January 23, 2010


“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” – John Burroughs

The 1998 Minnesota Vikings rank with the great NFL teams of the last couple decades.  They were huge favorites to go to the Super Bowl and in all likelihood would have if Gary Anderson, their prolific kicker who hadn’t missed a field goal all season, hadn’t pulled a late attempt to put the Vikings comfortably ahead of the Atlanta Falcons.  When the Falcons tied the game in regulation, then won in overtime, the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fans asked for Anderson’s head on a platter.  Gary Anderson is one of the great kickers of all time, and a good guy to boot (pun intended), yet many purple rubes unfairly crucified him that disappointing January evening.

Screenwriters are the placekickers of Hollywood – taken for granted when things go well, chastised when they don’t.  That is, if they are recognized at all.  Quick, name ten current NFL placekickers and the teams for which they play.  Even the most astute fantasy footballer may struggle to produce such a list.  Ten quarterbacks and their teams?  Easy.  Quarterbacks are the movie stars.  Maybe running backs and wide receivers are the directors.  And the insidious, conceited owners sitting in their private suites above the fifty yard line are the producers.

So what does it say about me that I want to be all of them?  Is it because I want to reduce the possible scapegoats?  After all, if I’m accountable for everything, there’s nary another to blame.  Success or failure would rest solely on my own shoulders.

Or maybe this whole analogy, loose and unrefined, is just a side effect of having football on my brain right now.  Here’s to hoping the 2009 Vikings are not the 1998 Vikings.

Go Purple!

January 15, 2010

Preparation (not H)

“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” – Alexander Graham Bell

A little over a decade ago I got one of my front teeth knocked out of socket while playing basketball.  I needed immediate care, but my regular dentist was unavailable.  I was grateful to have a second option who took time on a Sunday to tend to my suddenly defunct smile.  He gave me a root canal and ground down the newly dead tooth in favor of crowning with porcelain.  The only problem was his crown didn’t come close to matching the rest of my pearlies.

To say the least, I was unpleased, especially when he wouldn’t fix his work.  For several years I was embarrassed to smile fully because of the discolored, gray-bordered, misshaped front tooth which was, I’ve been told, a hundred times more noticeable to its owner than the rest of the world.  We actors tend to take minor details about ourselves and magnify them in our minds, but this was one of my defining features.  I like to smile.  I do it often.  Sudden self-consciousness over this fill-in dentist’s awful work resulted in mostly lip smiles until I finally had it fixed by a more qualified professional a few years ago.

I don’t know very well the backgrounds of either dentist.  Which one studied more?  Which one has logged more crowning experience?  I do know the first dentist paid no attention to aesthetics.  He had no comprehension of the importance of a smile to someone who relies on it to get work.  Granted, I was in college when it happened and hadn’t started acting professionally yet, but I knew it was in my future and having a timid smile was not a big boost to my confidence.

Whether the second dentist (who did a marvelous job, by the way) was truly more prepared than the first, I do not know, but I have a hunch he was.  At the very least, he promised to work on the tooth until I was happy with it.  Apparently that was too much to ask of the previous driller.

The lesson here is that no matter what we’re doing, we want to be doing it with the very best.  Going in for dental work?  We want the best dentist.  Going in for surgery?  We want the best surgeon.  Having our car worked on?  We want the best mechanic.  Going out to eat?  We want the best chef.  Making movies?  We want the best writers, directors, actors, producers, cinematographers, grips, gaffers, hair and makeup artists, animal wranglers, masseuses, coffee makers, M&M sorters, grape feeders… or something like that.

The only way to be the best is to prepare as such.  Experience is indeed the best source of knowledge, but before you can earn the hands-on experience, you have to study from others’ hands-on experiences.  I’m offering what I can at this blog (check the archives – you’ll find something useful – I promise), and I’m going to make better efforts to offer more links to resources from professionals further advanced in their careers than I.  Hopefully, I can connect somebody to the information they need to take the next step in their career.  And hopefully I take a big step so my words can be validated or corrected as needed.

Let’s be the best dentists – I mean moviemakers – we can be!  Prepare, prepare, prepare, execute!

January 11, 2010


“The only source of knowledge is experience.” – Albert Einstein

I’ve logged hundreds of hours reading movie industry books.  Acting, directing, writing, producing, history, technique, theory – anything that could and should help me in my career.  Never satisfied, of course, but I had gotten to a point where I naively felt I had read more pertinent books than are left out there.  Then I stumbled across The Independents’ list of the 30 Quintessential Books for Independent Filmmakers.  Of the 30, I’ve read only 7.  Guess I’ve got a ways to go.

Fact is, there are more books published in a month than I could possibly read in a year.  But not all are worth the time.  And, reflecting on Mr. Einstein’s words, reading all the books ever written about the film and television industry simply cannot replace good old-fashioned experience.

Reading is one of my worst procrastination stumbling blocks.  It’s so easy to justify time spent learning the craft, but if it’s at the continued expense of practicing the craft, its gain is radically limited.  Just like everything in life, balance is the key.  When one side of the scale dips too heavily, it’s time to counter.  After all, knowledge is useless unless applied.

January 8, 2010


“Never let your persistence and passion turn into stubbornness and ignorance.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo

Two days ago I turned 33 1/3.  My joke was I must be some kind of a record.  Though I shared the hilarious quip with only my wife, I’m guessing her confused reaction would have been shared by many with whom I could have shared the genius comedy.  For those not in the know, 33 1/3 is the revolutions per minute at which LPs spin.  What’s an LP?  Long Play Record Album… you know, the things before tapes… tapes?… you know, the things before CDs… CDs?… you know, the things before iPods… iPods?… if you’re reading this in 2020, iPods have likely been replaced by surgically implanted audio devices of some sort, so iPods are the things before those.

But I digress.

In August of 2008 I developed an Internet entertainment channel with a group of businessmen.  The channel was designed to operate in much the same way as a television network by releasing programs according to a schedule.  For reasons too lengthy to explain here, it didn’t work.

Visions of hundreds of thousands of dollars rolling in was enough to keep me interested and striving to improve the ‘network.’  I still believe in the potential of earning that kind of money with Internet entertainment.  After all, College Humor, iJustine, and FRED are all making a handsome penny.

So why do others succeed where we failed?  They know their audience.  A messy battle of power, egos, and irrational condescension from one particular group under my power in the channel became the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.  I spent hours and days selflessly offering my services to them, asking for nothing in return, and they thanked me by lecturing with false accusations while themselves ‘secretly’ condemning everything I was producing for the channel.

Just like my 33 1/3 joke likely would be lost on many, the productions this group was bringing to the channel were geared toward an audience of themselves, 60 year-old-men.  That audience simply doesn’t exist on YouTube, at least not for entertainment.  So why bother creating content for a nonexistent audience?  That’s where the power struggle came and that’s where the abrasiveness and irrationality become too much to deal with for mere dollars a day.

Whether creating content for television, theater, Internet, or even home videos of your family, you have to have an acute awareness of your audience’s tastes and tendencies.  Yes, Mr. Cosby, I know you can’t please them all, but you might as well tailor your efforts for the majority.  In this industry, it’s the only chance you have.

Never before have I dealt with a group plagued by such stubbornness and self-righteous attitudes.  Their demeaning words and actions became a broken record, and nothing I said or did could change their already made up minds.  It takes a lot for me to swallow my pride and walk away from something before I have tried everything to make it a success.  Numa Network may very well succeed one day, but the awful treatment I received from a ridiculously egocentric group isn’t worth any sum of money.  I’d rather be appreciated and poor, than rich and abused.

January 4, 2010

Goal 2009

“The first step to getting the things you want out of life is this: Decide what you want.” – Ben Stein

If you haven’t seen Ben Stein’s Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, it’s worth 90 minutes of your time.  While Michael Moore is constantly praised for his truth-twisting “documentaries,” Mr. Stein is chastised for his much truer effort.  But I digress.

I like Mr. Stein’s quote about deciding what you want.  How true it is.  It brings me back to my earliest entries in this blog when I was defining my goal for 2009.  I didn’t set out to sell a screenplay or produce another movie or be cast in a major Hollywood film.  I simply wanted to create enough income to allow my wife to leave her job and stay home to raise our kids.

How short I fell.

Yet I made enough progress to keep going.  Many times have I prayed to have this desire lifted.  Instead the desire grows.  While I am not financially free yet, I have had many projects along the way to help pay the bills and reinvest in my company.  Creatively, I am not finding much fulfillment in the projects, but professionally, I am building a respectable portfolio.

How should I shape my goal for 2010?  Logically, I should lower the bar and make the goal more attainable.  Logically, my 2010 goal(s) should be realistic instead of the impossible goal of 2009.  Logically, I shouldn’t expect anything close to what I really want in 2010.  Right?

When has logic ever paid dividends?  My goal(s) for 2010 will be loftier than last year’s.  To paraphrase a popular US Army slogan, “The difficult I’ll do immediately… the impossible may just take a little longer.”

And along the way I’ll share my mistakes and successes, hopefully being of assistance to somebody else sharing the journey with me.

Dear 2010,

Please be good to me.  I’ll do the same to you.