Attending To Business

Snow came and went today and I had mixed feelings about that.  I’m enjoying the mild weather and I’m not keen to see it end.  I just sat at the window watching it come down and part of me was like, ‘Meh’.  Time to transition to ‘winter’ mode’.  Another part of me wasn’t willing to throw in the towel so easily.  Then the first part of me was saying to the second part of me, ‘Dude, you can’t control the weather.  Let it go’.

It’s near a month that I’ve been living in Toronto.  Still feels like I’m visiting.  I read the Leader Post every morning and check out Rod Pedersen’s blog for news about the Riders.  No part of me feels compelled to check out Toronto newspapers.  I’ll be heading back home for the holidays and I’m making a list of the things I’ll want to be taking back with me.    Home and people from home are on the brain as a result.

It’s been a little while since I wandered aimlessly.  I’ve settled into a regular coffee shop (Urbana Coffee), which is just down Bay from the gym I regularly attend.

Does one attend a gym?

I put deposits down on 2012 Grey Cup tickets.  Benji, Monica, Rodney and hopefully a handful of others from the Romanian Syndicate will be coming over for that as well.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the game and it will be taking place in my new found city.

I’m also attending a film festival on Saturday night.  I signed up for free tickets and hope to line up a film friend to come with me.  In the meantime, I have a couple of projects to finish.  I will appreciate the income and the clean slate that comes with a job well done.  With those out of the way, I can return my focus to my writing career.

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Walking in the Rain

November 29th and it feels like a July Saskatchewan rain out there today.  Toronto is wet!  I don’t mind though.  It’s minus 3 and snow back home.  Besides, there’s something about breaking out the rain gear and going for a stroll that puts a smile on my face.

Today has editing on the menu.  Gonna try and finish up the YBC gig by tomorrow.  Just as well.  I need to stay home and do some laundry.  My dresser has issued a red alert status.  Been that way for a couple days now.

I drove Leach and myself to the Dundas West subway station this morning.  We can get off at Bay and not even step outside on our way into the gym.  Worked out for 30 minutes.  Kind of spent now and I have no idea where she is.  I figure she’ll text me when she’s ready to go.  In the meantime I’m going to sink my teeth into a ‘Chicken FarmerJohn Sandwich’.

Focus

Tang is watching me write right now.  She’s a girl I met from Thailand.  We hang out sometimes.  This is one of those times.  Some people talk a lot.  Tang only does that when she’s drunk.  It’s 11am so, the table’s a bit quiet at the moment.  Thought I’d steal some time away to blog.

The last few days have been packed with writing and writing related activities.  I met with Sarah Cooper, (Rob’s agent) on Thursday.  She was incredibly helpful, painting a picture of the industry for me.  She’s not taking new clients these days, but she said she’d still be happy to read my stuff and pass along advice – tell me who’s right for what project.  She bought me an Americano and spent an hour with me.  She said I’m on the write track with my research, and I’m doing the right things to break in.

Not sure if I mentioned this before, but with the CBC sale providing enough income to get through the next 9 – 10 months, I’ve decided to focus exclusively on my writing career.  Sarah thinks that’s a good idea.  Torontonians can’t handle individuals who wear too many hats.  They think it’s just weird.  I can write factual and I can write scripted, but I should be VERY careful before offering my services as an editor, director, or producer.

It’s easier on the headspace anyway.  I feel incredibly focused right now.  Everyday is about getting better at my craft and then taking that knowledge to market.  It’s me at my very best.  Have laptop, will travel.

I think that’s why Toronto has gone so well for me thus far.  Wake up.  Wander to a coffee shop.  Write.  What more do I need from any city?

Making Introductions

I wrote another scene for ‘Not Being A Dick’.  I stopped before it got preachy, two-and-a-half pages in.  Kind of unexpected.  I just reached an impasse and after doing the usual checking email/facebook, I reread it.  Not sure if I was being lazy, or if it really was an inspired choice, but that very spot seemed like a good way to end the scene.

Two characters draw their lines in the sand and end up where they never thought they’d go.  They moved from where they started and the story didn’t bog down with exposition.  The dialogue is stripped down to the bones and no one is speaking their subtext.  Thus far, everything gets the checkmark.

Does it advance the story?

Not sure.  I put them right up to the edge and left them there.  We don’t get to see if they leap – although the next time we see those characters, we’ll have a pretty good idea.  Guess that makes it a good scene right?

Research is going well.  My spreadsheet is filling out nicely.  I have a list of productions, the parent companies, their creators, the list of writers in order of contribution, the script editors, and the contact information.  I started to see some of the same names popping up.  This is important to me.

When I was at the writers party on Friday, I didn’t know anyone there.  Unless someone introduced themselves as, “My name is bla bla bla and I’m a pretty big deal,” I’d have no idea who I’m talking to.  On the other hand, If somebody actually did introduce themselves like that, they’d probably be a douche bag.  It’s better to know the names methinks.  It’s better to track them down and set up one-on-one meetings, except we wouldn’t call it a meeting.  I prefer the term ‘coffee’.  Another term, ‘drinks’, is even better.

Leach invited me to an ACTRA thing tonight.  Bunch of actors.  Could be interesting.  I plan to introduce myself as “Jarrett Rusnak, an award winning writer/producer/director.”

I kid.

Table Readings With ‘The Family’

This man storms into the coffee shop and starts yelling at us, “You guys are like fucking zombies just sitting here!”  Everyone looked at him like he was crazy.  I mean sure, we heard the explosions too, but what are we supposed to do about them?  They’re still going off.  Not sure where.  Closeish methinks.

Just finished a meeting with Rob.  He’s heading out thisaway.  Moving and everything.  Funny.  I was just talking about him last night to Frankie and company.  Told the story about how it was a conversation with Rob that sealed my decision to move out here.  Now he’s doing the same thing.

Easy Over is humming along.  Rhonda did a budget for the episode I wrote.  $116,000 before deals.  Not bad.  I wrote it with an ear to the budget.  Four sections of one main location.  Saves on unit moves and lets us spend our money on time with the cast – which is ultimately going to make or break the show.

The highlight of my last 24 hours was a table read with The Family.  That’s what I’m calling Frankie and my housemates.  We sat around a table with four laptops and read both episodes of Easy Over.  Megan and I were the only trained actors around the table (if I can call myself that).  Everyone else was just everyone else, reading whatever role I assigned to them.  What a hoot!  They loved the scripts.  Laughter.  Drinks.  More laughter.  It was after midnight when we finally wrapped things up.  We decided that this will be a weekly thing from now on.  I still have four scripts I can present to the group.  Leach is writing one.  After that I’ll either have to write more, or start presenting scripts from other writers.  Gotta keep that train going.

Rob said he’s going to introduce me to his agent.  I’ve also taken Ian’s advice and started researching the largest production companies in town.  He thinks people will want to meet me, based on my resume.  If I make 40 phone calls and line up 10 meetings, I’ll be laughing.  Hopefully it’s as easy as that sounds.

Unlike Regina, figuring out who the big fish in town are, is somewhat NOT straightforward.  There is no list or directory that’s easy to track down.  After hunting through the bowels of Google for 30 minutes, I decided to hit the Canadian Media Fund website.  Every show I want to work on, will have received funding from that organization.

Jackpot.  Not only can I discern who’s doing what from the funding results, but I can gauge the size of the production budgets based on the amount the CMF contributed.  All I did was look at the Q4 results for productions based in Toronto, and THAT took me 90 minutes.  I still have three fiscal quarters to go and I’m already getting a feel for how vast the industry is here.

It’s taking some getting used to.  I’m in the heart of the Canadian Film Industry here.  I feel like a desert wanderer who stumbled upon Niagra Falls.  Everything is here.  Everything is a subway ride away!  I can bump into the story editor from a big series.  I can drop in on seminars by world class filmmakers.  I can line up meetings with the biggest companies in this industry.  I can attend cultural events and shoot free tequila with fellow writers in an Irish pub.

I can do a table reading with The Family.

Paragraphs Full of Wonderings

Well, here I am in Bannock.  Call me sentimental, but I like a place I can frequent and call my own.  Well… I’m not quite there yet – we’re not dating or anything, but let’s just say the place comes to mind more than others when I need to write and I’m downtown.

It’s 2 in the afternoon.  I sent emails out this morning and set up another meeting.  Ian also was nice enough to email some advice on places I should check out and people I should see.  Gonna get started on some research tomorrow.  Be like Santa Clause making up a list to see who’s naughty and who’s nice – then ask ‘em both for writing gigs.

I’ve got a two month window to meet as many people as I can and make a positive impression.  Shit starts happening at the end of January and I want to be riding someone’s coattails by then.  I am also pleasantly surprised to see that ‘coattails’ is one word.

Leach was great, but her show was awful.  Choreography was good to excellent at times, but the audience was left sitting in the dark for minutes at a time while the company changed wardrobe between numbers.  The Choreographer also had these videos playing of himself, talking about how great he thinks he is.  There was no unifying theme, no unity between numbers, and definitely NOT enough of Leach on the stage.  If she wasn’t the best mover, she was top three and the Choreographer left her out of numbers in favour of his ‘favourites’.  Thirty-four dollars for that piece of crap and definitely not enough bums in seats to pay the production costs.  My theory is that the Choreographer’s mom paid for the room.  Who else would tolerate such unprofessionalism?

The evening wasn’t a total loss.  Frankie invited me downstairs to have supper and drinks with his Mom, his cousin Tonia, Donna (from upstairs), and Barbara (from downstairs).  Donna and Barbara are Polish widows.  Older, full of life, and a bit nuts.  Frankie’s mom is such a mom.  With Tonia there, I felt like I was adopted into some kind of Toronto family.  So much warmth in that room.  We all went to Leach’s show and had lots to talk about afterwards.

I am now left to write this last paragraph with wonderings full of thoughts about how I’m gonna tie all these random scribblings together into a nice, neat, little ending.  I mentioned the possibility of a script reading with Frankie and family (and Leach).  Everyone liked that idea.  Maybe showing my work around a table with the people in my Toronto life will make for a nice way to end the day (and this article)?

Stay tuned.

Writers Write

I looked into volunteering at Etobicoke School of the Arts.  Drove down, met the principal, learned what I needed to do in order to be cleared for duty.  Drove down to Roncesvalles afterwards and spend two hours writing up my curriculum.  Emailed it off and got Dean to send in a reference as well.  There’s already some interest from the drama department in me.  It’s nice to hear.

I drove down to Liberty Village after that and met with Mike (my distributor).  We didn’t have much shop to talk about.  I just wanted to hang out and keep the channel open.  He even paid for the drinks!  This is why I’ll follow him anywhere.

Last night, the big highlight was the writer’s party.  I closed down the place with three other writers.  Guess what?  They all had Saskatchewan roots.  Closing down bars is something we’re good at.

To be honest, I would have rather stayed home because I’m feeling a bit over-socialized these days.  Every night I’ve been out somewhere, and there’s not much of an end in sight.  I’m going to Megan’s show tonight.  Gotta be supportive.

I set a goal to finish my ‘Dick’ play by December 5th.  The Canadian Stage Company is collecting submissions for The Spring Festival of Ideas (I think that’s the name).  They’re looking for innovative uses of music.  My play suits that description perfectly.  Hopefully something good comes from it.

With the CBC sale buying me time, I’m pondering the possibility of just focusing in my writing, rather than pursue work with other production companies.  Writers write, right?  I finished a screenplay, and I have a play next up.  Maybe another spec script or a feature film after that.  Not sure.  Gotta takes some meetings too.

Be a leaf on the river.  I keep telling myself that.  We’ll see how it goes.

Firkin On King

The writer from last night turned out to be Ian Carpenter.  Google him.  He’s done a lot of stuff.  He was more than gracious with his time.  He gave me his card after a few minutes of chatting and told me to drop him a line.

This morning I did just that.  He responded right away.  Told me about a party taking place on Friday in a pub called the Firkin On King.  It’ll be a room full of writers, half of whom are big names, and the other half, people like me, looking to break in.

Aside from lining up a couple of meetings, I didn’t feel like doing much today.  Slept ‘til 9:30 and felt like I could have gone for a few more hours.  Went to the gym and the door was locked.  WTF?  Came home and watched ‘Annie Hall’ by Woody Allen.  It’s a movie David Frankel raved about last night in his seminar.

I’m glad I watched it.  My feature film is odd, and there are a lot of elements it has in common with a lot of other successful odd films.  I don’t know what will happen with it.  All I know is I put it out there.  Hollywood creatures have it now.  I’m hoping the sort who likes Woody Allen will also read mine.

This evening, I attended a seminar featuring Mike White talking about his career.  He wrote Orange County, School of Rock, Nocho Libre, and much more.  Both he and David Frankel place a premium on character development and story design.  Jokes were secondary.  The drama of their comedies was much more interesting to them.  I find that gratifying because I’ve been taking a similar approach to my own work.

I honestly can’t say enough good things about my time here thus far.  It’s gone well beyond my wildest expectations.  I’m not even trying that hard.  Just being me.  Let’s hope this forward momentum continues for a spell.

Carved Out Special

How do I put this day in perspective?

Four years of my life, 112 pages, capped with a lecture spent learning from one of the most influential writers in Hollywood (except he’s from Miami).

I have a playlist in my iTunes library that I tap for writing.  Buena Vista Social Club is a big chunk of the music.  So I settle into a coffee shop in Roncesvalles to finish the last 19 pages of my feature film.  They’re playing Buena Vista Social Club.  Three hours goes by and I’m done.  I’m spent.  I feel like I poured my heart out all over the keyboard.  Me and my writing.  I look up and there’s a guy at the table next to me wearing a t-shirt with the phrase “Aim to Misbehave” printed across the back.  It’s a line right out of Joss Whedon’s ‘Serenity’.  After a weekend packed with writing, my own personal writing hero makes an appearance.

The screenplay needs to be read.  Out loud.  Need to catch the wordage of it.  So I text my friend Sharon, an actress.  Turns out she just bailed on an acting workshop and had a few hours free.

I took her to a pub I’ve been frequenting on Dundas West and we poured into the script for two hours.  I made the odd change or edit.  Then it was done.  Felt like a whole lifetime lived in a single sitting.

I got home and I sent the screenplay off to Hollywood.  It was really done.  Four years to write.  112 pages.

Hopped on the subway and took it to St. Andrew’s station.  Walked to the Bell Lightbox from there and took in a lecture by David Frankel, creator of Sex and the City, Band of Brothers, Entourage, and director of Devil Wears Prada (among others).

I’m now sitting at a bar drinking Jameson on the rocks inside the TIFF Building.  There’s a writer two seats down from me talking to his buddy.  Sounds like he’s working on a lot of things.  In a few minutes, I’ll see if he’s up for a conversation some time.

I’m really loving this city.  It’s like this day was carved out special for me.

11.11.11

Accidentally walked in on Leach (Megan’s last name) in the shower this morning.  Didn’t see anything.  Nothing awkward either.  She actually apologized for not locking the door.  How cool is that?

So I sat in the kitchen and we talked through the bathroom door.  Small talk type stuff.  I ate breakfast.  She towelled herself.  Eventually I got around to asking if she knew where the Remembrance Day ceremonies would be taking place.

An hour later, I found myself standing in Queens Park.  There was myself and a couple dozen others standing in silence around the War Memorial.  In the distance we heard artillery guns being fired.  It seemed there should have been more people.  Was still nice though.  It’s like we had the monument to ourselves.  Perfect strangers sharing a quiet moment together.  People began to trickle off and I went looking for a larger crowd.

Eventually I found the ceremony.  Mass of humanity.  Five guns were lined up and every minute or so, one was fired.  Sunlight shone through the smoke.  Soldiers stood at attention.  My thoughts turned to Victoria Park back home, where ceremonies would be taking place a short time later.

In general, my thoughts are never far from home.  I don’t ‘miss’ the place exactly.  I’m thriving in Toronto, but home is home.  I’ll always care.

Today has a slate full of writing.  My goal is to finish my feature film script by Sunday.  The structure’s already in place.  The dialogue is tight.  I just need to move it through time and space as I adapt it from a stage production to something for the big screen.  I think I hit page 42 last night in a place called ‘Bannock’.

Happy Remembrance Day everyone!