Category Archives: Purpose Quest

Why choosing to be a screenwriter is crazy, plus helpful resources to get you through

At the beginning of April I attended the Toronto Screenwriting Conference (in its 3rd year) thanks to a post I saw the week before on Sandy Braz’s lovely blog . It was a great event with speakers including Graham Yost (Speed, Justified), Jana Sinyor (Being Erica), Lee Aronsohn (Two and a Half Men, Big Bang), Linwood Boomer (Malcolm in the Middle) and so many more.

Every molecule of my body was engaged during the sessions, as I furiously took notes, had light bulb moments and felt energized (despite being exhausted from the work week). Contrast that to when I was in Business School and felt lethargic, bored or anxious/sick during many lectures and tests. I think I’m on the right track now, although I’m sure those business skills will come in handy here.

I think I’m drawn to the industry because of my desire to make sense of humanity and my own experience (the curious kid who asks Why). This motivation was echoed by several speakers, although it was ironic to hear so many of them curse the craft of writing – as in they hate their jobs (even though they admit it is one of the best gigs in the world). Who hates their passion? I don’t want to do what I love and then end up hating it. PS Penelope Trunk recently gave her view on “passionate” careers and what you need to be happy in the workplace.

One of my favourite sessions involved the critique of a real sitcom pilot script from the perspective of a production company exec, a network exec, a director and an actor. It was eye opening because there are so many different motivations your script needs to satisfy and entice. The pilot script needed quite a bit of rewriting and I was comforted by the fact that it was written by a really experienced LA screenwriter. Not everything you write will be gold. In fact many successful people have more misses (pilots that don’t get made, shows they get cancelled or no one hears about) than hits – but they keep on going.

Others began their careers acting or performing stand up/improv, which makes sense since they read tons of scripts and learn through observation (directing, producing, casting, writing). For years as I kid I swore up and down that I wanted to act and I wonder, had I seriously pursued it (agent, auditions, roles), would I have eventually ended up yearning for a role behind the scenes? Would I be in this same position, although better connected and experienced? There are many paths to get to the same end result.  Also makes me wonder if I should hit the stage again.

Carrie Bradshaw typing on her MAC_Sex and the City_A writer's life

Carrie made writing seem easy & fashionable. I couldn’t help but wonder…is this crazy!?

I have 3 pending posts with tips culled from this event, but before posting those I want to tell you why:

7 reasons why screenwriting is totally batsh*t crazy

  1. First of all you have to have some real talent – you can study but you can’t hide behind that forever. Was I born with this gift? Jury is still out…
  2. The competitive pool of aspiring writers is huge and there aren’t that many jobs. It takes 1000’s of people to make a corporation run but most shows only have 1-2 creators, and 3 – 10 writers. That means you have to be ahead of the game, connected, constantly honing your craft. The odds are not in your favour. Do I have the energy, drive and self belief to compete in survival of the fittest?
  3. You have to inject yourself into your work – it is personal. You have to have something to say, always. Do I want to expose my life and the inner workings of my mind/values?
  4. You have to face the rejection of your personal creation. And not give up if you believe it is a worthwhile project. HUSTLE! Once it is made, there will always be people who did not like it.
  5. You don’t make good money for a long time (if ever). The work is inconsistent, with downtime between projects and lots of unpredictability. Relocation is likely and the hours are so very long! Can I handle the uncertainty and stop comparing myself to others who have more?
  6. Work life balance seems like a fairy tale concept. With a tendency to be un-balanced, will I end up single, childless, friendless and unhealthy because of my career?
  7. The industry is more political than the original corporation I worked for. It seems like an old boy’s club still. Can I live according to my own values (be yourself, don’t be fake, play fair and square) and still succeed?

I don’t have those answers yet and I won’t know unless I experience it.  Am I a masochist then?  They say the things in life that are worth it don’t come easy.

PS: if you are an aspiring Toronto area film maker, the Innoversity Creative Summit is in May. I’ll be there, will you? It isn’t as expensive as the TSC and seems interesting. Also Raindance Canada (which has international branches) is a good organization to be a part of. Plus Ink Drinks.

Page Count: 45 pages…my laptop finally crashed this weekend hence no pages this week 🙁 although its been dying for the past 3 months. Prob going to switch to MAC so when people see me they assume I’m creative 😛

Stare your dream in the face and answer these 3 Questions

Just like with a hot guy at a bar, it is tempting to break eye contact if you feel unworthy of the gaze.

Since I was younger I’ve wanted to impact the world in a profound way. I thought acting was the ticket but over the last 7 years the “How” became very blurry.

There are so many ways to impact the world, whether it is through Thought Leadership and Innovation in the business world, scientific discoveries, not for profit endeavours, arts and entertainment, you name it.

Q1. So how do you know are chasing the right impact?

Since my screenwriting revelation in February, I’ve been less focused on managing my professional career at lightning speed and aware of the risk in doing so, essentially balancing two different balls in the air.

Meanwhile, my peers are launching start-ups, getting promoted to managerial roles, relocating for kick ass jobs and pursuing professional designations. Given my business background and experience, screenwriting isn’t the easiest road to strut down (meow).

I sometimes feel a pang (damn that masochistic comparison tendency). I wonder what it would be like to do <that>. I feel like I am lagging behind.

I think it all comes down to that little whisper in your head.

It’s hard not to get swept away by everyone else’s whispering voices. Sometimes yours won’t come with a 10 point justification list. Just like the reason behind that “in-love” feeling you get with that one person – it speaks to your soul (yes I just said that). Once you recognize the whisper you have a greater chance of being the Steve Jobs of your domain.

Q2. What about your dream gets you REVVED UP (Austin says ya baby)?

The therapy of writing down thoughts, trying to understand the world and humanity, finding depth and light in all of it, creating art, and providing emotional impact in 1 minute, 30 minutes, 60 or 120 minutes TURNS ME ON like Donkey Kong Ryan Gosling.

Take a “time out” to really think about this.

3. If you only recently heard the whisper, does that mean your dream is just a passing whim?

I worry that writing is my fall back for acting, the second in line for the throne, the easiest gal in the bar.

But really there are multiple entry ways into the same goal. It just wasn’t on my radar before or within my realm of possibility. The same can be said for producing, which fits my resume and may be an easier, trap door to use.

Kristin Wiig as Annie in her crap car in Bridesmaids

Embrace your mode of transport - just make sure you can see clearly ahead

Your tunnel vision may have been focusing on the most literal, most visible execution, even if it didn’t play to your strengths or experience.

Once you lift the blindfold and gaze at this new open road, you may be tempted to give yourself a flat tire with 1,000,001reasons why you are not capable of the drive. Exhibit A:

My life has been so uneventful and boring, what could I write about that others would find interesting? I never went to film school. I don’t want to expose my soul through writing and be judged. I’m scared to go inside myself. I don’t want to be a starving artist. I don’t know where to begin.

You may feel unqualified/terrified behind the wheel. As long as you aren't a virgin, you're better off than Cher. Just kidding!

Call Roadside Assistance and Rear End your inner meanie

Look, you can talk yourself out of anything.

You probably won’t be great in the beginning but practice and persistence pay off. And even if you pursue a totally different direction in the end (like Michelle at When I Grow Up Coach), you’ll be richer in experience and perspective, which will serve you well if you let it.

Sometimes you need to let yourself veer off course if it feels right and see what is there.

4 lessons TIFF taught me about storytelling

The Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best

This year I changed my strategy with respect to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Instead of paying more for a blockbuster movie with big stars and no Q&A, I decided to seek out first features with a similar premise to the one I want to write (there’s nothing like a coming of age story).

I ended up seeing two (next year I’m splurging on the 10 movie pass) and really enjoyed the Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best by Ryan O’Nan who wrote, directed and acted in his first feature. Essentially it is about Alex, a 20 something guy who is down on his luck and ready to give up on his music dreams. He agrees to go on a road trip with a virtual stranger, with nothing left to lose and discovers himself.

The Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best Poster Art

Footie Pj's! Primary colours! This poster makes me want to learn the story

1. Use kids in the present instead of flashbacks

I am sort of obsessed with the concept of who I am today relative to who I was as a child and who I thought I would be at 25 (as a child). I was thinking of using flashbacks but they can break the flow of a movie. Plus where do you insert them? Is it too literal a device to use i.e. spoon-feeding the audience pivotal info from the past, without letting them imagine the scenario for themselves?

Ryan actually used kids within the present storyline and had them interact with Alex to showcase the juxtaposition between childhood fearlessness and innocence relative to adult hopelessness and baggage. Alex was still a grown child in many ways who hadn’t hit his stride in adulthood. Near the end, Alex speaks the same language as his nephew (a mini me) and they ultimately help each other.

2.  Use music to give your movie soul

Ryan is also a real life punk musician and was inspired by a small group who used children’s musical instruments (rainbow xylophone) in partnership with broody, solo folk guitar (Alex and his side kick did just that).  What emerged was a balanced and unique sound that enhanced the dreamy and quirky feel and kept the energy and pacing up.

While music was more central to this storyline than my own, it made me wonder how to use music to enhance the feel, without necessarily relying on mainstream artists/songs to do it. Music = Soul.

3. Add intrigue to the set up and make the stakes high

The opening scene had Alex crying in a bathroom stall, while holding a letter, which he carried with him throughout the film. Who is it from and what does it say?

Eventually you find out it is from an ex-girl friend, whom we never see, the exact words never revealed.  My inclination is to expose all the pivotal characters and details, which isn’t necessary to keep the story moving.

So Alex was dumped by his girl friend and original music partner, played gigs for crowds of two, got fired from his day job and was banned from the school board (don’t ask). I almost couldn’t take the overkill drama, which I also felt for Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. Enough already, we get it! Your life sucks!

But actually it really does make you care about the “hero” or “underdog” – you want to see them bounce back and the audience has a plethora of plights to relate to. I’m now rethinking my main character, who is dissatisfied with what looks to be a pretty good life. I might add more drama and tension to raise the stakes.

A cast photo for the Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best at the Toronto International Film Festival

Congratulated Ryan (in gray) outside the theatre. I want to do that!

4. Help the audience overlook story flaws with passion and a soulful performance

There were some farfetched or overly quirky moments in the movie that made me want to roll my eyes or had me questioning the realism of it all. All was forgotten though, mainly because Alex and team were so committed to the journey.

During the Q&A, every member of the cast and crew commented on Ryan’s passion for the project and how it
enticed them to get onboard and become emotionally involved.

This is true for any entrepreneurial venture. Don’t get involved unless you are bursting to get out of bed and work on your baby. I’m not sure my current story outline does that for me – maybe that’s why I’m stalling so much.

In your opinion, what adds to a great movie going experience?

You decided to Quit. Now what? Why 9 to 5 may still work for you

You frequently have the urge to stab your eyes out while sitting at your desk. It is an effort to pretend to feel alert and engaged (especially during boring meetings). Something is gnawing at the pit of your stomach each day when you walk into work (Darth Vader’s theme song plays). A voice whispers in your ear (on repeat): “You were made for greater things. This is not your destiny.”

The good news is, you are self aware enough and brave enough to know you need to make a change. But how drastic should it be? Do you even know what that “something greater” is?

If not, figure it out above all else and put your notions to the test because chances are, you’ve buried your dream under the pyramids in Egypt, and even Indiana Jones is scratching his head.

I thought I knew what I wanted to do next when I realized I had to dig deeper and delete limiting beliefs. Determining your dream before you quit is ideal but it wasn’t the case for me. I needed a clear head and plenty of time on my own to determine my calling. And if that is the case for you, EMBRACE IT.

Let’s assume you found your dream before quitting. Should you immediately start working towards it full-time or should you take another day job and work towards your dream on the side?

It isn’t an easy choice and you may feel that Option B means you are a cop-out, a sell out, or a pussy (at least that is how I felt).  Well I’m here to tell you that it is OKAY TO TAKE A SMALLER LEAP as long as it will take you closer to your ultimate dream.

Life is not black and white – there are many factors at play and many ways to move from point A to B. ULTIMATELY, YOU NEED TO FEEL READY to take the PLUNGE. You can increase your chance of escaping the cubicle forever by doing these things before you quit:

1.       Plan to NOT look for a new 9 to 5 job: Sounds like a no brainer but if you haven’t mulled over and committed to working on your own (whatever sacrifices that entails) or giving yourself 6 months of free time, you will get sucked into the “OMG. I HAVE TO FIND A NEW JOB” panic and spend a lot of energy on a new search. This is easier to do when you know your dream. Mentally prepare yourself and others with respect to your next move. Don’t just think “I need to get out”. Think about where you will go next and WHY. Then plan.

2.       Develop a personal source of income before quitting: Identify skills you can monetize (i.e. freelance writing, marketing) and begin to solicit your services for free or minor pay, while you are working, in order to build a portfolio. The income stream doesn’t have to be related to your BIG DREAM but it can give you more time freedom to pursue your dream.

Jet Blue Flight Attendant set a new record for dramatic exits. Try not to let it get to this point before you quit.

NOW ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE REALITIES OF “SELF/UNEMPLOYMENT”?

1.       How do you feel about spending most of your time at home and with limited social interaction with the outside world? The extent of this will vary based on your own situation.

2.       How much money are you comfortable making? Can you handle a drop in savings? Are you willing to sacrifice your current lifestyle? What future costs will you be faced with when you achieve your dream and do you think you have enough to weather them?

3.       Do you prefer to test out your dream on the side before committing 100%? Admittedly, this desire may be due to a lack of confidence or conviction in your dream (perhaps you haven’t proven your skills or talent to yourself yet).

4.       How important is a strong sense of purpose to you in the short term and what would give you more: Being an employed person, in a job you can tolerate, while working on your dream OR working on your dream full-time?

5.       How quickly do you want to achieve your dream and will having 100% disposable time make you achieve you dream faster? Ironically, I tend to be more disciplined and produce more quality work when I am under the gun with limited time. If I have lots of extra time, I’ll use all that time to complete the task i.e. I’ll waste time.

My answers to the above made me feel that working in a new job was the right next step for me. I am currently managing relationships with broadcasters for a Canadian service, similar but different to Hulu.

EVALUATE EACH NEW JOB LIKE A POTENTIAL MATE: will it fulfill your needs?

So you’ve decided to apply for new jobs. Be picky and put some criteria around your search.

  • Will the new job help you learn “the business” of your dream? If yes, apply! Can you find a job that will help you learn the commercial side of your dream? Even creative professions like movies and TV need to make money to flourish. If yes, apply!
  • Will the new job help you prove your passion for the industry? If yes, apply! If you are planning to apply to a program like me, gaining relevant work experience can show your commitment and determination. Look at your past experience and education and see what position you could take on that will bring you one step closer to your dream.  It could even be a volunteer position or side project.
  • Does the new office environment match your personal preferences? If yes, seriously consider it! I grilled the interviewers about the culture and values (team and company). I assessed whether I could see myself liking, trusting and getting along with my coworkers.  If the day to day is unbearable and you aren’t having fun, you may feel less motivated and energized which could impact progress on your dream.
  • When you received the offer, did the timing and your gut make you feel like you should take the deal? If something in you says take the deal (not your fear talking), then take it!

o   Was there a pattern in the opportunities you got call backs for? After applying for many jobs, I was first offered a free internship in TV and then a paid gig in TV. TV was the pattern and the fact that I also wanted to work in TV made me feel like the universe was speaking to me.

o   Imagine doing something during the hiring process to jeopardize your progress.  How would that make you feel? In my case, I thought I had truly sabotaged my chances during my interview by referencing my blog when the top post was inappropriate for a recruiter. I instantly regretted opening my mouth and thought all was lost. This made me feel more “happy” surprised when I received the offer and more likely to accept it!

o   Run the opportunity by someone who is living your dream job. Do they think it would be a good next move for you? I connected with a local HBO writer who encouraged me to take the job.

o   Are other signs at work? I ran into an old colleague of mine from a 2007 internship at an art event after I had applied to this company. He told me he worked there but I never followed up. A month later during my second interview, I saw him in the office on my very team (30 person team versus thousands of company employees). I thought that was interesting.

THERE IS A SILVER LINING TO EVERYTHING. NO ONE HAS A GUN TO YOUR HEAD TO STAY.

Remember that sometimes we take something/someone on with a specific intention or expectation and we end up getting something quite different out of it (a lesson learned or a different but still positive outcome).

You quit before and you can quit again. You want to give this new job a fair chance, do well and you don’t want to burn any bridges. Ultimately though, it is up to you to know when to pull the plug again. Have a little faith.

AND THEN GO STREAKING (metaphorically speaking).

15 Ways to Tango through the Interview Process (Part 2 of 2)

 

Now that you’re a super sleuth, it’s time to ditch the trench and don some dancing shoes! Note that wearing a trench coat to a dance can earn you suspicious side eye glances (you’ve been warned).

 

In an ideal world, you would be in LOVE with your JOB, just like your romantic partner. You don’t want to just settle because he doesn’t snore, can cook and occasionally rubs your back – metaphorically speaking. So the interview is the perfect opportunity to assess whether there is chemistry or “a fit” in your 9 to 5 partnership. This “pas de deux” that can either be:

a)      Kate Gosselin styles on Dancing with the Stars (awkward)

b)      À la Jennifer Gray and Patrick Swayze (connected and appropriate)

c)       Britney Spears Slave 4 You video (inappropriate)

Somewhere around B is what you should aim for and the guides below can help you assess the chemistry and provide some insight into routine moves based on my real life experience. Remember you are assessing them as much as they are assessing you. 

1.       SECRET: Being late isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. Don’t strive to be late but if it is inevitable, call to let them know and keep it reasonable within 5-10 minutes. Don’t dwell or worry about it – put your best foot forward. I ended up getting a job where I was minorly late for the first interview.  

2.       PREPARE: You’ll be asked for a copy of your resume when you don’t have it. At least that is what happened to me. Always bring your resume to the interview – they have printer malfunctions and run out of time too.  

3.       PREPARE: to remind the interviewer who you are. Literally.  In one of my earlier interviewers, the VP did not have a hard copy of my resume and opened a soft copy of someone else’s resume (calendar error). He had no idea who I was and I was ill prepared to remind him in that scenario.   

4.       ANSWER: this is the most unique question I was asked: If you could bring 4 people alive or dead to dinner, who would they be and where would you take them? Just for fun, my dinner party consisted of: Bono, Tina Fey, Obama and Mark Zuckerberg.  

5.       ASK: how long the interview will be. If you go over, that is a good sign. Time is money and if a busy potential employer spends extra time with you, “he” is engaged and likes you. You also want a sense of how long you have so you can use your time wisely – get your key points across. 

6.       ASK: thoughtful questions, as they come during the meat of the interview. You can show how your mind works and make a strong impression through great questions. Leave the formal Q&A at the end of the interview for questions about the day to day, culture and so forth instead of trying to show off your research in an obvious, try hard, way.  

7.       ASK: about the hiring philosophy of the company to gage how conformist the culture is. A conformist culture likely exists where companies hire most employees right out of school and then promote exclusively from within. On the other hand, companies that frequently hire externally at all levels, tend to have more of a mixed, malleable culture, since fellow employees are a culmination of their past corporate cultures and work experiences. Asking to speak to someone at your level, employed by the company of interest, is your best bet to getting candid insight into culture (if you don’t know someone who already works there).  

Release your inner Carlton

8.       ASK: how success is defined/measured for your role (Team vs. Individual?) At my last company, each employee had fairly specific goals to meet, which created an individualistic culture where there were winners and losers. People at the same level were bell curved and rated in relation to one another. A company that has more team-based goals may provide a less directly competitively culture, with more collaboration. Neither culture is good nor bad it just depends on your preference.  

9.       GAGE: Are you interviewing for a role/team/initiative that is a key business priority? You will shine more without having to kill yourself trying, by getting onto a team/initiative that is a business priority (=visibility) in a large organization. You will benefit from general PR for those new initiatives, and they also don’t tend to have precedents for past performance (you create the benchmark). If you can specifically and concretely contribute to this larger priority, you will be golden.  

10.   ASSESS: Pay attention to the structure/tone of the interview = Company Culture. My last company had structured questions from HR that were geared towards the competencies that we got evaluated on at mid and year end and there was a predetermined rating scale for answers. While I can see how this makes sense, it showcases a rather by-the-book culture. I felt more comfortable during conversational interviews without a set question list.  

11.   ASSESS: Did the interviewer try to sell you on why the company/role is great? If yes, “he” wants you. You’d think you’re the one who needs to sell yourself, but I found in cases where I didn’t oversell myself, the interviewer tried to oversell me on why the opportunity was great. Like you, they can’t hide their enthusiasm when they think you are a great fit.  

12.   ASSESS: Did the potential employer reveal proprietary info to you? If yes, they want you. They wouldn’t risk giving you information that isn’t public, if they didn’t trust you and already envision you on their team.  

13.   ASSESS: Did the interviewer say “he” enjoyed himself? Did he initiate when you’d hear back? The way an interview ends can say a lot. If the interviewer is vague or unenthusiastic about next steps, then you may not have made it to the next round. However, don’t over analyze this since every person has a different communication style.   

14.   SECRET: “Thank you” follow -ups are unnecessary. I received two job offers when I didn’t send thank you notes to the decision makers. In other cases where I sent the “best” notes I could muster, I didn’t progress. Your performance in the interview matters more than what you say after. 

15.   SECRET: Even if you don’t get hired or you turn down an offer, try to keep the person in your network and send them a relevant article or tip or partnership opportunity when you can. This is a small world and sometimes the reason you met with an employer may lead to longer term benefit OR a different outcome than you realize. 

There you have it, the above guides have revealed what you should be assessing in your partner’s dance moves, as well as what they may be assessing about yours, plus feedback on which moves are essential to keep your dance on track. The mirror ball trophy will be yours when the time is right.  

Do you have any interview tips that help assess the sizzle or fizzle factor?