Sunday, November 30, 2008

My new favorite website

Who doesn't love an upside down dog? Nobody, I tell you, nobody!

Upside down dogs are the best things in the world, I'm telling ya!

You can't look at these dogs and not smile. You just can't.


Monday, November 24, 2008

There Is Always An Option C

When Roomie Jekyll and I watch Survivor (yes, we still watch that show, last week’s episode was AWESOME), and in between us trying to imitate the African tribal music yelped by a vigorously ethnic sounding voice (goes something like “ENNNNNNNG ENNNNNNNGGG AHHHHHHHHHH!”) Roomie Jekyll will ask rhetorical questions of the starving and desperate contestants on TV. “Why are they so stupid!?” is a common one. “Don’t they understand how dumb they look?” “How does he not know how annoying he is?” I continually point out to Roomie Jekyll that they’re in the Survivor Bubble, and it’s very easy to make judgments and personality calls from the safety of your couch, but it’s probably very different inside the Survivor Bubble of the game, where you don’t have a bird’s eye view of the situation.

I don’t have a Survivor Bubble, but I have been getting along very nicely on a Denial Bubble all my own. The Denial Bubble, contrary to the name, is actually an optimistic place to be. In this Bubble, we’ve finished the Pink Piggy film, we’ve submitted it to festivals, and we haven’t heard back if we’ve been accepted or not. So I’m free to occasionally puff up fantasies that we HAVE been accepted, and all the a, b, and c tangents that will naturally evolve from there, which culminate in us doing Striped Tiger, and another unnamed Menangerie film, as well as selling Purple Monkey to a major studio, and finally moving into a place of my own with a comfy chair.

I should’ve been doing a lot more work inside the Denial Bubble, though sometimes I’ll remember that I wrote a first draft of a brand new project for a class at the beginning of this year that I’ve since put away. And then I have to remind myself that I spent all of October on Polka Dotted Platypus, and I’ll most likely see the benefit of that endeavor next year. My short term memory really sucks inside the Denial Bubble. Who are you again? I know you bought me this drink and all, and I’m so embarrassed but, seriously, what was your name again? Didn’t you say you were an architect or something?

But no matter how much the Denial Bubble bounced along the dewy fields of Amy’s Fantasyland, I never forgot that we had submitted to Film Festival A, B, and C, at least for the first round.

And I also knew that the time was stretching pretty close to hear back from these festivals whether we got in or not. And last Friday, I had starting hearing blips and peeps from acquaintances and random strangers whose posts I stumbled over during my internet searches that this short got in, that film got a midnight screening.

And my Denial Bubble abruptly spouted leaks all over the place.

I had pretty much written off Film Festival A. That’s the one you’ve heard of, that’s the one my dad’s heard of, that’s the one every film submits to, regardless of whether the film is good or not. There was no way Pink Piggy was getting into Film Festival A. It’s political, we had no insider advocate, we had no stars in our cast. It wasn’t happening.

But I did hold unabashed hopes for Film Festival B. You probably have heard of Film Festival B, certainly if you live in L.A. Films get bought at Film Festival B. Film Festival B is respectable. They like first time filmmakers, that’s us. They take chances on different films, that’s us too. The festival programmer was posting on her blog a list of indy film clichés, then admitted her favorite film had two of them, just like our film does! (yes, we have a main character staring at herself in a mirror, and yes, there is some photo caressing going on.)

But all the evidence I was pulling off the internet was pointing to the fact that Film Festival B had started calling the lucky films over this past weekend. And no call for us.

I’m no stranger to rejection, HELL NO I’M NOT. Scripts, boys, jobs, yep, I could wallpaper my room with a thousand “nos”, as any writer could. So I was surprised to feel a sting in my heart as my Denial Bubble went POP. Come on, Amy, snap out of it. This is only the start of what will probably be a million nos for Pink Piggy. The least you can do is be a grownup about it. A thousand people can say no, it only takes one person to say yes.

I’ve been talking to God about clarity on a number of fronts. It seems pretty clear that He’s closing this door, this door, and this door on other avenues of my life. Usually, that would upset me. But now, I’m more interested in having Him lead me where He wants me to go. Okay, we’re not going down that road. Great, where to now? I’m ready Freddy! Vroom vroom let’s go! At a blazingly glacial pace.

But after a Saturday talk with God, I was surprised to feel a quicker sense of calm than normal. The inner peace, she don’t come easy to me. But I did feel like I gave a Symbolic Shrug of sorts and was somewhat okay with waiting to see what’s next, and somewhat okay with knowing that What’s Next probably wouldn’t show up for another five years.

When you get to the part of a Survivor episode where they have to kick somebody off, it usually boils down to let’s kick off Person A, or let’s kick off Person B. The smarter contestants are the one that can point to Person C, or Option C, which blindsides everybody and makes for an excellent Tribal Council with lots of snarling and yelling and bitter Last Words, because nobody saw Option C coming, not in a million years.

Today at work, the Pink Piggy crew told me that we got into Film Festival C.

Film Festival C! Option C! The one I totally forgot about! I couldn’t even remember the name of Film Festival C! I had to go look it up!

Now, you, Gentle Reader, have probably not heard of Film Festival C. It’s okay, my parents haven’t either. I didn’t really pay attention to it, I was focused on Film Festival B. (Which is of course why we got into Film Festival C.) I will probably have to explain about ten million times to everyone what it is.

But Film Festival C is a valid one. In the top ten of important U.S. independent film festivals, they tell me. Suddenly, we have merit. Suddenly, we have a resume. It will probably help our chances of getting into other festivals, they tell me.

Even better, they tell me we’re in the Narrative Competition category, as opposed to a showcase category. Do I think we’ll win? Not unless it’s in a rousing game of Rock Band, and I’m singing “Enter Sandman” with the director on guitar, a producer on bass and the costume designer on drums.

But that’s not important right now. Right now, my Denial Bubble is suddenly puffed full again, and will be until next year.

Does God really work like this? Was this really where He was leading me? It seems TOO perfect. I’m actually uncomfortable thinking His hand’s stirring this pot. I prefer to think that things Plinko balled their way into this arrangement on their own and God’s more concerned about my character and how I handle it.

So I’m handling it verrrrrrrrry slowly. ThankyouGodthankyou. At a blazingly glacial pace. ThankyouGodthankyou. One breath at a time. ThankyouGodthankyou.

And I’m back to working on the Purple Monkey outline.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Harvey Wants Me To Write About Him.

Normally I don’t take requests. Because then you get into weird situations where people are acting a specific way because they want you to write about them, or people get resentful because you didn’t write about them, or people get resentful because you DID write about them, but that's not what they said, that's not what they meant, blah blah blah.

But Harvey wants me to write about him, so I shall, but in the context of me. Because it is my blog, after all. Heh.

Because what Harvey doesn’t know is that he’s a signpost. I first met him when he was an actor in one of my plays, I distinctly remember revising his lines in my kitchen while they rehearsed other scenes in the living room. It was me and my script, him sitting next to me going over his lines that I hadn’t revised. We weren’t even talking to each other. He was deep in concentration on learning his lines, and I was deep in concentration observing him. It was there that I realized I really could tailor lines to a specific actor if I spent time with them and got to know how they existed. A basic lesson, sure, but it’s not often you’re going to have that chance, at least, not with features.

I tried to work with him whenever I could. He acted in my 2004 staged reading of ZigZagged Ostrich, where he channeled his inner Peter O’Toole and made an excellent prince.

He shifted into a writing career. I gave him notes on his script that went on to win the Nicholl. He gave me notes on my script that grew up to be Pink Piggy.

We’d get together for dinner and every now and then to catch up. He’d tell me all his problems, because I find the problems of good-looking guys endlessly fascinating (and I mean that in all sincerity.)

And then he winked out of existence. Didn’t hear from him for three years, until he showed up in the reception area of Unnamed TV Network, as one of the producers on a pitch my boss was hearing a few weeks ago.

It was so startling to see him. I had an inkling he’d be there, since his name is pretty unusual. But seeing him, and giving him a hug and trading emails and promises that we’d catch up, there’s so much to talk about, I was surprised at my inner reaction, that Harvey is a signpost.

Where was I in my life when it was me and him sitting at my kitchen table x years ago? And where am I now that our paths have crossed again? Have I done enough, have I accomplished enough? Am I far enough down the Path Of Eventual Success? He knew me when I was a nobody writer. And I’m STILL a nobody writer, but a nobody writer potentially on the cusp of something great (or the desert of failure.)

So we had dinner last week to catch up. I hear everything he’s been up to, he hears everything I’ve been up to. I can look at his life and think wow, he’s definitely on his way. But he can look at my life and think the same thing. Neither one of us would look at our own lives and think, “Yep, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.” It takes someone else other than yourself to point that out.

I hiked Runyon Canyon on Saturday, not realizing the air quality was so dismal until I got out of my car. But I was determined to brave the haze, the smoky smell, the few flakes of ash on my car (No, Mom, we’re all fine, please don’t freak.) I had brought my camera, I wanted to take a picture, kinda for Harvey, mostly for me, this is our signpost for our lives at this very moment.

And in my usual bumbling I Can’t Plan This Stuff way, I managed to hike up the stairs part and reach the plateau right as the sun was setting. My camera battery was dying, so I just stuck it towards the sun and ran off a few shots while I could. I didn’t think I was gonna get anything too great because of the smoky Mordor haze creeping in from the east, but when I uploaded the pics to the computer, I was once again stunned.

This is where I’m at right now. This is my signpost. Beautiful in its own twisted weird way. Hazy, probably unhealthy. And yet, I can’t look away from that sun. That’s the biggest sun I’ve ever taken a picture of. Is it lighting the world on fire? Is it gonna get choked out from the smoke? Is it a beginning? Is it an end?

I think it’s just there. Just there, in that signpost moment.

I love color in sunsets. I really really do. It’s one of the few girly things I’ll cop to.

Monday, November 10, 2008

It was a great day

We did the staged reading of Polka Dotted Platypus yesterday. This had been the sum total of all my writing efforts for the month of October, because I rewrote something like 60 percent of it in three weeks. I didn’t have time to show it to anyone, it was rewrite as fast as you can, keep going, keep going, no, it’s not good enough, not good enough, hurry up, we’ve already locked in the date for the reading. HURRY UP, your actors need at least a week to look over the script.

Any writer will tell you that when it’s just them and a computer and the voices in their heads, it’s never a good thing. The chorus of naysayers rise and fall, and sometimes seem to be kept only at bay by the alcoholic beverage of your choice. But since I was rewriting, I had to stay sober. Write drunk, rewrite sober. That’s the rule. At least, for me. ☺

So it was a bunch of Mountain Dew and Red Bull propelling me day after day after day for a whole month. The Saturday before I was supposed to email the script off to the actors, I actually had to stretch out on the bed and wait for the jitters and shudders of a caffeine seizure to die down. And then crawl back to the chair to keep going.

I was looking at this staged reading as a way to practice not freaking out. It was surely a stressful situation, my Friday night found me scouring the 99 cent stores and Target for sock puppet making materials, sending out reminder emails, grabbing food and booze for the reception, trying not to crawl through the computer and kill people as I kept getting email after email from this, that, and the other person saying they weren’t going make it on Sunday.

I decided to look up in my journals to the last staged reading I did, back in 2004, of the project we’ll call, um, er, ZigZagged Ostrich? Yes. ZigZagged Ostrich.

It was February of 2004, I had a cast of 14 (ohmyGOD, what was I THINKING?), and a bunch of things were going wrong. An actor had dropped out at the last minute, the theater was locked, the replacement actors were late because their cat got sick, another actress was battling laryngitis, miscommunications meant I had to run the Q&A session afterward by myself, and man the video camera, and my computer adapter had died, blah blah blah.

From the 2/21/04 entry:

I don't believe the day went well. Despite all the compliments, and it's not that I don't value them, because of course I do, but despite what everyone's saying, I don't have a great feeling about the play. (…) So it seems that if everyone thinks it's great, but I think it sucks, then it's probably just okay, but if I can ever get it to a point where I think it's great, then it probably is great. And I don't think (it’s) great. (…) I do feel just as confused now that’s everything's over as I did going in, and it's completely disheartening to me that all the work I put into it didn't pay off in more cohesive results.

ZigZagged Ostrich, with minor tweaking (I cut the cast down by 2), went on to be a big hit for the two theater companies that co-produced it. It got LA Weekly’s pick of the week award, it won a Goldstar Audience Award. Every now and then, somebody will mention how much fun that show was, and it was. It really really was.

Now we’re here, four years later, with Polka Dotted Platypus, and I think it sucks. Does anyone sense a pattern?

I think most insecurities stem from two sources:

1. YOU’RE A HACK. You’re in over your head, you’re a poseur, a fake, you may have a few people fooled, but the clock is ticking on your not terribly artful deception, and the curtain is about to drop, you, the emperor, are buck ass naked, and everyone has been talking behind your back about how you think you’re so great but we all know you’re a dunder headed moron, and we talk about you all the time, laugh at you and smile to your face and say you’re great.

2. YOU DON’T MATTER. You’re easy to ignore. You’re instantly forgettable, I’m sorry, what was your name again? You’ve kinda faded into the wood paneling there. I totally forgot to return your call, your email, your text, I got so BUSY with life, work, other people more interesting than you that I forgot all about you. I’m your mom, no, you can’t have a pony, a Barbie, a car, you can’t run and play in traffic, you can’t stay out late at night, I’m being a good parent, but it’s coming across like I don’t care what you want, because what you want doesn’t matter because you don’t matter, what I want matters more.

And 48 hours before the reading, trying desperately to create a Bear, Rabbit and Duck puppet from some cheap socks, foam board, and a needle and thread (glue doesn’t work on fabric), as yet another email, another text comes through from another person saying they can’t make my reading, I’m really struggling not to take these scissors and slit my wrists (which wouldn’t have worked anyway, they were kid proof scissors.)

But then, Saturday happened. Saturday I had whatever actors I could gather together at whatever times they could come over to my house to rehearse. My knowledge of directing consists of one thing Never tell an actor “Say the line like this.” So I’m babbling about how this actor should channel Betty White in Golden Girls, this other actor should remember what it’s like when your best friend is dating someone awful, but you have to lie when they ask you what you think of them, and you know how when a kid runs away from their mom in the mall and when they’re finally back together she wants to kill him, but can’t, and oh by the way, let me know if this isn’t making sense to you.

The actors are sitting on my couch in the living room, nodding their heads. They think you’re a hack. But then they open the scripts and start rehearsing.

And they’re great. They’re better than great, they’re drop dead hilarious. They’re cracking each other up, it’s a struggle for them to stay in character, it’s a struggle for me not to keep laughing because everything they’re doing is hilarious.

And I start to think, hey, maybe this script doesn’t suck after all.

On Sunday, I have the whole cast together two hours before we’re supposed to do the actual reading. I haven’t yet rehearsed with three of them. Three out of the 10 have never worked with the others before. I’ve never worked with one of the 10 before, and he’s the one that has to work with my misbegotten sock puppets (the Bear puppet has no ears, I ran out of time. He looks like a snake after a vicious mud wrestling round.)

We run through as many scenes as we can, and it’s still great. It’s awesome, everyone clicks, regardless of whether they’ve worked together before. The actor with the puppets is not just fine, he’s HILARIOUS. Doesn’t bat an eye when I show him the sock puppets, knows exactly how you’re supposed to work a sock puppet, even busts out with three different dialects for the three puppets, which has us all dying and laughing at the same time. My face is starting to hurt from laughing so much, and we haven’t even started the show.

Finally we have to get this thing going, so I shoo them all backstage, and we open the lobby doors.

And it’s a full house. A pretty full house. For every person who said they weren’t coming, for every person who never bothered to respond, there’s someone from all the different walks of my life who IS there. People I haven’t seen in days, months, YEARS. I’m overwhelmed, it’s a theater full of people who care. Who think I DO matter. Fuck everyone else who didn’t show. You missed a great day.

Because the reading KILLED. It’s very rare that you’re in a theater and you can feel a palpable energy, a tidal wave of goodwill, coming from a cast who bounce off each other, force each other to up their game, and have it swirl around the room, catching the audience up in the playful insanity of the story, and reflect it back to the cast in the form of belly laughs, cheers, even a few audible not sarcastic “awwwwwws” when the story turned sweetly sentimental. (there’s a dog in the story. Everyone loves dogs.)

I didn’t have the video camera to tape the performance (Cue the anguish wails from my parents in Alabama) because I honestly couldn’t handle one more thing, and I am about 99 percent sure that if the camera had been running, it wouldn’t have been as great as it was. All I have is a picture of me and the cast that we took two seconds before we opened the lobby doors, and the program, in which I thank most every single dog I’ve ever met.

After the show, we do a Q&A session, and I get helpful comments, stupid comments, all of which I was prepared for. And so many people told me how much fun it was, and this time I believe them. I BELIEVE THEM. This show IS fun. This script IS fun. It’s not perfect, no, no, there’s still rewriting and tweaking to do. But this reading today, with this cast, and this audience, was an absolute blast.

I am NOT a hack. I DO matter.

And when everyone went home, when I packed up the thousands bottled waters that nobody drank, and my little sock puppets that everyone thought were cute, even though the actor mangled the Rabbit Puppet and hilariously called it a “wardrobe malfunction.” When I drove home, parked the car, and got out, I saw the sky. It was cloudy and lit from the lights of the city. And I stared at the clouds, closed my eyes, and muttered over and over again with every breath I took:


It was a great day. A truly truly great day.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Sometimes you just gotta say "What the f?! Make your move."

Like my niece Bug here. She went as a Rocker Chick for half of Halloween. (the other half was Pocahontas.)

That's what I'm feeling like saying to God these days. "What the f?! Make your move."

We’re going OT at church, studying the life of Joseph. One of those classic tales that’re scrubbed squeaky clean for you as kids, and then you get the real version when you’re older.

Joseph’s story gets so suffocatingly earnest, because Joseph doesn’t do anything wrong. Sure, maybe he starts off as either naïve or a snotty brat as a kid, but as soon as he’s sold into Potiphar’s service, he’s blameless for practically the rest of his life (his tricks on his brothers later notwithstanding.)

Joseph’s tempted by Potiphar’s wife, but you never get the sense, no matter how the story’s told to you, that it was the least bit hard for Joseph to say no. Half the time it’s because Potiphar’s wife is illustrated as so comically evil, anyone would turn her down.

But I think this is why I prefer David’s story. Because he did give in. He did bad, he was punished, destroyed, still redeemed. I need my heroes to be flawed in order to identify with them.

I need to know they struggled. I need to know it was f’ing difficult for them. I need to know it hurt. You know Jesus hurt. You know David was destroyed when he realized the magnitude of what his actions reaped. And Joseph...well Joseph’s Joseph. Standing like an obnoxious superhero beacon of purity No thank you, evil Potiphar’s wife! I run my master’s house, and the staff and turn you down and leap buildings in a single bound!

Even when he’s thrown in jail, you don’t get a sense of inner turmoil. You get “The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.”

But very technically, the Lord’s with all of us, but I still struggle.

I had a conversation with some of the girls in my small group a few weeks back, and I raised the point that it’s only in the modern romantic arena where apathy counts as obedience to God. Sigh.

My world feels strangely dull these days. No temptations anywhere. The struggle is the struggle against numbness. The hilarious part is that I’m busy as ever. This is either the calm before a huge storm of potential success, or it’s the calm before a desert of failure.

Which is why I find myself cocking my chin at God and saying “What the F? Make your move.”

Which means I’ve doomed myself. Tonight, I’m going to get in a car wreck and lose both my hands so I’ll have to get one of those voice to type things, or peck the keyboard with my nose or something. Great.