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.

McDONALD'S IS MY LIFE!!!!

A classic tale from the long tradition of Gorski folklore ends with the title of this blog. It’s a tale of a teen full of the lethal cocktail of angst and processed French fries. Let’s head back to the 80s, as I do often behind the tears of a broken man…. My parents made their car available to me in high school. It provided an opportunity to learn the value of responsibility and to avoid the cost of a daily bus fare. It was an 82 Chevy Malibu, two-toned, with a sweet, sweet 80’s-style boxy shape. And the radio? Well, I could only get the soul station on AM. But, I was more than happy to cruise with the likes of Cool and the Gang, Chaka Khan, Prince, Anita Baker, and of course George Clinton. Although, I eventually did expand my musical options by installing a portable tape recorder on the floor hump, connected to 2 plastic speakers from an old record player.

The deal in that first year of driving was clear. You go to school and you come straight home. You don’t go off the path, which consisted of a 15-minute drive down Dempster Avenue between our house in Morton Grove and Notre Dame High School for Boys in Niles. In my mind, I still stand by my choices on that fateful day.

It was on that day, that I made the decision to stop somewhere on the way home. Now, I ask you, if you are driving down Dempster, and you stop at McDonald’s – ON DEMPSTER – are you leaving the path? I think not! You have not made a detour, you have simply stopped momentarily on that path. And for good reason. You stopped for sustenance; to gather much needed energy for a continued safe journey – energy that helps you stay alert for the remaining 7 minutes of your trip. Admittedly, other stimuli clouded my motivations that day, because the stop served a dual purpose. It served a social purpose. McDonald’s was not just a place to gather, but a symbolic representation of freedom itself. The location was a hub of excitement – a place for some quality time with your friends, for sharing stories, and for catching the eye of girls you hope to get the nerve to meet some day.

And so, this perfect storm of new-found freedom, teen hormones and the power of a V4 engine resulted in a surprising conflict at home. My parents were FURIOUS that I didn’t follow their rules of straight to school and back. But, as I already established, the stop is technically included as a part of that straight path. In fact, we had just learned in math that a line is made up of an infinite series of points. So, using science, I could justify stopping at the gas station, Par King minature golf park, or the forest preserve for that matter, and I would have fulfilled the requirement of staying on that path.

Regardless, my parents clarified what they meant by “straight home” through a calm series of angry screams. As a teen, though, it was my duty to protest, to negotiate, and to justify. And so, after our informative and lively exchange of ideas, they outlawed McDonald’s specifically. Naturally, I had to express my outrage, resulting in the now historic phrase “But, McDonald’s is my life!!!”

We laugh about it now. It does come off as a bit ridiculous to be so passionate about fast food. Luckily, we’ve all grown past those days. Or have we?

If you think about, we’ve all seen similar insane outbursts from adults. Put a middle-aged suited man in at an airport gate with an abundance of justifications for getting what he wants, while some ticket agent must kindly inform him that he can’t have it, and you soon find yourself in the Orchestra Seating section of a full-out adult melt-down. Or, make a simple joke to your friend at 9:30pm when they haven’t eaten dinner yet, and prepare for a snippy onslaught of chirps and yelps that serve as the human equivalent of barking.

Even as an adult, I find myself slipping into that same helpless, freak-out once in a while. It feels just like the good old days of childhood. That’s the magic of a regression. All it takes is some minor trigger, often unrelated to the reality of the moment, but powerful enough to evoke some memory, and we regress.

In Episode 4 (available Thursday 9/12), we meet Cabbie Joe, who could be described as a bit immature, as well as delusional in terms of his own talents. So, when he clashes with Drunk Tom, it makes for some fun regression for them both. And it acts as another challenge for our future father to deal with feuding adult-children.

Grab a burger and fries, and check out all the latest web series episodes here.

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By the way, I’m interested in the phenomenon of regression because of how it’s rendered me helpless to my past, and created many challenges in romantic and work relationships. My wife and I learned more about the issue in a book called “Grow Yourself Back Up” by John Lee. I highly recommend it, especially if you are a parent. Aside from helping heal the past, the book can help prevent passing your old issues onto your children, and thus breaking the cycle of confusion.

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.

THE RIGHT AMOUNT OF COOL FOR SCHOOL

“One test of the correctness of educational procedure is the happiness of the child.” ~Maria Montessori

I yam what I yam. Ack ack ack ack! ~Popeye

I intended to discuss my opinions about the state of education in our country in connection with this week’s episode, since it features a mother buying test answers from an ex-principal. However, I waited until the last minute to do my homework. It turns out education as a topic would require reading, like, a ga-jillion books in order to scratch the surface. What to do? Do I cram with hopes to formulate ramblings into a blog of substance? Or, do I find a clever way to put a unique spin on the assignment, while really avoiding the assignment all together? Yes. That option always worked when I was in school. Instead of building a case with well-supported research, I will explore my own personal journey through education.

Park View Junior High (District 70)

I went to the public grade school system in Morton Grove, IL. Aside from my preoccupation with hating cliques and avoiding the usual bullies (see Blog #13), I managed to learn the basics of math, science, literature, history, and even some jazz improvisation during lunch. I felt a drive to succeed, but that drive was inspired mostly by a desire to make my parents happy.

Notre Dame High School for Boys

My entrance test scores for high school were uneven – high in math, but low in English. So, I started in the remedial classes, and they excluded me from Latin class! I was outraged. All the smart kids learned Latin, but I was stuck with Spanish. When would that ever be useful? As a result of my placement, I sailed through freshman classes, such that I felt peer pressure about doing too well. I felt embarrassed when I scored high on homework or tests, especially in front of my friends who were struggling. I felt the need to pretend I got lucky. They figured out they better move me to honors classes, but it was too late for Latin. You know what they say. Carpe Diem? Is that what they say? I have no idea, because they wouldn’t let me into Latin class ☹

I can’t complain, though. I had fun in high school – mostly in band and the other extra-curricular activities like the play and band. Plus, I was in the band. Despite my tendency to avoid my all-boys high school in order to hang out at the local all-girl schools, I learned enough to get me into the #3-rated Engineering university in the country.

“Looks like it’s the University of Illinois”

I actually felt excited by the idea of going to an Ivy League or a more Liberal Artsy kind of school. I dreamed of going to Bucknell or Brown. I’m not sure why these schools enticed me so much. Maybe they gave us kick-ass brochures. But, my parents quickly discouraged it. Tuition was a factor. Plus, my parents had no idea how I would get back and forth during summers and holidays. They didn’t have the money for flights, and I guess they never heard of a long car trip. Regardless, the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana provided an excellent college experience, mostly due to the Marching Illini. Yes, it helped finalize my identity once and for all as a band geek.

Within my rigorous rehearsal schedule, I managed to find some time to attend some engineering classes. My instincts for problem solving helped me, but I wasn’t ultimately interested in the details. I wanted immediate results. I didn’t want to have to understand the electron process in order to design a circuit, in order to process some sort of computation to solve some practical problem. I wanted to goof around. I wanted attention, and my mind was always wandering creatively, such that I spoke only in run-on sentences that jumped from topic to topic, until at a certain point, I realized I didn’t really have a point, and I didn’t quite know how to finish my thought, and eventually forgot what I was… Uh…

The Education Payoff: Andersen Consulting

With my degree, I started right away with a very respectable job in computer consulting. Everyone treated each other as professionals. We worked hard and played hard. But, still, what were we doing, really? We were helping them setup a database for keeping accounting records? Or, designing some way for e-mail to travel most quickly through a network? Part of me enjoyed geeky aspects of the process, but my attention span was always so distracted. Did that mean I never learned to concentrate? Did it mean that my capacity for complex thought was limited by my A.D.D.? Or, did it just mean that I was capable, but not passionate?

Back to School: Columbia College Chicago

After all my efforts to study and get good grades, and my determination to capitalize on my college education by embracing a professional career in a respectable, stable field like computers, I ultimately could not continue on that path. I could not force myself to pursue what seemed most prudent. In the end, I went back to college and studied film – a subject that put the butterflies back in my gut.

Lessons Learned

Now that I can reflect on my educational history, I wonder if embracing my passion for the arts earlier would have benefited me. Or, will all the distractions and tangents in my career pay off in the types of stories I tell? Did I receive an excellent education? Was it just good enough? Would I be better positioned for success in life if my parents were wealthy with connections to Harvard? Or, would an easier path have led me into some comfortable position at a law firm with no drive left to go after my passion?

When I think about it, I found so many subjects boring. Does it even matter that I spent time in those classes when I learned nothing? Do we need children to be passionate about every subject? My nephew has a passion for Japan, it’s language and it’s culture. He’s obsessed. It’s a good thing. He’s learning to speak Japanese and Korean. If we made that a required subject in school like History and Algebra, I guarantee you that some of the kids would never learn it – not because they aren’t capable, but because it doesn’t interest them. I’m also sure some kids just require a different learning style.

Ultimately, something doesn’t seem right in our current education system, but I don’t have the skills to analyze the system in depth, nor the capacity to draw proper conclusions. Therefore, I have proven that something is not right with our current education system. It has even failed to give me the skills to prove it has failed.

Perhaps the solution is simple. Create a class that teaches you one key learning skill that gives you access to all other learning opportunities. If such a class existed, I think it might be called “Google it.”

GIVE US A WEEK, WE'LL TAKE OFF THE ANGER

Blog42 Cover Stop what you’re doing and read this important message that could change your life!

-       Do you have trouble with anger? -       Do you find yourself exiting the freeway early to capitalize on teaching moments with other drivers (in the form of obscenities)? -       Do you lose all control when the hostess can’t find your reservation? -       Then do you feel embarrassed when someone glances at you in the restaurant parking lot later? -       And because you can imagine what they must be thinking, you chase them down and beat them up? And then you realize your rage has gotten the best of you once again, so you now have to find a way to dispose of a body?

If this sounds like you, then I can help (if you promise not to leave a mark). You see, I’m not only an anger management advocate, I’m also a customer!

Okay, it takes much longer than a week, so ignore the headline. I have been working on my anger for years, exploring more effective ways to communicate frustrations outside of family tradition of screaming. Apparently, yelling doesn’t diffuse the situation. Jackie will be the first to tell you that I’ve made incredible progress from our first days of knock-down / drag-out romance. I suppose she’ll be the second, because I just told you, but she would definitely agree.

For example, this weekend Jackie expressed her anxiety about something she had to do for work. Luckily, I knew of an immediate solution to her problem. Since I’m the best husband in the world, I suppose you might expect me to propose the solution in supportive, non-threatening way. But, you’d be wrong. I’m a man! And men don’t do anything gently. I snapped it at her. I find the most effective way to help someone is by adding a layer of uncomfortable emotion to the situation.

Actually, the old me would’ve layered the response with a subtle hint of rage and plenty of disproportional emotion. But, the new me? Pure restraint. For the most part. My wife didn’t really notice any subtext in my response, but I felt it – a very slight hint of something behind my casual “recommendation.”

So, a mere 3 minutes later, I felt compelled to clarify my response. It turns out that discussing my anger is a great way to declaw my frustration. I step outside myself and perform a bit of home-grown, back-seat self-therapy. It’s probably not very scientific, but it calms me down and dissolves the false notion that I’m a helpless baby. Even though I totally am!

A part of me misses the good old days when life was simple. And anger seemed to really work. Anger served as the perfect catch-all emotion. Frustrated? Get angry! Helpless? Angry! Sad and hurt? Angry and angry! As versatile as WD-40 and duct tape!

That feeling of control was just an illusion. If you have a few minutes to spare, you should check out this insightful video about anger:

http://www.upworthy.com/the-problem-facing-young-men-that-needs-to-become-a-household-conversation?g=2&c=ufb1

I further explore my anger through the control-freak main character for the BABY TIME! series. I wanted to harvest some magic from my own struggles with anger, and make fun of myself in the process. The exploration resulted in the dishwasher scene you will see in Episode 1.

Those of you with dishwasher issues know what I mean. I was once like you, but now I’m a new man. When I see the dishwasher out of order, I simply shrug and carry on. Usually.

What are YOU looking at?

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

SCAN0055

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.

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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.)

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.

Mercury in 80's Retro

Freddie Mercury can sing a mean tune. I listened to “Don’t Stop Me Now” in my car last week as I transitioned from the 101 to the 405. Boy, he sure sounds energized in that song. Before too long, my imagination transported me to an early 80’s video – not any actual Queen video – but a mini-musical of my own making, with me as the star, naturally, followed by thousands of people running out of their houses to join me - everyone with crazy-eye smiles and dressed in obnoxious 80’s workout clothes - as I skyrocket through the town headed who-knows-where. Then, as I laughed at myself, I suddenly found myself on the other side of Sepulveda pass, seconds away from my exit.

I don’t want to be stopped. Yet, people do stop me. Sometimes, people tell me I should be stopped, but I don’t listen. And other times, I realize I probably should have been stopped, but it’s too late. And finally, there are those times when I stop on my own, usually because of a lack of confidence. I avoid a risk, but where’s the fun in that?

Back in the 80’s, I was still developing my confidence and personality in a soup of my budding teen hormones. One night, driving down Lake Avenue in Morton Grove, I sat in the back seat rambling to my parents about my ridiculous teachers, and how I refuse to bow down to their unauthorized authority. My mother, being very wise to the ways of the world, set me straight – it was clear I developed an overblown ego. Naturally, she wanted to protect me from mouthing off to my teachers, or making some embarrassing scene. Besides it’s always better to cause a “scene” when you’re alone with your family than out in public. So, I cried like a little baby, while I protested and refused to admit I had become… obnoxious. By the end of the evening, I somehow heard my own tantrum, and I was convinced. I had become too big for my britches.

So, I called all my friends individually, and apologized to them for my attitude. Surprisingly, many of them agreed that I had an ego problem, so – way to have your finger on the pulse, mom - good catch! Unfortunately, I went the complete opposite direction for the next couple of years. I worried constantly about what everyone else thought was important before considering my own thoughts. While the adjustment helped me keep my friends, I lost my ability to grasp the subtle differences between challenging your teacher to a fistfight, and speaking up to let your grilling friend know you prefer cheese on your burger.

Looking back, the same series of events repeated often throughout my life. A moment of skyrocketing confidence and pride would lead to a shocking lesson in how unhelpful the ego can be. It happened when I insisted on playing the lead during our jazz band trip to Arizona, only to flub the ending to our closer “In the Mood.” It happened when Andersen Consulting sent me to Europe, and then reprimanded me on my return for my out of control expense report. And it happened when I complained about helping Kevin James’ fiancé move on a Saturday, which encouraged his manager to encourage me to quit.

Looking back, I see that I probably would’ve benefited from a little humility in those cases. On the other hand, a little ego can drive healthy risks that lead to a happier future. By letting go of my need to be lead trumpet all the time, I settled into the more creative and fun position of 2nd trumpet, the part that gets all the improvised solos. And leaving The King of Queens lead to a whole bunch of more rewarding jobs, including my current fabulous job at Landmark Theatres. Although, I’m not sure anything positive resulted from taking a couple of unapproved cabs in Madrid and Milan.

So, I know I can turn setbacks into comebacks, but is the ego necessary to the process, or does it make more trouble than it’s worth? And, do I need to fall into a tailspin at every disaster? Well, luckily for me, I had plenty of opportunities to explore this question in the past few weeks, when I faced several major challenges in a row, throwing my confidence into zero-gravity drops.

Our story begins on March 12, when I run into multiple issues at work for several days in a row that require groveling with my bosses and clients – including an indie comedy screening I booked that turns out to be a XXX premiere, and last minute technical issues that almost turn Warner Bros’ digital restoration of THE COLOR PURPLE into to a special screening of Steven Spielberg’s THE COLOR GREEN*.

In each case, I solve the issue, and restore my ego to its full glory, until the next embarrassment shoves that ego back in its hole. After four days of several ego beatings, I scream “Lego my ego!” and I head home for the weekend, frazzled and shell-shocked. I reflect on the week and give my confidence some air. After all, I’ll need some of it to interview Will Ferrell for CASA DE MI PADRE.

Then on March 18, I meet Will Ferrell, and he thinks he recognizes me. Hello, ego. Welcome back. Then I moderate a discussion with him to a sold-out house. The interview shows all the signs of success. I prompt him to talk about his role as producer, and speaking Spanish for the whole movie. He’s charming and entertaining. I’m feeling so confident, that I even make fun of myself for a slip of the tongue. Apparently, my joke is too risky, because the audience gasps. Then, Will makes an even bigger joke at my expense, and the crowd loves it. Later, the studio rep tells me I shouldn’t feel embarrassed about my mistake, because it was a great moment. I go home and brag to my wife how I helped Will Ferrell get one of the biggest laughs of the night, and how I knocked it out of the park.**

I strut into work on Monday for a victory lap, and I discover my company has received a nasty complaint letter about the horrible, racist moderator.

What? Yes, it’s true. This customer didn’t catch my sarcasm, and interpreted my joke as a straight-forward statement of hatred.

This happens all the time with my wife. If she misses the connotation, the situation can get ugly fast. I’ve even developed an automatic reaction to say I was kidding, even when I wasn’t. It’s become such a knee-jerk instinct, that sometimes I don’t even realize myself that I was serious. I need a few minutes to reflect and figure out what I was really thinking.

In this case, though, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect, and I know I was joking. Here’s more of a breakdown of the offending incident. I mistakenly referred to the Mexican actors as “Spanish.” I knew they were Mexican. It was even written in my notes. I know that not knowing the difference is ignorant. But, we were just talking for five minutes about Will speaking Spanish, so I slipped with the word “Spanish.” And, I was hyper aware that some Mexican people do get offended when they are referred to as Spanish, so I felt particularly bad about my slip of the tongue. But, regrettably, I didn’t stop there.

Instead, like a “rocket ship about to whoa-oh-oh-explode,” I made a joke to make fun of myself. I wanted everyone to know that I was wrong to make the mistake. My intention was to show the abhorrent nature of ignorant people. And by using sarcasm (which was supposed to show the audience that I really didn’t believe what I was saying), I was emphasizing how ridiculous and horrible those ignorant people are. But, it didn’t work. After Will Ferrell made fun of my gaffe, I promised not to try to be funny any more. So, upon further review, I didn’t help Will that night – he helped me.

Luckily, my bosses and colleagues reassured me all week not to worry – they don’t think I’m racist. Well, that’s a relief (please read in a sarcastic tone). But, I’m too mortified to let it all go. I could reason that some people are just too sensitive, and particularly with the climate in this country right now, everyone is closer to the edge. I suppose for that reason alone, I simply need to be more careful when speaking as a representative of my company. Besides, any good intentions are irrelevant if the joke doesn’t work. If it’s not funny, it’s not funny.

Most of my friends who saw the incident agree that by knowing me, they understood my intentions. But, many also agreed that if they didn’t know me, they might draw a different conclusion. In fact, by looking at my white skin, they might make the same assumption that I could be racist instead of a satirist – judging me for the way I looked instead of getting to know me and judging me as an individual.

Most importantly, I don’t like my words hurting other people. I do feel regret. But, there’s nothing I can really do to personally address that person. If the customer comes to the theatre to find me, I would be more than happy to apologize and grovel about my insensitivity. Short of that, all I can do is plan to be more careful and thoughtful next time.

Multiple people have told me that my full week of troubles should be blamed on Mercury in retrograde. I don’t believe in astrology. But, I did a little Google search, and I discovered that Mercury Retrograde started March 12. Wait, my troubles started on March 12! The first website I found gave this advice about Mercury Retrograde: “Do not venture into unknown areas taking risks. Be sure to back up your resources, double check all details, and prepare for delays or misunderstandings in life.” Yep. So, that happened.

I’m not ready to buy crystals, but I do have to wonder the coincidence of this stress cluster. Is my ego to blame? Or did my ego just hide the approaching storm? I go from huge success with one of my comedy heroes to wearing the label of racist. Maybe it’s Mercury in retrograde. But, for me, it just feels like Mercury has gone retro – back to the early 80s – sending me into a regressive teen tantrum - kicking and screaming – I’m not a racist! I’m not a racist!

After some time, I’ve been able to forgive myself, and move on. But, what about the bigger question that I addressed back in the 80’s? Would I benefit from stuffing my ego down again for years to come? My ego can be deceiving and unhelpful. However, I recognize that I need my confidence. I need a strong enough sense of self to take some risks and pursue the important goals in life.

So, looking a little further on the trusty internet, I found, “The first Mercury retrograde, which takes place in April/March, 2012 will bring major events of challenge, transition and transformation.” Sounds good. I’m ready to take responsibility for my actions. I surrender my ego – but not my confidence. And I await my transformation in April.

——

* Thanks to my coworker Shelly Bridges for that wonderful joke!

** For obvious reason, I can’t post the footage of the offending moment, but if you’re curious about the interview, here’s the official online version, as shot and edited by our theatre staff.

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.

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.

PARENTAL CONTROL: HOW DO WE ALLOW OUR KIDS TO MAKE MISTAKES WITHOUT LOSING OUR COOL?

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My family loves to argue. They argue about why someone went downstairs instead of upstairs, or why someone left the milk on the counter as opposed to the table, or even how someone could forget the keys were in their hands the whole time - expending excessive energy clearing up miscommunications on trivial logistics. However, they all agree that I have control issues. I’ve always wanted to control the situations and people around me – my brother’s interaction with other children, my parents’ perception of me, my wife’s dishwasher loading procedures…

I can’t let this dishwasher issue go. I know many couples argue about this topic so often that an extra power rinse cycle couldn’t jet the stale smell from the words hanging in the air. However, my advice to couples everywhere would be to stop wasting your energy on the topic. The success of a dishwasher cycle is not just a matter of opinion, but science. Of course, each dishwasher unit performs differently, but once you know your unit, finding the proper dish, bowl and utensil configuration should be elementary. Unfortunately, my wife uses a more creative and artistic approach to loading, such that no 2 loading configurations are the same.

I owe my authority on the subject to my organizational skills. I have spent much of my life looking at the world as a grand Tetris game. I have been filling in slots, moving objects around, and advancing levels by rearranging my furniture, restacking my closet, packing bags for trips, and negotiating through traffic. And, I’ve used my mental joystick to restore order to more than just storage and driving. This grand skill of organization works for ideas as well – posing strange combinations of thoughts and self-reflective suggestions until a solid solution or philosophy forms itself in my head, like a snug puzzle of squares and rectangles that become one singular block of comfortably symmetrical and smooth notions. And that’s how I convince myself it is an absolute truth.

So, yes, my mind is programmed to engineer the perfect combination of Pyrex, Fiesta Ware and Corning Ware. Not only does this flaw/skill yield an efficient and clean kitchen, but it also delivers a jolt of adrenaline to know that everything is in its’ place. I am least helpless at that moment. Over the past few years, I have worked hard to let go of some of these control issues, but they still pop up. After all, it feels so good to control!

Now, if we decide to throw children into the picture, my control issues become more significant of a problem. Especially since I believe that children learn best when they are making mistakes. I adopted this belief while working at Cognitive Arts – an interactive training company started by a professor at Northwestern University. We designed the training around the concept that the brain is more open to receiving information when a mistake is made. And if children are working in a safe environment, they will explore more, learn more, and learn faster. But, I see many parents anxious to keep their kids safe, protecting them from the evil dangers of mistakes, and even shaming them before they get near a mistake. This approach tends to make the children not want to even try in the first place.

I understand that instinct, and I worry that I would fall in that trap very easily with my control issue. And what’s worse, this issue is not my only issue that could easily traumatize my children. It only takes one incident, one slip-up, and that tiny moment in my child’s entire span of life becomes the calling card as the kid heads into adulthood, either blaming me directly for damaging them and sending them to therapy, or worse, subconsciously changing the way they think that might prevent them from future success.

I’m not sure it’s worth all the effort to create a new life when it seems so easy to mess them up. How does it work in real life? How do you control, I mean protect your children while letting them explore? Let me know.

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

I used to be very proud of my lawn care business. Most of my time was spent cutting the grass, with a few extra services like bushes, weeding, etc. I made around $5 - $10 per house, and by my senior year in high school, I had 7 clients in the neighborhood that brought in a weekly income of $45 per week. I paid for my own prom with lawn money ($222 - which is $436 in today’s value). Actually, that still seems like a fairly cheap prom all-in, but considering I failed to get a goodnight kiss and crashed my dad’s car, it was a good deal.

Still, I was in control of my money back then. I had a CD, which earned interest, I had a savings account, and I even had money to spend on pizza. Eventually, I found myself a salary at Andersen Consulting, and I was still able to spend money on whatever I wanted. I had a condo investment, I treated friends to drinks and dinners, and I even had money to spend on travel.

Then, I got married. Suddenly, managing money wasn’t so easy. I had to plan for 2 people, and somehow our expenses seemed to quadruple. We were spending like we were still single, and then we were spending money as a couple on top of that. Money became tight, and tension mounted. Something needed to be done at this point in my young adult life. I had to take action!

So, I quit my job.

I went back to school, took a job at a restaurant on the corner of minimum wage and no insurance. But, that wasn’t enough of a challenge, so I moved to Los Angeles with an unstable job that made even less money.

After some more stress and difficulties with money, we finally turned our situation around. We became financially stable as a couple, and started paying off our debts. We are currently in the best financial shape that we’ve ever been. So, if history is any indication, we will have to devise a way to put ourselves in jeopardy again. I know, let’s have a baby!

If we have a baby, I will see an immediate impact on the household finances. First, Jackie will want to stay home with the kid. By the way, that point is not up for discussion. I was happy to be the stay at home dad, but after the initial discussion, I wasn’t so happy any more.

So, as Jackie earns half the family income, that would be a huge cut each month. Some estimate that the first year of birth could cost $250,000! What?! The obvious solution that comes to mind first would be to increase our family income. That’s an easy fix, since we will have the advantage of a new person to share the load. Get the baby a job, keeping the little tyke busy, allowing my wife to get back to work. It’s the perfect plan. I’ll just put an ad on Craig’s List, and…

Okay. Change in plans. Jackie tells me that our baby will not be available as a laborer due to something she shouting-ly calls “common sense,” so I’ve pulled my Craig’s List ad. Instead, I will have to explore what must be cut from the monthly expenses.

Variable expenses go first:

- Dining Out: Poquito Mas es no Mas

- Entertainment like Netflix, movies, live music, coffee and medicine

- Books, DVDs, iTunes, chow porn (don’t ask) and water

Then I’ll have to cut into monthly expenses that will be soon considered a luxury:

- Cable

- iPhone service

- Power / Gas Utilities

- One of the cars will have to go

- Mortgage

That doesn’t leave us much. But, we won’t need any of these expenses. We can spend our time entertained by the baby, living in our 1 car, and eating theatre popcorn for dinner.

So, is giving up a relatively comfortable style of life worth a baby?

I suddenly remember when Jackie and I first started dating, and we offered to baby sit our niece Megan, who was a new baby at the time (she’s 14 now). I don’t think we realized that she was colicky when signed up for that act of kindness, but soon we were pulling our hair out and shoving it our ears to block out the screaming. For some reason, we thought that she would calm down by holding her near the ceiling fan (not sure which of us lame-brains came up with that scheme), and so we took turns holding her up in the air towards the fan, looking like some urban tribal shamans offering up our first born to sacrifice to the gods of air circulation. If that’s the fun of parenting that makes all the sacrifices irrelevant, then sign me up!

Why would anyone choose to change a comfortable life to hold a screaming baby up in the air for hours each night? Why would anyone sacrifice luxuries like TV, food, and chow porn? Besides, Jackie and I had the benefit of spending time with Megan last summer when she visited California. So, we enjoyed our role as the cool aunt and uncle, without the pain and suffering of 14 years of parenting.

I’m not convinced at this point that parenting is right for me. Bottom line, I’m not ready to give up the necessities. If we must sacrifice our food, clothing and shelter, I will only reconsider - as long as I can keep my iPhone.

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.

Break's Over

Whenever I plan ahead enough, I can travel back to Chicago for another gig with my friends in the Outcast Jazz Band. During the Christmas break, we played our annual Christmas Swing Extravaganza at the Willowbrook Ballroom. It’s an old-fashioned dance hall ball room that hosts the event every year, with swing dance lessons before the big band plays.

I find the experience of playing live in the middle of 17 other creative musicians to be nothing short of sublime. In addition to playing fun music, I goof around quite a bit. Unfortunately, this time I had a difficult time staying focused due to my obsession with capturing my life on Facebook, and the performance suffered. It was easier in the 90’s to tell long stories and jokes during the measures of rests (even two beats could be enough time for a really great one-liner), but that was when we played the same music over and over. I actually had to sight-read at this gig, which means I should’ve been paying attention, not taking the above photos to upload.

As great as the fun on the bandstand, the breaks can often provide the most entertainment. With a drink in one hand, and a stolen piece of wedding cake in the other, I have heard some of my most offensive and exciting stories of my life. And in my early years, I may have even lived the offensive and exciting story myself.

For this reason, we tend to take our time returning to work. And, if we don’t police ourselves, the bridal party will eventually begin to wonder why they paid us. We once spread a break to 25 minutes, causing the mother of the bride to unleash some offensive curses herself.

So, now I must tell myself “Break’s over!” I took some time off of blogging over Christmas. I spent it fine-tuning my script for the web series first episode, location-scouting, auditioning, and then deciding that the script needs to change. Why? Because I’m not enjoying it. My analytical mind takes over sometimes, and I wind up with a tight story, without making myself laugh. If I can’t laugh, then what’s the point?

I’ve been going over the story of the whole series, and I’m battling in my mind between making a full in depth feature script, and just having fun with it episode by episode. After all, the character we discover in ourselves makes the journey all the more worth it. That sentence is an example of my efforts to use the types of poetic phrases I’ve heard before and reuse them to teach a lesson.

What’s the point of all this? I’m tired. And this is after a 3 week break. 3 weeks is not enough? Sure, I had to deal with my family. That can be exhausting. And not because we are arguing or battling some serious dysfunction. We don’t live our lives the same way, and forcing ourselves to live together for 2 weeks puts a strain as we get along.

But, I’m still tired. What did I do today? I wrote a little. I watched TV. I worked out on my new fabulous Wii Fit (thanks mom and dad!), and watched more TV. Okay, I did laundry as well, but it was a relaxing day overall. And now I’m tired. It’s 11:24pm, so that kind of explains it. But, if I had a kid, I think I would be BT (beyond toast).

Ultimately, I come back to that argument again and again - don’t have kids because I’m lazy. Nice. But, then I remember the joy of playing in the band all over as we begin playing our second set of music. So, ending the break isn’t so bad. I can find a unique life experience from the Outcast Jazz Band that has rewarded me for 19 years since I joined. It’s work, but it’s worth it.

My Two Sessions

Living in California, I am required by law to meet with a professional of some sort at least twice a year. It’s part of a set of laws created to keep the state liberal. So, I managed to do 2 sessions this week. Here are my thoughts.

Session #1: Therapy

Jackie and I met with a therapist to discuss the topic of children. We talked about what children mean to us, and the pros and cons - many of the concerns and issues discussed previously in the blog. At this point, I’m still on the fence, and Jackie still leans towards remaining cool aunt and uncle only.

Nothing really earth-shattering came out of the session. So, I guess one visit to the therapist is not going to solve the problem. That’s a $10 co-pay gone to waste. I’ll have to wait until next week. In the mean time, I managed to get my second session another way…

Session#2: Pet Psychic

Yes, it’s true. I went to a pet psychic. I am now a true Californian. And, even more amazingly, the session was conducted over the phone!

As I’ve mentioned before, Sensation has a problem with seizures, and he takes epilepsy medicine. But, the medicine makes him so sleepy, and it doesn’t stop him from having a week of seizures every month. So, we were desperate - we gave the psychic a try.

First of all, the psychic figured out that Sensation was epileptic without any hints from us. I later confirmed that my friend who recommended the psychic didn’t tell her anything about my dogs either. So, she passed that test. Then, she told us that Sensation was happy, but just sleepy from the medicine all the time. That was a relief, because when your dog mopes all the time, well, you begin to wonder.

Finally, she recommended that we do some visualization to help him. She wanted us to first visualize his brain, then look for black circles on that brain, and then erase the black spots with a blue light.

I always remain skeptical when I see psychics and spiritualists on TV. That John Edwards guy seems like a liar and a fake, and the way he speaks makes him more suited to sell condoms out of a 75 hatchback. Then there’s Sylvia Brown. She seems like she’s just making stuff up because she’s bored. And don’t get me started on the writing of “Ghost Whisperer.” Despite it’s high ratings lately, the show is too melodramatic for my tastes.

Ultimately, it’s hard for me to accept the story of someone being paid to tell you stuff you can never see or hear. I believe in the practical. I believe in proven solutions. Real stuff.

I also learned from my parents that you do anything for your kid. You look for retainers in the garbage. You drive 3 hours on a Wednesday to see a jazz concert, only to drive 3 more hours back home in time for work the next day. And, you figure out how to take care of your kid when he’s sick, no matter what.

So, when the psychic on the speaker phone gave her suggestions, and they didn’t involve the vet, I had only one question. Should the light be dark blue or light blue?