I arrive at the Regal LA Live Theater in the heart of downtown LA. It is Thursday, April 26, Opening Night for Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Infinity War. I’ve been counting down the days to this night for past two months. Everything about the marketing campaign for this film has been immense and this campaign, more than any other, has kept me awake at night.
I’m standing in front of an art installation breathing a sigh of relief. I have been working with James Raiz, an illustrator from Toronto, on this Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary celebration piece. He spent 250 hours hand-drawing 18 character panels, representing each of the 18 films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The centerpiece is a giant Thanos – the villain in Infinity War. Ten years of movies have all been leading up to this. The piece is impressive. Fans are engaging and taking pictures. The artist texts me. He is on his way to the theater.
I see the team from Moviebill arrive. I’ve also been working with them to launch the debut issue of their publication. It’s like a Playbill, but for movies and with a 3D augmented reality overlay. It features interviews with talent, behind-the-scenes editorial, and exclusive art. The Avengers: Infinity War Moviebill will be handed out to one million people at Regal cinemas opening weekend. The excitement of launching a new product is evident on their faces. It’s a big day for them, and I’m curious to see how fans respond to the product.
But I’m not at the theater for either for the artist or Moviebill. I’m here for the fan event – a premium ticket early screening of the film that includes a collectible coin, exclusive bonus content, and popcorn. My team planned these events at nearly 600 locations across the country. This morning, I received word from the studio PR team that Joe Russo, one of the directors of the film, would be coming to the LA Live theater to make a surprise visit. My phone rings. It is Joe’s driver. He’s here.
I meet Joe outside, and I bring him into the theater. We make a stop to get popcorn. He is relaxed and easygoing. I lead him to the holding room where we wait until it’s time for the introduction.
Joe is glancing at his phone to see who his Cleveland Browns take in the first round of the NFL draft. We make small talk. We talk about the shocking ending. If there was any concern about the movie, it was how fans would react. The film opened the previous night in European markets. So far, the response has been positive.
Joe tells me that he has some time before he has to be at USC for a lecture, maybe he’ll stick around for a while and watch the movie with the fans. I tell him no problem. I text my co-workers and tell them we need a seat for Joe. It’s a sold-out show. Fortunately, they find a fan sitting near the exit that is more than happy to give up his seat for the director and a fifty-dollar gift card.
The trailer package ends, and we enter the side of the darkened theater. The anticipation is palpable like the eagerness of a child waking on Christmas morning. I take the microphone and step to the front of the theater. I introduce myself and welcome them to the Fan Event. I tell them that there is someone here that wants to say something. They gasp. Immediately and in complete synchrony, I see 200 faces disappear as 200 camera phones are lifted to record whatever happens next. I introduce Joe, and the fans erupt.
Joe is a pro. He thanks the fans for being so great and talks about the year-and-a-half journey leading up to this night. He takes his seat. The movie begins. The excitement hits a fever pitch.
I stand off to the side and watch the first 10 minutes. The fans’ reaction was mix of laughter and cheers. So far so good. I leave to find James, the artist, who has just arrived at the theater.
I find James in front of the art installation interviewing for his YouTube channel. His wife, kids, and parents watch from a distance. The previous day, James and I connected over lunched. He told me his story. His parents emigrated from the Philippines to Canada before he was born. His parents hoped he would become a doctor. When he was in high school, he told them he wanted to go to art school. The news did not go over well.
In his parents' mind, an artist was a person on the street who draws pictures for change. That is not why they moved to Canada, so their son could beg for money on the street. He brought his parents to Los Angeles tonight to show them how far his art has taken them. He wants them to see, to understand, that he can be successful with his art. I speak to his parents, beautiful people who sacrificed much so that their children and their children’s children might have a better opportunity to prosper. I point to the art piece and say, “Look what your son has done. I hope you’re proud of him!” “We are proud of him.” They respond with a gracious smile.
Here are a couple pictures of the art installation. I snapped these pics with my phone, Not great pictures, but you get the idea. That's James giving an interview in front of time-lapse videos of him drawing the pieces.
My phone buzzes with a text. Joe is heading out of the theater. I reunite with him to thank him for coming. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is the director of the movie that will have the biggest box office opening of all time, but right now he is hungry, and he is going to grab a bite to eat before his next engagement.
I’m hungry too. A few of us decide to grab a drink and satisfy our appetites.
I arrive back at the theater during the final minutes of the movie. The tone in the room has changed. That ending. The fans are stone silent. When the final scene plays, and the movie rolls to credits, a collective exhale releases from the audience with audible “No!” What?” “Holy S***.”
One fan cannot contain himself. He jumps out of his seat and runs to the side exit hall where my co-worker and I are standing. “Oh, my God.” He cups the temples of his head with his hands. “That was so epic!” He recognizes us from the beginning of the show and introduces himself. “My name is Cameron.” He can’t stand still. He is checking his phone, rubbing his head, swaying back and forth. He is processing.
No one leaves the theater. Everyone is waiting patiently for the end credits scene. It comes and drops a reveal. The audience erupts. Cameron runs out of the theater. I follow him and find him half-running half-skipping down the hall toward the lobby yelling “That’s what I wanted! That’s what I wanted!”
I stand to the side and watch the fans stagger out of the theater. Their heads down, they look like they have just come back from the front lines of a major conflict. One fan, heavy-set, long hair, wearing a shirt with pictures of the Avengers on it, looks at me. “Devastating man.” He shakes his head. “Devastating.”
I drive home that night, and I am relieved. Avengers: Infinity War is finally out in the world. All the long days at work have paid off. I think about the movie. It’s just a movie, a fantasy/adventure with a bunch of costumed superheroes. I think about the reaction it solicits, the way it affects people, and I understand that for many it’s not just a movie.
We live in a time of deep polarization. Maybe a movie like this, which brings people from all countries, languages, and worldviews to a theater to sit next to each other and watch our heroes try to be the best versions of themselves they can be – because the fate of the world depends on it - is just what we need.
Last May I met up with my friend, Jeremiah, in Kanas City to hang out and work on a new idea I had for a screenplay. I came back with a rough outline for A EULOGY FOR THE BELIEVER and about 25 written pages. Not bad. I spent the rest of the summer trying to finish the script. I got to 100 pages before I shelved it without showing it to anyone. I didn’t even write an ending. I thought it was terrible: incoherent, rambling and unmotivated. I was frustrated. After that draft, I convinced myself that I had somehow become a worse writer.
The only activity in my life I have found to be truly satisfying is writing screenplays. That’s a big statement because I’ve experienced no commercial success with my craft. But it’s true. When I’m working on a screenplay I’m passionate about it doesn’t matter what else is going on in my life. I’m okay. I find it creatively satisfying. Travel is the only other activity that comes to close this feeling of satisfaction.
When I’m not writing stories, I feel lost. That’s when I start asking the big questions: What am I doing with my life? Is this is all there is? What does it all mean? Is it time to make a big move? Should I wander around Europe for the next year? Maybe I should go live in a village on an island in the South Pacific and see what that’s all about?
I started on the novel in an attempt to divert such thinking. In February, I was procrastinating and commiserating to myself about how the book is going to take me years to write, so I decided to reopen that draft of A EULOGY FOR THE BELIEVER, just to see if it was as bad as I remembered it being. What I found surprised me.
The draft was indeed rough and needed work, but there was a lot that I liked. It had life – the heartbeat of the story was there - and I discovered I could work with it.
There is nothing more arduous than writing the first draft when every page is blank, and the task is to fill it with words. It’s exhausting. There is a first draft fog that descends. The writing is subpar because the goal is not craftsmanship but page count. It’s no wonder I finished the draft feeling defeated.
Five months later, the fog had lifted, and I returned to the script to see it for what it is: a draft of a story that came from a personal place; a story that was worth fighting for.
I put the novel on pause, and I spent the past month re-writing the script. I’m happy to say that I now have a readable draft that I’m proud of. I’m starting to share it with my writer friends for feedback. I plan to submit it to few festivals and contests next month.
A year ago, February 25, 2017, to be exact, I wrote a post confessing that I hadn’t written anything new in almost three years. I can’t tell you how very satisfying it is to have a new fresh script in my pocket. My creative soul is no longer defined by past work. I still have something to say. And I hope it keeps the big questions away for a while.
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