Updates on”Shell,” Life and 70s Fashion

Yesterday, I got an email from Screencraft letting me know that “Shell” was now a finalist in their Cinematic Short Story Competition. Looks like that means the top 50. Not bad! We’ll see what happens in March.

Also in “Shell” news. I opened “the Twitter” and saw I was mentioned in a tweet from Kandisha Press. Turns out that I’m today’s featured writer from the On That Got Away anthology. I told myself that this year I was not going to shy away from any offers of promotion, so when they asked for a three-minute clip of me reading from the story a little while back, I did it. I’m hoping it’s one of those things that is embarrassing now, but in ten or fifteen years I’ll run across it and think — awwww, that’s sweet! Look how young I look! I might or might not be a little squished in this video, as I don’t think my face is quite this oblong — we probably gave them a rectangle and this is the side effect of making it a social-media friendly square — but I don’t mind that, and Paul did a nice job of finding some sunny but slightly spooking lighting…

As is so often the case these days — announcements of this type seem pale in the face of LIFE — specifically OTHER people’s lives — as a cold snap around the country took hold this week, and a number of friends (along with thousands of strangers) in Texas have been left without power to their homes at the same time that pipes are freezing and bursting, leaving them without water as well. I feel bad for them!

I was reading an essay this past week about how social media contributes to stress because it’s become so much easier to know more about the troubles of people who are far away, but our ability to help is essentially the same. One thing that has changed is we have more ability to create opportunities to donate and more awareness of opportunities to donate… but these, like troubles, begin to seem unending and out of reach, which becomes an additional source guilt and stress. I have a lot of well intentioned folks on my feeds, and for every cause I donate to, there are ten or twenty that I have to pass by… 😕

Ummmm… other random updates:

This last weekend was a grab-bag of uneventful “smaller” holidays. Chinese New Year (obviously NOT small in other places, but not widely observed here) was Friday, February 12. Saturday was Gal-entines Day — a Parks and Rec invention which every year seems to be a real-er thing. Valentines Day was Sunday and Presidents Day was Monday. We didn’t do much for any of these at our house. Paul tried to order Chinese Food on Friday, but his efforts were thwarted, so we ended up eating spaghetti. I threw my back out on Saturday morning and spent most of the day “on ice” – literally lying on ice-packs – but recovered enough to attend a nice “Zoom tea” with a women’s group I belong to. On Sunday, by mutual agreement, we had a normal day Valentine’s-wise (though made special by the fact that I wasn’t lying on ice-packs.) On Monday, my standing client meeting was cancelled so I enjoyed having some time to catch up.

The other very-small event from the weekend is that we finished watching THE CROWN — at least to the end of Season 4. Our third housemate lives with us part time, having a job where she sleeps away Tuesday through Thursday and is at our place Friday through Monday. On the nights she’s home, we’ve established a pandemic routine of watching an episode of a show together each evening. SCHITT’S CREEK was a highlight of 2020, and it was hard to think of what to follow it up with, but we settled on The Crown — which is obviously very different, but also rewarding. This weekend we’re beginning THE WEST WING.

In addition to this very civilized episode per evening activity, I’m watching on my own I MAY DESTROY YOU and a classic CW show, THE 4400. Paul and I are watching some newer shows, like WANDAVISION, MR. MAYOR, and (help us) CALL ME KAT and … in wake of the recent movie, Paul has decided to rediscover the WONDER WOMAN from the 70s with Lynda Carter and Lyle Waggoner.

We’ve discovered that Steve Trevor and Diana Prince had some rockin’ outfits* and have decided that if we ever get rich, in addition to donating to everyone’s Go Fund Me’s, we’re going to hire someone to recreate some of our favorite outfits from the show. None of these show up in a Google search, so here are some snaps of our TV screen:

I especially like Diana’s long red vest with the stitching. Paul is oddly fond of Steve’s yellow jacket!

*Note — this post has been edited from the original, wherein I expressed surprise that Wonder Woman had such cool clothes in the 80s. It turns out that I was misinformed — these episodes were shot circa 1977, when fashion was AWESOME — and thus I am now much less surprised!

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!

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.

That Time I Almost Unfriended April Ludgate

Americans are stressed. Here’s a poll taken in June by the American Psychological Association, and here’s an article about about how we’re more stressed now than in the 90s — especially if we we are old enough to remember the 90s.

Individuals in my life support this. They report incidents of road rage, scuffles between maskers and anti-maskers, flare-ups on social media and in life. Nerves are fraying, people are getting more judgmental and less patient with the quirks and foibles of others.

Except for me… or so I thought. I hadn’t yelled at Paul or gotten worked up on Facebook. I was doing pretty well…

Until the April Ludgate incident.

My husband’s lunchtime break of late has been rewatching Parks & Rec. Occasionally, I’ll wander in from the back room and join him or listen from the next room while working on a jigsaw puzzle (we all have our own ways of self-medicating).

A few days ago, I brought my lunch in in time to catch the last half of an episode from Season 5. The storyline was that Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott’s character) had taken a job running a campaign for a congressman in Washington D.C. and he’d brought April Ludgate (played by Aubrey Plaza) with him — I think because she’d been flailing about what to do with the rest of her life.

So in this episode, Ben is having problems getting the respect of the interns, who are young, good-looking, richer and better connected than he is. In particular, one intern doesn’t do the work Ben asks him to and and seems to be the source of disrespectful drawings of Ben with a stick up his butt.

The combination of these things cause Ben to regress into a pandering high schoolish nerd trying desperately to fit in with the cool crowd. It’s funny but painful to watch him buy everyone pizzas and organize an ultimate Frisbee match while everyone quietly mocks him–and it’s a relief when he finally gives up this ill-fated effort and puts his foot down with the privileged ringleader intern.

But the twist is — it wasn’t intern who drew the pictures that sent Ben into a tailspin.

It was April.

Ludgate.

So to recap, Ben gave April a job, drove her to Washington DC. Was only nice to her… and she sabotaged his ability to do a job he was excited about, and undermined his sense of self worth.

And then I started to think about how April mistreats Ann and Leslie, who constantly try to help her; how she’s mean to Jerry, who has no one on his side; how she fell into a job that, at its core, should be about helping people, and how she consistently and militantly uses her power to make people’s lives harder — remember how at the very beginning she charms Ron Swanson by not passing on any messages and scheduling his meetings on dates that don’t exist? Ha ha, so funny…. Unless you are the citizen blindly hoping that people at a government office might actually do their job and listen to you.

Since I’m not usually one to get triggered by fictional characters in a decade-old sitcom, I’m guessing my reaction might be related to other things that have been happening in my life: Like the fact that after three months and many hours of calling and writing the EDD, I still haven’t gotten a response, or that I was recently involved in a negotiation involving a lawyer who is choosing at every turn to make things more expensive and difficult for me, or that daily I read headlines about another government worker who fell into a job he has no intention of doing, and who views his constituency with about the same disrespect and lack of empathy as… April Ludgate.

As I watched April’s sulky, non-apology for her betrayal of Ben, something flipped in me. I thought “I’m done.”

I had not become blind to the fear and insecurity beneath her behavior or the well-placed hints that she’s emotionally vulnerable under her prickly surface.

I had just ceased to care.

I no longer had any interest in untangling her psyche or even watching her grow to be slightly less of a garbage-person. I didn’t want her working for me, I didn’t want to work for her. I didn’t want to attempt to understand her dysfunction. I didn’t want to apologize or explain things on her behalf to people she’s supposed to care about or do the emotional labor she refuses to do. I just wanted to avoid her completely.

I was ready to unfriend her completely but I didn’t, because, you know, she’s FICTIONAL.

And a few days later, I can again — grudgingly — see the amusing side to April’s antics and acknowledge that I overreacted. It’s probably just because there’s some shit going on in the world… and it’s making us stressed.

I Made A Short Film

I made a very short film — under three minutes. THE CHASE stars my niece and nephew, who have both grown much bigger now than when this was shot. I wanted to learn a particular editing program, but my computer wasn’t robust enough for the task, and then other work moved to the front burner, so took it a year before time and resources finally aligned… but I’m happy with the result:

The credits go by fast, so I’ll call attention to the fact that even on a three-minute film, it works better if you have a village. My friend Christine was behind the camera, while another friend, Caroline kept things moving doing an A.D. / producer duties. My mom handled craft service, Paul acted as consultant and “spackle.” And, of course, the whole enterprise was elevated by the great original music. I’m very lucky to be able to use my sibling card to draft Greg Gordon Smith to compose and perform.