Take Faith for Yourself, Give Them Skepticism

skepticism-is-the-sadism-of-embittered-souls

 

Often, the correct course of action is not one that we wish to take.

We resist. Understandably so, in many cases. A course of action suggests change. Change can be (often is) scary. There’s more certainty in what is known.

There is also more pain and sadness, in my experience, in ignoring the call for change. More general disquiet.

Dissatisfaction. Resentment. Anger. And yet, it often takes much suffering, and/or one big sign of the need for change, for many of us to finally take that action.

This is okay. It has to be, I think, if we are to at all improve at narrowing down this cycle.

Growth, obviously, comes up often on the podcast. I had a nice talk about gaining experience, about the importance of forward motion and learning, with the guest for this week’s coming episode. And when Leah Bonnema came on the show, she similarly stressed the importance of “going to work every day”.

All of this to say, I still have room to improve. We all do. Good work begins with the small stuff. I think I’ve been showing up in this way for a long time.

But the big, risky actions? Those can be difficult. But, to again echo a guest on Coffee with Creatives (Laura Goode) I think much of this seeming bigness is illusion. Smoke and mirrors and words both smooth and stinging.

When we choose to make art, which invariably also does cost money, we do not do so thinking of the money first and the art second. But when you aren’t an artist, or acting completely as one within a financial or social transaction, certain additional realities must be dealt with one way or another.

Despite my general practicality, and the cautiousness with which I usually ration my optimism, it surprised me, in recent months, to find myself being misled by various third-party partners, as we went about completing The Videoblogs.

Perhaps this was naive. To again echo Laura, who found it far easier to raise extra money to finish her film after it was accepted to the Tribeca Film Festival — the truth is that most people are conditioned to seek pre-sanctioned, external validation before they commit their full energy to something.

That’s not necessarily unfair. It’s a difficult time for commitment. There is, seemingly, a never-ending stream of options, sometimes even flowing back and forth in time, vying for our attention and resources.

And, so, as storytellers, we have to prove ourselves. Constantly. In order to provide evidence that we are worth The Risk — of money or time.

Still, I think that’s mostly garbage. It’s short-sighted, and arguably cowardly.

It seems to me that, out of fear, we have defanged true risk in our society. We’ve broken it down into pieces, seeking to understand and control as much of as we can — because we’re desperately afraid of failing.

I know I have done this. But I’m growing weary of it. The deconstruction destroys the construction, in a way.

Should we be smart? Prudent? Strategic? In taking a realistic view of the aforementioned market saturation (for content especially) — I would have to say yes.

But to only lean on these preparations, to give them so much disproportionate weight, and to thus unsteady and rob the counter-balancing power of the risky idea at the core of an enterprise — this to me is folly.

A real risk costs much, and yet nothing. It reveals no certain answers in terms of prudence and strategy, instead promising growth and experience, if faithfully executed. It is deeply personal. It draws its power from sources we can barely identify of explain.

Inspiration. Passion. Faith. With these sources of power, a true risk becomes easy to make. If and when we remember to believe in the risking itself, and not only outcomes.

A risk is a story. We need to protect our stories. Their true worth is not measured by intermediaries.

Intermediaries have far less power than they’d have us believe. It can become difficult to remember this, as they massage messaging and make promises or suggest futures that they have no real influence over.

They are struggling for survival as much as we are, if not more so. They likely feel just as frightened or desperate. And I pity them, somewhat, for that — because they aren’t dealing in pure stories. As a rule, they must mitigate risk. To do this, they must find, be shown, or invent evidence. We’ve seen, in this country, how badly that can backfire.

Whereas we, the storytellers, might find flashes of solace — in the knowledge that we are attempting true change.

This is part nineteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

Day 18: How to Decide What to Make Next

 

How to Decide What to Make Next

daily-quotes

 

For the past few months, I have been working hard on a script for a new film I’d like to make. In recent weeks, I hit a bit of wall with it.

To sum the main issue(s) up simply — the concept and story represent quite the tall order, in terms of development. It’s not that I don’t feel up to the task, it’s that I don’t know if I’m up to the task right now.

Maybe I’m just learning something all filmmakers begin to learn, once the first feature is out of the way.

I have the general framework of the next re-write built. When I think about moving forward, though, I get tired. I don’t know that I have what I need in the tank, right now, or enough space in my brain from day to day, to tackle a project that’s a bit heady and which, as a scifi piece, is going to require quite a bit of ground-up creative detail.

This has upset me a bit. But I believe I am starting to accept the circumstance.

Nothing prevents me from proceeding with this project at my own pace. At the same time, it could just be that it’s not “next”, as I had imagined or hoped it might be. Is there a chance that might change? Of course. But, in the meantime, we must keep moving.

I started tossing around another idea, for what to make next. It didn’t seem to quite fit, but I let the general parameters behind it ride, from day to day. I kept them in the back of my brain.

And then it happened — I ended up starting in on a new script. It’s different than the original new idea. It feels, as the one before, like it might be next. Again — that could of course change.

What doesn’t change is that I can still take my time. Independent filmmakers hold few advantages. Time can be one of them. How might I be feeling now if large sums of money were already committed to the first script I brought up in this discussion? Might I have tried to force it to work?

Perhaps. Then again, also, when there is money there tends to be more room to do things fully and steadily. I look forward to that day.

On the other hand, a lack of deadlines or resources can quickly lead to making excuses. I don’t worry about such stasis nearly as often as I used to — and I tend to think it’s a useful concern, these days — but I do think that it’s important to keep making work and to keep getting it out there, especially in today’s artistic/economic climate.

I wanted to share all this because I think I would have been feeling much more anxious if I hadn’t attempted patience, and instead of forcing the issue — tried to listen and to let go. That’s what allowed a new possibility to bloom.

I have to constantly remind myself of this. My long history with this sort of existential/career tension came up in the most recent episode of Coffee With Creatives.

I am not the steward of any one story. I’m a storyteller.

This is part eighteen of a thirty day trial, during which I am writing and publishing a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

Day 01: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 02: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 03: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 04: Circle Up and Laugh

Day 05: On The Future of Labor

Day 06: Appreciating Difficulty, Harnessing its Momentum

Day 07: The Word for World is Earth

Day 08: It’s About The Dreaming, Not The Dream

Day 09: Moments of Presence: CWC Interview (Writer Laura Goode)

Day 10: Simmering Little Wrath of The Annoyed Man

Day 11: Tragedy, Remembrance and Wonder

Day 12: A New Light Borrowed or Discovered

Day 13: Productivity Tips for Anyone Prone to Overwhelm (Like Me)

Day 14: Legitimately Va-goo

Day 15: Sex-Bleating and Cat Vomit

Day 16: The Waiting Place

Day 17: 6 Ways to Bring Balance to the (Artistic) Force

 

On The Future of Labor (Day 5 of 30)

This is part five of a thirty day trial, during which I am going to write and publish a post every day. No refunds. Comments welcome and encouraged!

What I love about film is that it combines physical work with mental/emotional work.
What I love about film — how it combines physical work with mental/emotional work. What I don’t love about it — how accurately the typical production (and general industry culture) often reflects American inequality.

Today is that day that was invariably going to come along, in regards to this project of posting here every day for the month on September. I’m not sure what to write about.

This make me slightly sad, because it’s Labor Day.

Am I glad to have a day off? Yes.

Am I proud to be an American worker? In a way, yes.

Do I celebrate the contributions of laborers more active and resilient than me? Yes.

Is one day enough, to make up for decades-long general trends that have made life more difficult for laborers, more complicated, even as those at the very top have continued to do very well for themselves?

No, I don’t think it is.

We live in strange times. It’s no secret that I’ve wondered at length about them, about what’s next, about where we’re headed, what it will look like. I think this is why I’ve gravitated back to science fiction, where I started as a young avid content consumer (reader).

What does a robotic future look like for labor? Likely, not great. Is anything going to stop automation from replacing manual work, in the real, tactile world? I don’t think so.

Given the choice, would we completely want to stop this from happening? I think that depends on who you are, and how you make a living.

Where is the line between accepting change and demanding your fair due, based on contributions of the past — that built the foundations of today? Do we still even respect legacy in this way?

I know the world is always changing, but it seems to be changing quickly, now.

Some of this change seems inevitable and, perhaps, ultimately helpful. Some of it seems short-sighted, greedy, or at least of the sort that could be checked, slowed, made to respect the potential or very real damage it can and does cause to human life and happiness at large.

I’m a knowledge worker, and a content creator, in today’s parlance. On the one hand, I am soothed by the fact that mine is a specialized skill-set. We’ll always need stories, and I’m a storyteller. I even believe I could be of use in the zombie apocalypse. Anyone who has survived past hour twelve on a film shoot would be of service in the zombie apocalypse.

But I do worry about these things, as I wonder about them.

I worry that there’s no turning back, or checking the rush of the tide of technological change, this time — if there ever was a way to do either of these things. I worry that as technology cheapens everything, we’re headed towards decay and dysfunction for the majority, in service of growth and ascension for the minority — of the increasingly other-worldly wealthy elite.

Labor Day is not meant, I don’t think, to be a day of remembrance. It’s supposed to celebrate the contributions of labor to our prosperity both then and now. This is still, of course, a worthy use of our time.

But I believe our workers, myself among them, deserve more. We deserve ongoing respect, both for what we do and what we endure, what we’ve done, and how those contributions have laid (continue to lay) the groundwork for future growth and prosperity.

A well-deserved day off is a good opportunity to rest. It can also be a good time to not only appreciate ourselves and our peers, but also to take some time to reflect.

We are all of us essentially equal — so says our social contract. I think it’s acceptable, if not crucial, that we not only celebrate labor’s role in securing today’s prosperity as well as tomorrow’s, but also question our role in that tomorrow, and how that role is influenced, diminished, or manipulated by those in control of both our livelihoods and our news.

Whether we like it or not, we may also have to think how we might both accept this reality and yet challenge its assumptions (and ours).

Change doesn’t only happen. We can also enact it. That’s the beautiful thing about working towards the future. We’ll never get there, but we can look back after a while and see where all the chasing after it has gotten us.

I guess I found something to write about.

Day 1: Struggles and Wonders and Dying in  Chair

Day 2: Fear, Panic, Identity and Anti-Focus

Day 3: Purple Sky of Towering Clouds Over a Far-off City

Day 4: Circle Up and Laugh

Dirty Roots: Coffee with Creatives Q&A Episode

I have tried to A your Qs...

As detailed in my previous post, this week’s episode of Coffee with Creatives is an experiment. It’s been busy lately, with The Confession and The Videoblogs both taking up a lot of my time. It wasn’t possible to prep an interview episode for this week. Still, it’s important to me to keep providing useful content on creative productivity.

So, here we are, instead. The idea for this Q&A-style episode came to me last weekend, when I received some questions about making short films on Twitter. After answering on YouTube at that time, I decided to try a Q&A episode of the podcast as well. I crowdsourced some additional questions over the week, and recorded my answers yesterday.

Both the audio from the YouTube video and my new recorded answers are included in the episode. Here are the questions that I tried to answer:

  • What’s the right length for a short film script? What genre should it be?
  • Does the creative mind ever stop and rest?
  • When writing a story, what would be your advice on how to show a trait or theme, as opposed to explaining the same to the audience?
  • How do you know when you’re being hypercritical or when you’re just not into a story anymore?
  • How do you get past the self-criticism phase of writing?
  • What is your process for creating a new story?

Please let me know if this sort of stuff is at all helpful, if I could do anything different, or if you have any follow-up questions.

Thanks for listening. If you’re enjoying the show, please consider making a small ongoing contribution to help me keep it going.

602066_10100681300095942_1773576913_n (2)Like my style? Subscribe to my list for advanced/exclusive (and free!) access to new (creative) content produced by yours truly. I send one email per month.

Are You Suffering from Script Head?

There's only one way to treat Script Head.
There’s only one way to treat Script Head.

Sent this to my email list earlier this week but thought it would also make a good blog post.

It started several weeks ago — a creeping anxiety that left me cranky, oft-distracted, and generally a little difficult to be around. I think it was easier for others to be around me, because these days I have good tools for ensuring things don’t get that bad. But — especially whilst walking around with myself — I was bothering me.

Of course, I obsessed over this a little bit. I thought and thought about what could be wrong. Tried on a few different reasons and excuses. None worked.

Then, eventually, it occurred to me that perhaps something was rattling around in my head, outside of my awareness. There was one idea that I had been toying with a bit, that seemed to be calling for attention but hadn’t yet quite formed into anything graspable.

Also, I was already working on something (a new short story, coming soon) and was determined to finish it before starting something else. You can’t grasp something that isn’t there yet, right?

Contrarily, though, you can’t stop some stories from asserting themselves, either.

Invariably, despite my plans, the something else broke out anyway. It happened once I stopped obsessing. Once I stopped working. It wasn’t until I acknowledged the weakness of my position (anxious without a clear path to reprieve) that I realized that the thing to do was to let go and focus on the mundane.

I did dishes. I ran a bath — yes, in the summer. I stayed off my phone, and away from other inputs.

That’s when the idea I had been batting around turned into “a thing”. I felt characters come to life within the thing. I scratched out notes until I felt I had a sense of who they were going to be, and what was going to happen to them. Later, it would dawn on me that, before all that, I had just been suffering from my latest case of Script Head.

That seems to be how it goes for me, lately. The good stuff arranges itself, on its own, as I go about my life. It comes out when it’s ready, then it asserts itself with discomfort. That’s okay. It was mild discomfort this time. I’m a more prepared and willing vessel than I used to be.

So I’ve started a new script. It feels special. Like an arrival at a place where I didn’t know I was headed over the past few years. I’m excited to write the first draft.

Stories are never more beautiful and perfect than when they begin to assert themselves towards their first form. What makes it onto the screen or the paper — even with that first draft — it doesn’t measure up to the feeling of being there for the genesis.

Handling raw story material truly is a privilege.

Coffee with Creatives: Boy Turns Into Dog

Edward_PomerantzEdward Pomerantz taught me screenwriting.

I took his workshop two or three times while working through the Creative Writing Program at Columbia University when I was there. Eddie helped me adapt my first published short story into what would become my first film, Over Easy. That film wouldn’t have been a success, and I may not have “caught the bug” after making it, if I didn’t spend an entire semester workshopping the adaptation with Eddie and my classmates. His passion for writing and, more than that, about authentic storytelling, is infectious. I was very glad that he agreed to come on the podcast.

This episode was a pleasure to record. Eddie has had a long and varied career as a screenwriter, novelist, playwright, and teacher. He also recently directed his first film, La Comida, which has so far played at four film festivals.

Topics we cover in the conversation include:

  • The necessity of having a clear reason for telling each story you sit down to write
  • The importance of only taking writing assignments you can make your own
  • The parallel importance of not looking down at an assignment that can be made your own with a little thought and consideration
  • Why Eddie believes Robert McKee ruined screenwriting
  • The differences between writing something and directing something
  • Listening to the needs of the story, rather than trying to force something to happen
  • “Keeping the ball in the air” as long and as effectively as possible
  • Bringing an element of danger into your work
  • And much, much more

Beatriz De La Cruz stars in La Comida, a funny and poignant short Written and Directed by Eddie.
Beatriz De La Cruz (La Comida)
It’s basically a crash course in how to leave it all on the table, in service of whatever it is that your story needs. I hope you like the interview.

Please feel free to drop a note in the comments if you have anything to add, or have any follow-up questions you’d like to ask.

You can find more about Eddie at his site: http://edwardpomerantz.com/.

Coffee with Creatives is also available on iTunes.

Reflections on Story

The script for my new project, the story of which, I hope, is just beginning.
The script for my new project, the story of which, I hope, is just beginning.

I want to talk about Story. Stories.

Stories have been on my mind lately. They’re always on my mind — I’ve always had a particular obsession with storytelling itself, as much as I have one with the act of it — but lately I’ve been reflecting upon what stories mean to me with a renewed focus, with redoubled vigor.

A few days ago, I wrote a note to myself:

Story is how I make sense of the world, and how some sense of the world is delivered to me.

At the time, I felt it was an important reflection. In retrospect, I recognize the words as some variation of an old mantra — one that readers might even recall from past posts here.

It doesn’t matter. Either way, I needed to deliver that message to myself. I still need to deliver it, perhaps every day.

Sometimes I try, uselessly, to fight reality. I try to convince myself that there are other important things to do. And there are, I suppose (eating, drinking, sleeping and…loving). But, for me, for better or worse, everything else — it all has to be part of The Story.

It gets dark, in my mind, when there’s just the noise and the flash of life filling the space there. I need to tell and experience stories — however they are defined, in whatever form — in order to stop myself from going crazy. I think, perhaps, in one form or another, we all need to do this. The danger, of course, is choosing the right stories to believe in and pursue.

There is also danger in denying the truth of our own stories, whatever they are. But as tempting as it may be, and however many of us may do this for long stretches and even entire lives — that truth, in the end, is irrefutable. We have authorship over the choices we make in life, that take us in whatever directions, down whichever paths. Every story invariably demands its day.

For all these reasons, I consider stories to be precious. Though I don’t mean by that they should also be stored behind glass, viewed from behind a rope.

I like my stories messy, a lot of the time. Some of the time I like them dirty. On occasion, I even like them to be confectionery. But, really, overall — I don’t much care.

Just give me something passionately told and fully considered. Give it to me in whatever form. Even within the narrative of my own life. I’ll take passion and thoughtfulness, every day, over the fear and the panic of the unknown.

I fucking love stories. I live for stories.

Don’t we all, when you really think about it?

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