Saturday, June 30, 2007

I was supposed to continue my "On the Lot" rant with tales of my own pitching experience -- and I will eventually -- but just like that stupid show, I'm changing the format without notice. Maybe my next post will suddenly have a hot big-breasted host who can't read the teleprompter.

But I wanted to get in one more blog entry before the end of the month. I spent June with the goal of exercising every day, and once I go for a run this morning, mission accomplished. So that's why I haven't been on the internet much lately -- because at fitness/self-torture I've been Cal friggin' Ripken.

My girlfriend has been doing the same thing, and I'm really proud of her. Adelphia has been going to her aerobics classes or running up at the Rose Bowl, while I've been pumping iron at the gym or pounding the pavement down by the beach. In other words, we're both exhausted.

Or just sore. For me, I blame all my aches and pains on wardrobe malfunctions. No star-encrusted boob popping out, but like the hoopla surrounding that non-event, they're somewhat irritating.

My hands are completely callused, and for no other reason than my workout gloves seem to serve no purpose. And even though I bought new running shoes and cushioned insoles, my feet are badly blistered. I figured I should find a low-impact exercise so I started swimming, too. But my goggles don't fit right, and all the chlorine in the pool made my eyes bloodshot. I tell ya, I'm getting in good shape, but I'm a wreck.

I really needed to remedy the blisters situation. I live so close to the beach and the weather is turning out to be beautiful this summer, it's a shame if I'm reluctant to run. I didn't understand -- I bought the same brand of sneakers I always get. Ditto for the insoles. Okay, sometimes I need to trim the edges of 'em to make a better fit inside the shoe. But they just didn't seem to line up properly -- what the hell was wrong? Then it dawned on me: I had them on the wrong feet. The right insole was in the left shoe and vice versa. Once I switched 'em, problem solved.

Yeah, I'm working on making my body better. Too bad about the brains.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

I hate reality TV.

Which my girlfriend Adelphia points out is ironic considering it's how I earn a living these days. I still say most of it is crap. As the great Ernie Kovacs said, “Television - a medium. So called because it is neither rare nor well-done.”

And today every show is trying to be like “American Idol”, which is like Ashlee Simpson getting plastic surgery to look more like Jessica. Cookie cutting something that just might’ve been interesting to make it conventionally prettier, a.k.a. friggin’ boring.

So I’m not as eloquent as Ernie Kovacs. And sorry to use the Simpson sisters in a simile.

Here’s my point: “On the Lot”. It sucks, but unlike most of the shows Adelphia wants me to watch, I admit I kinda like it.

They keep changing the format, but never dispose of the sappy contestant biographies (“This is my one shot... gotta go all the way... do it for my poor third-cousin Timmy who fell down the well...”) or the awful artificial drama. (“America has voted and the next person to screen their film... will be revealed after the commercial!”)

What’s interesting to me is watching the works of the filmmakers. Some of them exhibit genuine talent, but others make me wonder how they even got on that show.

After seeing some of the contestants’ stupid shorts, I was tempted to show Adelphia a video of scenes I shot in film school. But I had to turn it off as soon as my poorly directed images came onto the screen. So who am I to talk smack?

But that’s part of the appeal of these shows -- we all get to be armchair critics. I cut the cast some slack, knowing it’s real easy to criticize (and as Homer Simpson says: “Fun, too!”). I mean, I can argue how the beat-box boy on “American Idol” can’t really keep a tune, but if I were to audition, Simon Cowell would rightfully tell me to get the hell off stage. Paula Abdul would tell me I’m great, but she says that to everyone. But I know not to audition, and it’s not just to avoid being anywhere near that creepy Ryan Seacrest.

So if the contestants of “On the Lot” think they’re worthy of us watching them vie for a deal with Spielberg, they better be damn good. But that's not always the case. And you know why? A lot of 'em don’t how to tell a story.

Sometimes they overcome that problem with dazzling special effects, cool cinematography, scatological subjects, or controversy over whether their lead character was a nerd or a retard.

In film school, most of the shorts done by writers like myself had decent concepts, but poor execution, hence the awful video I refused to watch again. On the other hand, the directors' shorts looked fantastic, but were conceptionally crapola. I think many of the contestants of "On the Lot" fit into the latter category.

This was most apparent in an early episode where they had to pitch a movie idea to the judges. They were already given the concept, all they had to do was flesh out the idea. They only had 24 hours to do it, but what else did they have to do? While they were filming these episodes, it’s not like they had to hold down their day jobs.

Yet some schmoes couldn’t come up with anything. One guy got voted off for freezing up on stage and crying about it later. Another was ejected for flinging himself around, giving a flail instead of a tale.

And when the judges did like a pitch... I didn't understand why. No story, no conflict, no nothing. What drugs was Carrie Fisher on that night?

See, this is where I do feel like I have some right to complain. I can't sing, cook, celebrity-impersonate, and no, I don't think I can dance. But I have gone on pitch meetings with film studio execs, and it's nothing like the bullshit they showed during "On the Lot". Wanna hear about it? I'll take a cue from these stupid shows by announcing that I'll write all about my pitching experiences... the next post.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tickets bought on eBay to last night’s Dodgers-Mets game: $0.99
Parking at Dodgers Stadium: $15.00
Waiting in line for overpriced Dodger dogs: Endless

Number of official errors made by the losing team: 1
Number of errors I spotted from all the way up in the top deck: 4
New York Mets: Defenseless

My girlfriend, permanently misplacing her Mets hat: Careless
Adelphia’s argument that I had something to do with it: Groundless
Plus, she has no: Witness

Number of games in Mets’ losing streak: 5
Number of games in Yankees’ winning streak: 9
Mets' chances in upcoming Subway Series: Hopeless

Regardless, a night together that’s stress-less to eat ballpark food to excess: Priceless

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Been writing a lot lately. Not here on the blog, I know.

But with my novel. I had allowed myself plenty of time to revel in the accomplishment of finishing it and letting the whole thing marinade. I was full up with feedback from friends and decided I had done enough rewriting. I couldn’t keep questioning each clause and character arc. The time had come to do something with my work.

While I have plenty of experience in trying to sell screenplays (the operative word being “trying”), the book publishing world is new to me. I started exploring my few connections in this arena, but I pretty much had to cold-contact the literary agents. I put together a huge list of applicable reps I found from various sources -- and I keep finding more -- so even though I’ve only hit up a small fraction of ‘em, it was still a mass mailing (and e-mailing, to those willing to save me postage money.)

Then the rejections started coming in. “Thanks, no thanks”, “we’re not taking on new clients”, “sorry for the impersonal letter, but”, “our agency is under federal indictment”… I expected a high percentage of no, but one yes woulda been nice.

And when I got one, I freaked out.

Keep in mind, it just means “yes, I’d like to see a little bit of what you got.” Not even the whole thing. And it’s certainly not an agreement to represent the work, or send it out to publishers. No one’s buying the damn thing. It’s just another step forward.

So when one agent asked to take a look, I suddenly wanted to do more rewrites. I had to make it perfect, at least the first few chapters that he wanted to read. I knew I was putting way too much pressure on myself -- this wasn’t my only shot. There are plenty of other opportunities out there and hell, I’m still waiting to hear from dozens of agents. But so far, he was the only one interested. And maybe that was a fluke.

Was my query letter that bad? I spent days on it, trying to be professional and cordial, while capturing the quirky comedy within a few brief paragraphs. The novel got positive reactions from readers, but maybe I didn’t sell it well to the agents. This is why I procrastinated on marketing it – to avoid relying on responses as a reinforcement of my writing ability.

I was frustrated, and again, got back another handful of SASEs. But one of them had a handwritten note on it: “This isn’t really my kind of story, but your snappily-written letter got me curious…” And the agent asked me to send her a few chapters. Awesome.

Galvanized, I got going on the rewrite. I also had to do a synopsis, which can be tougher than the novel itself. But somehow I summarized and hopefully still stayed smooth.

Oh, and the day I was about to get these submissions together, yet another agent expressed interest, so I sent the stuff out to all of them. Now, while I’m still waiting to hear back from several agents regarding my query, I’ve got a few irons in the fire. Keep your fingers crossed.

Friday, June 01, 2007

My mother got back from the hospital last night. She was there since the previous Thursday. She’s fine now, but needless to say, my life this past week wasn’t its usual chucklefest.

Basically, Mom had a blood infection that made her cough, vomit, then stop breathing. They helped her breathe and gave her antibiotics for a few days until she got better.

There. See how easy it was to convey that? For some reason the assisted living employees and the hospital staff felt a need to use fancy medical jargon whenever I tried to get some information. I consider myself a somewhat bright guy with a decent vocabulary, so when people spew out words like “respiratory arrest” and “aspirated” and “sepsis” and “intubated” without being able define them in simple terms, I can’t help but suspect they’re covering up their own stupidity with fancy euphemistic technobabble.

And that was when there was communication. Don’t get me started on what it took to get my mom released, and then to get her personal items the hospital lost. I shoulda known based on what I went through early on. Despite numerous calls to doctors and nurses and daily visits to the hospital, I rarely got updates. It was pretty scary, especially because I didn’t know what was what. But within a couple of days, I could see my mother’s improvement. And hear it, when she could talk again. On or off meds, Mom doesn't always make much sense in recent years. Usually the ol’ lady’s crazy prattling is frustrating, but now I took the nonsense as a return to normalcy.

Like the non sequitur about how I “caved”. What did she mean? “Adelphia likes cats!” Mom said. No, I explained, my girlfriend and I didn’t get a cat. Adelphia hates cats. Adelphia also hates maps. I mentioned it the other day, how there’s no maps at our new place; perhaps Mom misheard me? “There’ll be maps in the other house.” What house? “New York.” But we’re not in New York, anymore. We’re in California. “Duh. They have a state lottery, here, too.” Lottery? What? Okay, wait -- so we’re gonna play the California Lotto, which is like the NY Lotto and win? “On my shoe!”

After much deciphering, I determined Mom's story: She was out walking (when? and how, considering she needs a wheelchair) and stepped on a winning Lotto ticket that she cashed and we’re buying a new house in New York -- except she hates the snow, so maybe the Caribbean -- for the whole family to live in together.

Great, I said.

For the record, you’d have a better chance of hitting the lottery while getting snowed on in the Caribbean than me moving into a house with my mom and sister and cousins. But all in all, it was nice to see Mom babbling again.

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