I Was Almost A Hashtag

This past week, my work has appeared (well, aheard, I suppose) on the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning Show, a nationally syndicated morning program. The Grapes of Destiny is a soap opera parody; part Carol Burnett Show, part Saturday Night Live. The 3-4 minute skits are performed daily by the show’s cast.

While it’s not the first time I’ve had my work produced, this was the first time it’s reached a large audience, one that could provide instant feedback via social media. I braced myself for the likelihood that there would be some negative comments – after all, nothing is universally liked, except perhaps My Favorite Year which has 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (and is awesome,rent it!).

Before the skits began airing, I told myself I was not going to listen to it, or seek out any feedback about it. After all, the sketches were done, turned into the station long ago, and I couldn’t change them. I don’t have any control over the cast’s performances. And if listeners didn’t think it was funny – well, they aren’t going to change their minds if I explain why it was supposed to be funny.

But look – writers have egos. You have to have a certain amount of ego to walk into a room and ask people to spend many years and millions of dollars bringing a story you made up to life. We want the audience to like our work and what lunatic doesn’t enjoy hearing compliments about themselves? And so, I peeked.

Happily, there were only a few unflattering remarks. Of course this doesn’t mean that thousands of people didn’t hate it and lunge for their radio dials the instant it came on, but at least they didn’t hate it so much they felt the need to pull over and tweet about it. (Or maybe they all died in horrific traffic accidents caused by the lunging in which case, I’m really sorry.)

Most of the feedback was positive (and I am counting “The first episode was awful but it got better” as positive) There was even an attempt to get #grapesofdestiny going. I did wish that at least one of the comments would be “hey, this is really funny, why don’t you hire that woman to write for you full time” but maybe those folks are sending emails. (Or letters. I can give you the address).

In all, my Week of Minor Local Awareness was a success. This is certainly the most interesting thing that has happened to me so far as a writer and,  if I never get a chance to pitch Dustin Hoffman the script I wrote just for him, it will absolutely be the thing that leads off my obituary.

If you are not in the Kidd Kraddick in the Morning listening area, the skits can be heard here:

http://www.kiddnation.com/grapes-of-destiny-ep-5-only-the-strong-survive-video/

The Road to Nowhere

Earlier this week, I shared the exciting news that I will be writing comedy sketches for the nationally syndicated radio show, Kidd Kraddick in the Morning.  Most of my writer friends congratulated me and left it at that but a couple of them felt it necessary to point out that while this assignment might be fun, I shouldn’t expect it to “lead to anything”.

It’s a common attitude, unfortunately. I participate in a writer’s forum online and when a new member asked about getting a short script produced, there were multiple replies saying some version of “don’t bother, short films don’t lead to anything for the writer.”

Starting a podcast? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that’s going to lead to anything. Blogging? That’s certainly not going to lead to anything. Queries don’t lead to anything, contests don’t lead to anything, e-publishing doesn’t lead to anything.

I get that for some writers, success = selling a script and anything that doesn’t further that goal is a waste of time and effort.

But good lord I do not understand the sneering, superior attitude toward writers who make other choices.

I Gave My Credit Card Number to Someone I’ve Never Met

Never met in person, anyway.

May 20 was the deadline for the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition. I had taken my laptop to work with me that day, intended to proofread my scripts and submit them during my lunch hour. But complications, as they say, ensued.

Cut to – ten o’clock that night, entries have not been submitted and I am entirely without a computer. First, I was angry at the series of unfortunate events that had led me to this situation. Later, I indulged in an extended period of self;pity and comfort eating.  Finally, I rationalized that this was some Higher Power’s way of telling me that these scripts weren’t ready Then I remembered that I don’t believe in higher powers, so I pulled myself together and messaged my writer friend (and known late owl) Kevin Morales.

I told Kevin I needed a huge favor and of course he immediately said “just tell me where the body is”.  That’s what friends are for. Even friends you’ve not yet met in person but have exchanged reads and Skype calls and shared story ideas.  I was able to access my email on my phone, located emails in which I’d sent these scripts to other online writer friends, and forwarded those to Kevin. Then I texted him my credit card info and he entered the scripts for me. Yes, it takes a great deal of trust to give someone your credit card number, but that is nothing compared to the level of trust needed to let someone read your first draft.

If I win, this is a great story. If I don’t even make it out of the second round, this was a colossal waste of his time.  But either way, it’s a reminder that the community of writers is a kind and generous one and I am terribly grateful to have found writer friends who are endlessly supportive, genuinely happy for each other in times of success, full of sympathy in times of struggle, and full of righteous indignation on those occasions when something Totally Not Cool has happened (You know who you are and you know what I mean).

Thanks Mom!

My mother was my first reader, most fervent cheerleader, and is still the first person I call to share my good news and commiserate with me over disappointments.

In most of my scripts, there is a female character named “Jane” in her honor and when I finally won an award for my writing in 2013, she was the one I wanted sitting in the front row.  (Although I quickly reminded her that this award was not a big deal, so if she thought it was okay to die now, having seen me succeed, it wasn’t.)

My mom is also closely connected to my relationship with movies.  When I was very young, I saw the movies she liked, and fortunately she had good taste. Young Frankenstein, Murder by Death, Foul Play and Little Big Man form the basis of my comedic sensibilities to this day.  She would sometimes come to the movies with me – falling asleep during Dirty Dancing and becoming so engaged in ET that she stood up and cried out “Make them fly, ET!” during the bicycle chase.  When she didn’t want to see movies with me (who wouldn’t want to see Top Gun five times?!) she was happy to drop me off at MetroCenter or Valley West Mall. And in high school,  when I got a job at the AMC, she picked me up at midnight, 1am, 2am, and patiently listened to me complain about the people spilling popcorn and bodily fluids all over the theater floor.

Back then, my writing aspirations were more along the lines of poetry or possible investigative journalism (a wide berth, I know). For several years, I didn’t want to write anything. When I started writing screenplays, I asked my mom what she thought about my chances and she said what she always says when I have some harebrained notion. “Well, why not?”

And it’s her voice I hear whenever I have doubts. Should I query this manager? Should I enter the Nicholl? Should I try to shoot this short script myself?

Thanks, Mom. (And you still can’t die yet).

What’s Your Reader Thinking? (Possibly Not What You are Thinking)

Recently, a professional writer offered to read one of my scripts and provide feedback. The notes were comprehensive and insightful (you know you’ve gotten good notes when they make you say “Of course!”) and I continue to be amazed at the kindness and generosity of pro writers who offer their advice and guidance for no other reason than wanting more good work out there in the universe.

A there’s a scene in this script in which the female protagonist has just put on a new outfit. She looks at her reflection in a full-body mirror, sucks in her stomach, and tugs at the garment.   And this writer who was reading my script – let’s call him “Steve” –  interpreted that scene to mean that the character was overweight.   That is not what it meant, actually.  My intention was to show that the character is insecure about her appearance.  I was genuinely surprised that Steve misunderstood.

For women, looking at yourself in a mirror and sucking in your stomach is a pretty universal experience, even among women with flat stomachs. Even among women with concave stomachs. Put a woman of any size and level of objective attractiveness, and she will start evaluating her appearance and probably finding fault with it.  Apparently men don’t do that (at least not on the scale that women do) and so Steve assumed that if my character was unhappy with her appearance, she must actually have something to be unhappy about.

At this juncture I could mention that this constant self-loathing and internal criticism is the result of a society that values a woman’s appearance above any other quality she may possess. But I won’t. 

Anyway, the point is, Steve misunderstood that scene because his life experiences are different from mine. And – lightbulb moment – every reader’s life experience is going to be different from yours. Even if you think it is beyond obvious what your script or scene or line of dialogue means, you may need to find a way to make it more obvious. Maybe get some eyes on it that do not share your background and sensibilities.

At this juncture, I could mention that this is another argument for diversity at every level, to widen the range of experiences and perspectives not just among the people writing screenplays, but the gatekeepers reading them. But I won’t.

Copy That Sweeps Awards, Earns Love of a Grateful Nation

That may be a slight exaggeration.

But still. COPY THAT – the short comedy I wrote that was produced by Cut To Production last spring, starring  Claudia Jessie and Robbie O’Neill took home top prizes at the British International Film Festival in Kent. The film took home the IAC (Institute of Amateur Cinematography) Diamond Award, the Best British Film Award and the Daily Mail Prize for the Best Amateur Film of the Year.

http://www.theiac.org.uk/eventsnew/biaff/biaff2015/special-awards.html

I am so incredibly proud to have been a part of the COPY THAT team. I hope Kingsley Hoskins, the brilliant director, will remember me in her Oscar speech someday, assuming the Academy gets over its rampant sexism enough to give her an award. (I’m just saying).

Anyway, Kingsley shared the judges comments with me and I was particularly tickled at “The scriptwriter is to be congratulated on producing a very imaginative screenplay” because as I mentioned in my last blog post, I have a lifelong fondness for Anne of Green Gables, and that’s about as Anne-ish a compliment as you can get.

But it was this comment that made me the happiest, and gives me the motivation I need to finish editing my Nicholl entry into the wee hours of the night.

It is a kind of magic we would all welcome into our lives … and so the film lives in our imaginations. We cannot imagine any audience failing to leave with a smile.

This is why we tell stories. To have an audience welcome that story into their lives, to let it live in their imaginations, to leave them with a smile. Even with all my imagination, I can’t think of anything better than that.

Falling in Love with Fictional Characters

Last week, an actor named Jonathan Crombie passed away at the painfully early age of 48. If you are a kindred spirit, and belong to the race that knows Joseph, you know who Jonathan Crombie was. For the rest of you, he appeared in a miniseries adaptation of the Canadian classic Anne of Green Gables (and its subsequent sequels).

The Anne of Anne of Green Gables was an orphan (plucky, of course) growing up in an idyllic town called Avonlea, on Prince Edward Island.  Crombie played Gilbert Blythe, Anne’s childhood rival-turned love interest.

The seminal moment of their relationship occurs when Gilbert calls Anne “Carrots” – in reference to her red hair – and she smashes a slate over his head. It’s not the first scene in the miniseries  – it’s probably a good half-hour in. But it was the first scene I watched, as I was flipping through the TV channels (all six of them) one rainy afternoon in 1985.

Having one character smash another character in the head with a blunt object is an attention getter. I stopped channel surfing to see what would happen next. Onscreen, what happened next is that Anne (played by Megan Follows) is dragged to the front of the one-room schoolhouse by the weaselly schoolmaster who writes on the  blackboard: “Ann Shirley has a very bad temper.”

And then – then comes the moment that sells me on the series forever. Anne picks up the chalk and – defiantly – adds an “e” to her name on the board.

Thus began my lifelong love of all things Anne.  There were eight “Anne” books in total, written by Lucy Maud Montgomery and published between 1908 and 1921. I devoured them in the space of about two weeks – and only that long because I had to use interlibrary loan to get them all.

The books are charming, sweet, surprisingly funny and, once Gilbert and Anne finally move past the slate smashing incident, quite romantic. Anne and Gilbert’s eventual wedding (spoiler alert) was a soothing tonic or a young girl still bitter over Jo’s rejection of Laurie in Little Women. (AMY? Seriously Louisa May. You married him off to selfish, brainless, Amy WHO BURNED JO’S BOOK!!!)

Anyway, I adored Gilbert Blythe, who thought being smart was better than being pretty, who had loved Anne for as long as he could remember, and who endured fourteen years of waiting, a rejected proposal, and a nearly deadly bout with scarlet fever on the road to winning Anne’s affections.

What Jonathan Crombie brought to the screen version of Gilbert is explained far better than I ever could here: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/sarah-larson/jonathan-crombie-why-we-loved-gilbert-blythe

I’ll just add that the words you’ll most often see in conjunction with the Anne series are “beloved” and “enduring”  – not adjectives one earns easily.  And they are earned entirely by the characters. The actual plots of the books are fairly pedestrian. Anne encounters a crotchety elderly person and eventually wins them over. Walks are taken, through orchards, gardens and graveyards. Clothing is described in detail.  The only action you’ll find is Anne falling off or through the occasional roof.

It’s the characters that matter. Characters like Anne and Gilbert (and Matthew, Marilla, Rachel Lynde, Rebecca Dew, the widows, Owen and Leslie, Captain Jim, Miss Cornelia Bryant, and all the other delightful inhabitants of Anne’s world) who take up a permanent place in your heart. So much so that thirty years later, upon hearing of the far-too-soon death of an actor who played one of those characters, you feel the need to dig out all your old books, so you can fall in love all over again.