Haven't posted in a while. Not completely out of laziness, though that's a big part of it. The entire month has been full and progressed rapidly. No sooner had I finished the two-week stint on the Universal lot that my current write-for-hire project kicked into high gear. I've spent the last week rewriting an animated pilot and blitzing through page after page of episode synopses. And every evening I'm packing up the apartment, to the increasing panic of the cats. So things have been busy. And exciting.
There's been an odd convergence of opportunity in the last couple weeks. In my final days at Zoom Entertainment, I spoke to a manager at theWilliam Morris Agency. That in itself was not surprising--my boss is in constant contact with them on a number of projects. What was surprising is that the manager called me on my cell.
The logo is composed of a merged W and M, not four X's. Common mistake.
"Hi," said the manager, "this is [redacted] from William Morris."
"Hi there." I wondered why he was calling the assistant on his personal line.
Just then I got an IM from Camille. It went something like: "OMG, an agent just called! I gave him your number! WHOOOOO!" I don't recall it word for word.
"I just spoke to your girlfriend," said [redacted], "and she gave me your cell." "Oh, great," I managed. "Tell me what's going on!" Camille IM'd. "So one of your classmates from AFI made the Black List. Brian Kistler." The Black List isn't as ominous as it sounds. It's a list put out every year of the most-liked screenplays that did not get produced. Brian, the most talented writer from our year, made it. In his first year out of school. Talented bastard.
"Yeah, Brian's great. Talented bastard." "WHAT'S GOING ON?!?!" demanded Camille. "And so we've been reading material from your year. Scott Cunningham--" (talented comedic bastard) "--said I should check you out. I just got off the phone with him, and called you." .
By now, I knew who the manager was. A lit manager from WMA, a guy who reads an amazing amount of material and then redirects the right projects to the right agents. I'd rolled calls between him and my boss a half-dozen times. In fact, his was the first call I dropped on my first days behind the desk. He'd been polite and accommodating about the mistake.
"Um," I interjected, "I was a bit thrown when you called. You see, I work for Michael Zoumas." "Shut up! You're kidding!" "No, I'm looking at him right now." Not really. A wall was blocking my line of sight. But his door was open, and it sounded more dramatic that way. "So you're the new guy who dropped my call?" "Uh... yes." .
He waxed on about what a small world it was, and then springboarded into stories from twenty years ago of when he and Zoumas and Jon Singleton were all students at USC together. It's one thing to be told that at a certain level in this industry, everyone knows everyone. It's another thing to have it demonstrated. And to think (and hope) that twenty years from now, I'll be similarly connected. If I can last that long. .
[Redacted] asked to see Pwned. I had to tell him it was already under option. He said that confirmed his interest in the project. So then he asked for Red Shirts, a sci-fi comedy I wrote in my first year at AFI. I cringed a bit--it's not my best work, and badly needs a rewrite. But I sent it to him. It turned out not to be what his client was looking for, but he said my writing was sharp and accessible, and invited me to call in the next week to discuss ideas for what I'd like to write next.
I did call in, and he very patiently listened to my laundry list of ideas, and told me which he thought were best. When I have a draft done, he told me to send it his way and he'd read it ASAP. So the whole uncertainty of what project to write next is gone. I know what specs I'm writing next: Belly of the Beast and Greek Fightnin'! (not the actual title).
So, with time and luck, that call just might lead to representation, that oft-sought but seldom-found Grail of Writer Validation. Odd thing is, that may not be my only route there.
Also while working this temp job, I started an email friendship with a woman who wrote to tell us she enjoyed Dorkness Rising. She spoke knowledgeably about production, and with good reason: "I have worked in the film industry, and I know good from bad, and I was so impressed with your production." Curious, Don and I did an IMDb search for her. Turns out "have worked in the industry" was a bit of an understatement--she worked on dozens of classic horror and cult movies from the 80s, including From Beyond, Creepozoids, and Puppetmaster I and II. The more we emailed, the more she asked about us. She said we should get together if we're ever in LA. I pointed out that we live here. So when we're settled in the Glendale apartment, we have a standing date to get together and talk shop: future projects, representation, and the like.
There was one line from her email that made me sit up and roar "I HAVE THE POWER!!" at the universe: "If I was still producing, I definitely would be willing to produce a film directed by Matt Vancil. You did a better job than many of the directors I’ve worked with." Praise from Caesar. Praise from a person who's made a career of exactly what I'm trying to do. There is no greater intoxicant than recognition from an industry player, especially one whose movies you grew up watching. It's the same way I felt when I discovered John Frank Rosenblum had written my favorite episodes of Red Dwarf.
The new year's only been new for a few hundred hours, and already big changes have knocked us onto an interesting new course. The part-time job at Epic Level dissolved, which is bad. But I got a two-week stint on the Universal lot as a producer's assistant, which is good. With the economy corpsing it up, we can't afford our apartment anymore, which is bad. But we just got approved for an apartment in Glendale that will save us $500 a month, which is good. The new place doesn't come with a fridge or dishwasher, which is annoying. And I have to pack up the apartment in the next couple of weeks, which is also mildly annoying. We thought we might move sometime this year, but not right away. As my mother likes to say, life is what happens when you're making plans.
On making plans: Interesting things are afoot at Dead Gentlemen. Every year, when the new year dawns, we declare "This will be the year of DG!" and outline overly ambitious plans that ultimately never happen. We're continuing that trend. But this year feels different. There's a concentration of purpose -- as well as talent -- such as we haven't had before. We'll have a new website up in the next couple of months, a site built to host a constant stream of new material. Producing that constant stream is the challenge. The desire is there. And morale is high. From the feelers we've put out through our collective network of contacts, we're not the only out-of-work filmmakers in this town jonesing to do something. With luck, we'll be shooting another Gamers movie by summer. If that doesn't happen, though, at least we'll finish this year with a few new projects to show.
I'm cautiously optimistic about the Glendale move. Most of our friends live north of the park, and we'll actually be closer to them. And the neighborhood definitely does not feel like Los Angeles. The air was too clear, the streets were too quiet. There were actual leafy trees lining the walks. An oasis in the vast cultural desert. On Sunday, Camille and I went to a farmers market in Encino, which is a straight shot from our new place. We took our purchases to Lake Balboa to picnic with our friends on what was beyond a doubt our windiest day in LA; the ducks looked to be surfing on the swells.
Tuppence a bag
I've said before that 2008 felt more like a year we escaped than enjoyed. It was the Year of the Rat, Jeremy told me, the year you plant seeds and wait for harvest. Now it's the Year of the Ox (or will be in February), the year you supposedly reap the benefits of your hard work. Sounds good to me. Hard work is a lot easier to continue when you can see the fruits of your labor.