We soldier on in the face of difficult times, bad news, rejections and set-backs. The pandemic has cost us friends, family, time and money. The current cultural climate has also cost us friends and family etc. too, and makes every interaction with a stranger potentially unpleasant (at best) and it sometimes feels like the bullsh#t never stops. I know. These are tricky and often disheartening times. But we have to keep at it. We have to keep reaching out and moving forward as best we can. Basically, we have to keep trying.
And so we do. And what does that look like? For me it looks like this: Still writing every day. Still exercising (almost) every day. Still finding time to meditate every day, even if it is just for 10 minutes, and doing what seems to be the hardest thing these days: maintaining hope. Not just for myself but for everyone. I have to think/believe that these dark and difficult times are a transitional period between eras and that something new and better will come out the other side. It isn’t a certainty, but it is a hope, and it is a hope that takes work.
I say all that to say this: sometimes there is some light at the end of this seemingly endless tunnel and lately I’ve had a few bits of good news that have raised my spirits, renewed my hope and moved me in directions that are both new and exciting and also familiar and exciting.
In the realm of the new and exciting, I can now officially add “Visual Artist” to my meandering multi-hyphenated “career.” A panel from my long-running (since January 2009) weekly photo project “Another LA Cartoon” was accepted as part of a group show by Shoebox Arts here in Los Angeles. This was, and still is, very exciting and I was thrilled to be one of the 30 artists chosen out of over 800 entries. Since these are still covid-times, the “opening” was a virtual zoom meeting where I got to meet the curators and the other talented artists included in the show. Even though I didn’t win the juried competition, it was awesome to see that they also used my piece as the ‘header image’ for the Facebook “event.” …oh, and if you’re not already following my LA Cartoon, you can click on the image in the lefthand side bar right now.
I’ve considered myself a visual artist since my ’80s days of making “Xerox Art” band flyers, zines, graffiti, and posters. While my particular aesthetic might not have mass appeal, it is something I have worked on and take seriously. I’ve continued a daily practice of creating digital images as a way to engage the parts of my brain that don’t see much action in the writing process. My LA Cartoon project is just one of many “visual” side projects I’m constantly at-work on. I also plunder the Public Domain for images that I can re-imagine and remix into new graphic designs that I post (daily) on my semi-anonymous (but not really) Instagram feed, some of which I turn into T-shirts and more for sale. A good example of this is the header image for this very post. It didn’t say “Planet OConnor” when I found it. lol. I also create surrealist/Dadaist videos, usually accompanied by my own surrealist soundscapes. I’ve even been commissioned to design everything from book covers and beer labels to wedding invitations and theater posters. …but this was the first time I’ve ever submitted my work to a gallery, so you can imagine how exciting (and admittedly unexpected) it was to get chosen to be part of the show. I’m hoping this will lead to more interest in my visual work.
In an epic example of my own less-than-optimum luck, just a month before the pandemic lockdown, I did rack up a major (for me) and completely unexpected “win.” I signed with a commercial & theatrical agent. In all my years (decades actually) of improv, punk rock bands, one-man shows, assorted stage & on-camera video work, and recently, podcast VO character work, I never pursued “acting” as a vocation, never had a “headshot” taken, never went on an audition. Much like my daily visual arts practice, performing has always been something I’ve done for the joy of doing it, and not something I expected would lead to paying work. But a weird thing happens when you spend a few decades doing something for the thrill of doing it: you build up a skillset and a bit of a “body of work” that just might get noticed, and that is what happened. So now, I am getting up to speed on things like headshots, and “actor reels” and all the other aspects of trying to be a proactive, hustling actor. Yes, this “writer” is now also available to the industry for commercials, character parts and whatever else might come along. Again: I don’t know that I have “mass appeal” but I’m certain I can fit into some specific parts. If you’re a director looking for someone like me, then I’m your guy.
The other good news is of a more familiar type: I’m going to be teaching Improv again this Summer! A theater on the Westside has invited me to teach two one-week sessions in July. We’re still working out all the details (covid-related complications, of course) but the classes are officially booked and I can’t wait to be teaching again. This will hopefully lead to a lot more teaching by next Fall.
Meanwhile, the writing continues, as does the hustling. I’m now querying every animation company in Ireland asking to pitch my “Ogre Stone” script (remember that one?) and I am also, of course, writing on a couple of new projects as well. Basically, I am hoping this post of good news doesn’t read like the brag-y “curated life” posts people put on Facebook and Instagram etc. There is always a lot of work and a pile of rejection(s) to go along with whatever good stuff happens, and I’m no exception to that rule.
Keep at it, everyone!
You never know where or how one creative project will lead to another. A few years ago a writer friend of mine asked me to direct her hilarious script “Airplane! LIVE” for the Hollywood Fringe Festival. It was a blast and we also got nominated for “Best Original Comedy” in the festival. We didn’t win, but it is “always an honor to be nominated.” So now that has led to this:
Chrisi has launched a new project – a scripted comedy podcast called MADISON ON THE AIR where she re-works classic “radio dramas” from the 30s, 40s and 50s to include a modern character who definitely has a different “take” on the world than the detectives, cowboys and other radio archetypes she encounters. It is fun and funny. It is also nice to be a small part of someone else’s big creative project. I record my lines (remotely, of course) and forward them along to her. Then her creative crew works their magic, editing together the other voice actors, sound effects, music and all the rest.
Chrisi is also an inspiration. She definitely believes in the concept of “Don’t sit around waiting for someone to include you in their ‘project,’ make your own magic!”
Listen. Enjoy. Subscribe. Tell your friends.
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.