Sometimes when you’re going through the stages of grief, you don’t even realize it. Which is nice. It’s like dozing off on a long flight and waking up at the end. You don’t want to be conscious of the entire trip. That’s brutal. As I reach the end of this most recent flight of events, I’m relieved it’s coming to an end.
“How long have you been doing this?” I dread when I’m asked some form of that question. Do I gloss it over or do I go into it? I’m never sure.
In the summer of 2004, I was on my way to grad school for film at Chapman University. I had sent my security deposit, had my classes assigned, and was planning my move from Phoenix, Arizona. But before I left, I was working a summer job that required a road trip to Albuquerque. Then things changed.
There was an accident. A blown tire. Our van rolled a couple of times. I didn’t walk away unscathed. Shattered 1st metacarpal, chipped elbow, fractured scapula, and a broken neck were the largest issues.
While in the hospital, they wanted to operate to fix my thumb. I was hesitant but agreed. That morning, not one, but two IV’s popped out. I took it as a sign and decided to wait until I was back in Phoenix to have the surgery.
When I returned to Phoenix, I found out that my neck injury wasn’t just a hairline fracture, it had slipped in such a way that the x-ray didn’t look pretty. Had I gone through with the thumb surgery earlier, the anesthesia tube probably would’ve hit the spinal fracture and paralyzed me.
I had a spinal fusion surgery to fix my neck and then a surgery to put a couple of pins in my hand to fix my thumb a few days later. Undeterred, I still thought I could make it to Chapman. It was August and I was going to be in a neck brace and cast through October. Since I couldn’t drive, I looked up bus routes to see if it would be possible. Then I had a follow up appointment for my neck surgery. I had an infection in the repaired area. It was so bad I needed another surgery to clean it out and make sure the instrumentation hadn’t also been infected. That would’ve caused major issues. I was stuck in the hospital for the next several days fighting off a fever. I made it through okay, but it meant more time in the next brace and required me to take it easy, stay indoors, and rest. No school for me.
After the cast came off my hand and the brace came off my neck, I had several weeks of physical therapy. I couldn’t lift more than a gallon of milk for a year. I couldn’t walk for very long without my neck starting to hurt at first, but I kept at it. By the time I made my way back to California the following year, the money I had saved up was gone, I had no car, and no money. I crashed on a friend’s couch and in Violet’s dorm. I worked at a Seattle’s Best inside a Border’s, which helped me regain some physical strength. I’d hide in the back and sit on a crate when I could because standing for an entire shift was exhausting and painful.
By the end of that year, Violet and I found a place and jobs. A year after the surgery, I received the all clear to resume all normal activities, except for riding a motorcycle or playing football. Not that I ever did either of those. It took a while to start digging out of the financial hole I had been in because of the accident. Two years after the accident, I should’ve been graduating. Nevertheless I was happy to be at a point where I finally had a life returned to normal.
I kept writing during this time. Writing actually helped me through a lot of it. But the film industry seemed miles away. I slowly crept my way back into it though, PA’ing on a couple of sets, joining NALIP, and then finally shooting a short in 2007. I worked my way up to Production Coordinator and UPM on a couple of small projects while focusing on writing. Then I grew tired of waiting for my projects to get made as a writer and that’s what led to initial creation of the Chutes & Ladders web series.
There’s a balancing act done for the sake of sanity between chance and fate. What an awful, unfeeling world we live in when we win lottery level odds to a bad situation. But fate is different. Maybe things happen for a reason. I renewed my relationship with some family members and old friends and strengthened it with others. It strengthened an already strong drive and gave me a fresh perspective to appreciate the moment. Who would I have been if it hadn’t happened? Would that me be a weaker person? Who knows.
That’s where Chutes comes in. It’s about the choices we make when we don’t think we have a choice. A man from the future has a collection of photos that reveal his fate as well as the fate of others. No matter what he does, the events in the photos happen. How long would you fight that before giving in? What does it say about your character if your actions are already written? When seemingly little events happen to Alex and Olivia that put them on a course with Vikram, is that fate? A lot of little events have to fall into place for a big one to happen. You can go crazy playing those events over and over in your head and feel helpless to them. But that doesn’t mean you’re not in control of your actions. What happens when Alex and Olivia decide they want to take control, photos be damned? What can change and what can’t? That’s what drives Chutes.
The same forces are playing out right now in our Kickstarter campaign. So many little events that lined up against us, our own actions included. A lot to be learned. Are we going to shrug our shoulders and call it a day? Or are we going to look back at all of the little events, good and bad, that led to the creation of a movie? Things can happen for a reason when you make them. Right now, this can be the story of how a project died, or it can be one of how a project overcame challenges to succeed. In hindsight, one way or another, it will look like those events were meant to be.
Maybe the universe deals the cards. And maybe they’re the house that, in the end, always wins. But regardless of the hand you’re dealt, you control how you play it. You can be dealt pocket kings and blow it. You can bluff your way to a huge pot with a 2 and a 5. But you get to decide how to play those cards, and how to make the most of them, if you so choose.
We put a lot of planning and preparation into our campaign. But it’s hard to know exactly what you’re up against in a crowdfunding campaign until you’re actually in the middle of it. People often say there aren’t enough hours in the day, but it’s incredibly frustrating to literally not have enough hours – to watch one day end and the other begin while still trying to fit in work for two jobs.While we had some setbacks, such as getting sick, or the emotional blow and physical limitations of Violet’s broken foot, there are a lot of people that I’m sure have cleared greater hurdles on their way to a successful crowdfunding campaign than the ones we have faced.
The general trend with Kickstarter is that people either make just enough to hit their goal, or make hardly anything at all. There’s not really many in between that. I think that’s because people who don’t hit their goal either A)Don’t understand crowdfunding and leave their campaign page for dead the moment they launch it, or B)Recognize the overwhelming odds against them hitting their goal at a certain point and cancel the campaign.
We learned quickly to narrow the focus of our audience and in hindsight I wish we had done so in our original pitch script. We’re falling short because we either haven’t reached our target audience outside our network, or our project isn’t resonating with them. Or both. Hopefully not both. But we think there’s a lot of headway to make into reaching potential audience and there’s still time to do that. We also haven’t made a dent into our 2nd degree of contacts. Friends of friends aren’t backers. We have a lot of likes and I’m hopeful that we can make a case to convert them to backers in the time that remains while we continue to reach new people. On the bright side, there are a lot more “wow, he/she is a backer? That’s awesome” cases than there are, “I can’t believe he/she hasn’t backed yet,” ones.
When I was in high school, I went on a ski trip during Christmas break. It was only my second time skiing, so while I picked it up pretty quickly, I was still very much a beginner. But I just had to try some black diamond moguls. I was in over my head on the course, and to make it worse, it was right below one of the ski lifts. I wrecked every few moguls the entire way down that course. It was painful. But I was determined to finish that course, and in the end I did. And maybe if I had waited until I was a more experience skier, I would’ve left my first mogul course with fewer bumps and bruises. But if you’re going to advance, you have to dive in sooner or later. It would’ve been easy to take off my skis and walk down the mountain, conceding defeat. That’s not me though.
When you dive in, you might get laughed at. You might get hurt. You’ll probably fail. It shouldn’t matter. You keep going until the end of the course. I do. I’ll see you at our finish line on Friday, November 2nd. Battered and beaten, but successful.
Blogs are a difficult thing. One minute, you’re in a groove, getting in a couple posts a week. Then you miss a week. Then another. Then a month goes by and you wonder how you ever possibly managed to find the time to blog so regularly. It’s the same as going to the gym regularly. It’s easy to let it slip and it’s tough to get into consistent habits once you have slipped. This post is my attempt to start creating good blogging habits again.
Each year, I like to take a look back at how I did with my New Year’s resolutions and then set new ones for the coming year. Last year was a tough year. I wanted to call it the “Year of Rejection” last January. I was going to put myself out there, with the thought being going through a lot of “no’s” to get to a “yes” in regards to my work. I think the more appropriate title for 2010 was the “Year of Blink and You’ll Miss It.” 2010 flew by, and not in a great way. There were some positives, but it was a challenging year that required taking a step back to really see where I wanted to go with my work.
I had a few goals for the year. Let’s see how I did:
- I will submit to as many publications as possible to get a short story published.
Result: My short story writing fell apart by February. There was just too much going on. I started off the year working 2 part-time jobs, 1 job with a startup, and writing when I could. My only source of income was from one of the part-time positions. I finished the year with a full-time office position. No time for all the writing I wanted, sadly.
- I will apply to at least 5 different writing fellowships or workshops
Result: I only applied to one.
- I will apply to screenwriting contests
Result: I applied to one and was rejected, but received pretty positive feedback.
- I will apply to filmmaking fellowships and contests
Result: I applied to one and was rejected. The main reason I applied to so few was because of two reasons – lack of application fee money and lack of new material.
- I will send out query letters to at least 50 agents and managers
Result: The worst thing that can happen to a writing career on the verge of beginning is to get a nibble on a script. I got a couple nibbles throughout the year. Instead of reaching out on my own to get an agent or manager, it felt like these nibbles were going to do the work for me. Granted, one of those nibbles led to an option of Monsoon, which I’m very excited about. However, the lesson I learned last year is that the moment it seems like something is going to happen is the moment you need to work twice as hard as if it’s not.
- I will join a writers group
Result: I did not join a writer’s group for two reasons – some of them cost money, and I had none, and some of them I wanted to attend were full, so I couldn’t get in. I did join the South Bay Filmmakers Meetup Group though, and finally made it to a meeting this month.
- I will scratch, claw, and fight my way to getting Monsoon funded using as many creative funding techniques as possible (and good old fashioned, “asking everyone I know to pitch in” methods as well)
Result: The nibbles strike again. There was interest in an international adaptation and I sat on that longer than I should have. Then a wonderful thing happened and a producer really loved the script. He even wants to make it. Crazy. Monsoon is my baby all grown up and I’m comfortable letting it go. I’ll find another project to make my own this year and I am very excited about Monsoon getting made.
Once I started up with an office job again, the year flew by. There are moments when I feel I let it all go to waste. Then I remember that the only reason it flew by is because so much was going on. I finished a TV drama spec. I co-wrote a TV comedy spec. I wrote a web series. I outlined and started work on Tulsea Pictures’ first indie feature. There’s a lot to be proud of, despite the challenges.
New year now, so new resolutions. Here’s my 2011 resolutions:
- Engage more. In person and online. Go to more networking events, and TALK TO PEOPLE. Use twitter as more than a place to re-tweet. Rule #1 of 2011 is to engage.
- Comment on blogs and in forums. This sounds simple, but I always lurk rather than make my presence known. I find a lot of great articles and writing online, but rarely take the time to give kudos for the writing, or offer my opinion on an article. Rule #2 of 2011 is to comment.
- Make the time. There’s not enough time in the day to do everything I’d like to do. There is room to prioritize though. I need to cut back on frivolous TV and iPhone games if I want to get in some short story writing and reading in addition to writing scripts. Rule #3 of 2011 is to make the time.
- Enjoy the moment. It’s so easy to get caught up in counting down the hours until I’m out of the office. It’s easy to put things on a calendar for the following week and then overlook everything that happens in between. Last year flew by because I was more focused on crossing things off a checklist than I was on truly enjoying them. No more. Rule #4 of 2011 is to enjoy the moment.
There’s only four resolutions, but they’re going to each require some effort. I’d like to build on the learning experience of last year and really capitalize on real opportunities that are finally so close. I hope it’s a fun year.
Moving sucks. The cost to pay people to move all your junk (a lot of which should’ve been thrown away years ago) far outweighs the savings of doing it yourself. If only I had the money. Sadly though, I didn’t. So we moved, for the third time in three years.
When we left a place we really loved in Redondo Beach back in 2008, we moved everything into storage. That’s easy, you throw everything into boxes and you’re done. Violet lived with Britt and Andrew for three months and I spent time in Phoenix, Santa Fe, and couches (rough time, long story, involved a three month job in Vancouver that fell through).
We found our new place in West LA and only had to transfer big boxes out of storage to the new place. A year later, we moved from a one bedroom, to a two bedroom two doors over. That didn’t even require packing. We mostly just carried things here and there over the course of a week.
So we may have done a lot of moving, but it was never really “moving”. Until this recent move, we never had to load up, unload, pack, and unpack, all at once. It’s exhausting.
West LA was never our style. It’s crowded, loud, and expensive. Moving back to South Bay was always in the back of our minds as Violet was finishing up at Pepperdine. When our plan of moving somewhere new, like New York or San Francisco didn’t happen, we knew we were still moving.
A move allows a chance to make a fresh start. Unpacking allowed me a chance to go through reminders of road bumps overcome along the way:
- My acceptance letter to the Chapman School of Film and Television for 2004, and provisional acceptance for 2005, neither of which I was able to accept.
- Bottle of anxiety medicine to help me sleep post-accident back in 2004. I saved the last pill to prove to myself that I didn’t need it.
- My 8th grade short story assignment – 3 pages were required and I turned in a 20 page story.
- The first chapter of two other stories I started as a freshman in high school.
Strangely reassuring to see little mementos I saved to remind me of my passion and motivate me to get healthy. Strange too to see snippets of my writing style so early in the few pieces I did when I was young. A little sad that I stopped writing altogether after those unfinished stories until five years later when I realized economics wasn’t for me.
Now that the new place is unpacked and livable, I’ve realized I don’t need to save everything. The writing samples are fun, but the painful motivators are no longer necessary. I read a quote earlier today, from a screenwriting motivation blog:
“Finishing unfinished business casts us into the next phase of our lives.”
A new place let’s me do that. A few letters to send out, a few things to throw away, a new phase to start. It’s good to be home.
There’s a couple quotes floating around about what to shoot for, but I find it best to stick with the original:
“If you shoot for the stars and hit the moon, it’s ok. But you’ve got to shoot for something. A lot of people don’t even shoot.”
This quote is saying that if you aim as high as possible, you can still end up hitting something pretty big. The other version is:
“Shoot for the moon and if you miss you will still be among the stars.”
This one is saying to aim for something big and far (but not the biggest or furthest) and you’re bound to hit something large.
The original gives a sense of having a plan, the other sounds like throwing ideas out hoping to strike it rich. So it should be no surprise that the original comes from Confucius and the latter comes from a motivational speaker. When you aim as big as you can, you can hit nice big things along the way, but if you aim big, hoping to hit anything and become a star, then you’re bound for failure. You have to have a plan, especially when you have big goals.
Don’t expect one swing of the bat to get you there
There’s nothing wrong with singles. So don’t step up to your first major league at bat, or even your first AAA at bat for that matter, thinking that all it will take is one swing to hit the longest shot out of a stadium. You’re not going to write the most epic script ever your first time opening Final Draft. You’re probably not going to make the highest grossing film of all time in your first attempt.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t expect a home run. But even if you do, hitting a single home run doesn’t guarantee you a spot in the Hall of Fame. Maybe that night’s highlight reel, but not much else until you produce over many seasons.
My point is, you can’t swing for the fences from the start without appreciating the ability to get a lucky slap single, hit a nice double to the gap, or even be the ultimate team player and take a sacrifice. If you think all or nothing, you’re likely going to end up with nothing.
Know what it takes to have a successful swing
Worse than going for nothing short of a long bomb is doing so without knowing how to swing a bat. You can’t assume that just by reading up on how to swing a bat means you know what you’re doing. This is true even if you think all the other players are swinging it wrong. They’ve still spent countless hours taking batting practice. Sure the theory of your swing may be genuis, but you won’t know until you take a couple of live pitches. When you stand in that batter’s box for the first time, don’t lower your expectations, but respect what it takes to simply get a hit.
There’s no shortcut to the moon.
It’s a long way up there. Further even to the stars. Moving away from baseball analogies and into NASA, think about it this way: we can’t get the stars until we get out of our solar system. We can’t get to Mars until we can comfortably get to the moon. And we couldn’t get to the moon until we could make it out of orbit. There’s a path to greatness. Yes, you should aim for the targets way out there, but have a plan for the steps along the way.
Shooting for the stars doesn’t mean you take one giant whiff after another. It means you have a plan to lofty goals. You need to have the guts to take the chance, but you also have accept that it’s a long process. That’s why it’s not so bad to wind up hitting the moon, when you realize how far away it truly is.
Well, you don’t have to be your job, if you don’t want to. A few months back, I was speaking to a friend who had recently been laid off. Here’s how the conversation went down:
Him: “So how’s it going?”
Me: “Well, I have a job.”
Aaaaand, cringe. Only I didn’t mean it to be rude. It was a sigh of resignation because I had recently returned to a “day job”. The way I meant it was that things weren’t going so hot for the stuff I truly had a passion for. It was one of those moments where I wished I could hit “undo” on the words coming out of my mouth. (side note: my friend is brilliant and has since found a job that is not only better than his previous one, but he found the time to do some amazing writing work and come up with a great concept for a new feature during his time between jobs.)
Being a creative person who needs a day job to make ends meet is tough. Too often, we are labeled by the positions we have. We allow it to define us. But that’s not fair. I can still call myself a writer, even if the only time I’m writing is when I stay up late, get up early, and spend weekend afternoons struggling to get in writing time because I have to work 40 hours a week in a completely unrelated field.
Many times I would doubt myself. I’d hesitate to refer to myself as a filmmaker or a writer because I didn’t feel I had “made it” yet. That is backwards thinking. You don’t need an external measure to decide who you are and what you do. I write, so I’m a writer. I make films, I’m a filmmaker. I recruit financial advisors (which I do well and don’t mind), so I’m also a recruiter. And that’s not the end of the world.
Even if the job you have is your dream job, you eat, sleep, and dream it through other actions. If all I did was write and make movies, eventually I’d run out of things to share. My life would be confined to such a limited scope. I’ve realized that trying to fit work into every waking hour is counterproductive to my goals. So I travel. I play sports when I can. I cook. I read (scripts and books). I try things outside of my comfort zone because when I look back, I almost always tell myself, “yeah, that was worth it.” Even when it’s not worth it, the experience gained becomes hindsight for later stories to tell.
People are more than the work they do. Having a mundane job, an exciting job, or not having a job at all doesn’t determine personal success and satisfaction. There’s a lot more to it than that. Experience. Share. Cringe. Have fun.
When I was a freshman in college, I had an internship that I walked away from because I was unsatisfied. The internship was through an organization dedicated to placing talented minority youth in business positions. I walked away because I felt it was training interns in how to be middle management, instead of truly successful leaders. I wanted more.
Two days is a long time to go without meat, let alone two weeks. Violet and I decided to try it anyway. We finished up a two-week period with no meat in our diet (save one exhausted night where I failed to associate a can of tuna with meat and mixed it in with pasta and vegetables, but that doesn’t count).
Why did we do it? The basic idea was that we want to reduce the amount of meat in our diet. Don’t get me wrong, I love meat. LOVE IT. But we’re making an effort to follow Michael Pollan’s general rule, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Too often, when we don’t have meat available as the centerpiece of a meal, we opt to go out instead of creatively throwing vegetables together to make a dish.
We wanted to try some new vegetarian dishes and get used to less meat. The first week was a lot of fun. I made risotto, butternut squash chipotle soup, and eggplant Parmesan. Violet made an awesome meatless chili with cornbread. Then I got the new job, we didn’t go grocery shopping over the weekend, and the second week turned into a long craving for our meat on Saturday.
Being a vegetarian requires some thought and prep to have filling food available. Mixed greens don’t cut it, especially from fast food places I ended up going for lunch in my first week at work. I didn’t necessarily eat healthier, but I think my stomach adjusted to smaller portions and I realized that a veggie burrito isn’t all that terrible. We had Indian food multiple times. It was the easiest place to go with vegetarian food that wasn’t just a salad or mixed vegetables.
Finally, Saturday arrived and my mouth watered imagining the steak I’d be eating at Victor and Gen’s wedding reception (sidenote – awesome wedding. Had a blast.). Before the meals, there were appetizers, so my first taste of meat after two weeks was actually some grilled chicken on stick.
It was fantastic. The first thing I noticed was the texture. I’d never had an appreciation for the texture of meat. The flavor was great. It was like eating a special treat. And that’s the way we’d like to keep it. Not only is it healthier, it means we can afford to buy meat that’s organic and all natural. Our plan is to have higher quality meat only two or three times a week. We hope this helps in building good habits for better food in general and healthier eating habits.
On a related note, there is a new show out, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”. It airs Friday nights on ABC. I turned it on by chance and instantly became hooked. The basic premise is Jamie’s desire to teach children about food and healthy eating. You can watch him outline his wish at his TED prize talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/jamie_oliver.html.
And we’re back.
It’s been a while. I blame my friends. Click on those links to the right. Slackers, all of them (except James). It’s hard to stay motivated to blog when all my friends have let the dust gather around their own blogs. Granted, my google reader is full of other blogs that I should make a bigger effort to read regularly, but that’s beside the point.
The lesson here, and we can all learn from this, is: never go to Vegas while sick – you’ll lose every time. Getting a fever down to 99 a few hours before leaving does not qualify as being “healthy”. So that’s what happened. I was getting sick and I made matters worse. I kept working, I went to Vegas, I kept working some more, and then I collapsed for three days straight. It was the best rest I’ve had in a long time.
That was a week ago. Since then, I’m healthy again and have a new (old) job. Yep, I’m recruiting again. It’s easy, I seem to be good at it, and it’s a real full-time grownup paycheck. Forget the soul sucking cubicles, I really need that paycheck. That, and there’s still some cool people who work there that I’ve kept in touch with. It was like a mini reunion on my first day back. The old Cutco salesman part of me even enjoys the recruiting.
Not to say film and writing things aren’t happening. On the contrary, things are progressing forward more now than they ever have. But those things take time. A whole lot of time. Nobody will ever confuse the movie industry with a fast-moving…anything.
Things are moving forward, I have a normal job and a normal schedule to write around in the meantime, and my cough is almost gone. Not bad for an extended break from blogging.