Last week, I made the last-minute decision to attend an AFI alumni dinner. I heard about it through Jonah, my partner on Fred, Prince of Darkness and Grandmother Clock. He was one of several mini-hosts putting together a table of alumns for the dinner. It was part of a drive to dial newer graduates in to the alumni processes. I figured it could be fun. Might reconnect with some friends, meet a few fellow fellows. Plus, the event was at Mortons: The Steakhouse, and I seriously needed to get my beef on.
We have no mascot
I got there early, and didn't see anyone I recognized. So I mingled. And the first guy I struck up a conversation with was a producer from '04 named Brian Udovich. He looked oddly familiar, but I couldn't place him. He asked me what I'd been working on, and I quite proudly told him about Dorkness making it to DVD. The conversation went something like this:
ME: Yeah, it's on Netflix and Amazon now. I'm pretty proud of it.
UDOVICH: Cool, cool.
ME: So what've you been up to?
UDOVICH: Well, after graduation, I produced All the Boys Love Mandy Lane with a writer and director from my year.
ME:(recognizing him) Right! I saw that! You screened it at AFI that one time. Grats on that getting picked up. Have you done much since them?
ME:(recognizing it) The critically acclaimed indie? With Ben Kingsley?
UDOVICH: That's the one.
ME: How'd that do?
UDOVICH: We won Sundance.
ME:Dorkness Rising is on Netflix.
We swapped cards, promised to keep in touch. I got a writing sample to him the next day.
I also bumped into Stan Brooks, the heavy who had gotten us the Hopjockeymeetings and the man who taught me to pitch. I hadn't seen him since before we pitched Cartoon Network. He asked how the project was going, and then he told us we needed to come in and meet with him. Even though we didn't sell the project, he explained, some of the places we pitched loved us. And he wants to show us exactly what those places are buying. I assume it's so we can pitch them again with Stan in our corner. Talk about an adrenaline boost.
Dinner itself bordered on the divine. I shared a table with friends from my year. After we'd eaten, speakers -- including Jonah, Udovich, andJon Avnet-- took turns stressing the importance of alumni involvement. I won't overload you with the details; suffice it to say I found myself nodding to everything they said. I was sold. And if I hadn't been, the vanilla cheesecake would have pushed me over the top.
As folks were departing, Jonah and I got to talk to Stan. Jonah mentioned the projects we were working on, Fred and Grandmother Clock, and Stan extended the same offer to us: Come in and I'll show you what places are buying. Then he pointed to me and said "Cartoon Network loves this guy. Loves him." Double ego boost.
Oh, one final bit of awesome: Udovich turned me on to Reel Grit, a film screening series he runs with another alumn. It showcases mindblowing genre films. Sunday's screening was a brilliant Swedish horror calledLet the Right One In. It was, hands down, the best vampire movie I've seen in a decade. Unfortunately, it's being remade in the US. Next week's screening is of the ultra-violent martial arts classicRiki-Oh, which from the clips I've seen includes exploding heads and people disembowling themselves to strangle their opponents with their own intestines. I'm so fucking there.
Despite the flu that kept my head holes cemented with mucus for over a week, I've made great progress on multiple projects over the last fortnight. I had been waiting for my producing partner to get me feedback on the Grandmother Clock treatment before I started the script. But I got tired of that, so I threw myself into it, and in so doing worked out several writer muscles that were achy with disuse. Now I'm thirty-some pages in, with a stronger Act One than I've had in, perhaps, ever. And while the project is tiring, as screenwriting always is, it was the invigorating tiring, the tiring that leaves you excited to begin again the next day; the kind of tiring where the narrative I'm striving to whittle out is like a crafty opponent I'm trying to outwit, an opponent who gives ground but never breaks. And sure, he may get the best of me after six or eight pages, but I'll be back tomorrow to kick him in the head with my character arcs. I have no idea how much sense that made.
So, to reiterate, it's energizing work, work that energized me to get a couple other things moving as well. I decided I was tired of doing research on Belly of the Beast; there are only so many books you can read about 19th century yankee whaling before you know all there is to know about cutting in and trying out, and can identify every kind of harpoon, and know what a flensing knife is and where a blubber hook goes.* So I launched myself into the pre-writing, a bit prematurely, I thought. But after only one day, I had beaten out the story; after the next, the crew had manned the ship and introduced themselves, had let me know their likes and dislikes; and today I broke the story completely. Now Belly is off to scene work and the note card jigsaw. I'll likely start scripting that one in April; with luck, I'll have it off to the WMA guy by May.
Somewhere in there I penned a mini-bible for the webseries spec pilot I'm writing for Epic Level, Earth Force 5. As you might guess from the title, it's a comedy. Which which was a nice palate cleanser, seeing as how I'd been spending all my time with terrified whalers and a grieving girl and her troupe of haunted friends. Epic Level will likely be doing a conference call this week to schedule a shoot. Which couldn't come too soon -- as I've said more than nine times, I'm going nuts not being on set.
Also, my partners on Sword & Sorcery had a meeting with the top producer in Seattle today. He really likes the project, and wants to see a script. Also, just got an email from a new AFI grad and his producing partner. They'd read the blurb on Red Shirts from my year's screenwriter pamphlet, and think it has huge potential.
So the writing has been good. And I aim to keep it so. In fact, I haven't written this much or this well since my first year at AFI, before they taught me that I was doing everything wrong. It's good to be wrong again.
*It goes into the blubber. That's why it's called a blubber hook.
Wifey's started anew blogabout life in and around San Luis Obispo, our favorite vacation destination. The blog will feature reviews and recommendations of wineries, restaurants, inns and hotels, and other not-to-be-missed accomodations. It's the first step on her (and our) quest to own and operate her own bed & breakfast in SLO. Check it out!
Also, be sure to swing byLiveSLO.orgin the next couple of weeks. That's Wifey's new website, chronicling all things to do with San Luis Obispo County. The blog will be an extension of it. Go Wifey!