Returning to the White Pages

I’ve been largely absent from this blog this year. That’s in large part due to my interest in music. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about music theory, production and sound design. After completing “Doctor with the Red Houseware,” I needed some time before I felt ready to tackle another project.

I have a terrible habit of overthinking details. This results in the phenomenon of “Analysis leads to paralysis”. I’ve flirted with several premises I would like to develop but have yet to take the plunge and commit to any of them. There are a few main reasons for this – but the greatest pitfall has been the almighty dollar.

I feel filmmaking is somewhat unique to other branches of entertainment. If you are a great musician, comedian, actor, or even writer, your number one asset is yourself, your number 2 asset is exposure. The creation of a film has much less to do with talent, ability, and skills, and much more to do with budget. You can create an outstanding film with less, sure, and you can use your problem-solving skills to tackle obstacles that pose a risk to production. But at the end of the day, you’re going to need money if you intend to create a film that can rub shoulders with major box office productions. You will want the best camera, best sound, best effects, and most famous actors you can afford.

Acquiring that money is the obvious challenge, but of course there are unlimited strategies to accomplish that. From watching interviews with other filmmakers online, I’ve arrived at a variety of potentially successful avenues. The common thread for soliciting investments, however, tends to involve having a product worth selling – so obviously you must begin with a completed script.

As any writer knows, each project requires an overwhelming amount of time, effort, and anguish to complete. The major salt on the wound for writers is finding a single reader is even more of a challenge.

Part of the joy I’ve experienced in filmmaking has been the knowledge that I would produce and shoot the scripts that I wrote. As I begin work on a new feature length script I can’t help but confront the obvious – I am going to need external financing to complete a 110-130 page story.

I have developed several daily habits that require 30 minutes or less. I find that the more I limit my time the better I manage it. I’m actively considering ways in which I could post a new video to youtube each day. I feel that developing a fanbase could help me reach my goal in more ways than one. I also fear, however, that I will be tempted to devote more time to each video.

Another habit I am considering implementing has to do with knocking on doors. By routinely networking with other producers, distributors, and production companies, I can greatly improve my odds of having an ear open for me when my story is ready to pitch. I can begin to immerse myself in the business of filmmaking rather than hiding in the fantasy of it all.

I would like to return to the idea of crowdfunding the film. Of course, before I can launch a kickstarter campaign I will need to have the script completed and a sizzle reel shot. The sizzle reel is something I can take care of without any hefty investments. This would include a single location with legitimate actors that provides the overall tone and promise of the story I would like to tell.

Just wanted to share some thoughts today. I hope to do so again tomorrow.

Film Journal – locating on a budget

I havent written here much lately. I’ve been consumed with work and making episode 5 happen. I did come up with a great story about a man realizing his situation was not confined to his luck but his effort to affect others positively, however i was drunk and it was 3 am and seemed like a bad time to flee my bed and girlfriend to go write. I have finished film journal 3 and in case you’ve been monitoring the progress of my web series, I’ll post the link below:

A Maze With No Exit

There’s a great video on youtube about this Sushi chef in New York. Customers pay an astounding price to eat at his restaurant. The seating is extremely limited and reservations are made months in advance. I believe the menu is tailored to the specific customers for the day, but I may be mistaken. It’s been a while since I watched it but the important part has stuck with me. The habits that sushi chef had shaped for himself – from arriving hours early, sharpening his knives, and prepping each dish – struck me deeply.

I watched another short documentary recently about a salt farmer in Mexico who is the only person left to keep his family’s tradition of salt making alive. He is poor, breaks his back daily, and has no intent on stopping.

I think about monks from time to time. Each day they rise early and pray. They spend time performing labor-some tasks. They thank God before each meal. Then they go back to work. Each day to them is similar in action, but unique in joy.

Advancements in technology have made information, entertainment, and communication available in a flash. Our minds are jumping every 5 seconds and have been conditioned to demand stimulation at a moment’s notice. Yet we wonder why rates of depression and anxiety continue to climb.

If you’ve ever played a video game, you’re likely familiar with the concept of playing as a single character who continues to improve his skills in order to attain his overarching objective. You retrieve plants and use them to craft medicine and food. You perform tasks and are rewarded with money. You purchase stronger weapons and your enemies are no longer as threatening. It’s fun because it simulates what real life is supposed to be – without the real work.

We can develop habits that place us in the pathway of success. If you want to improve your writing, you can study books. Or you can write. Or you can provide feedback for other writers. If you want to film a special effect you are unfamiliar with, simply type it into youtube and you will find a tutorial that suits your needs.

Each hour of every day we receive the gift of time. We can choose to spend that time developing our own character to progress toward our personal goals, or we can waste that time on consuming the products of others.

There is a generous reward provided to those who routinely devote their time to habitual improvement. The reward is not always the gift of prosperity and acclaim. The reward is found in the joy that comes from living with purpose.

When I find that I am depressed, sad, or anxious, I find that the core of my beliefs has often shifted. I fall so far into consumerism that I have allowed the thoughts, opinions, and products of others shape my worldview. At the center of my flawed belief is the idea that their is no pathway to success, joy, or meaningful production.

I often think of a study that was once conducted with mice. The mice were placed in a maze that had no way to exit. For a time, the mice tried relentlessly. They took new routes and made different turns hoping to find an exit that they had previously passed over. Eventually they stopped searching. Instead they slumped over and rested, finally learning to be content with accepting that escape was an impossibility. But the researchers performing the study waited until this point in time to finally lift a barrier and allow for a clear pathway to freedom. Do you know what the mice did? They remained sleeping, and stopped looking for the exit altogether. They remained trapped, but unbeknownst to them their freedom would have only taken a few more attempts.

Throughout life it’s easy to look back on past efforts and shortcomings and conclude that the success we desire is simply not in the cards for us. “Seek and you shall find.” Though we might not see the path we have been looking for, it does us no good to accept misery as an inevitability. We must get up, we must gather our tools, and we must get to work.

The Group Scene

The Group Scene/The Dinner Scene/Friends at a table. They each are a variation of the same thing:

4-5 main characters gather at a table and share in a discussion.

Simple, right? Not for a writer. It’s not the complexity of maintaining each character, nor is it the task of inventing an interesting dialogue. The difficulty lies in moving the plot along, building tension, and producing a character change.

Episode 5 currently runs 27 pages (which will translate to roughly 27 minutes). Out of those pages, 19 of them involve a group discussion that takes place at a table. My goal is to condense those 27 pages to 8 and incorporate a riveting midpoint at page 4.

What makes the group discussion unique is that people don’t generally sit around and think up ways to murder each other, as much as we all want to see that. There is not a natural clock with imminent danger when your characters are sitting down and sharing information. And my main character isn’t much of an actionable detective if the other characters he’s sitting with are freely offering up there own personal backgrounds and clues.

One of the best ways to orchestrate a group scene is to implement a relationship triangle. Person A likes B, but B likes C, and C likes A. The more you can entangle the relationships to affect one another the more intrigue you generate. But because my story is not a drama nor a romance, I have to find a way to introduce more tension, higher stakes, and hard-turning plot points – especially since the meat of the episode takes place in a seated arrangement.

Allow me to do some thinking out loud for a moment. I’ll create a dynamic similar to my own and see what areas of conflict and tension we can artificially introduce.

Bob attends a dinner with 4 new people. He was not invited but lied his way into the group. After being welcomed in, the group leader repeatedly challenges Bob to prove his allegiance to the group by taking a shot every time he speaks out of turn. Bob is trying to identify which group member stole his cat.

We see the obstacle – acceptance – and know the objective – information.

Now imagine that out of those 4 new people, Theo is the leader. Theo governs the group with an iron fist – one that Bree feels is too tight. Geronimo – the funny guy in the group – has a secret crush on Bree. When Bob joins the group, Geronimo worries that she will like Bob instead. Kazinski, on the other hand, is obedient to Theo. He believes that Theo’s adherence to group formalities unifies them and makes him deserving of being in charge.

There lives have become more intertwined and more unique. Though this may be hard to follow, it provides a writer with varying character motivations. These motivations will drive each character’s unique reaction to different events.

But we need character actions – what can Bob do to drive the story forward, and what obstacles may he find in his path?

The obvious one is for Bob to be reprimanded each time he speaks out of turn.

What interesting events can follow this? What areas do we have to tighten the conflict and elevate the tension?

Perhaps Bree repeatedly encourages Bob to not respect Theo’s wishes. Perhaps Bob realizes that the only way his cat will come up in the conversation is if he initiates it.

That does add a sprinkle of the conflict and tension, but not a whole lot. Now let’s imagine that each time Bob speaks the group becomes more convinced that he has another purpose for being there. Once this piece of psychological danger is introduced we find a true obstacle to Bob’s objective.

Maybe one of the group members secretly discovers the reason that Bob is there before the others – and tries to notify them covertly. You would be wise to let the viewers in on this secret first to create more suspense.

The tension can escalate by dangling the truth right in front of Bob. How can we put Bob’s cat on the table for him to grab while preventing him from doing so? However we do it, I think this should be the midpoint.

I think Bob should find out that his cat is more happy with its new owner. That creates an internal conflict by allowing Bob to feel guilty and doubt the ethics of his quest – until at the ending when he reunites with his cat he learns he was intentionally mislead.

One way we can place the cat right on the table would be by producing a picture of the animal from an unspecified source. Maybe everyone in the group starts chatting about it and sharing inside information. Maybe they call the cat dumb and insult it in order to instigate Bob into exposing his true intentions.

What action can Bob take to definitively know which group member stole his cat? Once convinced of who its owner might be, Bob may use the individuals want/need to his advantage. Bob can also use blunt force trauma as a method to get a confession. Or he can trick one of his new “friends” into spilling the beans by dangling his own truth – his reason for being there – right in front of them.

Perhaps Bob informs the group that he had deceived them about his intentions within the group. He can say that he purchases missing cats in order to resell them to their original owner. When he tells them that he is offering $500 with no questions asked for the cat in the picture, he finally gets one of them to fess up to their crime. After that he must choose how to punish the individual and still receive the feline for a climactic ending.

So this is the group scene. Nothing about it is inherently interesting, but it is a high-frequency event in most stories. You should never write a scene that does not incorporate multiple story elements just because it “sounds real.” You should always introduce dialogue and actions that divide your group while also gluing them closer together.

I will be tinkering with my own group scene today and just by writing this I have found some new ideas. I think it is a fun challenge anytime you beef up a scene that you have already written. Hopefully this has provided you with your own ideas for how you would like your own group scene to evolve.

Navigating Modern Art

“The Smell of Rank” – Thomas M. Watt, oil on canvas, 2020.

I’ve been toying with an idea for the last few months that I may finally put into practice. But before I get into that, let’s discuss the typical artistic dream:

This applies whether you are a painter, a musician, a filmmaker, or a writer – at your core you value art over superficial gimmicks. The idea of self promotion, marketing, sales, and even merchandising likely makes you feel ill. You entered into your craft because you wanted to express an emotion that would leave a lasting impact on others. You sought to share your life experience through a specified medium with such precision that your message would inspire the souls of others like you.

The problem with this dream is not the dream itself – for it is a beautiful ideal. The issue has to do with the reality of the world we live in.

Any person who has sought to make this dream a reality will likely come across a similar issue: Despite painting a masterpiece, composing a captivating melody, or writing a whirlwind romance, your accomplishment goes unrecognized. The place where I have always been stopped is likely where others have been held up as well – short of the entrance door.

The most difficult aspect of attaining success in these pipe-dream careers is the barrier to entry. Unfortunately (and I say that with sincerity) we all know stories about artists who were discovered due to their overwhelming talent. The reason I say “unfortunately” is because the rapidly changing world we live in is reshaping the gate that prevents us from being recognized. That gate is technology.

If I can produce a quality film for less than $1000 so can anybody else. I can improve the quality a hundred fold each time, but during the time period it requires me to make such a film there are being millions upon millions of films being produced and streamed each day. What I am emphasizing here is the over-saturation of artistic markets.

You may be the greatest painter who ever lived, but if you only have 10 paintings available for sale you are going to have a rough time capturing enough interested clients to for a worthy price point to be fully realized. Now imagine JK Rowling made a painting and tried to sell it. Do you think she would have any trouble finding a buyer, despite its quality? I don’t think so.

So what am I getting at with all this? That the modern artist must choose quantity over quality? God no. My belief is that in order to reach a broader audience you must make yourself an accessible figure. The only way to avoid this would be to “get discovered” by a company or individual more powerful than yourself. Though that is the typical climax of any pipe-dream, I am absolutely sickened by the thought of relying on an outside power to help me make my dream a reality. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that I would be opening myself up to getting played. If I am holding out for another entity to find success for me, they are going to use that to their advantage in negotiations – after-all, that’s how they’ve become a successful, established entity.

I have long avoided posting any videos on my youtube channel that are not new episodes for my film. In similar fashion, many writers on here only market works of fiction for sale that are full length novels. These things take months or even years to develop. During that time period, the audience for such content is still active in the community – but they’re giving their views, plays, and clicks to other artists.

That is the price of free rentals and free views. Your income from each “customer” is closer to 0 than it is to a single penny. Meanwhile, the top content producers rake in a ton of attention by consistently pushing out content and developing a communal following.

I am not sure what direction I am going to head in, but I do know the typical path of marketing is a foolish one. I can post teaser trailers each week and hype up my next episode all I want. Neither of those options will be even half as effective as producing weekly videos that build a community of viewers who want to hear my perspective on things and learn from me specifically. I am 100% convinced that building the viewership in my channel will result in more views for my upcoming episode than merely waiting until it is completed and hoping it catches fire.

I have an endless list of reasons for why I have not done this already. One of the main reasons is that I fear my channel will become a disorganized nightmare for predictable content. It may include funny videos, behind the scene footage, how-to instructions, and personal blogs. Kind of like my blog here (lol).

Even though the artist in me hates it, I feel like building a brand of personality will enable you to reach a wider viewership. When you have a wider viewership your media sales will inevitably increase. When your sales increase, you will begin to attract the big fish who will see you as a proven investment (After all, that is what modern media behemoths are looking for – not quality, but a predictable ROI).

I’m not really that happy to make this decision because it is not true to how I perceive art should be realized. I am a staunch believer in art surviving on its own merits, not by the personality of its producer. But as I’ve experienced in my own pursuits, you get stopped at the door because the doorman doesn’t even know who the “f” you are, not because the goods you are carrying aren’t worth something special. The modern day issue plaguing the artist is that nobody is going to ask what you’re carrying when everyone around you also has something locked under their arm.

The Promise

The major plot points of a story consists of the inciting incident, call to action, midpoint, all-time low, and climax. Your first act is the set-up, act 2a is the planning stage, act 2b is the action with progress stage, and act 3 is your ultimate battle. The midpoint is the turning point of the story where new information changes the stories trajectory, builds the stakes, and propels the drama into a race against time.

I am a believer in the 3 act structure. I am a believer in plot points. I am a fan of linear structure. However, these elements alone are not what engages the audience.

When we watch movies and read books we do not care about the structure. Most reader don’t even know a story structure exists. You can hit every plot point perfectly, down to the page number, and still produce a boring read that no one will bother with. The viewer is searching for something different.

It starts with the promise. The first scene of any story is a promise to the viewer that a specific emotion is going to be aroused throughout their experience. It may present love, psychological mind games, breath-taking anxiety, or even a simple conversation meant to develop empathy with the hero.

In The Matrix, we are introduced to Trinity bending the rules of physics in the world as we know it. The Dark Knight opens with a scene of the Joker carrying out an elaborate bank robbery as the viewer struggles to identify him. Happy Gilmore and Big Daddy open with a relatable male struggling to accept that his value to the outside world is determined more by superficial judgements than his intrinsic generosity.

The inciting incident is an external event that sets the story in motion. The promise is the drama that compels the viewer to keep watching.

The entire first act should continue to build on the initial promise. Figure out whether it is confusion, empathy, internal longing, or vengeance that you have given the viewer a taste of. Continue to feed the viewer more bites with different seasonings.

Another important element that should happen at the start of any good story is character revelation. When writers contemplate character they consider values, beliefs, desires, goals, etc. But in the mind of a viewer character is only truly revealed by the decisions they make under pressure.

Place your protagonists in a situation where they must choose one of two options. Spend some time building up the importance of the decision and create a conflict where there is no easy choice. The path they choose should be the irregular one – this is what sets your hero apart. For this decision to pay off you must keep in mind your intended audience. They should be the subset of individuals supporting this controversial decision.

I don’t watch the Super Bowl. I never have. I enjoy the parties for friends and food, but this Sunday I drank Jameson and watched movies with my girlfriend instead. This is an example of an irregular decision that distinguishes me from others. If I was the character in a story than my bizarre behavior would be found captivating to viewers who also don’t enjoy jubilant gatherings as much as they’re supposed to.

Stories serve a primitive purpose for us. We use them for survival. There was a time where we relied on stories of tribesmen who died from eating the wrong colored berries. The stories were given a deeper meaning by applying character traits such as arrogance and disobedience to those who perished. From hearing these stories we learned to value qualities such as listening to our teachers and using caution when approaching unknown things.

Always think of your stories as being an instruction manual for life. As the viewer browses through Netflix they are choosing which thematic elements they would like to engage with by subconsciously searching for an answer to their own problems. Give them a hero that wrestles internally with similar conflicts. As the hero evolves to accomplish their goal your viewer should gain insight into how they can overcome parallel obstacles in the real world.

Enjoy your journey today and may all your roadblocks be left sideways and marked with your footprint.

The Valley of Shadows

You are on your way to that which you most desire. Every action you take, thought you hold onto, and decision you make is propelling you toward that goal. It should remain at the center of your life and be the driving force guiding your behavior and habits.

It is cumbersome to convince yourself that you are satisfied with mediocrity. It is comforting to assume the gatekeepers of the big and powerful systems would never accept someone like you. In order to avoid the disappointment of the future it is common to avoid the hope of the present.

But let me tell you why you shouldn’t.

Because this isn’t the first time you’ve been tempted by impossible stakes. There was a time where your very survival felt endangered. You knew that if you didn’t push harder than you thought was humanly possible you would fail – because that’s what every fiber of your being told you was true.

You will never pass that test. That person will never love you back, forgive you, or give a damn that you exists. That organization will never hire you, that home will never house you, that clothing will never fit you.

And if all this chatter brings to mind the thousands and thousands of failures that mark your human existence, I want you to look harder. Because you are continuing to let the impossible talk to you and refusing to see the hope it has wedged itself in front of. You don’t need a thousand examples of proof that the impossible voice is wrong – you need one. But the truly dangerous experience will come when you begin to hope and believe again. Because by the forces of positive habit you will see the wall of impossibility rapidly crumble into sand.

You are blind, but you will see. The battle begins today.

If you’d like to support my work, please take a minute to view our latest short film below:

It’s About You, Not Me

Damn I sure nailed the douche look.

That will be my general theme for making progress in 2021. It may sound like an accusation, but I promise you, it is not. But in order for this theme to take effect, it’s going to take some serious effort.

My current approach to social media, self promotion, and future plans have been centered around myself and my own ego. This isn’t inherently wrong, but it is inherently flawed. It is a result of following primal intellectual instincts rather than having the reservation to realize others don’t want to hear about me, they want to hear about themselves. We are all humans and at our core care about self-preservation above all else. Self preservation as it pertains to intellectual pursuits produces different responses to different stimuli.

If you ask another artist to view your work (and we are all artists of some form or another), they will compare it to their own. If you ask another artist to review your work, they will critique it. If another artist is envious of your work, they will look away. If another artist is unimpressed by your work, they will smile politely, nod, and forget they ever viewed that abysmal heap of shit.

So what is the answer? To recognize it is not about you, it is about them. Understand who you are communicating with and adjusts your message accordingly. If somebody else is producing works similar to your own they will be more receptive to viewing your work if you first take the time to view theirs (i.e., leaving a meaningful comment on another wordpress blog). If somebody else is a fan of work similar to their own, cater to their curiosity and provide a reasoning that will show them why they might enjoy your product (find a person who follows secret organizations and tell them you have made a web series about a secret organization).

In the current age of instant communication, meaningful relationships have fallen apart. Much of our days are spent staring at screen, pressing a button, and scrolling onward. Take the time to listen to what others have to say and demonstrate that their work has meaning to you. If you can spend the extra five minutes it take to do just this, you may begin creating a group that supports your work and genuinely hopes for you to succeed. If you “like” 1000 posts instead you will generate nothing more than you’ve given out – a thousand empty clicks – and nothing more.

Now for the real reason I made this post: