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.