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.

Life in the Time of Pandemic and Lies (9/24/20 – 10/02/20)

I think it was last Thursday (9/24) that in the wake of an article in The Atlantic, a member of the press asked the President if, were he to lose the election, he would facilitate a peaceful transfer of power, and he responded, “We’ll just have to see.”

This roiled things up for a day or two going into the weekend, but then, on Sunday (9/27), The Times announced they had gotten access to Trump’s tax reports, and that for more than a decade he had been paying almost nothing in American taxes, due to declaring losses. In the past couple of years, while president, he has been paying $750 dollars. 

That was the news for two days until the first presidential debate on Tuesday night (9/29) which would have been noteworthy in itself because it was so much less like a presidential debate than like watching some hapless student (Biden) try to do a presentation for his classmates (American public)  in the company of a deranged and disturbed child (Trump) whom the teacher (Chris Wallace) didn’t have the authority to discipline or kick out of the classroom. (Apologies to Mr. Biden for this comparison as he was as presidential as one could be, but sharing a frame with Trump unfortunately regresses us all.) Trump interrupted, spoke over, flung accusations and blatant untruths… all so par for the course that we have grown bored with ourselves even trying to unpack and lay them end to end, so…

CUT TO: The focal point of the evening, which was when Chris Wallace asked him to denounce White Supremacists like the Proud Boys, and Trump muttered the catch phrase “Stand Back and Stand By” which the Proud Boys immediately grabbed onto and started printing on shirts as the rest of the country (and the world) looked on in horror, confusion and disbelief — held hostage by our classmate who might end up bombing the school but might just be seeking attention. 
 
This dominated the cultural conversation for Wednesday and most of Thursday, until, Thursday evening (10/01) it was announced first that presidential advisor Hope Hicks had tested positive for Coronavirus, and then, a couple hours later, that President Trump and his wife Melania had also tested positive.

As of Friday morning, October 2, 2020, that brings us up to date.

There is a world where the announcement of the President contracting a potentially dangerous illness would elicit concern and worry from some,  pleasure or glee from others, and certainly no shortage of “he was warned by science” observations from almost everyone — but where few would question the veracity of the announcement itself. However, that world — we’ll call it “World A” — exists only in some alternate reality.

In our own reality, in our world — should we just call it “World WTF?” — any sense of what is truth and what is not has been so systematically stripped away that as soon as the news hit, there began widespread speculation as to whether or not the announcement were true, and what might be the motivations if it were a lie.  

What are all the reasons that the highly unstable kid at school — or a President exactly one month away from election day — lie about being sick? He might, at some level, be embarrassed by the recent debate and want to avoid those upcoming. He might be looking for ways to postpone the election. He might plan to “have the virus” for a few days, then recover fully and easily in order to support his claims that it’s no worse than the common flu. He might be setting up plausible deniability for some coming action by other persons (here the possibilities begin to range darker and more violent). Or he might finally be collapsing under the pressure of keeping all his fictional plates in the air.

In World A, any of these ideas, since they are rooted in the premise of a bizarre hoax, would belong to the fringiest of the fringe elements and would be quickly dismissed by the majority as conspiracy theories.  In World WTF, despite the amount of coordination it would take to carry out such a hoax, it feels like any of those has a legitimate possibility of being true.

And at the moment, it feels like BIG news… but there is also the feeling that whatever happens in 48 hours will eclipse it.

Thinking about Chadwick Boseman, Cancer and Hollywood

Would you rather be famous / remembered / rich / accomplished / loved / fill-in-the-blank-with a dream — and die young? Or struggle in obscurity / not accomplish said dream and live longer? Would you rather feel healthy for a shorter period of time, or feel sickly but live longer?

“Would you rather” games are the worst, because for the most part we don’t get to choose anyway, we just have to learn to take what comes. Love, kids, success, health… you don’t always get what you want. But then sometimes we do get to choose, and the choosing is at best bittersweet because the opportunity to get things we want tends to involve sacrifice. The dream job is going to take hours or years away from people you love, children may cost or delay a career goal,

I’ve been thinking of Chadwick Boseman since his death was announced a little over a week ago. We didn’t have much in common in terms of race or gender, specific profession or level of success… but we shared an industry built around storytelling, and aspirations to succeed in that industry, and were part of a much smaller subset: He was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer when he was still fairly young, just as I was diagnosed with Stage 3 Colon Cancer when I was young.

I’ve never specifically asked other cancer experiencers, but I think many of us feel a special kinship with people whose diagnoses most closely match ours, type and stage and special characteristics. There is a sense of having someone who is about to undertake the same challenging journey we are. The kinship is based on prognosis as well… having similar goals and obstacles and hopes. It’s like when two friends bond over wanting kids or money or success… and, like in those circumstances, sometimes one gets one thing and one gets another, and a chasm opens up. But because at one time you were in the same place, you watch that person, even if from a distance, because in another universe, maybe their fate is yours, or vice versa.

I’ve always been grateful that when I was diagnosed with colon cancer, I was in the middle of the Outback. In a way that, looking back, feels almost magical, everyone in the community was supportive of me devoting the better part of a year to flailing, figuring things out and exploring healing methods — physical, nutritional, psychological, spiritual. I remember I’d just finished some kind of grant application before I left for the hospital, planning to turn it in after my surgery — but when what I’d assumed would be a small, Stage 1 tumor, ended up being Stage 3, with lymph nodes involved, that project vanished from my mind. I don’t think I ever turned in the application, and today I can’t even say what the project was. It was something that seemed important, and then it didn’t. It clearly must not have felt like something pivotal to my life or career?

But what if it had felt that way? Would I have walked away from a BIG opportunity in the same way, or would I have grabbed for the brass ring? And would that choice have made a difference in my outcome? Did — and this feels like a tremendously unfair question to even ask — did Chadwick’s Boseman’s decision to keep working through his illness affect its outcome? The answer is there’s no knowing. He might have stepped away from work and had it change nothing in terms of his health. He still would have died, but died without having been the King of Wakanda. Or, maybe the long hours and stress shifted something — or prevented something from shifting — such that if he had sacrifice the role that would make him famous he might have lived… but he might have always regretted the lost opportunity, and would never have known if that choice made a difference.

The second time I was diagnosed, with uterine cancer, was nine years after the first time. I was living in Los Angeles, a year out of grad school. And it did feel like a pivotal moment in my career. I’d won a screenwriting prize and been hired to do my first rewrite. But — I was still working full time, so was swimming in the long hours and stress of trying to do both well. I was doing things I knew, given my history, could be detrimental to my health, but I didn’t think about it, I thought if I can just get through this I would come out on the other side and everything would be worth it.

Los Angeles was a very different place to be diagnosed — and, looking back, I see how much I was again swayed by my environment. Inclusive of a fairly major surgery and recovery time, I missed only two weeks at my day job. Though people said I should take the time I needed, I couldn’t let go of my reluctance to inconvenience people, and I feared falling behind. Despite everyone’s admonitions to take care of myself, I believed that whenever I did return, everything I missed would have piled up, and I felt responsible for that. And, on the screenwriting front, I made sure to turn in my rewrite draft before telling the producer I was working with about my upcoming surgery. It was awkward timing, as they were about to fire me anyway– and did. Looking back, I’ve concluded that was “lucky” I got fired (or not re-hired) when I did, since if I hadn’t, I might have spent my recovery time continuing to try to fix something that no writer would have the power to fix (as evidenced by the two writers who followed me on the project and the fact the company did not make an original feature film until a decade later). So with hindsight I can feel secure it wouldn’t have been “worth it.”

But is there a scenario that would have made it worth it? What if I’d gotten the screenplay I loved made? If it had become something that other people loved as well? What would have been a fair price to trade?

I’m going to stop writing, because I have more thoughts and feelings than I can address in a blog post of reasonable length, and there’s too much dangerous speculation I could wander into. I will close with the observation that we, as a society, engage a lot of conflicting views about illness, and that I as an individual, do as well.

(As an addendum — Something I didn’t know about Chadwick Boseman is that he was a writer too. He is someone cared deeply about his art. I’m so sorry he didn’t have time to do more work, and so sorry that he and his family didn’t have more time for love and life and all that entails.)

FILE – In this Saturday, March 30, 2019 file photo, Chadwick Boseman poses in the press room with the award for outstanding actor in a motion picture for “Black Panther” at the 50th annual NAACP Image Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Actor Chadwick Boseman, who played Black icons Jackie Robinson and James Brown before finding fame as the regal Black Panther in the Marvel cinematic universe, has died of cancer. His representative says Boseman died Friday, Aug. 28, 2020 in Los Angeles after a four-year battle with colon cancer. He was 43. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)