TGIM - Big Government

I won't get into an argument as I'm more likely to hurt someone right now than engage in discourse. But let's just say that my issues with Big Government have boiled over to the point where I'm considering leaving it all behind and living as a hermit, in the forest, in the nude...

Ever notice that sometimes it's easier to stay drunk than positive?


Shane Black Talks Action Cinema

From the UK Guardian, a quick 10 things to keep in mind. Been on a Shane Black kick the last couple days (despite watching none of his movies) and managed to run across this.

Most are easy to forget, but when executed properly you end up with much better movies. I haven't seen Transformers 2, but I guarantee if this checklist had been used in the first one, it would have been a much better movie. You know, outside of just being pretty at points.


I Feel Violated

I've never been a victim of violence. I've never had any of my orifices (particularly the out-holes) violated. But after dealing with the U.S. Government's Employment Development Division, the despicable organization responsible for Unemployment Benefits, I feel like I have.

Here's the abbreviate saga:

Across the last 5.5 months, I've received a grand total of ONE WEEK OF BENEFITS. How did this happen? There was the paperwork snafu early on in which I didn't even know I had been sent a time-sensitive form. Why didn't I know? Well, they sent me mountains of useless paperwork and this was sandwiched in between. By the time I re-read the book and figured out what was what, I spent weeks calling them trying to get an answer. This was before they opened up their call centers on Saturday, and I NEVER got through, NOT EVEN ONCE.

Finally reached someone on a Saturday and they told me I'd have to open a new claim. Okay, fine. Money down the drain, but shit happens. I re-open, going through the arduous process again and things are all good. A few weeks later (nearly 5) I'm set to receive my first two weeks of payment. But only one week comes. There was a holding period, so the first week isn't paid.

Um... shouldn't the three months of nothing count as my waiting period?

So the next week I attempt to be a law-abiding citizen of the United States and report the freelance income I'm being paid over this next period. Where does that land? With another big fat ZERO three weeks later, saying I made too much to qualify. But they send another claim form which I fill out. Cut to three weeks later and I get a response that they want to schedule a PHONE INTERVIEW with me for the end of June. Now, this is on June 5th. They want to do the interview on June 27th. Fuck.

So I try calling during the week. Ha! Like that would ever work. So I hit up a guy on Saturday, he's helpful, puts in a request for a callback. I also email them (where they respond within 5 days). But they don't call back and I don't get my email responded to until June 13th. And what do they say?

They claim that I filled out my form wrong and didn't look for work one of the weeks. Bullshit. Bullshit bullshit bullshit. I double check those forms. While there's a minute possibility I screwed up or my tears erased some of the ink, I don't buy it for a second. So I respond to the email and... that's right, no response. I decide to just let them have their way. They win, I'll wait until June 27th.

That's today. And here's where I really get in my own way. I was up until 5am last night/this morning. Couldn't fall asleep, kept myself busy with useless crap. Finally forced myself to go to bed. The window for the interview was 8am-10am. At 9:58am the phone rings. It's an unknown number and I'm trying not to deal with any work stuff at 10am when I'm this tired. So I let it go to voicemail, then check it (had I been more awake this would have been the PERFECT time to use the Google Voice feature that allows you to listen in on a voicemail being left and then pick up the call).

Thanks to the magic of Google Voice, you can click below to hear what I heard.

I called back immediately. "We're currently experiencing more callers than we can handle." Again. Same. Again. Same. Again. Same. This goes on for roughly 7 minutes when I finally get through. It's a long list of crap to get to the options. I hit the wrong option and... the call disconnects me for a wrong button press (there is no 'speak to an operator' in the menus I was in). Rinse, repeat. Finally get through again, 6 minutes on hold, and I'm speaking to a person.

I explain the situation and then lay on the sympathy, laying out my situation - 5.5 months of unemployment, one week of money back from the system, I need her help. She's giving me the rote, robotic line that they can only answer questions on Saturday. Not good enough. She needs to help me now. We do this dance for a minute, finally she tells me to get a pen.

When I call back on Monday, I'll hear one of two messages. "Thank you" or "Welcome." If it's the former, hang up and try again. If it's the latter, immediately enter a secret button sequence. Then if I hear, "Due to..." hang up. If I hear, "Your estimated wait time is..." I should stay on the phone. When they answer, I need to ask to be transferred to the Determination Unit (who apparently is determined to keep their money away from me). They open at 8am, but I can't call then. I'll never get through. I need to call at 9am. And it'll be a minimum of 15 minutes before this trick even starts to work. And if they tell me they "WON'T" transfer me to the Determination Unit, then I have to demand to speak with a Supervisor.

Wow. Just, wow. I can't even believe this happened. I think I could rob a bank easier than reach these people during the week. I got off the call and I felt sick to my stomach. Mainly because of how ridiculous the whole process has been, but also because if I had slept like normal I might have been more inclined to deal with a private number calling me (and I have a private number, so who's the asshole now).

I don't know whether to vomit or cry right now.


Twitter Goes Meta - For No Good Reason

Man, sometimes strange this happen. Like this. And the world needs to know. But not for any reason in particular.

@CBCebulski Citifield first course: Taqueria tacos & Box Frites w smoky bacon sauce
@CBCebulski (via twitpic)

@JoeQuesda @CBCebulski taking a pic of his food for Tweeting. (via twitpic)

@eliopoulos (via twitpic) twit of a twit of a twit

The good news is, with side-by-side comparisons and a keen eye you can see that this is faked. But damn... this nearly cracked the Internets in 16ths.

TGIM - Live Music

I don't know how long it had been, but certainly long enough.

It took me a while to warm up to live music. At first I realized so many bands just sounded better with all that polish they got from studio mixing and processing. But then I got smarter. Those were bad bands whose sounds weren't particularly good, so hearing them live was like wasting money. True musicians, and true performers, were often better live due to variations and improvisation. When I started to get that, thanks to seeing bands like Dark Star Orchestra and others, I started to enjoy live music more and more.

I still haven't been to that many shows (I think less than ten across six years in LA), but I dig them. The last thing I went to see was Vampire Weekend, which I got to for the final song, and then an encore. Um, the LA Metro is an experience...

Some friends of mine were debuting their new band last night, The Ross Sea Party. I tried to talk myself out of going (cost, parking, I'm lame), but ultimately convinced myself that it's better to go out and play it by ear than staying home. You never know what's going to happen when you go out.

All I know is, good show. Especially for a first one. I'll definitely check them out again. And if I ever find some money I'll start going to more concerts. Live music is good stuff (I had been listening to an unplugged CD over the weekend anyhow) and I'd like to get to more. Maybe Frank Turner will come back to the states soon...

Also, if you're going to wear something that would be considered ironic enough (or perhaps even post-ironic) that I could wear it to dodgeball... please reconsider. The same goes for makeup and eyeshadow on male lead singers. Maybe play a private show and shoot some video. Then watch it back and see how ridiculous you look. The two bands I caught music from after Ross Sea were... interesting, to say the least.

That's all I got. Take that, Monday!


'Bored to Death' Teaser

I said it when I first heard it got picked up, and I'm still saying it now that I've seen a trailer. I am DEFINITELY writing a spec for this.


Character Comes First

I pride myself on being a writer of character-driven work.

Not sure why, but lately I'm putting plot ahead of character. Not so much in my thinking, but in what gets on the printed page. I have pages of notes, MacJournal scribblings, and Scrivener scrivenings of various lines of dialogue, character monologues and other things that I need to do for me when working on stories, but they're not making it into the pitches. At an increasingly alarming rate, I'm putting too much emphasis on plot.

Character has to come first. The second you find yourself asking what needs to happen next instead of what a particular character (with a goal or dramatic need) would do in a given situation, you're going to run into problems. And, of course, action is character. What your character does defines who they are. Not how cool they talk, what they wear, etc. That's just posturing. Put a character in a situation and let them deal with it. The rest of it... trappings.

Been busting my ass on a pitch today. It was supposed to be the thinking day where I made notes and then tomorrow I did all the writing, but I haven't been able to get the right thoughts into my head. I've considered at least eight different angles for this story, and I'm still not settled (and I have a framework the publisher digs, so go figure).

I keep starting with character and motivations, then forgetting it and following a plot. It's fine at this stage, but not fine for solid writing. Character first, if you're doing a character-driven story. And with a few exceptions, they're generally the best kind. I mean, where would Fast and Furious be without Paul Walker's character?

A lot of good advice from a lot of smart people on twitter of late in terms of breaking into comics, writing, and the like. There's plenty of bad advice, but some good stuff as well. I'll re-post some I found particularly choice later in the week. For now, here's what I threw out there tonight:

If you have an idea, run with it. Push until you can't before you start editing or worrying if it's good. Writing = RE-writing.


TGIM - Foundations(?)

People often quote Alice in Wonderland. The one about where she asks some animal which road she should take, and it asks where she's going. She says she doesn't know, and he responds then it doesn't matter.

There's something to that.

My parents call me all the time. Pretty much daily. Sometimes just one call, sometimes a call from each. Occasionally they go a few days without calling, but that's rare. Honestly, I take it for granted. I should be thrilled that I have parents who love me so much that they want to know everything I'm up to, and share the same about their lives.

So I'll keep this one short and sweet. I wouldn't be where I am without my parents. They provided for me in my formative years when I couldn't provide for myself, and they never put any roadblocks in my way. If I told them I wanted to do something, they encouraged it. Even when they might not have understood or knew it wasn't the safest route (going to school for filmmaking rather than something marketable), they supported me. They stood behind me and allowed me to succeed or falter on my own terms.

But more than giving me the keys, they put me on the path. A nudge in the right direction with my morals, my work ethic, etc. And for those things and more, I love them. So maybe this one should be called "family."

Something like that...


Advice from Lawrence Block

According to my good pal Kody Chamberlain, "Lawrence Block tells everyone to give up. They don't have what it takes. He says if they have what it takes they'll do it no matter what."

Words to live by.



After exhaustive attempts got me exactly nowhere for most of the last two weeks, I finally managed to stick a fork in one of the pitches I was working on. No idea what it reads like as a story or a pitch, but it's a finished draft. And a draft means something complete is out there for the critiquing and revising.

Of course, I'm hoping it's brilliant and perfect and everyone will throw me on their shoulders and carry me to victory, but... reality and experience tell me it ain't to be. They'll tell me it's long, muddled, and the beginning of the third act needs work.

But that's cool, because 20 minutes ago I couldn't even ask anyone to read anything. Onward and upward, folks.


TGIM - Taking Breaks

It's tough to be on all the time. We all need breaks, distractions and, most importantly, rest.

I forget these things. I try to have the creativity faucet flowing 24/7, so whenever I sit down to work, it's already on. And when I don't make the progress I want, I get frustrated. I question myself, I get angry, I stare at the screen.

And then I always remember the same thing.

You can't force it. Creativity happens when it happens. You might be brushing your teeth, out on a run, running errands, or sitting in front of a computer. But as much as you can try to plan for it, it's not a fool-proof system. Just getting the most out of your allotted work time is all you can ask for. And when you can't get anything out of it... take a break.

Go for a walk, watch some TV, read, exercise, call your mom, hang out with friends, etc. It doesn't matter what it is. No one is on 100% of the time. And you can't force it. Some days it'll feel like you can, and others it'll be like pulling teeth with nothing to show at the end of hours in front of a blank screen.

I've made shit progress the last two weeks. I've had things in the works, made notes when I had ideas, but I've been having a really hard time fleshing out full stories. Bits here and there, moments, themes, openings... But not stories. And that's fine for future use ideas, but not when people need you to turn in a pitch or a synopsis. It all needs to be on the page, or there's no gig.

Today was no exception. I buckled down in the afternoon and tried to get something going. I put all my notes into Scrivener for easy access, opened up a new document in the same folder for the pitch, and started to write.

Nothing came.

So I wrote a title. Then started looking up synonyms for it. Nothing came. So I made a second document. There are two stories I'm whittling down right now for the same project. A commercial version, and the version I want to do. If I can't write the one, I'll put down some thoughts on the other. Maybe that'll work.

Nothing came.

So I copied some stuff out of my notes and tried to write. It was agony. I looked at the clock. Running short, needed to eat something and then take off. I had promised friends (and been bribed into going) that I would join them for a movie. Great. Just what I need to do, reward myself for a day of nothing.

But I came back, ate some grub, watched the remainder of Kung Fu Panda on the DVR, and got to work. Nearly 500 words later, I've gotten something done. It's not done, it's not even close, but it's coming along.

It's progress. And I wouldn't have gotten there without taking a break for a few hours and breaking the dead end loops of my earlier attempts.

Writer's block may or may not be a myth, but there are such thins as negative thought loops and frustration. And when they kill your flow, just stop. Take a break. Come at it later, tomorrow, or next week. Give it some time to breathe.

If only I could remember this the next time I get frustrated with a lack of progress.


Beginning to Wonder

I'm seriously starting to doubt that I want to be a writer. It's clear that I do want it, because it's what I think about most, and I have no other marketable skills, but...

I don't write enough. I don't get things done. I'm definitely not making a living at it.

Can't seem to get any traction on LYP. The ideas I don't have time to work on come out more fully formed than the ones I'm supposed to be finishing or pitching. I get to a certain point on everything and my brain turns to mush. No more to add, no embellishing or finishing. Just dead in their tracks, like someone shot a large caliber round into the engine block of my creativity car.

With work on the table, one would think I'd be a bit more motivated. No. Motivation isn't the issue. Don't know what is exactly, but that's not it. Maybe it's self-doubt. I either can't start, can't finish, or can't get happy with what I'm doing. And I can't get any of it far enough to talk it out with people.

It would seem I need a new line of work. But hey, since I didn't get anything done this weekend, now seems like a perfect time to go to the movies.

I wonder if I'll laugh.


Not a Good Week

This has been one of those trying weeks. The kind that tests you and makes you ask questions of yourself. Do you have the stones and testicular fortitude to soldier on?

Yes. But that may be all I have right now.

Time to make the donuts.™


Future Tech - 2D/3D Creepiness

Man, this video is nuts. Sony has a new technology called MotionPortrait that allows you to create 3D graphics from 2D stills, just faces so far.

More from Engadget HERE.


Tuesday Sucked

I don't even want to talk about today. Got completely derailed by bad news and got nothing done. Did have a good meeting about upcoming work, but I won't know for a bit if anything will come of it.

I'm just going to wake up tomorrow, run through the routine (water, teeth, exercise, smoothie, shower) and then spend an hour or so working on LYP. No email, no twitter. I don't care what needs to be addressed. It's waiting. Then I'll jump back on trying to make something of nothing, but the something needs to look or feel like the nothing.

I shaved my head yesterday and promised myself it's the last time I'm getting a haircut until I finish the screenplay. I have way too many ideas for follow-ups waiting on me to get this first one out of the way. No excuses. I will be the master of my own destiny.

Depending on other people/companies... you only get let down. Consistently. And for you it might be storytelling and trying to put something hot out there, but for them it's a business. When they think you can make them money, they'll come clamoring. You just have to handle your business and hone your craft until they see the light.

I'm gonna read some Mamet before bed, then wake up and handle my bidness. Two times.


TGIM - Bad Movies

I know what you're thinking. Mondays suck, he's run out of things to be happy about, hence this entry. Au contraire, friends.

One of the benefits of freelance (and the drawbacks) is that you can work around the clock. Feel like working, do it. Feel like taking a break, do it. Just make sure you handle your business, hit your deadlines, and maintain your professionalism. Freelancing is the ultimate ROWE. As a result, I'm reading more comics (or rather, catching up on years of backlog in some cases) and watching more movies.

I've written before about my love of Netflix's Watch Instantly service. It has its downfalls too, and they lie mainly in limited availability and the temptation to watch anything because there's nothing more invested of you than the time and the clicking of a button. There's plenty of great stuff on there, and I have over 200 movies ready to go. But sometimes I just surf through and find things.

This weekend I watched Garden Party, Conversation(s) with Women, and even the remake of Prom Night. But these were far from the worst of what I saw in the past week. The ultimate bad movie was taped off of one of the premium channels on our DVR, Wayne Kramer's seminal classic, Running Scared, starring the incomparable Paul Walker.

I can't even begin to tell you how bad Running Scared is. It has Paul Walker, which is always the kiss of death. It has a ridiculous style, to the point where inconsequential cuts, freeze frames, and rewinds take over and ruin any semblance of story. At one point, during a supposedly tense and pivotal moment, the film goes off the reel and begins to burn. Just when I thought the film, which began poorly and took a steady nose dive into awful, couldn't get any worse... The last twenty minutes is a rousing chorus of cliche.

It's so bad that it made me forget that there have ever been good movies.

But here's what I took away. During the opening scene, when I was already being taken out of the movie by its shit style and worse writing, I jotted down some notes. One thing they did gave me an idea for something totally different, and has now become the concept I most want to develop in terms of original IP.

Bad films often have the power to inspire. When someone does it wrong, you just want to grab the wheel and take control. Put these fools in their place and show them how its done. When I can't come up with ideas (which isn't often a problem), I now know I can just put on a bad movie and let the wellspring floweth.

Beyond that, bad movies also allows for lessons. Not every movie has a lesson in it, but most with any aspirations at telling a story do. What they did right, wrong, forgot, confused, etc. You get to see it all played out. Their mistakes become your laboratory. And if you're astute enough, if you've got the stomach to make it through... Film school is a Blockbuster Exclusive rental away.

Mini-lessons from each movie:

Garden Party - Give your story and the actions of your characters consequence, don't try to be Altman-lite.

Conversation(s) - A gimmick can make a visually uninteresting movie more interesting, but you can overuse a gimmick.

Prom Night - Pretty people don't instantly communicate characters, or even archetypes; give someone a goal.

Running Scared - Don't. Just don't.

Just to let you all know, I did wash down all of this crap with new viewings of Collateral and Point Blank. All is not well, but some day, with enough time...