SANTA THE OPOSSUM

When I was a little kid, maybe four or five, I was obsessed with opossums.  I knew instinctively that the opossum was my power animal, so I was just completely obsessed with them.

At four or five years old, I was taken to visit Santa at the mall like any kid.  When Santa asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I simply said, “A possum!”  He was confused, concerned, and looked at my parents with a “What the hell am I supposed to follow that with?” look.  Imagine what my parents were thinking.

As the days crept closer to Christmas, my parents likely engaged me with ideas of practical toys and things to put on my list to Santa, but I wasn’t hearing any of it.  I was totally convinced he would bring me an opossum.

How it all happened, I’m not entirely sure.  But when I woke up on Christmas morning and went to fetch my stocking, I found that Santa did, in fact, bring me a beautiful taxidermy of an Opossum!  I named him “Clarence.”  He was divine.

Later, I learned that my parents went on a wild goose chase to have Clarence trapped and eventually stuffed.  Luckily we lived in Kansas, where opossums run around eating berries and otherwise keeping to themselves.  Opossums here are friendly and lovely.  They aren’t like big city possums, which can be rude and cranky.

Clarence lived at my mother’s house until I had a house of my own.  Now he holds court in my dining room, watching over dinner guests and keeping an eye on any mischief.

I never really had a favorite Christmas movie growing up.  By by the time I was in high school, I discovered Kubrick’s THE SHINING.  I would watch it every year on Christmas Eve.  It’s the best Christmas movie ever.  MISERY came in as a favorite Xmas Eve movie for a year or two, but it just didn’t have the special holiday punch that THE SHINING does.

I have a screenplay somewhere on the back burner based on my family.  It’s a Christmas movie caper, and will be downright hysterical whenever I decide to finally make it.  It’s pretty complicated, and will take a special combination of actors to make it work.

I love the holiday season, and especially the music.  Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Ella & Louis, they all have incredible Christmas albums.  Even Barbra Streisand has a Christmas album (I know, right!?).

I love Christmas and I’m not even religious!  I hope you all have a wonderful time sharing it with your friends and families, regardless of your religion.  And, if you don’t have anyone to celebrate with, put on a good movie and treat yourself to something special.

The Sundance Disease

My dislike for Sundance has nothing to do with the original message of Sundance.  I genuinely think Robert (Redford) had a great idea.  The original concept is beautiful and very valuable, celebrating filmmakers of all sorts.  But in recent years it’s distorted beyond recognition.  Sundance is now a gargantuan disease infecting the world and it’s time to confront it.  We can no longer be in denial.

The first cases were diagnosed in Los Angeles, leading the CDC to theorize that neither Robert (Redford) nor Park City, Utah, was the source of The Disease.  I interviewed a Studio Executive suffering from The Disease.  Said individual stated, “You are nothing unless your film is shown at Sundance.  If you aren’t at Sundance, you must not be a real filmmaker.”  All other research indicates that most films “accepted” into Sundance have, in one way or another, been financed, produced, or planned by a company in The Industry.

What happens to the real independent film?  What happens if one doesn’t surrender?  The same thing that happens to people in our culture that don’t fit the mold!  They are exiled!  They are called freaks!  Which reminds me of the scene in FREAKS: “One of US! One of US!”

Have you been in contact with The Sundance Disease?  How would you know?  Here are signs to look for.  Common symptoms include: Confusion and general disorientation characterized by a preference for freezing temperatures, deep snow and high altitude instead of warm waters, white beaches and the mild climate of Cannes in May; Preoccupation with Sundance participation on the part of the inexperienced public who have no knowledge of important festivals such as Berlin, Toronto or SXSW; Industry Wannabes who insist that missing Sundance dooms a film to second class status.

A secondary infection of The Disease is the marginalization of all the other festivals.  It makes all the other organizations less important: “Oh, you got into Cannes – too bad you weren’t ‘accepted’ into Sundance!”

Slamdance started with good intentions and challenged the bureaucracy of Sundance.  Now, Slamdance has developed symptoms of The Disease.  And, if we aren’t careful, it will spread to Slamdunk and all the other Dances.  Remember what happened to LapDance!?  At this rate of infection, we’ll be looking at TromaDance to predict the 2006 Oscar nominees.  We’ll have forgotten all about the Independent Spirit Awards.

The Disease is as contagious as SARS.  And, like SARS, there is currently no known cure.  But if all independent filmmakers fight together, we can stop it from killing us.

Originally published in Aftertaste Magazine, 2004

 

PRIORITIZE YOUR TIME

I’m aware that our modern world isn’t easy to negotiate through.  I know people have jobs, bills to pay, the need to put food on the table, shuttle kids to and from school or band practice or play practice or that sports game.  I get it.  But, if you’re really good at time management, you can do all this and write scripts, make movies, and so forth.

I know it’s possible to write a screenplay in less than a week and get paid $15,000 for it.  I know because that happened to me.  But, I also know that I’m incredibly diligent in time management when it comes to something like that.  If my goal is to write a script in a week or so, and I’m getting paid 15 grand for it, I know that there is no time to waste at the gym, or on the phone chatting with friends, or texting and tweeting the lastest news.

I don’t think twice about just shutting the phone off, or telling friends and family that I’m going back in the “writing cave” or the “editing cave” or whatever.  Most people appreciate it and respect that, and understand the situation.

Other people don’t understand it, and that’s when it can become problematic.  Everybody has a needy friend who has a personality that if you don’t return his or her call or text immediately, they take it personally and think you’re mad at them.  Then, by the time you’ve re-emerged from the cave, your friend hates you and you don’t understand why.

Well, I’m here to say, screw ‘em.  Needy people are trouble.  Ask yourself which is more important?  Do you want to finish your script, your edit, your work or your art—or do you want to make sure you’re holding on to social obligations that have nothing to do with supporting your goals?  True friends, and people who support you and your goals, will always be there for you, regardless.  So I say “screw ‘em” to the rest because they’ll eventually just start sucking out your life force like leeches.

Now, I understand it’s easy for me to go into a creative cave of any sort because I don’t have pets, I don’t’ have children, and I’m not keen on frivolous social obligations with people I barely know.  But, I’ve made the decision that right now it’s the part of my life where I need to focus on myself.  So I don’t have pets on purpose.

Scheduling is also an important part of managing one’s time.  I can totally juggle the responsibilities of earning a living, putting food on the table, and also creating my art.  But I might not be able to do them all at the same time.  Sometimes it’s possible to block out two hours a day for writing, or six hours a day for earning a paycheck, or one hour a week to write a blog article.  But, unless I write it down in my planner, and keep to the schedule, it becomes impossible to manage everything.

I know some of you might be gifted when it comes to time management and scheduling yourself.  And I know that some of you might really struggle with it.  My only advice is to make it a habit.  I think it only takes something like two weeks to make something a habit.  Start small, by getting a daily planner or learning how to operate the calendar on your smart phone.  Set alerts for yourself.

Most importantly, ask yourself if there are any things in your current lifestyle that impede your ability to work on your art, or reach your goals.  Are some of those things necessary?  Can you do without them?  Or, if you must have them (say you aren’t ready to send Fido to your neighbor’s house to live), can you think of ways to keep those things and also achieve your goals?

There’s no excuse to avoid achieving your goals.  There is simply time management and figuring out HOW you can achieve them no matter what.