Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Hangover

Boy do I have one. I finally started feeling normal again a couple hours ago when the talking stopped, the family disbanded, and I could think again.

I've been having what one would call a Movie Renaissance. For a long time I didn't watch any movies and instead focused on TV. However, a couple weeks ago I got Netflix and man has it been awesome to get back into movies.

Last night, while drinking heavily, I watched the Hangover. Even though it came out over a 1000 years ago, I won't spoil anything for people who've not seen it.

What I did want to say is that the movie is incredibly derivative. I loved it, thought it was hilarious, and wanted to immediately watch it again, but I honestly didn't think it had an original bone in its body. It was interesting that they woke up from a hangover and didn't know what happened, but I've seen in in at least 5 movies like it over the course my life. The most prominent being "Dude, Where's my Car?". The Hangover could easily have been named "Dude, Where's my Doug?".

That aside, I find it funny that most people in Hollywood consider the Hangover a new concept; waking up in Vegas after a bender and not knowing what happened. Well, I hate to tell you, it's not. Whenever I talk to executives, managers, or agents, their mantra is "Make is something so unique it's never been done before". However, more and more I am reinforced in my belief that it's not about originality at all, it's about execution. I understand what my manager and others are saying (when you pitch the idea, the executive must believe that it's something so new it's never been done before), but I've probably read double the amount of script for Hangover type movies over my career than I've seen. In my mind, that makes The Hangover UNORIGINAL.

So, over this holiday, while you're getting ready for the New Year, take a moment and stop worrying about coming up with that killer concept and think about honing your writing skills, making your structure sharp, breathing life into your characters, and making your script an experience in which the reader can immerse themselves, and less time worrying that the concept is so great that no one can say no to you. After all, in Hollywood, there are no original concepts, just people who can write their scripts better than you can write yours.

Now, go back to drinking your spiked, spiced eggnog.

Christmas Break.

It's Christmas and I flew to DC-Baltimore and things have been crazy. It's impossible to write because people have literally been talking in my ear for 48 straight hours. So, expect another post after I get back or when I get a moment of clarity.

Over these holidays, listen to people. I've already had 10 ideas over the past 3 days based on crazy things mine and my wife's family have said.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What to write

As I mentioned, I got a manager this past year and figured it might be helpful for everyone to write up a short list with a few pros and cons of having representation. Here you go.

  • He gets me meetings and my scripts read by people who would never touch me before.
  • Keeps me focused on writing projects he can sell.
  • Helps set goals and keeps me on track to accomplish them.
  • It's nice to have someone who believes in your writing.
  • I don't waste my time on unsaleable concepts anymore.
  • I've written a grand total of 0 scripts since I signed with him.
  • It's creatively draining. Beforehand, I could write anything I wanted just for fun, but now writing feels more like a job.
  • My manager and I don't always see eye to eye on which project I should focus on.
  • Writing has slowed down considerably because of the above.
All in all, having representation is much better than the alternative, but it's incredibly frustrating at times too. I definitely see why writers and other creatives curse the names of their representation at times. Very often I have a project I fall in love with and my manager poo-poos it at some stage, whether pitch or treatment, usually without batting an eye. Luckily, 95% of the time I look at the project again and understand the problems with it, swallow my pride, and put it aside. However, there are sometimes scripts you can't get out of your mind, and that's when I take a stand.

During this time, I learned to follow the age old strategy whereas I write one project he recommends, and I write one which I love. It's working out well, except that it's taking a long time to find a project he loves that I can bear.

That's it for now. I'm pretty wiped out and sick, so I hope this was coherent.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Annnnnd I'm back

I'm pretty nervous about starting this blog again because the last time I had a job it got pulled out from under me in less than a week. However, I'm reasonably confident that this one might be a keeper. Don't hold me to it and if I disappear again, you'll know why.

It's important to note that during this time I wrote a lot of scripts. A lot. I apologize for having such an extended hiatus, but it got to the point where I didn't feel like I should be giving anybody advice while I was out of work. Maybe that was wrong, but I did it with the best intentions.

So, a lot has happened in the past couple of years, and I'm going to take my first post back to bore the piss out of you with an update on all things Russell in a segment I like to call:

"Where we laf lest off, Superman was getting his ass kicked; The how Russell got a job edition."

January 2008 - Car accident sidelined me from my EP job at an internet TV network. Because I was on disability and couldn't work, they fired me. Coincidentally, I had a weird dream about the owner of that company last night.

March 2008 - While on disability, I got married.

May 2008 - Feeling better and finally released to return to work, I was at an impasse. I didn't have a job, or money, and my wife was almost done with her year as a teacher. Crazily, I said, "Why don't we move to LA? After all wife, you work in Autism which is huge business in CA, and I work in TV/the pitchas!" On the spur of the moment, she said yes and we took a scouting trip out here where she quickly landed a job. Me... not so much. Not to worry though, I wouldn't be on unemployment long with all my wicked skills!

June 2008 - After applying to 125 or so jobs in the month leading up to our move, we set for LA with a dream in our heads and a song in our hearts. Luckily, we met some people pretty quickly that we became fast friends with thanks to an acquaintance I was in theater with in high school. I got a couple interviews, but nothing stuck. Those would be the last interviews I had for almost a year.

July 2008 - I decided the best way to break in was to start interning wherever I could so I took a couple script reader internships at management companies. After all, I used to read all the time for companies in DC so I could easily shine in an intern capacity.

September 2008 - distraught because I wasn't landing any interviews, I decided to escalate my internship efforts and took one at Mandalay TV under then president Elizabeth Stephen. This would prove to be invaluable because she and her assistant, Faye, are the reason I'm working today. However, it was hard to work long hours for an entire semester, pay to work, do 3 full 10 hour days a week, and move so far backwards in my career. But, I sucked it up and proved to be a good intern and was able to make connections until my internship ended in January 2009.

January 2009 - After leaving Mandalay and still without a job, I decided to try for an intern job on a TV show, since I really want to be a TV writer. I landed on Bob and Doug, which eventually became Popzilla, where I learned what it was like to be a writer. However, when a PA job opened up and they didn't choose me to fill it, I moved on in April 2009. It was the best working experience of my life up to this point.

April 2009- August 2009 - Dead zone. I wrote and worked with my new manager on developing projects and pitching to companies like Showtime. No biters who would pay me to write, though.

August 2009 - Hey look, we've finally come to my first LA job, which lasted a week before they decided to go another direction. Luckily, during this time I started temping for my old boss and executive from Mandalay over at RHI Entertainment. I was on and off filling in for the assistants there until November 2009, when I took over for one of the assistants who left. After a month and a half of slogging it out as a temp, I finally got a job offer from them and started on Monday.

Final tally:

-Over 500 resumes submitted, 0 jobs as a result.
-1 Grad school program applied to, withdrew application.
-59 weeks of unemployment, benefits exhausted 2 weeks before landing long term temp job.
-4 internships, 1 job as a result, though with a different company.
-18 months unemployed. Way too much of a drain on the American taxpayer.

So, that's a pretty typical LA story I feel, especially because I was 26 when I moved out here and didn't come right out of college It took me almost 18 months of working 40-60 hours a week for no money before I finally got a foot in the door that stuck. What can we learn from this? I'm not sure. Maybe that perseverance pays off. Maybe that the economy stinks. Maybe nothing at all. I do know that all of the sleepless night, scraping together money, and neglecting this blog should be over for a while. Now, I can get back to writing.