December 29, 2009


“Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.” – Aldous Huxley

One of the great mysteries of life is that the passage of time can seem simultaneously fast and slow.  The six years between December 29, 2003, and the same date in 2009 is my personal proof.

I’m typing this entry exactly six years after I last saw my little sister.  I’m struggling with words.  I hate admitting the truth.  I hate that because of an idiot drunk driver my sister didn’t get to have her 19th birthday.  I hate how dark it is this time of year.  I hate that she’s gone.  I hate that she’s gone.  I hate that she’s gone.

It seems like we were just playing Catch Phrase, quoting episodes of the yet unfinished Friends series or Dumb and Dumber.  It doesn’t seem like that long ago I was telling her about this new band, Evanescence, that I thought she would like.  I’m pretty sure six years ago today that I did my awful Jack Sparrow impression for her at least a dozen times.  We probably jabbed playfully at our other sister at least half that on this day during her first college Christmas break.  And I remember well her descriptions of a new boy she was sure would finally meet my strict standards.

In many ways, six years doesn’t seem long at all.

But sometimes I feel myself taking important things for granted again which would imply six years has been a lifetime in which I haven’t learned a thing about appreciating what’s in my life while it is.  How can this be?  How can I let the sun go down while I harbor anger or resentment toward loved ones?  Or loathed ones for that matter?  How can I excuse myself from visiting family and friends because of gas prices?  How can I rank work ahead of playtime with my kids?

With uncertainty the only certainty, we would be wise to appreciate every moment we have, especially with those we love.  Had I known my phone would ring at 4:30 in the morning six years ago with my other sister sharing what would turn out to be the worst news of my 27 year life, I would have hugged my baby sister that much tighter, told her I loved her that much more, and kept her under watchful eye for as long as I could.

She’s my company’s namesake and continues to be a muse to me.  I miss her.  I love her.  I can still hear her, see her, and smell her.  And at times I can feel her as if she’s been here the last six years.

But I’m still allowed to cry.  Especially today.

December 22, 2009

Brittany Murphy

“A human life is a story told by God” – Hans Christian Andersen

It’s easy to express token condolences amidst tragedies involving public figures.  For many, sincerity is purposed but rarely achieved.

I didn’t know Ms. Murphy personally.  I am saddened by the news and I have and will continue to pray for the family and friends she has left behind.  But an attempt to claim personal devastation over Ms. Murphy’s sudden death would only insult those who are truly mourning the loss of their daughter, wife, sister, and friend.  It is for them that I mourn.

On a personal level, this death resonates more than, say, Michael Jackson, Patrick Swayze, or Farrah Fawcett.  By no means am I ranking the loss of one over others– that’s ridiculous – but I had felt Ms. Murphy’s and mine were paths that would one day cross.

She was on my shortlist of actresses I hoped one day to offer a role in a movie I’d like to produce in the next few years.  Her talent, looks, and demeanor were perfect for said role.  As an actress, Ms. Murphy’s range was wider than perhaps all of her peers – check her out in Don’t Say a Word for proof.

But it wasn’t her professional skills that drew me to her.

I listen often to Brittany Murphy in a short audio clip I lifted from the commentary track on the Just Married DVD.  At the end of the credits roll, director Shawn Levy makes a plea to anyone listening who has a dream of building a career in Hollywood to just go for it.  Co-stars Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy added their inspirational thoughts, with Ms. Murphy breaking into an audible prayer of thanksgiving.

Maybe I’m the sucker for buying into the words of three mega-rich celebrities.  After all, Hollywood is a town built on lies.  And maybe I’m putting too much stock into 75 seconds of improvised audio commentary at the end of a movie I enjoyed more than I should have.  But the sincerity seemed genuine.  Mr. Levy, from Montreal, Mr. Kutcher from Cedar Rapids, and Ms. Murphy, from Atlanta, all followed dreams and all found success.

Ms. Murphy’s new successes will be experienced on a completely different plain.  Maybe she and my sister will hang out.  Kenzie was a big fan of Clueless.

December 13, 2009

2009 Screenwriting Expo – Closing Thoughts

Over the last several blog entries, I’ve shared brief notes from each of the sessions I attended at the 2009 Screenwriting Expo.  But the sessions were only a small part of the overall experience.  Just being around so many other aspiring screenwriters was worth the trip.  New friends, new connections, new excitement for continuing this journey.

It wasn’t easy for me to pull this trip off.  I am – how can I put it delicately – quite careful with money.  I had frequent flyer miles saved up for the flight, but Expo registration and hotel fees were still significant for my family.  Time will tell, but so far I am happy with this investment in my career.  If finances allow, I hope to take the trip again next year.  Maybe the family can come with and we can spend a day together at Disney Land.

Here’s a short article I wrote about the Expo for the MN Film Board.  Now, enough talk about the Expo.  It was great.  It was worth the trip.  But it was more than a month ago.  Onward and upward.

December 10, 2009

Gary Whitta – Breaking In

I jumped at the chance to take a class from Gary Whitta.  Who wouldn’t?  What – you’ve never heard of Gary Whitta?  Neither had I.  I signed up for this session at the 2009 Screenwriting Expo based on its title – Breaking In.  That’s what every screenwriter wants to know, right?  What’s the secret to breaking in?

Gary Whitta’s secret?  A spec script of his was accidentally placed in the wrong pile at an agency which led to his screenplay being read, which led to his signing with the agency.  Sometimes it’s that simple.

But here’s the thing.  If Mr. Whitta’s script sucked, it wouldn’t matter how many times it got placed in the wrong pile.  Luck may play a big role in breaking in to this industry as a screenwriter, but it certainly is not the only role.  Talent.  Desire.  Hard work.  Resiliency.  Without these, luck will do nothing.

Mr. Whitta understands that.  He also understands that the secret to breaking in to this industry is that there is no secret.  He was quick to question other sessions at the Expo which claimed to have the secret to selling screenplays.  “If they know the secret,” he chuckled, “why are they writing books and teaching classes for peanuts when they could be making millions putting the secret to their own use?” (my paraphrasing)


But I am thankful for all the teachers who have helped me understand the nuts-and-bolts side of screenwriting.  Without them, I would be lost.  Some are successful screenwriters.  Some have “made it.”  All have offered plenty of useful advice.  While Mr. Whitta is right to question those who claim to know exactly what Hollywood is looking for in a script, who am I to prove they don’t?

One thing’s for sure – Mr. Whitta is on the right track.  His first studio produced movie, The Book of Eli, starring Denzel Washington, is slated for an early 2010 release.  Having just watched a pre-release screening, Mr. Whitta was very pleased with the result.

Early in pre-production, Mr. Whitta was invited by Denzel Washington to the mega-star’s home where the Oscar winner shared notes by the pool with the rookie screenwriter.  Mr. Washington showed up with his Bible riddled with notes and bookmarked passages which he felt were important for the story.  According to Mr. Whitta, the host was gracious, passionate, and easy to work with.

Hanging out at Denzel’s pool, working on a project together.  Not too shabby, eh?

December 7, 2009

Bob Kosberg – Selling Your Idea to Hollywood

And the award for Most Entertaining Speaker Not Named John Cleese at the 2009 Screenwriting Expo (at least out of the speakers I saw) goes to Bob Kosberg.  The award for Longest Award Title goes to me.

The way he commanded the classroom it’s no surprise Bob Kosberg is known as “King of the Pitch.”  Something about him reminded me of Ted Danson, though Mr. Kosberg is perhaps even smoother than Sam Malone.  His producer credits include Commando, Twelve Monkeys, and the forthcoming Ben Stiller Hardy Boys flick, The Hardy Men.

As confident and outspoken as he was, Mr. Kosberg didn’t come across as arrogant or smug.  He admits his success depends on others’ ideas, and he invited each attendee to pitch him via e-mail.  If an idea strikes him as a potential money-maker, he’ll partner with the pitcher and work at making a sale.  Not a bad offer from someone plugged in.

His foremost piece of advice was to keep story ideas simple.  If the movie idea can’t be summarized in a sentence or two, it’s not going to sell as a pitch.  Visualize the movie poster, Mr. Kosberg advised.  Movies today are all about marketing.  Executives don’t care about changing the world or tugging at an audience’s heartstrings… unless it makes them money.  We, as artists, must don our best business hats and develop a marketing plan right out of the gate.

When I signed up for Mr. Kosberg’s class I didn’t even realize he co-authored Pitching Hollywood, one of only a few books I’ve read more than once.  I don’t claim to be a good pitcher, but if I want success in this industry, I’m going to have to become one.  Maybe Nolan Ryan can give me a hand.  Or Sam Malone.

December 2, 2009

Mark Golik – Breaking in Miles from LA

Dynamic.  Engaging.  Polished.  In his session, Breaking in Miles from LA, up and coming screenwriter Mark Golik was none of these.  Neither was he any of these: Pretentious.  Aloof.  Arrogant.

While some speakers at the 2009 Screenwriting Expo were masters of pomp and circumstance (which, for them, worked just fine), Mr. Golik was one of the most genuine presenters.  A Pittsburgh resident, Mr. Golik admits the option deal for his first screenplay, The Color of the Puck, was lucky.  But, like Thomas Jefferson said, the harder you work, the more luck you’re bound to have.

Mr. Golik’s success story is the exception to my newly adapted rule that queries don’t work.  It was through a query letter that he secured his manager who subsequently marketed his screenplay and penned an option deal.

Overnight success?  Hardly.  Mr. Golik sent countless queries before signing with his manager, and his manager pitched the script for more than a year before getting the option deal.  Oh, and the option deal?  Not exactly mucho dinero.  But it is a huge step in the right direction – just don’t expect the humble Ohio screenwriter to admit it.

The sincerity and candor from Mr. Golilk was refreshing.  He underplayed his success and promoted routes that I have been hesitant to accept – namely screenwriting contests and an Industry website, Inktip.  More on Inktip in a future blog entry.

A quick summary of my notes from his class:

Learn your craft – be open to criticism – don’t beg – promote the heck out of yourself – palm up, not palm down (offer a favor from yourself before asking a favor of someone else) – do cool things for others – be proactive – focus on boutique agencies and avoid the big ones *

* this note contradicts some others’ beliefs that the larger agencies have more room to add clients while the boutique agencies are swamped with the clients they already have.  I think both are correct.  Like I’ve written many times before, this is the grayest of industries.