Thursday, December 26, 2013

How do you tell somebody they are doing precisely the right thing in entirely the wrong way?


I met this struggling writer, well, struggling as far as Silicon Valley standards are concerned.  That means nearly completed two degrees simultaneously, starting a ‘prodco’ with her friend and it was gonna be a web series and blah, blah, blah spec script and blah, blah, blah all these smart and well aimed choices.  

Don’t you love people who use industry vernacular like that?  I don’t.  It rings inauthentic to me unless it is how one makes their living or it’s their education track.  

But she couldn’t pass the simple Bradbury test

The Bradbury test is a simple question Ray Bradbury asks when he is talking to writers about their work.  It goes like this.

“Where does your story start?”  

The same thing is echoed in the hallowed works of William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.  Where does your story start?

You see if you are asking and answering potent, relevant and critical questions about your story, you are right where you need to be in the production process.  
You are giving all your energy, focus, meaning, passion and patience and process to the step right in front of you, completing the manuscript.  Telling the story as well as it can be told.  

Focusing on this and only this, not way out ahead of yourself in the production company model development process, not way out ahead in the format for presentation modeling process of ‘We’re trying to put together a web series’.  

This effort outside of story development is all extemporaneous, premature and time wasting activity.  Frankly its distracting energy and commitment to the part of the pre-production development you should be exclusively engaged in.  

Anybody can put together a prodco.  There are unsuccessful ones littering the asphalt and digital highways endlessly.  There’s probably a Nolo Press book on it by now.  And cost effective, like many of their fine publications.  

Let me ask you, what kind of production considerations will your ‘prodco’ have to choose among when you don’t know what kind of story you are going to tell?  

Aren’t the answers to those questions critical to marketing and budgeting decisions?  I think so.  

Last time I looked in show business, the story and it’s final format is the blueprint every production manager, stage manager, score composer, sound effect creator I've ever known needs to read, comprehend, understand and consider creatively in order to know where, which and to what scale their specific talented abilities can lend a hand to the enhancement of the production values the prodco has chosen because the prodco is clear and complete on the story they want to tell.

The final master author's format manuscript reflects what the ‘prodco’ is going to produce in the first place because it knows what kind of story it was telling to begin with.  

Of course, knowing what kind of story you are telling inevitably leads one to the critical valuation aspect of story, which scares the crap out of under prepared, under manifest and underdeveloped entertainment industry aspirants. As in, it might not be a very good story, and well, we don't want to know that really, because we have a prodco and a web series to produce.  

If you know what kind of story you are going to tell, the format for presentation derives from the form the story ended up as. Why are they trying to make that decision before they know what they’ve got to work with?

I bet trying to avoid literary criticism has something to do with it.  

It’s the classic show business mistake of putting the cart before the horse.  

Everybody pays plenty of lip service to story, story, story, particularly during the premiere interviews for the entertainment press and media after the fact the story had to be written first. I find the leading ladies are becoming more adept at it than they used to be.  

But the real service to story starts and stays with the writing and rewriting of the story in the head, heart, mind, soul and pages of the literary artist in you manifested on the blank page. 

It’s something you've heard a million times, and many gloss over it time and time again because there is one thing you simply can’t get around no matter how smart, creative or productive you are.

Writing stories can be enormously hard if you are not a writer to begin with.  

Being a real writer is something people are absolutely brilliant at faking.  

To be a good writer you have to study writing and practice, practice and practice some more.  But that can interfere with social activities and narcissistic endeavors, can't it?  

To be a great writer, one who can achieve critical acclaim and possibly financial success (the two are not always related), you have to be a great storyteller.

And the Hemingway rule applies here, even for those highfalutin’ writers who hate the mention of his name because all they choose to see is a womanizing alcoholic and not somebody who discovered one of the few, great keys to literary artistry of significant achievement.  

Great writing is great experience.  In today’s predigested, pre-packaged lifestyle and society, great experience can be hard to come by.  You gotta avoid a lot of BS to find it.  You gotta have a good compass, good antennae and serious backbone to unearth it. It does not reveal itself in search.  You have to get your fingernails dirty.  Metaphorically or naturally.   

Alas, has not discovery always been challenging?  Get used to it if you want to stick around and be something in the new, authentic show business.  

But it is helluva challenging creative process, and often given short shrift, if you have noticed by wincing at the money you spend at the box office lately. Even my current favorite movie, American Hustle, had brilliant storytelling that was detracted from by poor direction choices.  

And there were very few poor directing choices in that film.  But the ones that were made fatally flawed a film that could have vaulted the director, for my money, past many great directors, and vaulted the film into cinematic circles alongside works like Pulp Fiction and The Big Lebowski.  Thank god the great acting saved most, but not all of those poor directorial arts choices.  

Now, this young writer had all the brains in the world, and all the classic education about writing one could ask for in terms of the easily discovered, easily codified and virtually instantaneously obtainable.  

I had almost all that too when I was younger.  She is making the kind of mistake that will put you into the pile of the unproduced and unpublished 99.998% of all comers, instead of the .002% that get green lighted.  Not that those with the power to green light are making much other than financially based decisions.  

I cite The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  Del Toro's influence upon Peter Jackson, a boorish and brutish hand if there ever were, can be seen in the poorly edited, semi-theatrical, under acted, over charismatic botch of an antagonist half story consumer exploitation release print.  To boot, the theatre could not even get the 3D camera projection units calibrated so when one wore their 3D glasses, double vision could have been avoided. 

And this at the Mountain View theatre where Google takes in the afternoon matinee.  Tisk, tisk.  But back to the issue at hand.  

Even then, after production is complete, the work will not pass the public and critical tests only presentation and exhibition can pass judgment on.  These are still the litmus tests of staying power and acclaim within the entertainment industry, not one's degree of aspiration, dedication or bankroll.  
You see, green lighting, even if by one’s own hand through technology, is not enough in entertainment.  And what follows is a hard and fast rule of Hollywood.  

You are responsible for your first hit.  I wrote the word ‘hit’. Not production completion.  There is no spec script.  It's a way to scam writing talent. There is certainty script.  A story certain to be a hit because you make it so with story development, literary artistry and personal creative ability brought about by living life a particular way.  Traveling to broaden the mind is not necessarily useful anymore, given the retrogressive global culture stagnation we live in.  

Traveling within, to find the authentic creator in yourself, well, that is the key, isn't it.  But that is harder work than writing a hit.  

Even taking into their own hands the power of technology and the creative development process to produce and distribute their own material, like I and countless others do, what kind of luck are they going to have if they give such short shrift to the part of the process that makes or breaks a career in entertainment?

The story!  

It’s the story that gets talent, audience, momentum and money attracted to a project, it’s the story that gets heat from agents and producers and directors wanting to shine their shoes for the glam gala of gratitude and bow taking that has lead to the drowning of popular culture in the storm of homage, especially classical theatrical release cinema industry participants.  

It’s the story that gets you the fame, the money and the acclaim to go do it again, and yet, my dear, young, sweet struggling writer is simply not doing enough about that most important piece of work.  

It’s the story that will get you the audience that is the biggest chip in your back pocket you will ever have in the big game in the hills, digital or real estate.  

Of course, to have an even bias, it must also be said that if your story sucks, all that work building the ‘prodco’ and pre-formatting for a ‘web series’ was just wasted time and energy that has to be entirely repurposed now that you have critically failed at your attempt to develop cinematic artforms.

But you can tell your cocktail hour friends how much you have learned and are resultantly more professional now and can come back and do it again with better chances now that you have learned from your mistakes.  But will that lead to attending fewer cocktail parties?  Can you live with such a decision?  Is the word 'sacrifice' sacrilege?

My question at this point is, why did you volunteer to make just about the most debilitating mistake there is in the filmic storytelling process, shining on the story?  Just because life is like that and people are like that does not mean art is like that.  It’s definitely not.  It's the difference between transformation and incidental progress.

There is another hard and fast rule in Hollywood.  It is a one chance town for the most part.  

Who in their right mind wants to sortie the field the first time out with a mediocre creative offering because they didn’t figure out that finding (or creating) a great story to tell is the key to all the other aspects of ‘the prodco’ or ‘the web series’ working themselves out nicely?  

Apparently, the vast majority of people you will never hear from again.  If success is so rare in this business, why give your best chance short shrift?  

Is it true what Plato said that man enjoys his poison?  Is success a poison, like that delicious sushi you eat until almost passing out from toxicity?  Is shooting oneself in the foot prior to the long journey a production project really is the thing to do these days?  From what this young writer represents, appearently so. 

I think this happens because not everyone is a good writer.  And even then, good writing is not great writing.  You can be a poor writer and a great storyteller and still produce a hit.  Ever here the one about the back of a postage stamp?

One day I will blog about a person who was the most famous person in the world for two hundred years, as an example of what we consider enduring art in our culture.  

But why run the risk of entertainment career self sabotage beforehand?  Because it happens so much from the breadth and width of the creator population its considered necessary?  I think it happens to do with one aspect of fame, and that is you can never go home again. Professional jealousy is out there is society, and if you write and produce a hit, you are going to be as uncomfortable in the same old cocktail party circuit you were in before the hit.  They won't accept you anymore, and well, you are comfortable where you are, or else you wouldn't stay there, would you?  Life is not a bunch of stepping stones, it is a journey often perilous, and in show business, like in life, if everybody likes you, you are nobody. And nothing.

Success is like that, business wise or creatively. It’s a social separator. That's why the people who make it are so loyal to each other, they understand the sacrifices and care.  On the way up, you could give a shit about somebody and it shows in your brick disintermediation stylisms.  

This is why the people at the top are so loyal. They've nobody else to go to who understands them.  They defend the club at the top in spite of the culturally stagnant representative art it produces.  For some reason, somebody forgot the old show business adage, "produce good art and die broke."  

This notion always scares comfort addicts and acquisition addicts.  I'd personally rather leave cultural change behind than a stack of cash, but that is my definition of nobility.  You make your own choice.  

Causing failure to happen from resulting mediocrity by ignoring due diligence and reasonable care (in the least case) to story that must be given to one's story from production, discipline, development, creative nurturing and critical editing standpoint must be considered par for the course somewhere in show business lore.  

What else could explain this poor choice?

I don't think par for the course is good enough.  Ever.  Of course, if you make poor story development choices, often par for the course is all the pain you can take in manuscript development, and that may explain a lot of material that gets both passed on and made.   

This is show business baby.  There is no par for the course, except at the top in the franchise extension business dragging the yellow submarine of cultural advance to the bottom of the sea.  Leonardo Dicaprio excepted, Shia Labeouf included.  

Even Lady Gaga has broken the rule of trust with a performer and her audience, and may never recover to claim Madonna's crown, but that is another blog coming soon.  

Par for the course at the beginning of a career is indicative of someone with a bunch a brains, some money and a whole lot of personal effort and time invested making a dumb choice early on and giving story short shrift because full measure of devotion would have logically produced a decision to abandon the story and start over on something else.

That is one place where the wheat and the chaff are separated in the literary arts development process.  You have to be able to kill, nay eat your babies, and not have it immortalized in a painting by Goya because it is not a culture defining moment turning on the shredder.  

What modern entertainment business generally requires is a home run your first time at bat.  

That way, you have a chance to be heard from and work again.  And obscurity is a terrible fate whether in show business or not.

And because this first strikeout at bat has happened so much and so often, many believe this is the way it is supposed to happen. 

All of a sudden those first time strikeouts begin to sound like Ron Howard, one of my generation’s great director’s on interview TV peddling a race film nobody watched and nobody remembers the name of anyway.  And he works with Brian Grazer, who is capable of, and should have put a stop to that silliness before it fell flat on its face embarrassing the great director. 

But, entertainment is full of people who are splendidly adept at making the failure that was solely their irresponsible choice sound remarkably like the definition of success.

And while it is true that a great idea must be sold, it has to be a great idea before having a chance to sell.

Otherwise you are a serial entrepreneur, using best practices and agile development for another run-of-the-mill efficiency that simply doesn't have long, strong legs.  

Killer stories are like killer apps, it takes more from you than just lip service and standard approaches.  You have to dig deep inside, where the binary doesn't flow and the creativity does. 

You have to push deeper, when the creativity stops and the abstraction discipline starts. You have to go so far into yourself that all of a sudden things social, monetized and mediafied are a million miles away from necessity and immediacy and practicality.  Welcome to the artistic and creative process, Dorothy.  

To quote Jimi Hendrix, “it’s a long way from stanzas.”   

You have to be very comfortable with yourself and very confident in your talent to be able to walk where you yourself have not gone before knowing you can return with the raw good and make the best meal you've ever prepared for a total stranger who might dine and dash anyway.  And that takes the Hemingway method.  Live life excellently.  A little danger in your life can make your copy thrilling to the audience.  A lot of comfort will please the critics who dress up in armor to attack a fudge sundae.  

Nobody is under any obligation to buy your story any more than you are under any obligation to let them read it.  Haven't you learned it was the publishing business that taught Hollywood how to rip off creative people?

That is why you have to do it for yourself, and if it doesn't mean enough to you to do it for yourself, what rationale can you employ to justify it will ever meet any objective standard of quality making the effort worthwhile to produce it?  

It’s like comedy, the money will come, but if you are doing it for the money, the money runs out soon.  This is the authentic calling.  There is toll on this road only you can pay, and nobody wants to listen to why you haven't gotten past the toll booth.

Ask J.K. Rowling about toll and nobody caring.  Then get back to work, as Beth Lapides intones us all to do.  

It is there, deep within you that the great stories lie.  There, underneath all that bullshit society programs into you have to dig out manually, because no utility can be written to automate it.  It’s personal creative work, and it isn't digitally augmentable or automated.  It does however; flow quite nicely if you get out of your own way, unlike the heroine of our story today.  

It reminds me of screenwriting software ever believing it can replace the composition of creativity utilizing the master author’s format brings when one simply types, uses the tab and caps key for all interfacing required to produce filmic storytelling, or storytelling of any other kind.  This stuff gets done in your head, heart, soul and backbone, and rarely elsewhere.  I wonder if writers realize the tab and caps key when used in the master author's format on an old fashioned typewriter produces two remarkable and necessary things known as tempo and pace?  Heh, not many, I'll wager.

There is an audible purpose those early, great master writers embedded in creation of this format.  You should learn it and use it to fly past drop down menus on wings of pace and timing – the glue joining action and dialogue.  

Stay with your story.  Commit to it and believe in it.  Give it a chance to develop and rewrite it and rework it and if it comes out of the other end of the manuscript development pipeline well made with inherent potential and possible legs it will show in the reading and on the faces and tongues of the readers in their feedback conversations or documentation.  

Don't get ahead of yourself like this young protege of pending disaster.  Production is easy compared to writing.  People forget this or rather more often repress it because they do not want to embrace the human consciousness challenges of the authentic composition process.  

They avoid writing because they avoid becoming writers.  Because becoming a writer, like becoming a dancer or painter, has it’s due no job, no academic environment, no automation technique can ever optimize, embellish or bring to fruition sooner. 

Writing has a wonderful way of weeding out those who simply cannot, or will not, write with full commitment, passion and most of all, because storytelling means more to them than just about anything.  That is not to say, after the fact you cannot learn directing or producer skills, but before the storm, Noah, not before the cart, Mr. Ed.  

This young writer optimizes chances of failure because she doesn't pay attention to story making, and is taking the path of poor Snoozie of 2012, who was destined to take her camera skills and personality and tiny bit of money to Hollywood without a single thing to show for herself ‘on the board’ and will likely blow it despite my efforts to convince her otherwise.  

And ‘on the board’ is the only Hollyspeak that matters in this business.  It has to be good and something they've heard of, or you are nobody.  And nobodies are not allowed in.  That’s a rule. 

So, listen to the voice of experience.  If you are not a writer, body, soul, breath, sweat and thought, get one into your ‘prodco’ and work with them until your gem is as shiny and perfectly cleft as it can be.  And be prepared to play ‘beat the reader’.  

It’s one of Hollywood’s best played games besides ‘pissing contest’ and ‘bigger penis’ (gender irrespective).

Writing and writers, it got the business started and keeps is running.  It is the great secret to the business, and, it is the great secret to your entertainment career and it is the great secret to your creative talents.  Be one thing, at least at a time.  


The Lone Comic