December 16, 2014

Sassy Cassie, never owned a Lassie

Funny. Sweet. Adorable. Talented.

These words describe me well, but today I want to get to my conversation with Ms. Cassie Daniels, a cool cat herself on her way to fame. And I don't mean the TV show.

If you haven't listened yet to the On the Page podcast on which I discovered Cassie and her writing partner, Cheryl Texiera, you need to. Skip breakfast. Skip hygiene. Download the podcast. Cheryl and Cassie are inspirational. Seriously.

Cassie Daniels and I seem to have a lot in common. Our first names are each two syllables, we both like broccoli, and I'm pretty sure we both have ten fingers and at least nine toes.

But it doesn't stop there. Like yours truly, Cassie started writing out of her frustration with acting. "I was sick of only [getting auditions] for Hooker #3," she reflects, "[so I] began my new venture as a hope to create opportunities for myself."

I didn't get very many auditions for Hooker #3, but I was only being sent out for Young Dad, and I wanted to play something I wasn't. The irony is that now I'm not Young Dad anymore - sigh. Still, Old or Young Dad aren't the auditions that excite me. I wrote Horror House so I could play a character that my agent would never have sent me on an audition for.

Cassie has written eight screenplays, two television pilots, and three web series in six years. That's a faster pace than I'm on. Plus, she's sold two features. I've produced two features and optioned another, but I've yet to cash a significant check for anything I've written.

The selfish side of me wanted to know how Cassie connected with buyers for her scripts. "I send lots of emails, reach out to industry professionals, and am constantly pitching my projects," she said.

Not the magic beans answer for which I was hoping, but it serves as a reminder that I need to just keep plugging away and not let rejection discourage me. The rejection comes not from those who read my scripts... the rejection comes much sooner than that. The few industry pros who have read my work have given glowing praise for the most part. As a glass half-empty guy, I tend to ignore the positive responses I've gotten and focus more on the dead-end connections I try so hard to resuscitate.
Actor/Screenwriter, Cassie Daniels

I love Cassie's motto and practice it myself, but I need to adopt it fully instead of only when my mood embraces it: "My motto is to reach out to people and not wait for them to discover you. You have to be proactive and get your material out there. Don't wait for an agent; you are your agent. There is no one in this world that can more passionately pitch your script than you. If no one is reading your script right now, it's no one's fault but your own. There is too much damn opportunity at your fingertips to get it in front of people."

Amen, Cassie. Amen.

Cassie sold her first two screenplays without representation, one being sold through the website, She remembers, "I got pretty lucky on Virtual Pitchfest. Within a week, my script was ranked as the third most requested script and it was optioned within two weeks."

It's been probably ten years since I posted a script on Looking back at that script now, I recognize just how poorly written it was. And the concept of alien robots changing into cars and airplanes was pretty ridiculous, don't you think? Okay, it wasn't a Transformers script. It was about transvestite gardeners. I called it Transfarmers. *

What I've learned in the last ten years is invaluable and knowing Cassie had success with an online screenplay hosting site, I'm motivated to post a script or two as well.

My website of choice is going to be The Black List. I'll probably post the screenplay that I'm currently developing with a financier even though I can't sell it right now. It's time to get some recognition from industry folks for work I know is high quality. I'll keep y'all posted. Both of you.

Like Cassie, most of my writing these days is focused on low-budget indie fare. "My script, Bachelorette Weekend, found success quite easily because we (my incredible writing partner, Cheryl Texiera, and I) purposely wrote the script small and self-contained," Cassie explains. "I always say, when you are starting out, give people few reasons to say no to your idea."

I'll add this to Cassie's great advice to keep your first scripts smaller in scope: Until you've sold a few screenplays, JJ Abrams is not going to buy anything from you. He won't read it. Nobody who does big-budget tent-pole movies is going to be interested in anything from a newbie writer.

There's always going to be an exception, of course, but it makes a lot more sense to put your effort into playing the odds. With so many odds against anybody making it in Hollywood, it's best to resist the urge to try to be another exception to the rule.

So there you have it. Cassie Daniels is working hard and getting her name out there. She's making her own opportunities, building her own career. That's the way to do it. Hollywood doesn't send out invitations for free. Invitations must be earned. She's earning hers, and I applaud her for her attitude and effort.

And she likes broccoli. "Who doesn't?" she asks. "I will tell you who... psychopaths."

Follow Cassie on Twitter @MsCassieDaniels.

Follow me on Twitter @Just_Over.

Follow the yellow brick road.

* I haven't written a script called Transfarmers, but it would be hard to beet a script like that. Too corny? Don't have a cow.

December 15, 2014

Sassy Cassie, not from Tallahassee

After a late summer storm tore apart my kids' playset, I was building a bigger, better scrap-lumber fortress, distracted by a marathon of podcasts. Sure, I stared blankly at the growing structure from time to time as the voices coming through my earbuds mesmerized. I may have mismeasured a few times and accidentally trimmed a fingernail with a miter saw, but I have no regrets. I love learning. I love multitasking. I even multitask while typinggnngn ngingnnkdk...............

While I impersonated Bob the Builder, I listened to an episode of Pilar Alessandra's On the Page screenwriting podcast (episode #369) with her guests, Cheryl Texeria and Cassie Daniels. Aside from wondering if Cheryl had a Yankee first baseman for a husband or if Cassie had a Dumb and Dumber dad, I really enjoyed their well articulated syllables. They were bubbly, funny, upbeat... just a bundle of shared positivity. Check out the podcast. It's ear candy.

I love reaching out to people on their way to success, so I tracked down Cassie and asked her a few questions before she blocked my e-mail address. I'm not sure she's getting my faxes, so I'll fill in any gaps with my own answers.

Why Cassie? Why do I spend more time asking others about their experiences than sharing my own in this blog that I foolishly subtitled, Reflections on my journey from small-town Minnesota to Hollywood?

Truth is, I don't relish talking about myself. I don't feel the need to put into the universe answers to unasked questions. I know there are a few who take interest in my escapades in this crazy industry, but really, I'd rather make small-talk about the weather and illnesses currently going around than talk about my acting/writing/directing career.

Okay, that's a steaming pile of reindeer poo. I hate small talk. But I don't like talking about my own experiences in this industry unless I feel someone is genuinely interested. And I don't know that many are. Certainly not enough to warrant my own little corner here in Internetblogville.

Then there's the fact that I've been chasing this Hollywood dream for a solid fifteen years with only modest success. The subtitle of this blog should be, Reflections on my journey from small-town Minnesota to moderately-sized-town Minnesota since that's all the further I've made it.

So back to Cassie Daniels. I'm interested in her career for two reasons. First, our backgrounds and interests in the industry are similar. Second, she and Cheryl sounded delightfully cool on Pilar's podcast. I like cool people. I root for cool people. If I can do anything to help cool people out, I do it. Introducing Cassie Daniels to my three blog followers is going to do wonders for her career and then the karma chameleons will slither their way to me.

See. It's all selfish. Just my way of manipulating karma.

At least I'm not delaying the point of this blog entry. Time to dive in and talk about Cassie Daniels, someone who is going to be huge soon. I'm lucky I got to her when I did.

But let me just say first, as I sit here at the coffee shop, I was struggling with the decision to buy a hot or cold drink this morning and I chose cold. Now I'm chilled. Not chilled enough that I need my coat back on, but I wish I had a thicker shirt or a sweatshirt to throw on. Do I regret my decision to get a cold drink? No. I regret my decision to wear the shirt I wore.

The color is nice. It's blue which brings out my eyes.

But enough about coffee and shirts and karma chameleons. Let's talk about Cassie Daniels.


September 26, 2014

Screenwriter Andrea Nasfell talks about Moms' Night Out

"I love to read. Well, I have three kids, so no, I don't read. But I aspire to read." -- Allyson, from Moms' Night Out


The amount of time I spent trying to title this blog entry is ridiculous.

Gotta be clever. Gotta be succinct. Gotta tell what the article is about.

Welp, I went one for three.

And I just said, "welp." I love that word.

I mean, I didn't say, "welp." I typed it. And in reality, Andrea Nasfell isn't going to talk about Moms' Night Out here. I'm going to relay her answers to some questions I posed. By typing.

I've already raved about Moms' Night Out and if you haven't seen it yet, stop reading now and go buy it or rent it. No, buy it. Heck, do both. Tell Hollywood these are the movies you want to see. Buy it twice.

I haven't bought it yet.

But I'm going to. More than once. Christmas spoiler alert.

Screenwriter, Andrea Nasfell
Okay, stop skimming now. Here's the good stuff. I promise no spoilers in this conversation with Moms' Night Out screenwriter, Andrea Nasfell.

So before everybody dies at the end of the movie...

Just kidding. No spoilers. Really.


The first thing I had to ask Andrea was how much of the story was derived from her own experiences. She said, "The idea of starting [the story] on Mother's Day came from my life - the high expectations of needing to feel appreciated on that day and the chaos that results from having kids 'appreciating you.' Just the overall feeling of being overwhelmed and feeling like a failure, and totally alone in that failure, is from my life."

Now, technically, I'm not a mother. But aside from my reproductive system, slightly lower voice, and splotchy facial hair, I fit in more closely with mothers than fathers. As a weekday stay-at-home dad, I relate to Moms' Night Out more profoundly than the typical 30-something dude, and Andrea's sentiments speak to me on an almost uterine level.

She continues, "It wasn't until I opened up to some friends about how I was feeling that I realized we are ALL feeling the same way, but everyone is afraid to admit it. So it was fun to put that vulnerability on screen and to see how many women responded saying, 'That is me! I didn't know anybody else understood!'"

I understand.

And lest the men out there think Moms' Night Out is just a chick-flick, rest assured there is plenty of screen time for the other halves of the moms having their night out. When co-directors Jon and Andrew Erwin (October Baby) came on board, Jon expanded Andrea's script to include more from the dads' point of view.

"When they acquired [the screenplay], Jon, Andrew, and [co-producer and actor] Kevin [Downes] sat me down and told me they wanted to make a movie for their wives," Andrea reflects. "[Each having young kids], they instantly related to the family dynamics. They wanted to make the movie to show their wives how much they loved and appreciated what their wives do. I knew they 'got' the movie."

Originally, Andrea wrote Moms' Night Out for PureFlix (God's Not Dead) with a small budget, non-theatrical release expected. When Kevin Downes and the Erwins got involved, the project grew in scope and budget and Jon Erwin rewrote the script accordingly. Then Sony (Soul SurferHeaven is for Real) came on board, and Moms' Night Out evolved into a bigger studio release.

On the plot challenges of Moms' Night Out, Andrea said, "This one had a lot of plotting to get the overlapping story lines to lay out the right way, but [the effort] was well worth the payoff. The other issue was always, 'is it funny enough?' People start worrying about that a lot once it gets close to production, but in the end, once you bring in a cast as funny as the one we had, every beat gets funnier with their masterful comic execution."

I agree with Andrea that the cast was outstanding. Yes, the lead roles are cast with recognizable talent, but beyond the star power, they are just funny, talented, easy to watch homo sapiens. Andrea commented that the Erwins got pretty much all the actors they wanted for this film. I'm sure they wanted me, too, but you know... things happen. No hard feelings.

Next up for the talented and busy Andrea Nasfell is another faith-friendly comedy like Moms' Night Out that will shoot this fall. She has another Christmas movie that should be released in 2015. And she continues to write, write, write and mommy, mommy, mommy.

Be sure to visit Andrea's blog: A Hundred Hats

And please do watch Moms' Night Out. Go to the movie's official website and choose between two versions of the DVD or BluRay. What's the difference? Go to the website and find out! I'll be here when you get back, aspiring to read, write, and do other things I did before I had kids.


September 18, 2014

Anything Worth Saying

In the words of Aaron Shust...

Give me words to speak
Don't let my spirit sleep
Cause I can't think of anything worth saying

So is the lament of the lonely blogger. I'm sure Mr. Shust was thinking of bloggers when he penned the lyrics to Give Me Words to Speak.

Give me words to speak
My blog is feeling weak
Cause no one really cares what I've been saying

That's gotta be the long lost chorus that didn't make it into the public EP release of Whispered and Shouted -- a great easy-listening Christian CD, by the way.

Moms' Night Out, my favorite faith-based film of 2014, opens with our hero, Allyson, typing, "I am a mommy blogger… I have 3 followers. Yesterday I had 4, so that's awesome."

Wow, can I relate. Although, according to my tracking software, last week's post reached a few more eyes than normal. Which is a good thing.


I'm not sure my words were received as intended.

I'm supposed to be sharing in this post some wonderful nuggets of wisdom from the superbly talented screenwriter of Moms' Night Out, Andrea Nasfell.


I wanted to clear up any misconceptions that may have surfaced from my post imploring Christian filmmakers to take risks and raise their standards.

First, I didn't mean to imply that all Christian movies released in the time period between What If… and Moms' Night Out were bad movies. On the contrary, Christian cinema is progressing in the right direction, both aesthetically and message-wise. Yes, there have been Christian movies that fall into one or more categories of too preachy, meandering story, inconsistent acting -- but a similar percentage (probably a higher percentage, actually) of mainstream movies fall into the exact same categories.

I've produced two feature films that definitely fall into more than one of those categories!

It's not my intention to tear down any films or filmmakers, which is why I didn't reference specific titles. Still, specific mentions or not, speculative deduction can bring a number of titles to readers' minds. If that's the case, there's a good chance the reader feels the same way about certain movies. I can live with that.

But… as a filmmaker myself, I know how personal these projects can be and to hear negative comments, directly or indirectly, can spur emotions that debilitate and invoke fear of future failure. I know from experience! And I hate those feelings!

Or they spur anger over the idiot typing them.

Either way, the last thing I want to do is tear down Christian filmmakers. I'm trying to encourage, but I suspect that sentiment may not have been completely evident.

I'm not taking back my plea to make better movies, but I'm not implying that the majority of Christian movies in the market today are bad. I've seen probably 40-50 Christian movies in the last five years and I didn't hate a single one of them. Every one had redeeming qualities that I could appreciate, if not for my own personal growth, for the potential growth they could encourage in other audience members.

And that is the key. If a movie has the power to speak to somebody, anybody, in a way that can improve his or her life, that movie is a worthy tool in God's belt.

I have so much to say on this topic, but I don't know if any of it is worth saying, so I'll just Shust my mouth for now.

September 11, 2014

Christian cinema needs to take more risks

"God chose to introduce Himself to us in the first verse of Genesis as a Creator. And yet so few Christians really understand the power of creativity to influence the culture." -- Phil Cooke

Three years ago I saw a movie that forever changed my perception of Christian cinema. What If..., directed by Dallas Jenkins, proved that faith-based films didn't have to be plagued by poor production value, underwhelming acting, meandering story lines, and heavy handed preachiness. Finally, I had found a Christian movie I wasn't embarrassed to share with my non-believing friends.

Unfortunately, What If... didn't start a new trend. High quality faith-based movies are still the exception, but church audiences tend to give them a free pass because the filmmakers are "doing God's work." Really, does a movie have to look pretty to be effective?

Yes. It does.

I'm not talking pretty in the sense of beautiful scenery, gorgeous stars, and shiny plot points (though it's not like any of those elements are bad!). I'm talking about faith-based films meeting the production standards of the secular motion pictures that dominate the box office. There's no reason Christian cinema shouldn't be held to the same standards as, say, Dallas Buyers Club or Captain Phillips or The Hangover, part 8.

It's time for Christian filmmakers to raise their own bars. It's time to bring story to the forefront and let the message come out organically instead of forcing it down the audience's throat. It's time to employ talented folks who may not share our worldview, but who bring world-class sensibilities to any and all stages of production.

It's time to take the kid gloves off and tackle some of the bigger issues that are running this world into the ground. Or, on a lighter note, it's time to crack some jokes about ourselves and tear down that wall that separates the overly pious from the shunned bystanders.

Now, What If... isn't a movie that risks a lot, but its production value ranks up there with mainstream Hollywood cinema. The script is tight, the acting is solid, the direction is spot-on, and the overall feel is unlike most faith-based films available today.

New on DVD last week is a faith-based film that rivals What If... as my favorite Christian movie of the last decade. At times riotous, always heartfelt, and undeniably relatable to me as a stay-at-home dad, Moms' Night Out finally continues the trend I'd wanted What If... to ignite. It's no coincidence that Moms' Night Out is written by What If... screenwriter Andrea Nasfell, who will join me in my next blog entry to share some of the backstory behind Moms' Night Out.

I can't recommend Moms' Night Out and What If… enough. To me, they set the standard for what faith-based films should be. Are they perfect? Of course not. No movie is. But strip away the Christian message (which isn't nauseatingly forced down the throats of the audience), and these movies look like they belong in the same category as typical wide-release Hollywood fare.

And that is what makes them effective.

September 2, 2014

What's quality got to do with it?

"The actor's popularity is evanescent; applauded today, forgotten tomorrow." -- Harrison Ford

Is it better to be good or popular?

One needn't look past the Kardashian empire to find the answer to that question.

Then again, building your own popularity is a talent in itself.

A talent I don't possess.

Justen Overlander, Keri Bunkers, and Gary David Keast
at the Action On Film Festival's screening of The Bequeather.
Here's what I learned last week at the Action On Film Festival where my feature comedy, The Bequeather, screened late Monday night to an audience of nine:

The quality of a film is inconsequential to film festivals.

What does a festival care whether a movie is any good? All that matters is that people come to see it. Period.

And that's the way it should be. One certainly can't fault a business for wanting to make money.

Still, it's frustrating as an artist who works his tail off to create something through years of blood, sweat, and caffeine, to have his film screened after something that clearly wasn't tended to as much as it should have been.

I'm not saying The Bequeather is a modern Citizen Kane, but it's a coherent story with decent production value. I can't say the lead-in movie last week was either.

But they promoted themselves well. I tip my hat to them. And I really don't mean to send any negative energy their way. I'm reflecting as an artist, separating myself from the partiality I have to my own movie, and assessing both projects as unbiased as I can.

One movie deserved to screen at the festival; one didn't.

The Bequeather is the one that didn't deserve to screen.

I'm a terrible self-promoter and until I can get over my deficiencies in that essential part of artistry, I will not achieve the success I crave. It doesn't matter how good I am; If I'm not popular, nobody will care.

A better press kit, a bigger social presence, unashamed promotion… I need these. All artists need these. The trick is to attain them without also adapting obnoxious egocentrism.

Wait a sec… obnoxious egocentrism is working for a ton of people. Surely that's the way to go. What have I been thinking all these years?

Time to make a trip to Sarr Chasm.

August 11, 2014

LA Casting Director Jeffery Passero Offering Acting Intensive Class In Duluth, August 16

"Acting is not about being someone different. It's finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there." -- Meryl Streep

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to audition for a feature film being cast by Jeffery Passero, a casting director based out of Los Angeles. His experience and passion were immediately evident and his willingness to work with me on the character for whom I was reading gave me insight beyond what I picked up on my own. It was exactly the kind of interactive audition I appreciate.

Talking with Mr. Passero after reading my audition sides, he said something that took me by surprise. Having been in Minnesota for several days trying to cast the remaining roles in Jim Ojela's feature film, Strange Nature, he was surprised by the lack of preparation by so many auditioning.

I was embarrassed for us. We Minnesota actors take pride in being a talented group. Our theater community is widely recognized as one of the best in the nation. Therein lies one of the problems.

Stage acting is drastically different than screen acting. Only a small percentage of actors can truly excel in both arenas. Many auditioning for Mr. Passero may have been projecting to a live audience that just isn't a part of movie production. Stage actors are often too big for the camera.

Still, Mr. Passero's comment was specifically aimed at the lack of preparation actors brought to their auditions. Stage or screen, preparation is necessary for any audition.

Then it hit me. We're a theater community, for sure. But we're also a commercial and industrial video community. One can make a career in commercials and industrial films by simply being themselves. Auditioning for a 30-second commercial requires familiarity with a page of story boards and maybe a few lines of dialogue. Rarely is there much real acting involved in a commercial.

So when a feature film comes to town, perhaps many who find success in commercial auditions simply don't know how to make the transition from one-dimensional archetypes to layered characters with a history. A great smile, great voice, great energy can take an actor a long ways in commercials, but it takes authenticity to bring a movie character to life.

Some readers of this are rolling their eyes right now, maybe even angry at this pretentious Justen Overlander claiming to know this and that. Rest assured, this is only a theory, one that I only developed recently after meeting Jeff Passero. Agree or disagree with my conclusion, one can't argue with Mr. Passero's observation that too many actors he saw were unprepared.

On Saturday, August 16th, Jeffery Passero will be teaching his one-day acting intensive workshop from 10am - 5pm at the Duluth  Playhouse (The Underground). The workshop consists of two classes in which students will do a memorized scene and at least two audition sides which will be prepared as if students were auditioning for Mr. Passero. The memorized scene will be provided before the class.

Fee for the entire day is $150, which includes two 3-hour sessions. Students also have the option of enrolling in just the afternoon session (audition skills) for $75.

For more information about Jeffery Passero and his classes, visit his website:

To enroll in his August 16th Duluth class, please call 818.506.8400.

Casting Director/Acting Coach Jeff Passero

June 9, 2014

I'm crying because I didn't think of this

There are things I wish I would have created. Like the iPhone and Disney World.

Then there are things I'm happy I didn't create. Like sauerkraut and The Real Housewives of Wherever.

This brilliantly funny book falls into the former category:

I mean, come on. It's cute, funny, and so ridiculously simple. Like me. Except for the cute and funny part.

Can you guess from the title what it's about?

No. It's not about baby goats. Or Storck Chocolates.

It's a bunch of pictures of kids crying with captions explaining the reasons they are crying.

So simple. So brilliant. Like me. Except for the brilliant part.

It all started with the blog of a father raising his kids during the day while moonlighting in a creative field. Sounds a little familiar.

I'm inspired now to change the content of my blog. From now on, I'm going to go around to parks, beaches, schools, and church nurseries to make kids cry so I can take their picture and make up funny captions.

Wait a sec. Kids cry enough on their own. For reasons more ridiculous than I could ever invent. And that's what makes Greg Pembroke's book and blog so brilliantly simple and charming. Like me. Except for the brilliantly charming part.

As a parent of three creatures that can go from sobs to laughter and back again in less time than it takes me to forget what I'm looking for in the fridge, Reasons My Kid is Crying struck a chord with me and is sure to do the same for other child overlords.

That's what creators need to do. Create things that resonate with an audience. It doesn't have to strike a chord with every audience, but it needs to connect to some audience. And it's not always about the size of the audience but the loyalty of the audience.

I know there's an audience out there for my Naked Gun soap opera. A big, loyal audience, aged 18-49, that spends a lot of money on products they see in commercials.

But I digress.

Hey, how about my own contribution to Reasons My Kid is Crying?:

May 30, 2014

Spin City and Cougar Town Scrubs are Undateable

I love and hate paradoxes.

Some recent Tweets from one of the most successful sitcom creators of the last 20 years have me feeling good and bad. Happy and sad. Hungry and satiated.

The good: Even the successful ones with a proven track record  have a mountain to overcome in launching a new show.

The bad: Even the successful ones with a proven track record have a mountain to overcome in launching a new show.

Bill Lawrence created Scrubs and co-created Spin City and Cougar Town. Maybe you've heard of them. His new show, Undateable, premiered May 29, 2014. Mr. Lawrence was either jittery about the premiere or one of his kids hijacked his Twitter account on a Mountain Dew buzz.

Either way, it was a breath of fresh air reading his Tweets. Followed by a breath of mercaptan air. Then a breath that was both fresh and mercaptan-laced. I breathed all the breaths from a pair o' docks.

Success is anything but guaranteed, no matter who you are. This is encouraging in the sense that I, in my malnourished embryonic stage, am not that far removed from the heavyweight butterflies already fluttering about in the pristine primetime pastures.

But if the vets are struggling, how in the world is a rookie going to get a crack at some nectar?

Well, rookies don't sell TV shows, so it's not as if I'm suddenly crushed that my TV pilots are not going to get produced. They aren't. At least not until I've been staffed a few years.

Still, the changing landscape of television is both exciting and disappointing. Never before have more programming options been available. Granted, too many shows are reality trash, but with Amazon and Netflix entering the serialized scripted ring, joining the likes of FX, TBS, USA, and other former syndication hubs, there are more outlets for new shows than ever before.

And that's the problem.

How do you stand out these days? What's going to make people -- and by people I mean 18-49 year-old consumers -- choose your show over The Bachelor, Season 37?

When somebody figures out that answer, he/she will get his/her own star on the Walk of Fame and it will be bigger than all the other stars combined. It will have to be that big to fit all the sponsors' logos, because that's who really cares about television.

In the meantime, I appreciate the humility of Bill Lawrence, and I wish him great success with Undateable. If you have the time, check out this fun little video he put together to promote the show.

Even the big dogs explore unconventional means of promotion. What's next? Blogging?

I'll close this blog entry with a couple more Tweets that make me smile and frown, laugh and cry, pee and poop.

No matter what level we're at, if we really want to be the best we can be, we need to be aware of our mistakes, we need to constantly strive to improve, and we have to admit we don't know all the answers.

And online stalking is fun.

The coolest thing about Twitter is that I now consider Bill Lawrence a BFF because of all I learned about him by clicking that little blue bird on my screen. Love you, Bill. See you at the park next week. You won't see me.

May 27, 2014

Quantitative Quality Questioned

Quality vs. Quantity.

Why the competition?

Maybe it should be:
"Quality and Quantity, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G."

Or whatever the non-9-year-old-girl equivalent would be.

Pilar Alessandra interviewed Benderspink manager, Jake Wagner, on episode 345 of her high quality/quantity On the Page podcast. Like so much in this industry, Mr. Wagner's insights were both encouraging and discouraging.

Here's a quote from Mr. Wagner, taken from a recent interview with Jeanne Veillette Bowerman of Script Magazine, that sums up one of his sentiments from the On the Page podcast:

"All you need is one great script. The rookie mistake is when you have four or five scripts, I’m always wondering why aren’t you repped yet? I don’t buy it. Don’t tell me you have 10 amazing scripts that are award-winning quality. If the feedback is so remarkable, then why hasn’t someone slipped it to their contacts in the industry for you?"

The encouraging opinion is that you only need one great script.

The part that concerns me is that he doesn't believe there are unrepped writers out there with four or five great scripts.

Statistically, he's probably very close on his assessment. But his assumption must be that the screenwriter who claims to have four or five great scripts has shopped each of those scripts around, being shut out each time.

In my last entry, I mentioned I have written nine feature-length screenplays and two half-hour sitcom pilots. In the interest of keeping things simple, I'll treat the teleplays as screenplays and add all the projects together... where's my calculator... oh, there it is... okay, 9+2=11. Just as I thought.

I'm not repped. I must suck.

Do I think all 11 of my screenplays are great? Nope. In fact, I only consider two of them great. But I'm still tinkering away at them -- the great ones and the not so great ones -- always rewriting.

But here's the thing. When I see what's being produced, whether on television or on big screens, I consider at least 3 or 4 of my screenplays worthy of production and my overall writer's "voice" to be worthy of representation.

Does that mean I'm "settling" when I get a project to what I perceive as the "good-enough" stage? Of course not. I finish a screenplay, maybe do one or two rewrites shortly after, then let it simmer for a while, and then dig in again for a new round of rewrites. Besides, were I to sell a screenplay outright, I would be rewritten by a team of established veterans anyway, so sweating every line of dialogue and description is a little obsessive, don't you think?

Except that I'm a perfectionist.

So where am I then? Am I a delusional scripter with a folder full of bad Final Draft documents since I'm not repped?

I don't think so.

Then what am I doing wrong? Why hasn't a Jake Wagner scooped me up yet? Why am I not staffed on New Girl or Nashville? Why haven't I sold a pilot? A screenplay?

Because nobody wants to hear from a small-town stay-at-home dad in flyover land.

To answer Mr. Wagner's question, "...why hasn’t someone slipped [your screenplay] to their contacts in the industry for you?" Because my contacts don't have contacts in the industry. It's another Catch-22 where industry people won't read material unless it's sent to them by industry people. It's like trying to join a members-only club where the sign-up booth is only accessible by members.

So I just keep writing. I believe I'm serving lobster tails at dollar menu prices. I believe my voice is both delicious and affordably bountiful. Or something like that. Quality and quantity. Dig?

I certainly believe I talk about myself too much here. Man, I hope this is useful to somebody out there!

May 15, 2014

You'll have to excuse my friend. He's a little slow.

"It takes 20 years to make an overnight success." -- Eddie Cantor

I'm almost there! And in the words of hydroelectric schedule makers, "It's about dam time."

I've been acting professionally now for about 15 years. All that means is that I was first paid for acting when I was 22 or 23 (maybe 24? 25?). I played a rancher in a Cub Foods commercial. No lines. Only a few seconds on screen. But I got paid for it.

I wrote my first screenplay more than ten years ago. The next one I wrote, just a year later (and with co-writers), was optioned. Cockily cashing the small option check, I figured, was just practice before cashing the bigger checks just around the corner. I could almost taste the nectar of my blossoming screenwriting career.

The option expired and the movie was never produced. Bummer.

So I wrote and produced my own feature-length movie back in 2008. We secured distribution and the movie played all over the world. But nobody liked it. Drat.

A couple years later I wrote a sitcom pilot that I shot and released on the YouTube channel I co-founded and built around what was then the most watched online video ever. The channel earned me a few hundred bucks and almost as many headaches over the couple years we maintained it. D'oh.

Now I have a movie making the festival rounds, or I should say, making the festival application rounds. We were accepted into the first festival to which we applied but then rejected by the next. Now I wait on more than a dozen other festivals' decisions to screen or not to screen my latest labor of love that I wrote, directed, edited, produced, and played a lead role in.

Over the years I've created and produced dozens of my own projects, and acted in at least a hundred movies, commercials, and industrials for others in Minnesota and Los Angeles. I've written nine feature-length screenplays (and started 326 more, give or take), a couple television pilots, and three angry letters to Home Depot.

Actually, only two angry letters to Home Depot. But they deserved more.

Oh, and this awesome blog. How empty would the lives of you three pity-readers be without this blog?

Has any of it gotten me anywhere? Really? Have my efforts amounted to anything more than a side job or hobby? Will all the time I've dedicated to this career be worth anything when all is said and done? Am I really any closer now than I was 15 years ago?

All along this oftentimes painful journey I've never quit running. And I never will. I can't. No, seriously. I'm at the age now that if I stop running my muscles cramp up and it takes me a day to get them going again.

Momentum keeps building. I still believe that one day I will sputter into Hollywood on my hoggish scooter, Samsonite briefcase full of dreams clutched to my side. I'm nothing if not a dumb dreamer.

There are times I feel like Lloyd Christmas is talking about me, not Hairy Dunne, when he says, "You'll have to excuse my friend. He's a little slow."

I feel slow. Like my four-year-old's response to, "Dinner will be ready in a half hour," I'm slumping my shoulders, hanging my head, and moaning, "Ohhhh, it's taking fooooreverrrr!"

The challenge for me is to appreciate all that I have accomplished instead of kicking myself for not accomplishing more. This journey isn't what I expected, but every part of it may be necessary to one day become an overnight success.

April 30, 2014

I Want it All (And I Want it Now)

"Don't aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally." -- David Frost

There's an episode of The Simpsons in which Homer buys a burrito at the Kwik-E-Mart and Apu tells him it will be ready after 60 seconds in the microwave. "But I want it now," Homer whines.

Yep. I'm Homer.

Why is it so hard to wait for my burrito?

Cuz I'm hungry.

And the only satiation for my hunger is a film career burrito with philanthropic salsa and a side of refried social activism. Of course, I wouldn't mind washing it all down with a financial security margarita.

Here's the thing. If I really want the burrito, I'm going to make it myself. The homemade version may take longer than its microwave counterpart, but it's bound to taste a whole lot better.

I've been working on the recipe for more than 15 years and I think I've finally concocted the right mixture of blood, sweat, and tears. And beef. As in beefcake. Cuz I work out and stuff.


Aside from my weekly self-loathsome breakdowns -- my most recent one was triggered by reading this earlier blog entry (five years later and I still haven't achieved the goal I set forth there) -- I'm more motivated and optimistic than ever before. That burrito is cooking and soon I will devour it.

But for now, I'll do my best to follow David Frost's suggestion of just doing what I love and believe in and allowing success to come to me naturally. After all, I wouldn't want to be stuck with a Monsanto burrito, right? You know, unnatural. Cuz I want success to come naturally.

At least I have a future in running metaphors into the ground.

And the future of this blog will refocus on more specific experiences in this non-cullinary journey of mine from Minnesota to Hollywood. There will still be salsa. There will always be salsa. Especially when the chips are down.

April 24, 2014

Awed Odds

"If you play the odds, there's no reason to ever attempt a career in show business. If you live your dreams, there's no reason not to." -- Bonnie Gillespie

Twenty scratch-offs and six multi-chance match-the-numbers stubs. My wife won $120 worth of Minnesota lottery tickets at a charity event last month. We were both shocked because we never win anything. That's not an exaggeration. We never winAnything. Even our cribbage games end with us both losing somehow...

So when she came home with two gas tanks worth of lottery tickets, we couldn't wait to get scratching. Don't get me wrong... we knew we weren't going to hit any jackpots, but even if we came out fifty cents on the dollar, we'd be treating ourselves to large sundaes at Culver's... maybe without a coupon even!

We won $3.00.

And really, I'm surprised we won that. Ya know... I haven't actually cashed the one winning ticket yet, so I suppose there's a chance we misread the ridiculously complicated game... or maybe we possess one of the rarest of lottery tickets that actually requires the scratchee to pay the winning amount.

Needless to say, I'm not a lottery player. As someone who regularly defies odds in all ways non-beneficial, I figure, "why bother?"

It stands to reason, then, that I should give up this ridiculous Hollywood dream. Anyone who can manage to come out netting a 1/40 return on investment in lottery tickets isn't exactly walking around with four leaf clovers in his hair and a horseshoe in his pocket.

Luck plays such a huge role in penetrating the bubble with which Hollywood surrounds itself. One can't help but be awed by the odds stacked against a nobody from flyover land.

And yet I keep scratching.

Maybe I'll get there. Maybe I won't. I'm already embarrassed to be 37 years old and continuing to chase something a non-idiot would have given up long ago. Pride is out the window. All that's left is stubbornness. And desire.

If only I could find a little luck...