In spite of the resurgence of the pandemic, which is both a national tragedy and a national disgrace, the creative wheels continue to turn and this week has already brought an few unexpected doses of good news.
As the image above tips off, all three of the scripts I submitted to this year’s Final Draft screenwriting competition have made it through to the Quarter-finals. Two features and a sitcom pilot. This means that for 2020, I went eight-for-eight with my script submissions. ALL of them placed somewhere in every competition I entered. As I tell writers all the time, even established writers much more successful than I am, the legit contests are one of the very very few places you can get a real evaluation of your scripts at a low cost. Let’s face it, your friends are going to be too nice, and those “script reading” services can cost hundreds of dollars. But a $25-$40 “entry fee” is a small investment in a script you believe in and think might be “good enough” to put out into the world. True, great, sellable scripts get rejected by contests all the time, but if you submit a script to 3 or 4 competitions, if it really is as great as you think it is, it is going to eventually ‘pop’ in competition.
Now the anticipation builds while I wait for them to announce the Semi-finalists. lol.
I received an email yesterday from an editor at the Los Angeles Times. They are putting together a book of “Greatest Hits” from their LA Affairs column and they want to include my 2012 submission in the collection. That, plain and simple, is pretty thrilling.
Good news of any sort has been in short supply this year – for me, for everyone I know, and probably for you too. So I am both thrilled and grateful for these bits of blue sky.
Stay Strong & Stay Safe Everyone.
This seems like a good day to post an update. It is impossible to ignore a world on fire and a country in the midst of an existential crisis, but what can we do after we’ve kept ourselves reliably informed and voted? We have to do the best we can.
I’ve been lucky to have the welcome distraction of work lately. A lot of my former go-to clients and collaborators have finally geared up for the WFH world and/or finally figured out for themselves that this ‘new normal’ is going to be around for a while and, if they want to stay in business, they have to adjust. In some ways, the transition hasn’t meant much of a change for me. For years I have often found myself working from home for extended stretches of time. Even when I was doing a ton of script adapting for Anime shows, I mostly worked from home. I only went “in” to the production company once a month or so with a portable hard drive to load in new episodes, then I would go home, do my work and email in the new scripts as I completed them, along with my invoices for payment. Companies would either then mail me a check or do a direct deposit. …and now that everyone has a dropbox or google drive account, the monthly trip to load up the hard drive is a thing of the past. So basically I’m saying I was already prepared for this mode of work, much more prepared than most of the companies who hire me.
I’m also thrilled that so many of my creative friends are rising to the occasion and, in spite of all the obstacles, they continue to work and try new things. My friend Chrisi, who wrote the hilarious play “Airplane LIVE” that I directed, is now branching out to scripted podcast comedy/mayhem based on old radio dramas, and she has asked me to do several voices. Of course I love doing voiceover work and of course I already have the mics, equipment and know-how to do it all remotely. So much know-how in fact, that it is a continuous source of embarrassment that I still haven’t launched my own podcast – in spite of already spending years laying the groundwork for it. My continuing struggle to find meaning in ‘comedy’ given the current state of the country/world has made it difficult for me to commit the time, energy and brain bandwidth necessary for doing such things while wildfires burn, a pandemic rages and chaos reigns. …but we all want and need to “get back to work” whatever that “work” might be, right?
So I’m back at it.
In the meantime, I know I’m writing these blog posts for a small audience of friends, fans, and well-wishers, so my lack of posts isn’t really an issue to anyone, but I also feel like I’ve been shirking some responsibility to the people who’ve always supported and encouraged me. In a weirdly-related note: When I opened up wordpress today to write this post, I noticed that, according to my ‘stats’ page, for the past 10 days, my site has been visited every day by people from China. I’m not sure how ominous that is, but it definitely feels weird and unrelated to comedy or writing.
I don’t know what kind of country we are all going to wake up in tomorrow. I hope the better angels of our nature (both national and individual) win out, and we can start to come together, clean up the wreckage and move forward together. I hope. Oh man, do I hope.
Like everyone else who believes their doctors and not what they read on the internet, I’m still more-or-less hunkered down at home, servicing my remaining freelance clients remotely and trying, in between bouts of incredulity and despair, to remain positive enough to make constructive use of this time.
I don’t always succeed. I’m just saying I’m trying.
The Fall is the season when a lot of writing contests start making their announcements. A few weeks ago I updated to the screenwriting page here a mention that both of the scripts (a comedy feature and a sitcom pilot) I submitted to the Page International Screenwriting Contest made it to the Quarter-Finals, which I consider a “win” given how big a contest that is. Likewise, this week I was notified that the script I submitted (a sitcom pilot) to the Austin Film Fest & Screenwriting competition made it to “Second-Rounder” status, which is pretty much their equivalent of a quarter-final berth. This also keeps my streak alive in that every script I’ve ever submitted to Austin has at least made it that far. I think I’ve had six or seven “second-rounders.”
It is a small bit of personal good news in the vast ocean of bad news that we’re all living through. It would feel pretty stupid to try to make a big deal out of any of it while 200,000+ Americans have died (so far) from a deadly pandemic and many more are bound to follow. It is hard to justify sitting down and typing and trying to be “funny” for hours a day while the world is both literally and figuratively on fire. The words I manage to generate mostly seem lifeless, sub-par, and frivolous, like worrying about any kind of “creative output” is equal parts foolish and selfish. Every writer and “creative” friend I know is going through the same thing right now.
Having the time (and money) to sit and type is, admittedly, in a lot of ways a luxury and privilege… but it is also an earned privilege. Earned how? Earned by thousands of hours of writing for free, and working and performing for free, all in an effort to learn and get better. Earned by driving the same car for 20 years which, in Los Angeles, is probably considered a misdemeanor at least. Earned by helping every friend who has ever requested a “read” or some other help without hesitation or expectation.
It is also how I cope with my own feelings of anxiety and fear, and the things I don’t normally post about here on my little “hey, look at me!” website. The crisis we’re living through, and have been living through for the past four years has changed us all, and it will change the nature of our work. I hope we can all get to a point where we can look back on this chaos and carnage from a safe future vantage point. When we start to process it all, I’m sure new artistic movements will arise, the same way my beloved Dada-ists arose after the unspeakable horrors of World War One. In my darker moments though, I’m not sure how or when or even if we’ll get to that future point of safety. But I’m hoping we all do.
Stay Safe. Stay Hopeful.
From one Summer to the next. Nearly a year has passed since my last post. Even though returning visitors will notice that a lot has changed on the rest of my website here and I’ve definitely been busy, there just hasn’t been anything worth writing about when compared to the current state of the world.
As I type this on an evening where there are still curfews in several American cities and a pandemic is still claiming the lives of far too many people every day, I realize there isn’t much I can add to the discussion of a still-unfolding national horror show that even The Simpsons predicted 20 years ago. All this bad news and chaos has, more than anything else could have, really put a spotlight on the inequities in our current system and it has stripped away whatever thin veneer people were still using to pretend they were doing OK. Now the truth is out. People everywhere are struggling, and have been for a long, long time. That kind of insecurity breeds fear and clears the stage for enterprising sociopaths to set the fires of Hate burning. The current inferno we’re neck-deep in was as predictable as it is heartbreaking. The hope I’m clinging to is that this will be a real turning point in America. The times are extraordinary and the stakes, at least in my lifetime, have never been higher. …and I honestly don’t know at this point if the good guys will win or not, but it can’t stop any of us from trying. When this veil of horror is finally lifted, we better be ready with some new perspectives.
Be safe everyone. Do whatever it takes to remain hopeful. Take care of each other, and keep working.
As I continue to take my guitar and my protest song around town (and the state) I have been deep in what I’m calling my “First Drafts Summer.”
I don’t know about your writing process, but I very often get mired in the ‘notes’ stage where I keep gathering more and more information and ideas, then stashing them in too many different spots: a Scrivener file, in various folders on one of my three computers, in the ‘Google Keep’ app of more than one email address, in the ‘EverNote’ app on my phone, on scraps of paper scattered around my home… you get the idea. So many notes in so many places (all for the same project) that just organizing those is a process all by itself. A classic example: I have discovered I have 120,000 words of ‘notes’ for a novel that, when completed would probably only be about 80,000 words.
To that end, I spent a good part of the spring organizing notes & info on several projects and have spent most of this summer launching re-writes and “official” first drafts. So far I have managed to finish one new half-hour spec pilot that has needed a page one rewrite for at least 2 years, I have started drafting a long-delayed short film script and, finally and at long last, an official ‘1st draft’ of that novel with the 120k-worth of notes.
Stay at the keyboard, everyone.
…well, probably not this kind.