Stel Pavlou: Never Give Up

by Stel Pavlou

When I was 12 or 13 years old, I visited a subterranean salt mine in Germany with my class. The weird geologic formations and strange colors lit a fire in my imagination. I remember there was a lake, and we all had to climb aboard this old wooden boat/floating pontoon contraption which ferried us across the Styxian water in complete silence.

The story of Daniel Coldstar was born that day, a boy trapped in a mine, yearning for freedom and adventure. Though he didn’t have a name yet and it would take many years and many false starts before the book would emerge fully, Daniel Coldstar has now been published, just two weeks shy of my 47th birthday. If life has taught me anything, no matter the obstacles placed in your way, no matter the trials you go through, persistence is worth it.

Never give up on a good idea.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always wanted to know what was over the next hill. The appeal of a new vista, a new experience, has always energized me. But by the same token, as someone who thinks deeply on just about everything, mulling through the permutations of consequences have often tempered my more impulsive instincts. Often, but not always.

Don’t be fooled, this wisdom, if you can call it that, has come through experience, not some innate ability to see the future. I’m the kid who tried doing “dangerous tricks” walking along the back of the sofa and banging up his ear spectacularly when he fell off.

I’m the kid who lost two front teeth riding too fast down a hill and a week later landing upside down on his head when he tried to launch his bike off a ramp with a flat tire. I’m the kid who poked jelly fish with a stick at the river’s edge and stole apples from someone’s yard, angry cries and stones whizzing past my ear chasing me back out fast.

I’m the kid who got caught doing a balancing act on a neighbor’s fence and having that same neighbor grab me by the ear and marching me back to my parents demanding I be punished. I’m the kid who would roll under the heavy iron gates of a nearby metal working factory, and run to the guard hut, hit the window and run back out, just to see if I could it without getting spotted.

My parents knew that all of these antics were caused by insatiable curiosity, and that this curiosity had to be channeled. Hence the trip to the mine. And the trip to the middle of the Sahara desert in southern Algeria the year before, and the trip to the Parthenon in Athens the year before that. In future years I would visit Jerusalem and Bethlehem on Christmas Day, I would visit the pyramids of Egypt.

And the thirst for adventure would continue, until as an adult I would voluntarily enlist in the Greek army without being able to speak a word of Greek, rather like Daniel surrounded by kids in the mines speaking Jarabic, a language he too does not understand.

But I’m also the boy who was bullied. Relentlessly. And betrayed by friends because I didn’t see the scheme behind the lie. I’m the kid who was accused of doing things that I didn’t do, by teachers who knew better. I still carry all those scars. They shape me, and serve as warnings, and impart one very valuable lesson.

Never give up on life.

All of these themes shaped the story of Daniel Coldstar, a boy who never gives up, who tries when everything around him urges him to give up. Daniel doesn’t know the answers. He doesn’t even know himself — quite literally, yet he finds his way, journeying through a galaxy filled with danger because of his sense of adventure and his sense of justice. He has an idea of freedom and he never gives up on it. He reminds us all of the value of possibilities.

Life got better for me.

It gets better for Daniel.

Life will get better for you too.


TVWriter™ friend Stel Pavlou is a British author and screenwriter now living in Colorado. He is the author of the bestselling novel Decipher, as well as short stories based on the TV series Doctor WhoDaniel Coldstar: The Relic War is his first book for young readers.

Visit Stel online at www.stelpavlou.com and at www.danielcoldstar.com.

Have You Been Watching ‘The A Word?’

Christopher Eccleston is more than just a former Doctor on Doctor Who. He’s also one of the finest actors in the English speaking world today.

For the past year, he’s been one of the stars of BBC’s The A Word, a series about an autistic young boy and his family. The show, also available on the Sundance Channel, is, in a word that starts with ‘E’, enlightening. Here’s a clip:

Here’s the entire first episode (at least until it gets yanked off YouTube):

And, for the trifecta, here’s an interview with Chris by a Gerard Groves, a filmmaker and journalist at the BBC, who also is on the autism spectrum with Asperger’s:

Why are we devoting so much time to this show? Well, one reason is that somebody all of you TVWriter™ regulars know – or feel like you know – is also on the spectrum.

A certain LB.

Your thoughts about this series are most welcome. So let us know what they are!

Writing Meme of the Week

When you’re about to quit for the day but you remember a crucial detail you need to add to that last scene you were working on:

Okay, so this really is a sort of “pseudo-meme.”

Because believe it or not, this pic wasn’t always about writing. In its previous form it’s been spotted out in the wild many times. But our hats are off to the blog that transformed this into pure, writerly magic – TheHonestAuthor, which you can find right HERE

Peggy Bechko: Overcoming Brain Fatigue, Stress & Overdoing It – For Writers

by Peggy Bechko

Alrighty folks, time to put it on the table. Writing takes a lot of brain work, and brain work takes focus.

Consider this: There’s research to squeeze the brain, plotting to squeeze it harder, and just plain thinking about everything else related to your writing project. And that doesn’t include the acttual writing.

So, today I’m going to talk a bit about brain fatigue, stress, and just plain over-doing it.

Now immediately there are lots of folks who’ll think the younger the brain the better because the younger brain can stand long periods of demanding work much better than the older…but know what? It ain’t necessarily so.

And working for very long stretches doesn’t cut it either. I’ve known folks who put forth their insanely long hours at the keyboard like they’ve gone to war and somehow won something. Like it’s some kind of badge of honor.

Just because you’re twenty-something, work all night, then crash, doesn’t mean you’re putting out a better product or that you get more done or that you’re super cool.

Seriously.

While it is true that while in our twenties our brains can process information more efficiently, that doesn’t mean it works more effectively. The folks who do best with inductive reasoning, verbal memory and vocabulary are somewhere between forty and sixty-five according to research. (Take that twenty-somethings!)

What’s the key to overcoming brain fatigue? Turns out that it’s taking breaks. Yep, you overdoers probably don’t want to hear it, but people perform at their best, with middle-agers out-performing younger folks when breaks are planned.

Again, research tells us our minds and bodies have natural rhythms. If you’ve come this far and haven’t figured that out in life what rock have you been living under?

Dream cycles flow in ninety-minute cycles so it’s not too far a stretch to presume (correctly) that waking cycles and rhythms are pretty close to the same as those sleeping cycles, about ninety minutes to two hours.

What to do? Take a break. Yes, it’s time we all realize life is not a race. You’ll produce much better material at a more efficient and quicker pace if you take breaks. This applies to writing, creating, pretty much any kind of work one pursues.

How long should these breaks be?

Twenty minutes seems to be ideal (again, according to our friendly neighborhood researchers). And, stepping completely away from the work environment is best. What that means for  writer is that you – and I – should step away from the desk. Avert our eyes from the computer screen. Go outside for a few minutes if we can. Grab a cup of tea or coffee.

If you can take a short brisk walk, all the better. If you can take a moment to watch the interplay of sun and shadow on a sunny day (or enjoy some flowers, or watch the ducks fly, whatever) great!

We may want to think we’re superhuman and we can do this writing thing straight through, powered by caffeine or whatever, but it’s not true. To sustain your level of production give yourself a twenty-minute break. Now.

Get in tune with your natural rhythms and you’ll outstrip those driving all-nighters who believe they’re really punching it.

Writing is brain work. And the brain wants to rest. And to play. Surely you’ve noticed that when you step away from a story sometimes that’s when the best ideas hit for its continuation or revision.

Set a timer if you have to. Give yourself a break…and take a break. You want to give your brain a chance to forge new neurons no matter your age.

Your writing will improve and so will your mood.

Which reminds me. Time to stand up and walk around the house. I’m starting to feel grumpy.


Peggy Bechko is a TVWriter™ Contributing Editor. Learn more about her sensational career HERE. Peggy’s new comic series, Planet of the Eggs, written and illustrated with Charlene Brash-Sorensen is available on Kindle. And, while you’re at it, visit the Planet of the Eggs Facebook page and her terrific blog.

Larry Brody’s Poetry: ‘My Mother’s Last Words’

NOTE FROM LB

No Navajo Dog today. No showbiz. No philosophy or religion. Just a remembrance not of but from years gone by.

Mothers! Ya gotta love ’em, right? And they’ve gotta love you.

And yet….


My Mother’s Last Words
by Larry Brody

My mother’s last words to me were,

“I love you,” over the phone. She spoke liltingly,

As though singing a song.

My mother was in Chicago, getting ready to die,

And I was in L.A., trying to live.

Both causes seemed vain. My mother had been

Whole and hearty only weeks before, with a

Suspicious spot on her lung, no more,

And I was in a city and a business and a way of life

That already had dropped me down for what I’d

Thought would be that last shovelful of earth.

But, “I love you,” she sang, and she meant goodbye.

In spite of all the motherly years, all the motherly deeds,

Good and bad, appreciated and resented, wanted and

Refused, I never had really felt loved by this

Cigarette-voiced, overwhelming woman.

No hug, no gift, no sign ever meant anything to me

But her own overpowering needs.

This musical “I love you,” though, was different.

It struck a chord that resonates within my body

Still. It bounces and swings and rocks like the

Best gospel song. It celebrates a whole world,

And gives a Mahalia Jackson soul to both the singer

And her audience of one. I didn’t know she could

Do it. I didn’t know she had that sound inside.

I didn’t know I could enjoy her music so much.

My mother died three days after singing that melody.

I live on in L.A. As I rise and scramble and

Seek my own song, I know at last that she loved me,

And as I feel the elation of the music, I know I loved her.

###


Larry Brody is the head dood at TVWriter™. He is posting at least one poem a week here at TVWriter™ because, as the Navajo Dog herself once pointed out, “Art has to be free. If you create it for money, you lose your vision, and yourself.” She said it shorter, though, with just a snort.

TVWriter™ Don’t-Miss Posts of the Week – November 13, 2017

Good morning! Time for TVWriter™’s  Monday look at our most popular blog posts of the week ending yesterday. They are, in order:

LB: First Thoughts on the PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Writing Competition Entries

Empty Promises: My experience submitting scripts to Amazon Studios

Looking for TV Pilot Scripts?

8 Tips for Writing for Children’s TV Shows

Peggy Bechko Ponders ‘High Concept’

And our most visited permanent resource pages are, also in order:

Writing the Dreaded Outline

The Logline

PEOPLE’S PILOT 2017 Writing Contest

The Teleplay

TVWriter™ Contact & Email List Info

Major thanks to everyone for making this another great week at TVWriter™. Don’t forget to click above and read what you missed and re-read what you loved!

Laura Conway on Web Series: Putting Together Your Crew

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s the fifth chapter in Laura Conway’s series on the making of her very, very, very popular – over 3 million views – interweb series hit The Vamps Next Door.


Assemble the Right Crew or Risk Major Mental Collapse (Oy!)
by Laura Conway

After casting is done, I assemble the crew. How big a crew varies depending on the budget. If you want to enjoy making your web series, hire the right crew or risk a major panic attack. I’ve tried it both ways. The way without the mental breakdown is best.

When I shoot The Vamps Next Door, I now make sure to have a small and affordable, but big enough that I don’t lose my shit, crew. BUT one time when I was broke as fuck, we shot the most important scene of Season 4, when vampire daughter Kate bites Denise, with just me and Phil, each with a handheld camera, no sound person, no makeup person, no lights, no crew.

Phil dug a boom pole out of his garage and enlisted my 13 year old son to hold it AND we had to get this in one take because there was blood and no 2nd set of wardrobe. Some might call this guerrilla filmmaking… I call it being totally fucked. Yet, that’s our most watched episode (go figure) see it for yourself at 4 minutes, 5 seconds in: https://youtu.be/3YbeSDJsQn8

Following is a list of all the crew positions I’ve staffed at various times.

THE MUST-HAVES:

Audio:

Even the lowest budget production needs an audio person because nothing ruins an episode faster than bad audio. Don’t use the camera’s audio. Hire the professional. I find great audio people on mandy.com

Make up person:

It’s not impressive to ask actresses to do their own makeup. And makeup should have a consistent look. Hire a professional and ask the actresses who they like to use.

Director:

Unless you have experience directing, hire a director. See the prior installment on finding a director.

Camera operators/Cinematograhers/DPs:

If you own cameras, that’s the best way to go. For Vamps, Phil and I own and run the cameras ourselves.

If that’s not your thing, you can hire a camera operator who has experience and the director can instruct them.

Third option if you don’t own cameras is rent camera equipment (insurance required). If you’re planning to make more than 1 episode, try investing in a DSLR. I have a Canon 80D that I love. Phil has a 5D. You can see the great quality video they produce in this episode:

If you want to hire a DP, who has his own camera, ask the director who she recommends, but don’t commit to hiring anyone without checking out their reel and comparing with others.

Production Assistants:

They work as volunteers and trade time for experience and credit. They are typically responsible, reliable and just awesome to have helping out. They don’t need experience as long as you give them jobs that don’t require it. Their job is to take orders and do whatever is needed.

They can move equipment, help set up and clean up, pick up lunch, slate the scenes, even pet your dog so he doesn’t ruin the sound, whatever. Two of them is the perfect number for a Vamps shoot. One works, too.

Script Supervisor:

For Vamps, I ask my OCD, detail oriented friend to come over for free and just watch the script. She makes sure the actors say the lines exactly as written. A professional script supervisor also makes sure actions match from take to take, makes sure wardrobe is consistent and keeps notes of the director’s comments. That requires experience and costs money.

MY DIY LIST:

First AD:

Great to have if they’re good. For Vamps, I usually do all the First AD work myself, including script breakdown, shooting schedule, call sheet, and making sure production day runs on time.

Props/ Effects:

So fun to go props shopping. And sometimes I make props. For Season 5, I made my own vomit AND pee. The vomit looks amazing, but the pee device was a total failure. We had to cut to a close up of the shorts already wet. You can see how it ended up 11 minutes, 39 seconds into The Vamps Next Door: Tasha’s Revenge (the video above).

Wardrobe:

If you’re on a budget, actresses are usually OK with wearing their own clothes, and that means looking through their closet. If there’s nothing I like, I go shopping with them and buy something. I now like to have a color scheme, too. And when there’s blood involved, we need two sets of whatever they wear.

Hard Way Lesson #5: During Season 3 of Vamps, at exactly 3 minutes and 24 seconds in, watch me ruin actor Lynn Manning’s jacket with blood and cost myself an extra $50…

(You can’t see me in the video but I’m crouched down behind the actor operating my homemade blood spurting device.)

Production Designer:

PD’s can definitely take your show to the next level of production value, but your venue is the web. People are watching on their phones. Between you and the director, with a little planning, you can make sure there’s nothing weird in the background and move plants or furniture around to make the shots look better.

I had an amazing PD on AGELESS versus no PD on Vamps. You can see the difference for yourself, especially comparing the absolutely horrible background in this Vamps shot in Denise’s kitchen (47 seconds in)

to this nicely designed AGELESS background in Shirley’s kitchen (19 seconds in):

PD’s are expensive. Try to DIY and save the money.

I know there are many other positions in productions, but I’ve never used them for The Vamps Next Door.

Read Chapter 1 HERE

Read Chapter 2 HERE

Read Chapter 3 HERE

Read Chapter 4 HERE


Laura Conway is the writer and producer of The Vamps Next Door web series, directed by Phil Ramuno. Subscribe to the Vamps’ YouTube channel to get notifications about new episodes.