I believe “The Muse” rewards effort, but not in the way you might expect. Once again, a few months ago, I found myself working on a script – a spec comedy feature – but the more I worked on it, the more it seemed to get away from me. Undaunted, I still sat down every day and faced it, some days making no progress, some days even losing ground, but I refused to give up. This went on for weeks (ok, months.) Anyone who actually is a writer will tell you the same thing: You have to sit down every day and have at it. Nothing attracts inspiration or The Muse better than the sound a keyboard makes when you’re typing.
… and it eventually came to me. I woke up one morning with a nearly complete story that felt like it had been downloaded into my head while I slept, but it had nothing to do with the spec comedy I was struggling with. It wasn’t even in the comedy genre. It was a horror movie. I’m not saying I woke up from a nightmare and wrote it down, I’m saying I woke up from a horror movie I was watching in my sleep and wrote it down.
I never expected my gift from the Muses to be a horror movie idea, but I’ve learned to pay attention when something like this happens because it has happened to me a few times in the past. I’ve woken up with two spec sitcom pilots downloaded into my head. In both cases, they arrived when I was struggling mightily with some other, completely unrelated project.
So in just a few weeks, I had a solid first draft completed. I sent it out for notes to a few trusted writer friends, including one who knows a lot more about the horror genre than I do. I took in their notes and with little effort turned out a much better and tighter second draft. Wanting to see where I really stood with this 2nd draft in a more public way, I did what I tell my friends & students to do: I submitted the script to a couple of Horror-specific writing contests and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the results: I submitted to two contests and the script popped to the “Quarterfinals” in both of them. I’m certain the latest draft is even better.
Thank you mysterious muses. I really think this script could go places.
Like a lot of people, I’ve experienced a definite shift in my perspective as I’ve emerged from the long COVID lock down and started the long trek back to whatever “normal” will be from here on out. I’ve also had to seriously reprioritize how I use my time pursuing my (sometimes too many) creative endeavors because I have also picked up an interesting and steady gig that is taking up a lot of the time I used to have to write, read, and generally “make stuff.” Now my “free” time is a more precious commodity, and some creative projects are going to have to drop down several notches on the priority list for a while.
I also have to admit that Bo Burnham’s recent Netflix special “INSIDE” hit home a bit more than a regular “comedy special” does. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend that you do, even if you’re not a Bo Burnham fan. His “show” really digs into the downside of this new world where constant and endless “content creation” has become an obsession that diminishes every creative endeavor to a piece of data seeking a hack or “marketing solution” that’ll get it more of those precious, precious “views” and “likes.” It seems to be a given that, if you want to “build and audience,” you have to spend more time promoting your work online than you spend actually creating it, which is not a recipe for creating insightful or high-quality work. …and if you happen to already have a large online following, then you’ll be endlessly looped into feeding their voracious content hunger, on their terms, not yours, which is a recipe for burn-out and disillusionment for sure.
I have fallen into this trap too. Case in point: Through my Blunt Farce persona and vaporous “Production Company” I’ve been putting out a weekly Bud Fallbrook animated “talk show” for the past four months, during which time I’ve used up an embarrassing amount of mental bandwidth fretting about “views” and a lack of new subscribers. I’ve also stuck to a ‘formula’ and a “new show every Monday” deadline, whether I’m feeling inspired or not.Why? Because “post regularly” is the mantra for Youtubers looking to build an audience. …so some episodes feel like a death march, and look as uninspired as they felt in the making. Compare that to the original version of Bud Fallbrook from (eeks!) ten years ago, which was a surreal, Dadaist adventure cartoon, that I put out sporadically, only whenever I had an idea and the time needed to animate it. The result back then? Over 100,000+ views of five episodes, even though they were scattered over a nearly two year period. It was creative work done for creative reasons, not a “concept for delivering content on a regular schedule.” and the difference (in quality and in passion) is pretty evident.
Don’t get me wrong, self-imposed deadlines are often an important part of the creative process (mine anyway,) but it has to be for the right reasons. You may or may not have ever noticed the link to my weekly “Another LA Cartoon” in the left sidebar of this website. Every Thursday since January 2009, I have posted a manipulated digital photo there (with a few hiatus due to computer problems or personal issues.) Now I have an archive of nearly 600 images. Even though I “sell myself” here on this website as a “writer” and “performer” and “Film/Video” guy, I’ve also been creating visual images/art in photos, film and even paint since my 80’s Art School days. I never stopped making the stuff, but I’ve also never really shared it publicly in any meaningful or specific way. These LA Cartoons are a good case in point; these images are a real “body of work” on their own and aren now part of my “visual art” portfolio. Sure, they were done under deadline and posted online, but for my own reasons. As with any long term project, some of those images are more successful than others I know, but a small percentage of them are pretty solid and have resonated with people. So, just a few months ago, I started submitting some of them to appropriate small art galleries and “group shows” around the city. Last month I got my first ever gallery placement at a cool space in Los Angeles called Shoebox Arts and just this week got word that another gallery, the Las Laguna Art Gallery (in Laguna, obviously) will be including one of my LA Cartoon panels in an upcoming group show. I am thrilled that such a long-term project, started just to please myself, and never “marketed,” is starting to generate some interest, even if it never garnered a huge, viral, online following.
In order to now keep track of this aspect of my creative endeavors, I’m going to be creating a new page here on this website for my ‘visual art’ projects and I’m finally going to integrate links to my Blunt Farce website and Blunt Farce-related projects (such as this one, and this one.) here too. The fact that I am/was “Blunt Farce” was never an actual “secret.” I wasn’t trying to be some kind of low-budget Banksy. Anyone could have figured it out with just one or two mouse-clicks. I guess I tried to keep Blunt Farce separate from my PlanetOConnor stuff because BF is where I tried out whatever I wanted to experiment with. Not “professional” or even “polished” stuff, just whatever I felt/feel like making from deep in my weirdo, neo-DaDaist heart. …but I’m realizing now that, for better or worse, it all comes under the heading of “stuff I do.” So expect that new “page” to appear on the website sometime soon.
In the meantime: keep making the magic happen for yourselves.
Be your own best audience.
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.