Saturday, February 26, 2011

Morty & Jesus

Way back in the spring of 2008, George W. Bush sent me $600. It was part of his "stimulus" that was designed to get the economy working again. Last time I checked, it didn't work, but that's beside the point. I was still happy to take his money and I decided that the best way to spend it was to make a short film. I had written a script for a short about a year prior called "Morty & Jesus" and, after dusting it off, I figured $600 would just about cover it. So, I borrowed a camera, bought some props, hired a cameraman (the very talented Chris Hilleke), rented a space, and shot it. The premise of the film is Jesus comes back to earth and decides to mount a comeback. He enlists the help of super agent Morty Goldberg and together they try to figure out how to get Jesus' name back out there. Now, most people who know me know that I am not m uch for religion. In fact, I think religion is one of the most destructive things we as human beings have ever come up with. That's not to say I dismiss spirituality, but religion as an organization has, in my opinion, done more harm than good over the centuries. It's just another way to divide people up into groups and choose sides, which is kind of the opposite of what all the major religions (supposedly) preach. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, the message he presents is actually quite simple: just be cool. That's it. You be nice to me, I'll be nice to you. Simple, direct, uncomplicated. You can find that sentiment in pretty much any other belief system, but we still kill each other over which set of "gods" we're supposed to take that advice from, when in reality we should just follow the advice. Good advice is good advice, it shouldn't matter which religion it comes from. "Morty & Jesus" is my attempt to articulate some of those feelings I have about religion, along with a skewering of the Hollywood system, which is as almost as frustrating and confounding as religion. I entered the film back in the 2008 Sidewalk Film Festival, but this is the first time it has appeared online. Just click the link below to check it out. I welcome comments and criticism alike, so enjoy!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Who You For?

Way back in 1987, my family moved to Alabama. Being an Air Force brat, moving to a new state and enrolling a new school was nothing new. Every time my dad got a new assignment, our entire family uprooted and moved thousands of miles to a strange land, where I quickly had to adapt and learn the customs of the locals. On my first day of school at Stanhope Elmore High in Millbrook, Alabama, I found myself sitting alone at lunch in the cafeteria. It was a rainy and cold January and I was a lowly freshman, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and unsure of my place in the tiny school. I had just moved from California, so in my mind this small town school was about as backwards as you could get. As I sat there eating my lunch in solitude, a stranger walked up to me and said, "Hey, kid, you new here?" I nodded. He replied, "Who you for?" I had no idea what he was talking about, so I responded, "For what? What are you talking about?" The kid looked at me like I was a moron. "Auburn or Alabama," he said in a defiant tone, as if I knew what that meant. "I don't know," was all I could say. I had no idea what he was talking about. He scoffed at me and said, "Well, you better pick one." Then he walked away.

This was my introduction to the rivalry that is Auburn vs. Alabama. I learned very fast that pretty much everything in this state revolves around the eternal competition between these two schools. And I do mean everything. It baffles me to no end that marriages have crumbled, friendships have been destroyed, and self-worth has been determined by which of these two schools one roots for. Not only that, but I have found that the most vocal and vitriolic of fans are usual ones that have never even gone to college! But, it's part of the culture here and so, in my attempt to fit in (as I have tried to do in every place I've lived), I decided to root for Auburn. Why? Because I liked their colors better. Arbitrary? Sure. But then again, what about this rivalry isn't arbitrary? I don't even like football all that much, so it made little difference to me who won the Iron Bowl every year. I never lived in one place long enough to develop an affinity for any team, college or pro. So it always seemed odd that people in Alabama get so riled up about this sort of thing. But, that's what they do, so who am I to judge? I'm just a transfer student so to speak. I get a lot of laughs watching the super-fans on both sides spend time, effort, and energy trying to tear down the other side in the name of "sportsmanship" and "bragging rights." If people need something to belong to, who am I to judge?

Well, all that changed today when I read about "Al from Dadeville" who claimed on some radio call-in sports show that he had intentionally poisoned a couple of 130 year-old oak trees in Toomer's Corner, Auburn. I guess he was upset that Auburn won the national championship or some such nonsense, so he went out of his way to kill two perfectly harmless trees next to a drug store in a town he doesn't even live in. Sigh. Over the many years I've lived in Alabama, I've come to consider it my home. It's where my parents retired and bought a house. It's where I graduated high school. It's where I met my wife, and a host of friends I still have to this day. And I've tolerated the rivalry between Auburn and Alabama, mostly because it seemed like harmless fun that a bunch of locals used to identify themselves with. But this is the most ridiculous and absurd thing I have ever heard. Honestly. Some idiot in Dadeville hates Auburn so much he decided to kill a couple of trees? I doubt this asshat has ever set foot on a college campus (well, except for the one time he murdered those oaks in Toomer's Corner).

So if I could go back in time to that rainy day in 1987 and answer that kid who asked me, "Who you for?" my response would be, "The trees. Now fuck off. I'm trying to eat my lunch."

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Write Now

Okay, where was I? Yeah, I don't remember either. I started this blog way back in 2005 when I was living in L.A., but I never could figure out what to write about, so I sort of lost interest. But back then I think I missed the point of keeping a blog. It's not about what you write, it's about actually writing, especially for someone like me who identifies himself as a writer. Or, at least I did identify myself as one. Back in the day, I used to love to write. In college I would stay up for hours writing sketches, scripts, plays, random gibberish, anything that entered my mind. I lorded over the blank page like a god, controlling the entire universe. Characters lived and died or loved and cried, depending on my mood at the time. I could create worlds and destroy civilizations with a few simple keystrokes. I could tell jokes, release my frustrations, or just go wild. But somewhere along the way, writing became a chore. It stopped being fun and became a task. I came to dread sitting at the computer, staring at the white negative space, beating my head against the wall as I tried to fill it in. I think it started when I was writing a script many years called "Random Order." It was my first attempt at writing a screenplay that I had the intention of making myself. I started writing it in the summer of 1998, with the hope of scrounging a few bucks together and shooting it with my friends. But along the way the script started getting attention from a few industry folks and suddenly my little project became (in my naive, inexperienced mind) an IMPORTANT PROJECT. I spent the better part of the next 6 years writing, re-writing, re-re-writing, changing, rearranging, adding, subtracting, and dividing my little movie script into something else. I spent nearly every waking moment of my life thinking about that script, and any free time I had was spent in front of a computer trying to coalesce the elements of my story into something I thought would attract Hollywood money and make me a SERIOUS FILMMAKER. And every time I printed a new draft off my printer, just as I thought I had finally cracked it, somebody else would come along and say, "Hey, we love your script, and we think we can find the money for you to make it! All you have to do is change this, this, that, and this one thing over here!" So off I would go, back to the computer and yet another draft. I had optioned it to 2 different producers at different times, each one claiming they could get it made. And all the while, I kept re-writing and re-writing. I stopped writing anything else, my narrow focus limited to seeing "Random Order" to the finish line. And when the last option ran out, I was no closer to seeing it get made than when I started. I must have written 15 drafts of that damn script over those 6 years. Some I was proud of, some I can't bear to read. Some make me physically sick to think about. All those late nights in isolation pounding at the keys taught me how (and how not) to write a screenplay. And they also taught me to hate writing. It was a hard, hard lesson to learn, one that I am still trying to come to terms with. Somewhere in that painful process, I stopped writing for me and started writing for other people. I spent all my time trying to make other people happy with my words instead of making me happy with them. So when the last option on my script expired in 2006, I sat down for one last draft. I tossed out everything I hated about the previous ones and, forgetting about budgets and other practical considerations, I wrote the script for the movie I wanted to see. I stripped away all the excess and distilled it down to the simple story I set out to tell in the summer of '98. And when it was done, I locked it in a drawer and haven't looked at it since. Ever since then, I have tried to recapture that spark I lost along the way, that spark that excited me about writing. I know it's still there somewhere, just waiting for me to fan the flames. I've written a few things here and there since then, but that passion I once had for writing has dimmed. It makes me sad sometimes, but maybe that happens to all writers. Over the years I have had dozens of other ideas for film scripts, some with enormous scope and Avatar-like budgets, others that I could shoot with a camcorder a 2 people in a single room. But every time I sit down to start writing them, I get flashbacks of what happened with "Random Order" and I freeze up. I get nervous that what happened before will happen again.

So flash-forward to the present day. I'm no longer living in L.A. I still love movies, but with a healthy dose of perspective. My experiences in the industry are too varied and insane to cover in this post, but suffice it to say my time in the film business taught me to treat it all with a liberal dose of skepticism. There is no rhyme or reason to why films get made and why they don't. It's all, if you'll pardon the expression, just random order. And I'm cool with that. And despite it all, I still want to make movies. I know a lot more about how to make them than I did back in 1998. A hell of a lot more. Making movies has been a dream of mine since I was 5 years old. It's all I know how to do, really. Every job I have ever had has in some way been preparing me for it. So I'm going to give it another shot. I'm even writing a screenplay again. It's been hard to ignore the pains of the past, but I'm working through it with each page. It's just something I have to do. Some people have to paint, some have to make music, and some have to become doctors. I have to make movies. I have to. It's just who I am. But I'm also a writer. And to ensure I don't start hating writing again, I'm re-opening this blog. This is where I'm going to come when the act of writing a screenplay starts to get to me. I'll use this space to write about anything and everything else. My likes, dislikes, opinions, interests, annoyances, and the like. I need an outlet to write for me again. Sure, the movie is for me, but I don't want to only write a screenplay. This is where all my other writing can go. I feel like the only way to reclaim my lost love of writing is to just write more. And often. There's no set topics, no rhyme or reason to what I might put here. It's just a place to put it.