Listen for Your Life!

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009The things I know about you would curl your nose hair. Don’t worry, none of it has to do with that one sex scandal ’cause I don’t care about that. Once, I had the unfortunate experience of being told, in great detail, that a performer I knew was a swinger and always had regular orgys. To this day, I can not look at the man without imagining his glasses bouncing on his sweaty face. Yeah, not cute. Most of the time the real truth about people is the thing that they really want to hide even though it’s there for anybody who pays attention. We all can know a person if we bother to listen, with our ears, our eyes, our hearts.

About once a month I pick a theme for tweets where I suggest whom I think people should follow on twitter. I do this in the hopes that people will actually be intrigued by something I said and click follow. This month I chose people who listen. Almost immediately I was struck by how difficult it was to say why I chose these people as great listeners. That they listen to me is so much more and so much less than what their ability to listen means. There is a truth in what I see in their listening that is not mine to share. When talking about those who teach one can describe that teacher’s effect on them without ever really saying anything about that teacher. But when one talks about those who listen, the most honest description of that experience is to talk about who the listener is.

Frozen by my fear of revealing a heart that is not mine, I got to thinking about listening as a large part of our humanity. Listening is a skill that so many don’t have, or choose not to use. There have been times when I have deliberately misunderstood someone as to not have a confrontation or to give them their privacy. Communication is a life skill that depends as much or more on how we receive it as give it. As writers, listening is important to creating character but it also helps understand this crazy entertainment industry. Too often the destruction of a movie begins with people who believe that the power they have means that they don’t have to listen.

In the following story the names have been changed to protect the innocent…and the assholes.

During the production of a movie, Dick Jones, an up and coming star, decides to cast the inexperienced Cutesy McGee. Everyone tries to talk him out of it but he is determined. Powerman, the studio head, had previously nixed the top billed leading woman that everyone had agreed on so I can only assume he took Cutesy McGee as his problem to make up for. In his rush to increase the star power, and hopefully the bottom line, he did not consult the director or producer before casting a Lady Star in a supporting role. Suddenly, this supporting role had to be deepened and expanded by the writer. The story suffers because not only is the supporting female role now more interesting than the leading role, but Cutesy can not help but be over shadowed by this bigger name with the now bigger character. The producer, loosing confidence in every aspect of his project begins to ignore suggestions to make it better.  He just wants it to be over. This sad disconnected overdone story is barely saved from being a horrible movie by Dick Jones’ desperate performance. When it opens, the movie under performs. Dudes flinging boogers at each other could have gotten better numbers.

(Wow, props to Doug Richardson for being able to keep things from being confusing in his blog while at the same time as keeping everyone anonymous. It’s hard.)

What would happen if people in the world stopped thinking about only themselves and started working with each other? What would happen if the people with the power accepted that they don’t have to be right? What would happen if we all started to show that we listened? I’m not sure, but I’d like to think it would make the world better.  So why don’t we each start now?

Can you hear the Cumbayah chorus playing behind this post? You would if you were listening.

The D is Silent, The ism Invisible

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"White" and "Jim Crow" rai...

Cartoon by John McCutcheon.

Let’s get this out of the way right here. In this post, I will be using nigger, not the N word. I will do this not because I use the word but because I feel that any academic discussion about language should be able to verbalize the language being discussed. Code words cheapen the discourse by constantly reminding people to censor themselves. If no one is allowed to talk about it in a civilized, educational, debate how are we going to eliminate the problem.

It disturbs me that the use of the word nigger for a pre-Civil War narrative is a cause for such anger. I don’t understand why history has to be, excuse the term, white washed. If people studied and discussed the true history of the United States open and honestly actual progress could be made on the racial divide. Because the movie I am focusing on in this post is about black slavery I will only be writing about that. However, I recognize that honest discussion is needed for the Native American Genocide, the Japanese Internment, and many other times in our history.

There has been some accusations that the word nigger was not used until after the turn of the century. This is not correct. With little effort you can find first hand accounts of slavery and they use the term as a fact of life. There are regional differences in the frequency and circumstances the word was used, but it is valid to use it for this time period. Too often the word nigger is something to scream about. To shut down any intelligent conversation and wield as a weapon. That is not OK at anytime, but is especially unwarranted regarding use in Django Unchained.

Django Unchained is violent, gory, funny, disturbing, historically flexible, and… a movie. It’s a really fun ride. There are people who have said that we should not allow slavery to be treated with anything but complete and utter reverence. Bullshit. It’s a movie! There have been all manner of movies about the holocaust and I guarantee that because of that more people have discussed, mourned, connected with, and remembered the holocaust. The guilt that many white people in the United States have over slavery combined with the historical shame and anger that black people in the US have regarding racism prevent us from doing better.

A couple of months ago on twitter a Jewish man was complaining that his five-year old had been told about the holocaust in school. He was soliciting opinions on whether he was wrong to think that was too young to know about such a horrible thing to happen to your people. Many people agreed that it was not all right and he should have been allowed to broach the subject himself when the child was older. Something about this conversation bothered me. Throughout the day, I followed the responses and was unable to form an opinion of my own in reply. Finally, I realized why. No black person in the US ever got to choose how they heard about our history of slavery or oppression by the Jim Crow laws. No black parent ever gets to choose when or where a child will learn that his or her people were considered inferior, herded, bought, sold, beat, and killed. Having few creative escapes in which to process this only internalizes it and hurts us as a society. We should embrace the art that encourages us to accept slavery as part of our past.

I actually don’t have a lot to say about the movie. It was good entertainment with some great scenes and brilliant performances. The bad guys were vilified instead of glorified. Jamie Foxx was the best I’ve ever seen him. I didn’t recognize Samuel L. Jackson until he spoke which had to be after over a minute of screen time. And to watch Christopher Waltz in character is a master class in acting as reacting. Now having seen Django Unchained the biggest problem I have with it is actually with everyone who saw it before me. Y’all so busy talking about “the N word” that you couldn’t let me know the D in Django was silent? I’ve been walking around saying Da-Jang-O like an idiot. Still trying to correct myself.

Some links to Slave Narratives:

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/wpa/wpahome.html

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0343129/

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19446/19446-h/19446-h.htm#Page_1

Nickels for Wishes, Sweat for Goals

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Screenwriting

(Photo credit: BLundin)

Before anyone gets a chance to think it, I want to let everyone know that I do not have an obsession with Scott Myers at Go Into The Story. I wanted to write my writing goals for 2013 long before I saw his ten part series on the subject and decided to model this post on it. Plus, his wife made it very clear that I was not too come by their house again. However, she was nice enough to throw away the diaper I wore during the cross-country drive.

Looking Back

As I look back on my writing in 2012 I’m happy. I continued to grow as a screenwriter. I learned things that make my life easier as a screenwriter and things that will make my life harder, but my writing better.

Going to the Austin Film Festival for the first time in my life was a great experience. Hard as all hell on my body, but great for my mind and spirit. Being surrounded by others that struggle and hope, love and achieve, in screenwriting 24 hours a day is a surreal world I want to visit again.

I began to use and have fun with twitter as a networking tool. Besides finding new friends, it’s given me lots of laughter and awesome conversations. It also gives me a lot to ponder. Just like when I lived in Los Angeles full-time, there are people who I find I don’t like but they have a lot of power and can help me reach my goals. A big part of why I left LA is because I found myself kissing those people on both cheeks and smiling. Every time I don’t follow those people on twitter I congratulate myself. It slowly gets easier to do because, every day, I become surer of who I am and who I want to be.

Starting a blog was another thing that I did this year. Being old enough that I grew up in a time where my exposure to computers was confined to the school lab a couple of times a week, it was something I never thought I’d do. Being open and honest to the world about things so personal was a doggone miracle.

Finally, the best part of screenwriting this year has been that even the first drafts of what I’ve written this year has gotten consider ratings from people I trust. Yippee.

Assessing Where You Are

Where I am now is not where I want to stay as a writer, but it is where I am and I’m proud to have gotten this far.

I like the things I’m writing. This year alone I’ve tackled issues like racism, elder care, and women taught that their only power is sexuality. The best part about writing about these things is that I can do it in an entertaining way. The preachy bone that was located in my right arm between the radius and ulna has been removed and stored in an empty coffee can for use responding to non-fiction issues. However, if I could write comedies that are actually funny I would dance a jig. Hell yes, I’d settle for a dramedy. I would still write about serious issues that effect my life but to be able to make people laugh while I do it would make me do a happy dance that would last for days. (I miss Perfect Strangers.)

I’m scared. I don’t know what 2013 holds for me. Being one year closer to my death is not what scares me. The possibility of having another year go by without anyone saying they want to invest in me or my scripts. To have the art gone. That’s what scares me.

Where Do You Want To Go As a Writer

I want to rewrite the scripts I already have so that they get at least strong considers. This will get me a manager and perhaps an agent. I would also like to sell one of my scripts by August so that I can afford to go to the 20th anniversary of the Austin Film Festival.

Unless, Homeland or Game of Thrones or another earth shattering television show calls me up to say, “Hey, you’re disabled and black so the WGA will pay for you to be on our staff. When can you get here?” I’d like to write movies. I enjoy it. It’s challenging and they were my rebellion as I grew up.

I will still write specs but what I want to write adaptations. I love to read and if I could turn a book I love into something that will bring it to more people to enjoy that would make my heart grow three sizes that day. There are two adaptations I have in mind right now. From the moment I finished Feed: The First Book of the Newsflesh Series by Mira Grant I’ve wanted it. I’ve seen how to write the visually stagnant blocks of typing, emails, and internet blogs. I’d down play the zombies using them as a weapon and focus on it as the political thriller it is. The zombie moan I would let out if I got that adaptation would have the neighbors two doors down grabbing their machetes, or wondering just what position I was trying out from 50 Shades of Grey. For years, I’ve wanted to write the screenplay for The Face by Dean Koontz. I know he hates his books being turned into movies because of his experience with the Hollywood culture. But maybe, just maybe, I could get him to realize that giving the rights to a black woman who has never had anything produced in Hollywood would be the biggest “screw you” to the establishment he can send. No, I ain’t above it. If my mom, had sex with him I’d use that instead.

Practical Matters

Having come so far in the last year I don’t want to spend money on the credit card for screenwriting classes or events I can not afford. Since there is little I can afford, I will only accept and take on debt for things that will unquestionably help my career. Things like posting my scripts on The Black List, professional consultation with No Bullscript, and creative juju/kicks in the butt from Screenwriting Master Class.

Because of my disability I will have to find a manager and agent willing to  work with me around or through my limitations. I will try to limit my pity party when rejected because of this to no longer than a day. I will not fail to recognize that because of this I will have more confidence in the partnership between my representatives and myself. There will be communication and belief between us that few others will have so quickly.

Lastly, I will have to decide what I will need to be offered so that I can move back to LA full-time without feeling guilt for leaving my mom alone to care for my 97-year-old grandma.

Going Public

This is pretty damn public don’t you think?

I’m glad I got this out there. I will embrace and work toward these goals. I will pray (carefully) on them too. ‘Cause if prayer works for bacteria why not me?

Get Down. Get Downer.

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Frank Darabont

Frank Darabont

On twitter we have been discussing downer endings. I mentioned to @unkscreenwriter, who started the conversation, that the initial idea for my thrillers never have what anyone would call a happy ending. So far I’ve been talked into the usual hero triumphs ending because I feel it would help the reader/watcher be more emotionally connected to the overall story. I don’t know if this will always be the case but so far it has been.

THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR MULTIPLE MOVIES, ESPECIALLY THE MIST

After discussing downer films such as Arlington Road, Far From Heaven, Se7en, The Road, A Clockwork Orange, and Gone Baby Gone. We came upon The Mist. Definitely a downer film, however, I don’t believe it earns my emotional breakdown like the rest of them do. My fellow tweeters disagreed, so here is my defense of why I don’t appreciate the end of The Mist.

I love Frank Darabont’s work, the writer/director of this film, so much that I have previously referred to him as screenwriting Jesus but in this case I believe he made a mistake.  I have no problem with the ending being a downer but I do have a problem that the audience was so removed from the climax of the movie, that we didn’t experience it.  By the climax I mean the main character shooting the other four people in the car, including his son, so they would not have to experience the horror of being eaten alive. (I warned you there were spoilers!) I felt that the characters took the easy way out. They run out of gas so they make a homicide pact.  They  didn’t wait until they felt the car was under attack, or they got hungry, or they had to go to the bathroom. I found it hard to believe that these people who had the courage to fight to escape and survive this long would take such an easy way out. I am aware that what he did was not easy, especially regarding his son, but the filming of it made it feel like it was. The camera pulls back to hover above the car so only gun flashes can be seen through the windows. I’m not naïve enough to think that anyone would have or should have let us see his son being shot in the head. But I would have liked the camera to be on the main character.  His face as he fired. The pain, determination, and horror of it as blood speckles his face with each life of a loved one lost. Scrambling out of the car trying to run from what he’s done desperate to die the gruesome death he believes he now deserves. Then rumble, rumble. The military rescue. Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Hee hee. That “no” was just for giggles but, to see him fall in on himself after what he just did after being through it would have been more powerful. He can’t call out for help. There’s nothing he can do to reverse it. Then he sees the woman and her daughters. The proof of what would have been if he had just had a little more faith, a bit more hope. We all, as an audience, would have been messed up for days. Instead, we used our logic to reflect on how horrible that was for him. To this day, I remember feeling more emotion for the woman standing with her daughters than the man who felt he had to murder his loved ones.

If a movie has to bring us down I want to experience it. The terror and pain in film that I hope to never feel in life. Film should always be an experience whether it’s the satisfaction of kicking a bad guy in the face, the triumph of a successful heist, or the joy of love reciprocated. Hell, if I can experience peeing standing up through film, (thanks Micheal Fassbender!) I can experience anything.

I Love it When an Outline Comes Together

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Scrooge's third visitor, from Charles Dickens:...

So in this, the winter season of my eighth year of writing screenplays, I will relate the heroic story of one Scott Myers and how he made my life as a writer easier.

…OK, that’s about as much of that kind of talk as I can take. Go read A Christmas Carol if you need to feel in the holiday spirit. (Me, I prefer the holiday movies on Hallmark and Lifetime. Even when I have my period, I am not as girlie as when I plop down in front of the TV with a tub of Häagen-Daz ice cream to watch anything with Mistletoe in the title.) But I digress.

Anyway, the hardest part of making the change from writing prose to writing screenplays was the need for structure. When I wrote prose all I needed was a couple of characters in my head who had a relationship in a world of my making. That was it. I’d listen to them tell me their adventures and their problems. Subtext was easy. They’d tell me what they were thinking and I’d write it down. In the language of screenwriting, the characters still talk to me about what’s in their head but I have to show what they’re thinking by describing their actions while still moving the narrative forward.

I tried a lot of different methods, note cards, colored pens, numbered blank pages, filling out forms, to hammer out that structure.  Every class I took and every book I read taught me something. Even if that something was how others go through the process and what wouldn’t work for me. I did have a couple of large revelations that changed my process and set me on a path closer to constructing a fluid narrative. The reversal at the midpoint stuck with me after my studies of Robert McKee’s Story. All Is Lost was my big take away from Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat. Unfortunately, those were only parts.  Nothing allowed me to truly see what kind of movie I would end up with until I took Scott Myers’ Screenwriting Master Class Prep: From Concept to Outline class.

He doesn’t care what the form of your outline takes but gives you mile markers to guide your story and thoughts. The ten page outline I came up with reads almost like a short story. Scenes and series of scenes cascade down the page with snippets of dialogue and outbursts of subtext. All that lets me see the movie, feel the pace, and read the tone.  I know the trouble spots and can change them without the pain of slashing perfectly good pages that just don’t fit right in this movie.

As most of you know, there are days my disability keeps me from having a say on how many hours I’m able to sit up and write. The best thing about having this kind of outline is that even on days exhaustion and pain cripple me I am able to tap out a page of the script. Never having to wonder where I am in a story or what I should write next allows what little energy I have to be devoted to the actual writing of the script.

Every week I do Follow Friday on twitter I make @GoIntoTheStory my first follow. This is because Scott Myers has made the biggest impact on my screenwriting career so far. His observations and resources along with his teaching ability have made it possible for me to go on in the hard times. Maybe outlining your script isn’t were your problem lies. Maybe it’s exposition or dialogue. He has classes for that too.

Tis the season to be grateful. I am grateful for Scott Myers.

Lawd Help Me!

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(Photo credit: kevindean)

There is nothing that will help a writer fully develop a villain better than listening to politics in an election year. It’s made up of people whose ideas of how to reach the exact same prosperity and opportunities are called by the other side naive, even evil.

When I was 24 Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. I had helped out on his campaign every weekend and had even appeared in a couple of commercials for him. I have not been involved in politics since that 2002 election. Until now.

I haven’t been volunteering for a specific candidate like I did in the past. Instead, I’m telling my story. Trying to put a human face on the issues that have turned into statistics and dollar signs. These last four years have been the hardest of my life. Due to my chronic disease, and the reactions to medicines taken for it, I have lost my job, lost my health insurance, and come close to death more than once. When politicians talk about healthcare and social welfare reforms they are talking about my life. So when I see or hear someone in my personal range talk about these things like the people using or wanting these services are all moochers who just need to “pull themselves up by the boot straps” I tell my story.

It’s not easy for me. In fact, I mostly hate it because I know my words will have no effect. Most times the response I get is one so off the mark I know that the person was not truly listening to me. For example, today I read a comment about how much money could be saved if only those at risk were insured.  I responded by saying driving is a risk. At any moment we could be hit by an under insured* or uninsured motorist. The response I got was, “Secure the boarders!” That woman was so set against anything that might challenge her belief she blurted random rhetoric.

Even knowing my words will probably mean nothing to the person on the receiving end, I still say them. I used to bear these comments with shame and silence, but no more. I am strong enough to speak up now so, I do. I figure if everyone who depended on these services spoke up eventually we would become a friend, a neighbor, a human being instead of a number.

 

 

*Most states don’t require more than $300,000 coverage and most of us (US Citizens) get the minimum. Extended stays in hospitals with surgeries could reach over a million very quickly.

Fifty Shades of Don’t Hate

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Now that I’m older, my mom and I have a relationship that’s closer to friendship. Well, except when I swear…and when discussing Fifty Shades of Grey. My mom doesn’t want to know if I think any of that is sexy and I sure as hell don’t even want to say the word bondage around her. My mom, the most asexual person in the universe, at least in my eyes, read the entire Fifty Shades Series. Why? The story.

I’ve heard so many writers say they would never read these books because they’re poorly written porn masquerading as literature. And they are. But as a writer you must read them. There is a reason that they are so sickeningly popular. It starts with a S. Story. As someone who regularly pays for sex from my local book store, I have read much better written books where the sex was just as steamy. Opal Carew and Megan Hart are two of my favorite word pimps. If you have never read Broken you are seriously missing out on an awesome book in every regard. Every other chapter is almost pure sex, but between there is an incredible tale of a woman and her quadriplegic husband.

The one thing that those books don’t have that Fifty Shades has is a specific world that is so clearly defined that it translates into a universal human experience. Even if, like me, you knew sub/dom relationships existed in the world and have scrolled hastily over the ball-gagged during a trip to a porn site, you didn’t know all the things that E.L. James lays out in the pages of the first book. That specificity of worlds is so crucial in all great stories. If the Godfather was just a family full of criminals would we have been as fascinated? Discovering the very clear rules of an Sicilian mob family was crucial to understanding the conflict that was created when the rule of the oldest son taken over was broken. In Shawshank Redemption, we were thrust into that prison’s world through the eyes of someone who had seen every part of it. There is only one rule. Don’t hope. Hope keeps you from finding the tiny slivers of good floating in that world full of doo doo. Andy oozes hope from every pore threatening to destroy the delicate balance Red uses to survive. The world is the reason the first 100 pages of sub-par writing in Fifty Shades of Grey is necessary to the story.

Yes, Christian Grey was super hot and the sex was even hotter. But I still wanted to put down the book after a few romps until the unbelievable happened. She said no. No. Two letters that changed the purpose of this book from an excuse to masturbate into a real story. Too often characters do stuff because the writer thinks they need to do more of this or that. It would have been so easy for Ana to say yes to the S&M lifestyle, even if she changed her mind later. That, however, would not have been real and all the women reading would have wrinkled their noses. Consciously or not, they all would have known that only a character in a story would do that. The average woman who Ana is painted as would not.

Could we all have lived with only one Fifty Shades book? Gone on with our life carrying that heartbreaking ending seared on our brains? Most definitely yes. We have to go through the other two though because they’re there. These characters are real to us now. We need to know what happened to them. Through all three of the horribly overwritten books we stay with them because they stay real. I’ve never met a person that hasn’t wondered what their significant other is thinking at some point in their relationship. There isn’t one who didn’t need to be brave and communicate something they worried might hurt their relationship. Or one who hasn’t begged in their heart for their mate to just understand. Fifty Shades amplifies these issues through a defined specific world and that’s why it is so popular.

Despite the inevitable internal eye rolling at the Fifty Shades of F’ed up writing, there are surprises and a relationship based in reality that is worth the read.

Story is the most beautiful thing in the world. It even shines through an ugly package.

Taxes Can Save Lives

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I haven’t posted on my blog for a while because I’ve been ill. My disease makes me very sensitive to heat. So sensitive that this black person has to wear sunscreen whenever I’m out in the sun. You should have seen me the first time I got sunburn. I was going to go to the doctor because I couldn’t figure out why my skin was peeling off. I’ve talked about my auto immune arthritis on here before but in light of some of the responses I’ve heard to the Supreme Court upholding “Obama care” I thought I’d share my thoughts.

Sorry if this feels a little disjointed but I’m not going to do a lot of editing on this because I am having a hard time just sitting up long enough to type.

The day of the ruling I re-tweeted a list someone compiled of people saying that they are giving up on this socialist country and moving to Canada. This was one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. One person tweeted me back with a comment about how bad the Court’s decision was. I asked if he could see the humor in moving to Canada in spite of his political views. He said he could but also said something else. “I’m a social liberal but a fiscal conservative.” After originally accepting that I realized I had no idea what the hell it meant and whether or not it was even possible.

When I was first diagnosed when I was 16 my mom had just enrolled me in our state’s health plan for children. Even though she was a full-time worker making about $22,000 per year she did not have the option to add her children to her work’s health insurance. I had been an extremely healthy kid involved in a different sport for every part of the year. Then at 16 my body gave up on me. At 17, I spent three days in the hospital getting inter venous drugs as a last resort. My mom didn’t tell me then but now I know the doctor was worried I was going to die because I was deteriorating so rapidly. I saw the bill.  $20,000 for three days that saved my life.  Thank God the state paid for that or mom would have gone broke to save her child’s life. So as a social liberal you have to believe I deserved to live. But as a social conservative you don’t think the government should have paid for my life. But that is where I have the trouble. If my mom had paid  for that hospital bill we would have ended up on welfare, food stamps, and possibly homeless for who knows how many years. I don’t understand how that is better and more cost-effective than having the government give me healthcare.

My mom was not forced to get me, a healthy child, healthcare but I’m glad that when she found out about the state program she did or we would have been out of luck.

After I got laid off from my job at one of the studios, I applied for health care because even though I had been in remission for nine years my childhood experiences taught me that anything could happen.  I was denied because of my previous condition. I sighed and continued to look for a job.  I applied for a job at the USPS for the holiday season and after passing the tests with perfect scores they asked me to speak to a nurse to answer some questions. It was part of the process so I thought nothing of it. I was applying for a desk job where the only lifting would be that of my fingers to hit the next key. The woman asked me if I had been denied for health insurance in the last year. I answered honestly and we laughed at the insurance companies with their rubber stamps. Moments later, I was taken outside and dismissed because they could not hire me with my condition. I was so angry boiling hot tears scorched my face. I wailed to my mom if my past health would be a hindrance to me throughout the future. I stayed on unemployment a few more weeks because of that.  More money from the system because of my health problem. I realized I could only get healthcare from a large corporation that had too much money and employees to ask those questions. So my talents and education could not be shared at a small business. I took a peon job where I was only a cog in a great machine.

Sadly, as I was tolling as a cog my remission ended. I did everything I could to hold on to that machine. I didn’t want to be without a job. Without a contribution to society. I held on until I broke. Depression set in as I believed I was worthless without the means to be the person I chose to be. There were three types of people in my therapy groups. One, the chronically depressed. They’d struggled with it off in on throughout their lives. Two, the grief-stricken. Sons, daughters, mothers, brothers, all dead. For some reason these people thought they could have stopped the accident, the fire, the pills and their lives were torn apart. Three, the useless. Like me, these were the people who had been yanked from the life they knew and thrown into the deep end of the pool. A laid off fortune 500 executive, a broken family man who could never fully recover from his accident, the woman suddenly tasked with everyone else’s job who finds out she can’t do it all. People who not only want to be part of the productive world but when they can’t their lives fall apart.

One thing I’ve learned since I’ve been sick is most people who need and use the system are very quiet about it. We are ashamed and don’t want the world to see us, see what we consider a failure.

Back to the beginning of this post, Canada. For a couple of years now I’ve been debating on breaking the law and renting some form of mail box in Canada so that I could get  hook worms shipped to me.  Some people say hook worms help auto immune diseases by secreting something that suppresses one’s immune system. Despite being completely harmless and easily eradicated, the FDA won’t allow them to be shipped to the US. Our healthcare system is broken. Insurance will pay ten to twenty thousand dollars a month to give me infusions but won’t allow a one time payment of $3,000 for me to swallow some worms. Yes, I am that desperate to swallow a capsule full of worms.  That’s how much I want to work again. I don’t want to be on disability. I don’t want my body to dictate what kind of life I have. I want to stand, walk, run, date, work, park at the other end of the lot. I want to be able to choose.

Pitched Over -Part 2

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So much more to say about my time at the Great American Pitchfest this year. To recap, I spent most of the day Saturday sitting at Danny Manus’s No BullScript booth happily talking to people about my experience as a script consulting client of his. To find out more about that read Pitch Over -Part 1.

Sunday, Danny was nice enough to let me sit at his table as he was taking pitches for his old company. I was super excited to see pitching from the other side. I had an appointment to go to so I couldn’t stay all day, but in the two and a half hours I sat there I learned a lot about how amateurs pitch.

The bell rang and among calls for “more cow bell” the first group gathered into the holding area. The bell rang again and the day began. Hopeful writers clutching cases, folders, notebooks, swarmed the tables. One stopped at our table, shook our hands, plopped down and introduced himself. That was the last thing I understood. His pitch was all over the place. I couldn’t keep up with the characters or the plot I stared harder at his lips thinking that would help. It didn’t. Fortunately, Danny has taken thousands of pitches and with a couple of well worded questions he was able to clear it up. Oh! That’s what it was about. Though it was a pass, Danny was really sweet and gave the guy an extra minute to help him find the focus of his pitch. I hope to hell the guy used his suggestions the rest of the day. I realized then how important it was to say your title and logline first. Take a breath, then go into the story. Danny Manus explains what this does for the person you’re pitching to better than I, so I’ll tell you what he told me. It lets the person know what they are going to be listening to so they can focus on the flow of the story instead of trying to figure out what the story is. Lesson one.

The next person that sat down was a woman. She had a good pitch until she wouldn’t stop talking after she got to the end of the story. She started rambling about little personality quirks of the characters that I couldn’t concentrate on or care about because I was still trying to process the information about her story.  When you get to the end of your story shut up. Danny was still able to ask a couple of questions in the short time but there was about thirty seconds to a minute more that she could have had to be engaged with us if she had just stopped trying to sell. Lesson two.

The third person was a great conversationalist. She made a connection right away and I liked her.  However, she had nothing to pitch except herself and her hope to one day write the remake of a classic film. What the heck? You are a new writer, well because you haven’t actually written anything you are a new wannabe writer, and you want a company to put time and money into you because you have a good personality. No. If I had an intern job to offer her I would have. That way she could have learned, gotten connected, and stopped asking for stupid things. Sorry, I’m grumpy about it, but for God’s sakes have something to pitch if you are at a pitchfest. There are plenty of other times to network and chat. You wouldn’t even have to pay for the privilege. Be smart with your money and the company’s time. Lesson three.

The fourth pitch was from a writing team. I could tell they had studied and practiced their pitch quite a bit. Having a writing partner that you want to share the pitching time with requires that. It was clear and snappy. However, they chose the least interesting part of their story to focus on. Hot celeb falls in love with a small town nobody girl. Now this is the first one I’ve mentioned what was pitched because I honestly don’t remember the others. Since I was there to study how people were pitching, and not what they were pitching, I took no story notes. Part of why I remember theirs was because of how clearly they presented the story and the other reason is because Danny pointed out to them that they buried the lead. They mentioned the twist to this horribly over done plot in passing but that was all I had questions about throughout the rest of their pitch. Though I remember the twist I won’t say what it was because it had potential. Danny told them to really emphasize the original part of the story in the rest of their pitches that day. No matter how good the pitch, if the story is boring and something we’ve seen a million times no one will care. Lesson four.

The next one was a man with a great story with a boring delivery. No, I don’t remember the story. All I wrote down was great story with a boring delivery.  That’s really sad. I honestly have no idea what that great story was. If I had been there for the story I would have taken notes of course, but would I have remembered the writer who pitched it to me?  I have no idea what to say about this. If you expect this may be your problem practice, and get some help from someone who will be honest enough to yawn in your face. Don’t be boring. That doesn’t mean have a circus act. Just be clear and personable. Lesson five.

Lesson six? Be prepared. A man who had seemed so professional throughout his pitch killed that perception when he was asked for a one sheet. He took out some scrap paper and scratched his name and number on it with some quick notes. Really? I’ll email you a one sheet later this week he says. Um, how long did he know he was going to be pitching today? Why couldn’t he stop by a Kinko’s and print out twenty copies real quick? It made me wonder about his honesty and his ability to deliver.

Lesson seven? If you say this is the most original idea you’ve ever heard, there will have been a TV movie about it at least once a year for the last ten years. If you say this will be short, you will ramble on until way over time. It was weird how consistent it was for someone who blurted something before they sat down to do the complete opposite. If you aren’t absolutely sure you can deliver don’t put expectations on your pitch. It’s annoying because it calls attention to that weakness in your pitch.

Bonus lesson. Don’t tell the names of every character when you pitch. Just tell their relationship to the protagonist. I can’t remember who’s who by name that quickly. I can barely remember your name.

I did learn a lot from my two and a half hours listening to pitches. Taking pitches is hard. You want to hear a great story but there is so much other stuff about the human being on the other side of the table that can prevent you from really hearing their story at all.  It made me realize I still had a way to go in my own pitching and will be taking Danny Manus’s pitching webinar the next time it comes around.

Everyone Gets to the Climax Differently

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This is an unplanned post to a question someone asked on twitter: “Do you usually come up with characters or plot first?” So I thought I’d sketch my process real quick.

This is just off the top of my head. I’m not a comedy writer so don’t analyze why this was on the top of my head, just work with me.

  1. I think wouldn’t it be funny to have two lesbians that look so much alike, one tall one short, that everyone mistook them for sisters?

    –That’s the nugget. It’s not a plot, it’s not anything. Just a stupid idea that could be interesting.

  2. So who are these lesbians? Where did they grow up? What do they do? How did they meet?

    –By answering these, and about a hundred more questions, I know who they are and which one has the most change in her (the protagonist.)

  3. Will she sacrifice the love of her life to keep people from thinking she’s in an incestuous relationship with her sister, losing her dream job because of it?

    –A little plot there. What are the obstacles? What will she loose? Who’s/what’s keeping her from her goal (flush out antagonist.)

  4. Then what are the end of act one (inciting incident), end of act two (all is lost), end of the movie (the end of the movie dang it! Do I have to spell everything out?)

    –These are your pillars to hang the rest of your story on.

  5. Fill in the rest of the story between the pillars and you have an outline.

Obviously, it’s a lot harder than this makes it sound but it is an overview of what I do.