Words to Drive By — Monster Leaves Dog

EPISODE 3: “Monster Leaves Dog”
(After the Storms, Part 3)

As a long-married couple prepares to part ways, the husband tries to convince his wife to change her mind.

This story is the third of three interrelated stories called After the Storms.
As with “Room” this story originated with a prompt:

Two characters part ways forever.

We were asked also to think about the questions: “Who and when and where?” “Do they know it’s forever?” “Do they have different feelings about it?” and “What causes the parting?”

I let years pass — literal years! — before I came back and finished this one. As the third story in the trilogy, it felt like writing a flashback episode of television. I enjoy flashback episodes, but they present their own set of challenges to the writer. Often a flashback episode needs to incorporate information the audience has already knows from regular episodes and that can change the source of dramatic tension in the story. If this story stands alone, the main question that unifies the narrative is “can Jerry change Beth’s mind and convince her to stay in the city?” But someone who reads it with the context of the previous stories already knows the answer. So for them the the question is not “what happened?” but “how and why did it happen?” Which tends to be a “weaker” dramatic tension…

… but hopefully still worthwhile! For me, the appeal of a flashback episode is traveling back in time and seeing characters I already know as they once were — before I knew them. In this case, seeing Jerry in “Room” and Beth in “Tribe” each reminiscing about the other made me want to see them together for a little while, and witness the moment that sent them on their separate trajectories.

Greg Gordon Smith composes and sound designs this and every episode. Ted Giffin did the show art.
And Barrington Smith-Seetachitt (that’s me!) wrote and read the story.

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I Made A Short Film

I made a very short film — under three minutes. THE CHASE stars my niece and nephew, who are both much bigger now than when this was shot. I wanted learn a particular editing program, and my computer wasn’t robust enough for the task, and other work was on the front burner, so took a year for time and resources to finally align, 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 lucking to be able to use my sibling card to draft Greg Gordon Smith to compose and perform.

Hangin’ Out, Thinking About Partiality

(As promised at the end of my last post.)

Much of the story we pitched for ADMISSIONS is built around three families — all New Yorkers, but with different backgrounds and socio-economic resources — vying to get their children into Ivy League colleges — and making some questionable moral and legal decisions in their pursuits. 

Last year, I wrote a pilot for an entirely different series — one with a sci-fi premise where a tech guru creates an Elysium-type alternate reality and the richest people in the United States pay to transport themselves and their families into this other reality.

What do this two projects– one grounded, and one sci-fi — have in common? They are both about families, and both about family members who exercise partiality. 

Partiality — if it’s not familiar to you, as it wasn’t to me — is basically, liking one thing, person or group more than another.  In philosophy, there’s a whole ongoing conversation regarding whether it can be right to act partially and privilege people who are closer in our affections over those who are more distant.

In both my sci-fi scenario and in the real world scandal, individuals act to procure opportunities for their children.  But in so doing they are are taking the opportunity away from other, random people.

Most of us exercise some form of partiality. We feed our own children and take care of our own families first. We help our friends more than strangers. Generally it’s regarded as honorable to help our families, friends, teams, companies. We talk about loyalty like it’s a good thing — something to aspire to.

But, is it also honorable to give a job to your nephew instead of reviewing applications from other hopefuls?  Is it okay to  vote to fund the parks near your neighborhood and not  neighborhoods where other people’s kids live?  What if everyone in your group made the same choices?

It seems like classism, racism, tribalism could all descended from this type of partiality when it’s not just exercised by individuals, but groups of people.

When I think about partiality, it’s difficult not to selfishly think about how partiality  affects me. I want to be a working TV writer. In order to do that, I need to be hired by a showrunner. It’s no secret that showrunners– not just as individuals, but as a class — are partial to people they know and trust, or to referrals by people they know and trust. Since I am not neither of those things, my chances of catching my dream are diminished.

On the flip side, I’ve been hired many times — to be on film crews, to teach, to work admin — because someone knew me.  In every case, I’m guessing Human Resources could have sent a hundred applicants as good or better than I was, who probably wanted the job more than I did.  Yes, I’m a hard worker, but that’s not what got me those jobs. I got those jobs because: partiality. The people with the power to hire already knew me.

The temptation is always there to help out a friend, to make your kid happy. When is that okay, and where’s the line? If you’re a bouncer at a club, is it okay to let your friends in for free? If you work middle-management at a company, is it okay to highly refer a friend for a job? And if you have a gazillion dollars, is it okay to buy your kid a spot at a prestigious college, or buy your family a new life in an alternate reality?

 

Great Idea, Flawed Execution

I saw this online and ordered it from Target.  53162450Super-cute right?

But I didn’t look closely and I made some assumptions. Like I figured those straps probably had a hidden snap or button.

Or I figured that there might be a zipper on the side.

It didn’t occur to me that they would have would have sash on the front and…

53162450_Alt01Yup, that’s a back zipper.

Totally practical if you have a “jumper buddy” to go with you to the bathroom and help you with the zipper every time you have to go. Otherwise, not so much. The zipper is high -I can’t reach top in order to pull it down — or back up.

I get it — it’s easy to get so excited about an idea that you don’t entirely test it before you send it out into the world. Focus groups are tedious — so many busy-bodies wanting you to make changes. Maybe I’m just not the right demographic — there might be some more limber-bodied folks out there who can totally make this work.

I, however, had to return it.

Writing Tip: Record Your Notes Sessions

Getting notes on a script can feel either “good” or “bad.”

“Bad” is when you are hoping for accolades, for someone to tell you it’s really close, and instead you hear that things aren’t working for the reader, they don’t understand things you thought were clear, and they have thoughts — a lot of thoughts!  In the cartoon version of your life that’s happening inside your head it’s a literal truckload of notes dumped on top of you. It’s overwhelming and it’s heavy. Like this picture — but with NOTES instead of money!

A truck dumping a load of money
It’s like this, but with notes instead of money!

“Good” is when you  know there’s some problems with your script, but by some stroke of luck, you have some folks who like it anyway because they see its potential, and hopefully they are a little bit smarter than you–or smart in different ways–and they say things that they think which makes you think things that you say and then everyone is very excited about where this can go. And while you’re all talking you start to “see” it. It’s like the visual version of having a word on the tip of your tongue — it’s not there yet, but it’s totally within your grasp and probably as soon as you get off the phone it will no doubt arrived fully formed. This is fun!

After a notes call you hang up the phone,with a sense of accomplishment — either because you’ve withstood the deluge without crying, or because you’ve held your own in a great conversation! Either way you clearly deserve to decompress by staring vacantly into the fridge for a full minute and maybe taking a stick of wrapped cheese and then wandering the apartment vaguely looking for the water glass you set down before giving up and getting a new one.

Then it’s time to get to work! You return to your computer, pumped to make this next draft the Great American Script…  and realize that the whole conversation you just had is a blur.

You don’t panic. You close your eyes and think: A few moments from the conversation come back, but now you aren’t entirely sure if you and the other person were talking about the same thing.  You remember thinking thoughts that were so profound you knew you’d never forget them, but you’ve forgotten what they were.

Shit.

Check your notebook see that you’ve got a few half sentences written down, like
“she should tell him that…” or
“maybe an element of betrayal”.

Double shit.

But wait! Now you look in the upper left corner of your computer screen, see the little Quicktime audible file and remember that you recorded the whole thing. Probably, it’s STILL recording, because you forgot you were recording. So you turn it off. You NAME the file with the project and date.

Screen Shot 2018-03-16 at 1.54.06 PM

This is great! You don’t have to admit to someone that you forgot everything they said! Plus, now you can transcribe the conversation, which at a 3-1 ratio could take three hours. Three hours of typing without having to solve any problems. Hallelujah.

And while you’re listening and typing, not only will you remember what you talked about,  but you’ll hear a bunch of stuff that you missed. Stuff people said while you were processing what somebody said before that. Tossed-off comments you thought were jokes, but now realize could be the key!

Re-listening to the notes will also help you process your emotions. However you felt during the call — good or bad — listening again will make you feel less so. If you felt good — hearing yourself talk will make you feel less brilliant, for sure. But if it was bad, you might find it wasn’t as bad as you thought. And putting it on paper will give you some distance, which — at least for me — is a better, more sustainable place from which to start a re-write.