Saturday, September 27, 2008

There's a market there; don't get me started on the 12 steps

I was talking to my buddy the other day about the ongoing economic melt down in the US.

He pointed out that basically what happened was that people were selling the fact that a large percentage of the US population had no money.

Think about this for a second. Anytime there's a steady supply of something, someone is going to find a way to sell it. Our entire society is built on oil, not because of some kind of conspiracy or swindle, nor is it a result of not caring about the environment (all of which only makes sense if you're looking at history through the warped mirror of hindsight) but we make everything - big E everything - from oil for the sole reason there was so much of it, and for a hundred years it was cheaper than dirt. And I know this through my exhaustive research. They sell soil outside my Loblaws and it looks expensive.

So now for the past ten years or so, in the US there has been more and more poor people clinging to the idea of a middle class lifestyle. That means a mortgage and planning to spend most of your life paying for your home and yard. As people became less and less able to pay for this "rest of your life" lifestyle, finanacial institutions began to cater to this growing market, by accepting their debt and then turning around and selling it. A large amount of wealth was created - billions of dollars - by selling the fact that people had no money.

Anytime you have a supply of something, someone will find a way to make money off of it. Or otherwise exploit it.

A desperate hunger for a moment of celebrity? Reality shows.

A fear of "the other?" Neo-conservatives.

Trees in Canada? The British Empire. (I kid you not. Ask me about it sometime.)

A need for creative validation? Screenwriting contests and self-publishing.

Love? Celebrity perfumes.

Self destructive behaviour? The big L Liberal Party of Canada. (Hey, Stephan Dion. Do you cut?)

Vanity and narcissism? Facebook and meaningless, rambling blogs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Uh oh... get ready to yell at me.

Now, I don't want you to think that I'm not some anarchist, or some kind of beer swilling dope who thinks that all politicians are the same and there's no point voting.

But here's thing (and often people end up yelling at me when I bring up politics) there's an election going on both here in Soviet Canuckistan and down in the land of the freedom fries. And they are both being framed as good, ordinary folks vs. artsy and brainy elites.

Especiallly in Canada, where we don't have an Obama to rally the liberals - in our case the actual big L liberals.

That's something that gets said a lot in Canada. Big L Liberals and Big C Conservatives, to distinguish the parties from the ideology. I'm just not sure if that's big I ideology or not.

Our artistic community is up in arms because the current government, led by a zombie we call Steve, is looking to gain votes by slashing arts funding. We absolutely pour billions of dollars into the arts, which encompasses everything from a guy masturbating under bleachers to a TV show airing on CBS. Neither of those two things strikes me as needed much in the way of government funding. A - can't one of the bigest, richest TV broadcasters in the world make a TV show without the Canadian government ponying up, and B - how much does it cost to masturbate?

But there are plenty of much more deserving projects that get funding from many different levels - municipal, provincial and federal. Being an artists in Canada is so much easier than it is in the states, due entirely to government funding. I think government funding creates a system predisposed to art aimed solely at other artists, but that's another blog post for you to get angry about.

Here's my point. We in the self identified artists community shouldn't think that we have to somehow convince every farmer or every pot grower that we should get more government money. We shouldn't make it our mission to put Paul Gross in front of a camera everytime someone suggests slowing the cultural bribe.

Cause let's be honset with oufselves. That's what we're talking about. Big L Liberals (remember them?) use arts funding to get artsy types to vote for them. And it works. Big C Conservatives, however, do things a little smarter. They take money from artists to get quote-unquote plain folk to vote for them, and give their bribe money to rich people and corporations and get them to vote for them.

All that plus Alberta. If they don't get a majority this time, they must really be as dumb as us small L liberals think they are.

I often fall back on a simple phrase when I talk about Canadian creative types, and it applies here. If we want people to get worked up about losing cultural funding, we have simply got to make our stuff better. Stop complaining about how much we contri ute to the economy. Stop whining that American movies are going to one city rather than another. Stop patting ourselves on the back everytime someone turns on a camera.

We have to do better.

Because, trust me, the better we make our art, the more quote-unquote plain folk will give a shit.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Blog Like Me

If you think about it, blogging is the absolute height of vanity.

It's not quite so bad if you have some sort of beat - that is, your blog is journalistic or informative in nature. It's vain, sure, but not as vain.

The absolute limits of vanity is a blog like this one, where I'm not adding anything to your daily lives. [add here your own personal list of different ways to say nothing. Hint: start with 'zip.']

There are two internets out there right now. There's the one that we all know and love, full of useful (ha ha!) information and an ease to find that information. Keywords... page rank... back links... what have you. This is the information internet.

Then there's another internet all together. It's new. It isn't about information, useful or otherwise. It doesn't work the same way with keywords and all that other stuff. It is the entertainment internet.

Think about it for a second. How do you find what you're looking for online? You pull up Google and type in a few keywords. How do you decide what movie to go see, or what book to read, or what music to listen to? Do you type "funny, date movie, boobs, teary reconciliation, pot smoking" into Google and watch whatever movie comes up?

Come to think of it, that's not a bad collection of concepts. I think I'll write that movie. Make a million.

More and more people turn to he internet for their entertainment, but will they find what they want to find? This blog, in particular, is almost impossible to stumble upon because it doesn't follow the rules that Google uses to determine the quality of the information it provides. This blog is pure entertainment in the sense that I don't think you'll learn a single thing by reading it, except what a jerk I am. Maybe I should make that my keyword?

The way the internet works now is going to have to change fundamentally in order to make it easier and better for people to be entertained. How? I'm not exactly sure.

In the meantime, how about you tell your friends about this blog!

Monday, September 22, 2008

One of those moments...

You ever had one of those moments when someone says something more or less off hand, but it makes you stop and think about something you never did before?

I know people dealing with me have never had those moments. I don't say anything off hand. In fact, I can be pretty direct, and I think I have a tendency to make people defensive.

The other day Mike down the corner was making me a coffee and asked me how my day was. I gave the usual, "Oh, I'm exhausted, and in the middle of ten projects, all of which have to be done right now..."

And he said, over his shoulder as he tamped the espresso, "You ever have a day that's just... yeah! All right!"

And I stood there with my mouth open. I asked myself, how many good days recently can I count? I'm so busy and burnt out, to me a great day is when I get half of what I need to get done before 10 at night. Like treading water is the best I can hope for.

It was just one of those moments, when you start to look at yourself in a different way.

I'd like to find more days that are, "Yeah!" Maybe I'm just not that type of person?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Probably the Worst Yet

It's a little depressing when I look back at my postings. The intention is to do one post every day. The most I have ever managed has been 16.

16? One every second day? And that's at my best. In August I posted exactly once. I suppose I should be glad I posted at all in August. Yep, that's right. Look on the bright side.

And a whole bunch of those sporadic posts have been god awful. But here, I am, writing a post about how I don't post enough. This has easily got to be the worst post I have ever done. At least there's no where to go but up. Bright side... bright side... bright side...

My very good friend, mentor and writing guru likes to compare being a writer to being a musician. He likes to say, "If you skip practicing one day, you notice. If you skip two days, the band notices. If you skip three, everyone notices." Hard to see a bright side there. I wonder how this idea applied to Sid Vicious, whose live performances are notably for the fact that Johnny Rotten used to actually turn off his amp so the crowd couldn't hear him slowly strangle yet another bass guitar. Maybe with him it was, "You skip being a dickhead one day..."

I guess if you want to do anything well, you have to practice.

See? This post couldn't even stay on any one topic. Rambling mess.

Worse post ever.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

All About Nothing

Ah... I got nothing today.

Enjoy the sun!

Or, whatever your local weather/time of day happens to be.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The "Push" Society

At what point do we have enough celebrities?

There's been a number of seemingly random things on my mind lately, but at the end of the day it comes down to this...

PR companies control the world.

As the media works with less and less time and resources, and under more and more deadlines (think constant real time blogging) you have to ask yourself, where do the stories they cover come from?

My fiancee recently an article in either the New Yorker and New York Magazine, I get them confused. It was about the "new" up and coming comedians. And so it had people on the cover that you've probably seen on Saturday Night Live and in bit parts in movies by ex-SNLers. Here's my thing, how did they find these "new" faces? Did they scour the comedy clubs and hold auditions? Or did they announce to agents, manager and PR types they were doing this, get flooded with headshots wrapped in chocolates and booze, and pick the most famous of the batch?

I don't think I'm media bashing. Journalists are just you and me with a certain job. What I'm questioning is, who does the leg work? Its like politicians who only listen to lobbyists - its a lot easier to do a very, very difficult job when someone else hands you an idea ready to market. A journalist who has constant deadlines all day long, limited resources, and bosses with no desire for them to be out of the office chasing down a hint of a story when they can slap a celebrity on the cover and sell some dead trees. Especially when those celebrities not only have a certain attraction to people, but they have a huge PR machine behind them trying to grow that attraction.

Contrast that to "internet celebrities." Every now and then you'll see a news story about an online hit, about how everyone is watching and downloading, and then you'll never hear about that person again. Why is that?

First of all, internet celebrities are a genre of news stories all to themselves. The idea of being a hit on the internet still has a cache of being hip - you know something that the unhip at work have never heard of. Plus, it plays nationally, even internationally, whereas a really great local band in Calgary won't interest anyone in Boston.

And second of all, you'll never hear of them again because there's no PR company picking up the phone and pitching a new angle to the journalist. No new angle - it ain't news, honey.

Now Saturday Night Live - they got all kinds of PR muscle behind them.

And me? All I got is a blog.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Screenplay Question

Dear Long Dark White Board,

I am working on a screenplay that I intend on selling to Steven Spielberg. I am aiming for a seven figure deal, but I would accept anything down to a polite handshake. It is a small, indy character piece set half in 1887 and half in 3143. I won't spoil it by telling you which half is which. Lol. I'm pitching it as Air Force One meets Snakes on a Plane, with a twist - the snakes are the president. It stars Tom Hanks, Angelina Jolie, Ben Stiller and my wife, who is taking singing lessons for the role.

Here's the background to my problem: I know that by page 25 my main character must turn his or her back on their quest, only to find there was no returning from the magic kingdom by mid way down page 26. (As I'm sure you can tell, I'm not someone new to screenwriting. I have started 16 screenplays in the last month.) But I have four mcs (main characters). How do I structure that, while still having my theme reveal itself on the third line of 31? What I am doing is I have been writing my movie as four separate scripts, (so 4 page 25s, 4 page 31s, etc). I keep each character's dialogue and actions to their own screenplay. So far this is working. My wife gets confused when there is dialogue that she's not supposed to say out loud.

My question is, when I publish my screenplay for future film students and aspiring studio executives to study, should I bind them separately, or as one volume?



P.S. Tom Hanks and Ben Stiller are on my wife's "Celebrity List" and Angie is on mine. So no worries there!!!!!!!!! Lol.

Dear Fred,

First of all, great job in describing your screenplay so effectively! I can "see" Tom Hanks in the role. And that twist - I totally did not see that coming! (Remember, don't reveal the twist until page 72 for maximum "Wow!" Audiences have shown they don't like twists that come any earlier than page 71. Unless you're doing a reverse Red Riding Hood plot in a puppet comedy genre. Then you'll definitely want to put it on page 6.)

For the answer to your question, I suggest you pick up my latest screenwriting book, "What to Put on What Page When, 4th ed." In fact, I suggest you buy five or six, just in case you lose the others. Be careful, if you don't follow my instructions closely, not only will your movie never get made, but audiences will storm out of the theater in disgust and most likely hunt you down for making them watch a movie where things happened on the wrong pages.

Oh, and best of luck on your "Celebrity List." The wife and I recently extended ours to include over a thousand names each! Remember, it's not cheating if it's a famous person on a list!

All the best,

Long, Dark White Board

Monday, September 15, 2008

Da Big Man. Me.

More and more in my life I find myself being in charge.

Yep, all we need is a plague of locusts and we got ourselves a real, down home, old fashioned apocalypse.

Here's a tangent before I even get going; did you know there's a significant portion of the US population who are actively waiting for the end times of Revelation? And I thought being stood up for a blind date was bad. Ba-boom ching!

Anyway, in various aspects of what I do, I am in charge. I am self identified in this blog as a writer, so some people reading this might be confused. Not those who will read it any time soon, because you both know exactly what it is I do. But maybe someone reading in the far future. Or, possibly, aliens. Or, remotely, Vancouverites. In most people's minds, a writer is not a leader of men. A writer is not a captain of industry, or a long suffering, but well meaning middle manager. A writer is a solitary figure, sitting along at an old timey typewriter, watching as it turns into an insect.

Sorry, I David Cronenberged for a second. Did I get any on you?

In the type of stuff I do, I often work with other people - mainly other writers, but also with other types who work hard day and night to realize the things that I "write," and by write I mean things that end up in my word doc after I drop a bowling ball on my keyboard. The suckers.

While I consider myself to be pretty good at what I do, I'm not sure I'm a natural boss. You see, I have had very few bosses in my life - way less, I'm sure, than your average bear. And the few bosses I have had aren't really great role models. There was the KFC manager who was stealing the from the cleaning fund, who had me come in at 10 one morning, handed me a well worn J cloth and a greasy bucket and said, "Clean everything by noon. Ceilings, floors, fryers, everything." And then there was the telemarketing boss who'd get all coked up and yell at us. Or the other telemarketing boss who spent all day creating and maintaining a roster of fake employees and pocketing their pay cheques. There was the washed up, drunk, B movie director who called me, "A waste of time." Oh, and I have to mention my boss on my first professional writing gig whose managerial style was limited to a single email, "Helllllllooooooooooo!? I wouldn't keep me waiting." (You can't blame him for not being more hands on - he was living in three houses at the time. You ever try to live in more than one place at once? It's exhausting.)

I could go on, but let's summarize. I've had some bad bosses.

So when it comes to being the boss myself, I don't have very much in the way of a positive role model. I just try to govern as I myself would like to be governed. Basically, I try to function on a simple principal - that some day, those who I'm in charge of now will be in charge of someone else. They may even still be working for me as I move up the ladder. While I'm very conscious of the work that needs to get done, I'm also trying to let people discover things on their own. After all, the more work they can do unsupervised, the less work for me! And all that other stuff about building for the future.

I'm only just starting in my career, and I have a lot to learn. I'm grateful for the chance to test the waters of being responsible of the work of other people in (thus far) arenas where it is not life or death.

What's that? Life or death, you ask? Surely, such hyperbole belongs to the realm of soldiers and hunky, blonde, ripped paramedics?

Nope. Writing is a blood sport. Now get back to work!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Being Disciplined. Oh my!

No, this isn't what you think.

All the S&M stuff is strictly reserved for my other blog. Written under the nom du plume of Mistress Canukica. If you meet someone with a maple leaf shaped burn on them - they belong to me.

Totally kidding, mom!

When I tell people I'm a writer, I often get two or three of the same responses. I have realized lately that most people only talk for the feeling of being socially connected. I call this Monkey Noises. You're not actually trying to communicate much of anything, just developing that feeling of being part of the same herd. Like monkeys calling out to each other. The responses I get to the information that I'm a writer often fall into the category.

I'm glad to say that I rarely get, "No, I mean what do you do to make money." I guess people can sniff out the air of the struggling, aspiring syndrome. Currently, my SAS is in remission, but we are monitoring the situation closely. Now what I get most often is, "You must be very disciplined."

I often give them what must be a weird look and talk about how disciplined my fiancee is. She's also a writer, and she gets more accomplished in a day than all of France. (Those four day work week lefties!) The truth is I'm not very disciplined in my life. In fact, probably part of the reason I'm a writer is because I couldn't stand anything with much more structure to it.

I'm learning the hard way that you really need to be as disciplined as possible.

The past two weeks or so I've been kinda forced to get up as early as possible (a struggle for me) and buckle down and actually get to work as soon as possible. Working with other people who are an hour and a half ahead of you demands nothing less.

(Did you know Newfoundland is the only place with a half hour time zone?)

The upside is the sheer amount of work I get done in a day. It's been a shock. I've known for a long time that my work habits weren't the best for productivity, but I always managed to cramp in all the things I absolutely needed to get done in a day. Consequently, anything that I only sorta needed to do kept piling up on my To Do list.

For the past two weeks, I have not only kept up with my currently paying work, but I have done the other stuff I absolutely needed and I am now working on my sorta needed. I gotta tell you, it feels awesome.

And in conclusion, being disciplined does wonders for clearing the back log on the To Do list - including a new post on Mistress Canukica's Maple Dungeon News.

Totally kidding, mom.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The whole "raising tide" proverb doesn't apply to floods.

They say that a rising tide floats all boats. The idea is, what improves one person's lot in life often can improve everyone's.

Well, that could be true, but only up to point. If that tide rises too fast, we're all screwed. Just ask the people of New Orleans how they feel about rising water.

Or, on second thought, don't. They'll probably punch you and then come looking for me. Cause I'm pretty sure you'd rat me out in a heartbeat.

Anyway, I don't really want to talk about tides. Boring! What I do want to talk about is email. I know, already you're sitting forward eagerly awaiting a good email talk. Here at LDWBotM, we're all about the 'lean in' experience.

I was on the street car the other day and I heard a woman complain that often she'll get a reply to her email that makes it clear that they skimmed her message, but didn't actually pay any attention to what she was saying.

Hands up everyone who feels the same way. (This works better in a room full of people, who then look at all the hands in the air, amazed that the speaker was so astute. As, I'm sure, you feel about me.)

Most people will tell you this is a function of people busily multitasking and rushing through things in a mild, continuous state of panic. (Much in the same way I make love.) And that's probably a part of it, sure. But it made me think of something else...

It made me think about literacy. Not the "See Jane Run" type of literacy, that's the basic stuff. I'm thinking of a higher form of literacy, where the reader is able to digest not only the text, but subtleties like tone, allegory, subtext, and the writer's intentions. And the writer, too, at a higher state of literacy, is able to better communicate those things.

Suddenly email has transformed every single person with a computer into a full time correspondent, either professionally at work, or as an at home amateur. There's hardly a job now worth having that doesn't involve writing and receiving multiple emails in a day. And who says we're any good at writing and reading them?

Maybe the reason that people can't retain any information in an email that's not bolded and in bullet points (and pointed out in a reply) is not only a factor of our busy, fractured mental spaces, but the plain, ugly truth that we're not very good at this higher level of literacy - at communicating and understanding at the level required in a good email.

Now, I don't want you to think I'm some kind of campaigning purist of language. Language, especially the English language, is in a constant state of becoming. It is always transforming, and despite what your grade three English teacher told you, there are no absolutes, no rules. There is no right or wrong in language, because language only exists if two or more people agree on a meaning. The word car only works if the person I'm communicating with shares the same idea of what car means. Spelling changes, meanings change; car could mean anything - the point of slang is that it is a non-traditional use of language shared by a distinct community. And all of this change and diversity makes languages stronger. So I'm not here to put a hate on txts and emoticons, okay? :)

The more we rely on the written word as a society, the more this higher level of literacy comes into play. There are some people (I suggest many, many people) who just don't have the reading and writing skills to truly communicate effectively in email, no matter how relaxed or unhurried they are when they read it.

Our lives are being flooded with email, and some boats just can't rise fast enough to keep up.

Did you see that? Huh? I ended it by referring back to my opening image. Basically, I rock.

Oh, sorry about the New Orleans thing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Stories of my Death and other Exagerations

Waddya at!?

That's how they say hello in Newfoundland!

I view this blog as a I would a child, something to care for and nourish and love and see blossom into its full potential.

Good thing it isn't really a child. Can babies go for a month without eating? I'm no baby expert, but I don't think so. In fact, in my neighbourhood, they can't go four days without a meal at a restaurant. Here's a tip to parents, you may have grown deaf to your baby's screams of displeasure, but they ain't making me enjoy my lamb souvlaki any more. And a tip to babies, it only gets worse from here on in for you, so work harder at enjoying these years of being fed and carried and someone you love carting away your poo.

Anyway, back to me. Yes, I'm a bad blog owner. I'm not sure how of a surprise that might be to my regular readers. Both of you.

In my defense, I've been very lazy. And in Newfoundland.