Minding The Eras

RidervilleSeasonPassFaceI hired three more writers from Toronto Cold Reads Series to help me with the sitcom. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done on the business and marketing side of the project that requires my attention, so I sought out some people I know. It’s a load off my mind, and it feels good to be collaborating with colleagues who bring a different perspective to the table.

None are Rider fans, nor do they know anything about football, but they are great writers who’ve studied the craft. I’ve said from the beginning that I want this series to be about great stories first, history second, and football third.

With episodes taking place in 1956, 1967, 1973, 1987, 1999, and 2007, there’s a lot that needs to be learned about each era. To this end, I’ve been scanning old newspapers that cover those eras. I then send these archives to the writers, and speak with them individually about what newspaper stories jump out at them. From there, it’s a bit like The Writers’ Challenge at Toronto Cold Reads. Craft a story based on elements drawn from a goodie bag of random artifacts.

We should have all the scripts complete by August 10. We record the episodes at Royal Saskatchewan Museum Auditorium on Aug 23, 24, and 25th.

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Characters in Search of a Point

My days have been full of writing – at least with thoughts full of thinking about writing. I’ve committed to delivering a 1st draft of the second episode of the sitcom today. The routine seems to be me procrastinating for a spell, then digging in, writing for a few hours, procrastinating some more, then forcing myself to keep writing. You could say I’m on schedule to meet my target.

This last episode was a tricky one. I had a basic premise, but it took me awhile to flesh it out. I tried breaking it into an outline, and that was helpful, but there remained a lot of holes that I wasn’t quite sure how to fill. I decided to dive in and write the teaser. Then I deleted everything I wrote, and came up with something different. From there I abandoned my second attempt, and rewrote my first attempt. The dialogue was completely different, but the setting remained the same. I also repurposed a few gags from my initial attempt.

It’s like I had to spend time with these characters, improvising different scenes, so I could learn what makes them tick. I worry sometimes their voices blend too much into my previous characters. Thus far, I think I found the handle.

In other news, my distributor sold my documentary series, InJustice, to a broadcaster in the Middle East. I had Jazzy on the phone on Friday, going through my hard drives, tracking down the files they need. They’re paying in US currency, and with the Canadian dollar so low, I appreciate the exchange.

Today has more writing in store. I also need to set up some meetings, while following up on others. Lots to do. Deadlines to meet. Wish me luck.

Researching Around the Stereo Types

  I’m sitting inside Victoria College with a Hot Docs Conference Pass hanging around my neck. I won it at the DGC’s AGM a couple of weeks ago, and I’m somewhat saddened that I won’t get to take full advantage of it.

I start on a movie next week, so while I will have free admittance to all of the documentaries that are screening over the next three weeks in the evenings, the conference itself will be unavailable to me. I think I’m going to get Jazzy to skip a day of school next week so she can go in my place. I’m sure she’ll get a lot out of the panel discussions and other activities.

The spec script is going well. I’ve done so much research on Iran and its nuclear program, that I’m sure I’ve drawn the attention of some clandestine government organization hankering to hook electrodes up to my nipples. The going has been slow because the material is so dense. Also, I procrastinate a lot.

At the Toronto Reference Library yesterday, I sat down for several hours, and kept coming upon niggly little bits of information that I needed to obtain. Things like the names of certain Persian desserts, features of Persian architecture, or the name of a Lebanese photo-journalist who was killed in the most recent Israeli/Hezbollah conflict.

I’m proud of how real the world feels in the script – especially since I started with knowing nothing about any of it. Research allows me to write depth into the characters. It allows me to avoid stereotypes. It makes the story compelling. I almost feel like I’m plagiarizing the 6 o’clock news – from a Persian perspective.

Thus far, I’m half way through Act I. I spent some time cleaning up the first nine pages this afternoon, and I aim to reach Act II by this evening. As I mentioned previously, this script will be five acts plus a teaser.

Well, 5pm doth toll. It’s time to pound more pages.

Later!

Remembering Film 100

Yesterday was reasonably productive. I submitted a pitch to a potential sponsor for the Rider sitcom that included two treatments and two short scripts. I also headed down to the library on Queen St. E. to write a one-pager for the Christmas movie pitch. I was very happy with both products.

I headed over to Dave’s to pick up the firewood in his backyard. It was cold and rainy, and my hands went numb after five minutes. The wood remains in the trunk of my car, and I have resolved to leave it there until the weather turns cooperative.

Jazz came home around 8 and we fell into a conversation about Charlie Chaplin. She was concerned that she wouldn’t have enough things to say about him to fill a 20 minute presentation. To this, I dug deep into all my Film 100 recollections, to make the case for Chaplin as a pioneer in the development of a visual story telling language – the very language of cinema. I got into a whole schpiel on his contemporaries and was about to play The Great Train Robbery by Edwin S. Porter in 1903, when Dave walked in.

Together, the two of us got into a whole panel discussion on early 20th century filmmaking – all for Jazz’s benefit. I admit, I’m not as up on the history of cinema as Dave is. He apparently loved film theory in film school. Me, I was always more interested in playing with all the shiny objects.

This morning Jazz is making a pitch to her teacher, to adapt her project to be more about the development of cinematic language through those early years, using Chaplin as a roadmap. I’m very proud of her, and I am very much looking forward to reliving Film 100 through my daughter’s assignment.

When the Gap Fills from Unexpected Places

I finished the latest draft of Machiavelli & Tymes on Thursday. It’s been a long time since I felt such a profound sense of accomplishment. In receiving feedback on previous drafts, I was told that it was a fun and fast read, with lots of action, sharp dialogue, and memorable characters. There was some confusion over what was happening in my Teaser, as well as with Act IV.

This latest draft addressed those concerns. I moved my Teaser to an art gallery in Bucharest, where both of my protagonists were now undertaking an art heist. The stakes became higher, and we got more of a sense for what these characters are about.

Act IV has been almost completely rewritten. I went back to the drawing board and wrote a new outline for how it would unfold. My intent was not to salvage what I had already written, but to blow it up and start anew. However, I did take an inventory for what I liked about the Act.

The opening scene was not only solid, but essential. Only a few tweaks there. Ditto for my next scene, which was only 5/8’s of a page anyway. The big reveal at the end was also solid, but the dialogue and arc of the scene needed to be cleaned up. The final scene, 4/8’s of a page, was good, but could be subject to change, depending on what I did with the rest of Act IV.

It took me about five hours to write the third scene of Act IV. Two of my characters have completely new objectives – which profoundly transforms the whole dynamic of Act IV. The action in the scene became cleaner, sharper, more focused, and the scene moved much faster. To my surprise, I was able to show off the ‘super powers’ or special abilities for two of my characters in this scene. One’s proficient at Parkour, and the other can dislocate his own joints at will, to effect an escape. When I drew up the scene, I had no idea they could do these things, but I knew I would have to come up with something special for them eventually.

What made the rewrite successful is that I knew where the scene began, and I knew where it had to go. I knew the characters’ objectives, and I knew what obstacles would complicate those objectives. The rest I left up to the characters themselves, to improvise their way through the scene. One character does something, that forces another to react a certain way. They’re both fighting to win their objectives, and the clock is ticking. In times like that, I don’t even feel like I’m writing anymore. I’m transcribing. Characters completely take over the writing process.

Then the scene ends, and I run into a wall. No plan for what would come next. I wasn’t even sure how many pages the scene needed to be. Great big question marks, with a blinking curser sitting there, doing nothing – and three characters waiting on me for  directions.

After an hour of sketching out different ideas, and rejecting all of them, I decided to jump to my penultimate scene – the big reveal. This scene at least had a shape to it. If I could get this scene right, I could work backwards to my third scene. I would then know how big the gap is between this scene, and my third scene and I would know my page count. Most importantly, I would be writing, instead of sitting there staring at a blinking curser.

The fine line between expository dialogue and moving the story forward with conflict and action, can be tough to navigate. I think the biggest problem with my penultimate scene was that I erred on the side of less exposition, in favour of more conflict. The ending felt incomplete, and even a little confusing as a result. I found the solution from another source.

Between bouts of writing M&T, I had been breaking down episodes of The Blacklist for the spec script I’ll soon be starting. Blacklist is one of the highest rated, and most critically acclaimed shows on television right now – and it is loaded with massive scenes of pure expository dialogue. Sometimes you just need to stop, and lay out all the clues, so everyone on the team (audience included) can move forward. These scenes are pure exposition, completely free of conflict. If Blacklist can be loaded with so much exposition, why can’t I salt a bit of it into my script, where I already have a scene ripe with conflict?

With my penultimate scene fixed, I looked at the two-three page gap that remained in my script. I still had no idea how I was going to move the characters from the third scene to the big reveal. I had no idea and none were coming – the purest form of Writer’s Block I’ve ever felt. I decided upon a utilitarian approach.

My three characters rush out of scene three and into the next logical location. Then thud. They’re there. Now what? One character is up in the rafters (set up from previous scene) and two others must get to her somehow, as quickly as possible. Stairs would be too slow. Elevator would be slower. Scaling a rope, slower yet.

Perhaps they can find a way to bring her to them? Perhaps they can CUT THE ROPE that’s supporting the catwalk she’s currently running along!

Boom!

Problem solved. Fresh objectives. Over the next two pages the resulting action took on a wonderfully memorable twist, that had me struggling to contain my laughter as I wrote. I was back to transcribing again, and everything made complete sense. This scene turned out to become one of my most favourite in the entire script – and all of it came from a black gap empty hole.

I’m so proud of this draft. I sent it out to my circle of writer friends, and I’m waiting on feedback.

And then I’ll be sending it off to LA.

Making Headlines Across the Country

It’s a sunny Friday morning here in TO. 73% of my conscious thoughts have been consumed with The Riderville Radio SitcomThe rest of it is spread between feeding the cat, laundry, my screenplay, Machiavelli & Tymes, cabbage rolls, and Toronto Cold Reads.

As for the cat, I don’t believe I’ve mentioned her yet on my blog. She is called Echo – whom we named after a character in a Joss Whedon series. Mostly, Jazz and I just call her ‘Cat’. “Cat, what are you doing?” “Cat, what are you trying to say?” “Cat, why did you just piss on my jacket?”

We’ve had her since October. Got her the week Grama stayed with us. At first I wasn’t crazy about the idea of having a pet. I felt I needed to make more mistakes with my daughter before I was ready for the responsibility of an animal. Now I’m glad she’s a part of our family. The cat I mean. I curl up with her on the couch sometimes, and feel dried up bits of crustiness, flaking off my personality. It seems I’m going to have to learn how to write without tapping my trusty well of angst for inspiration.

I had a meeting yesterday with The Harold Greenberg Fund about my screenplay, That Moment In Between. I was advised to research the projects they’ve funded – to look at who the production companies behind those projects were – and partner with one of them to produce a 10 minute version of my film. They have a program that will fund such undertakings, and it will be the best way to help the feature length version along future stages of development. To this end, I have begun my research. Best of all – there is a tight deadline to write a 10 page script, put a team together, then submit a proposal. Nothing helps stuff get done, like a tight deadline.

Speaking of tight deadlines, Acts III and IV of Machiavelli & Tymes are being read at the season opener of the Toronto Cold Reads on Sunday night. There’s going to be a big crowd. I want to tweak Act IV before the scripts are printed, and my deadline is 5pm today. My goal is to finish my work on the sitcom today, with enough time left over to make those tweaks.

On Tuesday I used the Roughriders media distribution list to send a media release, announcing The Riderville Radio Sitcom. Within a couple of hours, the series was making headlines across the country. I was interviewed on CKRM and CJOB (Winnipeg), and I’m scheduled to make appearances on the morning shows of CTV and Global next week.

The Kickstarter campaign has been going slow. The link I provided in the media release wasn’t used in the story that was picked up by news outlets. Thus far, the demo has only been played 562 times – which means a whole lotta people still don’t know about the campaign. I admit to feeling a bit nervous, but the big push happens next week when Harvard Broadcasting will be promoting it across their stations. There will be 120 DJ ad-libs, buttons on their websites, and me being featured on a couple of their shows. I’m flying to Regina next week to help with the push. I have more ideas up my sleeve about other ways I can get the word out.

Alright, that’s enough blogging for today. I have a deadline to meet. Cheers!

RidervilleHeadlines

Voice From the Past

shapeimage_2-63I put a frozen pizza in the oven last night, and 20 minutes later it came out cooked. Shocking how that works. It happens time and time again. The sky is blue, water is wet, and food comes cooked out of my oven. You’re all welcome to come over and test the theory for yourself. I suggest you experiment with chopped up bits of a dead cow.

I spoke to Chantel on the phone last night. I can’t remember the last time I heard her voice. She used to work with me at Dacian as a producer, and I was always intimidated by her ability to completely mask every thought that ever went through her mind. I’d look at her and all I saw was a sea of nothing. She laughed at my jokes, she excelled at her job, and she became a part of the motley assortment of characters moving through my life at the time.

So I heard her voice as we caught up on where we are in our lives. She’s an account exec at an agency in Regina, and she was giving me advice about the marketing campaign for the sitcom. We talked business, but we also picked up where we left off. It felt beyond great to connect.

This project is bringing a lot of people from my past, back into my life. I’m taking none of it for granted. Let’s hope it bodes well for the future.

The Best of Two Cities

It’s been a little while since I wrote in my blog and I’ve been feeling an increasing need to acquiesce to its calling. So here I am, up in the loft of my Beaches apartment, writing.

A lot has happened since Jazzy and I landed two weeks ago. I celebrated a birthday with many of my Toronto peeps. I had a houseful over, and my head didn’t hit the pillow ’til 4am. Andy crashed on the mattress up in the loft and everyone else made it home safe. Friends, booze, music, and stories. Couldn’t think of a better way to mark the beginning of another trip ’round the sun.

I lost my iPhone 4 and replaced it, almost 5 years to the day, with and iPhone 5c. I would have preferred an iPhone 6, but practicality ruled the day – not unlike 5 years ago when I desperately needed to replace my damaged Samsung with something I could take with me to ReelScreen in Washington DC, so I could set up meetings.

It wasn’t love at first sight, but this new phone is growing on me. She’s yellow. She’s fast. She does everything I need her to do, and then some. I named her ‘Jitterbug’. Let’s see how the next five years go.

After much planning, rethinking, second guessing, and planning some more, The Riderville Radio Sitcom is nearing a launch date. The website is up and running. You can check it out to hear the demo. The Kickstarter page is also ready to go, but I’m holding off on launching it until I can coordinate my efforts a little tighter with both Harvard and the Roughriders. I find myself walking around these days, completely inspired – a head full of ideas for story lines I want to pursue, and characters I’d like to write. It’s a fun place to be.

Last night I attended an event put on by the Directors Guild of Canada, where executives from Bell, CBC, Rogers, and Shaw were all present, and there to hear pitches. My invitation to the event came free of charge because I’m a member in the Director’s caucus. The casual lounge atmosphere, open bar, and inspired location in the Blue Room at TIFF, made for a fruitful evening. I set up meetings with CTV, Harold Greenburg Fund, and exchanged contact info with several other colleagues. This exact same opportunity at the Banff Television Festival, or Reelscreen in Washington DC would cost over $2,500.

I miss Regina, but I’m happy to be back in Toronto. If I can exist for awhile with one foot firmly planted in both cities, I will not complain. Here’s looking to a fruitful 2015!

Sipping A Celebratory Beer in O’Hanlon’s with a Face Full of Beard

Photo on 2015-01-07 at 7.25 AM #3I fell into a conversation with the bartender at O’Hanlon’s yesterday. I was having a celebratory pint after concluding my meeting with Harvard Broadcasting. The bartender asked me what I was celebrating, and I told him about the sitcom. He asked if he could hear the demo. I said sure and pulled out my laptop. He asked if it was online. I said yes. He had me type the address into their computer, and had the demo play to the entire bar over their sound system.

It was something special to hear it out loud, in such an iconic public space. The line-up of people asking for my autograph afterwards didn’t quite materialize, because the bar was empty, but at least the bartender liked it. Later in the day I played the demo for Rob Vanstone at the LeaderPost. When the time comes, he said he’ll be happy to write a story about it.

At supper Grama shaved off my beard while Jazzy filmed the undertaking on her phone. My face feels amazing, and I no longer have to be strategic about how I sip coffee. I can’t stop rubbing my cheeks.

Jazz and I are currently sitting in a corner of the lounge in the Regina airport. Our 6:15am flight has been delayed to 8:40am, so I’ve had a bit of time to sit and muse.

Toronto awaits. I leave Regina with some reluctance. The last three weeks have been quite the run. Somewhere in between development on the radio sitcom, and all the familiar faces I took in, my stay here has been one big serendipitous leap from moment to moment. If Toronto can promise the same over the next few weeks, I will not complain.

Being Home Again

I woke up this morning in my old room at Mom’s house. Had to put Jazzy on an early morning flight bound for Vancouver. We’ve been in Regina just over a week now, and it’s been quite the adventure.

First of all, I hadn’t realized quite how much I missed home. I also hadn’t realized that despite countless episodes of picking up, and dropping off Jazzy at airports over the last eight years, that we’ve never actually flown together before. We sat at the back of the plane, where we had the middle seat to ourselves. Twenty minutes into the flight, Jazzy put up the arm rests and stuck her feet in my lap – which was my cue to provide a foot rub.

As we flew, I allowed the seed of an idea that first was planted at the Toronto Cold Read Series in October, to bud somewhat. Upon landing I sent Rod Pedersen (voice of the Roughriders) a text. “I’m in town. Can we meet on Friday?”

He responded positively.

The following morning I found myself sitting in the window of Atlantis – in my old spot. I figured that before I go half-cocked on my budding idea, I should first do some research, perhaps even write a one-pager. I spent half my time writing, and the rest of my time wandering with my mind, through a meandering current of thinky-thoughts.

The year’s been a hard one on my head space. The reality of losing Dad in February had only recently began to wash over me. He’s really gone. And what does it all mean? Feels like it means something, but I can’t quite touch it.

On the way home, I found myself driving through the old neighbourhood – passed my old house, my old school, and even my old paper route. I’m normally not one to indulge too much into my past, but something was knocking on that door.

After sketching out a rough budget for my project the next morning, I began to glimpse at what sort of stakeholders would need to be involved, and to what extent. This led me to a meeting with an old film school colleague at Creative Saskatchewan. In broad strokes, she outlined how my project might fit into their funding criteria, though nothing quite like my idea had ever crossed their desk before. She wished me luck, then asked if I was planning to attend the industry Christmas party that night.

“What party?” I asked.

Three hours later, I found myself in a room full of people, whom I’d known my whole career. I forgot what it was like to have such an interconnected history with so many people in one place. It felt like family. It felt like home.

The next morning, I met with Rod. He loved my idea. I next met with Mike at Twisted Pair Sound, who also loved my idea. He agreed to provide free studio time, so I could record a demo. From there I met with Mike at ACTRA Saskatchewan, who also expressed a strong desire to see my project made. My final meeting of the day was with Harvard Broadcasting, the Roughriders’ radio rights holder. Though my idea would be something they’ve never done before, it was met with much enthusiasm and an invitation to keep the conversation going.

My final stop of the day was at Java Post. I asked Joan if she would play a role in my project, and she enthusiastically agreed. Java also happened to be having their year-end Christmas party that day, so I was invited to stick around. Within an hour, I once again found myself surrounded by people I’d known my whole career.

They say you don’t buy beer, you rent it, so a visit to the bathroom was inevitable. I had to walk right passed my old office space in the building to get there. The door to the space was open, so I stepped inside. We created over 36 episodes of television inside those walls. In a flash I saw every face, felt every memory, and relived a piece of my history that seems a million years old. I just don’t feel like I have that much in common anymore, with the person who used to pay the rent there.

On Tuesday I recorded the demo for my project – a radio sitcom about the Riders. It sounds fantastic. The feedback has been enthusiastic, and its prospects for success seem inevitible. Putting it together felt more like a scavenger hunt, where all I did was drive around collecting “yes’s.” I’ll be launching a Kickstarter campaign in January, so there remains much work to do, but in the meantime, I will bask in appreciation for what was accomplished in such a short period of time.

There’s no part of me that feels ungrateful for the home-cooking and abundant family time I’ve been receiving since arriving in Regina. In many ways, the best Christmas present of all, has been to simply wander aimlessly through the memories and musings awaiting me here. It’s been so easy. So remarkably easy.

This is what home is supposed to feel like.