Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thank You

Dear Mom,

It's taken me 25 years to look outside of myself and begin looking at all the little things you've done for me my whole life.

Thank you for making me put my head under a running shower head. Even when I thought I'd drown. Thank you for teaching me how to wear a training bra, even though I blushed and probably shouted that I didn't need one. And thanks for pointing out how boobs spillover and how to avoid that when you put your bra on. And all those other things about being a girl I had to learn and then learn how to hide.

Thank you for loving me, despite the monthly, roof-raising, wall-shaking scream matches we had when I was in high school. Thanks for teaching me how to apologize and mean it. How to hear another person, no matter how angry or hurt you feel. And thank you for seeing me clearly: I do indulge in my emotions. I've been working on it since you named it so boldly. But you see how much I try, too.

Thank you for taking so much of your time and spending it on me (and Josh and Jonathan), trying your best to make sure we didn't grow up to be deadbeat jerks. Even though you didn't know you wanted to be a mom, even though you had to learn so much on your own.

Thank you for all of that and more. I am who I am today because 50% of my genes are yours, but also because your strength, wisdom, and wackiness shaped me into who I am.

I love you!

Monday, January 20, 2014

These are a few ideas that keep surfacing every time I hear smart/accomplished people talk or observe smart/accomplished people work. This is applicable to all folks who are trying to break into the entertainment industry.

  1. Create. Write. For all the aforementioned reasons and also: JUST DO IT! 
    If you're into multi-cam sitcoms, watch those obsessively and break them down into pieces, find the structure. If you're into hour long political dramas a la Aaron Sorkin, watch those obsessively and find the structure in the episodes. If you're into dramatic plays, ensemble plays, whatever it is: consume them, observe them, break them down, put them back together again. It'll make you a better actor, writer, director, creator, whatever!
  2. Work begets work. 
    To get that next job, you must work hard now. To get that first job, see #1. It might not be creatively fulfilling work, but it will keep you working and if you're trying to establish a career, these links matter. If getting that first job is too hard, make that first job. (Write that spec, put up that one man show, join that Improv class, produce that play, tape that web series.)
  3. Find your people.
    No matter where you are, find your people. Find the people who want to create the same things as you: TV? Films? Theatre? Musicals? Comedies? Sketch? Improv? Find these people. You will teach each other, grow together, and create together.
  4. Don't show up empty handed.
    When you find your people or when searching for your people, you'll want to have something to bring to the table. That's why #1 and #2 are so important. Plus, a great bonus for following #1 and #2: it keeps bullshit thoughts like "Why haven't I made it yet?" and "Why is this so hard?" and "Where is the pizza?" at bay. The power to create--the thing we claim we want so badly to do--is in our hands.
  5. It's about stamina.
    I've heard a lot of people say "If there's anything, anything else you'd rather be doing in the world, go do that. This business is so, so, so hard and there's no guarantee that it will pay off." My professor and mentor framed it in a way I think is more digestible: "Do you still have the stamina for it?" Given all the shitty jobs you've taken on, the sacrifices you've made, that extra major you took on at college but have never used in a work setting--is it still worth it? If the answer is yes, carry on my wayward son and fight the good fight! Because there are a million things you could be doing, but you chose to do this. And remember: #'s 1 and 2 will keep you falling in love with the work, which will only help you persevere.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Thoughts on Comedy@SCA's Beyond Bridesmaids Panel

I spent a glorious afternoon listening to five amazing comedy writers talk about their lives--where they started, how they "made it" as writers, and their perspectives on breaking into the industry. Some experiences stories were specific to women, most were not. All of the thoughts shared were enlightening and empowering.

Thank you to USC's School of Cinematic Arts for offering this panel for free to the public. See the full panel details here.

My takeaways from the panel:


Don't See What You Like? Write It
Tracy Oliver, writer / producer / actor of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and more, another smartie who completed her undergraduate degree at Stanford, didn't see roles for the kind of black women she knew existed--so she wrote them. When Tracy wrote her own story, she added another dimension to the way we view awkward people, nerdy people, and yes, women and black people too.

Don't Know What to Write? Write What You Want to See
Katie Dippold, celebrated writer (in my books) of The Heat and Parks and Recreation, loved buddy cops growing up. (She aspired, at one point, to join the FBI.) She always imagined a buddy cop montage that--instead of featuring the odd couple on motor cycles, each with a beach babe (gal) behind them--featured herself and her gal cop counterpart on the motor cycles, each with a beach babe (guy) spooning them. So she wrote The Heat.

Finding Your Style
Although it's not for my lengthy circumlocution, Jen Statsky, also a writer on Parks and Recreation and on Hello Ladies, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and more, realized that Twitter was perfect for her style of humor: short jokes. So she wrote and wrote and wrote then one day A.D. Miles (Head Writer of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon) DM-ed her and the rest is history in the making.


Stop Chasing That A+
Dana Fox
, creator of Ben and Kate and writer / producer of tons of great comedies, was a self-proclaimed approval seeker. Even as a smart, successful, accomplished Stanford undergrad and then USC's Stark Producing Program grad, Dana had to teach herself to stop "chasing that A+" in life. In other words, to stop chasing perfection and approval. (A mindset she suspects is more common in women.) Her advice? Stop chasing the approval. You are going to fail at some point. Stop fearing it. When it happens, learn from it and carry on.

Your Win is My Win
Bridesmaid's success was a success not just for all women, but for all comedy writers, movie makers, comedians. It's easy to view success as a block of cheese with a finite number of slices to go around, but the good news is, we are creators: we create our own cheese. (Dana kept coming back to this cheese metaphor. It stuck for me, but may be totally confusing for you.) Which leads me to my next takeaway...

Help Each Other
We know how hard it is to get started in this confusing, amorphous industry. When you can, reach out to people whose work you admire, even if their resumes are light, and take them under your wing. Conversely, if you've got no credits and little experience, keep creating, keep working, keep volunteering, and be prepared. (Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.)


Manage Your Money
You won't get paid for awhile, but when you do, save it, because you it might be three years until your next paycheck. Remember all the people who will take a cut of it before you go on a spending spree: agent, manager, Uncle Sam, rent, bills, just to name a few.

Women Must Be Likeable -- Nope!
Dana commented that viewers are often harder on women. For a female character to gain an audience on television, she must be likeable. She pointed out how women like Tina Fey have broken this rule, proving that a female character does not have to be likeable to be successful. I'd also like to point to Elaine of Seinfeld, Grace of Will and Grace.

It was a relief to realize to hear from established writers and producers. Hear about their journeys, each varied. Me? I'm into dramatic plays, political dramas, feel good comedies, stories that pass the Bechdel Test, and stories with women written as people. So if you need me, I'll be running towards THAT.