This Is US… I mean, RESEARCH

This Is Us Research…

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I have always loved to watch TV, and read books. Yet both of these activities tend to be tinged with guilt. Probably because, for most of my childhood, whenever I was doing these things, I was avoiding other things I was supposed to be doing, practicing piano, doing my homework, sleeping.  As time passed, and I became my own internal mother, it was easy to insert just about anything into the supposed to be slot.  Cleaning, arranging my sock drawer, doing my taxes, spending extra time at work.

And when I became a writer, it got even better. Because it’s super easy to counter almost ANY activity with “should be writing,” and get a nice little guilt buzz from it. (At this very moment,  as I’m blogging, I’m feeling guilty because I should be writing.) So, even though watching and reading are necessary components to what I do — I’m pretty much hard-wired to feel guilt.

There is, however, a (partial) guilt-loophole. This is, if I go to a meeting, and the producer or executive references a book or a show, then it’s like homework.  It’s research. Watching or reading it becomes the thing I should do, which is awesome. I get to read comic-books, young-adult novels and books on eclectic subjects, all without my guilt-alarm ringing!

A couple of weeks ago, in a meeting, someone mentioned that a show I’ve been pitching has structural similarities to This is UsI’d seen a few episodes early in the season, and — in the context of the conversation, felt like a slacker because I hadn’t kept up. So now, with permission, I launched vigorously into watching the rest… and fell in love.  I binged-watched the rest of the season over about three evenings and cried so much I had to go buy a new box of Kleenex to get through the last night.

Part of what makes the show so effective is how it often parcels out emotional bombshells and surprising reveals very lightly in terms of its story-telling.  No big set-up or announcement, just a passing reference to something the characters already know but the audience doesn’t. So there’s this tone of, Oh, by the way, did we not mention that… “These people you’ve been watching are siblings.” “This happened in the past, not the present.” “This person is dead.””This person was married.”

These reveals immediately prompt questions that don’t get answered right away — as they discuss in this Variety article.

It’s a really neat trick, and I’m planning to go back and study it when the season ends next week.

I like this quote from the article, where they talk about how the creator pitched the show:

He did say that over the course of time, he would always have those big moments and those big hooks and surprises and reveals, but that they wouldn’t have to be every week because once you’re invested in these characters, a smaller moment could feel as big as those huge moments once you’re totally engrossed in the stories of these characters’ lives and the decisions that they make.

Once you’re invested in the characters, and engrossed in their stories, a smaller moment feels bigger…

 

What I’m Making: A VINE! Sort of….

HAPPY NEW YEAR! I woke up this morning and thought, “I should learn how to make a Vine. For those who might not be familiar, a Vine is a 6-second (or less) video made with a mobile phone application called “Vine.”   Although I have a couple of friends who play around with it, I was only driven to action by  a perfect storm of circumstances:  1) I read an article in the New Yorker a couple weeks ago, 2) I’ve been thinking more and more seriously about shooting a short film in 2015,  3) I woke feeling slightly energetic without anything on the agenda for an entire day (such an amazing feeling!) and 4) I just got new contact lenses and can see the world around me much more clearly.

In preparation for the short film (short but long compared to six seconds) I know I need to practice seeing the world and events more in terms of images and that I also need to think more about how those images can be assembled.

Making a Vine seemed like the kindergarten version of this– just putting  a few second-long snapshots put in order to tell a very simple story. How hard could it be?

The answer–if you haven’t guessed already, is that IT COULD BE HARD.  I basically did EVERYTHING WRONG. In my defense, I wasn’t ready! I was still watching some kid’s instructions for how to use the app on YouTube when Paul said, “I want to walk to the donut store.”  He also wanted to leave right then. Only as I scampered behind him, pulling on items of outerwear did I start to piece together a vague plan: I’d get a few shots of Paul walking to the store, and then a final shot of him holding his donut. Great. I opened the app and shot my first scene of Paul walking.

Several blocks later, I decided it was time to shoot the second scene. But… Had I held the phone vertically or horizontally? I decided to hedge my bets by getting a shot both ways. I hadn’t had a chance to look at the post production part of the application, but surely it would allow me to omit one of them later, right? Or probably it would let me rotate the images. Probably. I’d figure it out later…but definitely I could fix it in post.

As we walked I concentrated on taking REALLY SHORT moments of video. Because six seconds is like…practically instantaneous. And what if the app cut me off after six seconds and I didn’t get the last shot? Quicker was better, I figured.

We arrived at the donut shop. It was closed.  When we decided to walk to a nearby cafe, I started shooting the new adventure. Maybe the editing part will let me break it up into two Vines. I would have Vine 1, going to the donut shop,  and Vine 2, going to the cafe. And if the cafe was closed too, then I could have parallel endings for both. Endings…Uh-oh.  We were already a couple blocks away when it occurred to me that I’d been so distracted by the shop being closed that I’d forgotten to shoot the ending I was thinking of.  We had to go back and do pick-ups. As I shot the last scene, I realized I should have begun with a “first scene.” of Paul saying something like, “let’s go get a donut.” It would have been a beginning. It’s good to have a beginning. And a middle. And an end. Oh well, I could shoot the beginning when we got back to the house and then re-arrange the clips. I’d fix it in post.

Once home, I embarked on my mission to fix it in post.  Half my footage was horizontal and one scene was upside down.  Clips that needed to be longer were so short you couldn’t perceive them. And it’s possible the program deleted a couple that were too long, I’m still not sure of the rules. Without going into great detail, I will say that the amount of fixing my footage required was well beyond the in-phone editing capabilities of Vine. In the end,  I downloaded two new applications and a new browser and opened the iMovie 9 I’ve never opened since buying the computer three years ago. I also watched a half-dozen videos, read some articles. Five and half hours later, I had what you see above. And by the way, failed at “hacking” the system to upload it back onto Vine.

So my first Vine is not technically a Vine at all. But I like to think that when the time comes for my next six-second venture, I’ll be ready.

 

Under Construction

This blog is going to look pretty funky for a few days–or maybe weeks or months.  I’m in the process of trying to build a website around the blog, which seems like a good idea–but I’m not exactly sure how.  So I’ll be experimenting with the whole thing, and hopefully not deleting seven years’ worth of blog posts in the process!

 It’s been on my list to have a writer’s website for awhile, but it came to a head recently. As I’ve mentioned, I  have this staged reading coming up…

(Wait–I need to insert an announcement here:

MPW Stage and Screen Festival
Staged Readings of Three One Acts
APRIL 7th
7PM
ELECTRIC LODGE
1416 Electric Avenue
Venice, CA 90291

Note that if I had an “events” section or page it would be there, but I don’t, so it’s not…yet)

I have this reading coming up, and the director asked me, “do you have any actors you want to recommend?”

There was a time, when I belonged to small a theater company here in LA, that I would have had twenty actors I had worked with directly and would love to use.  Nowadays, I have some friends, and friends of friends, who are actors.  They are not “Wow, I know this person would be absolutely perfect.”  They’re more like, “I think they could be good–they seem the right type, and speak in complete sentences at parties.”  But I haven’t worked with them.  Also, I don’t know the director very well,  he may have actors that he works with and really likes working with already, which, in these circumstances, seem ideal. So, basically, I have a small group of folks that I’d like to have the opportunity, if there are some openings, but I’m not ready to be solely responsible for casting them.  In this town, that happens A LOT. 

In this case my thought was, “I’ll send their websites to said director. Then he can look at their headshots and reels, evaluate their training, experience etc”

The trouble was NONE of them had a website.  I ended up sending pictures from Facebook, IMDB links (one had a link with no picture) or their bios from posted play or film sites.  I still put them out there, but it was harder, and they don’t look as serious.  

And I have to wonder, is that happening to me?  I doubt I’m missing out on a feature film assignment, but I meet a lot of people who have projects.  If they happen to idly think of me, am I making it easier for them to give me an opportunity, or mention me to someone else who might?

Not so much.

So it’s time for a website–and as loyal blog readers, you’ll get to witness its growing pains!

What’s Going On Now…I’m Okay

When I first understood I had endometrial cancer, the first place I turned was the internet. Before  I reached out to friends or family in the 3-D world, I reached for my computer.  Granted, I was sitting in a room with no people and a computer–but regardless–the internet was where I took my fears–searching for answers, for comfort, for someone who had taken the path I was suddenly being pushed down.

And in those moments, when I stumbled upon material that said things that are hard to say and answered questions I couldn’t yet ask out loud, I was so GRATEFUL for those people–those writers–on the forums, or on blogs–that they were braver, or more outgoing than I generally am–that they would “put it out there” so someone like me could read about their lives and feel less alone.

When I felt that gratitude, I decided that regardless of outcome, I wanted to give back to the internet, that I was going to write the kind of posts that I found myself looking for–unflinching and close to the bone. I wasn’t ready to “go live” yet–the emotions were too raw…and the writing was too crappy.  As a writer, even if I were dying, I’d be ashamed to publish prose that was completely as unshaped as my real journal entries are.

But I’m NOT DYING–that’s the main thrust of this post.  I’ve been journaling in the present on this particular subject, and blogging–based on those journals– from the past.  So my blog posts are about a month old. This won’t matter to the the young woman a year from now who hears the words You have cancer and starts looking for blogs on the topic and finds all these posts after the fact under one label in the archives.

But I’ve just realized that for people who actually know me, but whom I haven’t spoken to personally it probably does matter.  You might be reading these posts without knowing what’s going on now–which is that I am okay.  The end of this story is a happy one.  As of yesterday’s lab reports I can officially say the cancer is gone.  I won’t have to do chemo.  I’m already walking around, and am about to be driving.

So, I wanted you to know that. And to thank you for your caring comments, and in one case–FLOWERS!

(BTW, if I haven’t mentioned it to you, it’s not that I wouldn’t. I’m not a secretive person, but it feels weird to mention at every opportunity:  “Oh sorry, I can’t come to your birthday/karaoke party/baby shower because I have to deal with my cancer.”  Way to take someones happy occasion and make it all sad and about me, y’know?  And I emailed about a dozen people and told them, and can say that in about half those cases, it already seemed weird. It’s hard to know exactly what to do, and nothing feels exactly right, but fortunately, you can just kind of let it go by saying, whatever, I have cancer, okay?)

Farewell, More of This…

One of my favorite blogs came to an end today. It’s not listed in my sidebar, because…well actually I’m not sure why… Maybe it wasn’t public? If you follow this link, does it take you anywhere? If so, that’s her blog, you should check out a few entries while it’s still up.

I read this article from the New York Times the other day about how the word “authentic” has become a catchphrase that doesn’t mean very much anymore. My friend V, in the “about me” section of her blog, talks about “trying to live a more authentic life”–and you can tell from her writing that it does mean something when she says it. Maybe because many of her posts–just about her life–her goals, academic, professional, relationship, fashion-related–never obscured the trying.
As a writer who has spent a fair amount of time browsing job listings, I see that a lot of blogs out there want “content creators.” I get it. It’s a blog about fashion or technology or celebrity mishaps. Writing has to know what it is, and have focus, and, to be successful, it has to attract readers who don’t care at all about the writer. But a result of that a lot of blogs out there have “content” about recipes or pop-culture, and not so many have “writing” about the human condition. This blog was about the human condition. The writer talked about the struggles of living with disability, trying to be healthier and happier, trying to construct a beautiful environment conducive to being healthier and happier. She talked about being queer, she talked about being fat, she talked about sexuality and clothes and making professional decisions…but whatever she talked about, it was thoughtful. There was often an element that went beyond reportage, slipped beneath the surface, and revealed a bit of her. It was a generous blog.
Although I seldom think to leave comments on blogs, I did leave one in response to her farewell post. In it I talked about how that C.S. Lewis adage that “we read to know we are not alone.” I think it would be fair to change the words a bit and say reading helps us feel less alone. But to me, that feels almost flipped on its head today. Particularly if I am reading on the internet, I can end up feeling more alone. But reading her blog was definitely the former experience–less alone feeling, all the way.
It is on my mind today, because V is not the first of my writer friends to bring her personal blog to an end for professional reasons–both because such exposure of one’s personal life can be detrimental, and because, let’s face it–if you are blogging, that means you are not writing material that can be published and will contribute to your success as a professional writer, which is the goal, is it not? Eyes on the prize. I’m writing this right now–and I am NOT working on my novel, and I really need to be working on the novel. (I haven’t been blogging much recently, because I HAVE been working on my novel, so, “yay me” for that.)
My friends who have left behind their journals and personal blogs are, pretty much across the board, achieving more success and publications than I am. I genuinely love seeing that, and I genuinely want that for myself. But this doesn’t change the fact that the professional websites they’ve created, while necessary for their pursuits, are not a replacement for what I have lost– the pleasure of hearing their voices in my head as I read these less important words on my computer screen, of having little insights into their daily lives and inner lives–insights that are somehow different from those I gain with an email or phone call, or, when we lived in the same town, even meeting in person. The stuff that one “throws out there” in a blog has a different energy to it. Maybe because when we speak to a faceless readership, there’s some part of us that ends up just speaking to ourselves, and the readers are just listening in?
I keep coming back to this blog, my blog. I’m not sure all the reasons why. I think one is that I don’t just read to fell less alone, but I write to feel less alone. And while I occasionally check my readership numbers, at least some of the less-aloneness comes from somewhere else…from the sense that out in the world, other people are also thinking and writing, and reveling in the feel of reflecting on their lives. I find that a comfort. I don’t feel the same camaraderie when I’m writing a screenplay and I think of all the other glowing MacBooks across Los Angeles.
This has dissolved into a ramble, hasn’t it? I could try to shape it–but I have to get back to that novel. But to summarize: Farewell to V’s blog. And, for the moment I continue. Stop by. I’ll try to be here.