Piling on the Good Vibrations

Below is an email I received a couple days ago.

Hi Jarrett!

I was just about to email you when I got your message, because one of the most predominant things I heard last night was, “Who did the vignettes? They are fantastic!” Seriously, everyone loved them. Several nominees asked me for copies because they were so pleased with how you presented their work. So, I will be sending those off later today. Peter Sametz had high praise for them as well as many others in the audience. A number of them said that they liked your narration and how conversational it was.

The whole night went smoothly and was well received by all – the host, entertainment and speeches were all great. The vignettes really added something special to the event, and we are so happy that you were able to do them for us.

Thanks so much, and congratulations!


So… you know. It seems the work I did for the Arts Board was well received. I’ve been riding a wave of self accomplishment for two straight days now. What an incredible feeling!

Adding to the euphoria was another email from a theatre company in NYC. I had sent them the first scene of Not Being A Dick, and they asked to read the rest of the script. It’s a small thing, but it’s still gratifying to know that my work is being considered at such a high level.

Speaking of writing, I wasn’t able to land the Inciting Incident for Room 31 on page 4 of my pilot script – I put it on page 3 instead! It works so well and fixes so many issues. The conflict with my protagonist’s journey is heightened to great effect. It works better than I ever expected.

However, it also raises new problems that I hadn’t anticipated. At an impromptu table read I organized last night I was able to hear some things out loud that weren’t readily perceivable on the page.

Parts of some scenes seem a bit unnecessary now. I plan to do some cutting and rewriting today. With a little luck, I’ll have a fresh draft ready for tonight.

All in all, it’s been a pretty gratifying couple of days in the life of me.

Inciting the Inciting Incident

I was eager for feedback from the writers’ circle last week and when I got it, I found it more confusing than helpful. “Your inciting incident arrives too late.” “Your character has a limited arc.” “Very marketable.” “Too ‘meta’.” “Great dialogue.” “Too much dialogue.” “Dialogue isn’t very strong.” Etc.

Many of these notes flew as a direct contrast to notes I got on my previous draft from a different set of writers. It all took some time for me to let it sink in. I don’t have a great deal of experience with receiving notes, but I’m beginning to get a feel for ’em – even when they contradict themselves.

Some notes, from certain people are exactly precise. Other notes from other talented writers, are off the mark, but upon closer look, seem to speak to a story problem on a much deeper subconscious level. Other notes can be dismissed outright.

Figuring out the difference between the three categories seems to be the trick – and it’s best not to lump a note into a particular category until some time has passed. It takes a while for the fog to lift.

My epiphany moment arrived last night on the couch while watching the pilot for Sleepy Hollow with Jazzy. Nothing in the pilot itself resembled my pilot for Room 31, but Sleepy Hollow’s episode and series’ inciting incident landed at the 4 minute mark (or page 4 in script terms).  

I realized that all the mishmash of notes I’ve been receiving for my pilot all came down to the timing of my inciting incident.

I stopped the episode and began to talk this out with Jazzy right there on the couch.

My pilot has two such incidents – one for the series, and one for the episode. They land about 20 pages apart, with the first arriving on page 22. How do I get one of ’em to land by page 4?

My thoughts then turned to the pilot for Boardwalk Empire. Like my pilot, the series moves slow, savouring the nuances of the environment. House of Cards is also a slow mover. Both these series are critically acclaimed. I strongly believe that I need screen time to bask in the nuances of the environment I created for my characters, otherwise all context is lost, and my theme falls short of the mark.

However, this is television. I have thirty seconds to capture your attention. I have two minutes to keep it. I have to pull out all the stops to make sure you come back after the commercial break.

It’s worth noting that both Boardwalk Empire and House of Cards have no commercial breaks. Still, the structure of both pilots grip you from the outset.

Boardwalk accomplishes this by jumping ahead in story time. There’s a gunfight over a truckload of booze – the ‘Canadian Club’ incident. It’s an event that sets the whole series in motion, and its tentacles reach forward, all the way into the conclusion of Season 2.

We see it, but we have no context for what it all means. The story then jumps back in time, to four days prior to the event. The story moves at a slower pace from there, basking in the world the writers painted for these characters. The audience is held captive knowing that some kind of big moment in everyone’s lives looms large on the horizon.

I need to do the same thing with Room 31. Let’s see the event that launches the series land on page 4. Jump back in time, then let the context of that event carry the story forward. I think a compelling tension between the present and the future can be created by having us know what’s going to happen before any of the characters do. It’ll be like watching a train wreck unfold in slow motion, and we, the audience, are powerless to slow the foreboding inertia.

It all adds up to one more layer of conflict.

The Fort

The house got strangely quiet the other night. No Jazz lurking about, so I went to investigate. Knocked on the door to her room. No answer. Knocked again. A muffled response, so I opened it and did not find what I expected to see.

The lights were off, and Jazzy’s bed was vacant. Perhaps she was in the loft. I climbed the stairs and peered up. Still no Jazz. WTF?

Then a muffled voice from the corner of her room. I opened the closet door and there she was, sitting on the floor in the dark with her iPhone.

“Everything alright?” I ask.

“It’s like a fort dad.”

“You’re fourteen.”

“You have a weird daughter,” she says, and then throws me a smile.

I smile back, close the door and leave.

Today has me finishing the vignettes for the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Awards. Technically, the nominee videos are all done. Just have to finish up the sponsorship stuff then send it off.

It’s always satisfying to complete a project. Unlike past projects however, I plan to do a lot more to parlay this work into future prospects – use these vignettes as an opportunity to introduce myself to the sponsors and related organizations who were featured in the event.

Follow up. It does not come naturally to me. I would rather just be cooped up in my studio, pecking away at a steady supply of projects, without any need for picking up the phone and doing the handshake thing.

I’m not anti social, I just have a lot more in common with my daughter than I’m willing to admit.

Two Full Pages of Notes

I paid for the rental of my corner perch at the bar with two pints of beer over the course of three hours. That’s how long it took for me to read a 101 page screenplay while providing detailed notes.

I enjoyed the experience, but greatly disliked the script. Two full pages of notes. All of them serious criticisms of the work. I’m debating whether I should even provide them to the writer because I don’t want to be a dick.

Here’s an excerpt;

“WHY IS STU A CHARACTER IN THIS SCREENPLAY? MOST OF HIS SCHTICK DOES LITTLE TO ADVANCE THE STORY. Cut everything from this screenplay that doesn’t advance the plot. Need to develop the B Story to a far greater extent. You can do this by cutting a ton to Stu’s schtick, or by developing Stu into a much more dynamic character.”

There were many scenes of pure exposition throughout the plot. Major conflict is resolved through coincidence on three occasions. Characters take significant action without any clear objective.

I really don’t know what I’m going to tell this guy without sounding like an ass. He wrote and rewrote a 101 page screenplay – a significant accomplishment. That’s a ton of work! Problem is, it’s terrible.

I tried hard to think of ways the story could be salvaged, but there are no easy solutions. The rot is in the bones of this story. To fix it would be to start from scratch – perhaps with a new writer.

That last sentence made me cringe at myself. How do I help this guy? I really want to help him, but I don’t want to blow smoke up his ass either.

Maybe I’ll ask him to start with a single scene. Stu tries to pick up the girl in the bar. Two characters. Give them BOTH strong objectives, and give them tactics. Have them claw with their fingernails to achieve their objective. No one leaves the scene until one of them wins, and one of them loses.

I suspect if he can write that scene well, he will learn much more about his story, than he ever will from reading my two pages of notes.

Parbuckling My Way Towards A Coffee Cup

I smelled popcorn last night and immediately made a beeline for Jazzy’s room.

She was on Skype, talking to a friend. I accused her of hoarding popcorn. Things got uncomfortable. I suggested she’s probably keeping the popcorn in mason jars underneath her bed. Jazzy looked at me without blinking. I did not see popcorn anywhere.

Her friend laughed. I left and closed the door behind me. Still couldn’t find the source of the popcorn smell.

She must be hiding something. I just know it. She did dishes this morning and I didn’t even ask her.

The vignettes for the LGAAs are coming along nicely. I could be further along, but I’m taking the time to experiment and try new things. I brought in virtual lights to go with one sculptor’s video. In a couple of others, I experimented with After Effects’ ‘auto orient’ function.

I am enjoying the work and I’m taking a lot of pride in it. I find it satisfying to pay homage to great artists and builders back home by doing what I do. Makes me feel like I’m not so far away.

My plan today is to complete six vignettes, and then dive into a screenplay I’m planning to provide notes for, in time for the writer’s circle tomorrow night. So many people have been generous with their time, and I wish to pay the favour. It’s always enjoyable to dive so deeply into someone else’s work. It’s a welcome distraction, and I become a better writer for it.

There’s coffee on the counter waiting to be consumed. I got so occupied with the internet this morning, that I couldn’t make my way to the kitchen to fill a cup. Costa Concordia. Fascinating story. Now I know what parbuckling means.

It’s something I should try with butt, to move it from the couch.

Room For 31

Yesterday was a pretty good day.

While I didn’t get any editing done on the vignettes for the LGAAs, I did finish the third draft of Room 31. I sent it out for notes this morning, and if all goes well, I could have it in shape by month’s end, to begin shopping it around to agents in the city. It feels absolutely outstanding to have completed this draft.

Today takes on a simplicity as a result. Completing four vignettes for the LGAAs would have me feeling pretty good about myself. I am excited to get started.

And honestly, that’s about all I have to say for the moment. After immersing myself so deeply in my script, my brain just won’t cooperation with any extraneous wordsmithing.

Hope you understand.

The Future is Unwritten

Here I am, sitting on my 2nd floor balcony, overlooking the back ally. My coffee is perched on the railing, the sun is out, and the temperature is about perfectly average. It’s a great way to start the day.

I have some ideas about how this day may pan out, but that future remains yet unwritten.

I watched a documentary about Joe Strummer last night with Jazzy. I saw it once before and really wanted her to see it as well. It’s a story about Punk Rock. It’s a story about the UK in the 60s and 70s. It’s a story about a man who struggled to find himself. It’s a story about rebellion, relationships, and blind ambition. Parts of it resonated with me.

Jazzy went to bed half way through the movie. When I asked her what she thought of it, she just shrugged. I remain hopeful that we can have intelligent conversations about music on a regular basis.

Musical taste is such a powerful personal expression of who we are and what we’re about. More than conversing, I want her to feel able to express herself through her musical choices. I see these types of conversations as a way to hone self confidence. She has a healthy disrespect for Top 40, which is a good start. When the wolves in high school come for her, I know she’ll be able to outsmart ’em by walking her own path.

Room 31 is due tomorrow at the LIFT Writer’s Circle. The materials for the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Awards came in. I also have a project to finish for Images. Somehow, I’ll get through all of ’em.

Despite the busyness, I wrote 1,500 words in response to a section of friend’s book, yesterday in just under two hours. We’ve been playing this word game where I’ll type on a stream of consciousness after reading sections of her book. Sometimes the words come out rather poetically, sometimes I riff on bad memories that have been triggered, sometimes it’s just pure raw honesty that I share – just as she does in her work.

My coffee is getting cold. I never seem to make it to the bottom of my cup without this shift in temperature. Perhaps I should drink it faster? Perhaps I should use a smaller cup? I dunno. I guess it just doesn’t bother me enough to do something about it. I choose my annoyances wisely.

If today goes well, it will see me spend another two hours with Room 31. I will also finish three vignettes for the LGAA’s.

If today goes well, I will write about it tomorrow.

A Stream of Optional Imaginings

I need to read something. Anything. My well is dry. Parched even.

I’m staring at my computer screen and I’m watching the curser blink. It’s getting impatient. I can tell. And yet, no words come out. Nothing that interests me anyway.

I’ve been up to things. We had another campfire in the back yard with John, Kathy and her boyfriend Kevin. We’re all really digging the fire bowl I borrowed from Frank. We also had another games night last night. The home life is pretty super duper alright.

Career wise, I recorded voice over for the Lieutenant Governor’s Arts Awards yesterday. Ninety minutes to record 23 minutes of narration. Pretty good ratio methinks. As soon as the Saskatchewan Arts Board sends me material to work with, I can begin putting vignettes together.

Over the last three months I’ve been pitching myself to event planners and event industry suppliers. I’m thinking I should also be hitting up other organizations that have galas, awards presentations, and other big ticket occasions. I’d fit in well, working with that lot.

I’m also thinking that I need to carve out some hours to spend on my next draft for Room 31. After putting the call out a few weeks ago, I’ve received good notes from a few different sources. My ideas have been churning for some time. Another LIFT Writers’ circle is coming up. I really need to get on it.

As I write that, it strikes me that the clock is ticking on the relevance of my Boardwalk Empire spec. A new season of the series is beginning tonight, and I need to get that spec in front of agents ASAP. I worry that if I wait much longer, the series’ arc will render my plot irrelevant. I have no expectation that my script will ever be produced, but if I am to demonstrate my ability to capture the ‘voice’ of an existing series, the script needs to be plausible.

This brings me back to Room 31. I want to go in with three polished one-hour scripts to show diversity in my work. Three.

Funny. Aside from taking in a Rider game, I wasn’t really sure what to do with my day. A whole cornucopia of options presented themselves, but none really struck me as quite right for this sunny Sunday afternoon.

It now seems that a rewrite stands in my immediate future.

The Rusnak Household

Things haven’t quite settled into a routine at home with Jazzy and I. End of summer. Lots of people coming and going and things to see and do.

Aubree stayed over a couple of days so I could do her headshots. She cooked a few meals for us in exchange. I called her Jazzy’s faux-mom – her being an actor and all.

I’d come home from a meeting and she’d put a plate of food in front of me and start improving, “Hi Honey, how was work?”

And I’d be like, “Rough day today. Gus was being a jerk again.”

“Awe that’s too bad. You should talk to your supervisor.”

“Well, that would be Gus.”

It felt like a 60’s sitcom at times. Jazz and Aubree really got along. I think it’s good for her to connect with some of my female friends. There otherwise aren’t a lot of female role models around the Rusnak household.

The Rusnak household. Typing that just now kind of sent a goose bump up my spine. Jazzy was 6 years old, the last time I lived with her – the last time I lived inside a ‘Rusnak Household’.

It’s really real now isn’t it? I have a daughter to raise and provide for.

She’s obviously a very different person from who she was 8 years ago. I get to deal with her sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll phase – mostly by myself.

I’m up for it and I’m excited to be that person in her life.

We had a campfire in the backyard on Tuesday. All our stuff showed up from Regina and it came on wooden pallets. The city doesn’t accept wooden pallets on garbage collection day, so I figured they’d make for a nice firewood pile.

Kirk lent me a skill saw, and I sliced up one. A handful of people showed up to partake. Eric, my landlord, Cam from next door, Kathy from the main floor, Clive brought a friend, and Renee all came. We sat around the fire, cooked wieners, drank beer, and talked to the wee hours of the morning.

Jazz fit right in. She impresses people with the way she handles herself. I’m thinking her high school years might be somewhat easy to navigate, so long as I surround her with good role models.

I am excited for the years ahead.