Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Circuit Breaker - Why do Simplistic Holiday Stories Hold Us Year After Year?

On this night, this Christmas Eve, those of us who find ourselves filling with Christmas spirit find ourselves willing to embrace a much higher grade of cheese with our yule celebrations.

We put up with the cheesy Christmas tunage and the cheesy decorations turning our stores into holiday theme parks. And if you’re like me you find yourself pausing in a hypnotic stupor watching the cheesiest of holiday television specials and movies.

I sit transfixed at the predictable writing, snail pacing and treacly “on message” pablum. But even though I know how it’s supposed to end, I have difficulty tearing myself away!

And in those moments I feel like an idiot. Why am I still watching??

I think it’s because these story arcs and Christmas arcs in particular has been hard-wired into our brains.

We know stories are powerful but the consistency of the “Christmas story” that is delivered to is intravenously in high doses each year creates a need for us to complete the journey these films and special series episodes represent. Since we are so familiar with the line those tales follow, we can feel the incompleteness of not reaching the end we know is coming.

It’s not the catharsis of a violent action film. It’s the emotional hug that tells us “we’re all in this together. You can follow the downward emotional spiral of “It’s A Wonderful Life’s” George Bailey as he fights to leave Bedford Falls all his life.

We are drawn into his horror that the Savings and Loan may be out of business and all his sacrifices have been for nothing. We would be left feeling empty if we didn’t have the final triumphant rallying of the townsfolk finally getting a chance to pay George Bailey back for years of devotion. When George describes himself as the happiest man in town. We feel a part of that moment.

And our story is complete.

I can go back to what I was doing. I can cook, clean or sleep again and leave my television, at last.

We can move on again knowing we’ve completed the circuit. As Thomas Edison showed us, without a completed circuit, there’s no electricity. No spark.

And that’s what these specials are there to do… to spark a familiar feeling within us. Whether it’s to sell us something or to bring us all closer together doesn’t really matter. The cynicism of the presenter is irrelevant.

All that matters is what we do with the spirit it touches inside us; what we do with our own story.

But hopefully being aware of how this stuff affects us and what parts of ourselves it is reaching out to, allows us to choose whether to break the circuit or embrace and complete it.

Live the adventure.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Geminis vs the Emmys

I think it’s safe to say from my first experience with the Canadian Gemini Awards, (our equivalent of the Emmy Awards) that the true north strong and free has it all over our southern neighbours Emmys. I can say that with some confidence because my wife was nominated for a News and Documentary Craft Emmy this year and I was nominated for a writing Gemini. This dual nomination experience provided us with a unique perspective on both events.

How did the Canucks manage to out-celebrate the big, bad Americans? Why, with a touch of class, a little forethought and lot of thinking ahead.

First of all, the Geminis held a little reception shindig weeks before the event. That allowed everyone in attendance to relax and truly mingle as they drank and downed their gourmet champagne. No one was nervous yet and so there was precious little of that whole "people looking over your shoulder hoping for someone better to talk to” thing you run into at major functions. Everyone nominated was invited, not just the big names in the big categories. So there was no separation of artists and artisans based supposed importance.

At this year’s untelevised Emmy Awards my significant other had to stand through a very formal and tense reception right before her awards, forbidden even from sitting at a table as she ate for fear of appearing too aloof. Few were drinking. They were all too worried about what they might have to say if they won. Would they remember everyone’s name? How much time do they have again? Or, they were trying to make those important contacts with people they wouldn't otherwise never have a chance to connect with.

During the show her company was seated in the mezzanine overlooking the main hall, prompting the assumption that no one from their group could possibly have won. Why else would they seat them so far away from the stage?

To their shock, two of their number did win and then the show really began. Victors carefully inched their way down the lengthy aisle. “Excuse me.” “Pardon me, please.” “One side, winner coming through.” Once at the aisle, the flush of victory still on their face and only the slightest flagging of applause to be heard, recipients then walked up to the upstairs lobby where they waited for an elevator to take them down to the main lobby so they could walk into the auditorium and make their way to the stage!

Naturally, the hosts had been given no warning as to how long it might take a winner to reach them. And the videos of each winner’s piece lasted only twenty seconds or so each. Even playing it three times would leave the hosts with five or minutes or more to fill. And sadly, vamping is not generally in the skill set of most journalists.

In this year’s case, the delays resulted in ad libs like the hilarious bon mot, “so… how about that economy?” Comedy gold. What a lovely way to make an extremely long show extremely longer.

I have several potential solutions for this situation to offer the Emmys, free of charge!

1 – Have hidden cameras in the elevators so the audience can watch winners check their teeth, practice their speeches and curse out whoever seated them. That would add to the drama and give the hosts something to riff on.

2 – Hire the local SWAT to repel winners seated in the balcony down to floor level in seconds. Live action stunts are always riveting.

3 – A terrific cross-promotion with American Airlines could result in inflatable airplane slides at either side of the balcony. Just remember to ask winners to kindly remove their shoes before sliding. And hang on to your skirts, ladies!

So how did our untelevised Canadian nights compare? Pretty ding dang good, I must say!

Though tickets were expensive we did see our money at work. The three ceremonies were held at the Liberty Grand in Toronto. So it was that on the second night we arrived for the Lifestyle, Children’s & Youth gala. It was a most glamorous evening, with the obligatory cocktails before dinner. A walk through the courtyard to the main event in extremely cold temperatures did not dampen our spirits even if it did chill our toes.

The room was sleek and everyone sat close enough to the stage to get therewith expedience. Dinner was delicious, though many pondered being served a large helping of guacamole in a martini glass with only three chips. Three chips and a 1/2 lb of guac? Sigh.

As to the show, it was surprisingly brisk, though I have heard other nights with more awards to give out did drag. The bits were all short and tailored quite well to the surprising guest presenters like the Cashman himself, local jeweller and supporter of the arts Russell Oliver and Mike Holmes paying to tribute to the fine craftsmanship of his rival Bob the Builder.

One interesting thing about the presentations is that many of the awards were announced two at a time. Not only did this speed things up considerably but it also gave us all something to watch as people made their way to the stage to take their turn at the acceptance speech. But how Canadian is it to wait in line for your turn to accept an award? I can picture our American cousins wrestling each other to be first at the hardware.

In short, it was a fine, spirited night. And truthfully, just being nominated for the show and episode that introduced me to my wife so near to our anniversary would have made for a spectacular evening.

Then I won.

Er, then I, and the two writers who shared my award won.

I mean, OUR award, of course.

As my writing partner quipped later, “We’ve done it both ways and truly, winning is better.”

But for me, it puts a lovely cap on a show that gave me a woman to spend the rest of my days with. I contributed only one sentence to our acceptance speech, but it still rings true.

This award is the icing on my wedding cake.

Emmys zero. Canada ten. The winner... Canada.

Game over.

Live the adventure.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

NaNoMo - Yes Or No? - National Novel Writing Month

The following post was written for my blog at www. rebelalert.com. It's a humourous, sci-fi blog that became a forum for writing about ideas and inspired this site. But the post fits quite nicely here too.


NaNoMo - Yes Or No?

The clock is ticking quickly down to the start of another NaNoMo and for once I've remembered it before it began. NaNoMo isn't baby talk for no more milk, it's National Novel Writing Month. Though truly, it has grown into an international event. You can learn more about the event at its website here.

The gist of it is this: thousands of people across the globe gather any spare scraps of time they can from their daily to power through a novel of 50, 000 words. Quality is not the point. Quantity is. The idea is to avoid editing or agonizing over plot points. That slows you down and all but guarantees your novel will languish in a an unfinished state for months and possibly years.

Going for word count only as the days rush by helps you avoid the inner editor and let the story itself take hold. Hopefully, you will end up with a first draft. And truthfully, all first drafts are crap. But once they're done, you can really see what you have and fix it. It's in the later editing stage that your gem will truly begin to shine, or not.

So NoNoMo is here every year to take away all our precious excuses and force people to just get tha dang down on paper, or on the screen. The rules are pretty straightforward:

1. Do not start your novel before Nov. 1. You may have an outline and background material but not a word of prose can be typed before the month begins. If you started early, you will always be aware that you cheated and when the going gets tough your likelihood of giving up increases. "Hell, I cheated anyway so what's the point?"

2. Do not bring in an already started novel to complete. It will be too precious to you and make the whole month painful and likely fruitless, as well.

3. You cannot collaborate on the 50, 000 words. This is a personal challenge. But you are encouraged to get your friends and family to go for their own novel so they can share the ups and downs with you. That community spirit helps you feel less alone in your battle of the words. That's why the site has community boards in all the main areas and writing events throughout the month.

These on-line and public hook-ups for people allow us to combat the sheer loneliness of writing, which is at once a wonderful escape to utilize and expand your mind, heart and soul, yet also a debilitating experience when the writing gets tough or a problem seems insurmountable. Sharing the burden can transform that agony into a wonderful experience.

Also, let your non-writing friends and loved ones be cheerleaders (and gentle needlers when your spirit is flagging). Then they too can share in your sweet, sweet victory at month's end.

4. The official site is the home of the official word count calculator. You can submit your novel privately and it will tell you how many words so far and then delete it from their server. No one reads it until you're ready for them to.

5. You can use pen and paper but you won't be able to calculate word count as easily. The site uses the honour system for that. They also give some extra time for a novel to be typed up.

That's about it. Again, no mention of quality here. They just want us to pump it out and prove to the world and ourselves that we can do it.

I know at least one friend who has done it and is likely doing it again this year. And yesterday, another friend declared her intentions to me. That's one of the great tricks of writing a novel in a single, caffeine-fueled month; the more public your declaration of intent, the more embarrassment you suffer if you give up.

The NaNoMo has discovered a fuel more powerful than the Enterprise's dilithium crystals and a Star Wars gravity well projector combined; a deadline.

I never accomplished anything without an outside deadline burning at my ass. As I've grown older , I have realized there are more people who are like me in that regard than there are robot aliens who are organized enough to do things without one. That's why I took a writing partner in the first place (along with the fact that we collaborated well, or course)... I knew I'd be too afraid of letting her down to ever not finish my share of the work.

I suspect deadline's are the key to many of mankind's greatest achievements. But I work on deadlines every day. Yet I know I don't organize my time to it's fullest potential.

Dare I try to do my work, share quality time with my wife and write the novel I never knew I had lurking within me?

Heat up the warp drive and use the sun's gravity to slingshot you forward in time and you'll know before I do! Otherwise, keep checking in and all will be revealed.

Live the adventure.

A mirror of this post and funny, sci-fi inspired blogs and cartoons can be found my other blog: www.rebelalert.com.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

You Are Your Own Star Meter! - Take Charge of Your Internet Movie Database Profile, etc

My Internet Movie Database Star Meter was up 1558% two weeks ago. My writing partner's rating had increased as high as 950% too!

Pop the champagne!

What heady heights of popularity I must have been enjoying without ever realizing it. And if I wanted to know why I was experiencing such a meteoric rise all I had to do was sign up for imdb Pro for a modest price. But basically all the Star Meter does is check out how many queries there are about you on imdb and box office receipts. It's hardly an accurate Q Rating service. The truth I already know why my popularity was up.

My interest in myself was rising!

During the summer I received an e-mail congratulating my writing partner and myself on being submitted for consideration to the Gemini Awards. Of course, there was no hint of what script was submitted. Nor did we have any hint of who submitted us.

Weeks later it was confirmed, one of our Iggy Arbuckle scripts had been nominated. We worked hard on developing the show then turned it over to story editors Myra Fried and Steve Wright. I remember we were determined to take advantage of the short window we had for writing scripts before moving on to another project and make them as spectacular as possible. Looks like it payed off!

But it was hard to focus on celebrating the nomination or anything work related when the countdown had begun for my wife's big immigration to the Great White North from the United States. In fact, the whole summer I made little effort on the career front. I told myself I needed to recharge my batteries.

Soon after my wife’s arrival we got all dolled up to go a Gemini reception. In a smart bit of party planning, they booked the reception weeks before the awards so people could actually relax, talk to each other and drink without worrying about a possible speech moment. My wife’s recent experience at the Emmy Awards was quite the opposite, with everyone standing around nervously hours before the show either talking distractedly while looking over your shoulder for a better networking opportunity, living in fear of making a fool of yourself on stage, or praying that if you don't win, you will still look gracious and delighted for the person or people who beat you.

So here’s to Canada and ACCT and the Geminis for doing it up right!

For a night, my writing partner and I both let go of the feeling we’d been spinning our wheels, until she ran into an agent who decried our pathetic imdb presence. It made sense that people who might want to google would find little information and a fuller imdb profile would at least back up our player status.

That is how I ended up spending the better of week inputting as many of various credits as I could. Inputting on the site is a challenge, with many style settings creating denials and the need for internet proof of the existence of shows or episodes (often without a space to put that proof!)

It takes a while for any changes to show up but our profiles are much more accurate than they were. The site rejected some items but not others so there’s still a number of things to add and correct. But now a casual search will back up the career and experience I really have.

Within two weeks my Star Meter is up a modest 9%. I'll take the drop with a smile. Because I know I'm back on the hunt, planning how to reach my new goals. And I'm not going to overlook any tool.

Like this blog for instance.

Three months ago, I started a Star Wars themed, Sci-Fi Blog, www.rebelalert.com, to go back up www.theimperialnews.com, a website I helped create to support my friend Darryl Gold's fan film, Death Star Repairmen. I found more of the silly stuff getting pushed aside to write ideas and realized one blog would not suffice.

I do have things to say about television writing and art. I have many idea to explore; to twist and turn until new insights are found or old insights are illuminated. In short, I just may have something to add to the world of the web after all. Now to see how disciplined I can be about posting! Come along and enjoy the ride.

Incidentally, my wife's Star Meter is up 304% since last week. Any guesses what I've been up to this weekend? ;)

Live the adventure.