Small stories told incredibly well can be every bit as powerful as the sweeping, complicated tales of history. To be honest, I’m naturally drawn to the latter but telling those epic tales as a writer is not a place to begin. It’s a goal.
This spring, I’m attending my first screenwriting pitch event. I had a long conversation with my writing mentor and dear friend, John Bucher. I was considering writing an against-all-odds story rooted in the untold story of New York City’s most notorious and unlikely gangster.
Because it’s a period piece, I was worried that this would cause producers to count me out before I even finished my log line. In this kind of pitch situation, I’ve got to stack the odds in my favor in every way—a great story, strong writing, short shooting period, and a small budget without any complicated production or editing tactics needed. Period films by their nature are expensive and expansive because you have to recreate that world that the characters inhabit. Is a bold period piece for this pitch competition really the risk to take? Though I love the story, I doubted whether this was the time and place to take that shot. To check this hunch, I turned to John.
John said something to me that was an absolute lightbulb moment that I’ll be retelling for years to come: producers often look for a way to say no. Your job as a writer is to make that “no” very difficult for them to deliver. As The Godfather has taught me well, “Make them an offer they can’t refuse.” A killer small story that fits squarely into a genre that sells shows that as a writer you know the market. You understand it in your bones, and that shows that not only can you write but you also know how to make something. And that last bit, the ability to make something beyond words on a page is the secret sauce. If a film can be made on a sliver of a budget, that lets a producer take a risk on a new voice. If it costs them next to nothing to make, it gives them the chance to take a chance. And as a new voice, I’m a chance that I want them to take.
So, it’s back to the drawing board for me on this project but you know what? I feel great about it. I feel lighter. I feel like I’m starting with a blank page that can be anything my imagination can conjure. I don’t know what my genre or subject will be, but I do know the story will be small, relatable, set in the present day, and center around a strong female lead who’s underestimated. She’ll likely be in New York because it’s the city where I live, and the one that I know and love. And the rest? It’s all TBD. Stay tuned…
Yesterday I had my first meeting to be considered as a director of photography on a small film. Still many more meetings to have and it’s by no means a done deal, but just the fact that this meeting happened at all so early on in my Double or Nothing Media venture is thrilling!
In my camera class we talked about the concepts of critical focus and framing each shot with the subject of greatest significance. Parallels between filmmaking and life aren’t lost on me. I’m grateful for the reminder and encouragement as I make massive changes in my life and career right now. It takes a village to start and run a business.
Let the filming begin! I’m so excited that my camera kit arrived and I can start getting a feel for filmmaking with my hands, heart, and mind. Let’s tell some stories that matter, shall we? Take one…
I closed out the week on a huge high. My book, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, advanced to the Quarterfinals for the ScreenCraft Cinematic Book Competition. Over 1200 books were submitted for consideration so I’m thrilled to have made it to this stage. This year’s jury is comprised of a literary agent from Abrams Artists Agency, a publishing coordinator from The Gersh Agency, the editor of Red Hen Press, a manager at MXN Entertainment, and a New York Times best-selling author. I’m so excited about this news and couldn’t wait to share it with all of you. Thank you to everyone who’s been so insanely supportive of me and of Emerson. It means more to me than I know how to say.
I’m so excited to share the book trailer I made for my young adult fantasy novel, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters. Let me know what you think!
The documentary screening of 4 Stories for New York gave me hope for our country and our collective sense of humanity during a week when it was sorely needed. The documentary follows four young people who we commonly refer to as dreamers. They were undocumented and Volunteers of Legal Service (VOLS) has helped them to get on a path through DACA to gain their proper paperwork.
I had to fight back tears watching the documentary, and then I learned that the four young people were in the audience with their families. They came here looking for a better life, exactly as my ancestors did, and these young people want to go to college, find jobs, and work hard to improve their lot in life and make this country the best it can be. I couldn’t have been more impressed with their bravery, dignity, and determination, and with the work that VOLS does to help the neediest people in our communities.
As individuals, we have an opportunity and responsibility to build up our country. Please don’t stop fighting for justice. Please don’t get discouraged by the hate, racism, sexism, and every other horrifying -ism we read and hear about in any one of our non-stop communication channels. There is far too much work to do. There are far too many people who need help. Don’t get distracted by ignorance.
Collectively we can make an enormous difference in the lives of others. Things will change, and they will change because of us. Keep fighting the good fight. It’s absolutely worth it.
If you want to know what my life with Phineas was like in New York City, watch the movie The Secret Life of Pets. Max, the main character, has Phineas’s personality to a tee (though the dachshund Buddy looks exactly like him!) Max even has separation anxiety when his mom, Katie, leaves for work every day just like Phin does. The movie takes place in our neighborhood on the Upper West Side. It shows some of our favorite areas of Central Park and the tiny apartments in beautiful buildings that we happily called home for years. There are a few scenes where Katie and Max are staring out at the skyline from their apartment, complete with the water towers I always loved so much. That was something Phineas and I often did, too. When Max describes his relationship with Katie, all I could do was hug Phineas and say, “That’s just like us, buddy!”
Looking at all of these nostalgic scenes made me realize that while we don’t remember every single moment of our lives, what we do remember is how all of our moments made us feel. I’m sad to say that I don’t remember every single moment with Phineas, in New York City or elsewhere. What I do know is that he has made all of my good moments great moments and he’s made all of the tough times more manageable. His love, devotion, and loyalty have been some of the greatest gifts of my life. I treasure all those walks, snuggles, naps, and playtimes, and I always will. The secret life of pets is that they are our best co-pilots.
Yesterday, Marc Maron had director Todd Haynes on his WTF podcast. They talked about the first movies they’d ever seen in a theater and how those movies shaped them. The first movie I remember seeing in a theater was The Secret of NIMH. I was 6. Right around that same time, my grandmother took me to see the original movie Annie. Those two movies shaped my love of powerful and personal narratives.
The Secret of NIMH fostered my already deep love for animals and my disdain for those who are cruel to them. The main character, Mrs. Brisby (a rat) was caring and compassionate, but also tough and brave. That was the first time I realized one person could be all of those things. She felt compelled to protect those she loved, and also to protect and rescue those who were being marginalized.
Annie showed me that we can define the word “family” on our terms, and demonstrated how music can unite people and move a story along. I also remember being completely wowed by the Indian character, Punjab, and I absolutely loved the dancing. If I close my eyes, I can still see that mansion. I couldn’t believe that anyone had a house that big and that extravagant.
I guess it’s no wonder that I ended up working in theater and environmental conservation, and why my passion for those causes continues to this day. It all started when the lights went down in a theater, and a light started to glow in me.
What was the first movie you saw in a theater and how did it shape you?