Real Estate

A few months ago, I was chatting with my manager about what I was working on. I pitched one of my projects as “something just for fun, it won’t take much time.” This is a code for saying, “I’ll still have time to work on stuff that could make us money.” He instantly made his own point: “You only have so much mental real estate.”

This has stuck with me. Learning how to balance multiple projects is a must in Hollywood. Unless I’m on a writing staff or getting paid to write a feature, then everything is written on “spec”…which means I’m writing it for free in the hopes of selling it or using it to get work. When it’s all on spec, you can work on as many things simultaneously as you can handle.

But can you really? There’s the time I’m actually at the computer, working on one or more of my projects. Then there’s the rest of my day, and it’s interesting when I realize much work is done during that time. Taking a shower, walking to the store, driving to a meeting…those are times when the brain gets to wander. And almost always, my brain wanders to the most pressing of my projects. And I know I’m in trouble when during those precious times, my brain wanders to something other than my latest script.

Here’s what’s currently taking up my mental real estate:

1) I’m writing the first draft of a spec TV pilot. It was brought to me by a producing team and it’s based on an upcoming graphic novel.

2) I’m two drafts into a new feature screenplay, probably only a draft or two away from showing it to my agents and “sending it out”.

3) I’m co-creating a web-series called 20 Seconds to Live with my good friend, director Ben Rock. Along with our producer Cat Pasciak , we’ve shot two episodes (they’re very short) and are getting ready to shoot another batch of episodes before releasing them later this year.

4) I’m the marketing associate for the upcoming Sacred Fools Theater Company main-stage show, the world premiere of TASTE. It’s a very cool, very dark show directed by horror icon Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator). My job is to get butts in the seats any way I can, but mostly by writing press releases, doing community outreach, and blasting out the word via social media outlets.

5) Oh yeah, I also have a life. There’s spending time with my fiancée and our two cats, planning wedding events, studying kenpo, working out, my monthly writers group meeting, seeing my friends, and every once in a while, I write a blog.

There’s a lot going on in my brain. Too much, probably. Luckily, things are sorting themselves out. But the lesson remains. There’s tons of fun stuff to get involved with, plenty of ways to pack my schedule with projects involving people I love.

But I only have so much mental real estate. And so do you. So fill it carefully.

PSH

Years ago, I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman doing a Q&A after Capote. When asked about his reputation for being “difficult” on set, he talked about how most people wake up in the morning, put on their armor, and go out to face the world while keeping their private selves private.But his job is to be private…in public. And that’s just not easy.

It’s something we take for granted. We marvel at someone’s brilliance, the way they can reveal something truthful and authentic about the human condition. But what’s the cost of doing that every day? What’s the cost of making a living being private in public? We’ll never know for sure.

We can only feel the sadness for an artist gone to soon, and thank him for letting us inside his private self, if only for a short time.

Sundance by the numbers

Number of times I’ve attended the Sundance Film Festival, including this year: 9

Days we attended this year: 4

Films we saw this year: 5

Amount of films we usually see: 7 to 10

Amount of time we spent cursing the terrible new waistlist system: too much

Elijah Wood sightings this year: 2

Elijah Wood sightings (lifetime): 5

Percentage chance that I’m stalking Elijah Wood: 50

Percentage chance that Elijah Wood is stalking me: 50?

Celebrity sightings in bathrooms: 2 (Michael C. Hall and Dane DeHann)

Random run-ins with friends whose names are musical styles: 2 (Disco)

Days we skied: .5

Parties/lounges attended: 8

Meals where we actually sat down and ordered food: 2

Meals where we were standing at parties eating off tiny plates: lost count

Free drinks: a billion?

Celebrity encounters: 1 (ended up strolling next to Joshua Jackson. Told him we missed “Fringe”. He smiled and hustled away – into another dimension perhaps?)

Great movies we saw: 1 (Dead Snow 2, an incredibly entraining horror/comedy about nazi zombies)

Pretty good movies we saw: 2 (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night – the best black and white Iranian vampire movie ever made – and Cooties – a horror/comedy about teachers trapped in a  school during an outbreak of a virus that turns children into mutant cannibals – really)

‘Meh’ movies we saw: 2 (War Story and Foxy Merkins, though the latter wins for coolest title of the year)

Star-making moments witnessed: 1 (Ana Lily Amirpour, the writer/director of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, gave a Q&A after her film that was electric, ballsy, and loaded with sass. The second biggest disappointment of the festival, after the new wait list system, is that my fiancee didn’t get to hug her)

Roommates sharing our two-bedroom with a loft condo: 6

Roommates who got the dreaded Sundance plague: 1 (me)

Days it’s had me in its grip: 7?

Day I’m finally feeling almost human: today

My First Movie Star

I was watching the season premiere of “Justified” the other night and saw a familiar face: actor Michael Rapaport. I’ve been a fan of Michael’s ever since he played struggling actor Dick Ritchie in “True Romance”. But there’s another reason I have a soft spot for him.

Movies take forever to get made and one of the reasons is that building momentum just takes time. It begins with a script, of course. But after that, you need a producer to assemble the team. You need a director to lead that team. You need a studio or an independent financier to provide the money. And of course, you need actors to bring the magic.

I love actors. One of my favorite things in the world is when an actor loves something I’ve written.  My first film, “The Air I Breathe“, was an incredible ride and one of the reasons is that so many actors liked the script. My director and co-writer Jieho Lee met with almost every actor who read it (including, funny enough, Justified’s Timothy Olymphant). We ended up with a stellar cast that was pretty unbelievable for a first time feature director.

But there was another script that was almost my first. Back in the late 90’s, I wrote an ensemble crime drama called “Shooting Blanks”. I optioned it to some ambitious Orlando producers who worked their butts off to get the movie made. They assembled a great cast and director and came very, very close  to putting the financing together. But alas, it never happened.

The first actor who formally attached himself to that script was Michael Rapaport. We never got to meet, and the movie was never made. But every time I see him in something, it makes me so happy.

Michael Rapaport was my first movie star.

Resolutions

I’m not a fan of making New Year’s resolutions. They’re usually about creating a new habit (like going to the gym) or breaking an old habit (devouring brie like it’s my job). Making positive changes in your life is an awesome thing, but the problem with making a “resolution” is the instant understanding that it’s only a matter of time until you break it. It’s usually accompanied by a smile and a shrug as we say, “wow, made it two days without eating all that brie”.

Why play a game with a built-in excuse for failing?

I’m much more inclined to make goals for the new year, quantifiable things that I can track. That way, if I’m falling short, I can check in with myself, kick myself into gear. But it shouldn’t be the kind of thing that if you fall off the wagon and don’t make it to the gym as much as you said you would, then you throw up your hands and give up for the year. Accomplishing anything worthwhile is accompanied by tons of failure and setbacks. That’s what it makes it worthwhile, the obstacles we overcome to get where we’re going.

That said, I kinda need to make a resolution and yes, I know, I just bitched and complained about the whole concept. But this isn’t anything earth-shaking or even very hard. It’s just something I’d like to focus on this year. And that’s blogging more.

I like doing this, I really do, but my problem is that I let blog ideas percolate for a while and by the time I get around to writing them, it takes forever. And in order to avoid blowing an entire day doing it, I just give up and skip posting at all.

That’s a bad habit I’d like to break.

The answer for me is simple. I’m going to write shorter blogs. I’m going to write them fast. And I’m going to post them right away. I could quantify this, say I’m going to post x-amount in 2014. But then I run the risk of failing early and getting frustrated.

So instead, a simple resolution: to be better at this.

Faster. Shorter. Immediate. And….

GO.

Wisdom from a Rock

Sometimes it seems like there are as many people trying to teach screenwriting as there are  screenwriters. There are gurus who have written books, and there are working writers who give back by doing podcasts or answering questions on their blog. But there are also plenty of people who write articles about screenwriting who seem to have learned everything they know from reading articles about screenwriting. There’s that same list making the rounds, usually titled something like Top 10 Mistakes That Will Get Your Screenplay Shredded By The Hollywood Readers. The things on the list are pretty basic i.e. spellcheck, proofread your grammar, get your format right, etc. Still with the ease that it takes to find these basics on-line, it still stuns me how often I see new writers making the same mistakes over and over again.

The same thing occurred to my good friend Ben Rock, a working director I’ve known since we were both aspiring filmmakers back in Orlando. Ben was the production designer on The Blair Watch Project and has directed tons of stuff in multiple mediums, including the very cool (though unfortunately titled) feature film ALIEN RAIDERS. Ben and I collaborate in the theater world, read each other’s projects, and often discuss the “business” of Hollywood.

Also, as a director looking for projects, Ben reads a ton of screenplays. He recently published a blog that was his version of the “mistakes that writers make” list but his list stands head and shoulders above the others. One reason (and not just because he says nice things about me in the blog) is that Ben doesn’t just regurgitate the same list we’ve all seen. Ben writes it from the point of view of a working director who wants to fall in love with something he’s reading. And if you’ve ever read a stack of unproduced scripts, then you know it’s a very, very rare thing to fall in love with what you’re reading. Why? Because most scripts aren’t very good. If you want to know why, then read Ben’s blog (and you absolutely should).

And here’s one thing I can add to the conversation. I know that finishing a screenplay is a big deal. Coming up with an idea, having the discipline to write it, fight past the doubt and fear and get all the way to the end and type FADE OUT…it’s an amazing accomplishment and everyone who pulls it off should be incredibly proud. But just because you wrote a script, doesn’t mean that anyone is obligated to like it, buy it, make it, or even read it. People write me and say: I wrote my first script, how do I sell it? A script doesn’t have value just because it’s been written. The only meaningful value that a script contains is the PASSION it inspires in those who read it.

In other words: A script must be a passionate plea to make a movie.

All of the people who read scripts in order to find one to make are looking for passion. Maybe they’re passionate about making money. Or art. Or something in between. But it doesn’t matter if they’re a director, producer, actor, financier, or studio head…you want them to read the script and think, wow, I HAVE to make this.

One of the most amazing compliments I’ve ever gotten on a script I wrote was from an executive who was a friend of mine. A lot of people were trying to figure out how to get this script made and she told me that she would fantasize about the movie playing in a theater and seeing her name come up in the credits. I was blown away that someone would feel that way about something I’d written. Her company didn’t make the movie, but I’ll never forget what she said.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. That initial draft, the one you hope to sell, the one you hope to make…it’s not special. It’s literally one in a million. What makes it special is the passion it inspires in others. If you’ve written  a script and people are ignoring it…then it’s missing something important. It’s not just because there may be misspellings or the format’s a little off. It’s missing that magical quality that makes somebody go from a reader to a doer, from a person who says no to a person who says yes.

My friend Ben is just one of many filmmakers who want to be wowed. Our job as writers is to wow ‘em. And it takes more than typing Fade Out to do it. It takes everything we’ve got, every time. And if what we’ve written doesn’t wow ‘em? Then we write the next one.

And spellcheck. For the love of God, spellcheck.

Heavy Summer

I just checked and there’s technically another month of summer. But it doesn’t feel that way. This summer for me was about two huge events that took up plenty of time. One was prepping for a very difficult Kenpo test. The other was my duties as Associate Producer in charge of community outreach for the Sacred Fools 17th Season Launch Party: CAUGHT DARKLY DREAMING. In between those two events, I bounced back and forth between two writing projects I’ve been developing. It sounds manageable and I guess it was, but man, I’m glad it’s all over.

The day of my Kenpo test, my fiance Jen and I took our beloved cat Owen in for surgery. He had cancer in his leg and the best way to ensure him a good shot of survival was to amputate it. So we dropped Owen at the animal hospital. He has a heart condition, too, so any procedure is stressul for us. This one? Lots of crying.

That night, I went in for my test. Suffice to say, I got my ass kicked. But I faced it like a warrior, which is the point. Afterwards, the weight of the test and Owen’s procedure hit me like a ton of bricks. More crying.

Owen came through just fine, but his recovery was pretty stressful for us. Just as he turned a corner for the better, we woke up one morning and found that our littlest kitty Dia had snuck over the wall first thing and been killed by a coyote.

Shattering grief. Weeping. It was terrible. Still terrible. It if wasn’t for the outpouring of love and support from our friends and family, I don’t know what we would’ve done.

A week later, this past Saturday, was the launch party at Sacred Fools. There were plenty of people who worked much harder than I had to, but for me, It was exhausting because I had to put mental energy towards it when all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball for a while and hide in our house. But the party was a rip-roaring success, an endless night of fun, dancing, art, games, food, all of it raising money for a fantastic theater company that I’m proud to call home.

And now, for me, summer’s at an end. The test is behind me. The party’s a wrap. Owen’s on the mend. We are still grieving for poor Dia and always will.

Now I’m looking ahead at the last few months of the year. Some dear friends are getting married. We’ll be doing a short trip with some family. Then the holidays are here. This is usually the time when I buckle down and get very focused on the work I’d like to finish before the year’s up. And this one’s no exception. Except now there’s this sense of relief. It was a heavy summer.

Jen, Owen, our other cat Luna, our lovely home, our amazing friends and family — there’s so much to be grateful for. Yes, there is grief and exhaustion of the soul. But summer’s over and there’s work to be done.

Time to get started.