Water

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My beloved fellow unestablished creatives, watch this video of Ava DuVernay’s keynote speech. No really. Watch it now. Link doesn’t work? Cut and paste the URL at the end of this post. I’ll wait. If you don’t have time for the whole thing watch from minute 6:45 to 21:30.

If you’ve ever been to an event with people who are where you want to be in the industry, you know what’s she’s talking about.

At times, desperation has clung to me like wet clothes. I’ve been around people who have power in the business where I’ve felt like I’ll drown if that person doesn’t give me a hand up. Sometimes, I’ve let myself drift away with the current because I’ve felt unworthy of their regard. Other times, I’ve flailed and splashed hoping to get their attention. When I finally did, I realized I had only succeeded in making them think I’m not OK in the head. There are times when I thought I was being safe, a fly on the wall. I’d go still at the fringe of a conversation and stare as I listened. I realize now I’m too damn big for no one to notice me. I was more like a dead body floating by than someone you’d want to invite to swim with you.

Some of us realize we’re doing it but don’t know how to stop. Some of us never realize how bad we stink of desperation. And for too many of us at the core of the desperation is failure. Sadly, we believed we failed to sell our script or make our movie because the right person has not seen our talent and championed our greatness. But really we’ve failed because we just aren’t good enough yet, and we will only be good enough by doing it again and again.

For so long, I’ve noticed that Hollywood runs from desperation. I’ve never quite understood why until I watched that video. I thought, don’t they see this person’s passion? Their commitment? No. What they see is that they will have to put their energy into that person with no guarantee of getting back success. There is only so much energy anyone can give. Lifeguards won’t carry you where you want to go, so why should the industry elite?

Learn to swim in the pool so that they know if they give you a flotation device you’ll be able to survive in the ocean on your own.

 

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Air

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A story can contain a world, or a single heartbeat. A sad story can fester in your soul and break it, or shared with others, it can make us whole. A happy story can make us fly on wings of endless possibility, or cry to give release to the swelling of our being. Stories are so important to understanding our past, our present, and where we want to go in our future.

A story is life. One life. All life. Breath.

We all have the power to be tellers of stories, but some of us are blessed. Some of us are storytellers. Some of us storytellers have chosen screenwriting as our medium, and I want you to understand what that means to me.

My beloved fellow emerging screenwriters, I want you to succeed. I want you to know that if I tell you to use standard formatting, or to cut your script down from 300 pages, I am not trying to stifle your creativity, I am trying to help you have a better chance of sharing your story with the world. It hurts me when I see some of you fighting so hard to make it while shooting yourself in the foot. I want to help you. I admit, sometimes I express this too passionately. Other times, I suggest it in a wounded voice filled with concern.

I’m not sure if it’s because of how I feel about story, or my compassion for people, but I know I care too much. It’s odd that many of the men I know who care too much cover and protect their hearts with umbrage and sarcasm. Me, a heaviness blankets me. I get quiet as I mourn my failure to make you understand.

So, I implore you now, LISTEN. Does the person talking to you have your best interest at heart? Do they come from experience you don’t have? Wisdom is learning from the mistakes of others. Be wise, listen.

Is the example you’re holding onto the exception to the rule? That one guy who sold a script written in crayon on the back of reams of recycled paper is one in a billion. Don’t you want to do everything to increase your odds? Don’t you want to make it as easy as possible for someone else to read your story?

Don’t you want to make it easy to help someone else breathe?

Sheets in the Closet

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Sheets in the Closet

As you know, Donald Sterling, the owner of the NBA Clippers, was forced out of the closet as a racist asshole by a secretly recorded conversation between him and his girlfriend(?). Now let’s get a few things straight. Yes, secretly recording someone who you say you love is a dick move. Yes, once the recordings were released, what was said on them is fair game. And no, the shit storm that people think they’re raining on him isn’t effecting him any more than a single turd would .

The people who want The Clippers players to abandon the team until Sterling is replaced as owner haven’t stopped to think who gets hurt by that. It sure as hell isn’t Sterling. If the NBA is able to wrestle ownership from his cold dead hand, the team will have to be bought. So, the players would not get paid and fall out of shape while Donald Sterling gets millions of dollars from the sell.

If he had never been around black people, never been their friend, I’d say he might be able to change. But the problem with people like him is, you can never change their mind, and anything you do to hurt them hurts you just as much.

I don’t know why the NAACP sent Sterling his money back. There is no way I would have given him back a dime. Every bit should have gone to innovative black entrepreneurs so that one day, his place as a decision maker would be taken by a new black millionaire. That would make more of a difference than a returned check.

Sadly, the majority of people think that racism is confined to utterances of the “N-word.” We can see this by the recent decision of the Supreme Court to allow the eradication of affirmative action. No black person could truly get a chance under someone like Sterling without prompting.

Truth be told, being called Nigger has never been as damaging to me as someone I trust revealing their prejudice. I know every one of those players was shocked that this man that they thought they knew and, probably, liked, felt that they were not his equals. It’s that shock that is the worst part about his kind of racism. I have never trusted anyone that has called me Nigger, so I was never able to be truly hurt by them. For those of you who can’t understand what I mean, pretend that upon meeting someone the first thing they said is how beneath them you are. That they hate you. Imagine they told you that you were not worth breathing the same air as them. You would be taken aback, wonder how they could think that when they don’t know you, but you’d move on with your life without them in it. You would never let your guard down around them, much less, share a part of your soul.

Only you can hurt yourself more than those you let into to your life as friends or loved ones.

The best piece of advice my mom ever gave me was never to lend anything I can’t afford to lose. The second was never do anything you have to hide your face for. Donald Sterling’s mama should have told him the second one.

I’m not your mama but I’m telling you anyway. If you’re about to do something you would never do if your peers would know about it, listen to yourself and don’t. It’s not right and you know it’s not right. Otherwise, you would smile for the camera… or the recorder.

I’M MAD at the lessons you’ve taught (pt 2)

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When I was at the Austin Film Festival a professional screenwriter hit on me. He asked me if I would be moving back to L.A. and I said yes, when I sold one of my screenplays. He sighed and said that’s never going to happen and walked away. At the same time I was reeling at how horrible his  game was, I pondered what made him think that I would never sell a screenplay? He had never read a single word I had written. The only thing he had to go on is my appearance and somehow my appearance said to him that I would never make it. Why?

At every turn screenwriting requires me to be more than who I am. I am not a natural salesperson. In my life as a woman, I’ve worked hard to learn that if a man doesn’t want me, I don’t want him either. One of my problems making it in the industry is I don’t care who you are. It would be nice if I was a gold digger. They are despised by a lot of people but they get things because they know how to make themselves valuable to people who can get them what they want.

Most women, are taught to be the best person we can be and then wait for someone else to see our value. Since birth we are taught not to sell ourselves. To stay off the pole and to save ourselves for someone who loves us. We are taught to understand passion and inspire passion but never to sell ourselves.

When I am passionate about something that I know I can do I will run myself into the ground making it happen, but I don’t know how to prove that to you. I’m trying to learn how to be more aggressive about selling myself but most of my attempts come out awkward and desperate, much like as if I was forced to sell myself on the street corner. (I’m telling you I would be the worst whore ever.)

For me, the solution is that if you see that I am passionate about something, but I don’t sell you on it that well, give me a chance anyway. I won’t disappoint you.

I’M MAD at the responsibility (pt 1)

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I’m Mad! I’m mad at you and you and you and especially, more than anybody else, I’m mad at me because I’m having a hard time letting the noise go.

In the last couple of weeks I haven’t wanted to be a screenwriter. Ironically, it’s because of all the talk of underrepresentation of women and women of color in the entertainment industry.

We… and this is part of the problem, we are thought of as a we. We are expected to write certain things. We are expected to deal with our issues and yours too.

Unlike a man, when I tell a story of a human being I am supposed to represent all human beings in a fair and equal manner. Well guess what? Fair and equal is boring. Fair and equal is not the human story, is not anyone’s human story.

In one of my thrillers, the woman starts out weak and adrift because she wants to turn her life over to any man, even if he’s an asshole. This is the kind of woman I want to slap in the face in real life but in the story she has to start there to grow. But, as a woman, I am forced to think  what it means that people see this squishy limp noodle as a representation of women. Am I harming women by acknowledging those like her exist?

When I began my western I spent days trying to force women into the narrative. It’s based on a true story and if you’ve ever researched the 1870s the mentions of women that aren’t simply listed as the wife are a thousand to one. I had to travel to Arkansas to purchase a 713 page out of print book to find a single page of a woman who was not mentioned as someone’s wife or daughter. History represents us little more than walking uteri, so how do we balance that with what true life was? I also have to worry that I haven’t been able to find a voice in this story because there is no white hero. Can I make a movie with a black main character without a white hero? Outside of blaxploitation films it has never been done before. I get nervous and fight with myself over the truth of it. The only thing I should have to fight with are that there are no heroes in this story at all, there are no solutions either. It’s only a man struggling with who he is and how that fits into the world around him. In a western that should be enough. But I am a black woman writing this so will people except that it’s enough from me?

Every time I choose not to make a main or supporting character black or a woman I wonder if I am failing my people. I switched from prose to screenwriting because I was an actor searching for parts. In an interview, John Leguizamo said as a person of color if you have the ability to write it is your power, your way to break in. He did it, Whoopi Goldberg did it, and so could I. When I became disabled and was no longer able to act the stories I wanted to tell were so much bigger than movies I could star in. The color, weight, sex, of the person depended on the history they needed to be in this spot on this day.

I get mad that I’m a stereotypical woman writer who does not do giant stories where the goal is to blow up as much stuff as possible. I love those movies but I’m no good at writing them.

How do you get more women in the business? Stop telling them why we need them in the business. Forcing us to be the hopes and dreams of billions of people is too much.  I can’t take care of everyone else, I’m too busy trying to take care of myself.

Maybe all this talk of more women is as simple as considering us for a project when you think the writer being a woman, or black, or disabled, is not needed. As writers, we are already asked to deliver a story that will speak to the human race. Even though we may choose to, we shouldn’t have to speak for the subset of millions of people we belong to as well. Consider us because we are writers and we have stories tell and not because you think you know what those stories are.

Hello, White People!

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Today is the day you can claim me as your black friend. So put your arm around me or better yet, I’ll put my arm around you, and we shall sing old Negro spirituals. Don’t worry if you’re an old racist. Today we celebrate, not only Martin Luther King but all the people who let you kick their asses during non-violent protests until you got winded and they had your balls.

That’s right, don’t feel guilty if your ancestors were assholes just explore the benefits of the Civil Rights Movement with the rest of us. Go someplace where you are the only white person. Someplace where if there is another white person people think you know each other. Don’t be afraid, other races do this all the time. Also, if you have kids make sure that by the time they’re four they’ve at least talked to a black person long enough to realize we’re not brown because we’re dirty white people. (Yes, children still ask me why I’m so dirty. Come on, get on this white parents.)

Hello, Black People!

Be happy. We have white friends and if we have sex with a white person it’s not a crime. (Well, at least not if you’re doing it right.) My mom’s generation went from having to step off the sidewalks to make room for whites to having a black president. So little time for things to change so much. The extreme poverty gap between the races is something that stems from that time. In fact, poverty was the next civil right that MLK was going to tackle before his death.

Think about it. Besides the institutionalized oppression, we were forced to oppress ourselves. People said things like: If you educate your black boys they will be competition for the white men. If you’re black and educated you’ll think you’re equal and you’ll want more. People who want more get lynched. For heaven’s sake, all we were doing was trying to stay alive. Now there are generations still stuck in survival mode. Unable to believe there can be more for them. Let’s not feel handicapped by what happened to our ancestors. Be proud of what they fought through to not only survive but to thrive.

Hello, Asian/Hispanic/Mixed/Native American/African/Other People!

Each one of your races has your own struggles and accomplishments. Never forget that when society seems to forget you, your stories still exist and are worth knowing.

You too have ancestors whose experiences shape your world today. Respect that and keep what’s good but don’t dwell on what they did. Live in the now.

Hello, People!

We are scary and beautiful. We are cruel and good. We are our past and our present as we strive for a better future. We are.

2+0+1+4 = 7

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(via George Takei on Facebook)

(via George Takei on Facebook)

Maybe it’s because I’m happy that I know that’s lucky. Well, I’m hoping that’s the way this numerology thing works anyway. As many of you have heard me say, 2014 is my year. I have no doubt. When I looked at the picture above, the first three words I saw were love, success, and health. That sums up my wishes for myself this year perfectly.

Maybe it’s because I’m older and wiser that I’m determined to strive for what I want. There’s no grand pronouncements this year of exactly what I’m going to do. I don’t need them. I’m going to write and network and people will come to me. I’m done with begging for people to give me a hand up. This year I’m going for a totally different tactic. Before, I only looked for friends. Now, I’m looking for mentors as well as friends. My life experiences taught me to be uncomfortable with people of power because they might think I want something. Worse, I thought they might be right. Well, who cares? …And dammit I do want something! I want to have fun talking, hanging out, and learning a bunch of crap through absorption. Hell, I don’t even have to be noticed if I’m learning. There have been plenty of times that I’ve done my best impression of the Invisible Boy from Mystery Men. “I become invisible until someone looks at me.” (By the way, that’s how I learned that Terry Rossio is not only a great teacher but a great man. At the Driskill Bar Terry taught me how to defuse an argument between two correct people with honestly hurt feelings using only three words. But that’s another story.)

Maybe it’s because I’m more experienced or just old and grumpy but I’m no longer interested in talks or articles of more women/blacks/diversity in this or that part of the entertainment industry. I say let’s stop talking and start doing. It doesn’t matter how you do it.  They did it at The Black List with the diversity opportunities they offer. They did it with Little Tin Man by making a great movie with a little person in the lead. People in a room saying let’s do this is how every revolution starts isn’t it? People in a room tired of being ready to start, instead they decide to start.

I’m starting.

Maybe it’s because you want to start too that you are going to join me as a mentor or friend or colleague. Let’s make 2014 the change for the better we all want.