IO West, my improv theater, has closed its doors. I heard the ugly rumors, then received the e-mail confirming it to be true. My heart sank when I heard the news. The official statement credited the closing to ongoing disputes with the landlord. Little did I know that the development of the Hollywood & Vine district that revitalized the area would also force the little theater on the corner of Cosmo and Hollywood to go dark. Los Angeles will never be the same now that “my theater” is gone.
I discovered IO West over a decade ago during my first year in Los Angeles when I wasn’t sure I was going to make it in this town. The theater introduced me to long-form improv, a new way of thinking about comedy and performance. Pursuing “truth in comedy,” a core teaching at the theater from day one, has forever shaped my approach to writing, my understanding of character development, and my philosophy on the creative life.
I spent over a year at the training center. At the time, I couldn’t afford the classes, so I worked as an intern to pay my way. I took classes at night. I performed shows on the weekends. And on Friday nights I ran the lights in the “black box,” the small experimental theater behind the main stage. I watched countless hours of improv, some good, some not so good. I learned from it all. I met some of my closest friends there and performed with a group called “Camelot” for about a year before we went our separate ways.
In recent years, I spent less time at the theater. My life moved on to a full-time job, writing, and the pursuit of personal goals, but there was always a comfort in knowing that IO West was there. Whenever I stepped into the place, the smell of the bar, the pictures of improv legends on the wall, the roaring laughter of the audience, the familiar faces, it all felt like home.
The thing that made it special was that it was a place in the middle of Hollywood, known for cynicism and cut-throat competition, that still felt pure. There was no money to be made. No fame to be found. Teams performed at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday night because they loved what they were doing and loved the people they were doing it with. It didn’t matter if there was a packed house or three people in the audience who simply didn’t want to go home. When performers stepped on the stage, they knew that something unscripted was going to happen. It was often funny, and it was always revealing.
I’ve learned a lot, and continue to learn, from studying and performing improv. But there was one lesson that stood out. I had an instructor tell us that you can't do improv with your weight back on your heels and your shoulders pressed against the wall. If you do that, you’ll never get to play. She said you have to lean forward with the full weight of your being over the balls of your feet ready to move, ready to step into the unexpected. Improv taught me to live life forward, in bold anticipation, ready to step into the unknown.
Though the theater is dark, its lessons still light my way.
It’s mid-February, that time of the year when stores fill with red plastic hearts, red enveloped cards, red foil-wrapped chocolates, and red blush-inducing underwear. It is an annual reminder that red has never been my color, Saint Valentine has never been my guy, and cupid is just a naked baby. In elementary school, when we exchanged Valentines with classmates, I went to great lengths to remove all the cards that said, “Be my Valentine” because I was too shy and self-conscious about declaring interest to a girl. All the girls in my class got a card from me with a pizza eating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle on it that said, “You’re Mondo to the Max!”
This year I will face the fact that I’m 38 years old, and I am still single. Over the last decade and a half, I’ve watched as nearly all of my close friends have married and entered their child-rearing years. All the while, I keep saying “someday.” Some people assume that I must be gay or something. Honestly, this doesn’t bother me too much. If I were gay, I would say I’m gay, but I’m not gay. I’m just single.
My singleness is not the result of a lack of trying. I’ve done my fair share of asking. Friends have set me up with people they know. I’ve spent too much time online, swiping left and right in what is a miserable human cattle-call numbers game called online dating. And yet here I am. The Rolling Stones were right: You can’t always get what you want.
I do occasionally experience an elevated heart rate (I won’t call it a panic attack) at the thought that one day I will die alone in a nursing home and nobody will know who I am. I imagine there will be a Filipino nurse named Grace that will take care of me in my final days. She’ll come into my room and ask me how I’m doing. She’ll make small talk by telling me about her kids and how they’re growing up so fast. She’ll ask me if I want something to drink and how the temperature is in the room. I will reminisce to her about the places I lived and people I met there. She will say “how interesting” and wonder who I am. On the day I pass from this world, she will go home, and her family will ask her why she is so sad. She will say, “Mr. Davis passed away today. He was a nice man and told interesting stories.” Her family will say, “That’s too bad.” And she will say, “Yes, yes it is.” (Okay, I’ve probably put too much thought into this.)
But being single has its advantages. In fact, there are many reasons why I’m grateful that I’ve been “#blessed” with an extended season of singleness.
My taxes are easy. Without dependents, everything is more straightforward. In fact, I've already finished my 2017 taxes and collected my refund. This perk extends to other grown-up decisions like choosing insurance, a healthcare plan, or a doctor. Easy peasy.
I can do stuff. I need not ask anyone for permission to go out with friends nor do I have to puzzle through logistics to make a night out happen. If I want to go out, I go out. If I don’t want to go out, I don’t go out. If I want to see a movie, I see the movie. If I want to go to a concert, I go to the concert. It’s that simple.
I can travel. Travel is not impossible with others in your life, but it’s a lot easier if you’re rolling solo. The freedom to spontaneously travel is one of singleness’s greatest gifts, especially for someone who loves to travel as I do. No negotiations about where to go. If a place captures my imagination, I go there.
I can take more risks. I doubt I would have been bold enough to move my life to California without a job and without knowing anyone who lived here if I had a family to provide for. My first few years in LA were tough. Being single allowed me to endure those challenging times and get to where I am today.
I have time to do lots of fitness-y things. Being single has given me the time and resources to stay in relatively good shape and pursue fitness goals, whether that’s running marathons or racing triathlons. With no one waiting for me at home, I can take the extra time to hit the gym, take that yoga class, or go for a run.
I get 8 hours of sleep every night. That’s right; I get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep almost every night. It’s how I’ve kept my youthful glow :) If I don’t get a full night of sleep, it’s by choice and usually because I’m doing something awesome.
But here is the essential truth of my singleness “situation”: my life has no lack of love. Nothing is missing in my life, and there is no one out there who will “complete” me. Sorry Jerry McGuire, but that is a bunch of hogwash. I have felt the abundance of love in my life from family and friends, enough to last me lifetimes. I do not suffer from a lack of anything.
I think love can be illustrated with simple math equations:
1 + 1 = 2 In this equation, two singles partner together, through mutual respect and selflessness, to make a something greater. Two is better than one.
1 – 1 = 0 In this equation, two singles take from one another. When this happens, both are left empty in the end.
In the equation of love, I’d rather be a 1 than a 0.
I have a pretty rad day job. I do in-theater marketing for the largest studio (by market share) in Hollywood, a studio that also happens to be on one of the most successful runs of films in the history of the movie business. Not a bad gig at all. There are a lot cool things about my job, but one of my favorite roles if finding and working with artist from around the world to commission custom art in support of a film.
We do this because while we have the best creative print team in the business (my humble opinion), sometimes we’re limited on the amount of marketing art available, or we decide that want something that looks different from anything else we are doing in our campaign. That’s when we commission a piece of art. We call it “fan art” but the artists we use are professional, who also happen to be fans.
My job is to find the artist, negotiate the terms, and give feedback on the piece from concept to completion. All creative must get approved by our marketing execs and by filmmakers, so I liaison between the studio and the artist until everyone is happy with the art and we can share it with the world.
To find the artists, sometimes I work with curators of the fan art. I have a great relationship with Poster Posse (posterposse.com) who has introduced us to some great talent over the years. Sometimes we find an artist online and reach out directly to him or her.
Here is a selection of some of my favorite pieces from the past couple years. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Artist: Dan Mumford - London
Artist: John Moody – New Orleans
Captain America: Civil War
Artist: Kaz Oomri – Osaka, Japan
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Artist: Tom Whalen - USA
Captain America: Civil War
Artist: Matt Ferguson - UK
Artist: Jackie Huang - Los Angeles
Note: This was a paper cut piece
Artist: Eren Unten – Los Angeles
Artist: 100% Soft – Los Angeles
I love New Years. The whole idea of starting over with a clean slate and a new focus is something that works for me. Each New Year (and birthday, now that I think about it) forces me contemplate the great equalizer and most precious of commodities: time. We are all subject to the tick-tock, that steady march. We can dig in our heels with fits of denial, but it will do no good. Time is impartial to our demands. Best we get on board and appreciate its gift. The passing of time makes life valuable and what we do with it, our greatest responsibility.
For 2018 I have three resolutions. These resolutions are more directional than a list of things to accomplish. They are a framework for how I will invest my time, a thrust, a map sketched on the back of a napkin, a motivational tailwind that says, “let’s go in this direction and see what happens.”
I got an inspired start to the book back in November, but there is still so much further to go. Finishing the novel feels so incredibly daunting that the mere thought of it crushes me with insecurity and self-doubt. “If only I were smarter, more eloquent with words… The language arts was never my forte. I was more of a math and science guy.” These are the gremlins that lurk in my mind when I sit down at my computer to write. Yet, I know I must write this story. It has been with me twelve years and the only way to move on is to write it down and send it into the world. I have productive days and days when I only get a couple of sentences written. I’ve learned, in the short time I’ve been working on it, that the more I show up, the less of a struggle it becomes. I don’t know if I will finish the novel this year, but I will meet it each day. I will do my part and hope the great Muse meets me when I’m there.
It has been two years since my trip to India. I’ve been stateside since, but this year I plan to change that. I am one who must travel to far off lands. I get restless if I don’t. This world – its people, its landscapes, its history – is so fascinating, beautiful, and wonder-filling that a piece of me feels lost when I can’t explore. So this summer I’m going to Tanzania. I will spend a day with my Compassion sponsored child, Nicolaus; then I will embark on a six-day trek to the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro, the roof of Africa, and back. I will cap-off the trip with a few days on safari in the Serengeti. I will pay 100% of the cost of the trip myself, but I will be raising money for a clean water project in Tanzania as an effort to give back to its people. I’m putting you on notice; I will be asking for your generous donations soon.
I have a contemplative soul. I prefer to listen and observe. I work out my struggles not by talking about them, but by reflecting on them. I loathe small talk (but appreciate those who are good at it). I can spend a lot of time by myself and often my first impulse is to do things by myself - movies, dinner, hikes, etc. This year (and every year for that matter) I want to invest in people. I want to be intentional about spending quality time with friends, old and new, and family. If time is our most precious commodity, I think giving it to others is the best way to let someone know they matter.
I wish you and yours a happy and adventurous New Year!
I'm reposting a story I wrote about 18 months ago. It is a Christmas story written as text messages. In case you wonder why the story isn't told in emoji's, Ben and Laura are Gen-Xers who still send messages in mostly completely sentences and proper punctuation. ;)
I hope you enjoy and have a very Merry Christmas!
National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) concluded with the sunset of November and I am pleased to report the effort was (mostly) a success. I did not reach the 50,000-word count that was the given goal of the project. I did, however, get my entire screenplay adapted and I was able to find time to work on the novel 26 of the 30 days. Coming up short on the word count bothers me a bit, but only because I don’t like coming up short on measurable goals like that. C’est la vie.
What’s next? Rewriting. A lot of rewriting. I’m pleased with the story and plotting, but there is work to be done on the prose. I think of it as building a house. The foundation is laid, and the walls are up, but now the walls need to be painted, and the details added that turn the house from a structure to a home. This task feels a bit daunting – eloquent prose is not my strong suit. But I’m learning to be patient with myself and take it one sentence at a time. I’m also watching lectures on building great sentences from The Great Courses hoping the information will absorb and help inspire my writing.
I shared the first couple chapters of my book with my writer’s group. They provided some helpful feedback and also inspired the idea that I should consider turning this into two books. One of the biggest critiques of the screenplay is that readers aren’t sure who the audience is. Half of the story is about a kid in a fantasy world, which has appeal for younger audiences. The other half of the story is an adult drama that feels more appropriate for mature audiences. While no one would consider making two movies about the same story for two different audiences, one could publish two books for two different audiences. One book would be the story, as is, targeting adults. The second book would remove the adult drama and expand on elements in the fantasy world. Both stories end up in the same place. The only difference is how the reader gets there.
Though it is fun to think about the possibilities, I know there is still a lot of work ahead of me. I believe the story is worth it. It is a story that needs to be told, so I will do my best to help it find its audience.
November is National Novel Writing Month. Every year a non-profit organization called NaNoWriMo rallies writers from all over the world to commit to writing a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. They provide community, encouragement, and accountability, but you have to put in the work. It’s an intense “seat of your pants” approach to novel writing that forces you to stop procrastinating and get writing – you only have 30 days. With the encouragement of a friend of mine who is also participating, I’ve decided to take on the challenge.
The decision does not come without trepidation. Over and over I’ve told myself I am not a novelist. I am not eloquent with words, with rich descriptions of accounts that leave readers with emotive mental pictures. I write screenplays – a medium that requires a less is more approach that rewards pithy dialogue and swift action. I dabble in short stories, but a novel? Good grief. These blog posts are typically 500-1000 words, and I can spend 2-3 days writing a single post. To write 50,000 words in 30 days, I’d have to write 1,667 words every day.
That said, I know myself. And I know that I thrive when I pursue challenges that feel a bit impossible. It’s how I became an Ironman. It’s why I run marathons. I’m good at accomplishing goals that require a substantial amount of focus and commitment over a set amount of time. I live for these types of challenges. So I’m going to give it a try.
I’ve decided I’m going to write a novelization of my screenplay The Resurrection of Dennis Munson. I think writing the story as a novel will be good for me; It will force me to think about the story differently and explore the characters at a deeper level. Maybe I’ll uncover some insights that will help the script get over the proverbial hump.
I don’t know what will happen. Even as I write this, I have my doubts. If I didn’t work a full-time job and could just write all day, maybe I'd have a chance. But I don't have that option. I guess that is part of the thrill. Sometimes we just have to say “yes,” leap and see what happens.
The pounding on the door startled Oscar awake. He sat in his bed and rubbed his forehead. The clock on the nightstand flickered 8 AM. He would need at least four more hours of sleep for his hangover to release its grip.
A WRITER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES