Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Odds and Ends

'The article' has been sent! Fingers crossed, the editor won't tear it to shreds and email the shreds back for changes, or worse, pay me a 15% kill fee. That would be humiliating. Typically, I would celebrate the completion of something like this -- but no time, I've had to jump right into another writing thing with a deadline of -- tomorrow. Eesh!

Maybe after it is sent off, I'll see if I can't bug a friend to join me in a little self-congratulatory something or other.

Why I'm procrastinating now with a blog entry is beyond me.

However, just so you don't think that all I do is write...

A couple weeks ago I went to the Getty Villa. Going there had been one of about a million things I've been wanting and planning to do, since moving to Los Angeles seven years ago.

Needing nothing more than a free ticket, ordered a couple weeks in advance, it is a really wonderful place; easy to get to and once you leave the parking garage, it's as if you've gone to Italy.
Walking around this "villa", (actually a nice sized museum) I couldn't help but think… Oh, to have been a robber-baron.

So, if you live in Los Angeles and have the urge to do something that is:

A. Inexpensive (8 bucks for parking)
B. Out of the ordinary.
C. Culturally stimulating.
D. As if going on a European vacation.

I highly recommend it.

At the Getty Villa. Not trying to look cool... I was being blinded by the sun.

Afterwards, drive up the PCH a bit and have a drink and burger at Dukes (in the barefoot bar), or go a little further to Malibu Seafood and have the best fish tacos around. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Lately, the aerobic part of my workout routine has been made bearable by listening to a lot of Perez Prado. My in-place jogging and jumping jacks tend to devolve into goofy interpretations of Mambo dancing (all the window shades are very tightly during these moments). Even as I laugh at myself (hey, at least it gets the heart rate going), I've also been recalling another thing that has been on that 'list-o-things to do' since moving to L.A.

So, a couple nights ago, I found myself googling around… and I think (if I can get up the nerve), I will soon go for it: Finally learning how to dance – properly.
Considering how long I've loved Rockabilly music, it's pathetic I've never learned to Swing dance properly. Yes, I know that's so- retro-ten years-ago. More than swing dancing though, and maybe this is my ancestral blood (I'm half Cuban), I'm thinking Mambo, Salsa, Tango (yeah, right)…

I will report fully on how this progresses. Don't expect to see an update instantly. I do need to earn more money first. Dance lessons aren't cheap.

In the meantime, if you haven't seen the original JAPANESE version of Shall We Dance, go to Netflix or wherever you get your videos and order it NOW!. Not the American remake, the original Japanese version. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.

And finally, here's a Perez Prado clip to put a smile on your face.
It's a hybrid of Swing and Mambo. Maybe that will be the next retro-rage. If so, sign me up.

Check out the cutaways to the disapproving old folks.

I am living the dream

I'm at the end of a fifteen hour marathon of writing and have nearly finished a draft of "the article". It's close enough that I've sent it to a friend to read. I need a sympathetic soul to give me notes before I send it to the editor. I know parts of it are still a mess but I'm hoping my friend doesn't think it's too far off the mark. Tomorrow, I intend to (must) finish it and then, with a quick nod to the 'approval gods', send it to the editor—who is one tough cookie...but very good. I had been concerned about hitting the word mark for which I was contracted, but I'm about a thousand over-and still adding. Funny how that happens…

So why the heck am I writing a blog entry after a marathon day of "jobber writing?" Because this afternoon at 1:21 (I know this because I noted it), I had 'one of those moments' and I felt I just had to share. We're lucky if we realize these moments as they're happening, rather than long afterwards. In fact, I think it's incredibly rare to realize them in real time.

It was a moment of complete and utter happiness.

Sounds corny, I know, but think about it: How often do you feel completely and utterly happy in an ordinary day, doing an ordinary thing?
For myself, I've generally thought back on times… days, weeks, even entire years, and realized, "those were good. I was happy." Or—"those times were miserable."

Obviously, you realize you're happy when you have a FULLY OVERLOADED MOMENT OF ULTRA HAPPINESS!!!; seeing a loved one you haven't seen in a long time, a holiday or a vacation to a strange and wondrous land. What I'm talking about is absolute happiness while doing a very average thing on a very average day. If you do experience this frequently, you are very lucky.

So…my moment of complete and utter happiness that happened at 1:21pm: As I was walking back to my desk with a fresh cup of coffee, to sit down in front of my computer and continue writing, it struck me fully that… It was a beautiful day, the coffee smelled incredible and I was about to sit down in front of my computer to continue writing! There you have it—an average moment in an average day of my life. I wasn't being paid a million dollars to scribe a blockbuster. I wasn't having an incredibly inspired jag of writing, nothing out of the ordinary. But I had a moment of absolute 'thrill'. For that instant, I felt… "YES!"

Silly? Well, okay.

Keep in mind that I write constantly. It can be drudgery and it can feel incredibly unfulfilling. That's why I reveled in that moment; savored it and now, share it.

I think happiness is kind of like being healthy. You don't really think about it until something hurts or you don't feel well. It was nice that it occurred to me that I felt good, that I was happy.

I suppose life is a series of these moments interspersed with all sorts of other moments. You hop and skip from one to the next, hopefully not getting stuck on a bad one for too long. I think a lot of us (at least I speak for myself) are so busy hopping that we don't have a chance to experience the minor moments in real time.

There you have it.

Perhaps I'm just loopy from having been in front of this computer all day, every day for the last month on this one story. But I did have that moment.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Passion for the business

I have concluded all but one interview and continue to try to tame this beast, now due in a mere two days. It's far from beaten and I have to now fight through "the wall" that any marathon runner can describe; no time for relaxing or "calling it a day." It doesn't matter what the gentle breeze pushing the front window curtains or the deepening shade of sky are telling me. The cat is fed and contentedly splayed out on one of the dining room chairs, while the sounds of the neighbors happily playing dominos and chatting in Spanish wafts in from a side window. For me though, the work must continue. This is but a small break.

In interviewing all the wonderful (with the exception of one) people for this article, it's been refreshing and dare I say, renewing, to keep happening upon one similarity. Passion. Tremendous passion for what they do.

Therein is the secret of this business. Though some are paid very well, these writers and directors aren't doing it for the money. They're doing it for the love, the passion.

While each person has spoken of the difficulties of surviving in the entertainment business (some having the benefit of speaking with hindsight), they all talked foremost about the love and passion they have for what they do.

Without fail, they would make movies, no matter what. Every one of the success stories I heard was prefaced by years of sleeping on floors and doing whatever it took to survive—while writing, writing, writing. The "breakout", the successful moment, invariably was due to making their own fortune; to writing or taking a job when there seemed to be no reason to, or scant reason at best. As was well said by one person, every opportunity is a good opportunity.

This (and some talent and some luck) is what has differentiated these people from the countless numbers strewn on the road to "success". They did it for the love, not the money. They did it because they HAD to. It's a good reminder for people starting out. Do it because you're absolutely passionate about it. If you're not passionate, if you're skeptical in any way, don't try to do it professionally. Make it a hobby. And in this day and age of digital filmmaking, that's entirely possible.

The happiest times I've had as a "filmmaker" were when I was thirteen years old, running around my backyard with my brother and friends, making movies on a bulky camcorder and portable VCR. Though I drove my brother and my friends crazy, the excitement of doing it was like nothing I'd ever experienced. Over the years, it has sometimes been easy to forget the purity of that thrill. Money, organization, cynicism; the "business" of show, can do that. There are people in this business that, like vampires sucking the blood from the throats of babies, will take your passion if you're not blindly driven.

In talking to the writers and directors of the past couple weeks, I've been reminded again of that child's passion. Not that I ever lost it, but being surrounded by like-driven people was a good recharge; a good reminder that the glass is half full. Hell—there's a glass of water actually there and I get to hold it!

Every time I tap the "FADE IN:" shortcut keys when I begin a new screenplay, I get a thrill. I visualize that fade in on a big screen in a dark theater. I imagine settling into the seat, the smell of buttered popcorn in the air.
I remember the first time I was able to 'fade up" in a movie I made back in those childhood days. It was an establishing shot of an airplane that had crash landed on a desert island. In reality it was a small plastic model in the dirt and a passing ant gave away any semblance of realism. Still, it was the fade up—the ability to use that cinematic language—that made me tremble with delight; a delight that I've never lost but in these past weeks was reminded of once again.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beyond any caricature on “Entourage”

The interviews continue. Everyone I've spoken with has been great—really generous with their answers, thoughtful and offering interesting opinions.

But there's always one. And today I got that one… and it was especially disheartening.

See, the people I've chosen to interview, the writers, directors, actors, producers, managers – have all been people I felt would lend a good voice to the story. It hasn't been a random selection.

At the same time, I've been going after people that I've wanted to talk to for some time, anyway. From past experience, I've learned that speaking with people in an "interview setting", especially for a well-regarded magazine, is a really great way to develop relationships and friendships; some of which might be valuable down the line with a project, perhaps. I myself have become fast friends with some of the journalists that have interviewed me in the past.

Anyway, today was the day to interview a producer for whom I've had really, really high hopes. This is a guy that I've wanted to get my project to for a long time. Of all the interviews, he was, for me and my ulterior motives, the whale. Foremost though, I felt he could lend some interesting insights from the pinnacle of the producing world. I had just finished doing a great interview with a New York director and now, with great anticipation and heart beating slightly faster than usual, I called Mr. A List Hollywood Producer.

The conversation, if I could call it that, was the most disagreeable conversation I've had with anyone in Hollywood. In fact, it was the most disagreeable conversation I've had in any professional setting. EVER!

As far as I could see, there was no reason for it either. These were not prickly or accusatory questions; they were questions simply asking an opinion of something. They were the same questions I've been asking everyone else; the same questions that have been eliciting interesting and spirited answers.

This guy was a PRICK! (Excuse the word). After 25 minutes, I concluded the "interview" (torture session would be more accurate) and hung up the phone.

I just sat there for about ten minutes, stunned. This was the guy for whom I had been holding out all this hope? Was it me? Am I an idiot asking bad questions? Shell-shocked, I googled his name and a couple choice words for "not nice" and found no shortage of stories about him and the kind of 'human being' he is. A slight relief, though it didn't lessen the deep disappointment any.

Minutes later, still regaining my composure, I spoke with a manager for one of the largest and most important management firms in entertainment. I told him briefly about what had happened and he laughed. He confirmed that the guy was a legendary, um, person -- and was happy never to have had to deal with him.

Still, it was a hugely disillusioning because there is no way in hell I would want to work with this guy. The one incredibly brief answer he did give removed any drop of joy from the filmmaking process whatsoever. Life is too short to subject oneself to that misery. I'd rather eat glass.

So, scrape, scrape, scrape… I continue to dig at the wall.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Staying Focused on the Writing

I am finally immersed in the article that I'm writing for Fade In Magazine. None too soon too as it is due next week. This article is a deceptively difficult one because the topic is fairly narrow; there are a finite amount of ways to explore the subject matter. What's more, the general consensus of everyone that I'm interviewing is the same. There are no real 'good guys' or 'bad guys'. There's not much conflict. It is a philosophical story, more than anything else. Contractually, I must stay vague on the actual subject matter until it hits the newsstands.

It has been interesting to interview good, smart and well known people from the movie and television industry. Their range, career wise, has been enormous. It's exciting when you get to have in depth conversations with people you've admired from afar for years. Now, I must shape these interviews and my thoughts about the subject into something coherent and interesting.

As I write, my stomach is aching. It's not the writing job ahead of me or something I ate. It's a "good" ache.

Recently mid-life concerns about career, future, relationship, mortality, children and money have bulldozed their way to the front of my life, pushing everything in their path to the side. Distracting and unnerving, the angst has caused significant changes in my thought patterns, emotional patterns… and physical patterns; no choice in the matter for me. As was beautifully stated on Deadwood, "Change ain't lookin' for friends." The good news is that these changes are for the better; sometimes the computer needs to be reset.

Due to the "relationship-woes" diet, I've lost a dramatic amount of weight in the last three months. Rather than turn into a pathetic sack of skin and bones, wallowing in misery, I decided not to waste this opportunity and thus -- took it upon myself to begin a serious exercise regime. In addition to being good for my physical health, it saved my sanity. While I've never been "fat", I've have been overweight by several (okay, fifteen or twenty) pounds in the last years. Sitting in front of the computer endlessly, working at home and great meals with wine will do that after a while.

With a speedy return to my college weight, I decided -- once in my life, just once—even if it's only for a couple months, I'm going to try and get those "six pack abs" the commercials on late night television keep telling me women love.
Am I insane? Am I vain?
Am I so deeply in the midst of a crisis that the next thing will be a convertible and a hot blonde?

No. I don't think so. It's just a "what the hell" kind of goal. Just so that I can say I did it. And like I already mentioned, the exercise is good for the soul.

Since I won't go so far as to actually join a gym, my workouts have been relegated to lifting weights at home, climbing the hundreds of stairs in the Silver Lake hills, jogging around Silver Lake itself—as well as the usual sit-ups, push ups, etc.

Today, after googling "six pack abs", I began a new stomach workout that requires nothing more than my couch; the perfect price. Here's the video.

That is why my stomach is aching.

Wish me luck, laugh at me or shake your head ruefully. Just don't ask me to post pictures.

Oh, and if I do get a convertible, I promise it won't be a Triumph Spitfire. I learned that lesson the last time I weighed what I weigh now.

Now back to what I should be doing—staying focused on the writing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Next up -- SAG

My interviews have begun for the article I'm writing for Fade In Magazine. I have many more to do and so far, the task still has a daunting quality to it. Tomorrow morning (why aren't I sleeping now?) I'm going to the La Brea Tar Pits, where a rally will be taking place: "Hollywood to the Docks." Tomorrow is the beginning of the SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) negotiations. Hopefully the negotiations will go quickly and smoothly as these contracts, more than the Writer's Guild strike, are what screwed me up at the beginning of this year with my new movie (The movie, which requires expensive SAG actors, would not be bonded by insurance companies, nervous about a potential strike).

I don't think there will be any serious issues as this town really doesn't have the fortitude for another strike. But you never can tell—which is why the insurance companies weren't taking chances.

Today I interviewed an "A List" writer. In talking to him, I was really reminded, once again, that I have a long way to go before I'm in the major leagues. Hopefully, in writing this article, I can smooth some of the road ahead of me. It's been bumpy and full of potholes. It wears you out after a while.

In other interesting news: readers may remember an article I wrote last year about Foreign Levies. If not, there's a link to it in the right column of this blog. Well, today, The DGA (Directors Guild) settled the lawsuit. Here's a link to the story.

All these stories just keep reminding me of what a sordid and tough town Hollywood really is. You really have to be strong to survive. All the illusions (or delusions) one is taught in school or might believe in watching the Oscars, or some other awards show, are just well crafted, beautifully choreographed lies. It's not a town for wimps, that's for sure.

Okay, a quick entry… not very exciting. But I must sleep some so that I can be off to Wilshire blvd early tomorrow, my new digital voice recorder and questions in hand.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Crawl Forward

Life continues to be dramatic in its ups and downs. However, life goes on, doesn't it? The clock goes in one direction and we go with it.

The major facets of my personal life continue to be an unknown. That's all about that.

I am writing a new article for Fade in Magazine which will be in the next issue, barring editor disapproval. Another "social injustice of show business" story, I am hoping it will strike resonant chords with people both in this business and not.

Starting these stories is always a daunting prospect. One has a general thesis idea and hopefully some clear points, but the first paragraph, the sequence of events, the wrap up… and the quotes, the quotes, the quotes! Each quoted person represents hours of searching, locating, getting past gatekeepers, wrangling into agreeing to an interview, interviewing, transcribing—looking for the perfect statement (not to be used out of context). It's a lot of effort to be able to write, John Doe says, "I agree with you." Or, "You're full of crap."

That's where I am now. My questions have largely been compiled and now I'm creating my lists of targets for interview.

Oh, and it needs to all be ready for press by April 29th.

I also continue to work on my other projects: A new 3D trailer for The Diamond Chasers, a new screenplay for which an outline and a few pages are also due by May 1st.

Hollywood Gossip?

Not too much as I'm trying to stay focused on work. However, I did go to the wrap party for Speed Racer last night. Cool club, open bar (I didn't drink) and overall a bunch of happy people cutting loose—as can only be expected after round-the-clock-forget-what-your-family-looks-like work. I didn't actually work on the movie in any capacity; a friend had been on the special effects crew so I was a guest. I did get to meet and speak briefly with Emile Hirsch. Emile had been (and theoretically remains) a top choice for the lead in Diamond Chasers. However, with the way his career has taken off, it will most likely remain only a dream. I expect with the release of this movie, he will solidify the "screen icon" status in such a way that only top movies will be able to employ him. He's been working at it, so his super-stardom will not have been an overnight thing. If you haven't seen The Girl Next Door or Into the Wild, I do recommend them. It's a chance to see a star on the rise.
Christina Ricci - yup, Trixie was there too. Of course, the bosses themselves, the Wachowski Brothers, Andy and Larry were there looking content and confident. One thing Andy said, in complimenting some of the work everyone had done: "There's nothing out there like it." Coming from the guy that brought us The Matrix, it's an intriguing statement.

If only the heat lamps had worked better, because the dance floor was way too loud and most people, myself included, stayed outside on the huge patio. Though it is Los Angeles, it still does get chilly at 1:00 AM in April. I think the sad truth is that I will be reminded of this wrap party for the next week by a tickle in my throat and a sniffly nose.

Okay, time for me to go to work: pour a fresh cup of coffee, open up my questions.doc doc file, try to stay away from the 'relationship trouble' websites that I've been to a million times already, and focus on the job ahead.

Wish me luck and have a good one.