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!

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Template for my Day

I’m out here on the balcony, wearing two bunny hugs and sipping my coffee-chocolate. This day is starting out full of compromise.

The sun hasn’t come around to this side of the house yet, so it’s a bit chilly in the morning shade, but I refuse to sit inside after a whole winter of sitting inside. The other compromise involves my morning coffee. Ran out this morning. I put three half-scoops of grounds in the coffee maker, but wasn’t sure it would come out tasting like coffee. To this end, I added some hot chocolate to my cup, and the results are impressive.

On Monday, I launched the TCR Writers’ Group – an extension of the Toronto Cold Reads Series. The goal is to facilitate the development of new scripts, and do this in three ways;

1. WRITERS ROOM – Meet as frequently as possible, in various venues & living rooms around the city, to simply sit in a room together, and force each other to write.

2. NOTES – Members of the group may submit their work to each other for notes. We may even organize a formal ‘Notes Night’ where 2-3 scripts can be discussed.

3. WORKSHOP – When the group feels like a writer’s work is ready, we will recommend it for a reading by professional actors, as part of the Toronto Cold Reads Series’ regular Sunday events.

The response thus far has been positive. The group has 40 members already on Facebook, and our first get-together is this afternoon at the Toronto Reference Library.

I set a goal to have the first draft of my spec script vomited out by Sunday. I’m already having my doubts about meeting the goal. It’ll be 5 Acts + a Teaser. I’m following a template I gleaned from breaking down four episodes last month. Thus far, the templates are proving to be fairly plug & play.

I have a handle on most of my story line, and the the sub-plots derived there of. I know how frequently the characters appear, who they appear with, and for how long they should be together. I’ve been slotting in the Act breaks first, then figuring out how to connect those breaks later. This process feels more like a puzzle to solve, rather than a story to write. I’m right now half way through Act IV in my outline, and realized I have a bit more research to do before I can wrap everything up in Act V.

To this end, I’ve downloaded a 28 page report on the Iran-Contra Affair. I remember hearing about it on TV when I was a kid, but now that I’m going through it with a fine tooth comb, it’s making for great fodder for my spec script. I’m excited to see how this story will turn out.

Easter McDonalds

It’s Easter Morning and I’m sitting on the balcony with a coffee. The sun is out and it’s almost warm enough to be comfortable. I put on a few extra layers so I won’t have to leave this spot. The cat just showed up with a similar idea in mind.

Jazz and I went to Romanian church last night for Easter service. Must have been 400 people there, most of them speaking Romanian as they mingled in the parking lot waiting for the service to begin. There were too many of us to fit in the Church, so service began in that parking lot.

In Regina/Assiniboia, there’s always this part where we circle the church once or thrice. There were so many people at this church, that the priest took us around the whole block (one of Toronto’s famous loooooong narrow blocks), just so the end of the line would actually have somewhere to walk to, once we all stretched out into a procession.

Forty-five minutes had passed by this point, and people began to split, once they completed their lap. Jazz and I just looked at each other. “Wanna call this an hour, and head off to McDonald’s for Chicken McNuggets?” she asked.

“Let’s call it two. Say we did the whole thing, before departing for our Easter McDonald’s meal.”

We laughed all the way back to the car.

Today I’m going to do a bit of work on the spec script. I have a basic story mapped out, after doing some research on Iran’s nuclear program, and the sanctions around it. This will be a very political, action-filled type of script – a nice complement to Machiavelli & Tymes. With these two scripts in my arsenal, added to Room 31, and my Boardwalk Empire spec, I feel like I’ll have enough material to start hunting for an agent.

Time to wash the cobwebs out of my eyes. Happy Easter!

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

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.

The Case of the Thursday Morning Snows

The snow came overnight. All at once. And it’s still coming. Kinda feels like December out there.

The other thing that makes it feel like December is Christmas Parties. Louise invited me to hers last night at Joy Bistro on Queen Street East. She’s an agent who represents actors, so there were a lot of those types at the party. I ran into two who wouldn’t shut up about Coronation Street. They’re talking about doing a podcast. The open bar and colourful gathering made for a fun night. I even managed to make a few new connections.

I’m finding myself in a bit of a purgatory these days. Jazz and I leave for Regina on Tuesday, so I haven’t really been pounding the pavement, looking for daily work. By the time they need me, I’ll be gone. There are a few shows crewing up in the new year. I’ll be visiting their production offices today, looking to get a meeting. I’m also keeping busy writing pitches for a couple of different (potential) clients.

I began Act IV of Machiavelli & Tymes last week. I still have a major caper to figure out, but it’s only a couple scenes long, so nothing too epic. It would be pretty super duper alright if I could find some time today to get that done. I have a meeting with Shaftesbury on Monday, so wish me luck.

Reign of Act III

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I worked 14 hours on the set of Reign yesterday. A week ago I was on Suits. The difference between two shows, is that for some reason, after finishing up on Suits, I limped around like an old man for two days, and this morning my gate was surprisingly agile. Weak ankles. My mother’s contribution to my DNA. The gift that keeps on giving.

I’m in Liberty Village today. Just finished a meeting and moved over to a coffee shop. My parking is paid ’til 6pm, so I decided to make the most of being out of the house, to get some work done on my laptop.

I started on Act III of Machiavelli & Tymes on Wednesday night. Feels good so far. I was a bit timid about getting to it because I’m not convinced I know where I’m going with the story anymore. In past articles I decided against beginning this act with an epic action sequence. After further debate in my mind, I decided to stick to the original plan – so alas, the act kicks off with a character jumping out of a helicopter in a wing suit.

I got tired of sitting around NOT writing while I tossed alternatives for the story around in my head. Writing makes me feel good. There will be rewrites in the future. Might as well get this out on the page to see what I learn. Already I discovered little twists and quirky moments that I never would have arrived at if I just sat around intellectualizing a road map.

Speaking of road maps, my day looks like this;

1. Work the DGC Hotlist.
2. Clean up my inbox.
3. Work on Act III.
4. Conference call with the CFL.

Oh yeah, forgot to mention that I was asked to help out with a commercial the CFL will be airing during the Grey Cup. Myself and two others from the Argos Admirals are being given media accreditation for access to the Eastern Final. We’ll have access to all parts of Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton as we document the experience with our iPhones. Never been to Tim Horton’s Field, so I’m looking forward to the experience.

Alright, that’s it. That’s enough cool things to say about my day today. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

Memorable on Remembrance Day

I was driving downtown, listening to Remembrance Day on CBC Radio 1 when Mom called. She just wanted to check in and see how I’m doing. It’s good to be in her thoughts.

When I found a coffee shop on King St. E., I opened up Facebook and saw a message from PJ. She asked about Jazzy, and then passed along some comforting words related to my Dad. Once again, good to be in my ex-wife’s thoughts.

On Sunday I presented Acts I & II of Machiavelli & Tymes to the Toronto Cold Reads. I even managed to cast Jefferson Brown as one of my leads. He’s the actor I booked a year ago for the same role, back when M&T was just a BravoFact short film application. So many people had so many great things to say about the script. My goal is to complete it by the end of November.

I signed my contract today with Next Stage Press. My play Not Being A Dick is going to be published and distributed throughout the english speaking world! Very excited about that.

Today I plan to finish a 3D video for a client. Jazzy helped with some of the Photoshop work for that. Afterwards a trip to FreshCo for some groceries. Grama’s cabbage rolls are thawing out in the fridge and I need tomato juice to cook them in. I can’t remember how long I’m supposed to them boil for, so if anyone would care to leave a comment, I’ll repay the favour by emailing you a cabbage roll.

And this paragraph concludes my little to-do list of happenings in my life. I’ll try to come up with something a little more exciting tomorrow. Perhaps an epic cabbage roll adventure awaits. Feel free to send me an advance for rights to the story.

Three Years Later

photoThree years ago today, I began my life in Toronto.

I pulled up in front of my new apartment and Frank was there, sitting on the step, having a smoke with Robbin. The next thirty-six months of my life would see many surprising twists, turns, mistakes, and small victories. I feel like I’ve changed a lot since that day.

Things came too easy, too fast, and I mistook good fortune for everyday living. My sale to CBC was taken for granted. Some of the people who came and went from my life, were not fully appreciated. The life I left behind in Regina, was dismissed too easily. My ambition to break in as a TV writer was treated like something that would drop in my lap with a minimal effort.

I’ve long felt that life is a river that flows. We ride the current towards our destination. If the current moves away from where we wish to be, then so be it. The Universe will give us what we need.

And while I still believe strongly in that philosophical point of view, I failed to grasp something equally profound – a yang to the River’s yin.

There must be an active component to riding the River. Anything worth having, must be earned. It must be worked at, failed at, worked harder, and ultimately understood on a much deeper level.

While the CBC sale was an unexpected twist of good fortune, I should have taken that gift and used the money to buy time to establish myself in the DGC. While the sitcom I wrote seemed headed for production, I should have seen that script as an opportunity to learn more about my craft. When I thought a green light for my TV series Highwaymen was inevitable, I should have battened down the hatches and not factored theoretical producer/writer fees into my cash-flow reality.

I’ve been riding that River through Toronto for three years now, and I can look back and see my regrets – my missed opportunities – with great clarity. I can also now see the blessings in front of me with equal clarity.

I have attached myself to an incredible group of working writers. We meet every three weeks or so, and I seem to fit in well with them. Other writers have come into my life, read my work, and helped me to become better at my craft. I’m on the verge of completing the first draft of a new one-hour TV drama.

After four months, I find myself on the cusp of being established in the Director’s Guild. I’ve worked on Bark Ranger, Greatest Christmas Party Ever, Transporter, Lost Girl, Inland, Suits, and Reign. I have an interview on Monday with the team from from a series that starts up in a couple weeks.

Client work has also been on the uptick. And while some of it seems rather ‘unlofty’ compared to my other ambitions, I’m not afraid to admit that I enjoy the work. I look around at other established writers/filmmaker types, and they’re all taking the gigs they need to take, so they can keep their cash-flow healthy. Why should I be a snob about it?

I have amazing people in my life. There are a number so Saskatchewan peeps who’ve made the leap out this way. There are even more Toronto creatures who’ve drained pints with me on a regular basis. It can be lonely sometimes, being so far away from the prairies, but ‘home’ has now become the people I surround myself with.

And lastly I have Jazzy, the greatest blessing of all. She’s my beautiful little girl. She inspires me. She’s my family.