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The Journey Begins

Hello, friends, new and old. What will follow in the days and weeks to come will be my career journal. My writing journey. My road to being a writer. Or, to be more specific, to being a writer who gets paid to write!

My ultimate hope is that one day, I–and others–can look back at this and think, “wow, what an interesting journey to ‘success.'” Whatever that success will ultimately be, only the Fates can know. But as this page evolves, perhaps we’ll see an interesting story. One that I hope ends in a Hollywood way. Because, real talk, bad endings suck in real life.

This is going to be a new part of my process. Here, I plan to document my progress, my daily and/or weekly toilings that will ultimately lead me somewhere. Some days it may simply be a laundry list of the things that I accomplished, people that I met, and meetings that I had. Other days, it might be a new poem or short story for those times when it just feels good to make something (we all need that).

This is my new journal, and I want to share it with you, my friends and family, who are interested in seeing what the inside of my brain looks like. More than that, I want to share it with the world.

This new venture will help me to visualize my movement forward, especially for those days when it seems like I can do nothing more than bang my head against the keyboard–which Aaron Sorkin says he often does for months, sometimes years at a time (I know this because I’m taking his screenwriting course on MasterClass, and he said so. I’m in good company. Yay!).

So… perhaps this will become the chronicle of my journey. Maybe it’ll be funny. Maybe it’ll be sad. Maybe it won’t always make sense. But it’ll be a very important part of my daily/weekly routine. And I hope that it’ll be a source of inspiration and entertainment for others, who might see a little of themselves in the honest struggle of a fellow human, trying to leave a mark on the world.

So please stay tuned (and, you know, follow, like, and share this shit) as I share my stories/experiences/thoughts/fears/hopes/dreams with you. Please be my “Big Brother,” whose watchful eye will help to keep me motivated when times get difficult. And–hopefully–find something that makes your own journey easier as I share mine with you.

 

Guns: An American Swan Song

 

Well, this isn’t something I ever imagined I’d be writing, let alone on this particular blog. Let me open with a small disclaimer: I speak as a relatively moderate, left leaning centrist (probably just lost half my audience). I believe wholeheartedly in Constitutional rights, including the right to bear arms (and there goes the other half). And since I’m now talking to myself, I guess I can be honest.

 

Preamble:

 
I believe in Constitutional rights, but I also recognize that the framers themselves established a precedent allowing for the Constitution to change and to grow. It is one of the fundamental principles of our Democracy. It proves that our founders wanted us to continue evolving into something better. Jefferson himself said in a letter to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816, “I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and Constitutions. But laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”

 
Look at that shit. I quoted a founder. Now I’m right. About all things.

 

All that said, I want to talk about the stickiest of sticky subjects right now: Guns. (OMG NOT GUNS! RUN FOR THE HILLS!) Yes. Guns. It is an enormous subject with innumerable elements and arguments and opinions, and I’m going to talk about just a few today (yes, I’m calling out the fact that I won’t touch on every aspect of this subject). Perhaps I’ll get into more later, but I’ve been silent on this issue for most of my life. As I have watched the social media and dinner table debates going on around me, heard more bullshit than I can possibly stomach, and shed tears for those who were far too young to die, I’ve finally decided to share my thoughts. With myself. Since I’ve already alienated my audience on both sides of the debate.

 

Well, JT, let’s dive right in, shall we?
Thanks, JT, don’t mind if I do.

 

 

Part 1: Homicide Rates Have Increased in Cities with Strict Gun Laws.

 

As people rightly point out, some cities with gun laws have seen a recent uptick in homicide rates (most notably Chicago where 90% of the homicides in 2016 were from firearms). People like to point to the “fact” that Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the country in an effort to prove that gun laws don’t work. Some even say that these higher rates are BECAUSE of the gun laws.

 

People who make these arguments are ignoring the fact that major cities typically have higher rates of gun violence… and violence in general.
They’re ignoring the fact that the 20 states with the highest per capita death rates by firearm do not require a permit to buy a gun. Not one in 20. While this source does not clarify whether we’re talking about handguns or long guns, the statistic remains alarming.

 

They’re ignoring the fact that, in reality, Chicago USED to have the strictest gun laws in the country, but it was only after those laws were rescinded that we’ve seen this uptick in gun violence. For example, in 2008, a ban on handguns within city limits was overturned by the Supreme Court. In 2013, a new law was passed ALLOWING people to carry concealed weapons. And while assault weapons are, indeed, banned in Cook County, gun laws have been, on the whole, drastically reduced in Chicago.
Finally, they’re ignoring the drastic decrease in firearm death in New York City, a city that requires a permit, registration, owner license, and carry permit for handguns while prohibiting open carry all together. New York City, it seems, debunks the myth that more gun laws cause more gun deaths.

 

 

 

Part 2: The Good-Guys-With-Guns Argument.

 

Another argument that I have heard pretty often recently is that because more “good guys” don’t have guns, they have been unable to stop bad guys with guns. In effect, they’ve been prevented from dishing out some good ole, sweet, vigilante justice. They point to stories about Stephen Willeford, who heroically chased down and wounded the suspect accused of killing 26 people in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as evidence of what a good-guy-with-a-gun can do.

 

I can certainly see the merits of this argument. It suggests that good people can, and do, step up to defend their neighbors when evil strikes. My only real problem with this argument is that the good-guy-with-a-gun, unfortunately, was still unable to stop the massacre from actually happening. He was only able to stop the guy from getting away (and potentially continuing his rampage). While I’d go on record in support of Mr. Willeford’s actions (despite the fact that good-guys-with-guns have been mistaken as bad guys by law enforcement), this good guy wasn’t able to prevent tragedy. Which is what the argument is all about, right?

 

In that same light, the good-guy-with-a-gun argument ignores statistics from open carry, no-permit-required-to-have-a-gun cities like New Orleans, ranked 34th, or St. Louis, ranked 16th out of the top 50 cities in the world with the highest homicide rates. In the freaking world! (I don’t know about you, but to me, this is an area where it’s okay for the United States to NOT be number one.) In these cities/states with lax gun laws, where are all those good ole boys with guns, and why aren’t they stopping the scary bad guys with guns? It doesn’t seem to be happening. So while instances like the above mentioned good-guy-with-a-gun scenario did, eventually, help stop a murderous douchebag, statistically they seem to be in the extreme minority.

 

 

 

Part 3: The Gun-Free-Zone Argument.

 

People who make the argument for the good-guy-with-a-gun, furthermore, often claim that if we did not have gun free zones, mass shootings wouldn’t happen.
This argument is as terrifying as it is wrong, and I want to address it. As a concerned citizen.

 

Let’s take the Vegas Massacre that left 58 people dead as just one example, because people often blame the fact that the concert was a gun-free zone.

 

Proponents of this argument are saying, in effect, that a crowd armed with guns would have been able to stop the psycho shooting at them from 32nd floor of a hotel casino. In other words, they’re arguing that moderately to poorly trained civilians could have not only been able to identify where the shots were coming from, not only have not mistaken all the (now armed) people around them as the source of the massacre, but to have been such incredible marksmen that they could have shot a man hundreds of feet away and hundreds of feet above them without hitting anybody else in the hotel. Anybody who’s shot a gun and is being honest knows that that kind of marksmanship only exists in Marvel movies.

 

 

 

Which brings me to my conclusion… for now.

 

Even if we pretended for a moment that the false argument about Detroit held water, that the place with the strictest gun laws in the country is rampant with gun violence so gun laws don’t make a difference… even if we choose to believe that, evidence to the contrary is all around us. Strict gun controls have saved lives in many countries, including Denmark, the UK, Japan, and Australia.

 

All that said, let me take a moment to stand on the other side. Because I agree with the argument that gun supporters often make: the United States is different from those places and passing stricter gun laws in any given city or state is pointless (there, I said it).

 

It works in those other countries (and doesn’t work here) for a specific reason. For gun control laws to work, they must be sweeping. They must be universal. That’s the key difference between gun laws in other countries and those in the United States. What difference could strict gun laws in a city like Detroit possibly make if people need only drive half an hour to Ohio to buy their guns without a permit or registration? Our laws must be national if we want change.

 

Because the laws have been ineffectual is not to say we shouldn’t discuss, debate, and pass laws. Because “bad guys don’t follow laws” is not a reason to not make laws. We need to figure out why the laws, or lack thereof, have not worked. Because the status quo is not going to cut it. Ignoring the problem, as the Right tries to do, doesn’t work and banning bump stocks, as the Left tries to do, won’t work either.

 

Finally, we need to stop making the argument that any gun regulation is a violation of the Constitution. The 2nd amendment itself begins with: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…” … I mean, it friggin says “well regulated” in the damned thing! The framers knew that every average bloke would need proper training. They foresaw the need for regulation.

 

In the end, I make these points not to say “so we should get rid of all the guns”, but to challenge gun proponents to form arguments that make sense and that do not rely on bullshit. I challenge them to not equate gun regulations with gun bans, because they’re not the same thing. On the same wavelength, I challenge gun law proponents to actually create laws that make sense. Outlawing a certain kind of handle or a certain kind of magazine just doesn’t cut it. It’s nonsense that detracts from laws that might actually do something.

 

Thanks for listening, JT. Maybe next time I’ll get into the ridiculous tendency to compare guns to cars. Or the idea that movies and video games are to blame. Or the fact that many people who think they NEED a gun for protection have never actually used a gun to protect themselves. Or the fact that gun advocates, the same ones who tout the good-guy-with-a-gun argument, have issued death threats to outspoken victims of mass shootings (whether they believe those people are liars notwithstanding). Maybe.

Forging A New Partnership

Careers are made up of a million choices, each one with a million possible ramifications. Contemplating the outcome of those everyday decisions can seem daunting, even terrifying. What if I make the wrong choice? What if this decision will lead me nowhere? Should I fail, what will become of me in the months of “wasted” work that results from this course of action?

These kinds of questions are enough to stop just about anybody in their tracks. After all, isn’t it safer just to stay at home and not take the risk? Isn’t it better to just continue with the 9-5 gig, tucked securely behind a screen of anonymity? Because if you never take a chance, you never really face the danger of falling on your face, right?

Screw that. I’ve heard it said that we’ll only ever really regret the choices we weren’t brave enough to make. So I’m continuing my crusade toward an ultimate destination I cannot possibly foresee.

To that end, I recently had another meeting with my good friend Cedric Williams, during which he and I had a serious discussion about forming an official writing partnership. Over the years, he and I have worked on original one act plays and short films, but we never truly took steps to cement our working relationship into something more. The work that we did, however, benefited greatly from our collaboration, and it made sense–to me–to explore the possibility of embarking on a new journey together.

Taking the first steps toward implementing this idea was a bit nerve-racking. Before we met, I prepared a pitch for the idea, expecting that I would have to do some serious convincing. After all, becoming a writing team is a serious, career changing commitment (alliteration, amiright?). How was I going to convince this already-working, husband, father-of-two to take a risk on a crazy idea? Fortunately, he was interested almost immediately.

So, I spent the last few days working on a number of things:

I developed a Partnership Plan, detailing my expectations, intentions, and goals.

I worked on my list of story ideas, a list that includes projects I’ve already developed, to see if any of them would be something he and I can explore as our first joint project.

I further developed my grounded sci-fi idea, conducting research into some of the short stories/philosophies/films/shows that share similar themes.

I have continued to read a new script each day.

I have taken at least one lesson with Sorkin each day.

I explored NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (Although this is not writing work per se, having real world experiences is.)

 

Tomorrow, I meet with Cedric again. Then, we’ll talk about the materials we’ve shared with each other and decide where to go.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m afraid for the future. But I’m excited as well. And I’ll be damned if I’m the reason why I don’t leave my mark. There’s enough other b.s. waiting on the path ahead just itching to inhibit my progress. So I’ll do everything I can to stay out of my own way as I continue my swim toward the island I know is out there.

Words, Words, And More Words

I now have over five, single-spaced pages of world, story, and character notes on my latest idea with no end in sight. This brainstorm of thoughts is beginning to take shape, and soon I will start to mold it–even more purposely–into a comprehensive outline. This process is an essential one, at least for me. Outlines and treatments help me to see all of the elements of my story at the same time. It’s exciting and pleasurable to look at it, see problems and holes, and be able to quickly address them.

I imagine that if my wonderful girlfriend and partner in crime, Liz Bassin, a talented and driven producer, reads this, she’ll get a kick out of my insistence upon the value of outlines. She’d laugh, and she’d be right to laugh, because just a few short years ago–when I was starting out as a writer–I did not see their value. She told me, and I didn’t listen. I thought that the ideas would flow magically through my fingers and coalesce into a brilliant story. I foolishly thought that the story would “tell me what it was” and that an outline would somehow confine me or limit me. I could not have been more wrong. Outlines free me to focus on the story. They allow me to add complexity and subtlety. They help me to make sure that every scene is driving the narrative forward. They make me a better writer. She, as usual, was right.

Because while the resulting stories were brilliant inside my head, they simply did not translate to the page as well as they could have. As a result, I needed to rewrite them far more than I would have otherwise. And I wasted years this way. Well, maybe “wasted” is too strong a word. True, the time that I spent and the lessons that I learned were valuable, but they wound up being far more painful than they needed to be. I guess like most other people, I’m a bit of a stubborn ass.

But, hey! I get it now. I’ve seen the light, and I’m marching toward it. Now, I’m sure there are a dozen other hurdles ahead of me that I can be obstinate about. Kidding!

Anyway, in addition to the pages of notes that I’ve now composed, over the past few days I have also read 2 more feature scripts, taken 6 more Sorkin classes, and rewritten much of the dialogue of the first twelve pages of my television pilot.

Tonight, I again meet with my good friend Cedric Williams, a gifted writer, director, and editor. I plan to discuss my ideas for the future… and to work on making those ideas into reality.

Remember: “This is your life […] You’ve got to take the wheel and own it, and drive it like you stole it.” Oh, and go see Sing Street while you’re at it.

A Script A Day

The past few days have been rather productive. I worked my way through three more of Aaron Sorkin’s lessons and had long conversations with two very good friends, Chris Smith and Ian Sobel.

These friends are talented writers and good men fiercely dedicated to their craft. They work hard to constantly produce, and I admire their discipline. We spoke candidly about the movie industry, stories, motivation, and goals. And staying accountable to those goals.

I’ve also upped my game when it comes to reading scripts. I read two since Thursday, one of them, Chewie by Van Robichaux & Evan Susser, standing out in particular. This heartfelt fictionalization of the making of Star Wars takes us through the tumultuous production of a film that would eventually change the movie making industry and start a worldwide phenomenon. We live the trials and tribulations through Peter Mayhew’s (Chewbacca) eyes, watching the humanity of the now larger than life George Lucas, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, and Harrison Ford. We feel the drama, pain, and suffering that goes into a passion project nobody had ever seen before.

Robichaux and Susser did a great job. The script left me blissfully and nostalgically emotional at the end–whether the emotion came from their quality writing or because the subject matter is so important to me, I’m not positive. Either way, it gave me hope. I want my movies to make people feel like this one made me feel.

In hindsight, Star Wars is a no-brainer. In actuality, it was an extreme risk and faced incredible opposition.

I like to believe, deep down, that Hollywood giants still have the constitution to take risks on something new and different. And that audiences have the courage to spend their dollars on stories they’ve never seen or heard of before. Time will tell.

I also took a few minutes to update my IMDB page.

Finally–and most importantly–I continued to craft the world and story for my post apocalyptic, sci fi idea. I wrote over a thousand words, and I’m only at the very beginning. Building the world from scratch is a thrilling, but challenging process. What is this world I’m creating going to be like, and how are those things important to the plight of my characters? How much of the world is really important to show to an audience? What kind of people might live there? How would they behave? What is a day in their lives? Who are my characters, what do they want, and what’s going to stand in their way?

There are a thousand questions to ask and answer as I force this idea to take shape into drama. I’m making something from nothing, and it’s exciting. And scary. What if nobody else likes this idea that I’ll pour hundreds of hours into? What if they don’t get it? I guess I can’t worry about those things. I gotta start with what interests me. I gotta start with what drives my passion. There’s no more room for fear.

Work hard, my friends.

But if you need a moment to escape, I recommend taking a few minutes to check out Chris’s sketches on YouTube.

The Vast Ocean

It’s a long path. Sometimes when I think about it, I feel like I’m in the middle of an ocean. Deep down, I know that there’s land out there, but I can see nothing but blue from horizon to horizon.  But rather than let the current take me, I know that I have to swim. I have to swim because I have faith that I’ll find the island I’m looking for. And if I’m lucky, I’ll find out that that island is really a peninsula. Maybe that peninsula will be just one tiny part of a huge continent. And if I’m really, really lucky, I’ll find people there. People who speak my language and, therefore, understand me.

So I swam long and hard today in search of those people. In the six hours that I worked (before I went to the work that pays the bills, that is) I got a great deal done:

I sent my good friend Cedric Williams–a gifted writer, director, and architect–two of my completed scripts, hoping that he can help me dissect them to make them even better.

I took three more lessons of Aaron Sorkin’s master class.

Wrote a logline for a new feature screenplay idea.

Worked on developing an idea for a feature screenplay set in a dystopian future with a strong female lead (but it’s not Hunger Games, I swear!)

I created a blog. This blog. This blog that will be my journal and my chronicle.

I read the screenplay A Few Good Men.

The steps are so much clearer when you write them down. The ocean may be huge, but it still leaves a wake. It shows us how far we’ve gone and which direction we’re going. It’d be so easy to get lost out here, but I’ve got my eye on Polaris and an engine full of steam. Or a pot full of coffee. Which is the same thing.

Let’s see how far we get tomorrow.