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10/4/2017 - What is Patriotism?
When our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence, the American flag as we know it did not exist and the Star Bangled Banner wouldn’t be adopted as the national anthem for more than a century after that. Yet, Thomas Jefferson and his cronies had no lack of love for their country.
They risked their lives and pledged their sacred honor to uphold, “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Now, as then, allegiance to those principles is what defines us as patriotic Americans, not whether we stand, sit, or kneel while an anthem about the flag is performed.
The anthem and flag are symbols of our country, nothing more. Anyone can stand up during our anthem and place a hand over their heart as tribute, but if that person deprives others of life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness, then that person becomes a bad American.
Let us now consider the recent events of those who are kneeling in protest during the national anthem. They are not protesting against America, the flag, or our anthem, or even the principles we stand for (pun intended), but instead they are showing their grievances over the killing of black Americans by police officers.
A very good friend of mine said he is boycotting watching the NFL because of the athletes who are kneeling during the anthem. He believes they are disrespecting the flag and our troops who fight for our freedom.
And yet military personnel have been quoted, “I fight for my country so that my fellow Americans can have the right to kneel.”
A lot of people, like my friend, are adverse to the athletes who kneel, but they kneel in peaceful protest to make us aware to what they believe are unjust killings. They want us to know that our government isn’t upholding the principles of our Founding Fathers; it is failing to protect everyone’s lives and liberty.
They’re kneeling in an effort to protect the very core of our Declaration of Independence. No act can be more patriotic than petitioning our government for that purpose. And what better way to do so than on a national television broadcast?
My friend says that we must stand united as a country and honor the flag and our anthem. Otherwise, there can only be anarchy. But when I asked him if he stands while watching the game at home and the anthem is broadcast, he said no. He only does it while attending an event. I think he fails to see the contradiction in his own conviction. I mean, if you’re not willing to stand all the time but only partially, does this make you partially patriotic?
You may dislike the tactics of the protesting players. You may feel politics has no place in sports. Those are your rights to do so. But consider this…prior to World War II, football players were never out on the field during the national anthem. Our government asked the NFL for its players to be out on the field during the anthem for recruitment of young men into the Armed Forces.
But times change. Today there is war on our streets, in our schools, at marathons, and concert arenas. And people are protesting for change.
No one is perfect. Thomas Jefferson certainly wasn’t; remember he owned slaves while advancing life, liberty, and happiness for all Americans. And we “forgave’ him his indiscretions because of the times he lived in. I can also overlook (and even sympathize with) the kneelers who want nothing more than to advance life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in their own time.
9/25/2017 - Star Trek: Discovery
Last night, after a 12 year hiatus from television, Star Trek exploded onto the small screen once again (or should I say streaming service?). Taking place 10 years before The Original Series, the newest series in the more than 50 year franchise showed us the beginnings of the Klingon and Federation War.
In the less than optimistic spirit of the original Star Trek, I had mixed emotions as I watched the first 2 episodes of Discovery. This is the first time a Trek show has been serialized, so I get that the plot will be strung out over the 15 episodes, but the tempo was so slow and the lengthy Klingon speeches made it appear downtrodden to me.
Centering on Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green), first officer of the USS Shenzhou serving under Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), offers us a rich perspective of a human having grown up on Vulcan, a ward of Spock’s father, Sarek.
Sunday’s airing of the first 2 episodes, the premier being on CBS and CBS All Access and the second showing only through the streaming service, showed us the Shenzhou in a remote corner of the galaxy where Burnham becomes the catalyst to war. Very exciting! But after this, the show faltered with too many character flaws for a main character. Perhaps this is where Brian Fuller had exited the show?
>>RED (SPOILER) ALERT!<<
In the very first episode, Burnham commits mutiny. This is very unsatisfactory. She’s been under Captain Georgiou for 7 years, but when push comes to shove, she mutinies? It didn’t make sense. I don’t care that Burnham’s parents were killed by Klingons, the logical teaching of the Vulcans would have made her follow Federation protocol. And for her to use a lifeline seeking advice? I don't want that in my hero. Not to mention that humans aren’t strong enough to perform the Vulcan nerve pinch, but letting her Captain fall to the floor without even a “Sorry” introduces a character that isn’t very nice even though she calls her Captain a friend.
Martin-Green, fresh off her stint with The Walking Dead, has charisma and substance to pull off the main character, but her characterization of a human having learned to use Vulcan self-restraint doesn't immediately gel and her mutiny is a turn off for me. It wasn’t logical.
Visually, Discovery outshines its predecessors, but I found myself distracted by the subtitles during the Klingon scenes with their lengthy speeches. We get that they speak Klingon, okay? So lose the subtitles all ready. The exposure into the life of a Klingon is a plus and the sarcophagus ship is a welcome addition to Star Trek lore, and their racial agenda and unification of houses can be connected to current events, which was something the original series back in the 60’s became famous for--dealing with social issues through the medium of sci-fi.
I remember watching the first few episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation and thinking, “What the hell have they done to Star Trek? A Klingon on the bridge? An android taking the place of Spock?” But it turned out to be the second best series in the franchise. I can only hope that this new series will do the same.
From the previews it seems that StarFleet will need all the help it can get in the war to come, so instead of Burnham being court-martialed and imprisoned, she is taken under the wing of Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) on the USS Discovery. Perhaps the series will be about her regaining the respect of the Federation (and viewers).
With its level of talent and visual commitment, Star Trek: Discovery could be a major chapter in the ST universe.
9/17/2017 - ZZ WARD
In an effort to create an Ultimate Blues Playlist I clicked on a link inside iTunes for exploring genres, which had a Blues link underneath. This is how I came upon ZZ Ward, an alternative/rock/blues musician, singer, and songwriter. I was instantly blown away by her music and downloaded everything I could find.
ZZ Ward photo from xmdwn.com
Not that I expected to hear back from her, but I tweeted her to say, “I love your music!” You may find her as @ZZWard.
Zsuzsanna Eva Ward has two albums, Til the Casket Drops (Alternative, 2012) and The Storm (Rock, 2017), which are both heavily influenced by the Blues. She also has a couple of EPs.
Her website states, “The Los Angeles-based vocal powerhouse and multi-instrumentalist leapt forward by taking a deeper look at some of her earliest inspirations—including Howlin’ Wolf, Robert Johnson, and Vera Ward Hall and Big Mama Thornton.”
For me, her strongest tracks are “She Ain’t Me”, “Ghost” (my favorite), “Bag of Bones”, “Put the Gun Down”, and “Ride.” The latter plays over the closing credits of Cars 3 and features Gary Clark Jr. whom she has toured with, along with Eric Clapton and Fitz & The Tantrums separately.
Ward says, “To evolve you don’t need to go outside of yourself; you can reach further inside of yourself instead.”
Also according to her website, she sings about “things that were close to my heart” and it shows. The Storm is a raw, bluesy rock album. I read that it took five years for its release because she had scrapped an album in between. I hope it doesn’t take as long for her third LP, but more power to ZZ Ward if it’s as strong as her sophomore release, it’ll be worth the wait.
The exciting aspect of finding a new artist is seeing them perform live, and it just so happens that she'll be in Connecticut next month at the Oakdale. I've already bought my ticket and I can hardly wait.
And my Ultimate Blues Playlist? See two posts below, ZZ Ward is on it.
9/4/2017 - My Predictions for the Last Season of Game of Thrones
As is the case with any good season finale of most shows, we are left to speculate what will become of our onscreen heroes and villains when the show returns after its hiatus. And none can be truer than with GoT.
But before I get to my predictions for the final season I would like to say that this past season was very exciting though it felt rushed and lacked its normal attention to detail. I had mixed emotions with it. For example: On one side of the coin I loved all of the CGI dragon battles. They were beautiful and gave me chills. On the other side, I was bothered by the chains the dead used to drag Viserion out of the water. Where did they come from? Why did the Night King choose to throw his lance first at a moving/flying target instead of Drogo and Jon on the ground?
If you’re a fan, then perhaps you feel the same, yes? I’m sure we could have plenty to talk about. Maybe you think, like I do, that the budget for all the extra CGI used this season left little for the amount of detail we have grown accustomed to in past seasons? Perhaps this is why we only got 7 episodes instead of our normal 10?
Don’t get me wrong, those 7 episodes were great in the advancement of the story. Seeing all the principle characters finally meet was awesome, but it left me wanting. This season didn’t feel the same as with past seasons, it felt hurried as opposed to fast-paced and I was a little disappointed.
And I’m hearing that the final season is only supposed to be 6 episodes. Is this right? Holy Crap! With a show this good and with the fan base it has amassed, I think HBO has a duty to go out with something worthy. I hope they and the writers feel the same.
So here it is … my predictions for the final season and how I would send Game of Thrones out with a bang… Everything will come down to the war between the dead and the living. There may be some loose ends to tie up when we see who ends up on the Iron Throne, but mostly all of our questions will be answered on the battlefield.
8/27/2017 - I’ve Got The Blues
I consider myself a fan of the Blues. I love songs by Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Jeff Healey, The Blues Brothers, ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan, J.D. Lang, the immortal Chuck Berry, even the Rolling Stones, and of course the great B.B. King.
But these are all contemporary artists.
The Blues began around the end of the 19th century, a long time before these artists were born. Rooted in the deep south of the United States, the Blues genre can be traced back to the music of Africa with its call-and-response format and use of blue notes.
The first appearance of the Blues occurred between 1870 and 1900 after the Emancipation Act and was traditionally sung by African Americans in juke joints during the transition from slavery to sharecropping. Some argue that the development of the Blues is directly related to the freedom (and hardships) of the enslaved people.
But Blues as we know it today really didn’t get its start until after World War II when country blues transitioned into urban blues in a movement called the Great Migration, where new styles began using electrical instruments. In fact, Chicago became the epicenter of the Blues when Muddy Waters recorded his first success, “I Can’t Be Satisfied.”
Other Blues legends emerged within that time frame; Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, and Jimmy Reed all advanced their careers during the 1950s, followed closely by Bo Diddly and Chuck Berry, and even later by Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy.
It wasn’t until the 1970’s that B.B. King became the “King of the Blues” with his band and an electric guitar named Lucille. In contrast to the Chicago style, King used brass support instead of a slide guitar or harmonica. His iconic voice and guitar style catapulted the Blues across R&B, Rock, and Soul genres, and artists like Freddie King, Johnny Winter, and Booker T. among others were influenced by him.
The late 70s and early 80s brought us The Fabulous Thunderbirds, ZZ Top, Robert Cray, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and a comeback of Eric Clapton with his Unplugged album in which he plays some standard blues on his acoustic guitar, but the most visible example of the blues, and perhaps what influenced many of today’s blues artists, was when Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi release the film The Blues Brothers in 1980.
Between B.B. King and The Blues Brothers, I fell in love with the Blues, so to follow up on my playlist from my last blog, I've created a separate Blues list here...
My Ultimate Blues Playlist
7/31/2017 - My Playlist
Before playlists were a thing, there were mixed tapes – cassette tapes with your favorite songs on them. Yup, that’s how old I am. I was in grade school when I used to record songs from the radio using my tape recorder. Picture me sitting there for hours on the floor, waiting for a good song to come over the airways and then rushing to hit the record button.
Those tapes have long since vanished by way of the dodo. I can’t remember any of the songs that may have been on them, other than maybe Dreamweaver by Gary Wright (1975) and Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin (1971).
Advance to my high school days when I chose an all-time favorite, Radar Love by Golden Earring, released a decade earlier. It is still my favorite song today. I love it! It is my go-to song. It’s just one of those songs that whenever I hear it I have to crank it up, sing along, and swing my arms playing my air guitar and drums.
Recently, I chose a second favorite and even more recently a third. They are Uprising by Muse and Yellow by Coldplay respectively. Suddenly I had the start of a playlist, and it got me thinking that if I were to make a real playlist, one that I can create and listen to regularly, what other songs would I have on it?
Well, here they are. After number 3 it’s in random order with no importance given to one song over another. Is your go-to song among them?
5/14/2017 - Notch, Aim, Let Loose Your Arrows!
Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there, especially to my wife. But this post isn't about Mother's Day, this post is about how one thing can lead to another.
A friend of mine turned me on to a Billiards app and I really enjoy it. It’s called 8 Ball Pool by Miniclip, where you can login through facebook and can play pool against your friends and others from around the world. As you win games and tournaments you gain experience points which allow you to upgrade your cue stick, which vary in design and ability. Yes, I own a real pool table, and I’ve been teaching my daughter how to play, but the app is just as fun with earning money and competing against others. It’s free to download and play, and it doesn’t have any ads other than links to other games made by Miniclip.
Well, I like 8 Ball Pool so much that I clicked on one of those other game links. I ended up downloading and playing Archery King. The concept is the same. You shoot at targets while competing against friends and other archers from around the world. As you advance you can get better bows and arrows and your ability increases with each level. Levels grow increasingly difficult due to simulated wind conditions and moving targets.
Now, some people may say I spend way too much time in front of my iPad, but hey, it’s how I like to wind down after a long day of technical illustrating.
But with these two new games even I was thinking I need to get off it more.
So what did I do? I went to Hal’s Arrow, an indoor archery range, in Manchester, CT, and I took a lesson. Wow. It’s a whole science compared to the last time I shot an arrow as a kid. The fiberglass bow I had when I was young was like a stick-n-string compared to the recurve and compound bows they have today.
The recurve bow is similar to the traditional, except each limb now has a secondary curve bending back away from you. I started with this type of bow at Hal’s and it was a lot of fun. The compound bow is a fancy-looking bow with a pulley system that allows you to pull back a heavier pound strength bow, meaning if you’re holding a 60-pound pull back strength, once you reach a certain pull back it feels like you’re pulling a 25-pound strength bow instead. I can see the advantage of a compound bow, but I like the art of a recurve bow more.
I was told during my lesson that I want to start off with a lighter pound weight and build up to a heavier one. This is so I won’t develop bad habits straining against a heavier pull. I need to get used to it first. During my lesson, I used a 20-pound pull and was comfortable with it. I had some good groupings (where the arrows land in a relatively close area to each other) when the target was 15 feet away and then 20, but when my instructor moved it out to 25 feet I was all over the place. It was amazing how different my arrows ended up at that distance.
The instructor said that, like anything else, I will improve with practice. That, and with using stronger bows the arrow will fly faster and straighter (just like in the game Archery King. Ha!). Renting equipment at Hal’s is at a minimal cost, and the employees are friendly, so I’ll go for a while and practice. Will I take it up as a hobby and join a league to compete? Who knows? It’s too early to say for sure. If I get better at it maybe I will.
I went again to practice just this last Friday and here is how I did.
Not too shabby for a second time out. These were my best shots at 25 feet within an hour before my fingertips got sore.
Meanwhile, I mentioned all of this to my 8 year-old daughter and now she’s interested in going. She likes the app too, so maybe she would get into the real thing and we could shoot together.
4/10/2017 - Dare I say?
1) It was announced on April 1st that I had made the first cut in the 2nd Annual Comedy Writing Contest by Stage32. Dare I say, "April Fools!" I don't know how many entrees they received, but I am now 1 of 48 who are quarter-finalists. This is exciting! Semi-finalists will be announced April 12th. Fingers crossed!
2) There's controversy in the secluded town of Amston, CT. Tucked away to the east of Colchester, the first clothing-optional (Chinese) restaurant has opened up and is creating quite the, dare I say, uprising. I don't know if the staff are naked at Wang's Palace (yes, wang's, heh-heh) or if it's just the clientele, but one thing is for certain...I won't be going there. I don't want any naked people serving me my food. I'm sure everything is clean, at least I hope so, but just the thought of it turns me off. And unless you're fit to be gawked at, I don't want to see you naked while I eat my food either. I can remember the same kind of controversy over the first Hooters in CT, but at least there everyone keeps their clothes on.
3) I gave two pitches last Sunday for the comedy mentioned in item No. 1 above. The first one did not go well. The movie exec was stoic, which made me nervous (I think he liked that) plus I tried adding in all the other comments from past pitches and I stumbled a few times with the new content. Needless to say, he passed on requesting to read my screenplay. Four hours later, however, I gave the same pitch to a different exec and it went really well. I knew the exec from a workshop I had with him, where he had read my First 15. So we had already briefly met back in December. He remembered me (surprise) and said that he liked my writing. During the pitch I became nervous though because he stopped me before I got to ACT III. To my relief, he told me he was going to request to read the full script and that he didn't want the rest of my pitch to spoil the ending for him. Awesome! This was, hands down, the best response I've gotten from a pitch. In his written response he wrote, "Great logline! Good film comps. Good protagonist. Really interested to see how it's executed. Overall, [you] did a great job." Dare I say, holy crap! This exec is super nice and even if the screenplay doesn't go anywhere at least this was a nice shot in the arm. Kudos to me.
4) Companies in China are inserting microchips into their employees. The chips hold employee info, store passwords and security clearances, including credit cards, medical history and current medical conditions, all within a central database. At the very least, these companies are using the chips to track their employees. Again, no thank you. I'll stick to wearing my badge outside my body and keep all my personal information to myself. It's bad enough that ProHealth Physicians of CT have a shared database for all of their patients, which I disagree with. Just the thought of them being hacked and my info getting stolen bothers me, so I'm searching for a new doctor who isn't affiliated with that kind of, dare I say, practice.
5) And lastly...I gave a pitch this past Saturday based on a recommendation. It couldn't have gone any worse. At first the exec was all smiles, but as I got into it, their demeanor changed drastically. The exec almost went pale white when I said, "Nobody dies from having too much sex." It turns out the exec was looking for romantic comedies for the Hallmark Channel. Yes, there is plenty of sex on the Hallmark Channel, but my script is a bit too raunchy for their types of movies. Too sophomoric, you might say. I will never forget the look on her face. And once I found out she wasn't interested I apologized for wasting her time. Dare I say, it will be a funny story to tell after I get my script produced.
3/26/2017 - Have You Heard of the Clear Knee Mom Jeans?
Nordstrom is in the news again with a new style of jeans that have plastic windows that show off your knees. They're known simply as "Clear Knee Mom Jeans."
This has to be a mistake, no?
Did the designer say, "Hey, I've got all this plastic laying around, how can I get rid of it?" Maybe the marketing department said they wanted "Clearly Mom Jeans" and the directive was lost in translation with the manufacturer?
Regardless, Nordstrom's is calling these jeans the look of the future.
So, what happens if a woman wears lotion on her knees? I mean, elbows and knees can get a bit rough, many to the point of requiring lotion. Am I right, ladies? What will you do if lotion gets on your plastic windows? Will you run to the ladies room and squeegee them whenever they become smeared? It's bad enough when people approach your car wanting to wash your windshield with spit and a sheet of newspaper, but now they'll be chasing your knees?
And how about sweat? Imagine that you're bold enough to want to show off your new jeans at the night club, say, dancing the night away. You come off the dance floor because you're hot and suddenly everyone starts laughing and pointing at the sweat that's beaded up and running down the insides of your windows.
Next they'll be installing little wiper blades to the inside of your pants.
Maybe it's about showing more skin without the exposure to the elements? For me, however, if you're going to show off any part of your body from underneath your clothes, I wouldn't be asking you to show me your knees. Calves, yup. Thighs, def. Butt, oh yeah! But knees? No thanks.
Futuristic or not, mistake or not, these don't appeal to me.
And before you spend $95 on a pair, ask yourself why they're called 'mom' jeans? Is that a style? Are only moms supposed to wear them? Ugh, think I'm missing the whole point. I think Nordstrom's is too.
3/18/2017 - Death Inspires Me
In a song written and performed by 21 Pilots, called Heavydirtysoul, there is a lyric which goes, "Death inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit."
I can't get it out of my head.
I've been obsessed with my own death since I watched my Dad die two years ago. He was 90. My sister and I were by his bedside to say goodbye and we told him that we loved him. He didn't die alone.
But I don't know if he knew we were there.
His death was the first to shake me to the core. He had such a zest for life, throughout his whole life, but he seemed to give up in the end. When he slipped away there was no fanfare or musical score rising to a dramatic crescendo. He was here one moment and gone the next.
So, what is it all for?
Death inspires me to be glad when I wake up in the morning. Death inspires me to appreciate the beauty in the little things that surround me. Death inspires me to not take anything for granted. Death inspires me to leave a legacy to be remembered by. Death inspires me to be more kind-hearted.
Even though I fail in embracing these ideals some times, death inspires me to try harder.
Death inspires me.
I recently applied for the Rocaberti Writers' Retreat in southern France, and was awarded a partial scholarship (thank you, Claire). I was delighted at the opportunity, but I had to let go of my spot because even at 20% off, it was too costly for me at this time. Needless to say that I am quite disappointed. But death inspires me, and I will try again for the full scholarship when it comes around again.
Like a rabbit on the run from the sharp teeth and strong jaws of a dog, I would evade death if I could. I know I can't, but I would if given the chance. I would build an iron fence around me and declare to Death that he may not enter. I would scream, "You may not come for me yet! You may not cross before I've done all that I want to do. Do not knock upon my door until I am ready."
Like my Dad was apparently ready.
3/12/2017 - Sex, Drugs, and Lobster Rolls
Last summer I bought a t-shirt at Perkins Cove in Ogunquit, Maine, and on it is a logo of a lobster with the saying, "Sex, Drugs, and Lobster Rolls."
Just the other day my recently turned 8 year-old asked me what it meant. Uh oh. I had to think fast. Parents always have to think fast or else their kids will know they're lying. I replied, "Boys are a sex and girls are a sex. Some drugs are medicine. And lobster rolls are hot buttered lobster meat on a toasted hot dog roll."
My wife chimed in with, "Good parenting right there." I'm not sue if she was being sarcastic because of my lying or the fact that I was wearing the shirt to begin with. Maybe it was praise. It's so hard to tell sometimes.
"Okay, but why do you have it on your shirt?" asked my daughter.
"Well, in the hippie infested 1960s, the original saying was 'sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.' It was a cool thing to say and a mantra for younger generations. So the t-shirt company, trying to sell their shirts in Maine, which is famous for lobster, changed the saying to lobster rolls instead."
I'm not sure if she was satisfied with my answer, so I think the question will come about again in the future.
When she's older I'll tell her the truth.
The original saying has lasted throughout the years and is still considered a mantra for potheads and hippies and hippie-wannabes. There are probably some older hippies out there that have never grown out of using it. Perhaps one of them was the guy who designed the t-shirt.
3/6/2017 - The Rejection Rate Is Getting Bigger, So Why Do I Bother?
The rejections to my romantic comedy screenplay are pouring in. Let me clarify by saying that these rejections are based solely on my pitch to movie execs.
Given that these 8 minute pitches are designed to give a broad view of my concept, either the exec is going to like it or they won’t. It can only be an initial reaction. Yes or no. Full Script requested or a Pass. I get that.
But one exec responded, “I want to see more of how he falls for her and have it take more time,” and, “maybe it would even be interesting if his client changes his idea and wants to stay with her.”
Okay. If the exec had read the screenplay they would have known that it takes 6 months of dating before my characters move in together, but, since this comment is based on my pitch only, I’ve added the time it takes into it. Thanks for that feedback.
But does the second half of the exec’s response seem a bit odd to anyone else but me? “Maybe it would even be interesting if…” Why would they make a suggestion to change my script without having read it first? Maybe they think they were trying to help, but that isn’t the point of my pitching to them.
I’m allowed 8 minutes for a pitch. I’m not given the opportunity to go over every detail. If you want to make suggestions, then option my script first and pay me for the rewrite.
“This male [protagonist] has somewhat mal intentions,” said another exec. “I think it will be hard to find him likable and ultimately worth rooting for when shit hits the fan.” Yes, I see your point, but don’t good people lose their way sometimes, thinking they’re doing more good than harm? My protag is a nice guy. Even though what he does for a living isn’t very nice, you want him to succeed.
“Comedies are tough for us.” Then why did you ask to be pitched comedies?
I get that an 8 minute pitch will leave you with questions. How could it not? But if an exec has as many questions as the following one had, then why not request to read the script to find out the answers?
Just last week I received, “How does moving in [together] effect the guy’s real job of breaking people up? Has he been constantly lying? Saying he’s going to work, going to his office but instead he hits the street to break people up? Does actually falling in love make him less sure of his place in the world? If he’s a total cynic, than he truly feels like he’s performing a service for people. But now that he’s had a taste for love is he looking for a new career? Is he failing now that his heart’s not in it?”
I have 8 minutes to give a general overview and tone. So why is the exec responding with such in-depth questions if the pitch didn’t strike a chord with them? Request the screenplay. But, alas, they didn’t.
So, why do I bother?
I bother because I’ve also received comments like, “Seems like a high concept idea, excited to check it out.” And, “I was hooked instantly with his logline, it’s really well written.” And, “The comps were good.” And, “I like your energy and brief but in-depth pitch.”
I bother because I knew going into this that in order to find the one person who will see the potential of my screenplay I would have to play the percentage. Hey, if you ask a hundred strangers for a kiss, you will get at least one who will kiss you, right?
I bother because out of 6 verbal pitches given thus far, 2 have come back requesting to read the full script. That’s 33%. If I can pitch to 100 execs and 33 of them request to read the script, maybe one of them will like it enough to champion it.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed until then and with each rejection I will remind myself…
It’s a “fun idea in rom-com space.” It’s an “interesting premise.” “I think it could be a good role for a male comedy actor and I see the appeal.”
Just one. That’s all it will take. That’s why I bother.
2/26/2017 - The Craft of Screenwriting
In an industry where the door to Hollywood is typically closed, I wondered if I might learn something from established screenwriters; about how they learned their craft, about how they sold their work, and what road(s) they took to get there.
I went and checked out the top screenwriting blogs, and by “top” I mean the first few listed on Google. As it turns out, there are countless blogs from screenwriters available online, some supposedly to help cultivate the aspiring writer, but I couldn’t find one that actually taught anything.
There are plenty of classes, just as there are plenty of books and services on the subject, which cost money of course, but I couldn’t find any blog willing to hand out free tutelage. Go figure. They probably paid good money to learn themselves, so why shouldn’t everyone else?
I did find a podcast however, titled, Selling Your Screenplay by Ashley Scott Meyers. I’ve only listened to one episode as of this writing, so I haven’t formed an educated opinion on it, but it does seem informative where other free avenues haven’t.
With all that said, I was recently asked, “How do you even begin to write a screenplay?” Since I’m not an established screenwriter (meaning I haven’t sold one yet) I don’t feel qualified to get into the nitty-gritty, but I can tell you this…
You can’t be a writer without reading.
If you want to become a screenwriter, then you ought to be reading lots of screenplays.
Reading will make you a better writer. Even if you read something that’s really, really bad, at least you will come to recognize it and learn to avoid doing the things that turn you off. Reading will help you develop your own style by emulating (not copying) the styles that you like. Be yourself and develop your own voice.
I can also tell you the biggest do’s and don’ts about screenwriting is formatting. If you can’t format your script with the proper font and margins, etc., then you might as well not even try submitting it to any industry exec. Even if they like the premise, it won’t even make it to their slush pile.
For this reason alone I recommend buying screenwriting software. I purchased Final Draft, but there are others out there.
That’s all I have for you, aspiring writer. If ever I sell one of mine there will be more to say on the subject.
Hey, what more do you want for free?
2/12/2017 - CAPA and The Authority
I recently became a member of the Connecticut Authors & Publishers Association, and as a newbie, an introductory article was written about me, which I would like to share with you in its entirety.
The Authority – CAPA January Newsletter
Meet a Member: Jonathan Westbrook – Renaissance Man by Joe Keeney
He is an author, screenwriter, illustrator, designer, painter, and he's pretty good at sculpting wood into beautiful figurines too.
The Author: Jonathan Westbrook published his first novel in 2010. Imagine time travel combined with mythic fiction and you have the first book of his imaginative series: The James Sutherland Chronicles, a trilogy. These are no ordinary time traveling yarns, but a world immersed in thought-provoking drama. In A Legend in Time, Sutherland (Jonathan’s alter ego) goes back in time to investigate the suicide of a Native American princess. In Onboard the Marauder, Sutherland is stuck in the past with seafaring pirates, and in Future Dark, which concludes the series, Sutherland’s adversaries have fiddled with the past and changed the world as we know it.
Outside of the Sutherland series, Jonathan has written Eat My Shorts, a collection of short and flash science fiction, a method based on an economy of words.
The Screenwriter: Jonathan has written three unproduced screenplays, and is currently pitching one of them to Hollywood executives. At the time of this writing, one such exec has requested the full script for review, calling it a high concept idea. Jonathan is hopeful it gains traction. "My fingers are crossed," he states.
Each week, he spends a few hours writing. He confesses that he writes for himself; he tells the story he wants to tell and not for any specific audience. His approach is to outline the story first and then fill in the gaps as he writes. His most memorable writing experience was when he got that "ah ha!" feeling most authors crave. Even though it was unplanned, it brought his first book full circle, beginning to end, making it complete in the author's mind.
The Artist: Jonathan was first published at the age of nine when a pencil drawing of his appeared in the Kid’s Corner section of the Hartford Courant. It led him, many years later, to receive a degree in Graphic Design. Clients get the benefit of both a designer and artist in one shot when they employ him. The covers of his books are a must-see! Jonathan sketches line art and color drawings, he paints, he carves, and he loves playing around in Photoshop.
His art work and blog can be found at www.westbrookdesigns.com.
The artist/author is married, with two children, three dogs, and a cat, and has lived in Connecticut all his life. Jonathan is employed full time as a technical illustrator, but he confesses that he would rather be a full-time writer and a quondam illustrator. Sponsors are welcome!
Jonathan loves to write because, as he admits, he gets lost in the worlds he creates. "I lose all sense of time when I write. I sit down in front of the keyboard and hours seem to melt away."
That seems about right for a time travel author.
2/5/2017 - Pros and Cons of Social Media
Everyone wants affirmation of their existence (some more than others) and it is for this reason that makes social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, popular. We all want to be recognized, to share our daily lives with family and “friends,” and to have our content liked by our peers.
Proponents of social media say these sites promote increased interaction with others, even with people that you’ve never personally met, while opponents say they prevent face-to-face communication and can cause a social awkwardness out in the real world.
I’ve been experiencing some doubt about continuing my online presence, so I thought it would help me to decide by exploring some more pros and cons…
PRO: People learn about breaking news faster on social media as it can spread like wildfire.
CON: Social media also allows the spread of false news and misinformation.
PRO: Law enforcement uses social networking sites to catch and prosecute criminals.
CON: Social media sites lack privacy, regardless of personal settings, and my daughters may be at risk to predators and bullies, even from my posts.
PRO: Students use sites to discuss educational topics, (yeah, right).
CON: Too much time on social media results in lower grades.
PRO: People can make new friends and continue staying in touch with older ones.
CON: Interaction through the internet alone is cold and can be stressful.
PRO: Sites help employers find people, and job-seekers to find work.
CON: What you post online could get you fired.
The list can go on and on.
Also, social media is a time hog, which is the real crux of my renewed issue with social media sites.
In summary, though I don’t want to give up using social media entirely, I think I will be cutting back on the time I’m on them. In fact, this morning just before posting this I deactivated my Pinterest account. There's progress. So, if I happen to not “like” one of your posts, or I seem to be aloof and unsociable online, it doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you. I’m just taking more time to do other things.
1/30/2017 - The Shoebox of Inheritance
Leslie Holdings recognized the shoebox right away when Mr. Worthington, her family’s lawyer, produced it from a drawer in his desk. He did not smile when he handed it to her, but she was completely elated. The box was from her childhood and she accepted it with great affection and nostalgia. Leslie shed a tear as she placed it gently on her lap.
As she ran a hand over the faded photos glued to the top, her fingertips caught on the curled-up corners of memories; the jewel-encrusted tiara her Gran gave her when she graduated prep school, the summer jaunts with her to Europe, the time her grandmother was invited to the White House and she got to play with the President’s dog, Trixie.
She found it adorable that her grandmother had kept the shoebox all these years. Out of the millions that the estate was worth, Leslie was sure her dearly departed Gran had left her with something grand inside it. Perhaps she placed the deed to the Holdings’ mansion in there, or the account numbers to the multitude of bank accounts.
She was beside herself with anticipation, but when she lifted the lid to her childhood creation, she found only a small mirror glued to the bottom of it along with a note. In her grandmother’s handwriting, it read, “All you’ll ever need is right here.”
“I don’t get it,” she said to Worthington, looking into the otherwise empty box. Surely this was one of her grandmother’s eccentricities, but when she looked up to see the blankness on the family lawyer’s face, she realized it was no joke. “This is all she left me?”
“You still have your trust fund, which you’ll receive when you turn twenty-one” Worthington told her.
“Yes, but…” Leslie trailed off. She could hardly believe it. “What about the estate and the business?”
“All liquidated. Your grandmother has bequeathed all of her worldly belongings to charity. It was her dying wish to give back to those in need.”
“To charity? All of it?”
“There is one other thing,” the stoic Worthington offered.
Leslie brightened for a moment. “Yes?”
In monotone, the staunch lawyer looked over the rim of his reading glasses perched low on his nose, “Your grandmother asked me to wish you a ‘Happy Birthday.’”
The eighteen-year-old looked into the mirror at the bottom of the shoebox; a face full of misunderstanding reflected back at her. “Today isn’t my birthday.”
Worthington grumbled under his breath as he stood up from behind his desk and approached the debutante with an arm gestured toward the door—their meeting nearly over. “Your grandmother was fond of saying, ‘Every day is your birthday so long as you are still alive.’” He walked Leslie Holdings to the door. “My advice is to take your grandmother’s words to heart. She worked hard to live by them. And look at how well she lived.”
During the limo ride back to her high-rise apartment, Leslie’s initial shock dissolved into enlightenment. Gran’s last message was meant to tell her it doesn’t matter how much or how little you have, you have to be happy with yourself first. No amount of money or possessions can do that for you. “All you’ll ever need is right here.” Leslie smiled back at herself in the shoebox mirror before she closed the lid. She brought the shoebox to her chest and gave it a slight squeeze. It was the best present her grandmother had ever given her. Leslie had discovered she would live each day of her life to its fullest, just like her Gran had.
1/25/2017 - Send Me a Kiss
Kissinger wants to give you some lip. Or, the impression of your lover’s lips, that is.
It’s virtual kissing. When you kiss the pressure pad on the robotic creation from Lovotics, it records the shape of your lips and the amount of pressure applied and sends it to your long-distance lover, while at the same time, returning their kiss to your own pressure pad.
The robots aren’t just kissing pads though. If you wish to send your lover an over-the-internet kiss, you have to make out with a thing that looks like a cross between a rabbit and a cow with over-sized lips, like Mick Jagger’s.
The lips, which look more like a pig’s snout, are made from silicone and the bunny/cow makes a buzzing noise when it replicates a smooch, which I suppose is just the right amount of stimuli to get you in the mood.
Being in the prototype phase, the makers of Kissinger haven’t released any plans to add a tongue or other body parts to further enhance the user’s experience, but that’s not to say it isn’t in the companies near term goal.
This could very well be the beginning of virtual sex bots. But it won’t be cheating with a machine, because your lover will actually be on the other end. Will this be the way people will get it on in the future? Stay tuned.
1/16/2017 - Arrival
Here's something else I did over my month long December vacation; I went and saw Arrival.
After hearing great reviews for Arrival, I decided to read the screenplay. I did this for two reasons; 1) I want to learn more about writing screenplays, and the best way to do so is to read good ones, and 2) I sometimes want to see if the story is good enough to go see it in a theater, which this one definitely was.
The screenplay, written by Eric Heisserer and based on the 1998 short story, “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, is listed on IMDb as a Drama, Mystery, and Sci-Fi. You might as well call it just a sci-fi movie because of the alien ships and the beings inside them, and shouldn’t any good sci-fi movie then already have drama and mystery in it? Of course.
The premise: When 12 mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Lousie Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the alien beings within.
Arrival is both philosophical and existential in its thought-provoking theme, about how we treat ourselves and others, and if we knew what would happen to us in our own lives, would we, or could we, change it? Like all good stories, this one will challenge you. It will move you. It will get you talking.
Amy Adams, who portrays Banks, calls Arrival, “One of the joys of my career,” and it shows in her performance. She says of the film, “It asks you to sit back and watch and observe and listen, and in a way, the audience becomes Louise. You have to be open.” Though I never felt I became Louise, I did feel wrapped up in the story as she must race against time and a potential war to find a way to communicate with our visitors.
The difference between the screenplay and the movie is I understood the cyclical aspects within the movie better. I won’t give anything away here, but there is a reason the characters in the alien language are circular and being able to visualize them as such, like seeing an image of an Ouroboros snake, forever in a loop, made a difference for me somehow. But, just because watching the movie is slightly more visually entertaining it shouldn’t stop you from reading the manuscript; it is masterfully written. I thoroughly enjoyed both, and I highly recommend reading and/or watching it.
1/13/2017 - Friday the 13th
Triskaidekaphobia is the fear or avoidance of the number 13.
There is a lot of speculation about how the fear of 13 came to be…
Prior to that, I never considered the day or the number to be unlucky. I also don’t think you’ll receive bad luck for breaking a mirror or if a black cat crosses your path. Walking underneath ladders isn’t safe, but that’s only because something may fall down on you if someone is working above. Stepping on a crack won’t break your mother’s back, and the number 666 isn’t going to invoke the devil.
1/8/2017 - December Was Intense
Happy New Year!
December was crazy. One would think being on vacation from the 7th until after the New Year I would have had time to relax and start my new novel. But no, such was not the case.
Right after Thanksgiving, I joined the Roadmap Writers’ Intensive Program for screenwriters, and it was, well, intense. There were webinars and discussion groups and practice pitching. There was a writing assignment and analysis, which was a lot of fun. And included in the fee, there were 5 “free” open pitch sessions, of which I participated in 4, and I blogged about those last month along with updated results. My fingers are still crossed and I’ll let you know of any further developments as they come in. IMO, you shouldn't have to pay to play, but if you're looking to gain access into Hollywood, this is the way to do it.
Thankfully the holidays were laid back this year, probably because I had so much time off. Use them or lose them, you know?
What else did I do over the break? I cooked and I baked and I made beef jerky. Yum!
There’s nothing easier in preparing meals than with a slow-cooker Crock Pot. I love it. I found a slow-cooker recipe book and I went to town with it, making all kinds of dishes, like: Chicken Jambalaya, Beef Stew, Barbeque Chicken, Pork Shoulder with Butternut Squash, and Beef Stroganoff. Yesterday I made a Cajun Shrimp Soup, which was spicy and sweet with smoked sausage, red pepper, and shrimp in it. Delicious!
My wife bought me a dehydrator for Christmas, and I’ve made 2 batches of beef jerky so far, one spicy and one teriyaki style. The spicy batch smelled up the whole house with the smell of Slim Jim, which was a bit strong. I didn’t mind it, but the girls all had something to say. The next packet is Pepperoni style.
And then there were the Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies. I baked them in 2 batches, bringing each to holiday parties. The first batch came out a little hard, as I think I baked them too long, but they were still edible. The second batch was much better. They were easy to make except for finding crème de menthe chocolate chunks, which I couldn't find anywhere. I used mint M&Ms instead.
So the month was filled with new and exciting things for me to do and experience and eat. All that time off gave me a taste of what retirement life may be like, and I look forward to it! I'll surely have more time for writing then.