Hollywood’s favorite question is “What’s next?” An actor can be holding an Academy Award and it’s almost guaranteed an interviewer will at some point ask, “So, what’s next for you?” A writer can craft a great screenplay that garners her attention and it is assured that when she meets with an agent or manager she will be asked, “What else do you have? What’s next?” God help us if we cannot answer that question.
We live in a world where the anticipation of an experience is savored more than the experience itself. Hype is the fuel of our culture.
Tony Hale is a wonderful comedy actor best known for his neurotic character Buster Bluth on one of my favorite TV comedies Arrested Development. I have been fortunate to cross paths with him twice this past month. He performed at the Young Storytellers Biggest Show, a charity event where celebrities perform scripts written by fifth graders. He was also at the Austin Film Festival where I heard him speak. He talked about his life and his career. He spoke honestly about his struggles with anxiety and shared his experiences on Arrested Development and Veep.
He said something that stuck with me. He talked about how he got his dream job on Arrested Development and yet it really didn’t satisfy him the way he thought it would. He said, “Sometimes you have to wake yourself up a hundred times a day to where you are.” The next big thing isn’t out there somewhere. It’s already here. You’re in it. Wake yourself up. Be present. Stop worrying about what’s next.
I believe aspiration is a good thing. It makes us work harder, strive, persevere. But aspiration without reflection is chasing after the wind.
We can run and run and run and think I’m tired and I’m not even there yet. Or, we can run and run and run and think I’m tired, but I’m here and look how far I’ve come.
So I raise a glass to the yesterdays and todays, to the heres and nows. May our cups be full and our hearts appeased. Cheers.
I attended the Austin Film Festival and Writers Conference last weekend. It was a great time connecting with other talented screenwriters and filmmakers and gaining insights into the independent filmmaking industry. One of the best parts of AFF is that it isn’t in LA. It takes some effort and investment to go to the festival so everyone who is there is there because they are committed to their craft. It makes the connections and conversations thoughtful and rich. Plus, it is fun to watch rooms packed with introvert writers doing their best to be social and make good conversation. By the third and fourth day of the writer’s conference, I heard a lot of “I just want to go sit in a quiet room and stare at the wall for a few hours.”
While I was there I had the opportunity to pitch my script. The pitch competition worked like this: There were 10 pitch sessions. In each session around 12-15 people would have the opportunity to pitch their idea. The idea could be for a feature film or TV series. They have 90 seconds to make their pitch. Afterward, two judges have two-and-a-half minutes to give feedback and ask questions. Once all the pitches are complete, the judges select two pitches to advance to the pitch finale. I was the fourth person to pitch in my session and felt like I nailed it. The first words from the first judge were, "That was great". The second judge was in agreement. He suggested adding some details about the climax’s set piece but added it would be difficult to do that in a 90-second pitch. I also felt the room was with me and really engaged by the story. But in the end, only two pitches could advance and the judges selected two TV pitches over my feature pitch. To be fair, those two pitches were really great. I was disappointed that my pitch did not advance to the finals because I believe in the story and really wanted the opportunity to tell a large group of industry people about it. It turned out, the two pitches that advanced from my session went on to place first and third in the overall competition (and the woman who placed third, won the competition the previous year). My pitch session was pretty stacked. Perhaps had I been in a different session, well, who knows... That’s the business. That’s the way it goes.
I returned to LA late Sunday night thoroughly exhausted but inspired. My mind is spinning with new story ideas. I know my next script needs to smaller in scale, something that doesn’t require tens of millions of dollars to be made. I was also motivated to go back and revisit a script I wrote several years ago called “The Tinker Dreamer.” It’s a story that has a lot of heart but needs some fine-tuning.
Writers write and dreamers dream. That is my take away from the festival. We write because we have to. We dream because we need to. An audience may come or it may not. Fame or anonymity, it matters not. Answering the call is what makes the journey heroic. So I will continue to answer the call that says, “write write write.”
For those curious, this was my story pitch. It is not word for word what I said, but it will give you the idea. Every time I pitch the story, it is a little different.
The Resurrection of Dennis Munson is a four quadrant Fantasy/Adventure and Drama that is about the power of stories to help us connect with those from whom we’ve been separated.
Denny is a children’s literature author struggling with the loss of his infant son, so he writes a series of fantasy books where his son continues to live a life of adventure. The world adores him for his stories, but it comes at a cost as Denny’s relationship with his reality and his relationship with his wife crumble.
It is also the story of a boy, Anew, a young orphan who grows up in a fantastic world, raised by the fur-covered creatures of the Crescent Cove. The boy becomes self-aware of his differences and haunted by questions of his origin: Where did he come from? Why does he have no parents? He sets out on a dangerous quest through foreboding lands with malevolent monsters in search of answers.
The two story threads collide in a dramatic climax where the lines between reality and fantasy are blurred and Denny and Anew must decide if they will stay together or say goodbye and return to the own worlds.
I have an awesome job. I market movies at Disney. Some days it feels like a job. Most days I pinch myself and think, “I get paid to do this?”
With the acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, and Lucasfilm, almost every movie Disney releases is a big movie – and by big I mean a global event movie. In the past ten months, the studio has released Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Zootopia, The Jungle Book, Captain America Civil War, and Finding Dory. Three of the five movies have well surpassed $1 billion in box office revenue. The other two are hovering just below the billion-dollar mark. (Yes, that is billion, with a B).
Big “tent pole” movies are the studio’s bread and butter. It is a strategy that is not without risk, but with the strength of brands the studio owns, the risk is mitigated and in recent years the strategy has proven very successful.
So when Disney releases a film like Queen of Katwe – the story of an impoverished Ugandan girl whose life is changed after discovering the game of Chess – we should take notice.
There are two reasons why film studios or producers make movies: 1) They believe it will make money. 2) They believe in the story and, personally, want to see the movie. In the case of Queen of Katwe, it is the latter. There will be no Queen of Katwe dolls or dresses sold in Disney Stores. There will be no rides at Walt Disney World based on the Katwe experience. It is a passion piece by the filmmakers and the studio.
Major Hollywood studios are shying away from “small” films like Queen of Katwe. The reason is simple: there is far more treasure to be had in big blockbuster films that can reach a global market. So these films are often left to independent production companies, whose own economic model is under stress due to the proliferation of media consumption options audiences have today. Furthermore, independent production companies don’t have the marketing and distribution reach of the major studios, which means when the films do get made fewer people are likely to see them. So when a major studio invests the time and resources into films with messages about hope, faith, and perseverance - with little financial upside for the studio - I think it is important to support the film.
But there is another reason why Queen of Katwe is an important movie – and I am speaking to a specific audience here. Queen of Katwe portrays a Christian man working at Christian ministry in an honest and respectful way. I hear so many Christians bemoan Hollywood as liberal propagating “anti-Christian” values. Well, here is a film by a major Hollywood studio, Disney, that portrays a man (the role played by David Oyelowo) living out the convictions of his faith. It is subtle, sure, but filmmakers could have easily left out the man’s faith altogether and simply made him a coach, but they didn’t. If you want to see characters that reflect your values moved out of the “faith-based” sub-genre of films and into the mainstream, then you should support films that do that. You should go to the theater and see Queen of Katwe.
A WRITER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES