Archive for the ‘failure’ category

Eyes on the Prize

October 7, 2015

I’ve been swamped with video production work, and taking care of business before my trip to New Jersey for a high school reunion, followed by a week in NYC where my wife and I will be seeing four Broadway plays. Even though I’m accustomed to high hotel prices since we live in Hawaii, I was surprised just how much it would cost us to stay in Manhattan (over $2,000 for six nights). Plus, we were paying premium prices for the theater tickets because I figured if we were going all that way, might as well get the best seats possible instead of trying to save a few bucks and sitting further back.

In any event, I should be excited about seeing old friends from NJ and my days in New York, but the truth is I was in a funk the past couple of months. After writing what I felt was some of my best stuff ever, I was disappointed when my screenplays didn’t advance in the big contests. On top of that, I had applied to a Hawaii-based accelerator program that is supposed to help develop local TV and film projects, and thought I had a very good chance to get in. I expected to be one of the chosen few… forgetting a zen saying I keep repeating to myself: When you cease expecting, you have all things.

Easier said than done! I suspect that if you are reading this blog, you are a writer and probably competitive by nature. Why else would you care what another struggling wannabe screenwriter has to say? Rather than dwell on my personal disappointments, however, I would like to share the positives that came out of my latest setbacks. Maybe it will help you deal with future rejections and close-but-no-cigar outcomes. In the past year alone, I’ve had three scripts get a fair amount of attention from producers and managers, who shopped them around — but no deals.

Anyhow, after I got the impersonal losers email about the Hawaii accelerator snub, I sulked a bit. Then I decided to play catch up on my journals. Each day I scrawl a couple of lines in a notebook to summarize highlights or low points of the day, just to keep track of my progress (or lack of it). When something significant happens or I have some down time, I transcribe my jotted notes to my computer journal entries. A funny thing happened though when I started typing up what I’ve been doing the past two months… I saw that I had actually accomplished a lot and should have been happy instead of fretting about what might have been.

For my monthly half-hour Career Changers TV show, which airs daily on Oceanic Time Warner cable in Hawaii, I had gotten to interview two Olympic gold medal ice skating champions (Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano, who had a TV cooking show and remodeling show as well) for a paid gig to produce videos about a benefit show they’re doing to help early childhood literacy programs; a week later, I was doing a story on a company started by a talented singer that offers Storybook princesses and superheroes for customized party packages; a couple of nights after that we were shooting a pro wrestling match for a segment about a local actor who runs the wrestling league while managing a self storage facility during the day; and I produced segments about energy and agriculture-related startup companies that are using innovative approaches to help make our world a greener, better place. At the same time, I was getting calls left and right from companies asking me to produce new videos and commercials for them.

Yet all I could think about was what I didn’t achieve or get because the dream of being a successful writer seems so much more glamorous and rewarding than being a mere video producer or copywriter for local commercials. What’s ironic is that the more productive I’ve become on the local level, the more rich and famous people I’ve gotten to meet and work with… and what I find is even Olympic champions aren’t really all that different than you or I once you get to know them. They put their skates on one at a time, they’re excited to be visiting Hawaii, they talk about the hard work it took them to get where they were. And then after they win the gold medal, they have to find new challenges in life. They look for meaning in what they do instead of resting on their laurels or counting their money.

It reminds me of a trip my wife and I took to Vegas when we were still newlyweds and not experienced gamblers like we are now. She sat down at a slot machine, but had her eye on another machine she really wanted to play. While she was watching the other woman plunking silver dollars into the slot, she bided her time by playing one coin at a time in the machine she didn’t want, just waiting for that woman to finish playing and move on… then my wife looked up and saw she had hit the big jackpot! Except nothing happened. No bells or music, no flashing lights. Turned out to win the big jackpot, you had to play the maximum number of coins: three bucks. Because she was fixated on the other slot machine, she had neglected to read the fine print and missed out on the jackpot right in front of her.

The takeaway is if you’re going to play to win, go all in. But don’t overlook the prize right in front of your eyes because you’re fixated on something that may only be an illusion.

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Dirty Water Dogs and Stub-Nosed Monkeys

May 15, 2015

Although I haven’t been posting any updates about my screenwriting projects of late, it doesn’t mean I’ve given up hope or stopped putting my stuff out there. When you’ve been at it as long as I have, you build up a body of work. If the scripts you wrote were any good, they should stand the test of time. With experience and distance from the original inspiration or catalyst that motivated you to crank out the first drafts, revisiting old material can yield fresh insights that improve the story and writing itself.

Since my last blog entry about renewed interest in my Menehune family feature script, I’ve signed a 90-day shopping agreement with a producer who is working with a Chinese multimedia company that is making low budget films in the USA. He found my Amish horror spec, SNALLYGASTER, on the Jason Scoggins Spec Scout site (free listings) and liked it because he grew up near Pennsylvania Dutch country, where my script is set. I used that producer’s interest to prod a small prodco to get back to me on my Muslim baby/doll murder mystery suspense script — and over the weekend, their director of development read it after he got back very good coverage from their readers. Now the doll script is also being shopped to distributors through the prodco. That lead came through the Inktip weekly e-newsletters (also free). And via another Inktip e-newsletter request for scripts, I got a producer request for a big budget sci-fi spec I cowrote.

I also continue to enter screenwriting contests while I’m still eligible — that is, I haven’t made enough from options or an outright sale to disqualify me. I’m in that lull stage where you have to wait… then wait some more for news. I don’t want to jinx anything by pestering the prodcos for updates, and cling to the hope that no news is a good sign that those projects are still in play. The benefit of being a more “experienced” writer (old guy) is I don’t lose sleep over it anymore. I get on with my life. Instead of thinking about my prospects of selling, I’m more reflective of my solitary place in the universe and how small we all are in the grand scheme of things.

The other day while jogging to the beach, I counted my blessings and my mind drifted to dirty water hotdogs in New York City, where I misspent a good portion of my 20s before escaping to my present home in Hawaii. In spite of the jokes about the dangers of scarfing down those boiled frankfurters plucked out of the battered, weathered street carts, there was something I liked about the consistency and taste of those onions simmered in a red sauce that to this day, I cannot identify. It was the ideal hangover food after a night of partying and heavy drinking would leave me with less than three bucks in my wallet. No matter where the hot dog cart was — Downtown, Upper West Side/East Side, the Village or Soho — they always tasted the same.

Back then though, I never stopped to think about it much: how immigrants brought these sausages to the New Land, and renamed them for Americans; or the newer immigrants who took over the hot dog carts and introduced other foods from their respective countries; what it took for them to get that beat-up cart; where they got the red sauce recipe from — or was it sold by the originator? So, after my jog, I showered and Googled hot dogs and the red onion sauce recipe. Found some interesting tidbits too!

Snub-nosed Monkey19The dirty water dog memory stirred up a more recent image I recalled from watching a PBS Nature show about an orphaned snub-nosed monkey I identified with. I wasn’t abandoned and left to fend for myself like that poor little monkey, yet my days as a young bachelor in NYC, longing for connection and love, often left me feeling painfully alone. Drinking and partying was part of my survival mode. I convinced myself I didn’t need anyone, or their approval. In some ways, you could say it toughened me up for the inevitable rejections I would later have to endure as a writer. But damn, at the end of that nature show, I was really pulling for that cute little snub-nosed creature to find a friend and reconnect with his missing mother. And I think about that young lonely man, dressed in his business suit with day old razor stubble, savoring a warm hot dog with red onions, with no clue as to what the future might hold for him. Selling a screenplay was the farthest thing from his mind.

Virtual Life

January 19, 2015

The holidays are over, and although we’re only halfway through the first month of 2015 I feel like I’m already falling behind. Each year I vow to get off to a stronger start on my writing and life goals, but I get distracted by college football bowl games, then the NFL playoffs, while systematically emptying the kitchen cabinet of accumulated Christmas gift cookies and candies. I often find myself in a funk too after spending time with my parents and siblings, temporarily reunited for a week or so at the end of each passing year.

It’s been tougher of late because my mother has been losing her short term memory as a result of Alzheimer’s. I first noticed signs of delusion years ago, but my father insisted nothing was wrong with her and doctors kept prescribing more and more drugs to treat whatever aches or pains she complained of. Meanwhile, he was taking more meds himself to sleep and deal with his own depression. I kept sending them articles and links to scientific studies that showed how important it was for older people to exercise and do physical activities to stave off common aging problems such as memory loss. That only angered my father even more. “You don’t know what it’s like getting old!” or he’d snidely cut me off with, “Oh, when did you become a doctor?”

The latter was probably a not-so-subtle jab at me for choosing to become a writer instead of a lawyer or some better paying profession they approved of. So I stopped offering any advice or help a long time ago, since they made it clear they weren’t interested in changing a damn thing about the way they were going to live out their remaining years. They have no hobbies, interests or desires to do anything other than sit in their living room and watch television. My mother used to read a lot, but a few years ago I recognized something was seriously wrong when we were talking about a book I knew she liked and she couldn’t recall whether she read it or not. That was the last time I bought her any books for Christmas or her birthdays.

Despite my differences with my parents, at least I used to be able to talk about books with Mom. She appreciated my intelligence and interest in writing more than my father, whose reading preferences  were Popular Mechanics and Popular Science magazines. She also used that mutual interest in books as an excuse to call and complain about being mistreated by my dad. Those conversations often ended with her in tears or becoming hysterical to the point that my father would pick up the extension and start yelling at her for twisting the truth. The sad irony is now she cannot recall all those arguments and accusations, and he must endure hearing her repeat the same questions over and over, day after day, week after week, while having to watch her all the time. It must be hell for both of them.

Yet when we get together for the annual Thanksgiving/Christmas dinners, everyone smiles, acts like things are fine, and Mom even makes jokes… repeatedly, while we all pretend she’s normal. Dad doesn’t say much. I can’t tell if it’s the meds or if he simply doesn’t feel like he has anything worth sharing. We sometimes break out old pictures and ask them to talk about those times, but neither seems to trust their fading memories.

Anyhow, I’m writing this because I saw a movie review for “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore. I’m not sure I want to see it since it hits so close to home. However, I read the book, “Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant?” by Roz Chast, and have to say, it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a very long time.  Here’s the Amazon link. It’s a comic book that is funny, honest, humbling, observant, sad and truthful about the disease of being human. If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, please get this book. I only wished I could have shared it with my mother.

As for my sibs, we’re all so busy with life and work, we don’t have much time to read all the books we know are supposed to be really good (I’ve got a stack from last Christmas I’m still trying to get through) so we try to talk about recent movies and TV shows we like. They’re always surprised at just how much TV my wife and I watch, but it’s not that hard to cram 6-7 hours of TV shows into 4 hours each evening if you DVR everything and fast forward through all the commercials, credits and redundant stuff. The fact is television can be a wonderful tool for entertainment, education and escapism. It can be a form of virtual life in itself.

Which brings me back to my folks and their chosen lifestyle of sitting in a dark room, blinds closed to keep the sunlight and outside world blocked out, eyes focused on the television. Okay, I can accept that. But why not make it the best experience possible then? I’ve suggested they get a better TV and offered to pay for high definition, got them a gift subscription to Netflix, and sent them recommendations on good movies I thought they would enjoy. Instead, they’re watching Fox News or CNN and banal junk.

I guess my point is, whatever you choose to do with your life, go all the way. In the end, when our memories flicker like dimming pixels on a screen, the only thing we will have are the transcendent moments when we felt we achieved something grand… be it real or not.

Flogging the Blog

September 22, 2014

Did you miss me? Probably not. With the incessant barrage of Tweets, Facebook posts, Linked In messages, etc., blogs like this one are slowly fading away. I used to bookmark lots of bloggers, while maintaining three separate blogs of my own (one for the daily newspaper in Hawaii to promote my Career Changers TV show and another about public beach access issues in the islands). But I have little time these days to dash off pithy dispatches to feed the social media machine, or follow blogs that continue to churn out stuff worth reading.  So why bother, you ask?

When I first started Squashed Gecko about four years ago, the intent was to share my personal stories of frustration and failure in screenwriting as a motivational tool for myself. It was like the Alcoholics Anonymous approach to self-help: you get better by sharing your experiences with others. Paradoxically, the more you give, the more you get in return. Call it karma. And some of the online connections I’ve made here, have indeed helped me keep writing through those rough patches where you want to give up.

Yet there’s another reason I have recounted stories of semi-success and near misses: self-promotion. Once in awhile, you hear about an unknown writer like Diablo Cody or the woman who wrote the book “Julie & Julia” (which became a Nora Ephron movie starring Meryl Streep) being discovered through their blogs… and you think, hmm, why not give it a shot? Drop some names, find an angle, maybe Google will be your magic link to the Big Time.

Well, it almost happened for me. I alluded to being contacted by a famous producer some time ago through Facebook, but withheld the name since I didn’t want to jeopardize any potential deal. That contact never panned out, so I have nothing to lose by naming names now. It was Don Murphy — yeah, THAT Don Murphy (produced TRANSFORMERS, REAL STEEL), whose first major credit was NATURAL BORN KILLERS after he and his producer partner picked up one of Quentin Tarantino’s first scripts out of a pile that was lying around the house.

My connection is I was repped by QT’s original manager, Cathryn Jaymes, after he ditched her and signed with WMA. Long story short, Don admired CJ and wrote a nice eulogy to her when she passed away. I wrote my own piece about her and linked it to his blog… which is how I think Don found my post. He was probably Googling reactions to Cathryn’s death or his own blog. My post was about how CJ first contacted me to request a script I wrote about the mythical little people of Hawaii called the Menehune (I used an equery service that sent my pitch to thousands of agents, managers and prodcos). She loved it and asked to see more of my scripts.

So Don was curious I guess, and via Facebook sent me a personal message: “May I read your Menehune script?” That was it, along with his email address. Ironically, I was working on a script at the time that was similar to REAL STEEL with a couple of twists, for a friend who was working as Eddie Murphy’s personal assistant… and I’m thinking, holy crap, what if Don likes the Menehunes script? Maybe I can slip him the girl/mech fighters twist on REAL STEEL too!

I tried to play it cool though, and sent the Menehunes pdf with a short email saying I liked what he wrote about CJ in his blog. No response. Waited a couple of weeks… still, nada. Sent a short follow-up email asking if he had received the script. Nothing. I understand he’s a busy man, but the least he could do was simply acknowledge he got it, read it, passed or whatever. It takes what, five seconds to do that? When these people who request your script won’t respond, it winds up being even more of a time waster for everyone. Believe me, I don’t want to pester people with follow-ups — but I’ve also encountered situations where someone said they didn’t get an email or script, and asked me to resend it after a follow-up.

Anyhow, I presumed his passive-aggressive lack of response was a “soft pass” and figured I’d take another shot just to see if he was checking that email account. I sent a short email saying: Amish horror. Easter. “The Blair Witch” meets “The Village”… you know you want to read this. Attached was my SNALLYGASTER creature feature script (btw, that spec was a Top 50 Amazon Studios contest semifinalist — twice).

A few minutes later, I get his reply: Do I know you? Where did you get this email from?

Before I could even explain that he had contacted me first about the Menehunes script, he sent another email: Never mind. I figured it out and fixed it.

By which he meant he had blocked me from sending him any more emails, I surmise, and un-friending me on Facebook. Oh, well. At least I know he was getting his emails. Still, he could have just said the Menehunes script was a pass and I would have let it go at that. I can laugh about that Unsocial Media exchange now, but it just goes to show you never know who may be lurking on your blog or other blog sites you visit.

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INDUSTRY INSIDER CONTEST UPDATE

I also blog to help myself get over the latest rejection or near miss. As it happens, I did not win the Sheldon Turner round of the Industry Insider contest (see last two posts for background and details). It was a great experience, however, and the Writers Store story specialist/script coach really did give me valuable tips that will make me a better writer. From the first phone session until the last, he reminded me how tough screenwriting is and said I should consider making the Top 10 finalists a win in itself since I was getting the weekly notes/feedback for free. He also noted that some of the prior winners did not score major Hollywood deals, so winning was no guarantee of a breakthrough either.

This one hurt though. I put everything I had into this script, and thought I had come up with unique twists that Sheldon himself would be impressed with… if he got a chance to read it. I tend to do better with produced screenwriters as judges than consultants or paid readers because I think pros look for unusual concepts or big ideas, and don’t get so caught up in the technical details that readers/consultants like to dwell on.

My only criticism of the contest was that we didn’t get any feedback on our final drafts. Just a short condolence email saying we were not the winner. For our first draft, they gave us coverage style notes with an interesting chart that showed the reader’s “emotional response” throughout the script. The reader gave my rough draft a “consider” despite pointing out major flaws in the plot. I spent the next two weeks rewriting to address the notes, and felt it was much stronger. However, the Writers Store didn’t tell us who read the Top 10 finalist scripts or give us any indication of how we ranked in the end analysis. Not that it matters much in winner-takes-all type contests.

I’ve been a Top 10 finalist in over a dozen different contests, and came in second or third in four of those, but never grabbed the top prize. I suppose there’s some consolation in knowing that each time, there were nine of us who felt the same way — close, but no victory cigar. It’s bittersweet. All you can do is keep writing, keep trying, keep hoping that the next time you’ll come out on top. But it gets harder and harder to even make the finals cut because the competition keeps improving too.

The Writers Store announced that in the next Industry Insider round, which offers three loglines to choose from, all ten finalist scripts will be read by execs from 15 different companies — some of them being major players. If only that had been the case for me in their last contest!  Here’s the link to that contest, which I highly recommend… even though I lost. Again.

Chance or Fate?

May 22, 2014

Every screenplay or book has a story behind it. Some projects seem to happen magically with all the elements quickly falling into place as if by kismet. Others are a slog, taking years of false starts, periods of dormancy, spurts of progress here and there, before finally reaching the first draft finish line. And then the real work begins: fixing and selling it.

As happy as you may be with the achievement of completing a script or novel, the end results aren’t always what you envisioned — the feedback from friends or fellow writers isn’t what you hoped for. Maybe it even stings. So you enter your screenplay in contests, or send out your manuscript to contacts in the publishing biz, wait for responses… and again, there are passes, rejections, encouragement, platitudes about patience, perseverance, keeping your passion alive. Because it is or isn’t meant to be. Or all your struggles are preparation for better things to come! At a certain point, you think it’s all stupid and pointless, you grow cynical and stop dreaming big dreams.

But then you get an email — another screenwriting contest that offers you a chance to break into Hollywood! They’ll even supply you the logline from an A-list produced screenwriter with major credits. All you have to do is write the first 15 pages, and if you’re one of the Top 10 finalists selected, they will assign you a mentor to consult with you each week until that first draft is completed and submitted to their judges. If you win, they’ll fly you to Hollywood for meetings with a top management company and the A-list screenwriter! Sounds good, doesn’t it?

In fact, the writer of that new Halle Berry series, EXTANT, was a prior winner of the Industry Insider contest run by the Writers Store (different script, although Mickey Fisher credits this contest with jump-starting his success). Another recent winner, Tyler Marceca, wrote THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM through this contest, which topped the 2012 Black List and sold to Universal after a bidding war. If you’ve been reading my blog awhile, you know I advocate entering legit contests — both big and small — as a way of getting unbiased feedback, making contacts, and gauging your progress as a writer.

Yet I never entered the Industry Insider competition because it didn’t seem like my thing — I prefer to choose my own premise and the idea of weekly consultations with deadlines for turning in pages impinged on my sense of “artistic freedom.” However, if you want to be a pro writer, you must learn to take notes, meet deadlines, and produce the kind of work that industry people are looking for. Is that selling out? Kind of. But if you want to stay in the game, you have to write stuff that sells.

So when I got another Writers Store email last month about the final deadline coming up for the Sheldon Turner round (he wrote UP IN THE AIR, which I really liked, and an earlier X-Men movie) I read this premise:  A corrupt detective with one month to live tries to make all the wrongs right in a wobbly road to redemption, becoming the cop — and the person — he always wanted to be in the process.

At first, my reaction was meh. Seemed generic and familiar. Then just before I hit “delete” it dawned on me why it sounded familiar — I started a rewrite of an earlier script that had made the Nicholl Fellowship quarterfinals, but didn’t sell, incorporating notes from my former manager (Cathryn Jaymes) and her assistant (Gary Dauberman, who sold CRAWLSPACE recently and got the assignment to write ANNABELLE, the spin-off from THE CONJURING). The new version I had begun was somewhat similar to this premise.

Now this is where the chance or fate part comes in. I had just read about Gary’s sale on the Done Deal site, so perhaps subconsciously I recalled that aborted rewrite attempt… which was about a corrupt detective who finds out a Japanese fortune teller has predicted he will be the fourth victim of the Inugami (a Japanese werewolf-type supernatural creature) before the next full moon — which is about 30 days.

The problem was I wrote those pages and notes ten years ago on a different computer, using different screenwriting software. Back then I favored Movie Magic Screenwriter over Final Draft. When I began collaborating with other writers, I switched over to Final Draft and stopped updating Movie Magic. Old script files got moved around, forgotten, lost. But I kept hard copy pages, handwritten notes, clippings and script pages in folders that I couldn’t bring myself to throw out. I did locate that draft and was able to convert the old Movie Magic file to Final Draft. It was exactly 15 pages long.

I hardly changed a word, entered it a day or two before the final deadline. Then last week, got the “Congratulations!” email saying I was one of the Top 10 Finalists who will be working with a mentor over the next couple of months. It’s strange though. I was thrilled to learn I had this great opportunity to follow in the footsteps of two writers who scored big deals after their success in this contest… and I am nervous as hell about producing pages on demand as part of this process. I’ll try to post updates about the experience, but time will be tight — I’ve already been struggling to keep up with my “day job” duties of producing my little TV show in Hawaii, and doing other for-hire video projects locally. Now I’ve got to find a way to do this too!

It’s like that old saying: Be careful what you wish for — it may come true.

In case you’re interested in knowing more about the Industry Insider contest, here’s a link to my contest round page. You can click around to read other testimonials and details.

“I’m Still Here”

January 22, 2014

Damn, it’s been a long time since I posted anything in this blog. The “I’m Still Here” song title from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies musical was sitting in my WordPress drafts file since the beginning of the new year after I watched the documentary, Six by Sondheim on HBO. I recommend every writer see it because what he talks about can apply to just about any genre — music, books, scripts — anything that involves putting together words to achieve a desired effect or emotion. It’s also inspiring to hear his story about how his less than ideal childhood (mom had serious shortcomings as a parent) placed him in an ideal place for a budding young musical talent to be living — right near the home of Oscar Hammerstein. He became friends with Oscar’s son, and the famous lyricist/playwright became his mentor and surrogate father.

What really moved me though was toward the end, when Sondheim recalls Oscar’s parting inscription on a photo of himself. He wrote to Stephen, “Thank you for being a friend and a teacher.” Sondheim got choked up telling the story. Here’s this great man who taught Stephen so much about music and writing… and yet he thanks the pupil for teaching him. And Sondheim goes on to explain that’s why he creates art — it’s his way of teaching. He doesn’t have children of his own, and when asked if he ever did want kids, he sadly replies, yes. What he misses is that opportunity to teach a child about the world and life. Instead, music and writing provides that outlet for him. I can identify with that. My wife and I decided before we got married that we didn’t want to have kids because of our own less than ideal childhoods and parental problems. Yet I’ve always loved learning, and writing has been my way of sharing what I’ve learned over time.

It’s why I continue to write screenplays, work on novels, and publish the occasional blog post, despite my lack of mainstream success as a writer. Sondheim says teaching is really about opening up minds to ideas and seeing things in a different way. Is there a better definition of art than that? My favorite part of writing, and now producing my local TV show, is the research and interviews I conduct. I’m curious by nature, thirsty for knowledge, always eager to challenge the commonly accepted viewpoint or prevailing wisdom. And I’m still here, a survivor like the character in Follies, who’s lived through a lot while being able to maintain a sense of humor about it. (There’s a fun, quirky version of the song in the documentary performed by Jarvis Cocker which is riveting.)

Anyhow, after all these years, I actually decided to make a New Years resolution to spend at least an hour each day working on a new writing project, and I’ve been keeping to it thus far. Part of my latest inspiration came from a “free” seminar about how you can learn the secrets of becoming a best-selling book author. But as hokey as the come-on was that preceded the sales pitch by the self-help guru, I actually did leave with some good advice that I’ll share with you in my next post — absolutely free!

Make Your Own Luck

September 11, 2013

As I’ve said before, whether you win, place or get dinked in a screenwriting contest — or any artistic competition, for that matter — it often comes down to the luck of the draw. I made the Nicholl Fellowships quarterfinals this year with an old dramedy because it was the right script for at least two of three readers who rated it among the top 5 percent of over 7,200 entries. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the same response from the semifinals readers, so LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET is done as far as this year’s big contests goes…

Except it’s not dead yet. I’ve been through this before and knew there was a fifty-fifty chance it wouldn’t advance, so I started using the Nicholl QF news to drum up interest before the Academy Foundation officially sends out the list of scripts that made the cut. Industry people who do take the Nicholl seriously will request semifinalist and finalist scripts, but usually don’t get too excited about the QF round. So my thinking was some managers or development execs, looking to get a leg up, may bite on a QF script before the next cut is announced since they didn’t know at that point which ones would wind up going all the way. If per chance I did make the semifinals, no harm done. I could send a follow-up to those who passed or didn’t respond to my query, and give them a second opportunity to take a look at it.

But I didn’t get too far with queries before I got a surprising script request that could be called an amazing coincidence, serendipity, or blind luck. However, it’s the sort of luck you need to work at to make it happen. Many years ago, the American Film Institute used to run an annual TV Writers Workshop program, which anyone could apply for. The year I won a scholarship to attend the month-long program at their L.A. campus, writers had to submit an hour-long script for an afterschool special. Yeah, like I said, it was a long time ago! Back in the day, a few writers who would go on to win Emmys and direct features, cut their teeth on the lowly teen dramas. I knew not many aspiring screenwriters would even bother applying for this one, so the odds were in my favor. (Tip: don’t fixate on just big contests — look for smaller contests, fellowships and workshops that tie into your specific interests, goals or qualifications… including “diversity” if you’re a woman or person of color.)

Instead of writing your basic afterschool special, I created a drama/comedy that was inspired by the suicide of Kurt Cobain and incorporated a lot of rock music, plus dark stuff related to addiction, depression, teen angst/romance, and a high school job working at a funeral home. But there were also light moments related to a baseball coach who spoke in malapropisms and a dad who played in a garage band, much to his son’s chagrin. In short, I was going for a MTV-style afterschool special before MTV ever did any scripted shows. One of the AFI staff even suggested I turn it into a feature script.

Although the AFI experience didn’t lead to any script sales or representation offers, it became part of my networking efforts. I was considered an AFI Alumni even though I wasn’t a graduate of their directing, writing or producing programs. It put me on an email list, along with AFI grads who are working in the biz and making big Hollywood movies and smaller indie films. And I used that connection to promote my LOST IN THE SUPERMARKET script shortly after I got word I had made the Nicholl quarterfinals.

In my email pitch to the AFI alumni, I noted it was a low budget indie project — which is what a lot of the producing grads are looking for — and mentioned it was based on my relationship with the late great jazz legend, Jaco Pastorius, who played electric bass for Weather Report and accompanied music artists such as Joni Mitchell.

Less than an hour later I got a reply from a producer who said she has spent the past two years working on a documentary about… wait for it… yep, Jaco. Her co-producer is  the bass player for Metallica, who I later learned idolized Jaco when he was growing up, and now owns one of Jaco’s guitars. They are in post-production on the documentary and haven’t read my LOST script yet, so I have no idea if anything will come of it. Maybe nothing at all.

Yet it just goes to show that we never know what cosmic twists are out there that could cause your “hard sell” story to fall into the right hands at the right time. But you only get that opportunity if you take risks, have your work read by industry people —  through contests, paid coverage, any way you can — and network with like-minded writers/directors/producers. Then, years after countless rejections, soft passes, and “not for me” responses, you just might get lucky enough to find the perfect match for your project.