in the thick of it

Yeah, so it’s a cliché. It’s a good one!

It’s an apt one. A little over a month ago, I began work on my next short film project. As I said in a previous post, I pretty much had to go back to the drawing board with my team and my vision. It was a big deal. It still is a big deal, but it’s not as horrible as I thought it might be. Not at all. My new director doesn’t have a ton of experience, but she doesn’t let that get in the way. I’m really excited by what she’s brought to the table, and I can’t wait to see her grow. I even picked up a very driven cinematographer. I had no idea what a joy it could be to work with someone like him. In film school, we were all developing our eye, so… although I had worked with a few, it wasn’t at all like this. It’s the core of, maybe, a new team. I don’t want to get ahead of things, so I’ll leave it there. Maybe a new team. 🙂

As for the project itself. Wow. I have never felt more outside my comfort zone and in the deep. Being a producer sucks–and it’s awesome. I have so many people to talk to, elements to draw together, people to hire, fire, and placate. It’s a great experience, and it’s definitely stretching muscles I never thought to develop. On the flip side, I feel like I’ve lost a creative step in the process. I’m a little less involved in the actual production than I’m used to, because my head is overloaded with all these strange logistical concerns. (Not the least of which involves my ever-expanding, non-existent budget!) Forms upon forms to organize, get signed, keep together. Last minute brushfires to put out (they don’t have an 85mm macro lens anymore!). Outsiders to bring in only to learn shortly thereafter that they might’ve spoken in haste and really don’t have time to get involved.

That’s one of the hardest lessons. I already knew that people aren’t always reliable. You prepare for that. But sometimes it hurts when certain individuals you were really counting on just don’t come through because of… reasons. It reminds me a little of what happened over the summer, and some might say that I’m asking for it when I don’t take a firm stand on the issue. Just tell them they’re fired! Or write them off. Definitely don’t beg. It’s true. I could be tougher. I have been tougher, but it’s those lost relationships I miss most and wish I hadn’t lost.

Well. I’m learning.

Meanwhile… I suppose this would be a good time to plug? Sure. Let’s plug.

So my new short film is called “The Lazarus Bridge.” It’s about a young woman who’s dealing with a very unique, very difficult client at work on the day of her mother’s funeral. It stars Meghan Bordeaux (find her here, here, and here) and Matthew Hallstein. It also co-stars Isaiah Grass (catch him here, here, here, here, and here) and Journie Kalous (see her here and here). A truly gorgeous and gifted cast. And it’s directed by Crystal Contreras, a very passionate and talented filmmaker on the rise, I assure you. Our first shoot day is done and behind us (hopefully behind us), and it looks pretty damn good so far. Our final two days are this weekend, and I’m sick-excited (mostly sick) to see it come together. If anyone is interested–and, of course, you are ;)–you can check out some of my company’s work on this and previous projects.




I’m still working on an official webpage. (Anyone know a good web designer?)

It’s been exhausting so far, and there’s a lot left to do (post-production, anybody?). And then, of course, NaNoWriMo is about to start too. 😦 Damn. Why aren’t there enough hours in the day? Well. Somebody wish me luck.




when things don’t quite work out

So where did we leave off? Ahh yes. On a high note!

Well. Summer came and it’s slowly on the way out. Shot, edited, and promoted the company’s first short film, That’s my D*ck! And in retrospect, I feel as though I should’ve included a disclaimer. It’s not a porno, it doesn’t have nudity, it doesn’t even have swearing (I think). It’s not offensive in the slightest. It’s just a play on words. But I didn’t say any of that, so more than a few times I got the troll lash for pushing what people thought was a porno. Lesson learned!

Not so long ago, I had a particular vision for my film company. That vision, alas, has become muddled in the last several days. I’m looking at starting from scratch (with the exception that I now have a short film under my belt and some hard-earned experience). I’m no stranger to failure, few of us are. Trying and failing is easy. It’s the getting back up to try again that’s hard.

It’s coming up on ten years soon, since I decided to steer myself toward a future in filmmaking. I’ve made a few strides, I’ve second-guessed myself a million times, I’ve screwed up even more than that. But I can only do what I think is best. I’ll miss some of the relationships that have been lost, definitely the friendships. But I can’t let the setbacks get in my way anymore. I’ve spent too much of my life nursing old wounds and sulking over past failures. Not this time.

Ever since I started writing seriously, I’ve been hyper-critical of my own work. If I don’t think it’s the best I could do, then I don’t feel especially accomplished even though I finished it. This was a problem in film school. I never owned the work that I wasn’t proud of. Maybe the hardest lesson I can learn from all of this is that I need to stand by my work. Even if it’s bad. And as I read in another blog, especially if it’s bad. I have permission to make… not-good stuff. But I can’t step away from it or pretend that it doesn’t exist.

I produced That’s my D*ck! It was a hell of a ride planning for it and shooting it. It was a slog editing it. And I don’t know what to say about the end product except that I’m proud of it. I didn’t show that before. I didn’t know how to. But I am proud of it. And I’m very proud of all the people who helped make it possible, and there were many.

Own your work, good or bad.

Get back up.

And move forward with confidence.

Are you listening, self?

same as last time

Writing is an art.

“Duh,” you say. “Shah,” I reply, to quote my favorite high school English teacher. Here’s my point. Writing is not a science. It lacks quantifiable rules and hard absolutes. We like to believe that distinguishing good writing from bad writing is obvious and universal. Hemingway and Thoreau good. Meyer and Paolini bad. You won’t find me in disagreement about those examples, but this notion of determining the quality of writing stands on shaky ground. It’s completely subjective. True, there is a craft to writing well. One needs look no further than Campbell’s monomyth, but we’re describing cross-cultural truths and themes, not laws.

I love, love the works of R. Scott Bakker and Steven Erikson. I think they’re exceptional writers, true masters of the craft. I aspire to shape my storytelling like theirs: non-traditional, epic in scope, rich in philosophical nuance. But a lot of people would disagree with me. Patrick Rothfuss and Christie Golden have legions of fans defending their every word, and I’ve spent a lot of time reading them too. I’m convinced they’re glorified hacks.

Damn. I’m starting to sound a little resentful, aren’t I? This isn’t the direction I want to go, so allow me to get back on track.

Writing is subjective. There.

Ultimately, only you can decide if you’re a good writer or not. (Or if your preferred author is good or not, but I’m going to focus on “you the writer,” not “you the reader.”) Only you have the power to say if your story works or not. No one has the power to tell you that your stuff is weak sauce and be right. Because writing is, pardon my language, fucking art. It’s not some geometry proof where you missed a step and messed it all up.

So… why, then, does it hit us so hard when the feedback we get isn’t the feedback we were hoping for? It’s not that we wonder if our writing sucks. Okay, it’s not only that we wonder that. It’s that we want our work to be understood. At least that’s how it is with me. In a way, yes, I’m referring to the old adage that our writing is personal and comes from our own experience. I don’t care if people think/say/write that my writing sucks. I’m confident and comfortable enough to know that it doesn’t. And I really don’t care if my writing is appreciated, because I write for me. I don’t write for validation, kudos, or Kit-Kat bars. Because in my heart, I firmly believe that writing is about communicating. And I think everyone wants to be understood.

The editor who has been working on my manuscript is very good. Excellent, even. I can clearly see in her notes that she’s intelligent, intuitive, and a skilled communicator. The work she’s put into my manuscript has been exceptional, and I would eagerly refer other writers to her. Still. I’m not sure she really understands what I’m trying to do. Or maybe she does, and my manuscript really needs a lot of work. It’s something she and I will have to discuss.

As I said in my last post, I have not been the best at identifying weaknesses in my own storytelling efforts until long after the fact. I guess it’s not so unusual to say that we writers have some blindspots when it comes to our work. But that’s not the case with my manuscript. I went into it knowing that it would lack certain elements traditionally considered essential or, at least, desirable. Telling stories in medias res requires some adjustments. The reader needs to exercise some patience and have faith that, by the end of the story, their initial questions will be satisfied in one way or another. It’s a common technique, in literature and film, but mainstream films tend to rely heavily on flashback sequences to fill in the blanks. I wasn’t going to do that, at least not in the same way I’d seen it done. My manuscript would ask more of the reader, and I’ve succeeded for the most part. Maybe too much. My editor may think so, and so maybe my blindspots persist.

I’m also hyper-critical. Of myself and others. I’m very good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) at identifying weak points in others’ stories. Camera angles look that look askew. Lighting that distracts. Acting that doesn’t convince. Dialogue that falls flat. Plot choices that strain credulity. (Yeah, all cinematic stuff. I’m a little gentler with literature.) And with my own work… well, I’m extremely nit-picky about my choices. (Not so much here in the blog, though. I work hard to stay relaxed.) I agonize over every character choice, every twist in plot. It all has great meaning. And I want to be understood.

when the feedback you’re hoping for isn’t the feedback you get

No, no clever title this time, though I admit this may still confuse some people.

When I went to film school, I had a lot of big story ideas I couldn’t wait to translate to the screen. I’d been writing for so many years, fantasizing about my stories appearing on TV or film. I’d spent days, then weeks and months developing characters and story arcs… maybe I was a little light on theme, but the hope of further developing my ideas pushed me to step way outside my comfort zone twice and move across the country to attend film school.

If you ever hear someone say that filmmaking is a collaborative art, it’s completely true. And in some ways it isn’t. Unless you’re gifted with superhuman speed, stamina, and masochistic tendencies, you need other people to work alongside you–a cast and crew. When we’re talking professional (Hollywood or “indie”) productions, there’s really no way around that. You just can’t make a film by yourself. But when I say that filmmaking isn’t collaborative, I mean that as the designated “filmmaker,” the person with the vision and the need to make this film (whether that makes you the director or the producer), it’s really all on you to push and make sure you succeed. Like with writing in general, it can be kind of a lonely road. Your vision guides the shape the story takes. Your perseverance steers the project through the inevitable tough times. (Yes, I know all about the studio system. Let’s not pop open that particular can of worms.) It may be that you’ll invite others to participate in your storytelling process, of course, but the product should reflect what you want. Don’t look to someone else to make those final creative decisions, because you’re the filmmaker. (There’s a really great text called The Independent Filmmaker’s Law and Business Guide: Financing, Shooting and Distributing Independent and Digital Films
by Jon M. Garon
that describes this concept of a “filmmaker” in its opening chapters.)

Unfortunately, I didn’t take this lesson to heart while I was at film school. Despite all my hard work, I never fully “owned” my productions, and the quality suffered for it. And for as long as I was in school, I never really understood why. I never even noticed the problems on set, or during post-production, not until it was too late.

My classmates saw it but if they knew the real reason why, they didn’t say. Despite that, they still saw more clearly than I did. They pointed out the obvious, of course. (Obvious in hindsight.) Visually, a lot of my work was a mess. I couldn’t argue with it. But I was sure the story, the script, was solid at least. Feedback on that part was minimal. Neutral. Needless to say, I was crushed. It wasn’t until I switched from a Directing concentration to Screenwriting that I finally started to received the kind of feedback I was looking for.

Except it wasn’t the feedback I was hoping for.

My professors–and especially my thesis committee–and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on my scripts. Technically and lyrically, they had nothing but high praise. Thematically and otherwise, well, I can only hope that they just didn’t get what I was trying to do. Whether they did or not, though, the feedback was discouraging. In the words of one professor (whose opinion means a lot to me), “It’s beautifully written, but I just don’t see why I should give a shit about these characters.”

Those words, even now several years later, have never left me.

it’s a wrap… sigh

Yes, I know it’s cliche. Forgive me.

This past weekend was crazy, stressful, exciting, tiring, sweaty, and truly productive. We shot and wrapped my film company’s first production. A short film, some might even call it a skit. I call it a milestone. I was sure up until the day of that something would go awry and we’d have to cancel it. And with the one exception of a missing piece of equipment, it went off without a hitch!

Yes, friends. I am in that post-production (but not yet post production!) glow, and now it’s time to kick my social media campaign into gear. With that said, here are some key links I hope you all check out and decide to follow:

By the way, my company name is Dancing Wombat Productions. 🙂 Why? Well… the short answer is I like wombats. Look them up. They’re odd and adorable and can probably claw your face off if you’re not careful. The longer answer is that the “Dancing” part of the name is a dedication to a friend of mine who died not long ago. She had dreams and hopes, and we worked together briefly on helping each other pursue those dreams and hopes. I never want to forget her, and I want my efforts with my company to help honor her.

Finishing principal photography on this project is the culmination of months of work, despair, wallet-emptying, and stepping way outside my comfort zone. I made a lot of connections with people I never thought I’d meet. A talented and easygoing director. Fantastic actresses. A jack-of-all-trades musician and production crewer. And other people have supported me in this endeavor in so many ways. My mother, various friends, even some co-workers. There are so many people who deserve credit, without whom I would never have gotten to this point.

Hah. This is starting to sound like an acceptance speech at an awards show, isn’t it? Alright.

This whole thing is all the crazier considering the writing projects I have going on at the same time. My work on my manuscript is being taken to the next level with a very skilled editor. Plus I’m working on another manuscript I hope to self-publish sometime this year. It’s been such an uneven month for me. I’m a pretty impatient person, and sometimes it’s felt like I haven’t been doing anything or getting anywhere. And there’s plenty of areas in my life where that is still the case. But in this one area, this creative area, I’m beginning to see results and I can barely believe it. Of course there’s so much more work to do on this first project alone, but… no one can ever tell me I haven’t done anything ever again.

diversity or agenda?

Maybe it’s not the best title, but I didn’t want to get stuck on picking one. The idea came up when a friend and I were discussing a new manuscript concept of mine.

I like diversity when it comes to my characters. I’m not the biggest fan of “young white male protagonist.” I have nothing against it. In fact, most of the books I read revolve around a YWMP. Hell, I even confess that most of the time I write Caucasian characters. I guess it’s habit. That’s usually the reason, isn’t it? Habit. And probably familiarity. Although I’m half-Mexican, I had a thoroughly American white upbringing. My father was Caucasian, and in my house we embraced his culture over my mother’s. So I guess I’m mostly familiar with a “white” perspective, and I don’t often think much about other perspectives.

But I do write female Caucasians more than anything else. And I think I feel most comfortable with strong female protagonists now because the most important person in my life is my mother. My father died when I was very young, and my mom raised me. She’s the one I still turn to for advice, for comfort, for encouragement, for wisdom. My mom is a very capable, very formidable woman. And I admire her so much for all she’s done and all she’s taught herself to do.

I digress.

It annoys me when I observe constant evidence of Hollywood’s failure to promote diversity. Both in front of the camera and behind it. Why, we just saw today (or was it yesterday) how the nominees for the major Oscar categories are white. (The only exception being Alejandro G. Iñárritu.) Really? No love for Will Smith? Straight Outta Compton? Michael B. Jordan? Idris Elba? Of course, women aren’t much better represented. The Academy can’t take all the blame, though. After all, how many Hollywood films can even claim much diversity?

But this isn’t a conversation about race. Not this time, anyway.

I’m much less familiar with books. I cannot begin to speak to the issue of diversity when it comes to literature.

Tonight, during my conversation with my friend, I mentioned a choice I was making about my lead protagonist. She (yes, she) is going to be a lesbian. Why? my friend asked. At which point, I realized I wasn’t sure. It just seemed like the right choice. No, the character’s sexuality isn’t central to the story, but for the romantic subplot it does have some impact. After all, if she falls in love with one of the male characters, she can hardly be gay. But she could fall in love with a male. She could be straight. I would just have to change that element of the story. But I don’t want to. Why?

It made me wonder about the bigger picture. Why does my character need to be a female? Why does my character need to be Cuban? (Half-Cuban.) Why can’t she be a white dude? A straight white dude. And that’s what I joked to my friend about. Maybe all protagonists should be young, straight white males. Amirite?

Obviously not. Diversity is important to me. But it’s not necessarily because I want to show other perspectives or cultures, although that may happen sometimes. I guess it’s because I don’t want to ignore the non-white, non-straight, non-female population of the world! I’m not sure it’s any more complicated than that. And that should be enough, shouldn’t it? Shouldn’t it be enough that I want to write a female character instead of a male just because I want to write a female character instead of a male? It seems like it should be enough. For this manuscript project, I also want my SFC to be gay. End of story. I don’t really intend to include any particulars of the Miami gay subculture. It’s just a character choice, and it feels like the right one.

Or does there need to be more?

buck the trend

It’s been a while. I know. I’m really awesome at putting things off, but I’ve gotten a lot better at not doing that lately.

In fact… I have some ridiculous news. I am starting a production company. Well, maybe it’s more accurate to say that I’ve started it… or I will be starting it shortly? Not sure how that works. I have not yet registered it as an LLC, but I believe I have found a lawyer who is going to take me through that process as well as some other legal necessities. But I have bought equipment. I’ve assembled a slate of projects.

It’s all been part of the process of the… the new me. Or maybe the old me coming out from a decades-long hibernation. But I’ve been fighting my fears, and I’ve been pushing through a lot of them. I feel more confident. A lot of things have taken a turn for the better.

It’s strange, for a cynic like myself, to feel hopeful and positive.

It’s even stranger to feel excited about something. To feel sociable—though still not all the time—a lot more than before.

There’s a lot of work to do still. I have to learn Twitter. Or find someone to handle my company’s social media. I need to finish my demo reel. (I think I’m about 80% there.) I need… to either hold a casting call or find an alternate first project. And I need to figured out a schedule and budget.

And somehow, I can’t wait to dive into it.

no brains allowed

This is kind of a film review… but not really. I don’t go into the particulars of the narrative. So no spoilers, either!


Popcorn, check. X-tra large Coke, check. Contraband M&Ms, check. Logical, critically-thinking brain–whoa. Check that at the door.

A disappointing number of blockbuster films this year have done their best to convince us that they are, in fact, good films. Transformers 4Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, even Guardians of the Galaxy. (And I really wanted to love that last one.) The most I can say for any of these movies is that they aim to be fun–but senseless. Plot holes are meant to be ignored. Narrative dead ends are unimportant. Just sit back and enjoy the spectacle.

I can enjoy spectacle. Why, just last month I loved the Fourth of July fireworks. But I can’t forgive this new wave of cinema that insists we not pay attention to the nonsensical story. Should I have expected more from Transformers 4 or TMNT? Of course not. They’re the film equivalent of cotton candy. They’re gum: sweet and diverting to chew, but utterly indigestible. I did–and rightly so–expect more from Guardians of the Galaxy, though, which is currently coasting through good reviews and word-of-mouth on a tide of nerd-love, Star Wars-ian nostalgia, Rocket Raccoon worship, bitchin’ music, and a lot of Marvel kool-aid.

None of these scripts would’ve passed muster in film school–except maybe for the obvious market appeal. Setting aside the fact that these are all franchise cogs, I am hard-pressed to think of better examples of lazy storytelling. Since the aforementioned Michael Bay efforts never had a chance of approaching a coherent narrative, I’m going to focus squarely on Guardians.

Let me be clear. I’m a Marvel fan. I’m a DC fan. I’m a comics, sci-fi, fantastical storytelling fan in general. I loved Marvel’s Phase One. I enjoy Arrow, and I even nerdgasmed over the Dark Knight trilogy. The current adoration over Guardians, however, leaves me nearly apoplectic. As a writer and as a would-be filmmaker, I’m appalled by the shortcuts James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman took. Entire character biographies were dropped in spurts of dialogue like oversized nukes. Songs from the 70s provide the emotional atmosphere, obfuscating any genuine experience we have with the story. Ironically, it’s the surprisingly entertaining character of Groot that serves as a metaphor for the entire process. For a character reduced to only using the same three words as his entire vocabulary, he conveys an impossible amount of information and intent each time he says them. In his case, it works–as a humorous conceit. In the case of the film, I find the conceit too big to swallow.

I saw the movie on opening night with a buddy of mine. I took care to notice the other people in the theater with us. Geeks, mostly, a lot like us, but with a few families and small children. Undoubtedly, the mood of an audience affects the moviegoer and vice-versa. Could it have been my bad luck, then, that those around me weren’t terribly moved by anything they saw or heard? The only time I noticed any significant emotional reaction was when a new song started. After we left, the chatter was subdued and mostly about other topics not involving the movie we’d all just seen. I turned to my buddy and noticed a small frown on his face. “I didn’t really like it,” I said. His frown deepened. “Yeah… me either,” he replied. It was like being told Santa was a lie.

I was so looking forward to Guardians. I’m no hater. And there’s a lot I liked about the film. Chris Pratt was great. Bradley Cooper was entertaining. Dave Bautista was surprisingly good, too. (I had mixed feelings about Michael Rooker, who I normally love to death.) I geeked out over the Thanos moments, brief as they were, and even Lee Pace was great to watch, although Ronan the Accuser is one of the weakest, most one-dimensional villains I’ve ever seen in any film. But the story never captured me, not from the first scene.

Obviously, it’s all subjective. One man’s masterpiece is another man’s total waste of time. 🙂

All I know is, if Avengers 2 doesn’t blow me away, I may need to take an extended break from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

nothing new, or, why i love 22 jump street so hard

There’s nothing new under the sun, right? But is this true? Is it a bad thing?

Sometimes it is. We look at films like Dances With Wolves and we generally agree it’s a great film. Then we look at Fern GullyThe Last SamuraiPocahontas, and Avatar and some of us wonder… didn’t we see this already? Well, in a sense, yes we did. The same could be said for other similar narratives as Star WarsHarry PotterEragon, and… I don’t know, maybe Percy Jackson. And the list goes on. John Woo films in the 90’s. Michael Bay films… ever.

Sometimes these efforts turn out terribly and (no pun intended) predictably so. But sometimes they surprise us with something fresh, intelligent, and (paradoxically) refreshingly innovative.

Take 22 Jump Street, for example. (Don’t worry. I’m going to avoid spoilers.) From almost the very beginning, the film unapologetically calls out how it’s going to be mostly–almost exactly–like the first film. (Stick around through the end credits for even more thematic hilarity.) The dialogue even takes us into extremely metaphysical territory with the theme of formulaic storytelling in Hollywood franchise films. Including itself! Somehow, it makes the entire effort hilarious and brilliant. In my opinion, and in everyone else’s opinion in the theater full of people I saw the movie with.

I didn’t think I would like 21 Jump Street. I was probably one of the last people to see it while it was in theaters. I generally don’t like reboots. I especially don’t like TV shows rebooted into feature films. (The A-Team, Charlie’s Angels, Dukes of HazzardMiami Vice, I’m looking at you! Yes, I watched those TV shows and I loved them. No, I’m not even going to mention my favorite childhood cartoons that have been cinematically beaten and left for dead.) I didn’t like Jonah Hill, and I was only only okay with Channing Tatum. All the pieces were in place for me to seriously dislike/hate the movie. I can’t remember what made me try it. But I did. And I loved it. (Except for the Johnny Depp cameo near the end.) Was it a good movie? I don’t really recall. I just laughed my ass off for 99% of it. Channing Tatum and Jonah were a comedic dream team of unlikely proportions.

Fast-forward to yesterday afternoon. I was feeling bored with energy to burn. I was out and about, and I had the option of either going home to watch my DVR or Netflix or stay out and see what was playing at the local cinema. (Naturally, writing was completely out of the question.) There are a lot of movies in the theater now that I don’t really care to spend my money on. Sex TapeDawn of the Planet of the ApesHow to Train Your Dragon 2, The Fault in Our StarsTammy… none of them move me to fork over the cash. Maybe if I was still working at the theater I’d check out Sex Tape or The Fault in Our Stars or even The Purge: Anarchy. The dollar theater near my house had some films I definitely wanted to check out: The Lego MovieMillion Dollar ArmNeighbors. Alas, showtimes for those didn’t work for me, either being in the morning or at night. So I reluctantly picked 22 Jump Street.

Wow. I missed the first few minutes, but as soon as I sat down I was hooked. This post isn’t a film review, so I’m not really not going to talk about plot, theme, or characterization (but those were all good!). My point is that, although it wasn’t breaking new ground, it wasn’t boring or repetitive. It’s not news that, pretty much for the entire 2000s, Hollywood has been on a sequel/prequel/reboot kick. Prepacked content is highly sought after, not only for film but for television. (Don’t get me wrong. I love all the superhero stuff, but it’s reached an all-time saturation high.) Even many films that appear to be original concepts turn out to be based on something else. (Blue is the Warmest Color?) I recently read an article titled “Has Hollywood Lost its Way?”, which provides some charts and numbers on this trend. While it was written back in 2012, the trend has only increased since its publication. And although I don’t know how I feel about its emphasis on producing short films, I generally agree with the rest of the article.

What does this mean for the writer? Well… in film school, they taught us that it means we should prepare ourselves to write for other people for the first several years of our career. Write things we’re not wholly devoted to, in love with, or even particularly like. It was, as maybe I should’ve mentioned on my blog last week, all part of paying your dues in Hollywood. For some of us, it was eye-opening, for others it was a challenge. I land somewhere in the middle of the two. There are stories I want to tell, that I need to tell. But I love the medium (film, TV) enough that I am more than willing to tell other stories, stories that are not necessarily personal to me. I can make those stories personal. I think that’s part of the task of a writer.

That story you’ve been working on? Maybe they did turn it–or something like it–into a major motion picture. Does that mean you need to stop working on it? Absolutely not. It may mean some tweaking is in order, but don’t give it up. I have a friend who is going through exactly this issue, and I think I’ve told her more than once not to give up on her project if she still loves it.

So there’s nothing new in Hollywood. So what? Hollywood is churning out more content than ever. More people are going to movies worldwide than ever. Hollywood is not, as Spielberg predicted, about to implode. (No offense to the maestro himself, but he needs to look to his own career first, I think.)

Literature may or may not be a different creature. I have oft-heard accusations flung at this series or that of being too derivative of something else. A Harry Potter rip-off or Twilight fan-fiction (true or not) or Hunger Games-lite. Maybe in some cases it’s well-deserved. Maybe the story is too similar. And maybe you’re worried what you’re working on is too similar. That’s really no cause for you to give it up. Take the concern to heart, I suppose, but never just throw in the towel. There have been countless comparisons between Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl. I guess I can see the similarities, but I can also see the differences.

If there’s nothing new in Hollywood, then I say you’re looking in the wrong places and you’re looking at it the wrong way. There is an old wisdom saying that there are only seven stories in the world (or 33 or 21 or whatever number you please). Possibly. But there are an infinite number of ways to tell those seven stories. So don’t count it out just because it seems unoriginal. You may be in for a pleasant surprise.

paying your dues

You’ve heard the expression. But do you always know what it means?

It’s usually pretty obvious. Don’t expect to start at the top. Everybody starts at the bottom. This is common wisdom my mom has repeated to me more times than I care to admit. She most frequently brings it up when we talk about me finding a really good job. And I guess, for a lot of jobs, this is true and fully to be expected. It’s unreasonable to hope to be hired on as the VP of… whatever. Oh, there are exceptions, of course. There are always exceptions.

And there are jobs that this sort of thinking doesn’t necessarily apply. Like mine, for example. I admit, there’s no real trick to becoming a published writer or produced screenwriter (actually, I think there are some secrets that help with the latter), and I’m not talking about achieving Rowling, Patterson, or King success. There doesn’t seem to be any particular process to follow. A writer writes, then endeavors to sell said writing, then (hopefully) sells it, and umm… gets paid. 🙂

It’s not an especially complicated, climb-the-corporate-ladder sort of career. To be a published writer. (The publishing industry is a little different, of course, and that’s for another time.) For a while now… weeks, months, (years?), I’ve been sort of marching in place in between steps. Writing? Done. Try to sell it? Umm… not… so… much… yet. But I know what to do next, and the only thing in my way right now is me.

But I also want to work in film. That’s my ultimate goal. And that’s much trickier. There are many ways in. Most, however, involve the concept of paying your dues. Hoping to be hired as a director for a multi-million dollar feature film your first time out is not something you should count on. Even hoping to be hired as a director for a no-budget indie is a stretch–though more realistic. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do it for yourself. Work for yourself, as my mom puts it. Produce your own film. Raise the money yourself–or with a partner or team or whatever. Maybe even direct it, if you’re the best choice. Many of my film school classmates have gone on to do just that. One in particular, Joshua Overbay, recently completed work on a film titled As It Is in Heaven (not to be confused with the 2004 Swedish film of the same name), and by all accounts it’s very impressive. How did he achieve this? Undoubtedly, a ridiculous amount of hard work and perseverance. Another classmate has just launched a web series called Movie Night, and while I haven’t yet seen it, I hope and expect it to be extremely entertaining. There are others, and it both encourages me and fills me with just a teensy bit of film-envy. And impatience. (Like why can’t I do that? Well, I probably could if I set my mind to it.)

It’s no small task to set out to do something like that. And even in a way, it does involve paying your dues. But not in the way I’m used to thinking of it. To me, paying your dues just means to prepare yourself for the long haul. This will not happen quickly, and it will not be easy. It may not even be all that “fun” sometimes. And maybe that’s what it means, ultimately, to pay your dues. Get ready to work hard.