I mentioned in an earlier post that did some work as an extra in the superlative 'Defenders of Stan.' 'Defenders' is a Web-based TV series about Stan, the last man on earth without superpowers. His brother is Captain Ultra, who is both the world's most powerful superhero and biggest jerk.
That episode's gone live and you can see it right here:
Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on who you ask) you can't see me at all. I was the DJ in the nightclub scene, complete with an American Flag for a cape. Now I'm pixels on a cutting-room floor in an editing room that never really existed. The show itself is still really funny and well worth a watch. It's only five minutes, so you probably won't get busted looking at it at work.
This link will take you to a page where you can see all five DOS (Defenders of Stan) episodes.
I said it before and I'll say it again: these guys are really sharp, and they're a real inspiration to me and my writing partners as we write our show. Sure, we're doing things differently than they are, but not an hour goes by when we're working together that one of us doesn't say, "Well, the 'Stan' guys did this, and it seems to be working well for them."
I flew to LA with my writing partner a while back to pitch an idea for a Web-based TV show. More about that here, but suffice it to say that despite it being politely rejected almost immediately, we got some good advice and I had probably one of the most exhilarating experiences I've had in my career as a writer.
My partner and I vowed to get back on the horse, and saddle up we have.
We've spent the past few weeks tearing out virtual hair out to re-craft a treatment for our story, one that reads "funny" immediately, as opposed to one that relies on gobs of wacky backstory to explain itself.
Or, in our case, gobs of wacky backstory delivered by me in a nervous monotone, too scared to look at the development exec but too proud to look at the floor. This results in a flat delivery from a bald guy in a necktie with a thousand-yard stare that would make the Son of Sam say "C'mon man, lighten up, jeez."
So yeah, the two things I learned were: you got to SELL the funny, right there on the paper. And during the pitch, lighten up a bit your damn self.
That's what a story treatment is, as I understand it: a two-page document that encapsulates the spirit of the show and all its characters, written magnetically and simply for people who are, in all actuality, too busy to read it themselves. Here's one for "Freaks and Geeks," a doomed and fantastic TV show that was also too smart for its audience. We've been pretty much using this as a Bible, really. The series Bible itself is pretty fascinating, too.
And that "as I understand it," that's the doozy right there. I didn't even THINK about any of this stuff before January. January, 2007. So yeah, I have no idea what I'm doing. We're just winging it here. Totally making it up as we go along. It's terrifying and frustrating when there's nobody to turn to, but sometimes, just sometimes, it's jsut awesome enough to make everything turn four inches tall except us and this towering pile of golden copy ... which will become compost in 24 hours. You gotta kill your darlings, man, and today's golden egg is tomorrow's shit-smeared goose fetus.
People have been saying to us "Why don't you guys just make it yourselves and put the thing on YouTube? You know, generate some buzz?" And those people, they have a solid point. But I mean, look. I'm not an actor or a director. Yet. I just got into this in January, and my partner, he's not a seasoned pro, either. We don't have a camera, editing software, any of that stuff. But we got laptops and meager enough connections to pitch through. So to our way of thinking, why work for free when you can try to get paid along the way to developing it yourself?
That mindset, I think has been my greatest helper AND hindrance in my writing career. On the one hand, I get paid. Sometimes. On the other, I might not go out on limbs that I should.
Anyway. After working as an extra for my friend Meredith's stellar Web-based TV show 'Defenders of Stan' this last weekend, my beat got turned right around. Please, if you have a few minutes, go check out the shows. They're only 5 minutes apiece and they're AWESOME. And you know what? These guys are just DOING it, for real, seat of the pants, not holding their breath for a damn thing, and it's working out well for them.
That's right: they're becoming very successful by simply doing the exact opposite of what my partner and I think is a good idea.
So we started writing scripts this week. We're moving forward again, and CHRIST is it ever cool. I forget, on a weekly basis, how much I love writing. Maybe blogging makes me a little tired sometimes. It's a freaking treadmill. But just WRITING, creating stuff, making jokes, telling stories ... there's nothing like it in the world. One of my writing partners and I cranked out two 5-minute scripts this week. They're rough. They might not be funny, and they probably completely suck. Just pixels on the hard drive, knowing you put in a solid couple days and made yourself laugh doing it ... again, nothing like it in the world.
Now I'm exhausted and giddy. I've been consuming bourbon and coffee in a 1:1 ratio all night and it's time to lie down and let them fight it out. Tomorrow, we're going to talk. We've yet to cram these tattered little rags with stories on them into a real story structure, but I feel awesome all the same.
Now if I could just get PAID to feel like this ...
This link will take you to a pretty awesome tutorial on the basics of story structure for Web video. It's a fascinating read, and goes a long way toward explaining why some short films are worth re-watching and forwarding to your friends, and why a LOT of "user-generated content" in the video-sharing world completely blows.
A pilgrimage to Graceland is every American's civic duty, right up there with voting and paying taxes. And unlike voting and paying taxes, the consequences are nowhere nearly as dire if you screw it up. Just show up, put the headphones on and start walking and you're pretty much solid gold.
Graceland is also one of the few remaining examples of late 60's/early 70's interior design anywhere in the world. It's an example of life and decor at its finest, before to 80's inspired everyone to get with track lighting and black leather.
You can dismiss his music as irrelevant if you want, but you've got to admit this: Presley is the godfather of bling-bling as the world knows it. His house may be a little anticlimactic to a generation that's been inoculated against true fly style by MTV's 'Cribs', but this is where it all started.
A long tradition of talented mouthbreathers with more money than IQ points owe it all to the King, baby. He may not have been a musical genius, but as a performer and stylesetter, there is no comparison.
Look at what the man wore AROUND, for Christ's sake:
As a side note -- while I was photographing this, two children had their faces pressed against the glass, rapt in fabulous sequin-studded wonder. One of them began to slowly, rhythmically bounce his forehead off of the glass. A no-no, but I was feeling it, too. The spangliness of the suit just hit this boy and struck him retarded, so retarded he had to play a little rhythm of praise with his own face. A mother of some sort came screeching over, hollering "Stop hitting that glass with yer FACE!!" and belted the offender's BROTHER on the back of his head, sending his face into the glass with a loud thud. An alarm went off. Crying, the brother said "Mom, it wasn't even me, it was HIM!" "Sorry, baby," she said. "Let's get out of here, quick."
I felt like hauling off and nailing her on the chin with a right cross and saying "Oh, sorry, I meant to punch my girlfriend."
Check this suit out:
If George Bush had jumped out of that airplane on the aircraft carrier wearing THIS little number, I'd have believed him when he said "Mission Accomplished."
I took this on Coney Island this year, during the first week of January. It was freakishly warm, and people were out walking around the boardwalk in an approximation of warm-weather behavior.
Some asshole was even rollerblading up and down the boardwalk in a pair of little tiny shorts. Right attitude, wrong coast, I say.
There are certain people that can ONLY exist in New York tri-state area, like this guy:
Let's have a closer look:
This guy makes me think that maybe the Sopranos is not so fictional, after all. Don't get me wrong here -- I'm not pointing and laughing. You haven't seen anything until you've seen a Southern man with a 48-inch belly and 36-inch pants down around his upper thighs and held on with suspenders.
All I'm saying is that this guy, this image, and the whole day was this strange kind of awesome I've never seen before. The crowds of Russian immigrants and people playing in the weak winter sunset were so fun and beautiful -- but it all felt like a memory that we'd share after the seas rose.
We'd be sitting around a campfire on the beach somewhere in Indiana, hiding from America's army of prancing headless dogbots and someone would say "Man, remember Coney Island?" And maybe my writing partner (who is duh, a good friend) would scurry closer to the fire and say "Yeah, we went there in the wintertime, right before the big sheet melted off of Greenland, remember that, Jeff?"
And I'll look over the gnarled head of my staff and nod affirmatively, slipping backward in time to relive those hot dogs, the cold breeze, and that incredible blood-red sunset ...
A few weeks ago I was riding the escalator up out of the Metro station -- coming back from another demeaning trip to the staffing agency, another conversation with a "professional" interviewer who said "Uh, okay, what's your name again? We don't get much for writers, but we'll let you know." Freezing rain spat itself onto the top of the escalator, melting into droplets.
Some of those droplets were just heavy enough to move and they took the plunge, colliding into tother droplets and gathering steam and falling apart again as the water trails they made left drops behind, drops made out of the drops of other drops until no drop had any of the personality it had fell out of the air with and it was all one grey and dirty mess. The whole scene was hypnotic and I found myself taking a few trips up and down the escalator to watch the whole thing over and over again.
I think I caught something, doing that. Ever since then, my body's felt heavier than normal from the fingertips back. Just lifting them to write this post is taking a lot more energy thatn usual. But my thoughts, my mind, that's been the worst part. It's like all my ideas are doing what those droplets did, falling hard and melting as soon as I can look at 'em, then smearing themselves together and running off until I can't tell 'em apart any more and they're all just a bunch of dirty water that fell out of the sky.
It's cold outside, cold enough to make stupid people think that global warming was a short-lived hoax. All snow is ice and everything's dirty and wet. It's all filthy and slipping together, everything, and none of it seems to be worth staying awake for.
I used to think that writer's block was a myth. Hell, I still do. If you've got to write, I used to think, just do it. It's all in your head, the block, and if you stop whinging and start typing. eventually you'll be somewhere good. Writers' block is for the weak -- for people that don't know how to grab their own bootstraps and just PULL until they get somewhere. I still believe that.
But everybody's weak sometimes and right now it's my turn. I can't thing of a fucking thing worth saying and I'm taking offense at everything I read -- I leave a comment somewhere and a couple days later it looks hostile as hell. Most people, they just shut up till they feel better. I've been trying to, it's just making it worse.
What do you do when you get blocked? How do you get unstuck? And man, how long does it TAKE?
My grandpa's been diabetic for as long as I've known him. His diet was further modified after his 6-way bypass when I was in college. Now he's on some sort of other diet for diabetic heart patients with renal failure.
I think by now he just photosynthesizes, mostly. He looks kinda green sometimes, anyway.
So when I went to visit him this afternoon, we just watched the Food Network together. He watches that Food Network all the time now. It used to be the Western channel. But it turns out the only thing Pop-Pop likes seeing more than cowboys killing Indians is watching overzealous women make foods he hasn't truly tasted in twenty years.
"They always gotta moan whenever they taste something, see that?" he says. "Who makes that noise when they eat something? I've been eating for 87 years, never heard anyone carry on like that before."
All these cooking shows were okay by me. I needed a few recipes for a Valentine's dinner, which I've been dreading. Truth be known, I am not a big fan of the holiday in general.
When I don't have a Valentine, it's kinda crappy. When I do, it's not that I'm ungrateful for the company. Nothing, to me, says romance quite like conjuring up something spontaneous and magical to fit silent, possibly gargantuan expectations on a pre-designated day.
I'm sure Punxutawney Phil likes going outside for a stroll in the snow, but there's something about doing it in front of TV cameras and a brass band that probably takes the joy out of it. So yeah, I got some performance anxiety. Conclude away, readers, and I'll thank you to stop smirking before you leave your little comments.
I asked Pop-Pop "How do you feel about Valentine's Day? What do you and Daro (my grandma, her name was the first word out of my mouth) usually do?"
"Well," he said, "we like to go to the card store and pick cards out for each other. She gets one she'd like to give to me, and I pick one out I think works for her. Then we trade 'em and read 'em to each other."
"That's really nice," I said. "What happens after that?"
"Oh, we put 'em back on the shelf and go home," he said. "No sense wasting all that money for Valentine's Day."
People with jobs think that being unemployed is like a constant weekend. You sleep in, don't dress, hang out, go to bed late and catch up on all your reading, according to popular wisdom. And sure, you do these things. But you've got no context for these activities, nothing to look forward to except the work of finding work.
When you're unemployed, every day is one long Wednesday.
Things get flat and complicated, all at once. Speaking of complications, here's one:
My primary outlet for my writing and my feelings is this blog. This is, to a greater or lesser extent, where it all comes out in squalid and, I would hope, entertaining detail.
However, I am looking for a job. This whole pitching a TV show thing is awesome, but unfortunately you don't get paid to pitch. The very little I understand about pitching is this: it's not like pitching a baseball. Or a softball. It's more like pitching a watermelon to Mark McGwire and hoping that he misses -- or that you stay dry. So I'm looking for paying gigs without giving up the dream.
Somebody, somewhere, finds this blog by Googling my name several times a day. It's increased since I've started looking for work. If it is possible to dooce one's self, it's certainly possible to preemptively dooce one's self, too ... to blog yourself out of an initial phone call. All it takes is one post to wrinkle the wrong person, and they just don't call you.
It's like this, readers. Most of you are my friends. But a lot of you aren't. You've never met me, and you never will. Some of you think you know me, really well, based entirely on what you read here. And to some extent it's flattering. I've worked really hard to develop a conversational voice, to use bits of my life to entertain people and establish some sort of warm connection through a cold collection of pixels.
So when some of you offer me unsolicited lifestyle advice (I know I spend too much time online, thanks, I feel great), or input on how to handle my relationship with my sister via IM or whatever, I guess I should take it as a compliment.
I don't though. Keep that shit to yourselves. I know you just want to help, but damn, it drives me NUTS.
You don't know a person by their blog posts any more than you know a tree by its dead leaves in the gutter. And that's the big illusion of public availability right there -- you think you know someone based on their carefully constructed facade, and WOW are things different in person. Good employees get sacked, bad writers get praised, and ugly people with Photoshop skills get first dates like never before.
Did you know that Bing Crosby beat his wife?
So I'm feeling kinda cramped right now. My grandpa's sick, I got no job and the bills are piling up. Blogging in detail about tough times (or anything, ever, period, if you ask media lawyers) opens me up to the judgment of a million strangers, some of whom control purse strings that I really want to fondle between my own grubby little digits. Or it makes me look like a whiner.
A couple of you have mentioned my posting drought to me, and I appreciate the concern. That's the deal, and what I'm dealing with.
But here's my question: Is there stuff in this blog that would shut me out of a job I need? Is it wise to shut up just because you're scared of losing opportunities? Is it right to live with your soul muzzled so you can keep as many doors open as possible?
You know, I think I know the answer to that last one.