfilment is for them, so I threw together these 4 questions off the top of my head today because I was scrambling for something to fill a page with, to help you figure out if it’s TRULY for you. Let’s go to the board!
1) Do you want a job EVERYONE thinks they know how to do?
In my experience there are only three (ONLY THREE! Any other examples will be immediately rejected! The WRITER has SPOKEN!) jobs in the world where everyone, no matter how inexperienced, thinks they can have a (valued/respected) opinion on.
Police Officer: Sure not everyone WANTS to do that job, but everyone sure as shit thinks they know HOW to do the job Police train strenuously and study for.* “Couldn’t he just shoot him in the leg?” – “It’s obvious he’s the bad guy, just arrest them already!” – “I don’t know sossiffer, how fast were YOU going when I killed old man Peabody’s pine tree?”
Medical Doctor: A professional who spends the super valuable first eight years of their post-teenage lives in school being overworked, underpaid, overworked again, crapped on, and then taken for granted only to hear “I read online that seaweed/tumeric enema’s will cure my cancer, not your crazy drugs. You’re just another shill for big pharma!” when they try to do their jobs, saving someone’s life.
Scientists(of all stripes, colours and creeds): Yeah whatever pal. I know you claim to gather ‘evidence’ and ‘facts’ about atmospheric particulates, cellular permeability, environmental carbon absorption rates, tsunami related geologic stability and solar flares, have that information crossed checked and verified by a worldwide community of equally trained and informed individuals and then published using a language designed to maintain objectivity and remain as free of bias as humanly possible, but when I fly in a plane the horizon looks FLAT, so how do you explain THAT?
*(Writer’s Note: I am NOT opening up a conversational Pandora’s box regarding Police training, use of force, racial profiling or any other topic in those regards. Please find another blog to get mad at someone about.)
And then there’s ‘screenwriter’ (okay so there’s FOUR professions – the WRITER HAS EDITED!) What I mean is, since (most) everyone is literate, everyone thinks they can WRITE. Yes, in one sense if you understand the structure and symbols of the language you use to communicate you can indeed write, but being able to drive a transparent car doesn’t make you a mechanic.
Because people can string words together, they think they can ‘write’ in the manner needed to tell a convincing, compelling story. Wrong-O. For most folk this doesn’t matter, because MOST folk are smart enough to not try and become a screenwriter. For those (dumb) intrepid enough to try their hand at screenwriting, it turns out the truth is much harder to swallow, like that damned artificial banana flavoured penicillin they used to give us as kids.
So you’ve just sent off your heart warming Space-Whale masterpiece and the notes you get back from the people on high start out with “We love it, but in the 3rd act when the Space-Whale flies our hero’s to the moon, can we instead have it fight The Rock (in this case they mean a DVD copy of the Michael Bay film and not Dwayne Johnson) in a Lithuanian prison for cigarettes? Keep the rest of the story the same, but just change that.”
Being a reliable, employable type with a good attitude you say “Okay, I’ll just have to find a way to change the climax then where the Space-Whale swallows the crystal monster to save the moon from imploding and destroying Earth.” And they say “No, keep that, just put it in a Lithuanian prison instead.” – Now you’re less thrilled: “Uhmmm, how do I do that?” – “You’re the writer, you’ll figure it out.”
Because screenwriting is easy, right? You can just change around 26 symbols any old way and have them mean whatever you want, to serve whatever purpose. If you think you can’t do that because “INTEGRITY” and “STORY” and “MAKING SENSE” pffft, then maybe you’re not the right writer for the job.
This commercial LITERALLY (I mean that literally) sums up how I think most producers/executives STILL think of screenwriting:
Yes, screenwriting is a simple afterthought that requires at most a weekend to solve. Because they don’t have to really do the work, they just have to tell YOU to do the work, and since you’re (sometimes) paid to do that as a job, it should be freaking easy. It’s just words after all.
Yeah, everyone thinks they can do this job.
2) Do you want to start finding fault in things you LOVE?
I have made it a point in my life to NEVER, EVER work with food. I’m no chef and I don’t have the stellar abs/glutes of all those actors-turned-servers who keep our food flowing at local dining establishments, and I personally and shamefully LOVE fast food, so working there is also OUT.
(Gotta tag my homie Ling for showing me that clip, and my boy Andrew. He knows why.)
You see, it’s clear to me that I don’t want to know how the McNuggets are made. I just don’t. I love shovelling down those little poppler taste bundles and I don’t want anything to ruin that. Hearing the tales I have from people who worked fast food in high school I have serious reservations about learning the truth of my most destructive past-time.
Screenwriting is like that as you get better and better at it, because you start to see how the McNuggets are made when Lt. Stamets tells Capt. Lorca (‘Star Trek: Discovery’ people, please try and keep up) towards the end of ‘Into the Forest I Go’ that his next Spore Drive jump “will be his last ever” and then when we get “one more jump” repeated again we know what’s going to happen. The ship may as well be named the ‘USS Live Forever, NCC One Day From Retirement’ because we KNOW that things are not going to turn out hunky dory,. Nothing that’s written is an ‘accident’, so when someone says ‘It’s all gonna be okay’ , you know it isn’t.
I sat down to watch one of my most FAV films a few months ago, Michael Mann’s magnum opus ‘HEAT’, a thrilling, atmospheric tour through the high stakes professional crime world of 90’s LA and an examination of the flawed robbery/homicide detectives tasked with keeping a lid on it.
As I watched the languidly unfolding first act, you know what I realized? This movie I adored deeply needed a rewrite; The film is difficult to follow without repeated viewings, much of the dialogue is ham-fisted and without nuance, several scenes exist purely to brow-beat the viewer into feeling a certain way about a character (Vincent’s scene with the mother of the young prostitute Waingro just murdered, specifically. It seriously has no purpose to the plot other than being there for the mother to freak out over her dead child and for Vincent to be there at the right moment to comfort the screaming/grieving woman. The plot doesn’t move forward; the murder provides no clues that lead to the films conclusion. It’s there ONLY so we can see Vincent being ’empathetic’, and it’s pretty transparent in its purpose.)
Match this with the scene towards the end where Vincent comes home to find his ex-girlfriends daughter having slit her wrists in his bathtub, and you have a whole mess of clumsily constructed plot contrivances meant to make us feel the ‘tragedy’ of Vincent Hanna’s character. What’s worse is these elements aren’t needed as the finale with Vincent and Neil McCauley (Robert DeNiro, duh) in the game of ‘cat-and-mouse’ at the airport is more powerful than anything concocted to manipulate us into feeling for these characters.
(And if you’re pissed that I just spoiled multiple elements of a movie that’s 20+ years old, I’ve got news for you: The Titanic sinks, Bruce Willis was dead the whole time, turns out Charleton Heston was on Earth all along and David kills Dr Shaw and then poses as Walter.)
Yes I still enjoy watching the film and Mann’s thematic, stark directing are a wonder to see, but the actual story is VERY weak in some places. I loved this film when I was younger and more naive about story telling. Now that I have a much better grasp on what good screenwriting is though, I can’t enjoy the film the same way I used to.
This problem extends further though. Remember ‘Oblivion’? That Tom Cruise movie with an awesome soundtrack, terrifying droid bots, cool atmospheric fighter-plane thingies and not much else?
Well in Tom Cruise’s opening monologue (which wasn’t needed in the first place) he tells us that’s he’s feeling peachy since his last mysteriously necessary memory wipe. The screenwriter in me immediately cracked the code and went “Oh, we’re doing ‘Moon’ then? This is just gonna be ‘Moon’ with Tom Cruise?”
And it was. SPOILER: “They’re clones” It becomes hard to surprise someone who works with the same toolbox that you do. So if you want to start to be disappointed by the things you love, screenwriting is for you!
3) Do you want your hard work to become completely irrelevant and pointless at the drop of a hat?
Everyone remember last years action extravaganza ‘Suicide Squad’ that stayed true to its source material and left every movie-goer who saw it satisfied beyond belief? I don’t either. But I DO remember another film also called ‘Suicide Squad’ that was a giant 3 day festival outhouse of wasted potential.
Yeah people remember everything about this film being awful, which is really difficult when you consider it has Will Smith, Margot Robbie as every ‘girl-who-doesn’t-read-comic-books’ favourite comic character Harley Quinn (Seriously I’m not trying to be sexist, but I cannot understand how anyone, male or female, who actually knows Harley Quinn’s STORY could idolize her. It’s like saying you really wish you could be Leslie Van Houten.) It also has Jai Courtney, so that’s just a win. Cara Delevingne as an undead god-queen, and the Joker (who cares who plays him? He’s the fucking joker) How is this movie not amazing?
Well there were stories, and I don’t want to spend any more time searching for them, that the studio played some kind of sick ‘Hunger Games’ with its screenwriters by commissioning five separate professionals to each write the first act of the film, and then they would somehow battle these versions together Thunderdome style to see who wins. It appears that NOBODY won that match and while those screenwriters DID get paid, they hard work that never saw the light of day.
The other great example is the epically original movie ‘Nottingham’. Don’t remember that one? That’s because what you ended up seeing was Russell Crowe and the guy from Great Big Sea doing ‘Gladiator – the 1200’s’
You see two very skilled screenwriters named Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris sold a screenplay called ‘Nottingham’ about the Sheriff of Nottingham investigating a series of murders using all the forensic techniques available to an era where people still burned witches at the stake and thought you could pay the Pope to sneak you in the back-door to heaven. These killings were of course blamed on Robin of Locksley until those two would encounter each other in the 2nd act break, and team up ’48 Hours’ style to find the REAL killer. How AWESOME was that movie going to be?
Once it was sold and Ridley Scott got his hands on it, we wound up with, you guessed it, SID 6.7 and the guy who sings ‘Run Run Away’ sitting in the mud for two and a half hours, because Ridley Scott really just wanted to do a Robin Hood movie and couldn’t be bothered with this thing called ‘originality’.
Is there a lesson in this? Even when you hit it big and make that epic sale, people will probably STILL ruin your film. Which is okay, again, as long as you get paid. (Make sure you get paid.)
There is a silver lining to this issue: People almost NEVER blame the screenwriter if a film is bad. Directors/Actors/Producers? Totally. But screenwriters? Nope. Because the idea is that a bad script should NEVER go to camera, it should be the very best story it can be before anyone ever thinks of dropping millions in coin on getting it made. So your challenge here is making something EXCELLENT for OTHERS to ruin.
4) Do you actually want to be writing?
Confession time: This point the was entire motivation for this weeks blog post, but I didn’t want to give you guys all the goods up front so I made you wade through a bunch of nonsense and funny pictures until I could bring you to the point:
I just spent the last 10ish days pretty much isolated in my hotel room writing ‘Titan’ – a soon to be indie darling and powerhouse on the film festival circuit (so it is written…) This includes a 6hr stint yesterday where I put more than 25 pages of text, dialogue, action, exposition and laughs to (digital) paper. To some that’s impressive. To others it’s “Why the fuck would you do that to yourself?”
I do it because I want to. Because screenwriting is MY thing, and when I have the chance to actually sit down and CREATE something with words and formatting, I WANT to do that.
This is the biggest thing to being a screenwriter. To do it, to be good at it, you NEED to want to write. Writers write, that’s how it works. And it’s not as simple as some think.
I know amazing directors who are actually ‘writer-directors’ because they buckle down, write their own scripts and put a ton of effort into getting them made. However these same writer-directors don’t produce material at anywhere near the rate I do, and often lament the fact that while I’ve finished two pilots and feature in the last quarter, they’ve barely scratched the surface of their next project.
The thing is, they’re writing because they want something that matters to them to direct. I write because I want to write. To them writing is a skill they have developed as a means to an end, to fill a place that is lacking – mainly material they want to work with. I write because WRITING is thing I want to do. They want to direct, and become forlorn when they can’t write at the pace a writer can.
I have designs to direct my latest feature ‘Titan’ because I’ve been cultivating a storytelling/screenwriting/filmmaking brand for a decade – Nichecore – (please give it some clicks, I’m pretty sure no-one’s ever looked at my brand intro) But I don’t have a need to be planning out a whole set of things I want to direct, because WRITING is my skill set.
It’s as simple as this: Writers write. Where other people sit in front of screens and wish they were somewhere else and then get lost in Facebook for forty minutes, writers write. It doesn’t make us ‘better’ or more accomplished than those who want to but don’t, it just means where some are totally fine planning and being behind the camera, writers are fine buckling down and getting the words out. I know so many people in the business who get down on themselves for ‘not writing’ when they feel they should, when in fact there are writers everywhere doing their shit and trying to find work.
When you get on an airplane, you don’t get upset that the pilot is flying the machine instead of you. People aren’t bummed that the pilot is doing all the work to get them there when they should be doing it themselves. The pilot is doing literally what a pilot wants to be doing, flying the damned plane. Writers are the same. What makes us different from directors, cinematographers, editors, actors, is that we WRITE. It’s in our blood, it comes from our brains, through our fingers (or weird Sci-Fi cerebro brain link rigs if you’re reading this article 30 years from now).
If sitting down behind a screen for 6 hours a day and just writing seems like torture to you, then maybe you’re not a writer. And that’s okay – because there ARE writers out there trying to get the work done, provide content and make everyone elses job easier by doing the HERO’S WORK (*cough*cough*) before anyone else does.
The ability to stare at a screen for hours on end and keep oneself focused on the typing task at hand isn’t for everyone, just like rocket surgery isn’t for everyone either. If you think you want to be a screenwriter but the idea of staying parked for hours/days at a time restructuring, reformatting and re-editing fills you with dread, you may really need to reconsider what you want to be doing.
But if it doesn’t – and if you’re like me and the prospect of having hours and hours of writing time ahead of you is exciting rather than nauseating, then screenwriting may very well be your bag. So get on it, start doing what you love and hate everything about yourself for it. It’s the screenwriters way!
Oh jeese, did I seriously just type that? Me, a “professional” writer, rhymed attitude, baditue, latitude AND gratitude? I should turn in my writing card this instant. Like I seriously thought that was a good idea, I even pressed ‘PUBLISH’. Who am I? Thinking that was anything other than a total misstep. WOWZERS…
Whelp, no time to worry about that now. Not like I have a magic button on this keyboard that can go back and undue all my terrible mistkes.
Today we’re filling a page (and your eyes) with talk about attitude, and in particular I’m talking about attitude when it comes to a writer’s room, working collaboratively on a TV show, how the ‘in’s & outs’ of someone’s attitude (or baditude) can affect the group dynamic and ultimately what ‘latitude’ a good attitude or a baditude can get you. (See how that all fits together nicely?)
It still amazes me to no end how some people I’ve encountered in this business of screenwriting and filmmaking don’t check their attitudes properly. This is a world where MORE than anywhere else I think (perhaps aside from… illegal arms sales maybe?) word of mouth is the source of your next job. When that word of mouth is good, you’ve got more work coming your way. (I think I’m on the cusp of this myself…) But when you go and ask someone “Hey, have you ever worked with Trenton Ramirez Skarsgaard III?” and they make this face at you…
Then Poor Trenton has a problem. Word of mouth has travelled about him, and that word of mouth is “not good”.
We all need to be reliable and capable in what we do. If you can’t show up on time prepared to work, you won’t be called back. No matter how good your attitude, if you’re completely incompetent, ie delivering substandard material or missing the point of the job or just fucking up royally, you won’t find yourself with more work coming up.
I ‘m not talking about those kinds of problems though. I’m talking about people who are competent, capable of delivering good work and skilled enough to be regarded as reliable, but they have a larger problem: their attitude sucks. The trick is a sucky attitude doesn’t always look like what you think it does.
Filmmaking is collaboration. I know when us filmmakers are learning all about the art of the movie we fall in love with the auteurs…
…But auteurs only make up a small fraction of the media being made. Even then, these people all work with massive crews, many of whom they have stuck with for decades. Why? Because they know them. They’ve learned that these people are solid folk to work with. Believe me I don’t believe for a moment that Woody Allen has people returning to his payroll year after year who he thinks “Gosh gee you know, I uh, I just, I really don’t like that guy. He’s… he’s like the Subway Sandwiches of people; good, but nobody really wants to go there, you know.” [BEST Woody Allen impression (as written out) EVER.”]
The kind of attitude people want to work with is one that is engaged, on the ball, accepting of challenges and always prepared to say ‘Yes, I can do that.’ Essentially an attitude that is all about moving forward with the purpose of achieving the goal, of succeeding. The kind of attitude people DON’T want to work with (a ‘baditude’ if you will allow me to reference my title to make it relevant) is the kind that always finds problems, reasons not to do things, wants to set conditions on what they will do and generally stands in the way of getting things done, usually because they want their own contributions to be weighed more heavily than others.
I’m going to try and stay on point, by referencing from my own ongoing experience working in a writer’s room. I’ve learned that there are GOOD things to say in a writer’s room and there are BAD things to say
GOOD Writer’s Room Phrases:
“Does that fly?”
BAD Writer’s Room Phrases:
“I don’t like…”
“No, because …”
“Can’t we just…”
Let’s break things down!
“Yes, and…” Is the greatest way to demonstrate a good attitude and keep the work moving forward. Anyone who’s taken an improv class knows the benefits of this phrase. It shows that you connect with the idea, even if it doesn’t necessarily float your boat, and you can do something with it, take it somewhere it needs to go. It expands on creativity and keeps a positive flow. Even if you’re not totally down with what’s being pitched, it shows that you recognize the value in the idea and that it can be taken somewhere, ANYWHERE. That’s what a writer’s room is all about, moving ideas forward and finding ways to make them work. “Yes, and then we can take our carrot people off the life raft and put them on the back of the giant Space Whale!”
“Whatabout…” There is no better way to divert a train of thought that is in danger of going off the rails than using the phrase “Whatabout…” When someone pitches to you that maybe the Space Whale needs rocket boosters under its flukes that fry the evil pursuing super-sharks as it lifts off into space, and you’re pretty sure that if you’re already using a whale that can fly to the moon, attaching rocket boosters creates the wrong image, you bust out ‘Whatabout if the giant whale has huge wings that creates a storm on the ocean when it flaps them, and this storm tosses the super-sharks around?” You’re not crushing anyone’s contribution, you’re taking what they said and moving it in a different direction. You’re not saying “You’re idea is terrible, mine is better.” What you’re saying is “There’s a different way to approach this that might fit the story more effectively, lets explore that.” It’s a professional way of saying “Let’s try something else”. Dare I say that there are no “Bad Ideas” (except for Transformers that can look exactly like people, that ruins EVERYTHING ‘Transformers’ is supposed to be about.) There’s just bad execution. Not every contribution is going to be gold, but that doesn’t mean you shit on the person making a not-stellar contribution (I’m talking to you Doug – you know why). Having a good attitude doesn’t mean taking every idea as if it had equal merit and usefulness. It means knowing how to frame the discussion in a way that doesn’t stifle the contribution of ideas, no matter how zany. Almost any suggestion has a nugget of worth to it, and “Whatabout…” takes that nugget in a whole different direction. (Unless that nugget is Transformers becoming people.)
“Does that fly?” Is the inclusive way of asking if what you’ve put out matches up with what you need. You aren’t asking for validation of your wicked Space Whale contribution, what you’re asking is if what’s been established serves the story. You aren’t asking the group “Do you like my idea, and therefore approve of me as a person?” What you’re asking is “Does this serve the story we’re trying to tell?” If it don’t fly people will either “Yes, and…” or “Whatabout…” you until success is achieved. Working on episodic TV is about coming to the best story possible, not about affirming someones ego. The right attitude just wants the show to be the best it can be, regardless of who pitches the idea. (Just make sure to take credit for ideas where credit is due, if they are yours. It’s definitely a team effort, but we all need to stake our claims when gold is found.)
“I don’t like…” Nobody cares what you like. What you ‘like’ isn’t going in the episode, what’s good for the episode and moves the story is what’s needed, not a breakdown of someones preferences (NOTE: Unless you’re the showrunner, they always get what they like, cuz it’s their show.) It’s that simple. “I don’t like…” tells people you’re more concerned about your own sense of aesthetics than contributing to the group. Everyone wants what they do to be great, but what you think is great is not necessarily what everyone else thinks is great OR works for the story, and unless you are that mythical showrunner, what you think is great has no extra weight. All this phrase does is stand in the way of moving forward. It shuts down contributions by attaching a personal prefence and value to the ideas, rather than letting them function in their larger capacity vis a vis the story you’re trying to tell. “I don’t like…” is invariably followed up with the question “Fine, what do YOU want to see?” which immediately attaches excessive value to the opinion of the person being asked. The baditude being expressed here is that ‘my contributions are better than yours’, and that’s not an attidute that earns your kudos or a desire to be worked with.
“No, because…” Is just simply the worst way of expression oneself in creative, collaborative environments. It beats out “I don’t like…” because at least there we can chalk your baditude up to your own overvaluation of your crappy taste. This just shuts things down completely. “No, because…” not only closes down contribution and conversation, but also implies that whatever reasoning you are about to spout is so unassailable it would be ridiculous for anyone to disagree with you. “No, because the Space Whale will have nowhere to land on the moon if it flies them there, no oceans after all.” Well thanks for completely cutting the legs out from under any idea. Again the baditude being expressed is one that says “I know better.” and believe me, in many cases you so, so don’t. I have dropped what I thought were some amazingly creative bombs into stories that ultimately didn’t get picked up and were passed over for less innovative or creative solutions. I didn’t get all “No, because…” I wanted MY ideas to be there. Instead I recognied the wisdom of contribution, and deferred to what was best for the story being told. A writers room needs to be a place where all ideas can flow freely, not where people are afraid to speak up because someone’s always telling them their ideas aren’t good, and “No, because…” does nothing but broadcast that someone with baditude thinks someone’s ideas aren’t any good.
“Can’t we just…” is the most infuriating phrase to hear in a writer’s room, but it is also one which has a strange usefulness in select situations. “Can’t we just…” is an absolute idea killer. “Can’t we just not have a Space Whale?” – “Can’t we just have them drive to the moon?” “Can’t we just…” is a way of saying “I don’t want to find a way to make this work, let’s take the easy route. Easy isn’t creative or engaging or interesting. Easy isn’t dramatic. The ONLY place “Can’t we just…” is acceptable is when you’re finalizing an outline/script and you have an implacable issue that won’t be resolved by any other means. Think ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ when Indy shoots the scimitar wielding man in the town square: “Can’t we just shoot him?” In that case, it solved a production issue, hit a humour moment, and helped make the film, but they made that choice on the day to solve the issue of Harrison Ford having the squirts. “Can’t we just…” Is the tactical nuke of screenwriting used to solve severe issues, it’s not the fallback remark of a cooperative staff writer. The baditude it displays is one that says you can’t be bothered to do the work because it’s easier not to.
Attitude makes or breaks you in this business. I know several very talented individuals who have earned themselves a baditude through simply being obstinate, believing their ideas and contributions are superior and should carry more weight than others. Sure, maybe they DO have some great ideas and contributions, but thinking that makes you more worthwhile that the other creators is DEATH to your employability. We want to work with people who will contribute to success, who will help a project reach its goal. Not folks who refuse to proceed until something matches their exacting specifications. Problems get worked out along the way, as long as that train is rolling. If it never leaves the station the problem isn’t quality, it’s that you’re not going anywhere. No one wants to work with (or recommend) someone who says ‘No’ all the time until they hit on some magic combination of ideas that strokes their ego enough to get them to move.
Likewise feeling that a contribution is ‘enough’ is another way to get you killed, employment wise. When you’ve put work in, and the feedback you get is “This may need to change/whatabout this/could we try this?” and your response is “No, because…” you just shot your foot off with a giant laser blaster because it shows your baditude is “What I did is enough, and I can’t be bothered to put in more just because.” Sure there are times when changes need to stop happening, like on the day of shooting. But sometimes the very best contributions are the ones that come at the last mintue, and if you’re not into accomodating that, then you’re not doing your project justice, and not sending the right signals about your attitude towards the work.
If you have the right attitude, if you’re ‘easy to work with’, you will also earn some ‘latitude’. You can make more mistakes, take more chances, because it’s clear it’s not about ‘you’, it’s about doing the best for the job. Sure everyone is going to fuck something up SOMETIME. You can either take that as a huge blow to your ego or you can take it in stride and keep moving. People who get hung up on failures quickly develop baditudes as they come across as being unable to get past the failure rather than accepting the fact that they won’t always be right, and being okay with that.
I have done my honest best out here to cultivate the best attitude I could with my approach to the work, and without letting much slip it seems to already be leading to bigger and better things. I’ve always come at the job from the position of “I want this show to be the best it can be.” If that means me contributing great ideas at all hours of the day, then I do that. If it means me backing off something I think is fucking awesome because it just doesn’t fit with where we’re trying to take the story, I roll with it. The show isn’t about me. I’m just here to contribute everything I can and hope something rises above the rest and serves the story the way the episode needs. It’s this attitude that is already leading me not to fear what comes up after this job is over, because I’m already comfortable in the fact that my attitude has been noticed and will lead to bigger and better things. That’s what a good attitude is supposed to do.
Yeah even I’ll admit that’s a weird title. I’m hoping by the end I’ll have forced it all to make sense, but trust me, it’s totally apt to today’s topic.
See I’ve been flying pretty high these past few weeks out here in the sand and sun. Partly due to my ongoing (possibly inflated) sense of acheivement for having delivered an absolutely killer episode on my debut as a staff writer and partly due to the continuing praise that has generated from peers and colleagues alike on this mission we call ‘TV writing’.
From that illustrious first homer out of the park in this game of sportsball I have proceeded forward with an absolute certainty in my ability to follow my dream, to work hard and deliver on what I say I can and to generally achieve anything and everything I have ever wanted. Why not? I’ve worked (on and off) for more than a decade to get myself to where I am, and in my mind this job is not the culmination of all that work, it’s just a stepping stone to the next thing. As terrified as I am to write it out sometimes, this job is not just a chance ‘flash in the pan’ of luck that will never be repeated, but rather is the first of many opportunities that I will both make for myself and I will come across as I keep chasing down everything I want to get out of life.
We can all see where this is going, right? (Yeah Steve, we read the title after all.)
The reality trainwreck has to hit sometime…
How could anything stand in my way now, right? I’m a staff writer on a real TV show that people will (hopefully) see one day, I’ve demonstrated to everyone around me that not only can I do the heavy lifting out here, but most importantly I DESERVE to be here, thanks to my skill and talent. I’m not here because someone’s done a favour for a poor schmuck who can’t catch a break – I can do this whole screenwriting thing and I can do it well! I’m good – I don’t dare say “I’m the best there is” because that’s arrogant as all hell but I can definitely say I am ‘good’ at it. Good like so many others, but good nonetheless.
So several weeks earlier I chose to submit ‘Diesel Wars’ to (now several) screenwriting competitions. For those not fortunate enough to be ‘in the know’ ‘Diesel Wars’ is essentially ‘Band of Brothers’ set in a dieselpunk universe.
“Yay!” My lovely wife thinks to herself, “Something else he writes that I’ll never watch!”
I created it as an outlet for myself after I spent several months working on MOW projects that I can tell you my heart was not totally “in”. I wanted to create something ‘franchisey’ that was still somewhat affordable (in my mind at least) – nothing was set in space, nobody had super powers, existing terrain around Vancouver could be used and even existing WW II era uniforms could be repurposed for the show. Sure it’s not ‘Master of None’ level affordable, but it also isn’t ‘The Expanse’. I wanted to create a franchise world that I didn’t have my heart and soul dug into, ie. I could easily sell it off to someone else without feeling like I was losing a baby, if such an opportunity arose. I even picked the title specifically to invoke the same feeling as ‘STAR WARS’ in people because that’s never a bad association…
So I went and submitted the pilot to a few places, and (full disclosure) I admit that I NEVER thought I would win any of these competitions. “Why enter then, idiot?” You ask. Because I wanted to see how the concept and story fared against other submissions. I wanted to see how far I could make it. Maybe it WOULD go far, who knew? In my mind the ‘semi-finals’ were always the hardest bottleneck for me to pass. The concept is fun enough and exciting enough for genre fans like myself to get on board with, while still not exactly appealing to the ‘prime time drama’ audience. I saw a Netflix/HBO/Amazon/Hulu kind of destination for it.
So the first round of notifications came in this week for the quater-final qualifications of the first competition entered.
Now in my mind, ‘quarter-final’ eliminations are largley the ‘spelling/punctuation/formatting’ eliminations. Ie, if you can’t spell, can’t format and don’t know what the hell you’re doing, this is where you get cut. The REAL cuts come when the semi-finals come around and decisions need to be made based on taste and feasibility. I’ve always known that my taste is awesome but sometimes needs to be ‘acquired’ – it’s ‘feasibility’ that often gets me. I’m not sure I’ve ever concocted a project that is ‘low budget/low barrier/easy to pull off’. Mainly because I don’t look for that in my TV shows. If you get to make things up from your imagination, why not go all out and make up some pretty awesome stuff?
So you’ve all guessed by now, right?
Yeah. Got cut before the quarter-finals. Me, Steve The Wicked Cool Moody, staff writer on a TV show, holder of at least three other WAY more complicated and expensive franchise concepts and progenitor of the ‘one day to be famous Nichecore screenwriting brand’ couldn’t get his foot in the door for a TV pilot competition. I was confused. I was heartbroken. I was FURIOUS.
Like for real? The ONE thing I’ve been shown out here is that I know what I’m doing. I may not be the greatest screenwriter who ever lived (yet) but I have the tools, the talent and the work ethic. At the very least that should show in my work, it should get me INTO the goddamned quarter-finals of a competition on competency alone. Here I am now relegated to the ’empty trash’ folder with everyone who doesn’t know their there’s, their’s and they’re’s (if anyone wants to point out that my apostrophe use is incorrect, don’t, if there is any grammatical challenge in the world I know I still have, it’s apostrophes.) I’m in the rubbish with first-time pilot scribes and the people who are certain that their ‘Capt. Mens Rights Activist’ spec pilot is timley and needed.
Let’s not split hairs about how I felt about all this – I felt that I was BETTER than the stuff I had been lumped in with, and I definitely felt my work was BETTER than a good chunk of what made it further than my epic TV pilot. I felt that I had earned a spot above struggling writer and that this fact should somehow be visible in my work.
Yeah I was feeling a little entitled without ever realizing it. Like I said, I wasn’t looking to ‘win’ this competition, I just wanted to place higher than I ended up doing so. But if I never really figured I’d win, what did it matter that I was out now or two months from now?
Because I had thought my genius was obvious by this point. And like so much else in this business, nothing is ever guaranteed. If I ever wanted a reality check on where I stood with everything, there it was in about as direct and bright a realization as I could ask for. I may have talent and skill, but I can’t just sit on that assuming it’ll get me where I want to go. Nobody will ever give anything to me here, I’m going to have to work for it harder and better than everyone around me.
So I try not to be too bitter. Maybe a little bitter, but not too much. There are a few more competitions coming up that ‘Diesel Wars’ is already entered into. We’ll see how I fare there. I’m loathe to spent more money entering it into any futher competitions until I get some feedback on where the draft is now. So if anyone out there wants to take a READ and get back to me, I’d be pretty thrilled to have the feedback. Hit me up!
What do I take away from all of this? That the entertianment industry is a horrible bitch-goddess that continually beats you down until you wish stupid-Flanders was dead? Yes. Also though, I need to take away the fact that I am a LOOOONG way off of being the valued commodity I’m seeking to be. I’ve proven that I can deliver on making other peoples work great, but I need to keep trying to show that whay my noggin creates can be amazing too.
I’ve always struggled with what I feel is a disconnection between my concepts and my talent. I put words to the page in a style that is frantic, exciting and engaging, but I still have problems getting people, even my illustrious colleagues, to read my own work. Then I feel like I never quite get the reaction I want to something that I am 100% certian is absolute gold.
This is the lesson right? That until you really champion yourself and carry your own work forward what you see in your mind is never the same as what other people get? I’m sure that has to be it. One day I’m going to have that ‘Created By’ credit on a TV show that people can actually watch/stream and it’s going to just make my whole universe. But I’m not there yet. I think that maybe I was already getting too complacent with where this one job was taking me, and the sad reality check that being cut from the competition was a needed kick in the pants to keep moving.
I’ve come a very long way in a relatively short time, or I’ve come a somewhat okay distance in an extremely LONG duration of time, depending on how you look at it. The last thing I want to do is trip over my own sense of arrogant self entitlement. Being part of this business means having a tough skin, a thick skin. No matter how far you make it, how long you’ve been doing it, and how great people tell you that you are, you’re still going to hear a ridiculously disproportionate amount of ‘No’s for every valued ‘Yes’ and I needed to have that point driven home for me.
I know people in the business right now who are having a very hard time with how often ‘No’ is wielded over ‘Yes’, and I get it, I sure as hell do. The trick for me is I’ve spent such a large portion of my life following the wrong path, doing things I never cared about and never really wanted to be doing, thinking that was what I was ‘supposed’ to do. I just can’t stay there anymore. I would rather spend the rest of my days trying to find that elusive yes than surrendering to the fact that I will mostly hear ‘No’s.
There was a time earlier in my life when being cut before the quarter-finals would’ve crushed me nearly beyond saving. (Hell, ask a few people around me when it happened and they’ll probably tell you it almost did this time) Now though, after a day of licking my wounds, I was back at it once again. I may not be pumping a whole lot of money into more competitions at the moment, but you can bet I’m still working at this everyday, writing my own work and work for others, knowing that I will be much more satisfied with plugging on than giving up.
As part of my big desire to see MY concepts come to fruition though I do have a goal for 2018 . I’m going to be shooting my own feature next year. It will be incredibly low budget, incredibly easy to make, and absolutely SPOT ON in terms of everything I want to explore with Nichecore, storywise and visually. It’s an epicly complex goal, but one I feel I need to deliver for myself.
When I’ve wrapped ‘Qatar Solo’ I’ll follow it up with a chronicle of my journey bringing my (as yet to be completed) screenplay ‘TITAN’ to the screen. The process behind that project starts tomorrow with me writing ‘Fade In’ on the script. I’ve always wanted to be a writer far more than I’ve wanted to be a director, but sometimes when you see things in your head so clearly, yet it’s obvious others do not, you need to step out of your comfort zone and truly take a risk.
So yeah, I guess I found some kind of ‘Victory’ in my stinging defeat afterall. More importantly what I really found was a way to make that non-sensical title relevant by the end of my post! Hurray!
First off I GOTTA send a shout-out to Google Image Search, they almost never let me down, and today’s featured image is a prime example. It could also be titled ‘Bicycling in Vancouver’ (the image, not the blog post) if we wanted to be a little salty, but I’m above all that. Above all that unless this was a Facebook ‘Trek group and you were being an uninformed troll, in which case I would take your ‘Trek disparing ass to school like it was Saturday and you were Judd Nelson.
Yeah, seven weeks out here now. Not sure when that happened, but I suspect six weeks and six days ago. I’ve had my laundry done twice, I’ve been to the gime a grand total of six times (some of you think “Once a week, pffft!” but the truth is that’s all in the last eight days) I’ve broken 8 1/2 story outlines, with mad respect to Fellini…
…I’ve written one full episode on our show, read three other full screenplays: two outlines and one TV pilot, revamped TWO of my own pilots, worked out half a rewrite on one feature and done the brain work (ie. ‘thought about’) another. (None of this counts the amount of screenplay/teleplay reading I’ve done as part of the job, ie reading episodes of our show.) All in all that is not a bad place to be. My days have consisted of approximately four hours 5/6 days a week in our writers room and then another 2.5 to 3 hours of me writing my own work after the fact, when I’m not on script, and those rare occasions when I AM on script here that works out to more like 7 hours a day. It’s intense but there’s a lot that’s getting done, can’t be that bad.
Somewhere in there I’ve found time to watch the 2nd Season of ‘Daredevil’, the 3rd season of ‘Narcos’, both seasons of ‘The Expanse’ (both seasons avail on Netflix out here at least) all of Rick & Morty at least once, all of ‘The Get Down’ (again) the 7th season of ‘Game of Thrones’ (totally called the Zombie Ice Dragon by the way) all of ‘Master of None’ (why didn’t anyone just tell me it was the new ‘Seinfeld’?) and when I’m just looking to laugh I plough my way through ‘Happy Endings’ again. Damn I love that show. (That’s me foreshadowing a blog post about ‘Happy Endings’. Stay tuned!)
Oh yes, I’ve also eaten meals at some pretty damn fine restaurants, been to a museum, been to the local market and toured numerous strange and exotic malls. I’ve signed up for another glorious round of coaching with the amazing Kat Karpoff. I’ve watched 3 films in theatres and been a tad disappointed by the oppressive ‘editing for content’ I’ve experienced in each. Is it bizarre though that in ‘Bladerunner 2049’ there was approximately 10 minutes cut out yet I barely noticed? (And yeah that totally includes the threesome with the human, the replicant and the hologram – Oh what a modern age of storytelling we live in – rule 34 starting to demand it’s own film content!)
Sounds epic right? Sounds like someone (It’s me right? I’m talking about me? I hope so!) is having the time of their life out here. In some ways, I’m absolutely right me, I’m having an amazing, excellent, life changing experience of a time out here.
But being nearly two months in, I’m starting to feel the pull of the things I miss. I’m starting to realize what parts of my life I left back home and I’m wishing were out here with me. Sometimes it’s things, sometimes it’s people. Sometimes it’s a copy of the movie ‘Cloverfield’ that doesn’t buffer for 5 seconds every minute and a half.
I can hear the wheels turning in some of my biggest fan’s (Hi Mom!) heads right now: “Did he just say he’s been going to the gime?”
Yes. I’ve been going to the gime. Somewhere Marisa is jumping for joy while I hang my head in shame. Not the kind of shame that I wish upon others for attending the gime, just the kind I wish upon myself because frankly, I hate the gime. I really do. There’s is nothing less appealing to me than a room fulll of overcomplicated equipment who’s only purpose is to make me hate the very reason I am there.
“Why did you surrender Steve?” Asks the person I need to ask a question to provide the next step in this paragraph. It’s because of the first and biggest thing I’m missing out here, something I even wrote about in a previous entry: Walking.
Wait, you mean in Qatar everybody flies around on rocket-cycles and hovering Tesla-mobiles? No. It’s the heat thing. As I’ve said before, in my world back home anything within an hour by foot is ‘walking distance’, but out here if I tried that I’d either be A) a stain on the concrete, because A1) It seems that rather than learning to drive, everyone in Doha is just given a copy of GTA V and told that as long as you have less than three stars by the time the test is over, you passed and A2) Doha seems to treat sidewalks the same way Vancouver treats bike lanes; they exist and people use them, but there’s definitely not enough and most drivers seem to hate them with the intensity of a thousand O type stars (those are big ones). ‘Sidewalk’ here seems to translate into ‘parking space’ no matter what language you speak.
…what point was I making? Oh yeah A) traffic has either killed me if I was walking, or B) the fucking 50* heat has killed me by heat-stroke or dehydration on curb stomping by the angry sun. I don’t know what a nation full of such devoutly religous people did to piss off the day-star, but it has a real hate-on for this place.
So without my ability to get places by walking I’ve been robbed of my traditional form of exercise. Thus the gime. Don’t worry though Steve fans, I’m not pressing benches or crunching abs or any of that nonsense. Nope. Treadmill. Two episodes of Rick & Morty a day or one episode of TNG (depending on whether or not there’s a new Mission Log podcast coming out I want to be prepared for.) Soon Mission Log will be moving into DS9 territory so I’ll need to change that up. Needless to say I do the hamster thing five days a week so I don’t turn into any more of a giant fatass than my dudely frame will support.
So the heat keeps me from walking – which leads me to the next thing I’m missing hard out here. It’s the most bizarre (but also most Canadian) statement I will ever make:
I miss the cold.
Sure this country is the Emir of air-conditioning (see what I did there) but that’s not genuine cold. It’s fake cold. It’s cold that lets you live, but it doesn’t feel right. It’s not ‘rosy cheeks’ cold, it’s not ‘fresh, autumn cold’, it’s moonbase 2029 cold, canned cold. Like if in ‘Spaceballs’ the title villains were after cold instead of air and they kept it in Perrier cans, that kind of cold.
I miss the joy of moving from the brisk cold outside to the gentle warmth of inside. Not like leaving the faux-cold of the hotel for the blistering humidity of the outside, nobody wants/likes that. I want to have to zip up my jacket because ‘damn I thought it was supposed to be sunny today!’*
(* note for readers: I am in no way endorsing the absurdly ludicrous cold of the centre of Canada. All you Albertans, Saskatchewanians, Manitobinos, Ontariarians, you can keep your bloody -20, I want no part of that.)
But say maybe 12? 7 with the wind chill? A daring dip down to the almighty ‘0’? Is that really too much to ask of this desert nation? I mean most of their malls have skating rinks in them so you’d think they’d be on this whole ‘climate controlled’ thing a little better. Hell, they have an air-conditioned park OUTDOORS. What kind of bizarre world is this when you can even put canned-cold outside?
Any Canadian (or nordic, or Russian or New Englander) readers I may have are abandoning me now, telling me how lucky I am that my jeans don’t freeze stiff outside. HA! For that to be true I’d have to be able to WEAR jeans outside losers!
So what else am I missing? My family. Yeah, my brothers – I totally miss Trivia night at the Stormcorw with Mike, and Mom & Dad are great but that’s not really what I mean. I mean my lovely wife Marisa who I devoted an entire blog post to two weeks ago. I mean my sinister cat and my amazing dog.
I say sinister cat because I now have proof that Thom Bosley is a 15th level evil Wizard who can command 9th level spells. How do I know this? Yesterday, after having been here for nearly seven weeks, having used my computer every day and having my laundry done at least once, I found one of his hairs on my keyboard.
Dear god, HOW!?! Why he’d want to use his access to Correspondence 4 and bend one of his hairs around the globe to reach me is beyond my understanding, but he most definitley did it, I have no doubt.
I miss that absolute terror. And apparenlty, based on the degree to which he’s peeing on the dogs things back home (I’m hearing) he misses me a lot too. I miss his angry swipes at my legs, his tormenting of the dog, his tail whipping back and forth in my face while he sits on my chest. I’ve never missed abuse so much.
Of course there’s my little raggamuffin as well, little miss Eleanor Rigby Roosevelt Moody.
They say there’s only one ‘cutest dog in the world’ and every dog-owner has them. I was Facetiming the other night with Marisa while she took little Lenny for a walk and I couldn’t get over how badly I missed her. I missed the way no matter what you do she always needs to be pulling on the leash. I missed the way she refuses to poop in the rain (because really who DOES want to poop outside in the rain?) I miss the way she loses her shit over skateboards and for some reason (non-racist, I pray to GOD) the way she barks at old Asian people.
She even still knows my voice, and it confuses her. While Facetiming I saw her about to do that thing where she terrorizes Thom and in my best ‘dog-dad’ voice I said her name in that special way: ‘E-LEA-nor’ and she STOPPED! She remembers by voice, even if she hasn’t smelled me around in almost two months. When I finally get back I’m not sure who’s going to lose their shit more on our reunion; me or her. (It’ll be me. I’ll be a blubbery mess.)
I also miss the amazing socializing Eleanor brings me.
That’s Lenny with her ‘arranged boyfriend’ Atreides. So much of my time was spent walking around Everett Crowley park with those two monsters and Melanie Jones that I can feel the withdrawal out her acutely.
Because that’s the other element I’m missing. I’m missing tea and dogs and walks with Mel. I miss sitting in McDonald’s arguing plot points with Andrew. I miss absolutely crushing a binge-watched TV show with Ling. I miss just shooting the shit about Ukrainian bootlegs of Sicilian period dramas from the 70’s with Josh. I miss talking the finer points of film with Brandon. I miss boardgames with Al, lunches with Amy, movies with Dan, parties with Alasdair and collaborations with Lucas.
I miss all those turkeys a whole lot. I miss them, but one day soon I’ll be back and we can do all our things again, and life will feel complete.