I just learned that my one-act play “The Rothko” has been selected for production at the 4th Annual OC-Centric New Play Festival for Orange County Playwrights. The festival is staged at Chapman University in Orange and runs the last two weekends of August, which will include my birthday. My performance schedule in The Tavern actually may conflict with some of the stagings, but hopefully the schedule works out because it is a rare treat to see my work fully-staged.
This particular play is about a man in a museum who finds himself unable to explain why he felt irresistibly compelled to kick a hole in an abstract painting valued at $30 million. It was partially-inspired by the horrifying (for the art-minded) story of casino mogul Steve Wynn accidentally driving his elbow through a Van Gogh he had just sold to someone else, a spasm that ended up lopping about $10M off the sale price.
The audition bulletin board remains the most popular area of my website, and I’m glad I get to play that role in the O.C. Theatre scene. But I hope the theater owners in the area won’t begrudge me putting a little special emphasis on the auditions for this one when they come up in April.
This past weekend, Much Ado About Nothing opened in strong style – our first preview performance on Thursday was one of the tightest, best received “first” performances I’ve ever been a part of. And the official opening on Saturday was the most fun I’ve had in the two months since I came aboard. The crowd was boisterous and occasionally downright raunchy – in one scene where two of the soldiers appear in vintage 1930′s swimwear, one patron begged them not to leave the stage. It was about a step away from turning into Magic Mike out there.
Which is, honestly, a great audience to have for a Shakespeare comedy. It’s a good idea there’s a bar in the building.
Sunday was consumed with recovering from Saturday night’s post-opening champagne gala, as well as the Oscars. So yesterday was kind of my first day with my life belonging to myself again, with no theatre commitments until Friday. Nonetheless, Shakespeare found its way in.
I started the day with an e-mail from the Texas Shakespeare Festival. The artistic director reached out to inform me that, while they would not be offering me a contract, they had held me over in consideration until the final day of casting, and that it was ultimately a question of ensemble needs and not merit. He expressed hope that I would submit an audition for next season.
Now, who knows if that final day stuff is literally true (I’m confident that this e-mail was cut-and-pasted for a few actors, which is not a criticism at all), but my thoughts are: 1) They didn’t have to send anything, and most companies wouldn’t. 2) Since they held in-person auditions in Chicago, New York, and Memphis, as well as locally in Texas, that I made an impression in such a crowd with a YouTube video is a tremendous compliment. 3) There wouldn’t be any rational motivation to send me such a message if I weren’t good enough (or potentially good enough) on the merits. Actors who aren’t worth their time just take up slots.
That’s a wonderful boost, because while Texas Shakespeare is not Equity, they do offer salary, housing, meals, and travel assistance, which, despite the stipends I’ve occasionally received, would make me feel like an honest-to-Mergatroid Professional Shakespearean Actor. So I think I will audition again next year, just like I will with the other out-of-state festivals I queried.
And before I had a chance to wonder about my open calendar for the summer, I got officially offered a place in Shakespeare Orange County again, which I accepted. This will make my third consecutive summer with the company, and I’ll be playing Peter Quince in A Midsummer Night’s Dream as well as an ensemble role in George M. Cohan’s The Tavern (a non-Shakespeare taking a slot in the company’s newly-expanded season).
SOC’s final show of the season is Romeo & Juliet, and as it stands it appears I won’t be in that show. It’s only a small pity, because no one dies in Midsummer and I had some small hope of continuing my annual tradition of being murdered in an SOC production.
But it does open up a spot in September for me to pursue a production at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio – of Twelfth Night. Always have wanted that one on my resume…
Today may be an important one for the novel – we got two reader reviews on Amazon, both positive 4-star recommendations. One also posted on GoodReads, for additional exposure.
While the editorial reviews from IndieReader and Kirkus have been tremendously affirming for us, I can’t say they’ve really moved the needle yet in terms of sales. I think they help the book have some credibility, but credibility is nothing without visibility, and in this blizzard of books we joined by direct-publishing, visibility is the real magic trick.
My co-author signed us up with Story Cartel, which is essentially a virtual library where readers can download free books provided that they write reviews that then post to Amazon. They put a disclaimer in the reviews that they received the book for free in exchange for an honest response, and (as long as they enjoy the book), everyone gets something good out of it. Story Cartel only makes the book available for a limited time, which alleviates fears that everyone will just take the freebie rather than buy it. I’m not a registered reader, but it appears that readers accumulate credits by recommending the book within their network as well.
So that was the source of today’s new reviews. I have been scouring the web for book bloggers and making individual approaches, and we’re going to get a couple of reviews out of that as well, but it was fairly painstaking work and I can’t imagine most authors will know how to undertake it. I hope more services like Story Cartel (which doesn’t seem to require a lot of labor to sustain) come into the ecosystem.
This marks the very small beginning of the world outside our friends and family having the chance to see and consider the book. For the first time, we could sell a couple of copies to strangers. At least a few people are going to see it based on today’s reviews, they’ll have the strong motivation of a recommendation from a friend, those editorial reviews will back up that recommendation, and the damn thing is just so affordable…
This could work.
I played music all through my childhood and college – music was one of my two majors. I almost never play now, unfortunately; maybe in the future there will be room in my life to let it a little ways back in, because you never completely forget the language.
Because of this, I think the metaphorical frame of music informs a lot of my understanding of writing. I think a lot about rhythm in my dialogue, the pacing of story beats. Since I write across a lot of different forms and genres, it’s important to understand that each has a distinct tempo and customary rhythms. Sometimes it’s good to thwart them, but it helps to first understand and be aware of them.
I have an interesting variety of projects on my plate right now. For about a month there I was working on rewriting an action screenplay for a director. That has been a real education because the modern high-octane genre is not one I’ve spent a lot of time writing in. Taking his draft and some other samples, I realized that modern writing in this area moves terrifyingly fast.
If you think of the story as a progression of “beats” tied to actions that affect the direction of the story, screenwriting has a fast tempo to begin with. Common wisdom these days is that an average scene or beat will top out around 3 pages; and if you’re going to go longer, it had better be for a very good reason.
In these action scripts, though, everything is compressed. If you think of an action sequence as the modern equivalent to a musical number, then you know that the narrative is largely suspended for those minutes so we can enjoy some kinetics. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s one of the great sensory pleasures of cinema and I think writers look down on that at their peril.
So what action film producers expect is a lot of story beats in a lot less time. Now you’re trying to turn over story points in 1-2 pages instead of 3. That affects everything – the mix of dialogue and visuals you use, the number and construction of subplots, how you develop character…you can see why writers often have to resort to familiar narrative arcs and thuddingly-obvious declamations in dialogue – they’re just not getting time to do anything else. Even a scene like Indiana Jones re-entering Marion’s life in Raiders of the Lost Ark would be an indulgence these days – the studio would be wondering if it could be done in four lines of dialogue instead. Basically, in a medium that’s already really, really hard; good action writing is really, really much harder; and I don’t think the form we’re pressured to conform to is necessarily helping the final product.
Nevertheless, I have had to put the action script temporarily on the back burner, because of another project which may or may not lead to an exciting announcement in the weeks ahead. That involves unpacking an old script of mine and prepping a re-write, which is interesting because my outlining methods were much different back then, and now I’m rediscovering the structure of my own work.
But there’s a business-end step I’m still waiting on before I can really dive in, which leaves me in this in-between space where I don’t want to go back to the big action screenplay, but want to keep myself busy.
So I’m working on a new script for Earbud Theater. I finished a rough assembly of Habitat, but that is going to take a lot of editing and effects work which is beyond me, and since everyone involved is on volunteer time that means the timetable for its debut is outside my control. But that doesn’t mean I can’t get another episode in-process; and now that I have one recording session under my belt, I can make my post-production life a lot easier during the writing. Habitat was adapted from a screenplay, and thus has a LOT of scenes. But this new one is going to be an original tailored for the medium, and so I’m letting the tempo adjust a little.
I don’t know if there are hard and fast rules for an audio drama, but I think it gets to be closer to a stage play than a screenplay. Stage plays get to hang around in scenes for much longer – hell, I performed in a production of Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, which is essentially a single unbroken 75-minute scene. I’ve performed in enough Shakespeare to know that he rarely needed more than 10-20 scenes to tell his epic stories; so why would a disposable guns-and-explosions piece need 40 beats’ worth of plot?
I’ve written enough for the stage to know the different muscles involved, and I’m applying them a little bit here and really enjoying the result. I’m letting scenes breathe out to 5-6 pages, enough that there’s still a quasi-cinematic sense of motion and story advancement, but room to really use dialogue and character in a way that a lot of commercial screenwriting doesn’t permit.
This is not to knock commercial screenwriting at all – everything has its place. But I find I function best when I’m able to keep moving from one style to another; so if, as I said, I’ve had to spend a month or so writing super-compressed beats and crazy twisty plots, to stretch out into this audio play practically feels like a vacation.
Aaaaaand, there’s my face on a poster:
I’ve always said that Benedick was the first role I ever got to play where I had the best lines and got to kiss the girl. I know that I don’t have leading man looks, but my take on Benedick has always been that he doesn’t need them. Claudio has to be young and beautiful the first time you see him, but Benedick’s charms, I think, work better when they emerge as his character evolves. The industry term would that he’s a “character lead”, which indicates that there’s substance and a journey, but is also a nice way of labeling a main character that less-attractive people can play.
My face has appeared in marketing materials before, albeit selling a slightly-different aspect:
That I take as a compliment, because it’s about selling something a little weird and a little dark, which I can do and I enjoy. But the above poster blatantly says “Don’t you want to pay money to see these two people be charming and romantic?” There I’m still not 100% sure I agree on the wisdom. But I think that’s probably just my own self-confidence issues.
Yesterday I did a brief interview with the Long Beach Press Telegram as part of an overall promotional article for the show. That’s a new experience for me, and it made real for me, kind of for the first time, the fact that when you start working at institutions like the Long Beach Playhouse, there is a certain responsibility involved in playing a leading role that goes beyond what you do on the stage.
Sure, one interview and a poster is nothing compared with a months-long worldwide press junket for a Hollywood star. But it is something new to me and my acting experience – and, I must confess, at least a little cool.
Kirkus Reviews is one of the oldest still-operating review services in the country, launched in 1933. In recent years, they have branched out to allow direct-publishing authors to purchase reviews. The reviews are not guaranteed to be positive and they are not cheap, but authors are allowed to keep them unpublished if they are negative.
I think we’ll be publishing this one!:
“…the puzzle pieces click satisfyingly and unpredictably into place. The authors skillfully manage the multiple time frames and large cast, and never leave any plot threads dangling. The book’s science-fiction element drives the major plot twists, but the most engaging scenes are those in which readers learn the real relationships and histories between the characters. A complex thriller that offers new revelations up until the very end.”
Today the first official trailer launched for Bread and Butter, the independent film I worked on last year. I think it very solidly captures the quirky voice of the film.
Bread and Butter, starring Christine Weatherup, Bobby Moynihan, Micah Hauptman, Eric Lange, Lauren Lapkus, Sean Wright, Dawn Didawick and Harry Groener. Written/Directed by Liz Manashil
I became involved with Bread and Butter because of Christine Weatherup, the actress who plays the lead role in the film. She’s been a close friend and colleague for many years now, dating back to when she acted in a staged reading of a play of mine. She is how I became involved with Squaresville, for which she is producer and co-star and her husband Matt Enlow is creator/writer/director.
I remember having coffee with her when she confided in me how much she wanted this role, and the kindly relentless campaign she was mounting to convince writer/director Liz Manashil that she was the woman for it.
Liz has years of experience in the film festival world, and is one of the hosts of PBS’s film review show Just Seen It. Since this film is going to be touring film festivals, where the first question she will be inevitably asked at every single screening will be what her budget was, I will not rob from her the ritual experience of answering that question. Instead, I will just say that it was absolutely insanely low, and that some filmmakers would have been challenged to get this movie made for ten times the money she had.
Once I learned that Christine had won the role, I reached out to Liz on my own just to offer any help that I could to help see this movie brought to life. There’s a lot of cross-training in my resume, so I can be thrown into a lot of differnt jobs – and even if it’s a job I’ve never done before, I have learned on-the-fly many times.
We met and she told me that they were having trouble getting a boom operator for the length of the shooting schedule. I volunteered for six out of the sixteen production days, which was quite a workout for my shoulder muscles – the sound recordist told me “do this often enough, and you’ll get muscles that only swimmers have”. I had boomed previously – never with training and never particularly well, I thought – but here for the first time I picked up some good information that I’ll be able to use if called upon again. Given the course of my life and career so far, smart money says I’ll be holding a boom mic again.
It was – and I’ll be glad for the day when this is less of a surprise – the most female-heavy set I have ever worked on. Female producers, female director, female A.D., cinematographer, production designer, and so on and so on. It was a conscious decision by Liz to enhance what was to her a very personal perspective, and her collaborators did tremendous work in every department while creating the positive atmosphere necessary to survive when there’s this much work and this little money.
I made many friends on the set, and had a great time chatting with Micah Hauptman and Saturday Night Live‘s Bobby Moynihan, who play the two dating prospects in the movie. Bobby had a voice role in Pixar’s Monsters University, which was due to be released soon – it was his first big animated feature and he was geeked to the ceiling about the whole process.
A couple of months after production wrapped, Liz put out word on Facebook that she was looking for a voice actor to record a couple of lines. By coincidence, I was on-line and I responded immediately, since I have begun pursuing this sort of thing when possible. Less than a half-hour later, I was at her apartment talking into her Mac Laptop.
I still don’t know if my voice-over will be included in the final cut, it was an idea she wanted to present in test screenings, but just the fact that it happened is one of my favorite things about L.A., that what started as a cold e-mail I sent to a stranger led to her trusting me to add something creatively to the tone of her film with my voice.
I gripe sometimes here about the free labor economy in L.A., and I probably should do a comprehensive post at some point about the etiquette involved; because I think there are situations where it is excusable. For the record, I am thoroughly okay with having volunteered my services for Bread & Butter. For one – I was the one that reached out, it wasn’t an ad posted to a listing service. For another, I was reaching out to support an amazing opportunity for a friend. It’s different when strangers are expecting I should be grateful they give me the chance to work for free.
And in the end, I had the opportunity to develop skills that could make me money, and I may end up with a voice acting credit in a feature, which is directly useful to me and my career goals. That’s how you get someone to be happy to work for free – make it a real win-win.
Urth Caffe on Melrose is a great place for a salad or a cuppa but a horrible place to approach by car. If you don’t live nearby and must look for parking, your best bet is inside an Elvish Bag of Holding. One of the survival skills of any entertainment career is learning where to park for your meetings. I happened to know (since I had just had a meeting here 5 days before), that one of the neighborhood streets allowed for two hours unmetered, and usually had a spot less than 5 minutes’ walk; basically ideal for business.
The first producer I worked for works out of his house now, and is making more movies than ever. I have far more business meetings in cafes than offices these days. This could be a consequence of real estate prices, it could also be that so many of us have been cast loose from any semblance of organization, and are floating free in the bloodstream of the city, gathering sometimes but never stopping. The hustle gets harder every year, and we have fewer assets to do it with, but we keep at it.
As I walked up the sidewalk towards the cafe, I saw one of the producers I was scheduled to meet. He was holding down two outdoor tables, and a spaceman was talking to him. Actually a gray and windblown man in a classic 50′s-style homemade silver pajamas spacesuit, with a cardboard helmet becrusted with shiny fake jewels. He was fearlessly and relentlessly approaching every customer and passerby, offering to sell them, for only $5 a DVD of the film he had made. This town runs on chutzpah, and while he had the slurry aura and patter of a homeless person who had had a little too much of the useful juice squeezed out of the spongy tissues of his brain, he had apparently made a movie. Which, it must be acknowledged, probably put him ahead of half the denizens of the Urth Caffe.
I got in line for my drink, and soon my director friend arrived. I told him about the accomplished filmmaker on the sidewalk and he replied: “Oh, the spaceman? I’ve seen him before. Love that guy.”
We ordered and joined the producer, and soon we were joined by two other producers and the conversation was off and running. It was a good day, a serious day, with great potential for a movie to emerge from the meeting. It can take patience and effort beyond most people to get to a meeting like this.
It went well – at least, as well as perception can tell. I am almost too-addicted to concrete confirmation these days, because I know how many of these possibilities will inevitably be mirages. If there is a check, a greenlight, a film, you will hear about it, never doubt. Until then – it was a fine conversation with good beverages in a town where you can convene on the patio in January.
At one point the conversation turned to famous comedic actors – this movie, if made, would provide space for a cameo or two by this type of celebrity. L.A. has a unique sense for kismet, because at that moment, Jon Lovitz arrived at the cafe, walking his dog. And it says something about L.A.’s sense of blase entitlement that you might look at an occurrence like that and think “well, sure, kismet, but maybe we could do a little better?”
Naturally, when Lovitz emerged from the cafe, he proceeded up the sidewalk and ran into Will Ferrell at the corner. The two stood and chatted (along with, I think, Anchorman director Adam McKay), for a good ten minutes, right behind the shoulder of one of the producers at our table. About two minutes in, a photographer with an enormous lens appeared across the street – sprouting out of the ground, I think. This was not Will Ferrell and Jon Lovitz in high glamour – they were in track suits and ballcaps, just walking the neighborhood for ordinary reasons. Still, the city has decided such things cannot go unphotographed. Within five minutes, three more photographers had appaered, and I imagined them barreling out of a very small car.
And I was momentarily awed by the fact that these people who had reached the very top of the Hollywood mountain were sharing a sidewalk just a few paces away from that ambitious spaceman, in a neighborhood where nobody, rich or poor, can find a good parking spot.
Great piece of news today – IndieReader.com has posted a review of Seeing by Moonlight, and it’s glowingly positive. 4.5 stars out of 5, even:
SEEING BY MOONLIGHT is a thoughtful and intricate story, with enough food for thought to keep the reader’s brain and heart engaged from beginning to end.
We are also entitled to post this awesome sticker anywhere we promote the book:
It’s a clean, general, spoiler-free review. Doesn’t delve into the weeds or engage in heavy criticism, but it’s accurate to the story and our intent. It’s always the first piece of good news that a reader understands what the hell we wanted them to understand.
Now, full disclosure, we paid for this review. Services like this are out there for independent direct publishers, and IndieReader is one of the most high-profile. Obviously services like these are open to the criticism that the money we pay puts pressure on them to keep us, the “customer”, happy with positive reviews. But on the flip side, a site like this only lasts as long as its credibility, so it can’t be ubiquitous. I took a scan through their review archives and maybe 40% or less of the books reviewed get a 4-star or above review that earns the sticker. Maybe that skews on the friendly side, maybe they just had a good month.
We’re also out to Kirkus, which is the AAA version of the same sort of service; very highly-regarded, and also very much more expensive. Publishing a book – if you want to go about it the polished way – is not a free undertaking. We’re still awaiting their verdict, my guess is that it’s likely to be stricter, but well-argued.
But I know that a review like this was not guaranteed, and it gives us hope that our gamble will drive a little business.
Also – I am totally at peace with not getting 5/5 stars, because neither of us is named “Raymond Chandler”. So I’m just going to stare at my new virtual sticker happily:
I’ve committed myself to an aggressive schedule for getting out the first draft of a screenplay I’m working on. That’s usually the good play when people are actually waiting to see it, as in this case.
Last Friday was when I and another party pulled the trigger on me starting the draft; I wrote the first page immediately after as a kind of commemoration, but this was really the week I was going to crank up the machinery.
Monday, however, turned out to be a loss because I was recovering from the overnight shoots for the short film I worked on over the weekend. Then I had to spend most of Tuesday and Wednesday reading plays because of a committee I volunteered for. So it was really only yesterday that I was finally able to force this up to the top of the priority list where it is likely to remain for the next 5-6 weeks.
And, both yesterday and today, I hit a healthy quota of pages that keeps me on-target to reach my goal. I’ll write tomorrow as well just to make up for another lost weekday, but I should be able to enjoy Sunday off and then start Monday morning feeling on top of the workload. One of the healthiest things for myself, I’ve discovered, is when I can definitively shut the file and folder for the day and then dedicate my focus to other things. That guilty, sluggish space of half-productivity, where you’re doing nothing useful even as a chorus cries vaguely in your brain that you SHOULD be doing something useful right now – that’s almost worse than out-and-out sloth.
So, feeling good right now, and able to say – nothing more on that tonight.
This doesn’t mean I don’t have about 40 other projects/goals that could stand some attention.