Monday, June 20, 2011

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

I was out on a day trip with friends and family when we stopped suddenly at a National Park.

"Do you hear that?" someone said.

I looked around. Countless fir trees towered over us, swaying in the wind. Silence.

"No, what is it?" I asked.

"Nothing... and isn't it wonderful?"

This past week wasn't very "writerly" at first glance. I had a blast at my 5-Year College Reunion. As if no time passed at all, my friends and I fell into our usual shenanigans, and although we're all grown-ups now, it was a refreshing dose of reality to find no posturing about our careers. Just about everyone I talked to was in the midst of a Quarter-Life Crisis, between grad school and work, between jobs, or between careers, asking "Who Am I?"

And that's okay.

For the next few weeks, I'll be away from the Hollywood Hub-bub on important family trips -- 3,000 miles away from making connections at the production company day job, going for coffee with writer buddies, scheduling meetings with managers, writing pages all night...

And that's okay.

Instead of seeing these next few weeks as exile in Siberia, the best thing this writer can do is stop worrying about the scripts, the spec market, the mixers, the bills -- just stop and listen.

I'm writing to you now in the quiet, serene hill country of Orford, New Hampshire. The loudest sound I hear all day is a lonely car cruising down the town's only road.

Here I can put aside all the anxieties of working in Hollywood for a moment and reconnect with the important questions that got me writing in the first place:

Who am I? What stories have I seen? What stories do I want to tell? Why? No, really -- Why?

All the stories have been told before, but they have never been told by you with your unique perspective, your unique experiences, and your unique voice as a writer.

If you really stop and listen, immersing yourself in your writing by listening with every ounce of your imagination to everything you see, hear, and read -- every image, every sound, every interaction -- then you will tap a wellspring of creativity for new ideas that is just as crucial for building a writer's career as churning out pages for that next big script.

My college reunion reminded me of my old alma mater's motto: Vox Clamantis in Deserto or The Voice Crying Out in the Wilderness.

Whether that wilderness is your grandma's house or your couch, find your place of solitude, listen closely, find your stories -- and then cry out for the whole world to hear.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Breaking the Myth of "Breaking In"

I'm going to my 5 Year College Reunion this weekend and can't help but wax nostalgic about what I've been up to since my days as a Dartmouth boy... until I read Conan O'Brien's Commencement Speech to the Class of 2011 (check it out!).

One of the best Commencement Speeches I've read -- funny, entertaining, inspiring -- and Conan O'Brien even opened up a few old wounds to suggest we shift our perspective:

So, at the age of 47, after 25 years of obsessively pursuing my dream, that dream changed. For decades, in show business, the ultimate goal of every comedian was to host The Tonight Show. It was the Holy Grail, and like many people I thought that achieving that goal would define me as successful. But that is not true. No specific job or career goal defines me, and it should not define you. In 2000—in 2000—I told graduates to not be afraid to fail, and I still believe that. But today I tell you that whether you fear it or not, disappointment will come. The beauty is that through disappointment you can gain clarity, and with clarity comes conviction and true originality... And there is no greater cliché in a commencement address than "follow your dream." Well I am here to tell you that whatever you think your dream is now, it will probably change. And that's okay.

After reading this, I went to a party with fellow USC writer/director Fawaz Al-Matrouk (do check out his awesome short film To Rest In Peace!) with a lot of other great film school friends, and also met a great rising comedienne Erikka Innes for lunch... and we seemed to share a similar experience...

In short: No one "breaks in" to Hollywood. Not ever.

Here's a quick refresher on the "Breaking In" Myth:
A starry-eyed, talented young filmmaker gets off the bus in L.A. with big dreams and empty pockets, all alone in the big city. So our filmmaker slaves away at a crappy job, working hard on his or her writing long into the night, meeting other up-and-coming filmmakers at parties, making beautiful short films on weekends, slowly but surely building a network of established film industry types until finally -- FINALLY -- our filmmaker meets some Big Hollywood Hotshot who takes a look at our filmmaker's work -- and says "This is great, kid! I'm gonna make you star!"
Growing up here in Los Angeles, I bought into that myth... Hell, who doesn't want the instant satisfaction of a media mogul bringing you into the fold of working filmmakers?

But taking an honest look at my life in L.A., I've never seen anyone "break in." I have seen a few make a meteoric rise to success -- getting signed by an agent who loved their script or short film, etc. -- but I haven't heard any big headlines from them since. Why?

Here's what usually happens:
The Hollywood Hotshot finishes going over the young filmmaker's work and says, "This is pretty good. So what are you doing next?"
Now if you buy into the myth, this looks like failure... a golden opportunity lost... if only I'd made my film better... if only I'd rewritten my script more... then I would've really knocked that guy's socks off and he'd be dying to find me big writing/directing jobs!

The hard truth is a real filmmaker's career has no defining moment... only baby step after baby step until you look back and see you've been running a marathon for years.

Now there are still milestones to strive for -- your first solid script, your first polished film, your first meeting with a manager, etc. -- but even when that fateful day comes and a Hollywood Hotshot says "So what's next for you?", there are still many baby steps to the next milestone and much, much more work to do.

5 years ago, my dream was to burst out of USC Film School with a solid script and a breathtaking short film that were so glorious I'd immediately get paid to write and direct...

Now the dream is changing. I'm focusing my career as an emerging writer. I'm polishing my scripts, generating new ideas, pitching new concepts, preparing for meetings, honing my writer's toolkit -- gradually growing into the role of a "working writer" until it's second nature.

Then, after all that work, after selling a few scripts... then I will have the relationships and the resources to get paid to direct... then I can make Another Life the feature.

Hollywood legend Samuel Goldwyn once said, "Give me a couple of years and I'll make that actress into an overnight success!" Still true today.

After all, no one fails in Hollywood -- you only fail if you give up.

Don't give up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

We got into the San Antonio Film Festival!

Looks like it's going to be a hot summer... Another Life was just selected for its seventh film festival: the 2011 San Antonio Film Festival!

Celebrating 17 years in the Alamo City, the annual San Antonio Film Festival showcases well over a hundred films from around the globe every year, down in the heart of San Antonio with sold-out screenings, packed and sponsored after parties, and strong support from the local community and media!

Another Life will screen this month! So mark your calendars for Saturday, June 25th @2:00PM at the Mexican Cultural Institute (600 Hemisfair Park, San Antonio, Texas 78205).

I feel so blessed to see this Little-Film-That-Could go to festival after festival! My undying gratitude goes to my wonderfully talented and hard-working cast and crew -- and not to forget my ever-supportive family, friends, and fans! You're the ones who keep me going!

Oh! We also received a tasty little morsel of press on LAsthePlace.com! If you have a few minutes to kill on the internet (who doesn't?), check out this lovely Q&A with Kali Cook...

Lastly, some very cool, very talented Movie Moguls are reading two of my feature scripts and have requested to meet with me soon... and if all goes well, they might help me find some paid writing gigs... Good things are in store for this summer!