Another One Comes

I released the first episode of my new web series yesterday. First short of my whole entire career, produced on a budget of $47 (the cost of the pizza), and it came off well. I sent it off to a few trusted colleagues, and received some positive feedback;

“I love the direction, cutting and your cinematography (most of all).”

“Looks and sounds good. Plays good too.”

“Keep the laughs, drop the drama.”

The unfun stuff begins now. It will be some time before the next episode is produced because I am applying for actual funding to go the rest of the way. Marketing strategies. Business plans. Budgets. Social media. Research.

Application deadline is March 3 and I have approximately everything to do between then and now.

Enjoy the video. Wish me luck!

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Filming a Short on the Day of My Father’s Funeral

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 12.02.15 AMI shot the first short film of my career, since my film school days ended 19 years ago. Saturday’s shoot happened to coincide with the day of my father’s funeral, half a country away. Needless to say, the whole experience was incredibly special.

Dad was on my mind quite a bit during the morning, but when the actors showed up at my place at 2:30, I quickly fell into the process.

I had previously met with Kylah and Fern individually to go through the script discussing their objectives, tactics, beats, and back story. I scheduled the first two hours of our day on Saturday as rehearsal time, so we could explore the script together, free of burning lights, idling cameras, and prying eyeballs.

The first order of business was agreeing together on where the beats were going to be in the script. From there it was our task to drive those beats – accelerate the pace of the scene towards each beat marker, shift gears, then accelerate faster to the next beat, continuing in this fashion over the entire six pages of the scene.

There is always a tendency for a young actor to take a long pause upon a moment of discovery in a scene – to reflect on what was just learned. But what one character discovers as new information, may not be new to the other character in the scene. A beat occurs ONLY when there is a moment of discovery between two or more characters. Driving those beats gives the scene its shape.

It’s important to make a lot of mistakes during this phase of rehearsal. Fail. Try again. Fail better. Once we learn from our mistakes, we can start to put the scene on its feet with some rudimentary blocking. It’s also important during this phase to be open to discovery. I prefer to work out the blocking together with the actors, rather than tell them when and where to be in the scene. This allows them tap their instincts to enrich the scene.

As a director, I had to discipline myself to NOT speak more than what was necessary. Giving young actors too many notes, in too compressed a period of time, tends to drive them out of their ‘instinct’ for the scene, and into their heads – where we can see them start to ‘act’ – which then comes across as technical and untruthful. When I see a mistake in a scene, I find it best to simply ask for another take, offering no note, to see if the actors correct the mistake on their own. If I see the same mistake twice, I will open my mouth.

After two hours, we drove to the location where we’d be shooting. The DP whom I asked to work with me on this couldn’t be there, so in addition to directing the scene and managing the set, I would have to shoot and light the film as well. I wasn’t entirely comfortable with this development, but those were the cards I was dealt. Done this my whole career in the documentary world, but obviously, a scripted piece was a completely new experience.

In just over four hours we shot six pages, via nine camera set-ups, which added up to well over three dozen shots – tons of coverage. The performances were great. The camera work has drawn praise from trusted colleagues. The lighting is a bit flat, but I’m hoping I can tweak it with colour correction. The piece is cutting together nicely.

It’s been a very long time since I had been so intensely focused on one thing. It wasn’t until a few minutes after we wrapped, that my concentration dropped sufficiently for thoughts of my father’s funeral earlier that day to cross my mind. I was shocked that I hadn’t spared a single wayward thought towards Strasbourg, Saskatchewan, where at 3:30pm earlier that day, a church full of people gathered together in his name.

In a way, it was a perfect way to spend my day.

Not Thinking About What I’m Thinking About

I have been keeping busy with meetings and the logistics of planning a shoot for tomorrow. The meetings have gone great, and the logistics, despite the expected fires flaring up, have fallen into place.

In the meantime, there have been countless phone calls, emails, and messages from friends and family offering their condolences. The attention is bittersweet. It’s nice to be loved, and I have felt a need to reach out, but there’s something about talking about the same emotional thing, over and over again, that has me feeling kind of numb to it all.

Since he and Kathy moved to Strasbourg, I would see Dad infrequently at the best of times. We’d speak to each other on the phone every other month. Our relationship never felt distant, just ‘on hold’ until such time that we could see each other again.

They should make a Hallmark Card for that.

“Thinking of you, infrequently… until such time that we stumble into seeing each other again.”

Dad is gone now, but it doesn’t ‘feel’ any different from how things were before – except for the knowledge that there won’t be a next time – which has been cause to remember everything we’ll never get to talk about or do together.

People are coming over tonight and then I have the shoot tomorrow. I don’t quite know how to feel or express myself about that other stuff. I’m sure it will wash over me once a few weeks have passed.

Art Imitating Life Imitating Art

Play-3-Jarrett-1024x890A month ago, I submitted my play, That Moment In Between to the Toronto Cold Reads Series. A portion of it was read by professional actors on Sunday to an enthusiastic audience.

The play is a romantic comedy about the end of a marriage – specifically about the end of my marriage to PJ. It’s been a year since I read it. I left it to the organizers to select which portion of the play they would present.

And so there I was, sitting with a group of actors, reading through scenes 2 – 5 together for a quick pass before going live in front of an audience. I forgot that portion of the play included a scene about PJ, crawling into her mother’s hospital bed, after her mother passed away. She laid with her mother in that bed for four more hours, before coming home.

I listened to that scene on Sunday, and I thought about my own father, who died one day earlier.

A million thoughts flashed through my mind. Memories washed over me. Poetic irony pulled up next to me for a glimpse at the show. Kind of a beautiful moment.

Saturday is Dad’s funeral, and I’ll be 2,783 kms away, here in Toronto, making a short film about what the word ‘Beautiful’ really means when spoken.

The logistics of getting home for his funeral are difficult right now. I would like to be there, but I simply can’t get away. There are too many urgent things that need attention right here in Toronto. There’s no body to bury anyway, so it will be far more meaningful to do something with his ashes when Jazzy and I are back at Easter.

There have been so many conversations with close friends about Dad over these past few days. I continue to walk around with thoughts and memories of him drifting in and out of my mind.

I have decided that since I can’t be home for Dad’s funeral on Saturday, I’m going to have people over on Friday. Not a memorial, but a celebration. Life is for living, and I want people in my Toronto life to be around me. Music. Food. Alcohol. Inappropriate humour.

And then life goes on.

Final Words to my Dad

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The final words I ever spoke to my dad, were angry ones. He died last night.

He phoned me on my birthday, three weeks ago and we got into an argument. I wound up hanging up on him, then wrote him a letter shortly after. It angered him so much, he wouldn’t answer the phone or respond to any message I left between then and now.

In a way, it’s poetically perfect for things to be left between us like that. I cried real tears this morning, for the first time since we had another fight, 19 years ago.

Here is the letter I wrote him;

Dad.

You’ve always tried to be the big hero when others are in distress. You’ve always tried to facilitate the building of bridges between estranged people in your life. You go on endlessly about relationships in your past that were lost, estranged, or harmed in some way through your words or actions, but you fail to maintain the relationships in your present.

You constantly bring up the past, talking about those who’ve wronged you, but you go around in the present saying and doing things that injure those who are closest to you. Most significantly, you are completely ignorant of the damage you cause.

It takes so much to overcome the hurts we accumulate through our daily lives, but requires only the slightest, most careless of words to cause the most profound of damage to our headspace.

We can walk the earth, and with almost no effort, we can be the toxic cancer that slowly kills those around us. We can also choose to put more thought into our words and actions, and become the light the heals those around us.

Before you put anymore thought into telling others how they should live their lives, how and when they should accept God into their lives, or condemn others for the wrongs they’ve caused you – start with fixing the person you see in the mirror. He’s the only one you have any control over anyway.

Jarrett

I always felt close with my Dad. We’ve been through a lot of hard years together. I think back to my childhood and I remember nothing but love.

At Christmas, we knew the end might be near. We had the ‘conversation’. There were no tears or dramatics. Nothing new to say that hadn’t already been said. Nothing to resolve that we couldn’t live to get off our chest. Just me and dad, being who we are, and not quite accepting each others’ point of view.

Maybe if we did resolve every outstanding little thing, it would feel like the end. It would feel like a period instead of a comma. This outstanding last little bit of bitchiness, in a way, keeps him alive inside of me. It’s the conflict I’ll carry with me to the end of my days. It’s a perfect symbol of how beautifully imperfect our relationship was.

I love you Dad, warts and all.

Wading into the Universe of The Graphic Novel

A sample of how well my article was received in the comic universe.

A sample of how well my article was received in the comic universe.

I wrote a quick little article on my quiet little blog, not expecting, or desiring much attention. I write mostly for myself to check in with my own thoughts, for my own reasons. In the 10 years that I’ve been writing my blog, I’ve never had more than a couple dozen hits on a single article. I like it that way because writing for a mass audience fucks with my sense of being honest with myself, when so many people are watching.

Then yesterday happened. 973 hits from 735 unique visitors fed by Facebook and Twitter from 17 different countries. As of 9am this morning, I’m already looking at 94 hits from 65 unique visitors.

I did post my article on the wall of InkCanada, a writers’ group on Facebook. A handful of people there have very generously given me brutally honest feedback on my work, so that I may make it better. It’s a nurturing group, as much as it is a tough love group. We all want each other to succeed.

Most of us already have careers in the film & television industry, and so when I make a statement like, “I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past few days into Graphic Novels because I keep hearing how they can be a great way to prove a concept…” we understand that implicit in that statement is a shit ton of work, tears, collaboration, rejection, rewriting, learning, and maybe some measure of success after many, many months.

And then my article found its way into the comic book universe.

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I was hoping that “drown in hobo piss” might be how they invite you to a coffee meeting at Starbucks in Portland, but it very quickly became clear that I accidentally angered a whole community of dedicated, passionate artists and fans who live and breathe comics.

This community is fighting a stigma that comic books are somehow a lesser form of literature than other mediums. Screen writers come up against this stigma as well because some people erroneously equate a lot of white space on the page with ‘simple’ and ‘easy’.

When I wrote in my article, “It turns out that TV scripts convert easily into Graphic Novel format (you push a button in Final Draft). From there, you hire an artist to draw the novel – a process not much different from creating story boards for a feature film,” I can see how this community would erroneously attribute me with having a flippant attitude towards their art, but I stand by that statement because there’s a deeper implication to it.

If I were to rewrite that same statement for an artist from the comic book crowd, it might go something like this;

“Here artist creature person, this is my script. I’ve been living with this story inside of me for two years. I care deeply about these characters. I desperately want an audience to follow their journey. I don’t trust TV execs because these are the same idiots who cancelled Firefly after 12 episodes. I am passionate about bringing this story to the world.

To this end, I pressed a button in Final Draft. This script has now been formatted into something you can work with. I understand there will be more rewrites from here, as we work together to adapt this story from a television realm, to a comic universe. I understand that, and after looking at your portfolio and talking to people who know you, and spending time in Starbucks drowning in hobo piss together, that we share in a creative vision for how to make this story great.

I am placing my baby into your arms. I don’t know much about what you do, but I do understand that as we go through the process of wrapping your art around my words, in film terms, you are equal parts production designer, director, cinematographer, and editor.

I also understand that there will be many conversations through the prep phase of this project and that we are looking at several months to complete this. I also know that I’m looking at spending $6,000-$10,000 dollars to reach a finished product.

Do we have a deal?”

To anyone out there in the comic book world whom I offended, I humbly apologize. You are exactly the sort of people whom I want to work with, and write for. Your knowlege and passion for the work is beyond measure. I know that if I can work with you to create something great, our journey together will take us to amazing places.

To those who posted thoughtful responses on my blog, I thank you. To the rest, please stop saying mean things about me.

Self-Publishing a Graphic Novel to Prove a TV Concept

***AFTER READING THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE READ MY FOLLOW UP ARTICLE HERE***

I have a Sci-Fi pilot that I’m told would be a tough sell in Canada. No cops, doctors, or lawyers. Even as I continue to gather notes from trusted colleagues to improve the story, I can’t help but feel nervous about the fact that there are only a small handful of places I could pitch the project, even if the story was perfect.

I’ve been doing a lot of research over the past few days into Graphic Novels because I keep hearing how they can be a great way to prove a concept by sewing an audience, prior to pitching a project to a broadcaster. The graphic novel route has the added benefit of potentially recovering development expenses through book sales.

It turns out that TV scripts convert easily into Graphic Novel format (you push a button in Final Draft). From there, you hire an artist to draw the novel – a process not much different from creating story boards for a feature film.

There are considerations, such as ensuring the big reveal always happens after turning a page – which means a lot of thought needs to go into how many panels are used on a page to visually tell the story. The art itself, the gestures, and direction of the lines, will also have a subconscious affect on the story, so careful thought must be given there as well.

A 54 page script works out to be about 54 pages in a Graphic Novel. It takes 7-10 days for an artist to design the characters and environments, as well as to create thumbnail sketches of the panels themselves. Once that prep work is done, the artist can expect to complete about a page per day in full colour.

Publishing the Graphic Novel can be done free of charge using Amazon’s Kindle Comic Creator. I’m thinking that publishing the Graphic Novel as an e-book would be the simplest, most straightforward way to go. No printing. No worries about distribution. Amazon pays a 70% royalty on each sale.

Amazon also has built-in marketing tools that can be leveraged to promote the book across its world-wide network. If it’s about generating sales, to grow an audience, to prove the concept to a broadcaster, it might make more sense to sell the book at a lower price.

This is a snapshot of what I’ve learned so far. I realize it sounds a bit simplistic, but it’s really got my wheels turning. I googled ‘Book Adaptations in Hollywood’ and found the following statistics;

• 85 percent of all Academy Award-winning Best Pictures are adaptations.
• 45 percent of all television movies-of-the-week are adaptations, (70 percent of all Emmy Award winners come from these films).
• 83 percent of all miniseries are adaptations (95 percent of Emmy Award winners are drawn from these films).
Given how easy it is to self-publish, then access a mass market, the idea seems to have merit. Of course, the whole house of cards will collapse if the story is shit – which brings me back to my current rewrite.

Big Dramatic Departure From the Usual Tripe

I’m opening this article with the stated purpose of NOT writing about anything that’s going on in my career at the moment.

I’m feeling like my blog is skewing heavily away from other aspects of my life. Take for example my Netflix habit. I watched three episodes of Dr. Who last night. I do that a lot, but I never write about it. I’m always on about some meeting, or script I’m working on, or industry thingle I might tangle with.

I never write about watching Netflix – not without some career type context. But not today. No. Today I write about watching Dr. Who on Netflix because that’s what’s really on my mind at the moment.

Indeed.

So yeah. I watched Dr. Who on Netflix last night.

I’m glad I got that off my chest.

Dreaming of Better Endings

I woke up in the middle of the night with a new ending in mind for the second episode of the web series. I had spent the earlier part of the day rewriting that episode, and I got it to a place where it was solid. One of the writers from InkTip, who saw the previous draft, concurred.

I increased the stakes for one of the characters in the scene, which forced the other character to work harder to win his objective. I cut one page of dialogue, then added in another two pages of fresh wordage. I thought I was done.

This morning I added three more lines of dialogue. It was the difference between ending on a nice, well-rounded, feel-good moment between friends, and shocking the reader (audience) into a cliff-hanger. Gotta keep ’em coming back for more, right?

The other part of my day yesterday, was dedicated to designing a full page ad promoting myself and my 2D in 3D work, for GALAvanting Digital Magazine. It’s an e-magazine dedicated to listing all the Galas and fundraising events in the GTA. I was given the spot because I did some work for the Chocolate Ball last year, free of charge.

Design and layout doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m competent enough bending Photoshop to my will, but starting with a blank canvass and a few random elements is daunting. I poked around for a few hours before looking at layouts for other posters and advertisements on the internet. When I found one I liked, I did my best to approximate its look and feel, and came away with something I’m happy with.

I spent more time designing that one advertisement, than I did writing two episodes of my web series. I’m looking forward to the day when I won’t have to wear all the hats.

Today has meetings and phone calls in store, with more meetings to line up over the coming weeks. Tomorrow will be dedicated to writing something that has NOTHING to do with my career. I promise.