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I feel the world whizzing by me every day. Hundreds of channels to surf, ads to click through, headlines to scan, postings to peruse, and emails to delete, not to mention the physical highway traffic to wedge me along to my next location, where I will once again plug in and/or tune out. Breathe.

The noise overwhelms us until it becomes a static hum underlying the occasional real experiences of life. We all have our own personal noise threshold. We reach a point where we draw a line in the sand. If we’re lucky, there’s actual sand under our feet. Well, not me. I burn too easy. Very pale.

The noise also challenges me when I want to share something, like this blog post. I suspect that a good number of my friends and family won’t even see those announcements at all. Social media experts encourage you to post often, because people go online at different times of the day, but at the same time, you don’t want to over-do it to the point where your Facebook followers actually follow you to Trader Joes to thank you with a punch in your actual face.

Plus, you only get to see like eight friends on your timeline, thanks to the enigma of a Facebook algorithm that I can only imagine also determines what numbers will win the lottery. I know some of my friends really want to see what I post, but they just can’t win the Facebook lottery.

Get to the point, Dan!

Okay, already! Here’s my point. I became very targeted about my TV watching over the last few years. I don’t have time to waste on a show any more if it’s not entertaining. However, once in a while, if I like what a show is attempting, or I like the people involved, I’ll give it a little time. After all, Seinfeld famously took a couple of years to reach the right rhythm.

I ask you to do the same with me. Specifically, I want you to sign up for my email list (click the link on the menu at the top of this page). What do you get?

You get me!

Follow me as I develop my web series chops. You may have already enjoyed my Baby Time! Series. If not, you can watch the whole hilarious, unfinished series here -> Baby Time!

What can you expect? Well, my goal continues to be thoughtful, funny stories. But, more specifically, here is what you can expect over the ensuing months:

- CO-HABITS – updates for my new web series that explores the quirky habits and conflicts of long-term cohabitation.

- Blog posts - You know some of those are alone worth the price of admission -- which is nothing!

- Future series like my Christmas-themed series (the ho-ho-hos are still in development).

Think of it this way …

In the worst case, you will simply need to delete my email on occasion, unless of course your inbox has 300,000 emails sitting in it because you never delete any emails. My wife practices this habit, and it drives me insane. Delete or categorize as you go, and it will be clean! I get freaked out if my inbox has more than 50 emails in it. Does that make me a psycho? I hope not. Better check with the purple troll that I trapped under my toaster, though, just to be sure.

On the other hand, you may grow to enjoy my posts. Ideally, you will look forward to them, and perhaps love them so much that you want to send them to your friends. Of course, I hope you never share anything you don’t like. I only want you passing it on if it’s working – if you really love it.

Ultimately, I want to improve, and I want to know I’m improving as a writer and a filmmaker if people naturally want to share what I create. The more people genuinely spread the word, the more I will see that what I’m doing is working. Or, not, and then maybe the idea needs rethinking.

So, I encourage you to sign up for updates. It’s simple. Click here -> Join My Email List! I promise to only send out emails when I have something I believe in my heart and soul carries some value for sharing.

And if you’re still not convinced, I will simply ask if you can say no to this face.

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CO-HABIT WEB SERIE PROJECT

It’s been almost a year since I released my web series Baby Time! What have I been doing all that time? Mostly I wrote a bunch, including a new sitcom spec for BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, a couple of re-writes of the outline for my feature film POLKA, a new draft of a TV pilot BLACKOUT (written with 3 other talented writers), and… New Project Announcement!

… a new web series based on my #CrainStreet tweets.

The #CrainStreet tweets are just snippets of moments I have to endure when visiting my parents.

It’s called Co-Habit. Probably. It was Cohabitation. Then it was Co-Habituate, which is my personal favorite, because it mixes the idea of cohabitation with the complications that come when two people agree to live together and therefore build habits together. But, I fear that the title is hard to say and thus complicates spreading the word about it.

CO-HABIT A comedy about the absurdity of cohabitation. Karen and Craig endure boredom, mindless habits, and domestic bliss. Commentary provided by their observant dog Dainty.

Dainty_BR_Front dullmoment
Dainty_BR_Front dullmoment

So, now I’m assembling my directing notes. Here’s a summary of my thematic analysis:

The series will take a satirical look at the intimacy of living with someone, focusing on the following themes and ideas:

  • annoying and mindless habits and patterns
  • numbness that develops over time due to these patterns
  • regressive behavior (acting out like a child) with our partners

Conclusion: Ultimately, I believe that part of the reason we gravitate towards the patterns and the numbness is to keep ourselves safe from regression and the unpredictable traumatic conflicts that we risk when we engage emotionally.

So, in other words, I’ll have plenty to mock.

Here’s an example of the kind of mindless exchange I endure when I visit my parents, and so I have expanded on it in the series:

CRAIG I still can’t believe that the fridge repair guy called first.

KAREN I know. It was about 1:30. I remember because I had just talked to my sister. The phone rang. And it was him. Next thing I know, he’s ringing the doorbell.

CRAIG Fast huh.

KAREN Yep. He called. Next thing I know, he’s ringing the doorbell.

CRAIG He must have called from his car.

KAREN I bet. Unless his office is nearby.

CRAIG I think he has an office nearby. He could’ve called and gotten over her quickly.

KAREN It was real quick. He called. Then he rang the doorbell. It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two later.

YES, AND...

Remember when you were a kid, and everyone was enjoying a game of Ghost in the Graveyard? And along comes little Sammy Snot-Nose, who doesn’t want to play the game. Who knows why. Maybe his mom made him eat one too many meatloaf. Or maybe he didn’t get his Ritalin that day. So, Sammy starts telling people where the ghost is hiding. He trips people as they run from the ghost, and interrupts everyone’s conversation until he is the main focus. At that point, everyone is forced to stop playing to figure out what to do. Either you decide to play his game to make him happy, or you give up, go home and watch the Love Boat. At The Second City, we learned the magic of “Yes, and…” For the non-improvisers living among us, the phrase is a simple tool to help build a decent scene. When your scene partner makes a choice, it helps everyone on stage if you just play along. After all, who wants to play with a grown-up version of Sammy Snot-Nose? Your response to whatever they say or do should at the very least agree with the premise of their choice (thus the “yes”), and respect it.

For example, if they walk out saying “Thanks for the ride, Dad!” you should move forward as that character’s dad in your mind. If you responded “Don’t speak to me that way. I’m your mother!” you might get a laugh, but you’re also slowing down the dramatic momentum of the scene. Of course, excellent improvisers can turn any choice into magic. In the hands of experts, those two opposite statements could become the most nuanced and poignant satire exploring modern roles in the family or issues of transgender identity.

After a waste of time improv show full of Sammy Snot-Nose clones, the audience will most likely greet the improvisers in the backstage alley for an improvised beating. On the other hand, if everyone on stage builds on each choice instinctively, the team tends to tap into some very powerful subconscious parts of our brain, and all the crazy unique choices connect together to surprise the audience (as well as the improvisers). Thus, the magic.

To me, the ability to let go of control and say “Yes, and…” to life is the secret to happiness. The last episode of the first season (available on 9/26/13) deals with a troubled pregnant lady at a bus stop. It was a small part of the original Baby Time sketch that I wrote back in 1998. But, then I added a reprise of the character that made this week’s episode just a setup for a story payoff later. In this week’s scene, he swats her away like an annoying pest. He doesn’t have the time or patience to deal with her insanity. However, when he sees her again in the later scene, it’s a second chance to try a different approach with her. He then responds with more of a “Yes, and…” mindset, and the end result helps him realize that he’s better off letting go of his control-freak nature.

Unfortunately, I have a feeling, that payoff won’t become a reality. Episode 6 is most likely the last produced episode of the series. I’ve worked on the web series for over 3 years. I’ve learned a great deal about this emerging medium, and the possibilities. I could continue on making the rest of the Baby Time! series, but it would require a fairly large budget. It makes more sense to apply what I’ve learned to a new project that can be completed for a small budget in a shorter amount of time.

So, for now, I figured I would include the remaining story, in case you want to see how the series would end. Below is a rough layout of the remaining seasons, the characters in each episode, and the overall emotional journey of our main character Richard. Enjoy!

Season 2 (Episodes 7 – 12) During the next 6 episodes, Richard heads to Oak Park to track down the missing mid-wife.

Episode 7 - They hop on the METRA train to Oak Park where the mid-wife lives. On the train, a couple only pretending to be therapists force Richard into a very unorthodox therapy session, and still manage to uncover his hidden issues with his mother-in-law Chelsea.

Episode 8 – Exhausted, Richard falls asleep on the train, waking up at the end of the line in Geneva, IL. Cabbie Joe reveals that he has also been banned from taking cabs, so they must “borrow” a school bus from a nearby school, where two kids torment Richard.

Episode 9 - Richard finally arrives in Oak Park, but a snappy musical number reveals that the mid-wife is too busy with her dysfunctional family to fulfill her duties.

Episode 10 - Richard and Chelsea knock on doors to find a ride back to Anna in Lincoln Park, interrupting many strange characters, until a loner lends Richard a girl’s bike.

Episode 11 – While riding the bike to the EL station, Richard has a nervous breakdown about failing to get the midwife, but Anna talks him back to sanity.

Season 3 (Episodes 12 – 16) During the next 5 episodes, Richard rushes back home, but Anna is gone.

Episode 12 - Richard encounters the siren-like citizens of downtown Oak Park as they try to prevent him from leaving their perfect world, and Cabbie Joe shows up just in time to save him from being hit by the Soccer Mom’s car (from Episode 2).

Episode 13 - Richard and Cabbie Joe wait for the EL train, while two old guys complain in a very matter-of-fact way about marital problems caused by a live-in space alien.

Episode 14 – When the EL train stops for maintenance, Richard and Cabbie Joe cut through a cemetery, while a mourner begs Cabbie Joe to help her get revenge on her dead husband’s ghost.

Episode 15 - Cabbie Joe runs into his estranged father at the park, and he and Richard embark on an elaborate psychological game to borrow his vehicle.

Episode 16 - Richard and Cabbie Joe finally make it home on the dad’s golf cart, only to find that Anna has been rushed to the hospital with complications. When Richard gets stuck in Cubs traffic, all hope seems lost, until he gets in an accident and the ambulance gets him to the hospital.

Season 4 (Episodes 17 – 20) In the last season, Richard beats himself up as a failure, but some characters from earlier in the series return to help him rethink his approach to life, just in time for the birth of his child.

Episode 17 - Richard dreams about an infomercial parody selling Loopholes for Catholics – and wakes up ready to reconsider his view on control. The doctor asks Richard to convince his wife to have a C-Section, but Richard insists the doctor respect the choices of his wife and her Doula.

Episode 18 - Richard crawls through the Emergency Room of the hospital in pain past all the characters from the series, until the Father Wilczek (from Episode 2) almost murders him because he “knows too much.”

Episode 19 - Richard runs into Preggo from the bus stop again as she’s about to give birth, but instead of avoiding her, he helps her deliver her baby.

Episode 20 - Finale – Richard makes it to Anna just as she’s giving birth. The entire episode is a rock anthem with choreography detailing the birth of his baby, resolving all his conflicts, and annoying the masochistic doctor. Richard finally learns to enjoy life as it occurs, instead of living with the false notion that he can control everything.

LE DÉSACCORD ET LA VOIX

I liked 2 things right away about Jackie. 1) The Disagreement

Our first argument came when I asked for her number. I remember standing on our friend's driveway, while I stumbled over some awkward jokes. We didn’t have any paper or pen to write down her number, so I decided to memorize it. She did not approve of this ridiculous idea. The moment could have been one of those playful, flirty disagreements, except that it wasn't. Instead, we argued about it for real. Clearly, she wasn’t afraid to challenge me. A worthy opponent. Feisty. Combative. Confident. I didn’t really process any of those thoughts in the moment. At the time, I thought, “Who does she think she is?!” Ah, young love.

Eventually I reshaped that first fight in my mind as downright romantic. Cue the orchestra. Which reminds me of point number...

2) The Voice

She studied voice. As soon as I heard she was an opera singer, the cool factor of meeting her went way up. My mind filled with all kinds of crazy romantic notions of what it would be like to date a Soprano. We met as a group in the high society wheeler-dealer social club known as the Old Orchard Mall Houlihan’s. All 15 people attended that night simply so that we could meet, and when it came time for introductions, she and her roommate were introduced in the wrong order. My disappointment was immediate. Why did the opera singer have to be the tall and lanky frizzy-haired girl? Why couldn’t it be the cute girl with the gorgeous eyes? And then, seconds later the farce was over. The mistaken identity was clarified, and lucky for me, the cute girl was indeed the opera singer.

As we dated, she educated me on opera - the history, the culture, and the art form itself. My experiences playing trumpet in a youth orchestra and marching band molded my thinking on opera. Quite frankly, I hated it. As I mentioned, I loved the cool factor of dating an opera singer, but I wasn’t sold on the actual music. Why ruin some beautiful classical music with singing? Of course, as I learned much more about opera, I started to appreciate it. Her music score looked technically challenging, not to mention that she would have to sing in German, French and Italian. And the stories told grand tales of love, comedy and scandal, and that’s just in the first scene. The reality of this opera singer beat most of my expectations regarding the cool factor.

Then it came time to attend a recital. I had heard all about the topic of opera, but finally I was going to hear some actual opera. They had a little party where all the students performed. I thought I knew how an opera singer should sound. And her classmates filled that expectation for the most part. Some of them clearly had some work to do. They were studying, so I wasn’t surprised to hear some righteous clams and back-tingling voice cracks. Some showed extreme promise. But, for the most part, they all sang with a sound that I considered about right for an opera student. Then Jackie sang. Sweet Jesus Cakes! She blew them all away. I don’t mean she was more technically proficient (although she was). I’m referring to her pipes. Her vocal cords. Her natural instrument. Anyone with two ears and a human soul could hear the amazingly perfect and deeply powerful quality to her voice.

My small-minded pre-conceived notion of the romance of dating an opera singer became immediately eclipsed into oblivion by the reality of the magic and core-shaking power of her voice. Curtain Down! I still consider myself fortunate to hear that lovely voice from time to time around the house. Even if it’s just singing a little ditty about our dog.

Conflict + Opera = Sketch

I enjoy reliving the memories of those first years of our relationship – the conflict and what I learned about opera. When I wrote the original sketch that became Episode 5 of the web series (out on Thursday 9/19/13), I used many of the details I remember from her days studying voice. It’s sort of like a shout-out to those memories. Hey, memories: you don’t go changin’! Plus, I loved the idea of trouble-makers with the admirable intention of supporting the arts.

Then, when I started writing the web series script, this sketch arguing for more arts education seemed like a perfect fit, especially in light of my wife’s experiences with holding on to a job as a music teacher over the past decade. As I’ve discussed often in this blog, the public education system has proven to be a continuing challenge given the loss of financial and political support. It’s no secret that the education system in our country has been slashed and burned, and the arts are always the first casualty in the budget. Despite the challenges, my wife happens to be a fantastic teacher (teacher of the year for LAUSD in fact!), so she's managed to continue working throughout all the budget cuts.

Even if she wasn't working, no one could ever take away that stunning, heart-shaking voice -- winding its way through the rooms of our house, over our Chow Chow's wagging tail, and into my grateful ears.

It’s so romantic, it makes me want to argue.

MEDITATIONS ON #$@&%

Some people curse to shock. Some curse because they don’t know any other way to express themselves. Some people just enjoy feeling the curl of the tongue and the brush of the teeth across the lips required to formulate those specially categorized words. I never really cursed much growing up. We called them wallpaper words because my parents never cursed, except that one time when putting up wallpaper. As I started to pay attention, I noticed that my grandparents cursed on occasion. I still remember my shock - shock I tell you - after hearing my grandmother refer to the woman in the checkout line as “asshole.” This moment solidified in my impressionable memory for two reasons: 1) it was the first time I ever heard that term referring to a female. I honestly thought it was a male-specific word. 2) And, of course, I didn’t understand how my cheerful, old-fashioned, house-dress-wearing Nana could transform into a double-crossed kingpin.

I remember the first time I ever used the F-word. I was playing in the dirt with cars in front of my house with the other neighborhood kids. As I recall, I cleverly disguised it with other nonsense syllables so I could let it “slip” - like I didn’t even realize it was a word. None of the other kiddies laughed. They all excused themselves at once, like a bunch of henchmen calmly abandoning their colleague with the mob boss so he can put the hammer down. Next thing I knew, I had a bar of soap in my mouth. It tasted fresh, like Irish Spring!

I faced an ongoing investigation of curiosity throughout my swear-ducation in grade school. Every time I asked the other kids what the word meant, instead of telling me, they would laugh and tell everyone I didn’t know what the word meant. Even after everyone was done laughing, I would persist – okay, it’s funny. I get the joke. How ridiculous that I don’t know what it means. Yes, yes. Now, what does it mean? More laughing would continue the vicious cycle. I only remember one time getting an honest answer, and for that, I thank Paul Flood and his careful, clinical explanation of the term bufu.

As I got older, I noticed cursing everywhere - kids, parents, teachers, politicians, even priests. They all cursed. Even the professionals of the world – the consultants, the lawyers, the bankers, and hedge fund rodents - I’ve seen them all indulge in the cursing sciences.

Then I joined the Outcast Jazz Band. Musicians in school did plenty of swearing, but nothing compared to the talents of Chicago’s very own OJB! Cursing seemed to be breathing, as well as a respectable placeholder for any space between words in a sentence. But, beyond cursing, everything about their conversation was adult, from tales of drunken intimidation of cops to casual copy machine theft – not to mention the detailed sex-capades. It was a sailor’s dream, without the claustrophobia or the nausea.

Bottom line - the majority of people I have met in life – from all walks of life – they all curse. All ages. All professions. All levels of society. They all curse. Go to any high school, or probably grade school for that matter, and they have to work hard to remind the kids not to curse in the classroom. If kids don’t do it in front of their cursing parents, they do it with their cursing friends. Meanwhile, their cursing parents are cursing with their cursing colleagues and cursing clients, not to mention their cursing siblings and cursing parents. Just not in front of the children. Actually, many parents curse in front of their children, and many tolerate cursing from their children.

And yet, adult-themed shows on network television remain censored. You can see their mouths move. You often hear the beginning of the word, so your brain essentially puts it together. We all know what they’re saying. And the small minority of little kids who have managed to stay sheltered from those words will start to notice these words, and assume they have magical powers. Maybe their parents should take the responsibility to prevent them from watching adult-oriented stories on television in the first place, and then we wouldn’t have to make these weird exceptions of the words you can’t say on TV.

So, what’s the point? Why do we still censor certain special words in certain places, when we essentially live our lives without censorship. Hell, many people SHOULD censor the words that come out of their mouths - not the swear words, but ignorance in general. “We’re not really a swear-free country, but we play one on TV!” We are a society in denial.

Ironically, I don’t feel comfortable swearing. I don’t mind hearing it. I don’t typically judge anyone in my head for using such language. I don’t feel shocked by anything in movies said or done. As a writer of comedy, I need to be open to all ways of thinking and talking to inhabit characters. I have cursed in my life. Plenty of times. But, when I do it, I honestly feel inauthentic.

I especially don’t like one particular word – the word I refer to as the “S” word. It gives me the creeps when I hear it. So, it’s even more awkward when I attempt to use the word. “BS” is less of a problem for some reason, but I’m not particularly fond of it overall. In case you’re interested, I don’t have any problems with any of the words for penis, but I avoid most of the words for any part of the female anatomy. I don’t even feel comfortable with the anatomically correct words. However, I do like the “F” word, and if used cleverly, I even like the “C” word (just the male version, please). I know. I don’t understand it either. The closest explanation would be the Monty Python sketch about “woody words.”

So, this brings me to a quick warning about my next episode, in which I purposely take cursing to the extreme. I will have 2 versions: a NSFW version and a bleeped version, so you can make your own choice. I want to emphasize that I still think cursing is unnecessary. It may help drive home an emotion, or get extra attention, but it’s still the lazy man’s way of emphasizing a strong point of view. Certainly a “I hope you wake up in a pool blood from your own severed head” is a bit more interesting than “F U!” Although the latter wins with a more efficient word-count.

However, the point of the sketch imbedded in Episode 3 is two-fold: 1) Make fun of our obsession with bleeping curse words by replacing every meaningful word in a conversation with a curse word. 2) Satirize how we rely too much on curse words to express ourselves.

The emotion from the characters shows that they have a deep relationship with a long history of friendship, built around a deep dysfunctional pattern. They don’t know how to express themselves without making things worse, even though they both just want to be loved. So, I guess I’m making fun of that human pattern in all of us. And the cursing simply symbolizes our own ignorance in the repetition.

Or, if you prefer not to overanalyze comedy, think of Episode 3 as a David Mamet parody.

SAVE THE DATE - AUGUST 22ND!

SavetheDateInvite I’m having a baby! Do you want to know what kind?

It’s a comedy web series!

I induce labor for my characters on Thursday 8/22, and then I will deliver new episode every week. I hope you’ll celebrate with me.

I’m excited, and a bit nervous. Obviously, it’s not quite a baby. If my web series were more like a baby, it would do the filmmaking equivalent of spitting-up mashed up food and plenty of whining (in other words, it would be a student film).

I am proud to say that my work has advanced beyond the infancy stage of a college film tech project. The web series forms sentences and hopefully appears to think for itself. To continue the parent-child metaphor, this project is more like a teenager graduating college. He looks like a complete product. He appears ready. He has professional actors playing characters in a story of sorts. He has a musical score. He has been shaped and corrected through careful editing. He looks like he’s ready to perform his job of entertaining. Realistically, I know he has some flaws. Some people will like him for who he is. Some may be disappointed that he’s not perfect. However, I think if you understand the context of my larger goal as a parent of all sorts of narrative comedy film project children, you will at the very least appreciate this baby of mine, and perhaps even grow to like him.

Let’s be honest. This is not my first kid, and it’s not going to be my last. I want a large family of at least 30 – 40 kids. Each kid provides his or her own set of challenges, surprises, and problems. Like parenting, filmmaking requires experimentation with creativity. I’m constantly asking myself questions throughout that process. What do I want to say? Will it resonate? Will humans understand me? Or, is this my only receptive audience?

Pretty Excited Sm

Or, worse, do people smile, compliment me, and then excuse themselves to “check on the potatoes,” which for some reason involves dialing 911?

I’ve already learned that even after you raise each film-baby, doing everything in your power to make him perfect – even then, you’re not quite sure if what you created will work in the way you intended, or at all for that matter, when he heads out into the real world.

IT TAKES A VILLAGE

I think it’s clear now that I only made this kid for selfish reasons. I’m using him as a test - a stepping stone towards making my next kid. That’s what parents do, right? The more kids you have, the more you realize the next one will be an opportunity to “get it right this time!” Well, maybe that’s not the best approach to parenting humans, but it works great for narrative comedy film projects. Persistence will make each new kid better and better, until I’m making film-babies that consistently capture you, take you on a journey and provide you an emotional experience.

In the mean time, if I want to get the most out of this kid, I need to see how he handles the real world – not just interacting with family and friends, but strangers. I need to sell this kid. Talk him up. Get the word out. Promote myself as the parent. Ugh. I’m definitely not a fan of self-promotion. It makes me feel all slimy and wiggly. I’m a sincere person. I prefer down to earth, real connections with people (but not so far down to earth that I feel like a worm or a snake.)

So, I urge you to join my party, and help participate in the process of making me a better parent for future film-babies. All you have to do is watch and share. And I welcome feedback, too! But, don’t do it for guilt. Do it for… the film-babies. (I honestly don’t want to guilt anyone into sharing the series, except maybe my family, but only because guilt is a family tradition.)

PARTY DETAILS

I’ll be hosting all kinds of extra fun around the release of BABY TIME! In fact, I’ve created a weekly schedule:

BabyTimeReleaseSched

MONDAY - NEW BLOG (Psst. Don’t be alarmed, but you’re in the middle of one… right now!) Each week’s blog will share a personal story somehow connected with the upcoming episode.

TUESDAY - RETRO BLOG Want to know what I was thinking in 2010? You’re in luck! I have over 40 blog entries over the past 3 years. No need to leave them dormant, especially when they inspired the episode or connected me to the themes or subject matter.

WEDNESDAY - CHARACTERS Meet the new characters for the upcoming episode. Some if them are on Pinterest already http://pinterest.com/dangorski/baby-time-characters/

THURSDAY - IT'S BABY TIME! A new episode of Baby Time! every Thursday for 6 weeks!

FRIDAY - MY FAMILY I know many of you are BIG fans of my tweets from my parents. So, get ready for snippets of video interviews with my family (on camera for the first time!) revealing their own parenting experiences.

SATURDAY - BEHIND THE SCENES For those interested in film production or the development process, look for pictures, behind-the-scenes stories, and more!

SUNDAY - COMMUNITY I will curate and share some other series and work by other filmmakers every Sunday.

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I look forward to seeing you there! As always, feel free to share (buttons below) or even leave a comment. Thanks!!

THE MUSIC OF THE CUBBIES

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I now wait for the last piece of the puzzle – the musical soundtrack to season 1 of my web series. Music will set the proper mood for each episode, and honestly, it will hopefully smooth over some of the more glaring mistakes I made throughout the process. Music will save the day – no pressure to my composer John Kobayashi.

While we wait, I can share a few stories about music in my life. Today’s story takes us back to the very start of it all. After some mind-bending, I counted back to discover I have been actively making music for the past 36 years, starting with trumpet lessons in grade school. And although I took a lot of lessons with many different music teachers, I believe I’m still in the process of learning a more valuable life lesson that lurked in the shadows of those early music days. My little kid behavior held clues of a flaw/opportunity that still challenges me in my current frustrations as a filmmaker. But, first, let’s go back to 1977 and 1978…

It all started in 4th grade with the Borg School band program. Parents and students visited the band room one night to check out instruments and pick one to play. I wanted to play trombone. It looked cool, and it had a slide that made funny sounds. It seemed different from the other instruments. Unfortunately, the music teacher cautioned my parents that I didn’t have what it takes to be a trombone player - my arms were too short. So what! I could do exercises. I could get arm extensions. I could work hard to build a trombone player belly with burping power. Instead, she recommended a trumpet. I don’t remember feeling disappointed, though. I suddenly found myself holding my own brass trumpet, and as it turns out, trumpet players have bellies too! Besides, if I felt any subconscious anxieties that people didn’t want to listen to me, then a trumpet would cure that issue right up – no ignoring me now.

Everything about the trumpet fit me perfectly. Feeling different from the other kids and out of place before, now I found myself in a band, an instant group working together. I made new friends, such as fellow trumpet player David Rubin. It wasn’t long before we realized that we shared the same goofy sense of humor (thus wasting 2/3 of our lesson in fits of uncontrollable laughter that I’m sure drove our teacher into madness). I also felt a visceral connection to music. I could express emotions on another level, and I received plenty of positive reinforcement from my family who attended all my concerts like I was the new pope.

My neighbor Brian was a couple of years ahead of me, and he already played a mean bass. I looked up to him, and we spent our summers together – so it made sense that we would start our own band. We created a fake drum set out of cardboard, and we managed to grab one of my uncle’s old hi-hats. Brian played bass, and I played trumpet. I guess I played drums too? I’m not sure how that worked, but someone had to play the drums. Why else did I spend all that time with the scissors and paint? Maybe Brian played drums? Anyway, our music was written using dashes on a blank page. For example, Jingle Bells would be written like this:

CubbiesJingleBells

I know. Insane. Especially considering the obvious – we both knew how to read music in band. So, why didn’t we go out and get some sheet music paper to figure out the notes? I have no idea. But, somehow it all worked.

We called ourselves The Cubbies (being huge Beatles’ fans, and also Chicago baseball fans). We wrote songs about the neighborhood, recorded songs on a tape recorder, and even went on tour around the block (called the Wonderful Wildi Tour). As you might suspect, we modeled much of our escapades on The Beatles. However, like Lennon and McCartney, Brian and I eventually disagreed on the direction of the songs. In our case, he wanted to do straight versions of Beatles’ songs with new words, but I wanted to create completely new songs. I became obsessed with writing truly original music. I’m not sure why I developed that notion, but I adamantly attempted to come up with new melodies for each song. It didn’t always work.

My first song was “Blue Skies are Pretty”:

Blue skies are pretty, Blue skies are pretty, With white clouds, With white clouds, There are clouds shaped like bunnies, and other funny things, I like clouds, They are nice, That’s why I say, Blue skies are very pretty!

I thought I was so original as a child, but it turned out that part of the melody was a blatant rip-off (“With white clouds” sounds like “Three Blind Mice”). I also wrote a wonderfully lyrical song called “Keep on Smiling” which I thought was so romantic and cool, until years later when I realized it was the melody from “Rocky.” Other hits included “Helicopter,” “Dice Yeah” and “Crain Street.” At least these songs seemed completely original, but mostly because I haven’t gone back to analyze them. And you can’t make me!

I thought the band lasted quite a long time – at least 2 summers, but I can’t be certain. Brian eventually acted out The Beatles experience to the point that we dressed up old pill bottles with homemade labels like “Heroin” and “Cocaine” and pretended to experience a police bust. In the end, the band couldn’t last. We burnt out too fast, like shooting stars, or maybe more like incense.

The whole experience gave me a taste of the thrill of performance and provided instant gratification – mostly because I had no idea how bad we sounded. I could write a song, and then the next day we would record it. No one in the neighborhood had anything to do with their time (pre-Internet/cell phones), so they would sit and listen to our “concerts.”

My drive for instant gratification never ended. It’s still true today. I want to see the product of my work as fast as possible. That’s the reason that the web series has proved to be quite a challenge. It took much longer than I expected, and bringing all the little pieces together to make a final product required time and patience. In the old days, I could sit down with a piece of paper, some colored markers, and throw together what I considered to be a hilarious cartoon birthday card for someone in my family. They would read it within the hour. The results were immediate, and the audience reaction always positive because of the gesture.

Soon I will be sending all my friends what I consider to be a fun card in the form of a 6-episode web series season. So, I look forward to the instant gratification that can only come with a 3-year homemade project. And then I will get back to my inner child, and make a few projects that may feel like they were made with construction paper and crayons. That way, I won’t have to wait another 3 years for my fix.

P6170020.JPG

By the way, I still get opportunities to play my horn to this day. I will be playing with The Outcast Jazz Band at Grant Park as part of the summer dance series on Friday, July 26, 2013:

http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/chicago_summerdance1.html

It’s free, so if you’re free, come get some instant gratification!

MANIFESTO DESTINY

(***Since this blog is about the editing process, I’ve included comments after each paragraph to give some extra insight into the editing process I used on this blog entry.) IMG_1467

The Chris Dorner manhunt / mutli-city tour / extravaganza came to me this weekend. I didn’t need to turn on the news as I ran my errands around the police road blocks and circling helicopters – I knew he was close. I haven’t read the manifesto, mostly because I’m afraid it will sound too much like my own journal ramblings, er, I mean writing exploration. I read through my own gibberish from time to time, and it makes me wonder if I have a mental illness. Luckily, I can retain some sanity, provided I temper my creative freedom with the gift of thoughtful editing.

(***This was the most salacious part of my weekend, making me want to tell someone about it. Plus, it gave the original blog more of a shape, which started out as just a straight-ahead project status.)

Editing provides the safety to stretch my creative muscles before figuring out what I really want to say, or if I should say anything at all. Aside from reassuring my loved ones that I am not crazy, and keeping the cops from shooting at every Mini Cooper in town, editing helps me evaluate myself, and forces me to make decisions about tone, message and take full advantage of surprising discoveries in my writing. The more time and perspective I can allow myself, the better the results. I recommend it for everyone, especially to the average blog commenter. Please!

(*** This paragraph verges on too much boring self-reflection, but the mini-cooper comment and blog commenter dig helped me convince myself to keep it.)

In reality, it requires a high volume of crazy ramblings and creative exploration to filter for a high quality piece of writing. I’m realizing that the same may apply to the filmmaking process. Pixar uses a highly tuned process of rinse and repeat with their stories. They start low-tech, and they do lots of focus testing. They make their movies powerful for an audience by trying things out on small audiences at every step. Their track record proves their model works more consistently than all the marketing-executives-green-lighting-blockbusters-based-on-movie-poster-pitches combined.

(***This paragraph was second to last until the very last editing pass. I know. Who cares?)

I’m not saying that by simply whittling down ramblings to a manageable length guarantees a genius story. All excellent filmmakers have a specific personal taste that guides their muse. I’m still learning my internal taste by what films inspire me – what makes me laugh, what puts me on edge, and what makes me cry like a little baby. Ten minutes into BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD, and I was inconsolable for the rest of the film. The film really hit deep inside me, even though the film hit others with more of a deep “meh.” On the side of the spectrum, I’m not afraid to admit that I enjoyed THE THREE STOOGES movie – mostly because my wife loved it. Watching a slap-stick movie with her is pure bliss! Both movies inspire me in different ways. Of course, that doesn’t mean I can see myself making either of these movies. The honest truth? I want to make a movie that combines both elements: silly and powerfully moving at the same time. I know it’s a challenge. Some would say it can’t be done, but I remain hopeful.

(****This paragraph lacked a valid connection to this topic, but I liked the clash of these films too much to delete them. I considered just keeping them in as an example of feeding the writer’s ego, but then I discovered the first sentence, which helped it serve the topic.)

Looking back on the year 2012, I realize that producing a high quality web series with limited resources has turned out to be a long-term process, chipped away one day at a time. When I shot the pilot in 2010, I was quite naïve about what it would take to elevate Baby Time beyond just a showcase of sketch writing. As a result of my learning curve, as well as distractions like developing other projects like a TV pilot, feature script and sitcom spec script, I finally released the web pilot last year, along with 9 blog postings. I also shot and edited 4 more episodes, which will make up the rest of the first season. With only color correction and music remaining, I plan to release the full Season 1 soon.

(***This really just serves to help convince myself it’s okay that it’s taking so long.)

I learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work. I love the scope of this project, but I don’t think the quality of the material deserves the scope. In other words, I think I may have spent too much money and time for something that I wrote years ago. What I learned from the project should have been reached through a shorter project span. And I need to see my current abilities as a writer in action, not 2005 Dan. If I knew then what I know now, blah, blah, blah… But, a lesson is a lesson. So, I’m looking at this lesson as an opportunity to turbo-charge my creativity machine to become a better comedy writer and a better filmmaker.

(***I’m not saying it wasn’t worth doing. I’m very happy with seeing this series to fruition. Some of it still makes me laugh after all this time.)

My Manifesto: I challenge myself to produce more content, faster, cheaper, and in more creative formats – to take more risks and see my visions for stories take shape with more regularity. I will present more low-tech stories, and some may not work. But, I want to see more patterns, make adjustments and accelerate the process beyond script into a visual reality for public consumption. I want to make a lot of stuff so I can better know what I want to make, and then see if anyone might enjoy it.

Only then will I be able to harness my potential to make my masterpiece, BEASTS OF THE STOOGES THREE.

(***Thank you. You’ve been a great audience. Tip your servers. Yes, I do mean your IP servers.)

MRS. GORSKI! MRS. GORSKI!

IMG_0060I like patterns. I prefer patterns. Patterns make me comfortable. Patterns are safe. But, when you live life in a pattern, you wake up one day, and you’re celebrating the 4th of July, and your Christmas tree is still up. So, then you set aside 30 minutes to put the tree away, and then suddenly it’s Christmas again. Time shouldn’t be used as a reliable measure of life. Time owes me nothing, and delivers accordingly. So, I’m learning to measure life in other ways… This week I broke my usual daily pattern. I joined my wife on a journey with the most alive and unpredictable members of our society – high school students. Our destination was the Valley Performing Arts Center, a relatively new facility with amazing acoustics and surprisingly comfortable seats. We went to see a concert of The Romeros with Massimo Paris & Concerto Málaga as part of a student matinee series. Being the budget of schools these days, we had to take public transportation – 2 busses each way – making sure all 30 kids made it on and off the bus. Luckily, the only trouble-makers during the trip were the bus drivers. Boy, are those dudes cranky. The lady bus drivers were all super nice, though. I urge the LA Metro to stop hiring men.

Here’s what I took away from the field trip. First, the kids all seem to really like my wife as a teacher, which is not a surprise, but wonderful to see in action. They demonstrate their appreciation by constantly vying for her attention. - “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! I see the bus.” - “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! It’s not the bus. It’s a street sweeper.” - “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! I made my water bottle into an instrument!”

Second, I also must’ve forgotten how much teens consume - all day long. At every bus stop, a group just had to go into the Subway, Burger King, Papa Johns, 76 Gas station or Boba shop on the corner for sustenance – or for the restroom. “Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski! I’ll only be 2 minutes. I swear!” But, the most significant insight didn’t cross my mind until later that night.

The chamber orchestra backed up the guitar quartet for a few classics, including the Hallelujah Chorus and Ave Maria. Can I reiterate my awe for the acoustics? I was sitting towards the back of the concert hall, probably at least 50 rows back, and I heard every note on those un-amplified acoustic guitars perfectly! Then the quartet played a few songs without the orchestra – mostly Christmas carols. They concluded with a folk song arranged by the leader’s father called “Malagueña.” I recognized the song, but I couldn’t place it. But, I was singing it the whole way back in my head. Where did I hear this song? Was it on The Simpsons? I asked my wife. When you’re married, it turns out you can ask your wife any random question about your own history, and she will know the answer. She’s the expert in the Dan edition of Trivial Pursuit. In this case, it turned out to be the Jackie edition of Trivial Pursuit because she taught the song to her guitar class, and then they played it at their concert. That’s where I heard it.

Suddenly, the potential impact of the concert hit me. These kids got to see the original group playing a song live that they played live. That would be like when I saw Count Basie play “Basie Straight Ahead” in concert, or to a lesser extent, when I saw The Monkees perform “Daydream Believer.” The students know the music on paper. It’s accessible. They have witnessed the black dots and lines of the musical notes printed on the staff. They have felt their fingers on the acrylic of the strings, and tingled from the vibrations of each note. They have pieced together the flow of a musical line, and have blended it with other like-minded musicians. They even may have memorized it. The process creates a deep connection with those songs. Then, they see the professionals having the same experience, and enjoying themselves. They feel the experience shared by the audience (whether they recognize that feeling or not). It’s a potential moment of true inspiration – professional to student. It’s possible that this concert contributed to a spark in at least one student that will live with them and drive their actions for years to come.

So, where was my spark? Did I forget my inspiration? Because of the long-term nature of web series development, at least with my apparent learning curve, it’s easy to become swallowed into the pattern of the day-to-day pursuit and lose sight of the bigger picture. Why exactly did I choose a career that would take 4 years of studying, followed by 4 years of honing and developing my craft, followed by 10 more years of further studying, development and honing, with no guarantee of every making any money? Why did I feel driven to focus on comedy and specifically in the medium the moving image?

To my relief, I only needed to ponder the spark for a moment to rush back into awareness – my daily patterns only slipped the spark into my subconscious. My inner motivation remains fully in tact. This infinite spark still holds my memories of watching my current composer develop the soundtrack on the spot in a college dorm room for a dorky marching band movie. It holds moments of filming my own dorky little projects - like my first horror movie, in which my roommate is terrorized by Dave the heating and cooling guy, or my series of promo commercials for cicadas in breakfast cereal. It burns from the fuel of images I conceived in my young teen mind, preserved on celluloid and projected larger than life. The spark lives off of recordings of what I saw – not just with my eyeball, but whatever insanity was swirling in my head. I know I still have it because I can feel it as a tinge of a thrill in my stomach even right now.

The field trip journey has helped me keep my stomach’s eye on the spark-ball. Otherwise, what’s the point? More specifically, the journey reinforced my desire to measure life not by time, but by thoughts, feelings and experiences that contribute to my inner spark. They appear timeless because of their consistency – their pattern of permanence.

So, for that lesson, I have to thank… Mrs. Gorski! Mrs. Gorski!

Pardon the Interruption

Everybody just relax! Take a breath. And think. Is this how we want to experience life? Is this the future?

I’m talking about this revolution of continuous virtual connectivity. I love the fact that I can stay connected with people from high school, my family, and comedians all in the same place. It only gets uncomfortable when my Aunt Audrey and Chris Rock gang up on Bill Carrigan. So what if he’s a little over-enthusiastic about his new phone.

I thought I had it under control with facebook and twitter. But, twitter never stops. Facebook updates are quick reads until you realize you’ve spent an hour paging down. And now that I’m exploring tumblr, wordpress and pinterest, I find myself tabbing between sites, depending on whether I want a quick joke, a picture, a thought-provoking essay or a lesson in self-righteous judgment (repost if you agree!)

Then, there’s the fact that I have another career that pays the bills. My work requires diligence with emails all day long - from 7am for East Coast requests, throughout the day, and then many times ending with an event that could go as late as 10pm.

With all the distractions and multi-tasking, I find myself living on the edge. That, and the caffeine. I don’t feel like I can really control my time or my brain any more. If I’m not careful, I lose track of time and find myself at the end of the day trying to account for where I was. I hope there are no dead bodies out there waiting to be discovered.

I believe the core of this problem comes from our changing chemistry. The social networking sites create little chemical bursts every time you connect with someone or get a positive response to your posting, and then your brain follows it back over and over for another hit. I think some scientists have even proven it’s officially addictive. And the self-induced interruptions multiply exponentially. So, now when my wife and I retire to the bedroom for some television, we could be sitting in bed for an hour before we realize that the Japanese language channel has been playing – we’re both so busy surfing on our iProducts. Point of fact, I checked my email, facebook, and twitter twice while writing that sentence!

My attention span gets split into half a dozen different directions at once like an octopus on the high beam.  I can’t pay attention to anything more than 3 minutes now. And the span grows ever shorter. I know this is a common problem. I’ve heard similar stories so often that it’s become our generation’s version of talking about the weather.

Yesterday I saw a puppy having a blast, despite the owner’s intent on ignoring her so he could read his newspaper. Maybe he spent the previous 10 hours with the dog and just tuned it out. Or, maybe he’s just a cranky old man who doesn’t want to spend time or money on proper training. But, that didn’t stop the puppy. Yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap, yap! So cute. So much energy. So many barks. Okay. That’s enough now. The dog wasn’t slowing down. Someone shut that dog up already! Facebook is that little puppy. If I don’t get a grip soon, I might leave facebook in the hot car with the windows up.

The future promises nothing but more of the same. Kids text during live conversations with other people, while watching YouTube on the computer and updating their facebook status, with the television on as background. Is this multitasking reality the next step in human evolution? We simply need to add a permanent cell phone mic to our tooth, contacts for our eyes with a Google Goggle feed, and brainwave-activated head sensors to send text messages to our dogs. Will our brains step up to function at a higher level of consciousness? Or, will we lose our ability for longer moments of connection with each other?

Phase II Web Series Production Update

I’m referring to this latest production of the BABY TIME! web series as Phase II. I shot the pilot in 2010, and it took a year and a half to get through the post process. I decided to create a few more episodes with the very limited amount of money that I’ve been able to save. I don’t have enough for the whole series, so I’m shooting Episodes 3 - 6, and that has become lovingly dubbed Phase II.

The script was re-written a few times, due to the inability to bring back one of the previous cast members (sorry brother-in-law Max, but you’re out of the series). I re-developed one of the other characters, Cabbie Joe, to take the place of Max as the annoying buddy that tags along with our control freak father-to-be.

Another successful round of casting for the Baby Time! web series barreled through my schedule on June 4, 2012. Many fantastic Chicago actors took the time to meet me at The Den (a wonderful theater space in Bucktown that is available for rent). Although the competition dragged the decision-making process into a 6-day affair, the dust settled onto the following super-duper cast:

Cabbie Joe - Vince Clark

Drunk Tom - Sean Bolger

Drunk Steve - Mark Czoske

Officer Spence - Rob Glidden

Sebastian - Tiffany Yvonne Cox

Patrick - Harter Clingman

Reggie - Carly Robinson

Prego - Brooke Breit

Then, I finally made it to production this week, shooting 2 episodes on 6/21, 1 episode on 6/22 and 1 episode on 6/24. The cast produced stunning performances - filled with real human drama, and therefore quite hilarious. Once I get the footage from my amazing DP Camrin Petramale, I can pass it along to my editor (which could be me). The difference this time compared to the pilot: I’m ready to move forward fast, so hopefully the finished episodes will come soon enough.

Eclipse of a Milestone

I experienced an eclipse of milestones the other day. That’s when all your projects reach a major goal at the same time. Usually, when I hit a milestone such as a completed draft, it means it’s time to turn to the next project, so that draft gets some breathing room and some perspective. But, in this case, all current projects (including my TV pilot, feature screenplay and web series) reached a logical simultaneous breather. Unfortunately, I looked directly at the eclipse, and now my inner critic is blind and even more surly than when I crafted that trumpet sculpture collage in 8th grade.

Then I remembered that I’ve avoided blogging for almost a year. How silly! Without blogging, I’m missing an opportunity to feed my ego by talking about myself. I may have spent many pages of this blog exploring parenting to tie into the new parent aspect of the web series. But, I still have yet to explore another big element of this series, which is the actual adventure – the race across town, and the characters that get in the way.

Whether it’s self-exploration or self-sabotage, I have to admit that I still identify in many ways with the control-freak nature of the father-to-be in Baby Time. Like Richard, I look at every obstacle in my daily life with confounded frustration. The only difference: his goal of getting to his wife in time for the birth is much more noble compared to my goal of getting to Trader Joe’s before they run out of cheddar cheese slices, or home in time to see 30 ROCK, which – let’s be honest – will be on my DVR and on demand anyway, so what’s the big hurry?

In fact, I originally wrote a sketch called BABY TIME back in 1998 to explore my issues of control. If you want to geek out on script writing, you can read the rough (very unfinished) first draft of the short film here. You may even recognize some of the original seedlings of ideas flushed out in future episodes. The writer was a much younger and immature version of me. But, in many ways, I’ve never completely shaken that annoying childish perspective that everyone in my way is an idiot.

Take for example, the simple task of driving anywhere in this wonderful City of Angels. I can only assume the founders of the city were referencing those adorable innocent-looking children that sprout horns and a pitchfork when their parents become engrossed in self-serving conversations. So many angels – so little patience. As far as I can tell, most drivers seem like they don’t have the skills or self-awareness required to operate heavy machinery – but I have high standards. Is it too much to ask for drivers to start driving the moment the light turns green? And don’t get me started on left-turn lights. They have a limited time period, you know. Believe me, I consider writing a common sense rule book for drivers all the time. But, I fear that the research would send me to a dark place from which I might never return – at least not without renovating my concrete patio with a more firm mix of stone and human bones.

It only continues once I get off the road. I get frustrated whenever I see people without even a trace of problem-solving skills or self-awareness. Like the tech ‘experts’ at Best Buy who never make it past “I don’t know” to the ridiculously simple next step - “Oh, wait, I have a computer right here. Let me find out.” It’s only one brain synapse away! Or, people who use a public restroom without paying attention to their own mess-making – when only they have the intimacy with themselves that makes them uniquely qualified to clean it up. I can only assume that busy, selfish parents and an underfunded education system are to blame.

So, I’m using this milestone eclipse to issue a challenge to myself. Re-energize the blog. Continue to explore my inner child and my control issue on a more regular basis. And, channel my dark side into a constructive exercise. Then, I can avoid the weight of responsibility that would force me to clean up my own mess that always tends to follow a crime of passion.

Awards Seasoned

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Independent Spirit Awards (the Oscars of low-budget films). Although I didn’t win anything, nor could I be honored just to be nominated, I was happy to sit at table 514 with my coworkers and an odd mix of contest winners and architect boyfriends.

And, of course, today is the Oscars - a good time to review the films of the past year. I had to look up all the releases from 2011 on the Internet, because I could barely remember any movies prior to what’s currently playing. It was clear why: so many of the movies from last year were indeed forgettable and unremarkable. And then there were the movies I can’t believe that I still need to see like HUGO, THE ARTIST, THE HELP and MONEYBALL. Ultimately, I’m not prepared to make a top 10.

So, I thought I would share just a few that I enjoyed:

THE TREE OF LIFE

Some find this movie really annoying, and at times enraging. I mean, the gall of this filmmaker to spend so much pointless time filming kids running through a sprinkler?! But, those scenes worked for me in a big way, because it was the best visual representation of what memories feel like. Especially what I remember of dinosaurs.

BEGINNERS

Romance. A dying gay father. A talking dog. I highly recommend it.

EXTREMELY LOUD, INCREDIBLY CLOSE

A kid travels throughout New York City looking for clues to keep him connected with his father who died in 9-11. Yikes! If you think this is a 9-11 story, you won’t like the film. I considered it more of a kid adventure movie, which is why I happily went along for the ride.

WARRIOR

I’m not a sports fan. But, I am a fan of family dysfunction and redemption.

I don’t think that any of these films could be considered a perfect movie. In fact, I prefer someone make a new movie with the best parts of these movies. Like an adventure about a guy fighting his brother over his talking dog while they travel the five boroughs looking for their gay dead father in strangers’ sprinklers. THE LOUD TREE OF WARRIORS BEGINS. Not a great title, but I argue it sure beats Extremely Loud…

None of these films will win best picture, and yet, they accomplished something that seems rare these days. They gave me an emotional experience. They were stories about family connection – dealing with the complications of knowing people so well, and yet not knowing them at all. And it deals with how we choose to remember our parents and our childhood. And that’s why they worked so well for me. They didn’t cover any of the specifics from my life. It would be quite comical if you put my brother and I in a Mixed Martial Arts ring. Although I’m pretty sure he would win based on his “playful” punch on Christmas. But ultimately – each one of these films reminded me on a visceral level of the deepest parts of my relationship with my family.

One aspect of my relationship with my parents centers around their consistent support. They came to every concert and awards ceremony, and even awards ceremonies during concerts. I remember receiving an Honors award for History from some Marine dude. I don’t really remember why I received the award. I wasn’t a particular prodigy in History. Math was more of my subject, but where was some Navy guy with that award? Anyway, I received that award during a concert at our sister school Resurrection (again, what exactly was that Marine dude doing there? It wasn’t even my high school. Very suspicious.) And then, we left mid-concert to drive across town to our other sister high school Marillac, so I could perform a monologue as a dog. I can see why they were so proud of me. History. Music. Acting. I was a renaissance dog.

That’s why one of my inspirations for the Baby Time web series and the films I’m writing is the idea that my parents will see something I made, and get some satisfaction – some sense that quitting my lucrative engineering career wasn’t the waste it seemed to be.

Maybe I’ll eventually receive a major award. You can bet I’ll be sure to thank those who helped me get there – my agent and Harvey Weinstein.

By the way, here’s some other decent to very good movies I saw: BRIDESMAIDS, THE MUPPETS, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, WIN WIN, RANGO, SOURCE CODE, SUPER 8, LIMITLESS, DRIVE, THE MUPPETS, CARNAGE, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 4, SHERLOCK HOLMES 2.

Oh, Oh, Oh, It's Magic

Kids happily accept magic as truth. They play games, change rules, imagine all kinds of fantastic adventures, and don’t bother to ask themselves, “Is this realistic? Do we really believe in this world/adventure?” By the way, if reading aloud, that should be stated as world-slash-adventure.

I remember playing cops and robbers as a kid. My mom pulled out an old favorite for parents: “Act your age!” Okay, I was thirteen, but still! I was having fun. Who cares if it was appropriate! In my head, it didn’t matter what other people thought of me. I wanted the adventure. I fought my whole life to cling to some sort of child-like sense of play. In college, I spent more time planning “festive shirt” parties and calculating the best drink specials (per ounce), then I did calculating the power output of a circuit. Even when I worked at Andersen Consulting, I often found myself goofing around too much in the weekly status meetings, leaving my managers with shaking heads. And then when my wife supported my dream to go back to school, I chose to work for a restaurant, dressing up in nun outfits and fairy costumes to pass out coupons on Michigan Avenue. Give me an inch, and I take a picnic.

As a forever child, I believe magic happens all the time. Sure, some call it luck. Some call it divine intervention. Some prefer to call it a fabricated story. Was it magic when the rain stopped in time for my production last May, and then started again the moment we wrapped? Was it magic when I met my wife at the most hopeless low point in my life? Was it magic when the barista offered me a free drink that they made by accident? I could call it coincidence, that is, if I wanted to be a grownup. I know you are, but what am I?!

Today, The Landmark hosted the PGA breakfast, which brings the PGA-nominated best picture producers together for a discussion. I love the added bonuses of my job, like hearing from the heavy-hitters in the filmmaking world. Always entertaining, (the infamous Scott Rudin managed to be charming and vindictive at the same time), the producers tell stories of their journey to get their films made. It’s interesting how the most acclaimed films always seem to include stories of doors shut in their faces, hurdles of financing, and years of pushing the boulder-like film project up the hill. No one seems to want to take a risk on these unique stories at first. But, the producer, through pure hard work and determination, as well as a little bit of magic, always gets the picture made. These producers fuel themselves with optimism, hope and passion, not the cynicism that you would expect from a Hollywood producer. I’m sure cynical producers exist, but they most likely are not making meaningful award-worthy films.

Of course, that passion and optimism cannot be tallied on a spreadsheet, or quantified for the business plan. But, when you hear these producers speak about their projects, evidence of those feelings resonates in their subtext – still a critical component in the “magic” of filmmaking.

Yesterday, I finished the first rough draft of a feature screenplay. It’s not anywhere near good. I’m not saying that to be self-critical. It’s just the first step in a long writing/ re-writing process. It’s not really a story at this point, but a collection of events and conversations attempting to feel out the relationships and character journey of the story. I’m learning that I have to just let my brain regurgitate thoughts and ideas – and some of the same thoughts seem to be repeated over and over – until they transform into something meaningful and coherent. Just yesterday, I was convinced that I can’t possibly know what I’m doing. I’m an imposter. Then today, I hear a story from the producer of my top movie of 2010: TOY STORY 3. Apparently, at one point, even that story sucked. So, through the “luck” of my job, I hear just what I need to hear, when I need to hear it. The inspiration restores my faith in the creative process, and my passion takes back over the responsibility of fueling my engine. In order to make magic, you have to believe in magic. And, if anyone knows magic, it would be Pixar and the TOY STORY 3 team.

So, yes, I choose to believe in magic. It makes coincidences much more entertaining, and a hell of a lot more useful. Magic is the source and result of the creative process. Magic paves the way for dreams, and vice versa – a perpetual motion machine, with a byproduct of sunshine and lollypops.

Never believe it’s not so. 

Blog in Crisis

Recently, I found myself worrying about what would become of my blog. I had finally finished production on my web series pilot. I started working with a professional editor to make the first 2 episodes really pop. I finished a draft of the rest of the series – 21 episodes total with a length of around 5 minutes each. I even met some people who might consider buying the series. The BABY TIME website seemed like perfect synergy – fun comedy sketches about a guy who can’t seem to reach his wife before she gives birth, and a blog about my wife and I as we consider whether we should become parents ourselves – an exploration of real parenting issues with satire and a personal touch.

And, then this summer, my wife and I discovered that we aren’t really that interested in rushing into parenthood, and that we may be okay with not having children at all. We decided to join the cool Aunt and Uncle Affiliate Program instead for a while.

But, how could I possibly continue to generate content on a blog if we were no longer exploring the topic that fed the blog’s premise? I would only be able to see my nieces and nephew twice a year – not really the kind of in depth relationship that would generate good material. I began to consider the possibility that this blog no longer served any purpose.

One friend suggested that I make it up – not in a James Frey kind of way – but by telling a playful, pretend version of my experiences, and how my fake kid might magnify that already hilarious situation. And, while I haven’t ruled this option out, I’m not completely sold on the idea of committing to a pseudo-reality. Such story telling would require additional research and character development on top of the already exhaustive soul-searching that I pursue to produce the in-depth content that you have enjoyed in previous blog entries.

So, where does this leave the blog? Is it over? Do I put the first episode online when it’s done, and use it solely as a writer/director calling card? Do I just move on the next project, lessons learned? Do I go back to Chicago and get a job with my dad and brother-in-law at the utopia-like car leasing company Wheels, Inc? After all, they have decent benefits, and quite a family picnic every summer from what I hear.

Well…

Sometimes when you talk about a topic like parenting for months and months, research, brainstorm, and focus so much energy that your mind starts to see yourself as a parent, life has a way of delivering that energy right back to you. And in my case, it came via United Flight 129 at 10:35pm on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

LAX does not quite work as a hospital delivery room, although the stark bare walls may fool you. We paced in the arrival room for a few minutes, until we finally welcomed a brand new girl into our world – our teenaged niece. And, if we are lucky enough, she will stay with us until she graduates in 2013. Instant family, just like that.

Blog problem = solved.

THE SHARED EXPERIENCE

Blog18 Cover

As much as I would like to tour the country, reading minds and predicting the future from the back of a covered wagon, I have not developed the skills of mental telepathy – yet. I’ve heard estimates that we only use 5 – 10% of our brain’s capabilities, so it’s very likely that we may figure out some day how to intentionally send signals to each other from across the room, or even across the world (via some sort of brain wave satellite booster system, of course). In the mean time, I prefer to enjoy the instinctive signals that transmit via the shared experience.

Something occurs when we share an experience. It’s the reason we don’t enjoy a comedy by ourselves on an iPhone as powerfully as seeing it on the big screen with a room full of contagious laughter. It’s the reason we know when someone is intentionally following us, as opposed to coincidentally walking along the same path. And, it’s the way that couples all over the world fall in love – through a series of positive and negative experiences together.

The shared experience helps us connect to other human beings outside of the romantic sphere as well. Think about every time you meet someone from a school you attended, or a city you spent some time. You both instinctively want to figure out if you know the same person, or went to the same place. More specifically, you feel a stronger connection to that stranger if you both know Steven, as opposed to both having tried Lou Malnati’s Pizza. More, more specifically, you feel an even stronger connection if you both managed to pull Steven’s beard while eating a Lou Malnati’s sausage pizza. And, finally, if you both pulled Steven’s beard over a Lou Malnati’s Sausage Pizza, while Wynton Marsalis played “I’ve Got the World on a String” as an apology for breaking your yo-yo? Well, then you might want to consider moving into the romantic sphere, because destiny is sending you a definite a signal.

Jackie and I have amassed our own range of shared experiences through our 15 years together. From the challenges of moving to California and adjusting to the insanity of each others’ family, to the delights of courtship, home ownership, dog ownership, and our recent abduction by an alien mothership. In a way, our latest adventure with our visiting niece and nephew - a teen and a tween - feels a bit like spending time with alien life forms, with all the added benefits of an instant family (just add water, and microwave Taquitos).

Already, our shared experiences include July 4th Fireworks, Disneyland, Six Flags, and lots of swimming in the townhouse pool. I still can’t believe some of the roller coasters I endured, carrying the shared experience to the X-TREME! As my 11-year-old nephew reported with some authority and research on the matter, “Uncle Dan, everyone knows that the butterflies are very important in judging the roller coaster experience.”

At the same time, we do feel a little responsibility to leave them something more than a list of daytrips. We want to model a strong marriage and relationship. Which leads to some overcompensation. We feel our conversations a little more heavily weighted now. It’s like we’re putting on a show, and we feel extra pressure to portray our relationship a certain way. Whatever we say and however we interact is on display in a special after-school special shared experience. We must not disappoint. We have a value now these young people’s lives. A value that they will remember their whole life (if they knows what’s good for them)!

Meanwhile, I’m editing the pilot for Baby Time. I always reach a point in the process when I look at a rough cut of all the shots in chronological order, and I wonder, “What is this? Who made this? Why am I not laughing?” I have all the elements together with all the best performances – and something’s wrong. All my insecurities return for a moment. I become fearful of my investor until I realize that investor is I. Then I feel foolish. Then I feel angry. Then a little hungry (any Taquitos left?) Then finally I settle on cautiously optimistic. After all, I’m sure a professional editor can fix it.

Luckily, I had an opportunity to show it to a couple of people that I trust. Something really surreal develops when you watch a film you made with an audience. Sure, they react to things in way you don’t expect. Yes, they laugh, or don’t laugh, and you can see their faces. However, a more important phenomena develops instantly due to the magic of the shared experience. As a filmmaker, I feel the experience myself differently when sitting with other people. It’s difficult to explain, but the presence of others creates a collective consciousness that changes my own perspective. It’s the shared experience that shows me flaws and miracles suddenly that I never noticed.

And hope returns. The pilot is not ready for general consumption yet. But, the butterflies are returning. And, as anyone knows, the butterflies are very important in judging the experience.

The History of a Filmmaker So Far

I’ve been attending the Los Angeles Film Festival this week, including a Symposium on Marketing and Distributing your own film – mostly tools and case studies on getting your films in front of people, and how to make a living without selling out. But, that’s the topic for another blog. The discussion excited me and exhausted me at the same time. Overall, it led to some self-reflection, and I discovered a connection between my drive to make films, and the question of having a family.

As a kid, I was sure of 2 things: 1) I was going to have a big family, and 2) I was going to be an actor. I even wrote a paper about acting in 1st Grade, which must of put my parents on high alert status. (I used to blame my mother for being anti-dreamer, until I discovered that her father lost his life savings investing in a fake record company. And when I think of how I must have unwittingly pained her when I signed up for the Columbia Record Club, practically rubbing each new record album in her face…) Films were already influencing me. Sure, STAR WARS was an amazing event, but it was INDIANA JONES that pumped my blood beyond the tipping point and jazzed me about the possibilities of living an adventurous life, becoming a cool hero, and carrying a whip. That spark continued on through the 80’s. But, then came Python. Suddenly, silly was the new hip. Like many fans, we imitated the sketches of Python often, but that was only a gateway drug to writing my own sketches, creating such classic characters as Mr. Pilgrim and Cliché Man. It wasn’t long before my love of comedy and my love of movies fused together as conjoined twins.

I went to Engineering school because I seemed to like math, but the classes didn’t excite me at all. However, I knew what was expected of me as a middle class Chicagoan with a work ethic – get a job. So, I worked at Andersen Consulting. I was miserable, but I couldn’t figure out why. If I showed any spark of individuality, it showed up in my performance review, and even led to some meetings of concern. So, I made corporate America my enemy. The more they tried to professionalize me, the more felt like I was working for “the man.” I had a purpose in life – fight for the justice of the worker!

Then I met my wife, who showed interest in my creative side, so I took a Screenwriting class to impress her. Before I knew it, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. And, as I dove deeper into the art and craft of filmmaking, I soon realized why I loved movies. They could hold true power using emotion and story to inspire new thoughts and perspectives. Perhaps I could some day affect an entire worldwide audience. My mother always said one person cannot change the world, but I still intend to prove her wrong!

So, what happened to my goals as a child? I’ve been exploring becoming a parent, but I have to admit it’s not a burning necessity. So, why did I lose that drive? I’m realizing that filmmaking seems to fill the gap that used to drive my need for children. For starters, the day-to-day process of making films parallels parenting. Film projects are called “my baby,” filmmakers “put a project to bed,” and a producer can drive his assistant to “cry like a baby.” In a broader sense, a film can have a life of its’ own much like a matured son or daughter. A good film could go out into the world and develop relationships with large groups of people, engaging them with laughter, tears, and excitement. A good film could provoke discussion and thought. A good film could carry on my name and ensure a decent place in history. After all, who wouldn’t want to be immortal? I certainly feel that even in death, I still feel the lasting presence of both Frank Capra and Larry Fine.

Truthfully, if I wasn’t pursuing this elusive career, I would have no doubts about raising a family. In fact, I would probably need a child to focus my creative energy, assuming I would be the same exact person, except with a hidden sadness worthy of a Lifetime movie. I would be some sort of empty-hearted middle manager, completing tasks and reaching goals for the sake of a corporate objective. Boring and sad - a sadness that is matched dollar for dollar in some 401k.

But, I am not that person. I don’t want to end up like the miserable millions who numb themselves with corn starch and reality dance shows to forget that moment when their own reality of raising children stomped on their hopes and dreams. I was always a different kind of person. The signs were always present, even if they stayed under the surface for many years. Much like when I put on a dress for fun, and my parents sat me down for a concerning talk about homosexuals, they must have seen seen some red flags when I wrote that acting paper in 1st Grade.

Eventually, I had to come out of the closet. My family hoped I would go to school, get a job, and have a family - the “normal” life path. However, when I realized that my desire to make stories and capture them on film wasn’t going away, I had to admit that the rumors were true. I had to admit to myself first, and then to my family: I am a filmmaker.

And although that meant a lifestyle change, and some new shoes, I think my family has finally accepted me for who I am.

Web Series Project Update

The BABY TIME project has made some recent progress. If you’re at all interested in the process of making movies, I hope to add some elements to the web site that document the process. In the mean time, here are some recent updates:

Casting

I’m very excited that the roles for the pilot have been cast. These are some amazing actors and I look forward to collaborating with them:

RICHARD - Brian Boland

ANNA - Cassandra Bissell

CHELSEA - Barbara Robertson

MAX - Dan Kenney

THELMA – Sara Sevigny

SOCCER MOM - Roni Geva

GUNMAN - James Allen

THE PITBULL - Dan Granata

Production

The shoot is scheduled for May 6, 7 and 10. Locations include my parents house in Morton Grove, my cousin’s condo in Lincoln Park and my sister-in-law’s apartment in Rogers Park. I also am still looking for a typical Chicago apartment building foyer, but I may have run out of relatives. Thanks to everyone who has been so gracious to allow the use of their location so far. Also, a big thanks to my cousin John Gallegos who is helping produce the series with me!

Series News

Yes, the episodes must be funny and each stand on their own, but I really want the entire series to work as a full story that could play as a feature film. So, I submitted a rough draft of the entire series (22 episodes) to the Film Independent Screenwriters Lab.  If accepted, I will have some the support of some amazing experts to improve the script and my craft as a writer. However, I also want the content to be flexible, so as I work on the main story line and the character arc, I plan to easily switch out sketches when research and collaborations with friends and people involved in the project inspire new ideas.

Pre-Production, Fun and Romance

Today I celebrated Valentine’s Day with some fabulous take-home sushi. The take-home dinner may not seem like the ideal romantic date, but my wife and actually prefer the cozy meal in front of a fire and a great movie to the crappy service we’ve grown to expect from Los Angeles eateries. Besides, I gave her a very thoughtful card, and according to Hallmark commercials, that can fill the holes in anyone’s empty heart.

Jackie does prefer to eat at home, and she could see from my zombie-state that I needed to recover from my very busy and productive weekend in Chicago. Here’s what really went down:

First, I held my casting session for the BABY TIME pilot on Friday. Some of my ideal actors were not available. However, lucky for me Chicago is bursting with talent. I did see a large number of actors that turned out some great performances from a quick 1-page scene. And, I was relieved to find myself laughing at the scenes that I wrote. You never really know if something works until a good actor finds the subtext between the lines to carry a scene. Very encouraging. It’s all part of the magic of collaboration.

Next, I met with my cinematographer Darryl Miller. We went through the script to discuss the basic visual design. He was hugely helpful with suggestions and solutions, including his addition of a hilarious visual joke to the story. Another fun example - he converted one of my camera movement ideas into a much better visual motif that will help represent my main character’s flaw while adding tension to the narrative. I love the simple approach of his idea: 3 quick shots of the main character walking instead of one shot. We extend his traveling time, emphasizing his control-freak frustration in not getting to his destination quick enough, while lengthening the tension for the viewer. It’s a nice subtlety that people won’t notice, but can improve the texture of the story - it’s perfect! I so appreciate these little improvements - another example of the collaboration process in action.

Then, I played another one of those fun Outcast Jazz Band gigs at Hackney’s in Palos Hills - a musical collaboration. I actually paid attention to the music, and played respectably. Much to my delight, many of my friends who normally rush home after the gigs actually stayed to hang out. We closed the place down in a splendidly social way. Unfortunately, by the time I returned to my parents house (Che Gorski Bed & Breakfast), I could only get 4 hours of sleep before my flight the next morning.

I love capitalizing on every moment of the day, but it tends to add up, which made for a hazy Sunday. Lucky for me, my supportive wife Jackie provides a daily inspirational fuel, which makes my marriage my greatest collaboration to date.

Limits of Creativity

I love to brainstorm. No, I crave it. When I brainstorm, I can be playful, crazy, ridiculous, disgusting, immature, extreme, and make myself laugh. No one says “no” to me - it’s all yes, yes, yes, like an orgasm of the psyche. Of course, if I’m not careful, I might say “no” to myself once in a while when my internal editor appears. I curse my internal editor, and the years of growing up as a human being in this society that creates the doubts, fears, and disappointments of the little man who thinks he knows better inside my head.

At the same time, I can’t help but rejoice over my ability to study my own writing and give myself constructive criticism. If used with the right mix along side brainstorming, I know my writing will thrive. I like to think that my taste has been fine-tuned over the years from influences such as Monty Python, Kids in the Hall, Second City, and the Simpsons, as well as the Coen Brothers, Mel Brooks, John Hughes and the family Reiner. So, using my powers of analysis on my own work will hopefully result in something that — at very least — works. 

Of course, the downside of thinking is the paralysis of analysis. Yesterday, I spent a good 2 hours debating whether my new Google Voice phone number should be 56-GORSKI or 333-CHOW. Unfortunately, 4-NEUROTIC was taken.

Naturally, I eventually reach the same crossroads in every project - where the 2 sides feed into each other. I begin to analyze myself to determine if I’m allowing myself to be creative enough. When is creativity best served by analysis, and when does analysis have enough creative material to get started? What’s the balance?

I began this project because I wanted to explore parenthood without giving direct examples of parenting issues. I also wanted an excuse to write a bunch of comedy sketches.

So, I designed a simple premise: our hero wants to get somewhere, but something keeps stopping him. And what better goal for someone exploring parenthood, but to get to his wife who is in labor? It’s a clean formula to set the stage for each week’s struggle. And, each challenge he faces can explore a different issue of parenthood.

But, is it really the best formula? This week I thought that maybe I rushed into it. Why did I stop there? Is the premise too simple? And how can I keep coming up with topics for the blog?

So, I did some more brainstorming to see if I should change the premise of the series:

- What if the hero is kidnapped by a baby who talks like a gangster that takes him around the city to see all stages of parenthood - good and bad examples - like a ghosts of parenthood present and future?

- What if I make the series more loose in structure, such that each week’s episode has fun with a different topic, but there’s no throughline story?(Like one week discusses the issue of dealing with drug use, which leads to a sketch about a drug-dealing dog, and then the next week starts with a discussion of bullies, which leads to a sketch about people who bully their way with acts of kindness that are unwanted)?

- What if the series consists of a different dream each episode that covers the days of his wife’s pregnancy and gives a surreal slant on the issues of child rearing?

While these ideas could become something with merit, I still can’t help but trust my original instincts: simple is always better. And so, I move forward with the guy who wants to get across town in time to see his baby born.

But, even though I’m in the process of developing 10 decent episode ideas, I’m still struggling with the first episode. After all, it needs to be hilarious above all else so it can help secure funding for future episodes, it must introduce the concept, the story and the characters clearly, and it must be less than five minutes if I expect anyone to take a look at it.

I guess at some point I will have to quit, or just pick a draft an hope for the best. The same could be said for the question of whether or not I should have children. I’m going to have to make a decision at some point.

Unfortunately, that decision can’t be changed or written off as a good learning experience. No brainstorming can can cure a lifetime of regrets. In the end, what if I fail? What if my kid faces the same fate as some of my previous film projects — sitting alone and ignored on some external hard drive, unloved, forgotten and replaced by the joy of  my newest baby project? What if the premise of me as a father is a flawed premise?

I have to admit the premise may be flawed. But, that idea for the time being is still in development.