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SE4 D201: Let's Play Catch Up!

So, it’s been nearly 2 years since my last personal blog entry. A lot has transpired in that time. There have been highs; there have been lows, but through it all, I have kept writing. The output, however, has not been what I set out to accomplish. The primary reason for that has been work.

Although it may not have seemed like it at the time, I have been relatively blessed with a continuous stream of work. That led me to have to curtail certain aspects of my writing endeavors, primarily the Screenwriter’s Journey website. It, by necessity, was relegated to a distant third in my list of continuing goals. Of primary urgency was the need to keep some type of gainful employment to pay bills, with my writing goals falling somewhere in between the two.

In August of 2017, it seemed as if I might have to leave Los Angeles. Work that year had been sporadic, and the bills were piling up. I was actually in the process of winding my existence in the land of make-believe, otherwise known as Hollywood, when I received a phone call offering me a position as a story producer on the HGTV hit series House Hunters. All I had to do was hang out until the beginning of October to start a six-month run with a pretty healthy paycheck. With my credit cards reaching their limits, it was a godsend, but even with the revenue coming in, most of it would be going right back out to pay down debt.

Shortly thereafter, I received a phone call from Beth Chapman, wife of Dog the Bounty Hunter. I had worked the final season of Dog and Beth: On the Hunt for CMT two years earlier and had stayed in contact with Beth in the interim. Beth was in town and wanted me to come to her hotel to discuss the possibility of a new TV show. What I did not expect was the new show, or special as it turned out to be, would be chronicling Beth’s recent diagnosis of throat cancer. To make a long story short, I came on board as a field/story producer and camera operator to detail Beth’s challenge of dealing with her recent diagnosis and telling her family as she prepared for surgery.

September was a month filled with interviews and scene work with trips to doctors offices and ultimately her week-long stay at Cedars Sinai Hospital. A small dedicated crew worked tirelessly and nearly around the clock gathering footage for what would become the A&E special Dog & Beth: Fight of Their Lives. I was not able to follow the show through post as I had already committed to House Hunters, but I helped outline the story and brought the new story producers up to speed with what still remained to be shot to complete the story.

I finished on a Sunday and on Monday morning I reported to House Hunters. House Hunters was a fantastic show with an incredibly gifted group of story producers backed by one of the best production companies I have had the privilege of working with. While I was on the show, my roommate took a job producing behind-the-scenes features for two feature films shooting in Atlanta, leaving me alone in LA to take of her dog, Peanut, a Chihuahua/Pug mix. As the paychecks rolled in, I channeled most of the funds into my credit card debt, keeping only what I needed to survive day-to-day. This would prove to be a problem in the coming months as I had no savings to fall back on.

In December, we were informed by the production company that the network was cutting back on the number of episodes we produced each week (Scripps network, owner of HGTV, was taken over by Discovery Networks). This cut back resulted in laying off a large portion of the staff. My six-month contract was cut to four months. This left me in a bit of a financial bind as I scrambled to redirect my last paychecks into my savings account.

About that same time, my roommate came home from Atlanta after five months or so with the news that the company she had been working for had not paid her in all that time. To make matters worse, she hadn’t paid the mortgage on the house in six months, and the bank was foreclosing. She needed $12,000, which I didn’t have. Not even close. She did manage to come up with the funds, but since I hadn’t been able to help her, I was unceremoniously asked to leave. And I should take her dog with me as, in her words, the dog liked me more. I won’t go into all the particulars of our ‘break up’ as it was a tough time for both of us.

But without a job, a home or any savings to speak of, there didn’t seem to be any choice, but to leave LA at that time. So, late in March 2018, I loaded up the car, and Peanut and I headed across to country back to my parent’s home in Florida.

Now, during all this, I was continuing my writing efforts and had begun a new script about a young man who returned home after a 15-year absence to see his mother on her deathbed. It was a dark family tale of murder and stolen money that had a more artistic bent. At least the first act did. The second act seemed to fall into a more standard fare thriller. I was taking pages into one of my writers groups, Tuesdays at 9 and it seemed to go well until the end of the first act. On that night, the lead role was given to an actor whose talents were somewhat lacking. His performances tend to come across as someone who is mentally challenged, or at the very least, incredibly uneducated. Cast in the right role, his readings have sometimes proved to be very entertaining, but severely miscast on this night, his interpretation of the character came across as, for lack of a better word, retarded. This, in turn, led to huge – and I mean HUGE – guffaws from the audience.

It was one of the most embarrassing nights I’ve ever experienced hearing my work out loud. Even the group’s moderators apologized to me afterward. Still, it was painful to sit through. So much so, that I abandoned the work for a time to allow the bad taste to leave my mouth. And then the problems on the home front began.

So, off to Florida it was with the hope of settling in and picking up where I had left off with the writing in a couple of weeks. Those weeks quickly turned to months, and I began to think I might not find the time or even ambition to write again. Luckily, I did find work fairly quickly as a video director/content creator for a lumber company in Sarasota, FL. That’s right, a lumber company. They actually had a TV studio on the campus, and I created a series of videos that introduced the mill workers to the public, tutorials, promos and daily ‘slice of life’ videos documenting life in the mill. I had at my disposal 5 cameras, two jibs, a stedi-cam, drone and a set of cinema prime lenses plus a green screen studio. All in all, not a bad little playground.

The work was okay – at times, even fun – but the pay wasn’t great – certainly not enough to take on my still crushing credit card debt - and the commute was killer. It was nearly an hour and a half each way from my home in St. Petersburg. I tried looking for a place locally, but the cost was so exorbitant it was impossible to find anything on my income and attempt to pay down debt. Depression was inevitable and the long hours simply sapped any energy I had for writing.

Then in August, I was tossed a lifeline of sorts. House Hunters called and wanted to know if I could come back at the beginning of September. I weighed the decision long and hard, but it provided not only a higher rate of pay ( I would make the same amount in 4 months as I would a full year at the lumber company), but I would be back in LA, close to the industry I was struggling to break into as a writer.

I had spent plenty of time working on my craft as a writer over the preceding three years and felt pretty confident in my abilities. What I hadn’t spent a lot of time doing was marketing my materials or myself. I decided I would take the job offer and rededicate myself to selling a screenplay.

A month later I found myself back in the City of Angels. I was back in the writers groups and working on pages. Primarily, was reworking The Devil’s Tramping Ground, making it the best script I possibly could. And I’ve done a pretty admirable job of it if I do say so myself. I also began an aggressive campaign of entering contests and getting coverage notes on Tramping Ground and others to determine where I stand as a writer and with these scripts in particular. Overall the response has been pretty positive. I’ll detail those developments in the next blog.

I also began work on a new script called Devil’s Poker. I’m currently trying to write it as part of Scott Myers’s Zero Draft 30 Challenge. That is proving to be more of a challenge than I anticipated. My job with House Hunters came to an end in February, so I thought I would have plenty of time to develop the script while looking for wo

rk. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how one looks at it – work found me.

I was asked to cut a sizzle reel for an upcoming documentary, but with an impending deadline, I ended up working 12 – 14 hours a day on the reel. This cut severely into my writing time. The good news, however, is they liked my work so much, they want me to take over the editorial on the documentary itself. I have now booked work through July. That allows me to stay in LA for a bit longer while eating away at my credit card debt and keep up with my writers groups.

I still have a few days left in the month to try and knock out some more pages for the Zero Draft 30 challenge followed by a trip to Atlanta to attend the Screencraft Screenwriters Summit for some networking. I’ve also subscribed to IMDBpro to have access to producer’s contact info to try and query The Devil’s Tramping Ground, The Calling and Blood Money (aka Come Ups).

So that should catch you up on what I’ve been up to for the last two years and what you can expect to hear about over the next few months. I definitely recommend you follow me on either Facebook at The Screenwriter’s Journey or on Twitter @ScriptJourney or both. There will be plenty of blogging and tweeting from the Screencraft summit along with updates on new writing and marketing progress on the various scripts.

Until then, keep writing!

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