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.

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.)

Eclipse of a Milestone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awards Seasoned

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

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

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

THE TREE OF LIFE

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

BEGINNERS

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

EXTREMELY LOUD, INCREDIBLY CLOSE

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

WARRIOR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, Oh, Oh, It's Magic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never believe it’s not so. 

Blog in Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

Well…

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

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

Blog problem = solved.

The Path of Two Chows

I love my dogs, especially their individuality. I feared dogs and vowed never to own a dog – that is, until I came home one day in 2001 to discover Goldie, a chow chow my wife brought into the house against my wishes. I promptly threw a fit, and then proceeded to fall in love with Goldie. The next thing I knew, I was in a dog club, going to dog shows in the desert, and even stepping into the ring to show Goldie as a Veteran – she came in Second Place! Out of 2!

So, when Sensation became available through a window of opportunity (the window unfortunately was created by a shotgun to the previous owner’s head – really too sad to face without some dark humor), we jumped to care for this most adorable boy chow chow. Boy was he different. Where Goldie was stern and sometimes anxious, he simply chose to be sleeping. For walks, their differences amplified to a confounding level. Goldie goes straight down the block, following the sidewalk like it’s a tight rope with a squirrel waiting at the end. She gets to her favorite strip of grass, and takes care of business. And she’s ready to go home. But Sensation prefers to explore, wander, and generally follow a pattern that can only be defined by mathematical formulas still being perfected in the studies of chaos theory.

For the longest time, I tried to force Sensation to learn Goldie’s path, or any path for that matter that can be repeated without boarding a time machine. Unfortunately, if I attempt to encourage a particular route, he pulls, stand firm with his paws digging into the ground, and refuses to move. Then, he turns to go the opposite way, no matter which way I decided to go. And forget creating a specific spot for his business. I usually have to follow his crazy pattern for at least ten minutes while he looks for a new spot every time (with poor Goldie following the both of us). However, when I take him off the leash, he wanders a bit and does within 30 seconds.

I finally realized, this boy just wants his freedom. So, I’ve started to dream about buying a big house with a back yard for his wandering. I think Jackie might enjoy a big house as well. In fact, it would be dreamy for me, as I would have a home office, with a brand new MAC to write, and a Plasma TV for checking out the latest cut of my film, and a swanky couch for writing and producing partners to eat pizza, and of course, a fancy espresso machine fueled by Coffee Bean or Caribou Coffee. It’s possible. I’ve seen many similar layouts in the houses of my former bosses.

But, how to get there?

After 9 years in Los Angeles, I continue to get closer to success, and yet I find myself with an internal debate that could be subconsciously influencing my hesitation as opportunities present themselves. This debate matches many of the filmmaking blogs and symposium discussions. Which path is the best path for a filmmaker?

Most of my life, I saw Hollywood as the dream path. They love your script so much, a bidding war ensues, and before you know it, Target is selling your complete DVD set as part of its Great American Filmmakers series. However, I’ve had enough time, and heard enough war stories from all levels of the system from the pimply intern to the Vegas posse of a TV star that gave me a more realistic view of Hollywood.

They call it the film business for a reason. That’s how Warner Bros can lay off 500 workers in a down economy at the same time that they are making record billion dollar profits. I’m not blaming Warner Bros, as the company is only acting in its’ best interest. That’s how companies succeed – not by being Mr. Nice Guy. Once I realized that the dreamy studio system consisted of a few corporate conglomerates, my instincts began to whisper insanity-making ideas into my head, such as “Hey, buddy. Don’t you realize that corporate power places serious limitations on true creative potential of American filmmaking.”

After all, it’s the corporate system that I blamed for letting my dad go when his company went bankrupt (how could they do that to me when I was about to go to college?). And, even though I made the choice to work at Andersen Consulting after college, I blamed them for keeping me chained up in their corporate structure for five years, that is, until I realized that I could just quit and do I what I wanted.

Working for a corporation seems so counter-intuitive to the open flow of creating the material as an independent filmmaker. The studios know the economy is tough, so they want to create films that they can pack in an audience for 3 days, and make all their money back. Films generally don’t do well via word of mouth any more, so they rely on the excitement of marketing to load the box office before anyone can realize it’s a piece of crap. Luckily, I work for a theatre (The Landmark), and we do have good films from time to time. They may not receive a budget for advertising, but they do get to stay a little bit longer to allow for that word of mouth – an approach that would never work for SPIDERMAN VII or RETURN OF THE FINAL DESTINATION FOR THE LAST TIME PREQUEL.

On the other hand, it is possible for someone like Todd Phillips to make HANGOVER at the studio, and even though he didn’t have big stars, the film succeeded big time because the story was so strong. Apparently, Warner Bros was so against Todd hiring those “no-name” actors, that they seriously lowered his budget from the initial offering. He agreed, provided that they increase his percentage of the profit. The executives thought “Whatever, it’s your funeral.” So, he got his percentage. And the rest is history. The studio has forgotten how important a good story should be, that they gave away a huge reward on that film, so they could make something like CATS AND DOGS. Ironically, Todd’s next film DUE DATE opens in November – it is the cross-country version of BABY TIME. (I swear that I wrote the initial short for the web series in 1998, so no law suits, please!)

Given all the realities of Hollywood, should I choose the other more “noble” path of the independent filmmaker?

The indie filmmaker is a lot like a small-business owner. He builds a startup business plan for each special little film project, raises money from investors, and struggles, struggle, struggles, until the film has been bled through all the pores of his skin. At that point, he finds an audience online, builds a specialty following, and event with the multitude of distribution options (theatrical / VOD / DVD / internet streaming) pulls in a sum of money that comes out to less than Chinese slave wages if you divide it by the hours worked. However, the filmmaker owns and controls his film.

I guess it all comes down to self-empowerment. The corporate studio system is not built around self-empowerment. It’s built around the old factory system – with the built-in cost of business of paying workers and managers just enough of a salary to keep them fed, clothed, sheltered, and mostly quiet – and maximizing the profits to grow the company and keep those at the top disgustingly wealthy, with the only indie alternative feeling like climbing Everest with a needle and a spool of thread.

And yet, despite all that, the dream stays alive. Aside from all rejection stories, all of the script-sold but then script-ruined stories, and all of the movie-made-millions-but-studio-still-in-the-red stories… Even in spite of all that, I would still love a shot to sit in the back of a theatre and listen to the audience laugh, gasp, and cry as my words are translated into action. Here’s a short I wrote recently that makes that desire even more acute. It was screened in the Pan American LA Film Festival in May, and I had that exact pleasure of sharing the viewing with an audience of 100 people – a true joyful memory. 

http://www.vimeo.com/10938359

I find myself feeling a bit like a special chow chow, clawing my way out of my self-made leash, dying to chomp my way to freedom – to explore, create films and sleep with my paws in the air. I want to take ownership of my films, and watch through the window of my swanky home office with delight as Sensation pounces around in the back yard in the most wonderfully chaotic pattern.

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.