Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trust Issues, Blood Donations, and You

I have trust issues.  This is not news, I’ve talked about them before. 

I think if I’ve learned anything about how to manage them better (and “learned” is a big big stretch right there, because I’m not sure that being bounced and pinwheeled back and forth through life events is “learning” so much as it is “enduring.”) I think it’s that time grants you an interesting kind of exasperated patience, where at some point in your life, you simply look at the looming goblin Trust Issue and say to it, “Screw it.  I don’t have the energy to feed you anymore.”

And then the Trust Issue doesn’t necessarily burst into a bloody mess like those vampires did on the True Blood season finale, but without the metal energy the Trust Issue needs to inflate and take over your anxiety, it recedes and becomes part of the furniture.  Here’s my Body Image couch, here’s my Career Momentum refrigerator, here’s my Trust Issues table.

And so it was that I was gritting my teeth in the waiting room of the Blood Donation Center at the hospital this morning.  I’ve mentioned Hudson and Abella before, here’s their website

And though we lost little Hudson back in 2008, his sister Abella has continued living as a happy little girl, who has the burden of recurring tumors, you can read her story here:  I used to bang down the Donation Door for Hudson, with about 50/50 percent success rate (meaning I’d get bounced half the time because of low blood iron), so I was happy to answer an email request from my friends at We Can,  asking me to come down and donate for Abella, who’s facing an upcoming surgery, and needs blood.

So I had mainlined a bunch of broccoli and red meat over the weekend, in preparation to boost my blood iron content.  I did my sneaky thing of drinking a tiny bottle of Diet Coke and oceans and oceans of water an hour before the donation, so the blood would be good and flowing.  I had shown up right at 8:00 am for my appointment.

And now it’s 8:45am and I still haven’t been called in.  A gal who came in AFTER me who’s donating platelets gets to go back BEFORE me.  There’s an older gentleman manning the desk, and I’m trying really really hard not to think ugly thoughts like He’s Incompetent Because He’s OLD.  When I say, old, I mean Old Enough To Have White Hair and Wrinkles Old.  So, someone in his 60s.  I catch his eye, and he actually gives a start.  “Oh, I’m sorry.  I kinda… I kinda forgot about you,” he stammers.  Okay, well, I’m the only one in the waiting room now, so that sentence does not reflect well on you.

I try to think nicer thoughts.  He must be stressed.  Maybe he’s new?  Is he a volunteer, as opposed to a staff person?  Why would they let volunteers run this part of the blood donation process? 

The Trust Issue starts to inflate.  What if he really IS incompetent?  What if my blood doesn’t go to Abella like it’s supposed to?  Oh, no.  HELL, no.  That is not happening on my watch.  This blood in my body belongs to me AND Abella.  Nobody else.  Not right now.  Maybe later, once Abella is taken care of.  But not today.  Today, any blood coming out of my body is going to Abella, come hell or high water.  Unless I get into a fistfight or car wreck, and the only place I’m trying to go right now is BACK BEHIND THE DOOR.

So I get up and gently inquire of the Older Guy Behind The Desk if it’s clear on the form that my blood donation is supposed to go to Abella.  Yes, he says, yes, yes, it’s all right here.

Trust.  Trust.  Trust.  Everyone makes mistakes, but things will be fine once you get back behind the door.

I finally get Behind The Door, and answer the standard questions correctly, and she takes my blood pressure, my temperature, and then she stands, “Ready to go?” 

And I look at her for a beat, “Um, aren’t we supposed to do the blood iron thing?”

She looks at me strangely, “Well, you can if you want.”

What?  do you mean I get to SKIP the Red Machine O’ Death!  Joy!  Rapture!  Wait!  This can’t be right!

It’s not right, in fact, and I quickly figure out that Older Guy Behind The Desk thought I was giving platelets today, instead of whole blood. 

Trust… trust… trust… Gaaaaaaah!  The guy’s incompetent! 

So after we get THAT issue straightened out (the nurse jokes that “it’s only four mistakes on the form,” and “he must’ve had a senior moment”) we tango with the Red Machine O’ Death, and I squeak by with a 12.7 (12.5 is passing), and off we go to the chair.

Trust….Trust… trust… we’re on our way…

The nurse preps the arm, hands me the squeezie thing, marks which vein she’s gonna tap, I feel the needle sting, and then she says the phrase nobody really wants to hear, “Hey, where’d the vein go?”

Trust… trust… trust… AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!

The needle’s in my arm, but not my vein.  Oh great.  She goes to get another nurse, while I work on remaining calm.  Here comes another nurse.  It’s a guy.  A friendly guy, sure.  And he thinks I’m going to pass out, so he keeps asking me to wiggle my toes.  I know very well I’m not passing out, I’m much too annoyed to be passing out, but I dutifully wiggle my toes for him, and he gets the needle in the arm and the blood starts flowing.

I fill up the bag in under five minutes again, and the nurse gives me two glasses of orange juice and a stack of sugar cookies to take with me for the rest of the day.  I think she’s embarrassed that this adventure was so rocky.  But it’s par for the course with me and Blood Donation.   

But if this is what I have to do, if I have to battle Older Guy Behind The Desk and Nurse Who Can’t Get The Needle In My Vein, if I have to stare down my Trust Issues all so I can get a pint of my blood out of me and to a really brave eight year old girl who’s got tumors on her windpipe and lung, then that’s what I’ll do.  And will continue to do, for as long as she needs me.

And I will remember this sign.  It’s not HAWK YOU, like it reads on first glance.  It’s THANK YOU.

That’s what I’ll remember.  :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

running behind...

a few days late, so check back next week for a scintillating post.  I'm SURE it will be scintillating.  I will try very hard to make it so.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Golden Gecko, Part 2

(Up until about eight hours ago, this blog entry had a different ending).


So one would've thought that having one movie (Indigo Giraffe) and another movie (Paisley Bunny) both going into production within two months of each other would've been enough.  I know I did.  I know it all happened so fast it made my head spin, to the point where all I could do was get out, "Thank you, God, thank you, God, "

I mean, just consider where I was at this time last year - August of 2011, I was writing the Golden Gecko Gymnast outline, then the company pulled the plug on it and my Dad was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer.

And while Dad still has cancer (though he doesn't look like any Stage IV cancer patient you've ever seen.  Not confined to a bed.  Still goes on morning walks.  Still has all of his hair.  Never puked once, at least, not that they told me), a year later, I have two movies in post.

So yes, God is good.  God is great.  God is amazing and wonderful, and has a perverse sense of humor when it comes to my life (which I kinda love about Him.)

But He wasn't done with me yet.

Because right in the middle of writing Paisley Bunny, right in the middle of doing multiple rewrites on Indigo Giraffe, the company that was already having me write Paisley Bunny emailed to say that they were restarting Golden Gecko, and wanted me to go through the rest of my steps left on the contract.

In other words, the Golden Gecko lives.  It LIVES!

The original plug was pulled because they didn't have any presales in place.  But over the first half of the year, they took my outline to international conferences, and with the Summer Olympics renewing an interest in gymnastics, a foreign investor stepped on board.  Whoopie!

Just one thing.

(there's always just one thing.  If you want to be a writer in Hollywood, you can start by prepping yourself to always hear that phrase, "Just one thing.")

The foreign investors are from Iceland.  So could I please reframe the story to be about a Golden gymnast Gecko who lives in Iceland.

Sure, sure, no problem.  Wait, what?

(I always say "Sure, sure no problem." Just as you should prep yourself to hear "Just one thing." you should prep your first response to be "Sure, sure, no problem.")

it doesn't matter!  I can do anything!  I can write anything if you're paying me for it!  A golden gymnast gecko in Iceland!  Nooooooo problem!  Can't wait!

Never mind the fact that I don't know anything about Iceland.  Never mind the fact that a gecko's natural habitat is someplace, well, warmer and according to wikipedia, "There are no native or free living reptiles or amphibians on (Iceland)."  I'm sure geckos, if they knew that Iceland existed, would want to go visit, right?  They've gotta be bored with jungle climates at some point, and want to see the rest of the world, specifically Iceland.  Just slap a parka on them for outside, and the gym where they'll do their training will be indoors, and they can shed the parkas.  My friends joked that, in order to properly capture the flavor of Iceland, "land of fire and ice," the company would simply HAVE to spring for a trip for me to visit the volcanic island, or to join them during production.  I doubt that's gonna happen, but it was nice to indulge in that fantasy every so often, especially now that L.A. is melting under a sweltering heat wave.

I didn't know anything about geckos before I started writing the outline last year.  But I researched and researched and grew to appreciate them enough to write one as a main character (They don't have eyelids, did you know that?  Not that I could use that as a plot point.  But they literally lick their eyeballs to keep them moist.)  Never mind that fact that I'm not really a fan of reptiles in general and refuse to go near the reptile house of any major zoo.  All you gotta do is pretend that you're the gecko, and write the character with the same hopes, fears, and dreams that you do.  Then everyone will be able to relate to this little golden reptile with the sticky toes that helps it land any vault with the precision of a jacknife thrown into a wall, quivering with the motion but stuck solidly at the point of landing.  BOOOOIIIIINNNNNNNGGGGG.

The one small saving grace I had was that the company wanted me to write Paisley Bunny first, and then work on Golden Gecko in between drafts of Paisley Bunny.  But for the month of May and June, I was consumed with Indigo Giraffe drafts and Paisley Bunny drafts.  Those two months were fueled by caffeine - Diet Coke, Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf (I let my Mt. Dew affinity go for the sake of my face.)  All in addition to my dayjob.  I would write on breaks, during my lunch break (which is only a half hour), I would get up early, I would stay up late.  I was losing my mind, but so so happy to be losing it for a paycheck. 

But soon enough, Indigo Giraffe and Paisley Bunny were filming, and I could start writing in earnest on Golden Gecko in July.  And again, the persistent tiny drumbeat of How do I sneak in God's truth in here without tipping anyone off and without being heavy-handed about it, and still being entertaining within the framework of the story.

The Golden Gecko is a girl gymnast and her name is Gloria.  And Gloria Gecko's family has moved from Vietnam (where Golden Geckos are usually found) to Reykjavik, because Gloria's dad has a new job.  Gloria is lonely and misses her friends but finds a gym where she can still continue her training as a gymnast.  Naturally, she's the only gecko in the gym, and all the other animals - the Arctic foxes, the puffin birds, the snotty minks - make fun of Gloria because she's different and has no eyelids.  KIDDING.  We gave Gloria eyelids for this story, otherwise it would just be freaky.

So the script's theme is about appreciating who you are and what you can do (because it's a gift from God, a subliminal theme, not on the nose), even if you're different from all the other Icelandic animals, overcome adversity in the form of teasing animals and how they might not be your biggest enemy compared to your own inner demons, especially the one that says You Can't Do It.

And there's one scene where Gloria is trying to master a difficult tumbling floor routine.  She can do vault with no problem.  Same thing with beam and bars, because she can grab and land with no issue at all.

But the floor is her least favorite, because it's supposed to be a mixture of dance and skill.  Her sticky hands and feet put her at a disadvantage.  And she hates it, but it's not like you can just skip an event in gymnastics.  You have to do them all.  Even the ones you don't like (I hated the bars myself.)

Gloria's coach gives her a bit of advice, which I cribbed from my own Aerial Coach, which I wrote about here :  Only instead of "spot the bar and close your eyes" it's "you have to trust enough to let go," because Gloria keeps closing her eyes when she tumbles.  My tiny tiny metaphor of faith, inverted and spun around.

You have to trust enough to let go.

My tiny tiny way of getting in God’s truth in a silly little story about a Golden Gecko gymnast.

So I turned in the first draft.  And got paid for it.  And waited for notes.  Finally, I could breathe!  Two projects in post, and one project I’m waiting for notes so I can do the second draft and polish, they say they want a draft by the end of September to turn in to the foreign investors.

And then today happened.  Today.  Today was the day I got the email from my creative executive that says because this movie has turned into an international coproduction that has to play in more than the English language (Icelandic and Danish) and for multiple international markets, it’s gotten very complicated, and the foreign investors want to bring in another writer with a better understanding of Iceland.  I’ll still receive credit when or if it ever gets made.  But once again, my participation with Golden Gecko has been unplugged, a little over a year to the day where they unplugged me LAST year (That was August 8th, 2011).

 I get it.  If the tables were turned, if there was an Icelandic writer trying to write about an American gymnast, he’d probably screw up some cultural details too.  Best to get a writer who knows the lay of the land, so to speak.

And unlike last year, where everything was falling down around my ears, this year, I have two movies in post.  It’s almost an embarrassment of riches.  I can’t really be super bummed that I was dismissed from the FOURTH movie based on a script I wrote.  So many writers don’t even get ONE movie made.

Hell, you can even broaden the horizon.  I can’t be super bummed.  I live in America.  I have industrialized plumbing.  I have a job.  I have a somewhat working car.  I can pay my bills.  I’m not a minority living in an oppressed nation and running for my life from mercenaries with guns or ancient patriarchal outdated laws.

And there’s always a faint light beaming from another door.  The creative executive likes me, and likes another Easter idea I pitched her back when we were kicking around Easter ideas that produced Paisley Rabbit, so we’re gonna start working on that.  So it’s definitely not, “Good bye and good luck, you suck.”

Maybe my tiny little metaphor of “You have to trust enough to let go” will survive subsequent writers.  Maybe it won’t.  Maybe Gloria won’t even be called Gloria anymore.  For all I know, she may not even be a gymnast anymore.  Hell, at the rate we’re going, I could get a call in another six months saying the other writers haven’t worked out and they want to bring me back.  So many stranger things have happened.

When I read the email and got to the line, “we are not going to be asking you to do another draft.” My knee jerk response of Thank God for everything, good news and bad kicked in.

So I took a couple of moments and sincerely thanked God for the opportunity.  Thanked Him for opening the door.  Thanked Him for closing the door.  Thanked Him that my dad is still alive. 

It’s very possible He’s protecting me from future crazy foreign investor notes.  This was never an opportunity I was chasing, it was just something that fell into my lap.  Twice.  Again, stranger things have happened. 

So many other things could happen or not happen in the future.  All you can do is thank God for everything, good and bad.

And trust enough to let go.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Paisley Bunny

So hey!  This one's kinda long!  Pace yourself!  You'll see why!

So one would think that one movie shooting in 2012 would be enough.  I know I would.  That getting a second movie made from a script would be my big blessing for 2012, and the rest of the year would be quiet.  Because that's how it normally works for me - God shows up, dumps a truckload of blessings on my face once a year, and then off He goes to bless other people and I don't hear from him for the rest of the year.  

And that's fine, because at least He showed up to say hi.

So one movie shooting would be great, more than enough, a blessing that Ye Olde Compass was pointing to would happen, and I wasn't even asking for it but would gladly accept.

Except I didn't think that movie would be Violet Giraffe.  I thought that movie would be Paisley Bunny.

See, the company that hired me, and subsequently pulled the plug on Golden Gecko contacted me at the beginning of the year to ask for my take on a few Easter ideas they had.

No problem!  I love Easter!  Technically, I would have loved anything they approached me with, be it a historical Antarctic Pelican rebellion, or a post-apocalyptic world of worms.  If you want to hire me to write something for you, and you're paying me money to do so, I will instantly become its #1 fan.

But seriously, I love Easter.  Easter candy rocks, everyone knows that.  Do you know in London, they sell Cadbury Eggs YEAR ROUND.  Those Brits don't know how great they have it!

Easter candy, cute little bunnies, baby chicks, and of course Jesus resurrecting from the death and saving us all from our sins.  I like Easter better than Christmas, just because Jesus as an adult is way more interesting than Jesus as a baby. 

So yes, nice company who still likes me and the way I write, let me take a crack at your Easter ideas!

So we huddled and I brainstormed and did a couple of two page suggestions for them, and we eventually came up with the idea of Bucky, the Paisley Easter Bunny, who saves Easter and earns the love of comely bunny Dew Drop when a marauding band of Evil Weasels come to the town of Happy Dell.

(note, all my projects and plots have code names so I don’t jeopardize myself for future gigs.  I'm not REALLY writing about a Paisley Easter Bunny.  Though that plot does sound kinda cool, doesn't it?)

So it all comes together rather quickly.  Contracts, payment schedules, same terms just like Golden Gecko last year.  But the difference is, there is no chance of them pulling the plug of this one like they did Golden Gecko.  Because they've already made room in their production schedule to film this.  In two months. 

Yes, this is how the movie business works, even on this small scale.  They will slate movies to film in two months even though there's not a script yet.  Because the intent is that there WILL be a script in two months, and it will be fabulous, and we've hired Amy The Writer to write it, and go go go!

I'm flattered they have such faith in me, and frightened, all at the same time.  Two months to turn in a script seems like a lot of time, and it would be, if your day job was writing all day.  but I have a separate day job, that's eight hours of my day, and there's practically no opportunity to work on it during the day job, so it's going to be a bunch of early mornings and late nights, and a river of Red Bull, but I can do it, sure I can.  You're paying me money, I'll whip up the best possible Easter Bunny story ever...

... but just one thing.  Just one tiny little thing.  To be fair, I did ask them first, so it's not like they're some big mean evil Anti-Christian organization.

But since this is an Easter story, I asked them if I'm allowed to put in a church.  Just, you know, in the background.  Not as an integral part of the plot, but just so we can note it and see that's it there, and acknowledge that Easter does have something more than green grass and peanut butter eggs.

And the word came back no.  No way.  Absolutely not.

I can see it from a marketing perspective.  Any whiff of Jesus in this film would automatically limit the audience to specifically Christian audiences.  And they want to have the broadest possible audience for this film - Christian and non-Christian. 

So here I am, writing an Easter story and studiously avoiding any Jesus references.


Well, this is certainly a strange blessing that God dumped on me.  Unless it’s NOT a blessing.  I mean, okay, yes, it is, but it’s maybe a CHALLENGE.  Can you, Amy The Writer, manage to sneak in a God reference or two in a script that has been expressly forbidden to reference God?  Will you get in trouble if they find out?  Will they never hire you again?  Is this the metaphorical sword you want to die on?

You know, I never wanted to be one of those annoying Christians, the expressly weird ones that wear Jesus on their sleeve in annoying Please Persecute Me ways.  You know, the ones that wear the WWJD bracelets, the ones that strike up awkward conversations about Jesus by the water cooler when nobody’s asked them about it, the ones that move to L.A. to become actresses, but turn down roles on supernatural TV series, and then claim they’re blackballed from the industry because of their faith in God.  (Don’t move to L.A. to be an actress if you’re gonna do that.  Stay where ever you are and act in your local theater there.)

But!  I’m Amy The Writer!  I at least have to try to get creative here.  And I see my window of opportunity when one of the executives suggests that the Best Bunny Friend of Bucky, a rabbit named Peepers, be a big fan of New Age books.  (Peepers, it should be said, is a very nerdy yet intelligent bunny, and you can tell because he’s the only rabbit in the movie that wears glasses.)

Let’s take a second to examine that.  Not the fact that Bunnies read New Age Books, but the fact that with this production company – talking about Jesus/church/Easter in a religious sense = not allowed.  Talking about New Age books = totally cool!

Probably because it’s not the main character, and it’s also viewed as “kooky.”  Oh, those wascally New Age Wabbits.

Anyhow, so I dive through the window and write into the plot that Peepers Rabbit has just finished reading a New Age Book about letting the Universe guide you and take control of your life, and recommends to Bucky that he should read it too.  But Bucky scoffs at the notion of New Age books, because, you know, HE’S A RABBIT, no, no, because Bucky doesn’t believe in the Universe, he believes in himself, and it’s up to him to stop those dastardly weasels from ruining Easter for everybunny.

Until right near the third act, in the classic “All hope is lost” moment, when the eggs are smashed, Dew Drop Bunny has been kidnapped by the Evil Weasels, and Bucky’s Buckybike has three flat tires, when Bucky does his cry from his little furry heart, clenches his little furry paws, and screams to the Universe:

BUCKY - Universe!  Okay, I was harsh about your book, and the opening doors and the closing doors, and I’ve been mocking you this entire time even though my friends believe in your book!  There’s no reason you should help me!  But I’m asking anyway!  Because I love Dew Drop Bunny.  I love Dew Drop Bunny!  And love... that’s what you need, right, Universe?  Love?  Isn’t love worth it?  If you were ever going to help someone like me, it’d be for love, wouldn’t it?  Please?  PLEASE?!

And it’s at that exact moment that help arrives, in the form of Plucky Duck, who just happens to have been swimming by when he saw where the Evil Weasels were taking Dew Drop Bunny too… and off Bucky, Plucky, and Peepers go to save the day, Dew Drop Bunny, and Easter in general.

Yes, it’s cheesy and convenient and you’ve seen that moment a thousand times before.  And I thought for sure when I wrote it, Bucky’s monologue would not make the final cut.  No way.  Not possible.  Surely, they were on to me, right?

All you have to do in that above monologue is swap the following:

Universe = God
Your Book = The Bible
Opening Doors and Closing Doors = letting You into my life.

I mean, it’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?

So I turned in a draft, there were pages of notes, and I did another draft, and there were more notes, and then suddenly we were rushing into production, and I only did two drafts, but they paid me for the contractual polish and the rewrite that they didn’t ask me for because there was no time (and it was in the contract that they had to), and WE JUST WRAPPED Indigo Giraffe in June and now Paisley Easter Bunny is shooting for 15 days in July and THIS NEVER HAPPENS.

This never happens.  No writer ever has back to back movies.  Not the big bucks screenwriters, and certainly not me.

Until now.

They were shooting an Easter movie in the middle of July, and I really did feel bad for the actors in the bunny costumes, dying in 100 degree weather, surrounded by oversized fake Easter Eggs.  They were all quite lovely, and a lot of fun was had by all. 

I went to the set on the weekends, and the best place for the writer to sit is next to the Script Supervisor, because they’ve got the script, and they’re making notes about what lines have changed and la la la.

So I flipped in the script.  Did Bucky’s Universe monologue make the final cut?  Did they (and seriously, I don’t know who “they” are at this point – could’ve been the execs, or the director, or the actors) think the monologue was too cheesy and wasn’t something a rabbit would say and cut it completely?

Nope.  It’s still in there.  It’s still in there and it’s untouched.  Other things they totally messed with.  The Easter Egg Hunt features all new dialogue by somebody who’s not me (dunno who it is, but it’s still gonna be my name as Written By)  But Bucky’s Universe monologue, and all the code words therein are still intact, filmed, and as far as I know, will be in the final cut.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it.  Maybe this wasn’t a test from God to see if I could slip in some subliminal Christian messages into a silly little Easter Rabbit movie.

 Or maybe the subliminal messages are TOO subliminal, and nobody’s going to pick up on them.

Maybe this was just what it was – a writing assignment that will hopefully lead to a lasting relationship with this production company, so they will hire me to write other things for them.

Or maybe, just maybe, somewhere, if I don’t get a “Well done, good and faithful servant,”  I’ll get at least an Almighty chuckle or two or maybe a “Heh, heh, heh, that was pretty funny, Amy.”  If I could make God laugh (in a good way), that would make me happy.