Celebrate TRUE LIFE

IMG_1486My awesome wife.

For the past I-can’t-remember-how-many weeks now, my wife’s and my prevailing description for life has been “weird.” At times, we’ve worried calling our life at the moment that would manifest even more weirdness, but we couldn’t help it. Because “weird” is just plain the most apropos word.

Yet, not weird as in “bad.” Just strange. Odd.

The biggest factor in all this has been that my professional life recently has been a study in waiting. And patience. I’ve pretty much clammed up about the happenings in my writing life because a.) nothing’s officially “happened,” and b.) it’s all stuff that people involved really don’t want me talking about until, you know…something “happens.” Yet, there are some really cool things that are right at the finish line, just waiting for someone to say “Yes.” To give the nod to cross the line.

For those of you who know me, “waiting” and “patience” are not strong suits for me. I have, however, done my level best to rise to the occasion. And. Do. Nothing. Allow the process to unfold without mucking around in it. Well…mostly. I’ve mucked a couple of times, but I’m learning to pick my battles better.

Okay…what does all this have to do with my awesome wife and the bottle of sparkling wine in the picture?

Anyone who’s ventured onto the “entertainment industry as career” path knows that it’s a marathon. There are false starts. Setbacks. And mostly being “in the business” feels like nothing happens and nothing happens and nothing happens until…something happens. I’ve told people for years that despair has got to be the number one reason why people quit the business. It’s hard to stay positive a lot of the time, and unless you’re complete bonkers, pretty much every day you’re asking yourself, “Do I keep going? Can I keep going?” You get frustrated. You get tired. Well…I guess I can only speak for me.  I certainly do.

And after running so long on this marathon path, it’s difficult to gauge whether or not you’re “winning” anymore.

That’s been the weirdness for me lately. I just didn’t know.

The further weird thing is that, if you ask the people around me, they would all cry out in unison, “Hell, yes! You’re winning!” My manger, producers with whom I’m working, friends, people I talk to on the street. They all tell me, “You’re right there, buddy!”

Logically, I know they’re right. I’m in a good space. I’m having a good Hollywood moment that seems like it’s gonna translate into propelling my career to the next big level. I see it, and I am grateful for everyone that has helped me get here. And everything that has happened to put me in this space.

But I wasn’t feeling it. In fact, the “weirdness” was really getting to me. Dragging me down. And it’s odd…I’ve thought more about quitting in the past couple of months than I have in a long time. My friend, Karl, keeps telling me that every other pal of his who’s “made it” has said the exact same thing to him right before they rocketed into the stratosphere. That’s helped. But all I can do is pray he’s right about me. That, in this case, I’m not the exception. Because right now I certainly don’t feel like part of the rule. Ack!

And then…enter my awesome wife.

We’ve made this pact. Don’t over-celebrate. On this path, you can easily do that. There are a lot of little wins along the way that are cool, but they aren’t really real. No one’s written you a check yet, and nothing’s gone into production. They’re hopeful moments…and represent potential and opportunity and forward movement. But they’re not the finish line. One can get caught up, though, in making too much of these incremental steps and start to mistake them for the finish line. That’s the danger of over-celebrating. It can give you a false sense of security, and it can stall you. So we tend to acknowledge hopeful moments but keep our excitement in check…and I keep my ass up and my beak down and keep moving forward.

But, of course, we keep a couple of bottles of sparkling wine in the fridge just in case. For that moment when the call comes in.

When my beloved got in the door from work last night, however, she made an announcement: “We’re gonna open one of our bottles of champagne.”

“Why? Nothing’s happened.”

“That’s not true,” she said as she grabbed the bubbly and started opening it. “I was driving home tonight and thinking about all of this ‘weirdness.’ I think a lot of it is there because we’re not acknowledging what has already happened. Look at where you are, Bill. Look at what you’re doing. Look at what’s happening. You’ve done it. You’ve won, and all that’s left is the living into it.”

She got out two champagne flutes and poured. Then she handed me a glass…and raised her own.

“And tonight I want to toast my amazing husband and all of his success.”

After a speechless moment, I was finally able to raise me own glass.

“Our success.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “Our success.” Then she smiled. “Because you can’t do it without me.”

I smiled back. “I know. Nor would I ever want to.”

Then we toasted. And celebrated.

It taught us something. You can’t always wait to celebrate only at the end. Sometimes you have to celebrate the process. And the progress. Not all the time, but sometimes.

To remind yourself. Not your head. To remind your heart.

Life is good.

And it really is the journey that matters. And a great journey is, itself, cause for celebration.

After last night, the weirdness is all gone. We went for a walk this morning in the beautiful sunshine, and all we felt was free. And ready to take on anything.

Here’s to whatever comes next. Cheers!

Big things, small packages

Is it age or experience?  I don't know if I am willing to go so far as to claim "wisdom".  But what is the catalyst for the realization that the biggest things in life–the most important ones, at least–happen in the smallest and quietest ways?

In spite of knowing for the last 24 years that "Success is not a destination' it's a journey," I've continued to pursue the moment.  That thing out there, presumably that tells me that I've arrived.  Personal, professional.  What have you.  And when this arrival happened, there must be some sort of ticker tape parade or something.  Right?  And the feeling–man, oh man!–the feeling of the moment would linger.  I could hold onto it for the rest of my life, knowing.  Content in that knowing.  Complete.

Uh huh.  Sure.

Because that's not the way it works, is it?  Moments don't linger.  They come and go.  When they're gone, that's it.  Onto the next thing.  Makes chasing that moment a little silly, huh?  Because what is it?  It's a myth, that's what it is.

Success can't be a destination because destinations are kinda nothings.

I went to the Grand Canyon this past October.  I hiked out to the rim and stood there for, like, 10 minutes.  That was my arrival.  And then I hiked back to camp.  Yes..it was a great 10 minutes–one that I'd looked forward to since I was a kid.  But the moment, itself, was small. Just Lori and me standing there.  A couple of "Wows" and a picture or two on my iPhone.  No big deal.  And then it was done.

Yet, it was somehow greatly satisfying.

That's because getting to the Grand Canyon, I think, was the big deal.  Everything around it.  And the small moment at the canyon's edge was really special in terms of how it related to all the other stuff.  The getting there, which was far more than half the fun.  I mean, on one hand, it was a moment 25 years in the making.  That's a journey of the "holy crap!" magnitude.

Standing there at the edge of the canyon together, we looked at each other.  We knew we'd arrived, figuratively as well as literally.  Finally.  That was…huge.

I guess my point is that I am realizing every time I have pushed for the big moment, the big deal, and held that moment on a pedestal, I've been disappointed.  The moment never seemed as important as I'd made it out to be.  And I'd have it, go to bed, and wake up the next morning and I'd still have to pee and put my clothes on and brush my damned teeth and let the dog out and get the kids up and off to school and do my day just like I always have to.  There is no moment in life that transcends all that.

At this point in my life, I am finally waking up to that.  I'm seeing why it's the journey that's so important, and why the most important moments in life are so small.  It's because the moment is nothing without the rest of life–real life–alongside it.  If I work toward a moment to escape life or distract myself from my life, I'm on the wrong track.  The moment isn't self-referential.  It doesn't celebrate itself in a vacuum.  It's sole purpose and reason for existence is to acknowledge a point along the journey.

It's the moment's relationship to peeing and putting on my clothes and brushing my damned teeth and letting the dog out and getting the kids up and off to school and doing my day like I always do that makes it special.  That makes it outstanding.

Fitting is the word, therefore, I would use for this, my favorite picture of last week, courtesy of my beloved and her wonderful "to do" board.  On Tuesday the 8th, RUNAWAY was finally released on DVD.  It seems to be doing quite nicely in terms of sales and rentals, and I am grateful for that.  After the long and–god, what do I say?  Arduous?  Difficult?  Overwhelming?  I dunno.  What I can say it that after 10 years (I wrote the original short story in 1999), it all came down to this.

Rboard RUNAWAY released.  And we still needed a pooper scooper.  And jeans for
Indi.  And gloves for Jonah to go on his school trip.  It happened in
the midst of life.  The fact that she put it on the board was a loving
recognition of something in life that day, not above it or beyond it. 
Part of it.

I don't know if I am making any sense.  This is all kind of stream
of consciousness here.  My first attempt at trying to put this into
words.  Having it on the board, and not doing much (although Lori and I did steal away for a quick celebratory toast later that night) other than the stuff I needed to get accomplished that day seemed to honor the RUNAWAY journey more than any ticker tape parade ever could.  The quietness of the moment gave deeper meaning to everything that went into arriving at this particular destination.

Not to get all Christmassy on y'all (though it does seem appropriate), but the whole conversation brings to mind this passage in the second chapter of Luke:

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

That Mary…she had the right idea, I think.

Big journeys.  Small moments.  Pondering.  Life.

Yeah.

Here's to you and all your small moments this season, TRUE LIFERS.

Mr. Livingston, I presume?

There's a thing about being a writer.  It's kinda important.

In order to be a writer–a real writer–you gotta do one thing.  That's, you know, write.

My website and my biography and every damned thing I publish about myself attests to this notion that I am a screenwriter.  A professional screenwriter, no less.  Truth be told, however, it's been awhile since I have felt like either a "professional" in the movie biz or a "screenwriter."  Talk, talk, talk with no walk, is what it's felt like.

The reality is I haven't been a writer lately because I have failed to meet the most basic of litmus tests.  Stick the little slip of paper in my beaker brain and it comes out unchanged.  Empty.

All that's changing now.  I am doing something now that I haven' done in awhile.  I am not just talking about working on a new script.LSActual  I am actually working on a new script.  FADE IN is a reality, and FADE OUT is just around the corner.

I am relieved that when I am in conversations nowadays, I don't have to feel like I am telling a white lie when people ask me about what I'm "working on."

Thank god.

Writing.  It's good to have you back, stranger.  Don't ever stay away that long again.  In fact, just don't leave.  I need you.  For so many reasons, in so many ways, I need you.

New beginnings and coming home

RunawaypostersmallLook up..!

You see it, huh?

Yeah.  I know.  It's been a long time, hasn't it?

Look right.

See that, too?

A long road, to say the very least.

Today, both are stretching, blinking in the sunlight.

Today, both are coming back.  Back where they belong.

They stand at each of my shoulders, keeping me company and keeping me focused and on the right path as I, too, stretch, blinking in the sunlight.  As I, too, am coming back.  Back to where I belong.

Today, TRUE LIFE returns.  Welcome back, old friend.  Maybe now we can get back to business, eh?

And today, I have official written permission to announce that RUNAWAY will be released on DVD on Tuesday, December 8.  Just in time for Christmas!!!  Remember that when the time comes!

As soon as all the marketing and publicity stuff starts rolling in, I will, of course, keep all of you in the loop.

Right now, my compadres and I are going to enjoy this bright, sunny day.  Feel free to join us!

All the lucky cats in Heaven

Savethecat

Remembering

BLAKE SNYDER

1957-2009

All I can say is what I said on Facebook earlier…

"Say what you want, one and all,
but everyone secretly knows that his book, Save the Cat, set a new
standard for thinking about the craft of screenwriting. Godspeed, Blake."

Memories of AFFs past

I don't know if I've ever posted this story before.  I am in the process of completing an e-interview for the Austin Film Festival to post on their website, however, and thought that it seemed appropriate to sneak preview-ify with a little retrospectacle from my first visit to Austin, TX.

After the Friday night screening of SHOP GIRL at the Paramount Theatre, I somehow ended up chatting over beers for hours with director Anand Tucker and stars Jason Schwartzman and Claire Danes.  I kept pinching myself.  I mean, whoulda thunk?  As I recall, I finally landed in bed around 2 AM.

I woke up feeling slightly hungover.  I also woke up feeling completely LATE!  I was scheduled to be on a panel at 10:15, and a quick peek at my cell phone informed me that was in exactly 25 minutes.  I didn't shower.  I barely splashed water on my face.  I think I brushed my teeth.  I threw on jeans and a T-shirt, and tossed a sport coat on for good measure.  I wanted to at least look, you know, somewhat “professional”.

Right as the panel was beginning, Kelly Williams, the film festival director walks in and taps me on the shoulder.

"Hey, Bill.  You're going to the awards luncheon today, right?"

Now…when a film festival director asks you a question like that, how are you supposed to answer?  "Absolutely!"  …Right?

Not me.

"No…I'm heading out for a run and a shower after this panel."

Kelly got this look on his face.

"You sure?  It would be great to have you there in support of your movie."

"One of our producers, David Viola, is the guy with the actual 'film credentials',” I told him.  “I'm here on a panelist's badge.  I don't think I can get in.  Maybe David should go."

I grabbed my cell phone.  "You want me to call him?"

"No, no, no," Kelly insisted.  "David can do what he wants.  We'd love to have the writers from all the competition movies at the luncheon.  I’ll get you in.  Just show up."

All right, I thought.  I sighed.  The shower would have to wait.

After the panel, I got my run…sprinting across downtown to get to the Austin Club in time for the luncheon, that is.

I get to the door, and a very nice person working security informs me that my name is not on the list.  I try on a "Kelly Williams told me…"  No go.  After five minutes or so of trying to wrangle my way into the place, I turn and start heading down the steps.  It’s not gonna work.  Just then…

"Bill True..?  RUNAWAY..?"

Next thing I know, a very official-looking person holding a clipboard is grabbing my arm.  She's literally dragging me back up the steps and into the main ballroom.

A minute later, I find myself seated at this table right in front of the stage.  Across from me is the cast and crew from one of the other movies in competition.  These are the folks that were going to win, I thought, because they were sitting at the table closest to the stage.  I was very happy for them.

And then a strange thought occurred to me.  I was also sitting at the table closest to the stage.  And Kelly Williams had been acting very strangely when I said that I wasn't planning to…  Could it be?

Naaaaaaaaaah!

I put the thought out of my mind completely.  I sat back and enjoyed the free meal.  I had a glass of wine.  I chatted.  I got to listen to Harold Ramis talk about how some of my favorite movies of all time came to be.  I got to see Karl Williams win his legendary screenplay hat trick (I am convinced the guy can't write a bad script!).

And then someone got up on the stage.  And then they were talking about the "Narrative Feature Award."  And I was taking a swig of pinot.  And then, all of a sudden, I heard the title of my movie.

And then I heard nothing.  Because no one was talking.  It was like a bomb went off.

I scan the room, waiting for someone to rise.  Everyone else is scanning the room, too.  It felt like hours were passing.  Dawn was breaking quite slowly in the molasses of my conscious mind. 

I eventually turn to the guy sitting next to me and chuckle: "I think we won."

He grabs the wine glass out of my hand and starts slapping me on the back.  "Dude!  YOU WON!"

Oh, my god!!!  He was right!

I spring to my feet.  Now I feel like a real fool because everyone was staring at me.  But I dare not move, lest I be wrong.  I wait for some other screenwriter to head toward the stage to accept an award.  'Cause I don't win stuff like this, I reminded myself.

There are no takers, and the people at me table, like, pushing me toward the stage.  I still don't know what I am doing, but I decide it's safe to mount the stairs.  And then people are shaking my hand.  And then they put this thing in my hands that weighs about 15 pounds.  And then I'm in front of the microphone.

And as I scan the expectant faces of Hollywood's best and brightest, about to open my mouth and wing my first-ever acceptance speech, a profound thought occurs to me: I really wish I had taken that shower this morning.

Gulp! (or…putting my money where my mouth is)

Btifp
A month or so ago, I got a surprise email from Reilly Tillman at IFP Minnesota.  He said the buzz around town was that Dean and I were the hot ticket when it came to training people how to pitch movies.  I was flattered and a little taken aback.  I had been sought out!  Wow…

We agreed that Dean and I would present the same pitch training we did in Seattle and LA, as well as for MNWIFT, through IFP on January 31 from 10 AM – 3 PM.  I am quite excited about this, as I continue to get email after email from people who have either been trained by us or heard one or both of us speak, saying they’re getting meetings and reads and options and sales…and attributing a good portion of that success to our teaching.

This, of course, brings me great joy.

Bringing that value home to the TCs brings me even greater joy.

Okay…that means if you’re a screenwriter or filmmaker in or around (or passing through or flying into) the Minneapolis/St. Paul area on that day (January 31), click here if you’re interested in participating in our workshop.  IFP is capping the attendees at 20.  There’s already been a lot of interest expressed, so you might wanna sign up sooner versus later.

Anyway…as if that’s not enough, a couple of weeks later, I get this email:

Hi Bill,
My current beginning screenwriting instructor just informed me he won't be able to teach our beginning class this winter due to a major schedule conflict with MCTC, where he also teaches. Would you be interested in taking on this class?

I was double flattered and double taken aback.  And a little scared.

“Yes!” is what I wanted to say, but my stomach was a jumble.  I mean, it’s not as if I’m not…umm…busy.  Just slightly.  But I love teaching, and it’s been a dream of mine to teach a screenwriting class someday.

I didn’t, however, think that “someday” would arrive on my doorstep quite so quickly.

Robbye and I talked it over.  Or rather, Robbye told me to calm the hell down.

“This is a dream of yours.  Obviously, these people trust in your writing ability and your teaching ability.  You’re ready, and you want to do it.  Just do it.”

So…a deep breath later, and I was typing this:

Reilly,
I talked to Robbye about this.   She said, "You've been talking about doing something like this for years.  Go for it!"  So I am.  I would be happy to teach the class, and I am honored you asked.

I am truly honored.  See, unlike some others, I don’t subscribe to the old “those who can’t…teach” adage.  My take is that those who “can” make the best teachers.  Moreover, it’s my firm belief that those who “can” have a responsibility to share their knowledge with and lend a hand to the folks following in their footsteps.

I know that I have something valuable to offer these students.  That's that, I guess.

On a side note, I have selfish reasons for accepting IFP's invitation, too.  Because I also believe this: through teaching I learn.  I know that teaching this class will make me a better screenwriter.

Yet, I gotta tell ya…it feels a little like one of those dreams where you show up for school or work and all of a sudden you realize you don’t have any pants on.  It's certainly a more exposed and vulnerable feeling than when someone's reading or watching my work.

Time to put my money where my mouth is how it most feels.

On that note…if you’re in the Twin Cities on Thursday nights from January 22-March 12, and if you wanna join me on (what I think will be) a fun and enlightening adventure, head on over to the IFP website and register today.  They’re limiting the class size at 12, so hurry before it closes.

Yowsa.

Gulp!

Cool…