Method Writing

I’m shooting the first episode of the web series in two weeks.

After a recent meeting, I became aware of a program that funds web series. Among the requirements to apply, is having a ‘teaser’ for the series up and running, and attracting eyeballs online via a social media campaign.

Working backwards from the March 3 deadline, this means having that teaser up and running by mid-february, should give us enough time to get a buzz going. In the meantime, there is a crew and equipment to source, a location to secure, and a script to break down.

In other news, my suspicions about the second episode script were confirmed. I put a call out on Inktip’s Facebook page for writers to look at it, and a couple responded. People are digging the dialogue, and they are saying nice things about my writing ability, but the structure needs work. I need to break the spine, reorder some things, and punch up the stakes. I may get to that over the weekend.

I’ve also been meeting with the cast and getting to know them. To be honest, the process has become a bit overwhelming. Normally, I enjoy drilling into peoples’ minds and getting a peak at the crusty bits inside their closets. Having a couple of those types of conversations in a month feels a bit exhausting. Five in one week is information overload. It feels like research and not a delightful conversation.

I have two more such conversations lined up today and then I’m done. I can pour all that raw data into the creation of fresh new characters, all beautifully flawed and perfectly human. It feels like ‘method writing’ – an interesting and inspiring process to be sure.

More than anything, it feels great to be writing something that is so immediate and readily presentable. I’m looking forward to the next two week’s worth of creativity.

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Blissfully Not Talking to Each Other

Jazz called me up today at 4:30 and asked me if I wanted to join her at Starbucks. She said we could sit across a table from each other and NOT talk to each other. That’s our code for hanging out without making an effort.

I accepted the invitation, and here I am. She didn’t even need a ride anywhere. We’re actually here and we’re blissfully NOT talking to each other. If only other parents could enjoy the sort of relationship Jazz and I have.

My short scripts are coming along nicely. I finished the second one this morning. I like them both, and I’m very proud of them – which unsettles me. What am I not seeing?

In times past, whenever I finished a script, I loved it and felt it was ready for the world to see. I’ve since developed a heathy distrust for my opinion of my own work, immediately after completion. The various incarnations of Room 31 has gone through a dozen or more revisions. Not Being A Dick has gone through ten. Machiavelli & Tymes was only eight pages long, and it still needed three passes.

In reflecting back on these two latest scripts, I run through my checklist. Does each character have a strong objective? Does each character fight to win that objective? Is there conflict in the scene? What is the source of this conflict? Have I replaced dialogue with action wherever possible? Have I made sure the characters NEVER speak their subtext? Do they HAVE subtext?

I’m a bit insecure about the second script. Six pages of two characters talking on a park bench. It times out at just under four minutes. The two characters are best friends, and the first is playing his objective, as much to himself, as he is to his friend. His friend simply doesn’t want to be there, but has agreed to stick around to see what his buddy wants.

Half way through the scene, the first guy breaks down crying. His friend is now forced to comfort him. The objective for the second friend changes. The first friend seems to have abandoned his first objective.

Or has he?

Maybe his objective is to move his headspace to a better place, and the means by which he accomplishes this, comes in an unexpected way.

Or maybe I’m just making up excuses for a script that needs another pass.

Cold Calling a Meeting

To date I have researched over 100 production companies, contacted 64, and set up meetings with 17. I still hate picking up the phone and cold-calling people.

The meetings have gone very well. My picture of the industry here in TO is becoming a lot clearer. I seem to be digging the people I’m meeting with, and they seem to be digging me. Some have expressed an interest in working with me, others have simply wished me well, with an eye to open possibilities.

The key methinks, is NOT asking for a job, or any kind of funding. This is a relationship industry, not a transaction one. Passion for the things we care about and choose to develop, matters a lot. It’s also important to listen, as much as it is to speak. If I can figure out what makes people tick, and what they’re interested in, we can figure out how to work together down the road. Fortunately, with a diverse background like mine, there’s a lot of options there.

Elsewhere in my life, the cold has sufficiently motivated me to seal the windows in my apartment with transparent insulating film. If a camera were following me around, it would be a comedy.

At first I felt like I didn’t have enough hands, but then I figured out that nature has evolved us with the ability to carry scissors in our mouths. Next came my perilous adventure with two-sided tape. What magical wizardry would sufficiently suffice, for one to peel the backing of this mysterious sticky film? Eventually I figured out that if you let it sit on the wall for a few minutes, the backing comes off with only a limited volley of swear words.

Then came the film itself.

For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how much to unroll. I think the CIA tracks the stuff so they could monitor the IQ of potential secret agents. You see, it unfolds to the required width, but then once you cut it, it unfolds again – lengthwise, so that what happens is it becomes too long. Of course it would be easy to trim the excess length, but then a major portion of the film gets wasted. There has to be a way to unfold only enough of it, so that its double length upon cutting, would be sufficient to cover the require area.

I held it up. I looked at it sideways. I crossed my eyes. I meditated. I figured it out. Twice! And then I couldn’t remember what the hell I just did.

As of right now, every window in the house is covered – and I still needed to wear three layers inside. I strongly suspect the walls don’t have insulation – or maybe that’s just the roof. You see my place has 20-foot cathedral style ceilings – the the sloped roof, is my walls. Great for good vibrations, but not so efficient when it comes to staying warm during a polar vortex.

I’m just going to have to go out and take more meetings to stay warm.

Twelve Characters in Search of a Story

I’ve gotten myself involved in a project that will have me writing, producing, and probably directing six short films. We have no budget, but we do have resources. We have no story, but we do have cast.

My immediate task is to meet with cast members individually, to get a better sense of who they are, and what kind of role I can write for them. This step is important because rather than being forced into slotting someone in a role that doesn’t work for her, I can create a role that fits like a glove. I’ll be left with twelve characters in search of a story.

I was brought into this by Laine, whom I worked with last year for my staged reading of Not Being a Dick. She’s been crossing paths with a number of emerging actors and creative types, and organized us into a secret group on Facebook. The plan was to create something, anything, that will showcase our abilities.

My idea was to come up with a string of short films, 3-5 minutes in length, that will feature two characters per scene. Good meaty chunks of dialogue and action for each actor to showcase herself. The films will link together through a kind of relay – we follow a character out of the final scene of one film, and into the first scene of the next, only to be discarded shortly thereafter.

I’ve met with enough of the cast to write the first film, but I’m thinking that it might be prudent to wait until I’ve talked to everyone, before deciding how they’ll all fit together. It’ll be challenging enough trying to find a place for everyone. Organizing these six films into some sort of cohesive series will require me having a big picture perspective.

Today has a wide-open quality about it. I feel like creating something. Let’s see how it all goes.

The Wheat and the Chaff

I am sitting in the middle of a Starbucks on Queen Street E. My first coffee shop blog article of 2014!

The ‘Toronto Mission’ is back on in full swing. Researching, itemizing, and reaching out to production companies across a wide swath of the industry here, is something that I set out to do when I first moved to TO, two years ago. I keep beating myself up for losing track of the mission, only to reclaim it over the passed few months, but I think it’s worth a closer look at what really happened over that journey.

I started off with unrealistic expectations for how easy it would be to break in as a writer. When I was advised to focus solely on writing because Toronto likes its ‘specialists’, I stopped developing my own projects, and I stopped ‘being’ a producer.

When I was informed that the single greatest way to launch my career as a writer was through the CFC, I gave up on reaching out to production companies. I stopped showing my work, and I blindly placed my future into the hands of perfect strangers, whom I’ve never met, and have yet to meet.

I made a point of focusing on gigs with short term, low commitment, and low expectations, so that I could drop everything at a moment’s notice, when something with greater potential came along. Unfortunately, since I wasn’t putting myself out there, nothing with greater potential was going to come along.

To be clear, I am NOT blaming this 18-month lapse in my career on others. It’s always up to me to take advice, or not take it. It’s always up to me to reach out, or hide away. It’s up to me to pick up the phone, or wallow in anonymity.

The world doesn’t come to anyone. We must go out to the world.

So here I am. I’ve reached out to a couple dozen production companies thus far, and lined up (or have already taken) a dozen meetings. My sense of how the industry works out here continues to evolve.

It turns out that very few people are ‘specialists’ in this business. Most everyone is happy to sit down for a coffee and offer advice. Sometimes the advice jives with the advice of others. Othertimes, not so much. It’s up to me to sort the wheat from the chaff.

People have agreed to read my stuff, with no promise of taking it further. I am grateful to simply be read. There also seems to be opportunities to work with others on their own projects down the road.

More than anything, I feel like I’m heading towards a good place in a hurry. Who can ask for anything more?

Four Oh One!

My place is currently a sea of empty beer cans and spent red Solo cups. The downstairs neighbours heard us going until 2am. They’d have joined, but they’re currently all getting over their winter colds.

I’d have to say that my birthday was a smashing success. Yana performed for us. A collection of Toronto friends, accumulated from various walks of my life, all came together to celebrate. So great to have so many amazing people gathered together in one place.

Most interesting, nobody knew anyone else at the party. This wasn’t planned, but it was delightful to witness. I very much enjoyed watching them all get to know each other. So many of them told me upon leaving, that I have a really great group of friends.

They say one is known for his friends.

I’m not going to wait a year for the next gathering to take place. Is there any reason in the world why we can’t do this once a month?

Life is for living after all.

Coffee Shop Habit

I’m staring out the window with the realization that I just don’t frequent coffee shops as much as I used to. In fact, I am approximately 264 times more likely to NOT start my day in a coffee shop as I have been in times past. Deeply in fact(ier), it no longer occurs to me to even think about coffee shops.

This trend is both alarming, and completely symptomatic of my continued evolution as a human being creature person. Maybe it’s a good thing. Jury is still out on that.

Thus far I have researched and reached out to a couple dozen production companies in Toronto. I’ve set up three meetings thus far, with at least a couple more pending. While only good things will come from meeting as many different people in this city as possible, I can’t help but wonder why I haven’t taken such a methodical approach sooner.

Perhaps the coffee shops are to blame?

I’m finding that the trick to good follow-up is to actually pick up the phone. People are bombarded with emails. Phone calls, accompanied with an introductory email seem to get a much better response. Tracking and staying on top of those phone calls is even more important.

I am quite excellent at this task in short spurts, but it inherently isn’t who I am – being a ‘pick up the phone’ guy. Being ‘out there’.

It’s what’s required to be successful however. Nobody is going to knock on my door if they don’t know who I am.

Here’s to changing habits.

Warm Inside

Between the 15 items I had on my to-do list yesterday, and the other dozen or so odd items I found to task myself with, I had a very productive day. Got everything done.

Today will begin with a good long look out the window for some guidance. It seems to me, I have a ton of people I need to reach out to, who could help my career in various ways. My industry is a relationship business. Everybody knows someone who knows someone. It all starts with a conversation over a coffee or drink.

Last night Yana took me out for a drink after I brought her synthesizer over (from Regina). We wound up at Sneaky Dee’s on College and Bathurst. I’ve been there a few times and I have fond memories of the place from early trips to Toronto during my Regina days.

It was Ukrainian Christmas Eve, and Yana asked if I wouldn’t mind coming to church with her for a few minutes. We’re both Orthodox, though neither of us are very churchy. Still, it felt good to be in such a familiar place.

I grew up in a Romanian Orthodox church. This Ukrainian church service was not in English, but it didn’t matter. I already knew what was going on. The singing was the same.The icons were the same. The service was the same. I was moved.

This morning I awoke to the kitchen table being absent from its usual spot. Jazzy moved her room around (again) and nabbed it. I snatched it right back after she left for school, but not before stopping to appreciate how much care and attention she puts into her personal space. I took it as a sign that she’s happy to be living with me – and that’s something I’ll never take for granted.

It’s a cold day outside. Inside it’s cold. I’m wearing two hoodies just to keep warm. Leaky windows. Gotta put a run to Canadian Tire on my to-do list as well. Seal up the drafty bits. In the meantime, I’ll start with a fresh cup of warm coffee, for a bit of dedication to the view out my kitchen window.

From Behind the Wheel

Under no circumstances should the drive wheels ever spin free in 5th gear on an inter-state at 80 km/h. Such was the icy road conditions on our trek home from Saskatchewan. I only hit the ditch once – and that was at 10 km/h while driving on the shoulder to get around a cop who had stopped traffic. I actually needed the ditch to find traction, just to launch myself back onto the highway.

Overall, the 2,754 kilometres I drove, were worrisome in only a few places. If the road was bad, I’d fall in line and drive slow. When the conditions were good, I made hay. After losing two hours to the weather on Day 1, we actually made up an hour on Day 2.

Jazz and I pulled into Toronto at 1am last night. It’s great to be ‘home’.

Today is dedicated to the worship of nothing. I’ve got nothing planned, and I refuse to even make plans. My ‘to-do’ list can go fuck itself. I am happy to just tinker with odds and ends that come to mind, all day long.

There have been one or two things that occurred to me whilst behind the wheel these last couple of days. Long road trips are good for the mind in that respect. I am looking forward to hitting the first Monday of 2014 running.

In the meantime, I need to get back to doing very little.

Happy New Year!