Crowds are fickle beasts – Crowd-funding conundrum

I pledge: To stop whinging about or rolling my eyes at stories about some big film company or Hollywood star using crowd-funding to support their latest endeavours, whether in part or in whole (e.g., Veronica Mars movie, Zach Braff, Corner Gas movie).

Artistic life support

Although many of us probably assumed that crowd-funding was designed to give the little guy or gal a leg up in the pursuit of his or her dream, it is merely a vehicle for fundraising and gauging public interest in projects of any type. Period. Full stop.

Given the potential cash-cow it represents, companies and individuals of all stripes would be foolhardy not to take advantage of this opportunity.

I have heard and have argued that these mega-projects take attention and dollars away from smaller projects that might never otherwise see the light of day. There may be merit in this argument…but I don’t know that it matters.

The crowd-funding companies get a piece of the action, so you know they’re good with the big-ticket projects. They are not charities, despite being used by charities.

If the small independents want an exclusive, altruistic crowd-funding domain then they can start one and make up their own rules for which projects are allowed in and which ones aren’t.

The marketing angle is built in: Stick it to The Man, even if she’s The Woman. (Unless, of course, the crowd-funding site is dedicated to projects led exclusively by women.)

Crowdfunding

(Images are property of owners and are used here without permission because the post office was too crowded.)

Learning curve

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Before I start, let me state unequivocally that if you are writing or thinking of writing, I congratulate you and hope it goes well.

Now, despite that enthusiasm, I have to express my dismay at the number of people who don’t seem to want to improve their writing.

Over the last two years, I have read thousands of pages—outlines, scenes, plays, chapters—and have been amazed to watch so many people get so much better at their craft. Unfortunately, I’ve also seen plenty for whom their only draft is their final draft.

Perhaps it is ego that suggests me and my fellow readers have nothing to contribute to their work. That all of our comments fall well short of their prodigious talents and would only weaken the work. But if that’s the case, why ask for our input in the first place? If the work is that good, why do you need our validation, our applause?

For most, if not all cases, I think it is more likely fear and laziness. The belief that if the piece isn’t perfect on the first pass, it never will be. What these people seem to fail to realize—or perhaps recognize all too well—is that a learning curve isn’t just some gentle bend in the road. Rather, it is a steep daunting hill, and to climb that hill, they must invest energy.

If you ask me for my input, my thoughts, my impressions, I will give them to you freely with the understanding that they are just my opinions. You don’t have to follow them. This is your work, to be executed your way. I am only offering alternative views.

At the same time, if you continually ask for my thoughts (or someone else’s) but make no effort to change—in any directions—then these efforts have been wasted.

Perhaps the writer was correct and the work was perfect out of the gate. Congratulations. It would be the first time I would ever have been witness to such an event.

I have no pretenses about my own work—or I don’t think I do. My work will never be perfect, but it can always be better than it was yesterday, and almost as good as it will be tomorrow. And the more and more varied input I get, the closer I get to the top of that learning curve.

At least until the next project begins.

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission, because I never learn.)

Puppet Up! is coming to Toronto

Okay, that was either the most effective social media campaign EVAR! or the folks at Puppet Up! were already coming to Toronto.

Either way, I don’t care and am simply ecstatic that Puppet Up! Uncensored is coming to Toronto’s Panasonic Theatre October 22 to November 3.

Tickets are currently only open to Mirvish Theatre subscribers, but will likely open up soon.

Thanks to everyone who responded to, looked at or smiled bemusedly at my Bring Puppet Up! to Toronto campaign.

For more about Puppet Up!, visit their web site or FB page.

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Writer’s terror

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Writers don’t get blocked. They get scared.

They get scared of looking stupid. Of having nothing to say.

They get scared of being found a fraud. Of the blank page.

They get scared of choosing the wrong word. Of being unable to complete a piece.

They get scared of having to explain themselves.

But whereas the fear is real, the reasons are not, and the only way to proceed,

Is to ignore the fear, ignore the world, and write.

Write without a care.

Write without a plan.

Write with total abandon.

For much as the only true cure for suffocation is to breathe,

The only real cure for writer’s block is to write.

Every word written is another gasp of oxygen.

Every line completed is another lung full of air.

You may struggle…you will struggle…but even your struggling

Is a sign you are still alive, that you have not yet given up.

(Image is property of its owner and is used here without permission because I wasn’t blocked from doing so.)

Another year, another AFF Second Rounder

20th AFF poster

So, it would seem that rewrites work.

Last year, I entered my screenplay Tank’s into the Austin Film Festival screenplay competition and other than some amazing notes, it went nowhere in the competition. (My spec teleplay of The Big Bang Theory, however, reached the second round before bowing out.)

Fast-forward a year and four rounds of revisions, I just learned that the same screenplay made it to the second round of the competition before bowing out…Tank’s made it to the top 10% of its category, which feels pretty good considering the AFF received more than 8,600 screen- and teleplays this year, its highest submission rate ever.

Aside from the $200+ refund on my registration fee, what makes this really awesome is the esteem in which Second Rounders and higher are held at the screenwriting conference portion of the film festival. You see, the Austin Film Festival is more than just a whack of movie screens and Hollywood A-listers (like my own Toronto International Film Festival; on now). The AFF is also a 4-day screenwriters’ conference and love-fest, as 400+ introverts try to get just drunk enough to come out of their shells and commune with Hollywood screenwriters and film-makers.

If you are a screenwriter and have never been to the AFF, GO! It is worth the money.

Sure, some of the sessions amount to little more than hero-worship where you’ll hear questions like: “Remember that scene in X-Files when Mulder gave Scully that look? Did you write that, because that was awesome?” But most of the sessions are actually helpful discussions and learning opportunities with the film and television world’s elite writers…and best of all, these Gods not only stick around, but they’ll actually talk to you at the BBQ or in the bars. It’s like they give a shit about your shit.

Last year was my first AFF, and I was the introvert amongst introverts looking for the closest corner in which to nurse my beer or G&T. This year will be different. This year, I will move out of the corner and occupy the middle of the room…who knows, I may even talk to someone. (God, I need a drink!)

Oh, the Austin Film Festival runs October 24-31 from the Driskill Hotel.

PS If you think I’m bragging, my prowess is kept in check by a friend I met at AFF who had two Second Rounders and one Semifinalist screenplay in last year’s competition alone.

Many levels of review – Part One

puzzle

Every time I read something, I find something I never found before. Thus, when someone has built up the nerve to ask me to read something he or she has written, I try to read it in several waves, each one moving deeper and deeper into the details of the subject or story.

30000_foot_view

The view at 30,000 feet: Particularly if it is a complex narrative, such as a novel or screenplay, I try to make my first read an uncritical one. This may sound counterintuitive to the requested task, but until I’ve read something from front to back, I don’t feel as if I have sufficient information to be critical.

A thought or comment made at first read may be rendered moot or significantly larger one, ten, fifty or a hundred pages later. I need context to see what the writer is trying to accomplish before I know what is working or what isn’t.

If possible, I will remove all writing implements from my pockets and move somewhere completely isolated so that I can give the piece my full attention. If I become immersed in the work, absorbed by the story and characters, then I know less work is needed, and I can drill to the deepest, most detailed level of comment quickly.

If, however, I find myself drifting from the story, or worse, struggling to move from page to page or scene to scene, then I know there are larger structural or thematic issues at play. Things that potentially make detailed feedback moot upon rewrite.

If you can’t resist using a pen at this stage, try just adding an asterisk next to the line of interest for a quick reminder later. Attention to details breeds attention to details, and you’re apt to miss the bigger picture.

5000_foot_view

The view from 5,000 feet: In the second read, I try to focus my attentions on the larger structural and thematic questions that arose in the first read. By being familiar with the story and knowing who is whom, I am less likely to need to flip backward through the pages to remind myself how I got here.

More importantly, I know where the writer is trying to go with the plot and characters, which should make it easier to identify bumps or inconsistencies along the way.

These moments typically take the form of a quick shuffling of pages to see if I’ve missed something or if two pages have stuck together. In my head, if not aloud, I find myself using phrases like “Wait. What…?” and “Hold it. I thought…”

If I did my first read well, I may remember struggling at this point in the story, and if it’s big enough, having to force myself to move on. Alternatively, I didn’t bump the first time through but now that I know the full story, this scene or moment has become a problem. What made perfect sense an hour or two ago has now become confusing. Regardless, it is a moment that has to be recognized, understood and adjusted.

Most writers in my experience have the greatest problem with notes at this stage because it often cuts to the core of their story and changes her can have a significant impact on the direction of the story. In some cases, this is where the writer might find out the story doesn’t work and needs a complete overhaul.

New writers, in particular, may either completely refute the notes to avoid being so fundamentally “off base” or simply give up the piece because they feel incapable of sacrificing all that hard work, ironically enough, and trying to rescue what was working.

At this stage, I’m asking pretty broad questions. Do I understand why this story is happening (why today)? Do I clearly see who is playing what role in the narrative (e.g., protagonist, antagonist, etc) and how they interrelate?

Can I recognize the plot and subplots, and do they make sense? How do they relate and am I seeing a coherent theme? Is there any conflict in the story and does it rise in scale or intensity as the story moves forward?

Part Two: In the next section, we will continue our journey into the depths of how I review stories with complex narratives, rapidly approaching ground level.

(The images are the property of their respective owners and are used here without permission because they’re beneath me.)

Awake with love – Canada

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I have been a very lucky man.

I was lucky enough to be born in a great country. In my almost 50 years, I have not known war. When I have been sick, I have been able to find treatment. When I have been poor, I have been able to find support. When I have been lonely, I have been able to find friends. And a lot of that is because I live in Canada.

Canada is not a perfect country—it is no Shangri-La—but it is a good proxy. And today, July 1, it is 146 years old.

Being so free, however, I have often been complacent about how good things are for me. I have forgotten what went into creating this haven. Forgotten how my life has compared to those living elsewhere.

One of the great things about living in a cosmopolitan centre like Toronto is that I get the opportunity to meet many of the people who started elsewhere.

Several years ago, in the span of just a few months, I played host to a couple of post-doctoral researchers who came to Toronto to work at the Hospital for Sick Children. One was a researcher from Moscow, the other a student from Beijing. Both rented a room in my house, and while the rent money was nice, the life lesson was more valuable.

Wei marveled at the space available in this thriving metropolis; that he could go for a walk and find places where he saw no one. He also marveled at the speed and insanity of NHL hockey on Saturday nights (just because it’s cliché doesn’t, mean it’s untrue).

Sergei was reminded of home in some ways, and amusingly found Torontonians a bit repressed (ah, our Scottish banker roots were showing through). At the same time, when I informed him that yes indeed, public consumption of alcohol was illegal in our parks, he marveled that no one stopped him or that the police didn’t arrive suddenly. And he was grateful at the open welcome he received from everyone including my family. Our cookies were a little stale, but then, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he’d mistaken dog biscuits for cookies (we call them Sergei cookies, now).

As I would listen to both of these men recount their lives back home, I gained a new appreciation for what I had…and for what I took for granted.

From my geographically central location, I have had the luxury of traveling most of my country. I’ve taken in its historical sites—Fortress of Louisbourg, Quebec Citadel, Plains of Abraham—visited some of the most majestic landscape I could hope to see—the Shield of Northern Ontario, the Fraser River valley, the Bay of Fundy, the Lachine Rapids—participated in amazing cultural festivals—the Stratford Festival, Pride Week, Fringe Toronto, Caribana—and met amazing people.

I am a lucky man to live in such a beautiful, dazzling country.

Happy birthday, Canada. I love you more today than I did yesterday, and I will love you even more tomorrow.

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