Rejection: A Wilderness Guide for Writers

Mark Evanier, a fan favorite writer of – and about – television, film, comics, theater, news and – yikes! – politics, is one of the brightest lights of the interweb. He’s been writing about the trials, tribulations, and joys faced by writers, actors, and other living creatures for years. This is the most recent of a series on dealing with rejection:


Rejection, Part 20
by Mark Evanier

If you want to have a career as a writer, it is very important that you not look desperate. If you are, do what you can to conceal it…and yes, I know that might not be easy, especially if you’re really, really desperate.

This applies to the wanna-be writer who hasn’t sold much, if anything. It also applies to the once-established writer who’s hit a career lull and hasn’t sold anything in a while. It’s probably more important for the latter. If you’re new in the business, you have more of an excuse for appearing desperate. People who might hire you or buy your work can think, “No one’s given this kid a chance.” If you have some credits then what they’re going to think is: “Gee, people have given this guy a chance and if he’s now this desperate, maybe his work isn’t that good lately.”

Desperate people make others uncomfortable. We try to avoid them for the same reason we sometimes give money to homeless people on the street so they’ll go away. But in The Arts, we don’t usually give jobs to desperate people to lessen their desperation because they may not be able to do those jobs. In fact, we often suspect the reason they’re desperate might be because they just don’t have it in them to do those jobs. And if we give them those jobs and it turns out they can’t do them, that creates bigger problems for us.

And unlike the homeless guy outside the CVS Pharmacy who went away after you gave him a buck, these people tend not to go away. They come back again and again begging for another chance.

So you don’t want to look desperate and one good way to achieve that is to not be desperate, at least financially. We’ve discussed that in previous installments of this column.

The story I’m about to tell you is is not about a writer. It’s about a guy who was doing (or trying to do) cartoon voices but it’s the same situation. Because I was casting voices for a cartoon show I was writing and producing, he came after me seeking work. He came after me at conventions, via e-mail, and then when that didn’t work, he started phoning me.

He was not without talent. He had enough that he’d landed an agent…but there are agents and there are AGENTS. He had an all lower-case agent, one of those who has limited clout or connections to sell anything. There are agents like that who represent writers, too. They’ll take on almost anyone who looks competent enough to maybe someday get a job, then they do almost nothing to make that happen. If the client somehow manages to get a gig through his or her own contacts and campaigning, the agent will step in, close the deal and take their commission.

(What kind of agent do you want? The one who is in touch with the people who do the hiring, be they producers, directors, casting people or whatever. You want the agent who can and will get those people on the horn and say, “Trust me. You’ve got to meet with [YOUR NAME HERE] because this kid has really got something!” And then the hiring person thinks, “Gee, that agent represents some really good people. It probably won’t waste my time to take a meeting with that client!” If it’s an agent of the “anyone who looks competent” criteria…well, that agent probably can’t get that buyer on the phone and if they do, their recommendation means very little.)

In the world of voiceover in Hollywood, there are about fifty-five agencies. About nine of them represent about 90% of all the actors who work a lot. They’re the top agencies that represent the top people. I won’t list these agencies but if you go to voicebank.net, you can browse the demos of most voice actors and find out who their agents are. There, you can easily look up the superstar cartoon voice actors and see which agencies represent a significant number of them. You can also hear the demos….

Read it all at Mark’s blog, NewsFromMe

Larry Brody on “When Do We Decide We Did Our Best & Give Up On Writing?”

Evolution of a Writer
by Larry Brody

Nothing and No One Stays the Same

Don’t believe me? Have a look at…sigh…a certain Beloved (or not) Leader over the past 25 years:

Hmm…that latest version looks kind of shellshocked, huh? And that’s the retired me. The earlier three are all writin’ fools, oh yeah.

Careers start, grow, wane (and if you’re lucky grow again), finally – ulp – die. Some version of this happens not only to those of us who leave our homes and come out to Hollywood to roll the dice but to all of us, no matter what we do and where we are.

I, however, don’t get a lot of questions from chiropractors in, say, Butte, or architects in Iowa City. Mostly, this page is visited by men and women preparing to embark on, or embarking on, careers in TV and film writing. Young, old, anywhere in between, working their buns off and hoping to become the next Aaron Sorkin, Shonda Rhimes, Judd Apatow, Tina Fey, whatever.

Some succeed – in fact, a startlingly large number (see this for some shows they’re working or have worked on). Some get tantalizingly close. Others…fill in the blank.

Which brings me to the point of this post, a question I received last week, which I’ve been thinking about long and hard.

DP asks:

LB–

I’ve watched this clip of you many times: https://youtu.be/TjfkuN73EtM

And I feel as though you’re speaking about/to me. As I approach the one year mark in Los Angeles, I feel my ambition to break into writing is making me focus so much on the goal that I’ve forgotten to live.

The obsession has gotten to the point where I hate writing when I’m writing, and all I want to do is write when I’m not writing. Perhaps I’m just chasing validation in the one area I’ve felt myself best suited for so many years, but I feel trapped: Do I keep chasing a dream that may no longer be my passion, or do I leave, always wondering if I was just a day away from breaking into the big time and finding my purpose.

Seeing my work on the screen sounds amazing. Millions of dollars sound amazing. Hearing how my work has affected others sounds amazing. But when do we decide that we did our best and move on to new things? And once we’ve made that decision, how do we follow it?

Do you or the Navajo Dog have any wisdom to impart?

Dear DP,

The Navajo Dog never really saw herself as imparting wisdom. Like all good medicine people, she simply spoke the truth. She was the first one to let me know how pointless allowing ambition to guide me was because even if I achieved my goal I would still be only a partial human being. To the Navajo Dog, being was what life was all about. It was an end in itself, with the doing thing merely a part of it.

In other words, long before “being in the moment” was popular, D’neh was seeing our individual human awareness as more than merely individual at all because it exists within the context of the wholeness of life.

Which helps you not a bit, so while you mull over the philosophy of it all, I’m going to completely blow off any attempt at being wise and try to give you some more practical advice.

Anyone pursuing a showbiz writing career in L.A. needs to be aware of a couple of Basic Truths.

Basic Truth 1: No one in the biz feels an affirmative duty to discover or help new talent. Their major duty is keeping their jobs, which more often than not conflicts with the use of new talent because new obviously means “untested,” and if the new talent fails the test of any new job whomever hired him/her is one big step closer to a big slide down their own career ladder.

Basic Truth 2: The absolutely most important part of starting a showbiz career is networking. Yes, in spite of the fact that you can’t count on anyone to help you. Because you have to do everything you can to help yourself, it’s an absolute must to get yourself out there and interact with every human being who can take you from being an outsider to a member of the creative community we call showbiz.

I’m not talking about using people but about making them genuine friends. Because friends do hire friends, especially those they have learned can deliver – not necessarily to help them but to make their own lives more enjoyable and their jobs easier.

Bottom line: If you’re as shy as most writers are, you need to blast through that or things probably won’t go well. More writers are hired to be on TV staffs because they’re “good in the room” (meaning they’re fun to hang with and sometimes come up with good ideas) than because they can write the hell out of anything. Being able to do both is, of course, a great career bonus.

The above advice is predicated on the idea that you’re searching for a BigMedia career. That you want to do national/international broadcast work, have films you’ve written be made or distributed by major companies, etc. Which means I have to give you another tip you might not expect.

The big successes in BigMedia I’ve known have pretty much all been assholes, and becoming a major success often means that you too have to be an asshole. It’s likely that any employer you deal with will be at least as difficult to be around as Donald Trump. Trump, in fact, is actually at the low end of the showbiz asshole spectrum that I was part of for so long.

Is devoting your entire life to making it given what I’ve told you so far worthwhile? While I was doing it, it seemed worth it to me. But as I got older I more and more realized something was missing – a genuine home life with genuine love, a relationship with someone who demonstrated true tenderness toward me and life in general, an ability to face reality and allow both my emotions and my intellect to react to it, et al.

In the early ’90s, guided my desire to find these things, I severed all ties with my showbiz life and went off with the Navajo Dog to search for what I jokingly called magic but which was, I think, a deeper reality. A reality that didn’t involve sacrificing everything on the altar of writing.

It all worked out for me. I’ve been happy and content and easy in my own skin. I realize, though, that I’ve always been an extremist, and over the last couple of decades, I’ve learned that I probably didn’t need to make such a clean break. There was at least one other direction I could have gone in that eschews many of the pitfalls of narcissistic bosses (and coworkers) and financially based creative decisions that usually end up not being creative at all.

If I had it to do all over again, knowing what I know, I most likely would avoid BigMedia from the get-go and instead plunge into Indie Prod.

Shocking, yeah?

See, here’s the thing. Over the last 20 years I’ve helped hundreds of people start BigMedia careers and careers as indie creatives. I’ve watched them climb their ladders and been part of many of their lives as well as their work, and generally speaking it seems to me that in the long run filmmakers who concentrate on indie production are happier with their lives than those doing the H’wood thing, no matter how much or how little success those in either group attain.

More students, friends, and even family members than I ever expected have made fortunes writing and producing TV shows, running major and minor studios, being A-listers or just a notch or two below, and so many of them in shared moments of reflection have ranted and raved and even cried about how totally unfulfilled they feel, how unfaithful to their original talent and purpose they see themselves as having been.

Know what their daydreams are? They’re of chucking it all and doing web series and what used to be called “art films.” To a man and woman, they don’t care if anyone ever sees the films they daydream about but express the hope that if they at least make them they will be putting their talent and skills to genuinely good use.

Meanwhile, students, friends, and you guessed it, family members who have avoided BigMedia and gone indie instead seem in large part to lead lives of genuine joy. Some took that route from the beginning, others headed that way later (some much later). Instead of daydreaming, they now are making shows and films (and museum installations!) that they find meaningful and exciting.

Almost all of those in the indie group are far from household names and don’t have many fans. Many of them, to their frustration, haven’t made a penny through their oeuvres. But most seem to have more time for living “real,” grounded lives and are proud of the intrinsic value of what they’re doing. If having to work day jobs is what gets them to this point, “Well, hell,” they’ve told me time and time again, “it’s worth it.”

This reply is taking forever so I’ll cut to the Big-City-Destroying-Superhero-Fight-That-Ends-this-Career-Discussion. Take it from a guy who thoroughly enjoyed every moment – every argument and knock-down-drag-out creative difference – of a very successful TV career but has enjoyed my current lifestyle of being with my family and working with talented newbies and rooting from the sidelines even more: Making my definition of success “doing what I love, with those I love, instead of throwing myself away in search for fame, fortune, and a couple of interviews at TheWrap.Com has given me a far better life than any I could have imagined before.

So here’s my overall answer to your questions. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you do it. Commit yourself to a process that fulfills you and makes you proud…and enables the rest of your life instead of crippling or even destroying it.

EDITED TO ADD: One final thought. I’m glad you’ve seen that We, The Screenwriter clip. It was 50-year-old me, a few years after returning from various adventures, and misadventures, tracking the magic with D’neh and my wonderful and magical wife. I don’t fully recall what that version of me said, but you’re getting the absolute, most recent update right here, right now.

John Ostrander: On Writers and the ‘N word’

by John Ostrander

So, Bill Maher crossed the line and got himself into hot water. Given the nature of his HBO show, Real Time, and his own proclivities as a satirist, maybe he should just have a hot tub on stage instead of a desk. It would suit him in many ways.

Recently, as part of an interview, Maher jokingly referred to himself as a “house ‘N’ word.” No, I’m not repeating the actual word here for a few reasons. A) I don’t want to pull a Maher; B) I don’t like the word. I won’t pretend I’ve never used it; I threw it around a bit as a kid in 1950s Chicago along with the “c” word, the “f” word, the “mf” and others of that ilk because I knew they were bad words, naughty words, and I was trying at those moments to pass myself off to my self and my friends as a naughty boy, as a bad boy. Didn’t use those words around my family, my parents, or the nuns; I would have been a dead boy if I had. I haven’t used the “n” word as an adult; not since I learned the history of the word, the harm in it.

I know that the “n” word is used by African-Americans and I know that’s different; there’s a cultural aspect to the use that doesn’t work with someone who is white. There’s a menace when that happens; a whole history of racism and bigotry packed into it.

However, I do have a question. Can I, as a white male writer, ever use it in the context of a story? When I was writing The Kents (my historical Western featuring the ancestors of Clark Kent’s adoptive family), I had characters who could have and perhaps should have used that word. I couldn’t bring myself to do it so I adopted a similar word as a replacement only to learn later that this word was perhaps more offensive.

I ran up against the same problem with Kros: Hallowed Ground. It’s set during the Civil War and the word would have been used. At first, I was inclined to use it but I had long talks with my partners, Tom Mandrake and Jan Duursema. They made the point that the word was jarring when you came across it and that it might well offend some of our backers, black and white. In the end, I agreed we shouldn’t use that word and didn’t.

The question still remains for me; can I as a white male writer justifiably use such a loaded word?

There’s the Mark Twain example who made prolific use of the “n” word; one of his great characters in Huck Finn is “N” Jim. I know there are versions of the book in which all the “N” words have been removed. I’m not nuts about that. There is a term “Bowdlerize” which denotes going through a text, especially a classic, and removing words and/or terms deemed offensive or not suitable for children and people easily offended. That raises my writerly hackles.

Still, the question persists – can a white male writer legitimately use the “n” word or the “c” word or any other words of that ilk? I don’t know. I’m still searching for that answer and I suspect I won’t find a definitive one.

Maher, for his part, realizes he went too far and did apologize for it. He devoted a considerable part of his show this week in a discussion of the term, repeating his apology. Ice Cube, among others, explained why the word is objectionable in ways that might expand our understanding of the situation.

However, there have been those who have called for him to be fired. I understand that Sen. Al Franken canceled a scheduled appearance on Real Time this week. Franken was formerly a comic, sometimes an edgy one, but he’s cutting no slack here.

Both Maher and Kathy Griffin (who got herself in trouble with a photo holding up a severed head of Trump) make edginess part of their routines. The edge, however, is not well marked and at times the only way you know where it is is when you’ve gone over it. And, at times, you’ll go past it at 100 mph.

To say the “N,” if you’re white, is never right. As a writer, as a white male writer, can I ever write it? I don’t know and until I have a clearer answer, I won’t. I may never get that.

Life would be simpler if it just came with a clearer book of instructions. Something simple and easy, in clear black and white.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Can You Increase Your Talent?

Well, you certainly can increase your ability to utilize it. Case in point:

Found on the interweb home of James Leath and definitely appropriate for all creative endeavors we here at TVWriter™ can think of!

John Ostrander: When He’s Wrong…

by John Ostrander

’m a dyed in the wool pinko commie leftie and these Trump days are not great for me. So I find watching the various commentators like Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Seth Meyers, Trevor Noah and especially Stephen Colbert to be therapeutic.

Into this mix, I can usually add Bill Maher on his weekly HBO show, Real Time. Maher is very attack orientated and each week he winds up his hour with a rant on a given topic., Usually, I find him really funny and incisive but Maher does have his blind spots. He is anti-religion – Islam in particular. He thinks the majority of American voters to be morons and says so, which I find to be a broad generalization, counter-productive and not true.

His past two shows featured rants that gored a pair of my oxen. One was on space exploration, such as terraforming and colonizing Mars, and the other was a screed against super-hero movies.

Maher argued (ranted) that we should not be exploring space or even think of colonizing Mars so long as we have so many problems here at home. Neal DeGrasse Tyson rebutted Bill the following week when he pointed out that any technology that could terraform Mars could also terraform the Earth and restore what has been ravaged. I would add that a lot of our technological advances are a result of space exploration. That computer you carry in your pocket? That’s a result of the need to reduce the size of computers while making them faster and stronger to be of use to astronauts in space. Sorry, Bill, you didn’t think this through.

Then on his most recent show, Maher was quite disdainful about superhero movies in general.

He said there were too many superhero shows on TV and too many superhero movies at the cineplex and blamed the genre for the rise of Donald Trump. He said they “promote the mindset that we are not masters of our own destiny and the best we can do is sit back and wait for Star-Lord and a f*cking raccoon to sweep in and save our sorry asses. Forget hard work, government institutions, diplomacy, investments – we just need a hero to rise, so we put out the Bat Signal for one man who can step in and solve all of our problems.”

Really? Super-hero movies and TV are directly responsible for the presidency of Donald Trump? Right – and they also promote juvenile delinquency, Batman and Robin are really gay (not that that’s a bad thing) and Wonder Woman is a lesbian (not that that’s a bad thing). Wait, no. That was Dr. Frederic Wertham in his book Seduction of the Innocent back in the 1950s. He was every bit as full of shit back then as you are today, Bill.

And, besides, everybody these days knows that Wonder Woman is bisexual.

I have no idea where Maher pulled this notion of superheroes and Trump from. Maybe his ass. I doubt that he’s seen many if any of the films or TV shows that he’s knocking. He’s taken an attitude and applied his standard disdain, snark, and superior attitude to it. Just not much thought.

Why does this bother me? It’s unlikely that Maher’s words will cause the opening weekend grosses for Wonder Woman to drop. However, this is a topic I know something about and if Maher can get that so wrong, can I trust him on topics that I don’t know much about?

Maybe I’ve outgrown him.

Think I’ll go watch a good superhero movie and let it rot my brain. It’s been a long day.


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

John Ostrander: Double Your Pleasure

by John Ostrander

When I was younger I would go to double features at the movies all the time; sometimes, even a triple feature. It was good value for the money; two movies for the price of one. We also had what was called second run theaters. These were more the neighborhood, smallish theaters that would show films after they had been in the larger theaters. There were even venues that would show old movies and change the program daily. This was before tapes or CDs were out and often were the only way to see old movies on a big screen (as God and Cecil B. DeMille intended).

Often the films were chosen randomly but every once in a while you’d get someone booking the films who knew what they were doing. I first saw Casablanca in a double bill with Play It Again, Sam, written and starring but not directed by Woody Allen. It was at the old 400 Theater on Sheridan Road not far from Loyola University and the place was packed with deeply appreciative fans. They cheered at every appropriate point. It was the best introduction I could have asked for to what has become one of my fave films.

These days it’s hard to find a double bill anywhere unless you’re possibly in NYC so Mary and I sometimes put together our own from the films we own. This isn’t the same as binge watching; we’ve done that as well with Downton Abbey or the Harry Potter films. No, we try to figure out which seemingly unrelated films might fit well together.

For instance, we finally got around to seeing Hidden Figures, which starred Octavia Spencer and told the story of black female mathematicians in the early days of NASA. Great cast, terrific story about something of which I knew nothing. What movie would go well with it?

The Right Stuff of course came to mind, covering the same era and some of the same events from a very different perspective. However, to my mind the film 42 – the story of how Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball — works even better. While they don’t cover exactly the same years, they do cover the same era when blacks were just starting to get some measure of equality and what it cost to do that.

When the live action version of Beauty and the Beast comes out on Blu-Ray, we may pair it with the animated version to compare and contrast. Or, possibly even better, pair either with Cocteau’s 1946 version.

I just watched Bull Durham again recently (it’s early in baseball season) and tried to think what would go well with it. Field of Dreams occurred to me, of course (another of my faves). Both films star Kevin Costner (why is Costner always better when he’s in films about sports of some kind?) and is about baseball but Field of Dreams is a little too mystical, I think. I’d rather go with Tin Cup. It’s about golf (which I largely detest) but it also stars Kevin Costner and is written (or co-written) and directed by Ron Shelton who also did Bull Durham. There is a similar sensibility in both films and a bawdy sense of humor.

I’d pair Disney’s Pinocchio with Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Both animators are at the top of their game in their respective eras and styles and there is a sense of the weird and wonderful as seen through the figure of a child (or a puppet who would be a child).

I might pair Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back with Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan. Both are tinged with darkness and loss. What would go with the first Rocky film (which is effective and touching and not bloated like the sequels)? I might pair it with Creed which could also be described as the last Rocky film. Seeing the character at the beginning and the end of his story arc could be very instructive.

Anyway, there’s a lot more and I‘m sure all of you can think of some. To me, it’s not just about naming two films but finding the connective tissue between them, an artistic DNA that suggests a relationship. That’s what makes a good double bill so interesting and so satisfying.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the TV is calling my name. “Johhhhnnnn, Johhhhnnnnyyyy. . .!”

Okay, okay I’m coming. Keep your cathode ray tube on.

 

 


John Ostrander is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared. You can learn more about John and his masterworks HERE

Words That are Actually Hidden Phrases

Know those cryptography apps that let you hide a whole hard drive’s worth of files in, like, one gif or somesuch?

Turns out the English language has had that very feature for a very long time. (Patent trolls: Go ahead. Sue everyone who uses English words. C’mon. We dares ya!)

Anyway:

Arika Okrent does it again! Check out her very helpful channel.