The crystal balls-up

That cliche that “life’s a funny thing” is right there with all the other true cliches. I try not to have helpful encouraging fridge magnets (but I do). I try not to borrow my wisdom from signboards in coffee shops. But I do today.

My equivalent of the HANG IN THERE kitten-poster you always see in the offices of civil servants, administrative staff of educational institutions, and psychotic HR professionals.


See I went to an event at the Directors Guild of America on Sunset Blvd, which is something I would never have predicted I’d be doing about, oh, say three years back, when I was actually fully convinced I should just cut my losses, walk into the sea and keep going. I don’t think I would be very good as a psychic, reading crystal balls and so on. Nothing has ever worked out the way I expected, specially as I’m pretty much exactly the person Paul Simon described in “Something so Right.”

I’m not a director (unless that school play counts) but Randal Kleiser said I should attend this event, so I did. I mean who’s going to turn down the chance to see people like Gary Fleder (Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead), Aaron Schneider (Get Low) and Penelope Spheeris (The Decline of Western Civilization I, II, and III) talk about how they got to somewhere near the top of the game?

The organisation that has seen Directors from their early unionised days as studio slaves to their current unionised days of ... studio slaves rich enough to build buildings like this.


After hearing them all speak, I was left with one main thought: I have no time to lose. No time at all. Schneider spoke of how after his short film Two Soldiers won an Oscar he got 20 meetings, but not one job… and how it took him five years to make Get Low, despite having Bill Murray ready to shoot. Spheeris, who started out doing music videos in the 70s (in her words, 1912), only got her break because she broke a new path, at a time when the music companies realised that instead of sending their bands around to tour a new album, they could just “…send a film instead.” They all came up at a time when digital filmmaking was new or stupid, so just making a film at all was hard. Now it’s not like that. I’ve made films, and I’m just a screenwriter. But by the same token, Spheeris points out that instead of Sundance getting 800 submissions, they now get 8-10 000. And to stand out, Schneider says, you need to be able to make someone some money. And then handle having it without crashing and burning. Spheeris plays up her “Orange County Trailerpark” roots, wearing leopard print jeggings that probably cost more than my car (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much.) A former UCLA student, she’s also the only girl in the USC Boy’s Club. And there are a LOT of boys at this thing, mostly wearing dark jackets with jeans. If you were casting for the part of student director, they could provide their own wardrobe. No Problem.

After the event I ran into a fellow student Donte (D. Murry), a Director who was on his way to pitch a pretty cool script at the Screenwriting Expo (I know it’s cool, cause I gave him some feedback on it). He had a couple of spares for a time he couldn’t make. He offered one to me… and I said no. And watching him work the room, I lost my nerve when it came to networking too, and headed for the lifts. I always feel like an idiot at these things, like they’re going to think I want something from them, but I don’t. I wish I knew what to ask for at all! And then in the lift I ran into Penelope Spheeris, and we had some random conversation about how they always have to find one woman for these panels… so they get invited a lot. Either a woman or a black gay guy. Which isn’t really fair on herself. She’s there because she’s got more experience and is a hell of a lot funnier than anyone else there… and when I realised that, I turned around, and went back upstairs. And I spoke to people. And I went back to Donte and asked him if I could have that pitch ticket, after all.

Now my heart is banging on my ribcage like it’s going to break it. Who needs adventure theme parks if you’re living my life? But I’m thinking of it this way – and I should get a T-Shirt with this on it actually – What’s the worst that can happen? They can tell me no chance, get out! And I’m already out right now. This is how I’ve been running my life for about six months, and so far the rollercoaster’s centrifugal force is with me.

On the networking front, I’ve met more people in the film industry at The Coffee Bean (opposite the DGA on Sunset) than I did after lunch with my mouth full of turkey. So now, I’m off to get some decent food, watch me a bit of steam punk, and steel myself up for tomorrow. And read some online articles about “how to pitch”, I guess… let’s hope my days as a journalist selling stories stand me in good stead.

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2 Responses to “The crystal balls-up”

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  2. 36 hours in LA, my way « Jean Barker's Sign Language Says:

    […] Jean Barker's Sign Language pictures with words, worth a few words, worse than words can say « The crystal balls-up […]

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