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.

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook

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.

 

James

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?

have courage

Synopsis update: My mom has decided to help me out. She shocked me with a one-paragraph effort that is not terrible. So. It seems I finally have a place to begin.

 

Most of us know that it takes courage to start something. To take that first step, to be the first (or one of the first) to speak up.

Why is it so scary, though? Because those actions bring change. Change makes me anxious. Of course, change can be a great thing. Sometimes change is a necessary thing. Sometimes comfort isn’t what’s best for us. Sometimes.

Shortly before I finished film school, I had ideas regarding the future. A move to LA, the hunt for a job, the quest for a career in TV or film–writing, either way. Sadly, I didn’t take the necessary steps to develop those ideas into a plan. So when graduation finally came around and it was time to leave, I decided instead to return home to Chicago, relax, do a victory lap (celebrating my graduation), work some, save some, and move to LA soon after.

That was three years ago.

To be fair, I planned on taking about a year, so I’m really only two years behind schedule. 🙂 But as a friend recently pointed out to me, it doesn’t appear that I’m going to be ready anytime soon. I haven’t saved enough. I haven’t really saved anything. Not that I’m a spender, just that my job doesn’t pay enough to cover my bills, pay for food, and leave me money to save. And psychologically… I think I’ve regressed, just a little. I feel less independent than how I felt at film school. It was an exciting, scary time. Life today really isn’t that exciting.

When I was little, I thought a lot about what I’d do as an adult. I had different career aspirations then. A doctor or musician or President. I was on a good track to become a musician… just not the kind of musician I actually wanted to be.

I ended up taking a lot of unexpected detours after my dad died. I’m not trying to lay blame, except on myself. Out of all my reactions, the one I think that I never paid attention was fear. I became afraid. Of life, maybe. Oh, I’m not a wuss. There are a lot of things I should be afraid of that don’t concern me. But there are a lot of things that I shouldn’t care about that, on some level, terrify me to my soul. Failure, rejection, risk… they scare me. Not in all things, which is why I can securely say I’m not a wuss. 🙂 I think, though, it’s failure at life. Rejection at life. Risk at life–not the physical kind–but the other kind.

It’s a tragic irony that I’ve set my sights on an industry that’s loaded with all of those possibilities.

My friend asked me last night how ready I would be to go with him to LA next spring. I spent a long time trying to determine my answer. The best, most honest response I could finally come up with was I don’t know. Fear makes it hard to think, difficult to analyze. Fear takes the truth and stretches it out of proportion. Fear can lie. Fear can blind.

Courage is the natural answer, of course. But courage requires will and strength. If you’re unaware of your strength, of where you may find it, or if you even have it, courage is a difficult thing to possess. Another friend of mine says that when all else fails, just fake it. Yeah, I’ve faked it before, but I’m not sure I ever realized at the time that I was faking it. My mom says a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yeah. There’s truth in that. We all tend to do what we have to do.

It’s come back again to know what I want to do, what I need to do with my life. That hasn’t changed, thankfully, or perhaps not thankfully. It might… might be easier if I turned my thoughts to something more mundane like a 9-to-5 job, settling down in the Chicago burbs, and didn’t think about writing ever again. But I can’t do that. Writers know they can’t do anything else except write.

Is there courage in knowing that? I hope so. I could use a little courage right now.

one little mistake

So I know maybe I got a bit personal. Some things you just need to get off your chest. As a writer, I work things out best when I write them down. Stories. Problems. Whatever. I didn’t work anything out yet, but I feel a lot better.

I meant to put something up yesterday. I was even thinking about it as I was shopping yesterday evening. Then I got home, and I was thinking about it some more. And then I forgot. I kept forgetting today, and when I did remember, I thought about ignoring it. Give up the blog. For me, it’s still more of an exercise than anything else. But I’m in the process of changing my habits. I don’t know about anyone else, but I need to exercise the new habit for a while before it feels natural.

I started some sort of 30 day cleanse last Friday. It’s pretty intense, considering the kind of things I’m used to eating. No more flour, at all. No more sugars. Nothing fried. No egg yolk. No more red meat. Well, maybe once a week or every two weeks. Cut down on the dairy to once a week or so. And that’s pretty much my entire old diet. Sandwiches, pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, juice, spaghetti, curry, hot dogs, eggs, bacon, tacos, cookies. Ugh. The list goes on, and I’m getting hungrier as I think about it. Now I eat vegetables, mostly raw, fruit, chicken, fish, turkey. I take my coffee black. (I actually haven’t tried coffee black yet. I’m scared.) It’s… not terrible. I seem to enjoy fruit and raw veggies a lot more than I thought. I miss the other food a lot less than I thought. The hardest thing, though, is eating more frequently. I need to eat at least four times a day, and I never ate more than twice. It’s annoying. And I’m exercising everyday. Just aerobics, though, no weight training. (I hate aerobics.) For somebody with ZERO willpower, I’m doing pretty good. But I’ll be honest. I’ve slipped up already, and I feel pretty bad, too. Not just mentally, but physically. Why? I guess because I’ve actually lost a bit of weight. That’s got me more excited than anything.

We need to have goals. I know what my goals are for the cleanse. Confidence. Without that goal, without repeating that to myself almost every hour of the day, I would’ve given up by day three.

We need to have goals. Especially as serious writers. I don’t know how the casual writer does things, but for those of us with a writing profession in mind, we set a goal for ourselves. Finish that book. Write that screenplay. Query the hell out of it. Meet new writers. Go to that networking event. Tell somebody about that story you’re working on (or have finished). Convince a friend to beta-read it. Goals goals goals.

My goal? Finish editing my book. Of course, I’m definitely going to look for an editor to work on it as well, but I want to give it my own pass before that happens. I’m still ironing out some kinks in the narrative I missed during the first few drafts. I’m taking a closer look at my character arcs. I’m even examining the effects of my POV fetish. But after that, my goal becomes to query my book. I will find an agent, and that agent will help me find a publisher and a market. That’s what it comes down to. Without those things constantly on my mind, I would’ve given up on the effort months ago. Because it’s hard. Damn. It’s so annoying, taking a magnifying glass to every word on the page. (My book is 500ish pages.) I’m actually about to work on the last chapter, as far as narrative wrinkles and wordsmithing go. I’m still back in the first third when it comes to my word trim and light proofread. But I’m getting there, and I’m growing more confident about it.

I’ve even set another goal, closely tied to the first one about losing weight and gaining confidence. I’m planning a week-long trip to LA. I’m hoping to go end of September, beginning of October. There are a few people out there I want to see, and there are a few things I want to do, maybe even a few meetings to set up. (Come on, confidence!) So I’m saving some money for that. And I’m getting in shape. And I’m working on my social skills a bit. With friends, with co-workers especially. I’m talking to more of them more than I have since I started. It’s hard, but it’s getting a little easier with time and practice.

Writing the blog… now that may take more time to settle into. I guess it’s mostly because I never know what’s worth sharing. I am always thinking about things, but most of it makes very little sense, even to me. Why do you care to hear about any of it? That’s the biggest mystery to me. I don’t know why anyone reads this, but I’m glad someone does. But even if no one did, I would still work at this. Because the goal isn’t to gain a ton of followers (that’s always nice, though). It’s to make this a part of my daily ritual, a regular event that I do because I need to do it, not because I have to. (Does that make any sense? I hope it does.)

One of the most important lessons I still remember from film school is to write. Duh, you’re thinking. But I mean write a lot. Write always. Write everything and anything, even if it’s not something you intended to write before. Don’t stop yourself, don’t discourage yourself. Push yourself, not just in writing but in all things.

Push yourself. And while you’re at it, maybe push me a little?

On Writing: Character

This morning I had to take my mom to a doctor appointment for some sort of glandular issue. The doctor then ordered some lab work. It was a long, somewhat stressful day. But we had a very interesting conversation while we waited for this and that. We talked about one of the characters in my novel.

Even before she finished her read-through, my mom announced she seriously disliked one of the male characters. Said he wasn’t a man. Used another interesting word I’m not going to repeat on here. It left me puzzled. I liked him fine. Maybe he wasn’t my favorite, but that’s okay. We all have our most favorite and least favorite. (Parents, you know what I’m talking about.) After she finished reading my manuscript, she held firm in her opinion of this guy. I didn’t get it. He was an honest, honorable, sensitive guy. Handsome and brave and all that. Today, while we sat in the waiting room, my mom added that she much preferred one of the other guys.  Well, that didn’t surprise me too much. (My mom recently confessed a major girl-crush on the Rock. But only when he’s behaving “Rock-like.”) She likes men of action. Men of ass-kickery. Men of strong muscles and stronger jaws/brows/eyes. Sensitivity and in touch with his feminine side is a bit further down her list of likes.

We talked about the differences between the two characters, compared them to characters on other shows (Person of InterestArrow, Revenge). She expressed extreme disappointment in my guy over the trajectory of his character development. It created conflict in one of his relationships, and that bothered her. At which point, I explained that conflict is important, not just for story progression but for character progression. Anyone who’s read Campbell or McKee or Egri knows this: conflict creates story, conflict builds character. It’s the engine of change for both. I also explained to my mom that it was okay to dislike/hate a character. (Though yes, I know sometimes we can hate in a bad way. Lori/Andrea from The Walking Dead, anyone?) We hate a really great villain. (Joffrey!!!) We can even hate a really entertaining hero. (Spike–or Angel, in my mom’s case.)

As I’ve said before, characters that don’t evolve will stagnate. (God, I wish I could think of a different, better word than stagnate!) Conflict is the best, most compelling, most believable way to motivate that evolution. Success can do it, but success without conflict feels just a little emptier, a little too easy. Failure works better, in fiction and in real life. Because we learn from failure, and so do our characters.

And I happen to think it’s great if a reader/viewer has different feelings for different characters. Because I think it’s great if our characters are different from each other. I mentioned this before, too, but if you have two or three or more characters who seem eerily similar to each other and seem to meet similar needs in your story, why do you have them? Merge them into one, and make that one character really shine.

I want to add something for writers who are working on a multi-volume story, because I feel like there are some differences between that sort of piece and a one-shot sort of thing. In the one-shot (movies, mostly, that aren’t part of a series of movies), you need to start and end in that one story. Makes sense, right? Your narrative must have some sort of satisfactory resolution. Your character must have arrived at some sort of destination, physically, emotionally, or thematically. In a multi-volume work (movie franchises and almost every TV show out there), story and character are stretched over the course of the project. NashvilleSons of Anarchy, even the Law & Orders introduce characters who grow over years. The same is true in literature. (I’m still working on broadening my palette, or I’d mention several examples here outside of sci-fi/fantasy.) Your character should grow, but he/she/it doesn’t necessarily have to reach his/her/its “final” metamorphosis in this installment of the story. But they do have to go somewhere. And that’s what I ended with, when my mom and I were discussing her least favorite character. This guy had a ways to go, for the reader and for me. (Yes, I admit. Even I’m not sure where I’m taking this guy.)

I take the conversation as a sign of success, though. Sort of. We all know it’s better to write a character that people hate, than a character that people sit back and think “meh” about. I really, really hate Clay from SoA, but I love to see him do his thing onscreen. But I just plain hate Rayna from Nashville. I even hated her more than Oliver Hudson’s character, Jeff Fordham. (I know some of you may disagree and love Rayna. And bless your heart for it.) Because she bores me. I don’t sympathize with her. And I really just want to see her go offscreen and not come back. 🙂 On Person of Interest, John used to be my favorite character. He reminded so much of Jack Bauer, and well… haha… I’m gonna gush in a minute. Anyway. But John’s development on PoI has taken a slight turn (or maybe hasn’t turned much at all?), and I’m starting to wonder if I really like him as much as I used to. (Go Team Shaw!)

Here’s the bottom line, though. Love your characters, even when you hate them.

adversity

It pretty much drives the story, doesn’t it? Some would say it is the story.

It also drives real life. I faced a recent setback, serious enough for me to stop and take measure. Unfortunately, I don’t deal very well with serious adversity. I tend to ignore, deny, pretend, avoid, eat, sleep, play, cry, write, eat again, and many more things. Not good. I’ve been in worse places in my life. I’ve been in better. I’m at that middle ground, I guess. I have a roof over my head, and I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I have access to a computer and the internet. I have clothes on my back and a car to drive to work. But I’m not totally independent. In fact, I’m not really independent at all. I’m facing some significant financial issues. And, as my mom has pointed out, I’m single. (Thanks, Mom.)

But I’m a writer, and I’m writing. And for me, that’s really all I need. That is, if I wasn’t writing, if I had the block (which has happened before), then I’d probably admit that my life kind of sucks. As it turns out, I tend to write a lot more when things aren’t going well.

When I write fiction, (which is pretty much the only thing I write), I love conflict. I enjoy–maybe pathologically–putting my characters through the most harrowing circumstances. Kill people off, maim them, break up happy couples, it’s all much more interesting to me than when things are going well. When I watch TV, I have  a very complicated love/hate for seeing my own favorite characters suffer their own personal hell. I love it, because I know there’s a point to it. (At least I hope so, trusting the writer/producer knows how to craft a story.) And then I also hate it, because to me, pain–even the fictional kind–isn’t that fun to watch for individuals I care about. It’s been a rough season for beloved TV characters, too. (Downton Abbey and Person of Interest come to mind. And let’s not forget addictive killing-sprees like Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead!) Even when it tears us up, even when we throw the remote, we thrive on adversity.

Maybe because we hope the deeper the valley, the greater the glory when our hero/heroine climbs out of it. Rare is the show or movie (or book?) that will take us on a suck-fest without showing us some light at the end of the tunnel. I mean, I’m a narrative sadist, but even I know that life isn’t just a series of bummers. There’s good in the bad. There’s mercy. There’s balance.

Like my job. It’s great, no doubt. I love it. It’s 95% peaceful, giving me time to think, chat a little with co-workers, and sometimes even read or write a little. (Not much, of course.) But it’s the 5% that’s really not that great at all.

Like my “love life.” Yes, I’m single. No, I don’t really love that, not being able to chat with someone special about philosophy and pie, TVD and Joseph Campbell, politics and Halo. I definitely miss the physical stuff. (Not just sex, you pervs.) But I must also admit, I love the independence. I love not being accountable to a significant others. I love having my time for me.

Like tonight. My buddy at work fixed my old desktop–which is a wonderful thing since I paid out the yin-yang for it years ago. But I needed him to fix it because my new desktop broke and is in the shop. (Yes, I know, first world problems. But they’re still problems!) I wasn’t even sure I’d get the chance to toss up a post tonight, which would have been absolutely unforgivable. I had planned it to be every Thursday, and clearly the last few have been on Fridays. To bump it to Saturday would have been a surrender that I just didn’t want to accept.

Anyway, I may have gotten a little OT. I was talking about adversity. As many of us who may have taken an English class, literature course, or gone to film school know, characters evolve through conflict. It’s sort of the water and sunshine to their chlorophyll. Without an antagonist, without obstacles to overcome, our characters–main and supporting–stagnate. They don’t grow. They don’t change. Characters that don’t grow get boring. Okay, so yes, Joey from Friends pretty much stayed the dumb Don Juan all ten seasons, but he did mature in some ways. He learned some degree of responsibility, purpose, and even the value of platonic love. Maybe it’s a stretch, but that’s how I saw it, otherwise I never would have survived ten years of that show. I definitely wouldn’t have put up with daily DVD marathons of it in college with my Friends-fanatic roommate. And I’m not going to talk about animated shows. They play by different rules. But animated films don’t. Disney, Dreamworks, and all the rest understand that the hero/heroine must face a major challenge and must come out the other side a changed person.

I recently had to stop and examine my own book. Oh sure, it’s full of action, violence, and conflict, but did my hero face a personal challenge? What was it? Was she changed by the end of it? Thankfully, yes, I could check those things off, and that brought me one step closer to completion. But I still have hurdles ahead before I can step back and say it’s ready. Finish editing, add one last scene, proof it. Or if I go another route, the route I prefer, find an editor–a significant challenge in itself. I know so many writers, but so few editors.

Well, hopefully, I’ve made a little headway on that. I have a couple of possibilities that I’m in the process of following up. We’ll see how it goes. Then… then… well, I guess then on to the next conflict!

i’m not procrastinating, i’m sick

That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

But seriously, I am sick. And I’m also a procrastinator. When the two come together, it pretty much means I stop doing anything except eat, breathe, and sleep. All essential, sure, but soul-crushing for creativity. Of course, add depression to the mix, and I guess the deck is fully stacked against me. Sometimes I take that as an excuse to temporarily give up. I think we’ve all been there. We run dry on inspiration. Real life kicks us in the crotch. Financial worries flare into financial crises. Or we get sick, like me. (It started as a cold but has transmorphed into a sinus infection.)

Or regular, everyday concerns intrude. We need to spend time with the family, the spouse, the kids, friends, raid team (shout out to WoW!) etc. We have to work. We need to run errands, shop for groceries, pay bills, go for a jog. Again, these are all real, important things. I don’t mean to demean any of them. I do all of them myself–except spend time with family or friends. (Yeah, I’m kind of a hermit.) I’ve been given these reasons by other talented writers before right before they tell me they don’t really have time to work on their book/script/whatever. Sadly, I missed out on working with a brilliant writing partner because she just didn’t have the time she thought she had. I’m not judging, and I’m definitely not saying it was the wrong decision for her to put writing on the backburner for the foreseeable future.

But I think there is always going to be something that threatens to get in the way of taking the time to sit down and write. That’s life. Isn’t it? My personal favorite–the reason I most often use–is that I need to clear out the clutter on my DVR. Which is… pretty full of this and that. I won’t provide a list of what… maybe for another blog. And it’s true, watching TV and movies can fill the brain with ideas, with motivation, definitely a lot of interesting imagery. Great tools for creativity, especially when you’re running on empty. Oh yeah, and I’ve recently gotten hooked on Assassin’s Creed. (It’s a video game.) I like the story, the artwork, the characters (sort of). I’m definitely making it harder for myself, and now my desktop is headed into the shop for about a month to get fixed. I have some serious adjusting to do to keep active writing.

My point is, if you’re a serious writer, I mean a SERIOUS NEED-TO-BE-PUBLISHED writer, then you will absolutely make writing a part of your schedule, as fixed and unbreakable as dinner or taking a shower. Sometimes it takes a while to write something–as I’m discovering in this blog post–so sometimes you may need to allocate more time or longer sessions, whichever way works best. Sometimes you might reach your writing goals faster than expected. As I’ve been told by other writers (who’ve made it their full time job) that when you reach your goal, call it a day instead of going on.

My goal is, and has been for a while, to finish my book. I “finished” it last year, but in the process of editing I discovered it needed some serious work here and there. So that remains my primary goal. But I have a writing partner currently in New York who’s also counting on me to carry my weight in the TV pilot we’re developing. Then there are a couple of other script projects that are very important to me: a web series and a full rewrite of A Shallow Grave. But the book comes first, because I need to send out more query letters as soon as I finish my major edits. I don’t have specific daily goals, but I have a pretty good idea of when I’ve done enough for the day, and I’ve reached a level of honesty with myself that I can admit if I’ve fallen short. The thing is, editing is hard work and so unlike writing. I’m still figuring out how it goes.

Speaking of, I have some more editing to get done before I call it a night.