What I'm Into - March 2016
Lissie – Hailing from my neck of the woods in Rock Island, Illinois, Lissie, is a folk rock singer/song writer. A friend recommended her music to me several years ago and I’ve been a fan ever since. I finally got a chance to see her perform live as she kicked off a new tour here in Los Angeles. She did not disappoint. To put it simply, this woman can rock. She’s a great songwriter with a powerful and passionate voice. She may be coming to a city near you, so check her out.
Detectorists – I caught an episode of this British comedy on my flight back from Dubai last month. Starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones it follows the personal lives of two oddball metal detectorists as they search the English countryside for buried treasure. I love the pacing of the storytelling. The comedy is rooted in the characters not the punch lines. The aspirational nature of the story, everyday people believing their treasure will be found if they just keep searching, makes for a relatable exploration of what it means to believe in your quest, whatever it may be. Season One is available on Netflix.
Jiu-Jitsu – I realized recently that there was nothing I was doing consistently in my life in which I couldn’t say, “I’ve been doing it years.” So I decided to try something new. I’ve made a six-month commitment to the sport of Jiu-Jitsu and so far I really like it. The sport’s focus on details and strategy makes for a physically demanding activity that also engages the mind.
De-cluttering – Five trash bags of shredded documents later, my file cabinet is considerably lighter. I don’t need that credit card statement from 2007, do I?
The Walking Dead – Six seasons in and the writers continue to keep the story fresh and the audience on the edge of their seat. My ritual of watching The Walking Dead followed by The Talking Dead is something I look forward to each week.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – I know, I’m 16 years behind the rest of the world on this one. I’m slowly catching up and enjoying every page.
Casey Gerald: The Gospel of Doubt – A call to embrace the uncertainty of our faith. I know many, including myself, who will relate to this TED Talk.
When I was a kid, a scene played out in my imagination countless times. In fact, for a while it became the paramount dilemma of my young life (which, as you’ll soon discover, is a testiment to just how good my childhood was). The scenario was this: if I received a letter in the mail from Kids Incorporated asking me to join their cast, how long would I wait before accepting to see if I got a similar letter from The Mickey Mouse Club? Of course, I would be honored to join Kids Incorporated (“K-I-D-S! Yea!”), but my dream was to be on The Mickey Mouse Club.
My pre-adoloscent mind contemplated the possibilities. If I waited too long to accept the Kids Incorporated gig they may decide they don’t want me anymore and ask someone else. But if I said yes to Kids Incorporated and then the MMC letter arrived… Oh the regret if I missed the opportunity to rock the house with Fred and Mowava and the Mouseketeers. Afterall, I knew I was a perfect fit for MMC because they told me they liked me while saying goodbye at the end of every show.
The question led to more than a few sleepless nights. I believe I concluded, after much consideration, that a waiting period of 2-3 days was the appropriate amount of time.
Now I had reason to believe I might get a letter from Disney asking me to be a child star. My resumé of starring roles in children’s church musicals was unparalleled. I played Mr. Jackson, the benevolent father, in the foot-tapping retelling of the parable of the Prodigal Son called “Barbecue for Ben.” I played Ramsey, the wise old Ram in “We Like Sheep,” a sentimental adaptation of the parable of the Lost Sheep. I also starred in “Super Gift from Heaven,” “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” and “Down by the Creek Bank.” But the pinnicle of my young thespian life came when I was cast in the coveted role of Psalty the Singing Song Book. They do not give that role out willy-nilly. I had to sing and dance and impart Christian values with a painted blue face while donning a body-sized blue with yellow trim book. The range I had! How could Kids Incorporated or the MMC not want me!?
I’m now in my mid-30’s and I still haven’t received that letter. But that’s okay. I’ve learned you cannot wait for the letter. You cannot wait for Ms. Perfect to knock on your door. You cannot wait until it becomes just a little easier. It’s all work. And it’s all hard.
So I write. I write because I have to. An idea finds me. The “what ifs” woo me. Characters move into my imagination and refuse to leave until their stories are told.
And I write because the waiting hasn’t gotten me anywhere.
I’ve taught and performed long-form improv for the past nine years. For those unfamiliar, long-form improv is different than what we usually see on TV in shows like Whose Line is it Anyway. In long-form you take a suggestion from the audience and then you create characters and perform scenes inspired by the suggestion.
The thing I love about improv is also the thing that terrifies me. It’s the moment you walk out on the empty stage – with no script, with no idea what is about to happen, with an expecting audience that’s paid good money to be there – and the lights come up and you are greeted with silence. The silence is not simply the absense of noise. It is the absense of knowing. How you handle the silence is the defining moment of the show.
(Side note… I have found life’s defining moments are pregnant with silence. It’s with you as your trembling hand dials that phone number. It’s in the deep breath you exhale after you realize there is nothing left to say. Sometimes the silence takes residence in your soul and lasts for weeks or months, even years.)
Back to improv…
Inexperienced performers find silence unnerving, so they spew words and manufacture moments in an attempt to get a response from their audience. They need the audience to tell them what their story is.
Experienced performers are patient with the silence. They understand that their story is already right in front of them. The silence gives them time to discover it.
I was recently introduced to a band that continues to grow on me. The Gloaming is an Irish band rooted in traditional Irish folk but infused with a contemporary sound whose end result is something very moving and often emotional. When I listen to their music, I see muscians who are comfortable with the silence.
Their song simply titled “Opening Set” illustrates my point. At nearly 16 minutes in length the song begins with brilliant restraint and patience. I, as the audience, cannot help but inch forward in my seat. “I’m listening.” I say, “Tell me more.” When the song’s narrative transitions from quiet invocation to driving proclamation the payoff is sublime.
Today is St. Patrick’s Day and so I’m letting the music of Ireland remind me to sit confidently in the quiet moments, to be content with the unknowing, to embrace the silence, however long it lasts.
In 2009, I wrote a script that advanced in the Austin Film Festival screenwriting competition, and I accepted the invitation to attend the conference. I listened to a number of panelists, writers, agents, managers and development execs talk about screenwriting, the writing process and what they look for in a script. I heard a lot of, “Man, this writer, isn’t she great?!” The conference was fun and insightful and I left with one big take-away: The secret to breaking into Hollywood is simple. Write something great.
This news was a relief. No networking games or query letter gimics--just write something great and the gatekeepers of the industry will find you.
So, for the past seven years I have dedicated myself to the pursuit of writing something great. I wrote five more screenplays. Each one pushing my abilities as a writer. A female protagonist. An ensemble piece. A workplace comedy. A romantic comedy. A sci-fi period piece. And with each script I wrote, a crazy thing happened. I got better. Not “great” better, but better.
Which brings me to the script, the script I have been working on for nearly 10 years. It’s the story idea that was in my head when I moved to LA. It’s the story I keep coming back to, like that girl you used to date years ago that keeps returning to your imagination, “I wonder what she’s up to?” The script is a fantasy/drama called The Resurrection of Dennis Munson. It is a story I can’t shake because, quite frankly, it says (maybe explores is a better word) everything I want to say about life and loss and the power story.
The script is two stories woven together. The first is about a children’s fiction writer, who after suffering the tragic loss of a child, becomes a prisoner of his own imagination, writing a series of books where his deceased son lives out fantastic adventures. The second is about the boy found in this fantastic world who must overcome trials, temptations, and monsters in search for the truth of his origin. It’s about two people searching for one another.
I know, a dead child. The premise is sad. But I believe the story is full of hope.
I have had the script and versions of the script reviewed over a dozen times by industry professionals. The verdict is consistent: It’s above average. The most frequent critique is that the budget to make this film and do it justice is too big for any independent production company, and no major studio is going to take a big budget risk on a movie about a dead kid. There were other criticisms of the story and a good deal of praise, too. When the dust had settled from all the reviews, what was left standing was still just “above average.”
I’m okay with being average at most things. I’m okay being below average at some things. But what does one do when the one thing you love to do more than anything else in the world, the one thing you’re stuck with that just won’t leave you, the one thing your soul says, “risk everything for”--when the guardians of that one thing say it’s just above average?
Each night I lay my head down and I wonder if I’m just another guy whose passion exeeds his ability.
Each morning I get up. I brew a cup of coffee and I start writing again.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES