Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In lieu of a real post...

I've got a freelance gig this week. Between that, revising a play and my MEDIUM spec, I've been too busy to blog.

But I've been thinking about theatre a lot lately, especially since I'm certain I won't find a staff job on a TV show this season based what I understand of the hiring cycles.

Until I can get my thoughts together for a real post later in the week, I thought I'd "share" these ads I wrote a billion years ago for my theatre company in SF. They ran in a Fringe Festival program for less than $200. (Proof that not all marketing has to cost an arm and a leg.)

Though the ads sold no "specific show", it generated interest. Our summer short play festival was packed from opening to closing.

I "stole" the "Lights come up..." line from my friend Kurt Bodden.

Nachi Sanchez art directed.

The theatre company was called The Iron Workers Local 202 Theatre Company. There were three founders, myself, Cameron Galloway and Eric Schniewind (who now writes for Killing My Lobster). Our mission stated that we were "devoted to producing Bay Area Playwrights" since nobody else seemed to be doing that, despite there being "no paucity" of talent there.

We mostly worked out of the EXIT on Eddy Street.

It was a good time.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Blog Roll - The Internet equivalent of your high school lunch table

Let's face it. Who you were in high school was defined as much by what you did and how you dressed as who you sat with - at lunch.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMNONT HIGH certainly made that clear. The Dorks sat at the Dork table. The Jocks at the Jock table. Preps with Preps. Freaks with Freaks... and so on.

Today, this high school mentality is mirrored in the blog roll. It says, I read these people. I look at these pages fairly regualarly. And, most importantly, look at me and my cool friends.

It's quite natural. But it's also interesting since people make a big deal of updating their list of friends. Those who get on are given special status. Do those who don't make it continue to buzz around with trays of grilled cheese sandwiches looking for a place to sit? The recent need for a "blogroll amnesty day" (thank you Mr. Excitement) suggests they do. Afterall, why else devote a day to remove names from the rolls without feeling guilty? You wouldn't if feelings couldn't get bruised by such things.

Some people are very persnickety about who's on their list.

Some people aren't.

Some lists are made early in a blog's life and then forgotten about. Links that linger and ossify long past their expiration date.

I imagine there will be books about the history of the blog that go into the social and intellectual implications of this phenomenon.

But for now, in the theatre world, looking at these rolls, you also get an idea of what theatre cliques people belong to. Because who is not on that list says as much about a particular blogger's tastes and attitude as who is.

Just like the school lunch table.

My policy is simple. I try to put people on my blog when:

They comment on my blog.
They put me on their blog roll.
I read their blog and think it's interesting.
I know you and I discover you have a blog.
I find a blog that I feel has particular relevance to the idea behind my blog (working and finding my place as a writer in the United States with a more than strong interest in theatre).

I remove you from the roll if it looks to me like you've stopped posting.

Or you send me an email that says you don't want to be friends with a dork like me anymore.


EDIT: Interestingly, I've also noticed that I often navigate to other pages/blogs through my own blog roll but rarely use other people's blog rolls to get around. I suspect I am not alone in this.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Everybody's problably read this already, but maybe we should all reread it anyway

I watch football with a friend who suggested I pick it up.

It's frighteningly direct. And strikes me as frighteningly right.

At one point, he asks us to imagine a world where it's believed - on faith - that certain films were made by God. Or that Windows 98 was the word of God in code form, written with Divine inspiration.

Preposterous? Why is it any crazier than believing - on faith - that the Bible was written the same way and should be taken as the Word of God?

Here's an excerpt from early in the book where he attacks "religious moderates".

"...While moderation in religion may seem a reasonable position to stake out, in light of all that we have (and have not) learned about the universe, it offers no bulwark against religious extremism and religious violence. From the perspective of those seeking to live by the letter of the texts, the religious moderate is nothing more than a failed fundamentalist. He is, in all likelihood, going to wind up in hell with the rest of the unbelievers. The problem that religious moderation poses for all of us is that it does not permit anything very critical to be said about religious literalism. We cannot say that fundamentalists are crazy, because they are merely practicing their freedom of belief; we cannot even say that they are mistaken in religious terms, because their knowledge of scripture is generally unrivaled. All we can say, as religious moderates, is that we don’t like the personal and social costs that a full embrace of scripture imposes on us. This is not a new form of faith, or even a new species of scriptural exegesis; it is simply a capitulation to a variety of all-too-human interests that have nothing, in principle, to do with God. Religious moderation is the product of secular knowledge and scriptural ignorance—and it has no bona fides, in religious terms, to put it on a par with fundamentalism. The texts themselves are unequivocal: they are perfect in all their parts. By their light, religious moderation appears to be nothing more than an unwillingness to fully submit to God’s law. By failing to live by the letter of the texts, while tolerating the irrationality of those who do, religious moderates betray faith and reason equally. Unless the core dogmas of faith are called into question—i.e., that we know there is a God, and that we know what he wants from us—religious moderation will do nothing to lead us out of the wilderness...."

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Last week, I had the pleasure of watching my friend and ex-roommate - Adam Szymkowicz - have a successful reading at South Coast Rep.

I mean, really, it couldn't have gone better. The audience ate up his play like a kid eats up candy.

I felt good because it was a good thing for him - plus, South Coast flew him out so I got to see him. (We've been missing each other in New York the last few times I've been out there.)

However, I couldn't help but feel a little jealous.

Which is somewhat crazy since I not only love Adam's work, but I've personnally tried to get his work read everywhere I've been as a reader.

Still, it got me thinking about the pig farmer who starts with 2 pigs and 10 years later finds himself the owner of 200 hundred pigs. He is unhappy, however, all the time. His wife asks him why, since his stock has gone up 100 fold. He replies, because our neighbor has 400 pigs. Would it make you happy, she inquires, if he had the same number as you? He answers: Only if they were all dead.

Obviously, artistic jealousy is absurd. You do what you do because you're crazy inspired. Because the work you're doing calls for you to do it this way, not that. Accomplishments can't be measured apples to apples. "Good" is subjective. "Better" even moreso. "Bad" is a judgment that really doesn't help make anything clearer.

But while I'd love to be as noble as those thoughts, I'm afraid I'm not as often as I'd like to be.

Which is why, for my part, when this kind of thing comes up, I try to remind myself of those simple artistic principles. And that nothing I have done has been based on what I deserved, but rather what was given to me - usually as a surprise to my best plans.

What do others do?
In advertising - an often cutthroat business - this problem is dealt with head on. So, for instance, when someone you know wins an award, you look at the piece that won it for them and you say - out loud and to someone else - "I don't know. Is that really good? I mean, I could've thought of that. In fact, a couple of years ago, I did. I just don't have a good client like that. Fucking asshole, got lucky. His partner probably did it all."

You only get back to healthiness when you get back to work.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


While it snowed and sleeted in the Northeast, this is what I was doing with my wife in California.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Agent Thing - Again

Ken Levine (his link is in the margin) posted about the absurdity of finding an agent for a play he wrote.

Mr. Excitement (a link is also in the margin) posted a response.

I've been pretty vocal in both places about it, but rather than post more about the subject, I thought I'd just offer links to my previous agent entries.

Here's where you'll find my experience with a Hollywood agent. It was - overall - a good one.

Here's where you'll find my take on theatre agents - as I've known them so far.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Super Sunday Follow-up

A commenter on my Anna Nicole Smith spot (he also did not find it funny) reminded me that I'd promised to point out which of the Super Bowl spots I did some very very peripheral work for.

My reply to "eric" is below - with some simple revisions to the original (which you can see in the ANS spot comment section).


Here's where you can find the Super Bowl spot:

John Hage (writer) and Bernie O'Dowd (art director) at Deutsch/LA came up with it. I have to say I liked it from the first time I saw it - which was in a rough cut two Fridays before the Super Bowl. It's a very good spot in my opinion.

It didn't get a lot of talk, but all of the talk it got was positive. And it was one of the higher scoring spots with regular people too.

Unfortunately, I've heard through the grapevine that there was one major complainer. NAMI (National Assoc for Mental Illness) thought that the spot made lite of suicidal ideation. GM - after a few days - decided to alter the spot to soften this. I haven't seen the remake.

Knowing the people at Deutsch, I'm sure it'll be good, too.

The thing I worked on (guided/oversaw might be better words) was a "movie trailer" for the spot. It was to be used on the Internet to "tease" people into looking for the spot when it ran on the game and, then, after the game to get those who hadn't seen it yet to watch the full 60 second spot elsewhere.

I found the trailer as recently as early last week on YouTube. It has since been removed from that YouTube page - presumably because of the above NAMI controversy.

It was more or less a cut down of the 60 with a Don Lafontaine-like VO along the lines of "See what happens when everything you once loved is suddenly taken away. And you're a robot."

It had a melodramatic flair that matched the emotional tenor of the original - though there had been a version of the spot that was also funny that made it look like one of those ridiculous action adventure stories of a Robot driven to madness when everything he ever lived for turned into a nightmare.

This is a snap I took of the Robot in the Deutsch/LA lobby the week before the game. It took several puppeteers to animate it.

Very cool.

ps. the Bernie O'Dowd mentioned here is, indeed, the skateboard guy. I knew nothing about him before sharing an office with him, but apparently he was quite well known at one time. Google his name and you'll see.

EDIT: Here's where you'll find the Robot spot with the new ending.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I am sleepy

The whole day was spent worrying about finishing a script to send to an agent by the end of the week.

The whole day.

This meant I was isolated from my wife the entire time and now she's asleep.

I should've gone to a meeting today.

And spent less time worrying about things I have no control over.

Let's start again, tomorrow.

Friday, February 09, 2007

My Anna Nicole Smith ad

Done just after she won the first round of the lawsuit over the money her ex-husband left her.

I have always hated it - not because Anna was bad, but because I never found it funny. However, my art director at the time had come up with it and would not let it go. There were many fights over how to improve the ads - but I lost them all. Even the ones with the client where I tried to tell them the campaign would not be effective in generating calls without major revisions and a new media plan. (Media departments at most agencies drive creative - this is what has happened in the last 10 years and it is bad: It leads to irrelevant messages in places that are even more irrelevant. Ugh.)

Interestingly, I never thought I'd actually have to shoot the ad because while the client had bought the idea of celebrities applying - but discovering they're not qualified - for jobs at 21st Century Insurance, nobody wanted to do it for the money they were offering.

Then Anna said yes.

Turned out she was the cheapest of the three celebs we used (the others were Alice Cooper and Randy "macho man" Savage).

The day before the shoot I thought I'd get a reprieve from it when Anna broke her arm in a "weight lifting accident" and tried postpone the shoot.

The client played hardball and she came out to fulfill her contract.

The producer said Nicole asked for Crystall and Godiva Chocolates in her trailer. She stayed in Santa Monica under the name Norma Jean.

Yeah. Norma. Jean.

She never came out of character. But she was completely professional at all times. Even when the client made her try on shirts though she was clearly in pain from the arm injury which turned out to be real.

I will also say this about her: In person, she appeared to be nothing more than a big boned Texas woman with a lot of make up, but something different happened under the lights in the camera's eye. She seemed to radiate. I've seen a few actors since who do this - appearing rather normal in rehearsals or auditions, but becoming incandescent in front of an audience - but this was the first time I ever experienced it.

It is a very special thing for which there is no real explanation.

I have a picture of me and her together on the set somewhere but I can't find it right now.

As I've already said, I never liked the ad - strategically it was wrong for the company - and entertainment-wise it wasn't funny (there'd been arm wrestling). Plus, I never like creative driven by celebrities - always seems like a cop out to me. But everyone was too busy trying to have a story to tell their golf buddies over a round of 18 holes to care.

Ultimately, it didn't matter. The ad was pulled after one weekend because it didn't create enough calls.

Over a $1,000,000 was wasted on this effort.

The TV Spec Script: 4 - If painting by numbers doesn't make great art, what makes anyone think writing by numbers will work any better?

Are you writing a 4 act or a 5 act?

Does your show have 35 scenes per hour? Or 48?

How many times does your main character talk?

How many pages does your script have?

Does yours have too many? Or too few?

THESE are just a few of the questions you are told to ask as you sit down to write a spec script for TV. They're similar for movies.

But since writing a television spec is about showing you know how to do it, these questions are emphasized over and over.

Of course, this nonsense is akin to saying that because you've written a poem in perfect iambic pentameter in 3 quatrains and a couplet (abab, cdcd, efef, gg), you've written a good sonnet.

It's all part of the anyone-can-do-it myth that's grown up around an auto-pilot, mass manufactured world of entertainment.

I blame Syd Field for doing this first (though I'm sure he was not the first) and JAWS for making it seem like the only way to get people to spend money on a story. The misuse/overuse of Joseph Campbell's ideas hasn't helped either.

The combination has, at its worst, led to dull, predictable emotional and action tropes.

It's lazy storytelling and, worse, it's led to an even lazier "teaching of storytelling".

I say this because it seems rather than tell someone, "Hey, you know, this script doesn't have a strong idea" or "Go back and figure out what this character is interested in emotionally" people are told to watch shows and make hash marks every time there's a cut to a new scene.

Other, less numerical, but just as mindless tidbits are often shared.

Things like, "don't use 'is' and 'was'" and "make more stuff happen" and "think of your story like a mountain range with valleys and peaks" and, my favorite, "no scene in a movie should ever be longer than a half page".

Does anyone else find this annoying?

All I can say is, thank god Sam Shepard didn't write True West, Buried Child, Curse of the Starving Class, Fool for Love or Lie of the Mind this way. And thank god Fornes didn't give a shit that Mud is too short for a "real evening of theatre".

In fact, thank god for theatre in all its baffling, unwieldy beauty.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A prediction that came true... except for the tropical part

In August we drove up 1 along the Oregon coast. Along the way, we got into some kind of bickering thing and when we pulled over, my co-dependent self wanted to make up for everything and get back on track.

My extroverted self decided to record it.

And then I made a prediction about conceiving a child.

For some reason I thought it would happen in November.

I also thought it would happen while we were on a honeymoon that we hadn't taken and that we still haven't taken (for financial reasons, mostly).

As you know, I was wrong about one of those predictions.

But what I'm really wondering is: Does anybody in the blog world actually watch these posted videos?

ps. this video is only 50 seconds long.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Something to write for: The Coppola Theory

There’s a theory about art and artists.

Kids get in the way.

They take up time. They take up energy. They take up money. They change your life focus.

Then there’s another theory. I’ll call it the Coppola Theory because he’s the first one I ever heard make it.

And that’s that kids make you better. Faster. More urgent.


When my wife and I got married a year ago, we knew we wanted to have kids. However, we were both still working and, because our jobs had us separated on a temporary basis, we weren’t in a hurry to get going (plus, you try getting pregnant with 3,000 miles between you).

Naturally, as we planned to move to LA, we hoped that by finally living in the same place we’d be able to start the family we’d always talked about – but even then, we were cautious.

We were both going to need jobs. And a place to live. And cars. And… well, you get the point.

Plus, I really wanted to take a stab at film and TV, which meant breaking into a new field from my bread and butter career: advertising.

But I was certain I’d find work. And all the rest would follow quickly.

Then I moved. And work was not easy to find. And it was more expensive than I thought. And then there was the housing problem – which I’ve already blogged about.

Things came to a head the weekend in November when Heather came down from Ashland to look for a place with me. It was a tough couple of days for us. I was particularly down since my worst employment fears were being recognized. And she was upset by the lack of livable housing that we seemed to be confronting.

The subject of kids and starting a family came up when one potential landlord (who is now our landlord) asked us if we were planning to have a baby anytime soon.

I didn’t hesitate.

“Oh, god, no,” I said flippantly. “We have other things to do first. Like a find jobs, a place to live. Stuff like that.”

Heather brought up my response later that evening. Apparently she was worried that we were not on the same page.

I backpedaled.

“What I meant, was, uh, that right now, in the immediate moment, while I don’t have a job and it doesn’t look like I’m going to sell a screenplay or get a staff job on a TV show anytime soon, and well, the ad agencies don’t seem like they need help, well, I don’t think it would be a great time to have kids, cuz, you know, well, uh, do you think it would be good?”

A very very very long conversation ensued.

And, of course, we, uh, well, you know what we did.

About a week and a half later, I got the call that landed us the address at Sunset. And the same morning, an invitation from Clubbed Thumb to go to New York and work on my play, Beyond the Owing – about two people struggling as artists under huge grad school debt.

All this made me happy and so I went up to Ashland to celebrate Thanksgiving and then to NYC to workshop my play.

And, boy, was the workshop intense. In fact, I was quite worried that I was going to embarrass myself if I didn’t write better faster when I got call one night from Heather that started: “I have to tell you something…”

Now, I don’t know what it has felt like for others when they were told they were going to be a parent, but me, well, there was a little thing that started at the top of my head and shot down through me like a field of soothing electricity and there I was born all over again myself right there in a studio apartment overlooking West 43rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues.

I mean, I was like, Shit. Happy happy happy shit, but Shit.

I don’t know how long it took me to stop smiling (though my wife claims that I went back to my dramaturgical issues within 10 minutes), but I do know I felt there could be no greater event, no more positive a thing than being told I was going to be a dad.

Until my first sonogram, that is. (The above is the second, most recent sonogram.) I watched in disbelief as a doctor pushed and poked my wife’s flat belly looking for something that could, potentially, some day be a child but for now would look like a grey pea. It was a miracle perhaps that the doctor could find it – but when she did, well, the look on my wife’s face was maybe the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

Part wonder, part fear, part joy, part love, part true amazement.

On arriving in LA, two friends who’d had a child only a few weeks before recommended a doctor in Beverly Hills and I got another look at that expression.

Only this time, it came with a heartbeat.

(There was also some prodding and poking required that I had to turn my head from since, if I was looking, I’d have had to have kicked the doctor’s ass but good. After all, here’s only so much a man will let another man do to his wife before such displays of macho-ness are required, regardless of the medical degree from Stanford.)

I’m pretty sure the doctor turned the volume up real high, but even without that, I think the Notre Dame marching band drummers couldn’t compete.

We’re due in August.

And despite all I’ve written here, it still hasn’t quite sunk in. (I told my wife this weekend something like, “When the baby arrives in 9 months we’ll – “ and she interrupted me to point out that it would only be 6 months. Doh!) But I’m reading books, er, well, a book and asking about prenatal vitamins and thinking about my job search in a totally different way.

But I’m still a writer.

And now, to all the other changes in my life over the last few months, I have another thing to prove with words.

That I can be good enough with them to make a good life for someone I’ve never met yet, but who I’m completely and totally responsible for.

Which makes me a Coppola Theory acolyte.


This photo was taken 24 hours after H told me I would be a father.