Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Holiday Letter

Our holiday letter, for those of you whose addresses we do not have. Or who we just plain forgot.

~ Camille & Matt's 2008 Holiday Update ~

2008 was a year of minor triumphs and enduring frustrations. It was a year of pulling weeds and planting seeds. A year of too much travel, more separately than together, that left us craving our cat-infested apartment. A year we escaped as much as enjoyed. We celebrated cousin Leah’s wedding in Fairfield in the summer. In the autumn, we celebrated our seventh anniversary in Cambria on the central California coast. And more than once we snuck away to the Edna Valley to replenish our wine rack and leave the flashy noise machine that is Los Angeles in the rearview.

In June, Camille left Ajilon to work full-time for Northwest Art Glass. She oversees the creation of the product catalogs from the home office. In August, she entered her 4th decade by celebrating her 30th birthday at a Venice Beach barbeque. Her paternal grandfather sadly passed away in November. In December, following her father’s knee surgery, Camille flew to Seattle to play nurse and cook him two weeks worth of leftovers. As usual, she’s made many new friends this year and continues to ponder when she’ll return to the world of cmmunity theater.

Despite the WGA strike that began the year, Matt maintained steady if not glamorous work in Hollywood. In April, he traveled to Las Vegas to attend the GAMA Trade Show where he and a couple other Dead Gentlemen promoted the Demon Hunters Role-Playing Game, released by Margaret Weis Productions. In August, Matt’s feature debut as a writer/director, The Gamers: Dorkness Rising, was released on DVD by Anthem Pictures. Dorkness quickly became Anthem’s fastest and best-selling DVD. The film screened at several conventions, including the world-renowned Comic Con in San Diego.

With a team that included an Emmy-award winning producer and an agent from Paradigm, Matt pitched his sci-fi TV show Hopjockey at four networks: ABC Family, the Sci-Fi Channel, the CW, and the Cartoon Network (oddly enough). Matt’s zombie horror TV show ALIVE, which he co-created with Star Trek veterans Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, came within a meeting of being picked up by AMC. The producers on both teams are confident their shows will find a home, in some form.

In September, Matt joined the staff at Epic Level Entertainment in Studio City, where he works part-time. The end of the year finds him writing another animated sitcom pilot for Israeli producers. In December, under increasing pressure from Camille, Matt wrote this letter. He hopes nothing significant happens next year so he won’t have to write another. Camille just slapped him in the back of the head.

2009 promises more trips to the Pacific Northwest, a venture to Hawaii in May to celebrate Julia’s graduation, and a possible trek to visit family in Santa Rosa and San Francisco in the summer or fall (or whenever Matt wants a free meal).

We wish you many happy celebrations this holiday season, and good tidings in the New Year!

Much love,
Camille & Matt

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Unintentional L.A. Christmas

The plan was to fly to SeaTac on the 22nd and spend Christmas with our families in the northwest. That didn't quite happen. If you've been paying attention to the national weather, you'll know why. Seattle -- and pretty much all of the northwest -- disappeared behind a curtain of freezing weather and record snowfall. For a city that essentially shuts down when a half-inch of powder hits the pavement (built on hills as it is), over a foot of snow makes any form of travel impossible. Our flight was cancelled, as was every other flight from Burbank to Seattle before Christmas.

We looked for other ways to make it home, and found none. No busses were running. No trains, even. The only reliable route to Seattle was by car, and that would mean crossing the Siskiyous in teh dead of winter. Considering the heater in our Taurus hasn't been working, that route was out. A few intrepid and/or insane souls made it -- my sister drove up the 101 from San Francisco, proving in the process that we could have simply gon around the Siskiyous (Maginot Line, anyone?), but her heater was working. We resigned ourselves to being marooned in L.A.

BELOW: Bean scopes out another ornament to kill
Now, part of my holiday routine is doing the majority of my Christmas shopping online. I have the gifts shipped to my parents' house in Puyallup. That way, I don't have to worry about overloading my luggage or anything breaking -- I just do the wrapping once I'm up north. I did that again this year. And realized, at about the same time that I realized we'd be in Los Angeles on Christmas, that all my wife's gifts were in boxes at my folks'. Not good. Gotta have something for the wife to open the morning of. So I bought her an Italian leather jacket that she absolutely loves. I done good.

And the holiday itself, cut off from family as we were, was lovely. Much easier and more relaxing than we thought, without the constant stresses of bouncing between families and trying to cram every friend from college or high school into too few days. Several of our friends were similarly stranded here, either unable to book or afford travel back home. So we sought out our displaced friends, northwesterners or not, and made for a memorable holiday with our surrogate L.A. family. Much good food was consumed, mostly soup . Many terrible movies were viewed, mostly widescreen. We spent Christmas morning with our kitties and a soup-filled afternoon with Matt and Jessica from down the hall and Nathan Rice, the most recent northwest transplant. We spent a non soup-centered evening with Gayvin and Erik and their four-year-old living tornado, Jack, in Pasadena. Yesterday we went nowhere, which was wonderful, as was the soup. There are leftovers.

My Mommy made these =)

In the northwest, the snow has been melting, so tomorrow we theoretically board a plane for Seattle. That's assuming there's not another cold snap or freak winter storm. So we'll get our family Christmas a few days late. And we'll be able to make Stevie's wedding and Emily and Michael's New Year's party. So, in the end, it seems likely the holiday will work out. And, oddly enough, our unexpected L.A. Christmas was so unexpectedly pleasant, it has us thinking that maybe we'll take an expected L.A. Christmas next year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Frigid Haiku

A thousand needles
Dance on my fingers and toes.

Teeth A-Chatter

I don't know what the deal is, but the heat has now failed in both our car and our apartment. Or rather, it's mostly failed. It works about a quarter of the time in the car, not nearly reliably enough, so when it does kick on we're only too happy to strip out of our layers of fleece. And then it shuts off again just as we're getting warm, and we get to dress while dodging LA traffic. In the apartment, the heat works well enough during the day that we leave it on when we go to bed. Then it shuts off sometime during the night. Not enjoying waking up and seeing my breath. And not fancying a visit to Washington with its current blanket of frosty on the ground.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

International Dorkness

So this cheered me up. Last week, a package arrived at the Epic Level office for Dead Gentlemen Productions. The postmark on the package said it was from Israel. Written on the back were "The Icon SF Festival" and "The Tel Aviv Cinematheque." The package was addressed to Don, so of course I opened it.

Inside was a program for the 12th annual Icon Science Fiction, Fantasy and Role-Playing Festival. The festival is held every year in Tel Aviv, this year from October 14-18. Also inside was a letter summing up the events. The Gamers had screened at Icon. I hadn't known about it, but that's not much of a surprise -- DG allows any festival to screen our movies as long as they don't charge admission, so there are X many screenigs per year that I'm mostly unaware of.
According to the letter, The Gamers was received quite well by the Israeli crowd:

As you'll be able to see in our printed program, Icon has a major
role-playing section. Over recent years we've been complementing it with a few relevant films in the international film festival section.

THE GAMERS is the first film to have received such a vastly positive reaction from the role-playing community in Israel. The screening [was] followed by many excited reviews and conversations (off and on-line) circling the message "finally, a film that shows gamers and gaming for what it is, does it well and does it funny".

... We're quite eager on seeing the new installment, DORKNESS RISING, and possibly screening THE GAMERS again.

Concisely -- many thanks! Ir was a pleasure and I hope to have the chance to work together in the future.

The director of the festival even went on to say that we have friends in Tel Aviv if we're ever there and need showing around. I may take him up on it -- much of the write-for-hire work I've had and continue to have comes from the Holy Land.
I flipped through the Icon program and found the entry for The Gamers. There was the familiar shot of Nathan, Shimkus, Phil, and Justin looking out over the sea, but the summary underneath it was in Hebrew as well as English. What a kick that was. Looks like the next version of the DVD will need Hebrew subtitles. Why not? We've already done Latin.

On the subject of subtitles: This week, I received an email from fans in Estonia. For the geographically-impaired, the Republic of Estonia lies on the Baltic Sea, west of Russia and north of Latvia:



They'd seen Dorkness Rising and enjoyed it immensely. How they got a copy in Estonia, I don't know. But it turns out the guy who sent the email was one of the translators who did the Estonian subtitles for the Director's cut of The Gamers. He offered his services if we decided to put Estonian subtiltes on any future Dorkness Rising DVDs.

So how about that? Our silly little movies about RPGs have an international following. Feeling pretty good right about now.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Beach Haiku

Far strides the giant,
Yet waves erase his footprints.
Nothing in the sand.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Into the Doldrums

In Hollywood, we've entered the time of year when the city shuts down for the holidays. The lights go off after Thanksgiving, and sometimes don't come back on until February. Work dries up. Little gets produced. A year ago, the WGA strike had just started. The industry still hasn't recovered from that. Add the economic depression and the potential SAG strike, and I'm very glad to have the mini writing gigs I do.

A year ago, I was in an odd place. All of my projects had gone on hiatus when the town went into hibernation. We were talking to studios on Hopjockey and ALIVE; we'd hired a conceptual artist for Fred, Prince of Darkness; Dorkness Rising was finally out of editing and was poised to make its rounds to the distributors; and I had nearly completed Pwned and a feature-length Demon Hunters. Good things lay on the horizon. It promised to be a good year.

Hopjockey we retooled to pitch to four different networks, and received four different passes. I haven't heard from the Heavy or the Agent in months, and have no idea where the future of Hopjockey lies. Dave and Sean have spoken of doing it as a feature, of setting it in high school with a group of quirky rascals since teen adventure might be the best outlet for it. Not sure if I'm interested in that. Take enough away from Hopjockey, and it stops being Hopjockey.

ALIVE surged forward all spring and looked unstoppable, only to be brought down at the one-yard line. The team has stayed positive, though, and is still having meetings and showing project around. I understand that most shows take years to set up. And I understand that we got atypically far on the first try. But this one hurt. Really, really hurt. We shouldn't have done this, but we (Camille and I) kind of let ourselves count on this one, let ourselves plan like it was going to happen. And when it died so abruptly, we had nothing. The hardest part was seeing Camille break down when I told her the news. I've never seen one of my projects do that to her. That kicked off the months-long depression that I'm just now coming out of, that still grabs me from time to time and pins me to the floor. Hurt doesn't really describe it.

Fred remains where it was last year. Jonah and I have gone through three different artists, all who came on board excited to design the look of the show, and all who flaked out and bailed. It's been maddening, more so for Jonah because he's used to such a level of professionalism. The Demon Hunters script turned out well, and I'm pleased with it. Unfortunately, it's unlikely it will ever get made. Pwned I optioned to Epic Level, but the script fell apart when they sent it out to readers. The general consensus was that it's cute, but not hilarious. I'm in the middle of a rewrite now. And Grandmother Clock, the big new project I was going to finish this year, I've stopped and started so many times I have trouble remembering which version of the story I'm on.

So a year after things looked so promising, I haven't completed anything new -- which is death for a screenwriter, since your specs are what sell you -- and most of my projects lie broken at my feet. Not a great year. I haven't been myself these last couple months. Part of it is that I don't know who myself is, if this is the path I should be taking. But the economy's terrible across the board, and nobody is hiring -- I've checked -- so there's no jumping off the filmmaker ship, at least not now. I knew a life as an artist would be hard, but I never expected to be facing down a mid-life crisis at 31. Sounds preposterous, I know.

And things haven't been all bad. Dorkness Rising found a distributor who wants us to make more Gamers movies; I may be writing one this spring and directing it this summer. I still have my writing gig with the Israelis. This project makes my third Israeli-funded animated pilot so far. I have many friends in and out of the industry, people rooting for me and checking in every not and then to see how I'm doing. And I have a wife whose patience and dedication I simply cannot fathom.

I've unexpectedly learned a lot about myself this year, about what I love and what I don't, about where I need to be and what I need to be doing there. And that, I believe, has come out of this near-constant melancholy. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore writes about the gifts of depression. In Iron John, Robert Bly describes the benefits of ashes work. Both hold that depression is not something to be avoided, but something to be grasped and experienced, to be fought and wrestled with. I've certainly been wrestling with mine. Mine fights like a crocodile, drags you down and rolls you around, trying to drown you. And as hard as it's been, when it's let go, I've said "we're not fucking done yet" and pulled it back on top of me.

What I've wrestled out of it has been hard to learn, but important. I've learned that I'm rather lazy writer; I don't fill the day with work the way I should. I've learned that I'm not a particularly good screenwriter, at least not on paper. But I've also learned that I'm a very stubborn writer, a bullheaded writer, and that I can pound out more pages of revisions than most before I burn out. And somewhere in that flurry of redrafts and retakes, I can produce a genuinely entertaining piece of material. Given enough time. And enough pounding.

And that's been motivating, learning how I work, what I do well and what I don't. Recently, I rediscovered my AFI notes while searching some old journals. It surprised me how much of my training I've forgotten. So as I look back on what I've come to see as a wasted year, I've got a lot roiling in my brain. Shame. Anger. And an encouraging amount of determination. I'm not going to have next year feel wasted. I'm not going through another year with no new projects to show.

Last year, when December began, I had a platter of good projects ready to fly. When the town turned itself off, I took it easy and spent a month playing Warcraft. This year, my platter's empty. But this year, while the city is hibernating, I'm doing push-ups.