B’s 2020 Look Back (Silver Linings Edition)

View from Baldwin Hills Overlook, December 25, 2020.

Wait… Did I send a 2019 update? I did not. I started (in my head at least), but so much was happening at the end of 2019 that I put it off, figuring I’d finish it once everything got “back to normal” in 2020.

To which 2020 said:

😂😂😂😂 HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA 😂😂😂😂

While I didn’t finish an update letter in 2019 because life was frenetic, the true-true is that even before the frenzy hit the fan, I was having trouble figuring out what to write. Though I’m a fan of “honest” holiday letters, no one needs a depressing whine-fest, and coming to the end of 2019, I was more than disheartened. Events and circumstances during the year had led to a loss of faith in people, in the universe and in myself. 

What were these events that led to my year-end funk? I don’t remember. Looking back, it’s all a blur. So, I guess a silver lining of 2020 is that it has pretty much obliterated my recall of  2019.

Which brings me to the inspiration for this update: Silver Linings. Winning out over topics like Year-End Podcast Lists, Great Books and TV, and Even More About Writing, I offer a small sampler platter of bright spots and blessings.*

JANUARY: Paul and I got the opportunity to go to Gainesville, Florida and teach film classes for the spring semester at University of Florida! Two days before leaving Los Angeles, our Florida housing plans fell through (thanks again, 2019!). When we arrived, Paul’s friend, Iman, and her family opened their home to us and hosted us for a month, sharing rides and meals and stories and downtime in front of the TV. I think my favorite form of getting to know people better is simply co-existing in their environment, which made this detour in our plans a gift.

MARCH / APRIL: In early March, the pandemic lockdowns began. While the best timing for a pandemic would have been never, the second best timing, for me, was when it happened. After a precarious 2019, a semester-long gig felt stable, and teaching 3 three-hour classes a week offered structure. I had the distractions of deadlines aplenty, learning  new technologies, and students who were depending on me.  All of this meant my existential angst was supplanted by a more fun “race to the finish line of this project” anxiety.  At the same time, friends Matt and Dmitry started a War and Peace Covid-19 challenge, with a goal of reading 50 pages every day. With the gyms closed, I listened to War and Peace on audiobook as I went on walks in the mornings and evenings. I didn’t always meet the page quota, but it was a simple pleasure and  a perfect distraction– and now I’ve read War and Peace

B and Paul outside the Publix in April, wearing 1st-gen, DIY masks made from paper towels and rubber bands.

MAY/ JUNE: We’d been back in Los Angeles a few weeks when the killing of George Floyd and other injustices prompted the Black Lives Matter protests. During this time, a friend, Beto, proposed an “anti-racist bookclub.” He and his friends did the work of planning,  organizing and facilitating a group with clear intentions and dynamics. Over the last six months, I’ve benefited from their insightful company while reading the works of bell hooks, Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Ibram Kendi and others. In parallel, old friends Kendall and Annie nudged me to join their book club just in time to embark on Howard Zinn’s 800-page A People’s History of the United States.  Throughout my life, especially during pivotal times, certain books have helped me, prepared me, gifted me with new perspectives and a clearer vision of the world — and this year’s reading experience falls in that category.  

SEPTEMBER  The fires in California turned the skies to smoky haze, and then orange. For days we avoided going outdoors and felt unsafe breathing the air even inside.  We felt fortunate that our neighborhood was never in jeopardy, just as people everywhere feel lucky when disasters seem to be happening elsewhere. The other silver lining is that the fires added urgency to my growing feeling that, in the face of our social and environmental issues, it is not enough for me to simply be unobjectionable. Writing postcards, and phone banking for democratic candidates were steps too long delayed, but ones that have started me down a path of greater engagement. I owe thanks to folks (Megan, Caitlyn, Tracy) who made themselves vocal and visible on social media, offering instructions and opportunities that made it easier for people like me to become more a part of our political process. 

NOVEMBER / DECEMBER Amidst health concerns for the world, these two months were touched by family health concerns. November began with my mother’s knee replacement, ended with news my uncle had suffered a stroke, and in between, Paul experienced a painful bout of pancreatitis that was traced to some gallstones. Though travel to Indiana and then Texas during a pandemic had not been part of our plans, I appreciated more than ever the opportunity to be with loved ones, under any circumstances, and am happy and relieved to report that everyone is on the road to recovery.

And these most recent events have reminded me how, even with the world’s myriad problems, these are — as Paul Simon sings — days of miracle and wonder. Knees are replaced, helicopters airlift you from tiny towns in Texas, machines scan inside you and tell you what’s wrong, information and our own images zip and Zoom around the world in an instant— and scientists create vaccines that can help our cells fight (electron) microscopic viruses.

I don’t want to place too great a pressure on 2021 — January 1st will not be the day we arrive at the light at the end of the tunnel. But I do think we can see it from here, and that we have the opportunity to make the tunnel itself a little brighter and easier to travel with the light we carry with us. So, with lots of love and good wishes, here’s to a —

Happy 2021!

* A few disclaimers: 1) The overarching fact that we are healthy, we are housed, we are together… those alone mean it has been a great year. 2) This list leaves out so many moments and people, of course. My thank you list would be longer than at any Oscars speech. 3) Several of my silver linings exist against dark clouds like pandemic, systemic racism, fires that have caused countless people to suffer. I don’t know what to do with that fact, except to acknowledge it, and pray and work for an end to those clouds.

Before The Year Ends — Some Writing News

A couple of 2020 bright spots as we round out the year.

I think it’s okay to mention, as rumors of Season 3 have been public since June. Paul and I got to do this:

Title page from the official “shooting script!”

We wrote in the fall and have heard that the shoot actually happened in December in Atlanta, making this our first-ever produced writing for TV! It’s not for Season 2, which is currently on the air, but for the hoped-for (knock wood) Season 3. I’ll post when they announce any dates!

Also my short story, “Shell,” was selected to be in Volume 3 of this anthology series.

The folks at Kandisha Press are aiming to publish in early spring. I’m starting to hear about fun stuff like Q & A articles and author round-tables, so I’ll share any details I get about those in future posts!

My New Volunteer Gig (brought to you by My Zombie Parents)

Things I don’t love to do:
1) Social Media in general
2) Twitter.

I happily collaborate on clients’ blogs, products, website content — but, thus far, I’ve drawn the line at posts for social media platforms. There are a lot of benefits to using social media, but as everyone who has seen The Social Dilemma (i.e. everyone) knows, there are also a lot of drawbacks to using it. As a writer, I particularly resent the way it pulls my mind away from a project for just a minute that turns into much longer than a minute. A study at UC Irvine (cited by almost any article you read on the topic) showed that it generally takes more than 23 minutes to get your flow back after an interruption like, say, scrolling through a SM feed.

I’m barely surviving my personal social media use: making social media part of my job seems much worse! I once worked on a screenplay for several hours a day for two years and came out strong — but after the screenplay was finished, simply maintaining the social media for our fund-raising campaign contributed to a moment of burnout that caused me to distance myself from the entire project. Last month, I had an opportunity to pitch my services to a client I would have loved to work with, but because her main goals were social media oriented, I ended up referring her to another writer.

So how did I just volunteer to manage a company’s Twitter account? Like this:

During the first week of November, I did my bi-monthly Instagram check and saw I’d been tagged in a post announcing that MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was a November “staff pick of the month” on Scriptd.com.

This was cool! Also, a complete surprise, as I had uploaded the script to the site in 2015. At the time, I’d been asked to upload some scripts by friend of the founder of the site. I don’t have much faith in any database sites. I had recently experimented with the much-touted blcklst.com and later tried Inktip. Both left me under-impressed with pay-to-play listing services. But, it was a friend of a friend, and it was FREE. I uploaded. Then I forgot about it…

Until November 2020 when MY ZOMBIE PARENTS was named a Staff Pick of the Month. That was cool. I’ve always had a soft spot for this screenplay — the first one Paul and I ever worked on together. I would be proud to share/ retweet any accolades it receives on Facebook — which, problematic as it is, is where my IRL friends are because I am old — or Twitter — where the screenwriting community hangs out.

But when I looked, I noticed Scriptd hadn’t tweeted since February. A screenplay database with Instagram, but no Facebook or Twitter? It seemed an odd choice!

Curious, I did some internet research. And came across this talk by the founder of Scriptd, (and my aforementioned friend’s friend) Denise Hewitt.

Watching this, of course, it started to make sense. Social media is time and labor consuming, and judging from this, Scriptd was likely underfunded and under-resourced. Which is a shame, because it’s VERY HARD to get your work seen in Hollywood by those who might help your project or career. Myriad contests and sites that offer to help — but always for a price. Those who have read this blog over time know that I don’t have a lot of love for the profit-making side-industry that has grown up on the backs of writers and their dreams. Not to disparage the good intentions of the blcklst.coms and inktip.coms of the world to connect people — but the fact is that they are money-making ventures and they make money from writers whether or not they help them. Last week screenwriting Twitter was a-twit with bigger writers “gifting” a month of blcklst hosting ($30/month) and reader evals ($75 / feature or one-hour script or $50 / half-hour script to smaller (poorer) writers. I’m not being sarcastic when I say it was heartwarming, which is why I feel like a Scrooge that I have to point out that that blcklst is making their money either way, and that we are all complicit in normalizing the idea that aspiring writers need to make these often out-of-reach monetary investments.

I am skeptical about how often “industry” people (i.e. managers, agents, producers) use any of these databases. Blcklst.com and Inktip are both fairly coy in how they present their accounting, and when I experimented with them a few years back, my investments resulted in description page views in the single digits and zero unpaid script views.

Can Scriptd offer better exposure than these paid platforms? I honestly don’t see how, especially without more marketing to raise awareness. But can it do as well? Given my experience, it *literally* cannot do worse. So, why not?

Because, again… Scriptd is FREE.

FREE. FREE. FREE. For writers and for readers.

As a woman, Denise’s video made me frustrated and mad for all the usual reasons. It made me feel like writing to her and volunteering to tweet for her site, even though I don’t like tweeting

So I did.

And now I’m tweeting for Scriptd!

I don’t know if this will change much — except that I will finally choose and learn to use a social media manager (like Hootsuite or similar), which is useful. And maybe I can help a few writers and actors have more visibility. I’d love it if some of those writers will be chosen for a live-read, or a staff pick, or someone will read their work and give them a boost in some way. That’s pretty much all this business is about.

So, if you have a script, put it up (for free!) on Scriptd.com.

(And if you have money or applicable skills and want to become part of making a MY ZOMBIE PARENTS graphic novel in the next couple years — let me know!)

Some context: My out-of-date Blcklst.com reviews from 2014: Parts One, Two and Three
An AFF review of My Zombie Parents circa 2015.

I Might Start a Vlog…

Guys, I’m thinking about starting a vlog. It’s not something I’ve considered before because I don’t love being on camera or speaking spontaneously and especially for the style I’m thinking about it will require camera and editing skills far beyond what I have. I can already envision the amount of media collection and organization that will be called for, and I know I will want to kill myself. But still, I’m thinking about it.

I think it’s because I have two things going on simultaneously in life right now:

  1. In my freelance “content creation/consulting” career, I’m working with a client who is considering adding various types of video content to her business.
  2. I’m writing a fictional screenplay where the main character is a YouTuber/Influencer.

The result is that I am researching, reading about and watching more YouTube vlog-type content than ever before. And I’m thinking… “this looks interesting!” It’s kind of like personal essay, kind of like blogging, and kind of like documentary…

Would it be fun, or just a ton more work? Actually I can tell it would be a ton more work. Would it also be fun?

More as this story develops.

Who My Third Party Voting Friend Would Be in a TV Writers Room (the Logic Police)

I’m from the Midwest – so my social media feeds are not entirely void of Trump supporters. Their posts can scald, but I have developed a protective layer that prevents me from exploding when I rub up against them. The algorithms must have figured this out, because now I’m being fed more posts from my progressive lefty friend (we’ll call him Stan, which either is or is not his real name) whose feed, as we approach the one-month-til-E-Day at this writing, has become a barrage of doom-forecasting about America’s fate under Biden/Harris rule.

If you have a Stan-like-person in your life, then I don’t need to overexplain the philosophical stance. The gist is that while Trump is a “Capital D” Devil, moderate Democrats are—at the very least—“Small d” devils, and that far too few people have noticed this. Posts from Stan are intended to educate by citing examples of Democrats’ historical sneakiness, posturing, failures and hypocrisy.

These observations are not untrue.

What they are (especially if delivered with enough snark and given wide airplay) is a decelerating force leveled against a group of people who need to move en-masse toward a goal.

What if our political situation was a TV Show?  One of the first things you have to do at the outset of creating a show is break story. Breaking story is charting your map of where you’re going story-wise, and planning the stops—plot points and emotional beats – you need to hit along the way. This is a balancing act, because of course it’s impossible to predict exactly where you’re going to end up, or if every stop is going to work like you’re hoping – but even with these uncertainties in play, in order to start moving you have to drum up the faith that the destination you’ve chosen is worthwhile and that your chosen direction is something that is bringing you closer to it.

Recently I was listening to a TV showrunner, Glen Mazzara, talk about the dynamics of a writers room during this stage.* He says, I understand the scene isn’t working – that it’s cliché, or reminiscent of something, or it makes no sense. I don’t need you in my writers’ room to tell me it’s not working – I want you to help me make it work. The worst thing you can do in the room is be “the logic police” – you’re saying no, you’re creating a negative feeling.**

My friend Stan is the logic police – and I can say first hand, it’s not only a negative feeling, it’s a tangible obstacle. In this case, the time I spent on social media engaging with his arguments and attempting amateur-level cognitive behavioral therapy was time spent at a stand-still –and time that I could have spent writing postcards or phone banking or doing anything else positive or forward moving.

Mazzara also says, I have a rule. That is “do not knock something off the table without putting something else there.

I pressed Stan to say what, exactly, he was suggesting that people should do as they approached the ballot box, given there are no perfect answers. He danced and dodged, until finally, pinned down, he recommended voting for a third party candidate. Which third party candidate? I asked.  He responded, Anything lefty. Probably Green.  He was not proposing any solution, merely a way to “send a message” to the Democratic party.***

Believe me, I have all kinds of rebuttals to this that I’m tempted to provide here, but I’m going assume you’ve seen different versions of most of them on your Twitter and try to stay on track with my analogy.

From the time I first contemplated writing for screen, teachers, writers, and agents have told me, you’re not going to love every opportunity that comes your way, but you have find something in a project that resonates with you. And, I’ve always strongly felt that when you join a team, you have a responsibility to add value that is both energetic and tangible. The network and the studio have bought the Biden / Harris show. That’s the job. Sure, there was a time when I dreamed a Warren show would become a reality, but now is not the time to cry about that. Now is time to beat out the most compelling Biden / Harris season we can imagine and promote the hell out of the pilot to get the numbers we need November 3rd for a four-season pickup.****

Footnotes:

*A cool thing that has come out of the pandemic is that Sundance Collab is temporarily offering a free membership with access to a lot of educational content including the Glen Mazzara masterclass where I sourced his quotes.

**When I heard this, I thought of my friend, writer Dave Metzger, saying something similar at an AMA. He added that another reason logic-policing often receives tepid reception in a room is that, in a group of seasoned writers, everybody already knows there’s a problem. Pointing out the obvious is not a move forward.

***Notably, Stan seems to assume that despite his nay-saying, the Biden / Harris ticket will prevail – i.e. he’s depending on people to disregard his logic and supply him with an improved Little-d devil system that he can criticize . He’s basically that guy on your school group project who maligns you for being an authority-smitten grade-grubber instead of doing any work because he knows you’ll carry him to the “A.”

****If you enjoyed this post, then tune in for Part 2 of this series, tentatively titled, Here’s Why My Infuriating Third-Party Voting Friend is Not All Wrong wherein I will quote Howard Zinn, Anne Lamott’s “Shitty First Drafts,” and Jack Epp’s book Screenwriting is Rewriting. It will be published after the election.