Archive for May, 2008

Kevin: My God, what a hateful baby.

Dave: It’s like the whole of human suffering wrapped in swaddling clothes!

Back in the early 1990s, I used to joke that my life was great except for two areas: personal and professional. Trust me, I have no particular longing for those times. But I have tremendous nostalgia for my diversions of the day: 97X radio, Twin Peaks, ST: Next Generation, Reservoir Dogs, The Crying Game, early Conan O’Brien, Letterman when he was still funny, Mystery Science Theater…and the Kids in the Hall.

So imagine the spit-take a few weeks ago when I was watching Battlestar Galactica and a commercial came on for the Kids reunion tour, coming to Charleston! I raced to the computer and snapped up two tickets faster than you could crush a head!

Cathy: Kathy, how do you stay so slim?

Kathy: I’m tweeking on crystal meth! Look at my pipe!

Cathy: Oooh, it’s shaped like a unicorn!

And then came the trepidation. Would the reality match the nostalgia? I mean, does it ever? Night of the show…we pull into the parking lot at the Performing Arts Center. There are about four cars in the lot. There are maybe ten people in the lobby. I’m getting a sinking feeling now, like the time I saw Dick Dale at Bogart’s in Cincinnati and 12 people showed up. Eventually, though, the lobby filled up with groovers, hippies, students-for-life, emo kids, and other assorted freaks. In other words, a Kids crowd.

SuperDrunk: Oh man, what did I do last night?

Bartender: You saved the world, nailed a waitress and pissed yourself. But not in that order.

The show was incredible. Almost a black-box performance with very few props, just folding chairs and card tables mostly. Digital projection provided the scenery, as well as a few taped bits. The show was more than just a nostalgia trip with several of the old characters and a couple of old sketches. Don’t get me wrong, it was certainly that, but even if you had seen every episode, and I’ve come close, there was still fresh stuff to enjoy. And the writing—always my favorite part—hasn’t slipped a bit. Sure the Kids, like the rest of us (mostly me,) have gotten older and fatter, But they had the same manic energy that actually intensified as the show progressed.

“So, his attempted statutory rape of a retarded foreign exchange student was his way of telling me he loved me?”

(Insecure gay guy, suddenly feeling better)

As for your old favorites, there was Gavin, the weird little kid; Cathy and Kathy; the Chicken Lady; and Buddy Cole doing a monologue about Jesus being gay that had conservative Charleston laughing and squirming at the same time. Of course, the encore was an appearance by Mr. Tyzik, who is CRUSHING your HEAD!

Friends, I know I’m not doing the Kids justice here. All I can say is that if this gem makes it to a town anywhere near you, see the hell out of it!

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To my Legion of Fan: My posts have become scarce lately. The problem is, I blog all day at this new full time freelance gig. This social network marketing is serious business! I blog about finding the right daycare, installing custom kitchen cabinets, pet photography, antebellum architecture, floral arrangements, real estate and a dozen other things I know nothing about. Then I cruise dozens of other blogs making comments that gently (that is to say, obnoxiously) steer readers toward a client’s goods and services. When I’m not doing that, I am writing an endless series of 500-word, keyword-intensive SEO-bait articles on still other topics that I am completely ignorant about (but that I am learning quickly.) It’s not uncommon to write 7500 words a day.

That leads to a question for all of you writers out there. Is this a lot? It’s certainly more than I’ve ever done on a constant basis. I feel like the cobbler in that old story. One evening he leaves his pathetic, failing shoe shop, wondering how he will make shoes with only two pieces of leather and a bit of twine. At night the faeries come, and the next day there’s like 300 pairs of shoes ready to be sold. It’s just like that for me, except that instead of leaving the cobbler shop, I stay and make all the damn shoes.

That’s all for now. Brain cell #206131beta has flamed out. But fans of 1990’s Canadian comedy troupes should tune in later this week for a nostalgic treat (oooh, intriguing!) And if anybody knows of some word faeries looking for a gig, let me know.

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The inevitable conclusion to Celluloid Dreams!

There’s this actor. Young guy, kind of a lunk, but a decent dude. He’s been in We Were Soldiers, Private Ryan, Remember the Titans and a few more (go on, guess!) He formed his own production company and went looking for scripts. He found me, and the tentative dance to option my screenplay began.

As long as the conversation was artist to “artist” (the one in quotations would be me) things were great. But there came a point when he was obligated to pass me off to his agent. From there, it promptly went to hell.

The agent is supposed to make an good faith offer. A dollar figure, and a length of term for the option. Instead, this dude asks what kind of deal I was expecting. Not as in, “what sounds fair to you, Mike?” More like, “Let’s see if this Cincinnati hayseed knows his ass from his elbow.”

Well, of course I didn’t. Sadly, I’m not so sure my attorney did, either. He set out to show this Hollywood douchebag that we weren’t going to get pushed around. By gosh, there are rules and standards for optioning scripts!

Um, yeah. There are rules and standards, except when there aren’t. And a screenwriter… check that, a first-time screenwriter…I mean, a first time screenwriter from Ohio… has no rights, no leverage, and no recourse. It got ugly fast, and the whole deal was incinerated in something like a week. I still have the angry, illiterate rejection email from the agent to my lawyer, and I quote: “your cleint is being terrible naeve.” Which, I suppose I can’t deny.

I tell myself how it would have likely gone down. They would have optioned it for twice the typical term for half the typical money. They would have pissed the time away, not getting funding while making me rewrite the thing six times. And in the end, I’d be back in Ohio with a script I no longer recognized and my option money long gone (I mean, we’re talking hundreds of bucks here.)

But who knows? Maybe I would have been the next Charlie Kaufman. More likely, I would have been that guy who had that one kickass screenplay and you never heard from again. I can’t recall his name.

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I don’t know what put the idea in my head, but one day I sat down to write a screenplay.

I had spent an entire five (!) days at an AFI workshop in fabulous Hollywood a few years earlier, so I knew everything about character arcs and the three-act structure. Best of all, I was certain that I had a story to tell.

Six months later, it was finished (see, this is already less depressing than the novel story!)

I copyrighted it and entered it into a few competitions, and then sort of forgot about it. A few months later, on the same day I left my Big Corporate Job of 12 years (with all the mixed emotions that entailed) I got word that I was a finalist in one of the competitions.

The big prize was a listing on their screenplay service. And I got a lot of nibbles. I was sending copies to a bunch of readers who (get this) read the screenplay for whichever producer they work for, and then either “pass” (as in no thanks) or recommend.

Frankly, after the first few thrilling nibbles, the buzz began to wear off. I was running out of the photocopies I had misappropriated from the Big Corporate Job so, with Kinko’s and postage, each copy was costing me at least ten bucks. And this was in the desperate days of freelancing in the post-9/11 economy. Why couldn’t I email the damn thing? Because these readers read, like, 50 scripts a week. Seriously. So they need hard copies so they can read at the office, on the bus, in the crapper, what have you. It also got old because I never got the idea that they were seriously considering my script.

And then it happened…real interest. Cliffhanger!

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What made you want to write? Was there a particular novel or film that inspired you? Or was it something less romantic than that?

I remember killing time in a grocery store thumbing through the paperbacks. Of course, there was the Harlequin type crap for the ladies. For the gents there was a bunch of serialized action-adventure nonsense with covers depicting some grimy, scarred-up mercenary clutching a shredded American flag silhouetted against a blood-red atomic twilight. A typical description on the back cover might read: “In the post-apocalyptic future a rag-tag band of special-ops assassins battles their zombie/mutant/space Nazi overlords!”

And I remember saying to myself, “I could write this crap!”

Believe me, I gave it hell. I thought I had a pretty interesting setting and some compelling characters. It was speculative fiction, which is what you say when you don’t want to admit to science fiction. I’d describe it for you, but you’d swear I stole it from The Matrix, even though I started writing it in 1990. Anyway, after fits and starts and long stretches of inactivity, I’ve got 200 pages in a binder somewhere that will never be completed. First of all, they went and made The Matrix. I suppose I could change some elements to make it less Matrix-y. But, truthfully, the story is very bleak and hopeless and, thank the Lord, that’s not who I am anymore.

But it was a lesson learned regarding the various divergent paths of writing. There’s always somebody who thinks they can do it better. Like some pine-head in the supermarket that thinks he can write post-apocalyptic pulp fiction better than the guys making a living at it. Or the client who’s willing to spend $5000 for website design, but decides he’s going to write the copy himself.

So, for better or worse, the Novel That Never Was is what first stoked the fires. It got me thinking about the possibility of a future of not spent lugging 300lbs of video for the rest of my life. And bit by bit I started taking the steps to transition out of full time video and into full time writing.

By the way, I am Matrix fan numero uno. Just the first one, though. Reloaded and Revolutions both have the dubious distinction, as Bart Simpson once observed, of both sucking and blowing at the same time.

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If you make it through the first five minutes of The Savages, wherein a frustrated, confused old man writes his sentiments on the bathroom wall with, well, you know what, then you are in for a gently challenging, ultimately hopeful movie experience.

In last week’s review of Lars and The Real Girl, I referred to of actors who typically play pent-up, tightly wound characters in pent-up, tightly wound little independent films. In The Savages, out on DVD, we have two of the finest in the business playing their muted best: Laura Linney and Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Fortyish siblings John and Wendy Savage refuse to grow up (as their Peter Pan-inspired names would suggest.) Wendy works a series of temp jobs and wastes office supplies endlessly applying for grants in order to chase her dream of playwriting. John has chosen “college for life” and teaches theater. In the romance department, neither sibling is getting anywhere. Wendy is involved with a married man with no intention of leaving his wife. John has a longtime live-in, a Polish prof he loves, but whose visa has expired. He refuses to marry her.

And yet, each is content in their little bubble…until their lives turn upside down. Their perpetual adolescence is shattered by the fast-forward disintegration of their elderly father (Phillip Bosco.) Seriously, the first ten minutes is tough to watch as we see Dad’s dementia destroy every bit of his dignity (the bathroom wall is just the beginning.) Sadly, he has enough of his mind left to witness his own degradation.

In coming to terms with what to do with the old man, John and Wendy each think their stale lives is more important, and that the other should make the sacrifices. Each stands his ground, however, and the resulting friction causes cracks wide enough for growth and change to seep through.

Obviously, this isn’t the delightful whimsical tale that Lars was, but it is a good story (Oscar-nominated, in fact.). If you happen to be 40, and thinking ahead to that thing we must all face, it’s sure to hit home. It definitely drags you through the hard choices, but ultimately leaves you hopeful. Rent it!

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It figures. As soon as I launch this blog as a feeble marketing attempt, I manage to market myself into a full time copywriting gig here in Charleston. It’s a full time 1099 gig, though, so I can still cling to a shred of my freelance cred.

I’ve made this transition before, from freelance to full time. I think the last time, heading in to produce the daily Toyota newscast, was a little more traumatic. After three or four years I was unsure I could ever punch a clock again. Seriously, I nearly had a panic attack. (We pause now as my construction worker father reaches from beyond the grave to slap the sh*t out of me for being such a whiny bourgeois poop-butt. Also for using the word “bourgeois.” And for putting an asterisk in sh*t.)

I can tell you there are things I am definitely going to miss. (Thirty freelance writers shout at once: “Like teleconferencing in your underpants!?”) Well, obviously that’s the big one. But also all the monumental household projects that got done in the name of procrastination. The daily trips to Lowes. Going for groceries and forgetting half the items on my list and not stressing about it because, really, what else do I have to do?

So now I’ll be spending my days in the language factory, milling words and phrases to a .003 tolerance. “But where,” you’re probably not wondering, “does this leave your legion of fan? Where will I get my daily dose of bittersweet cynicism?” There’s likely to be an adjustment period, but I suspect I will continue to flog my blog, maybe on a M-W-F kind of schedule.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go say goodbye to the old farts hanging around the paint counter at Lowes.

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“No better friend, no greater adversary…”

Expertise..acquiring it fast and cheap. As we used to say at ImageMatrix: “It CAN be Done!”

As famed guitarist and alcoholic Joe Walsh once said, I can’t complain but sometimes I still do. From time to time you may detect a note (or perhaps a symphony) of cynicism in my tone but, truth be told, there are parts of my job I truly love.

This will sound lame, but my favorite part is learning new things. (Note: warning the reader that something will sound lame does not make it less lame.) By this I mean new businesses, new fields, new products and so on. I have spent a few really productive years in an agency environment, both full time and as a freelancer. There I was exposed to a barrage of new clients in various fields, from shooting sports to military research to graphic arts to public radio.

Believe me, after a solid decade plus in healthcare communications, it was a definite paradigm shift (corporate douche-speak? Mike, you promised!) Sorry. Anyway, I loved the challenge of digging into the materials, interviewing the client, learning about their company, their competition and their industry at large.  And I loved being the proverbial fresh pair of eyes in the room. I guess the biggest lesson I learned was…how to learn. (Tonight on a very special Lively Exchange, Mike learns how to learn.)

All of these tender life lessons came in handy yesterday, when I had to dig into yet another field I knew nothing about (and cannot really discuss.) My mission was to turn 5,000 words into 5,000 different words, with another 2,500 words added for sheer volume.  I’d have to check the AP style guide, but I’m pretty sure that’s “a butt-load.” It promised to be a steep climb, but I was really looking forward to it precisely because the topic was so new. I was exhausted by the end of the day but, as they say, it was a good kind of tired.

How about you, my fellow ink-stained wretches? What’s your favorite part of the job?

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Web-addicted? Addiction is such a strong word. Let’s say I’m “web-dependent.” Sometimes, it’s unavoidable. Much of my clientele is elsewhere, so I am often waiting for some file to come over the wire. But, other times, when I am merely hitting F5 over and over to refresh the Yahoo entertainment headlines, I realize it’s time to yank the high speed line and get some work done.

I have folder upon folder of favorites bookmarked, but I seem to hit these most often:

  • Media Life: Daily news magazine covering TV, cable, print and the advertising world
  • By Ken Levine: Prolific TV screenwriter and veteran of M*A*S*H, Cheers and Frasier holds forth daily on the art, business and frustrations of the Hollywood writing trade.
  • Rotten Tomatoes: At ten bucks a pop, I don’t go to the movies without checking the Tomato’s aggregate scores compiled from dozens of film critics. I don’t always agree, but I do often enough. Also, when that charming little indie film you heard about finally hits Charleston (on DVD!) you can go back and dig up the six-month-old review before you head out to Blockbuster.
  • Terrace Theater: If by chance that charming little indie DOES hit Charleston in first run release, it will most likely hit at the Terrace on James Island. And, they have a liquor license…how cosmopolitan!
  • Politics: Bleh. If you must, try Real Clear Politics. It’s hard to find balance on the web, but this portal comes pretty close.
  • Music: Other than iTunes, it’s the one and only woxy.com, one of America’s premiere sites for modern and indie rock. Once, when it was an FM station in Oxford, OH it was my only companion on my 90-minute daily round trip from Cincinnati to southeast Indiana. These days, I admit I am more of a fan of their old fartvintage” feed.
  • Moral Guidance: Pointe North Community Church, Moncks Corner SC.

Finally the hard stuff, my biggest weaknesses, the monkeys on my back:

  • Cinematical & TV Squad: Sister sites that provide news, reviews and lively discussion about movies and television. Do me a favor…go there, find a loudmouth commenter called Cincinnati Mike…and please, tell him to GET BACK TO WORK!

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