Posts Tagged ‘#koppelman’

The Talent Question

December 29, 2013

The other day, after seeing this Vine…

https://vine.co/v/hE6OUQpBPZz

…my friend Penn Jillette emailed me: “unless they suck.”  Now, I sort of spoke to that in this Vine…

https://vine.co/v/hTdxIlKgdnT

But that’s an incomplete answer, as any answer given in six seconds has to be.

I wrote Penn back, laughing, and asked if that’s what he really thought. Now, you have to understand that Penn is someone I take very seriously; he’s been an artistic inspiration since the first time I saw him perform, at the West Side Arts theater, off-Broadway, when I was 19 or 20 years old. The monologue he gave at the end of the show, about what it takes to be a fire-eater, remains one of the seminal theater going moments of my life. It’s also one of the most fervent, honest and accurate descriptions of the dedication it takes to become an artist that I’ve ever heard. And, as Penn himself points out, it looks cool. 

Penn’s been a big champion of the Vine series I’ve been doing. So I wanted to dig in and understand if he was just kidding around or not. 

He then wrote a follow-up email, pointing to a Bukowski quote that suggests the best thing one could do for aspiring writers and artists of all stripes would just be to DISCOURAGE them instead of ENCOURAGING them.

The point being that if someone really needs to do it, the discouragement won’t work. They will forge ahead regardless. And it will save the person who quit a whole bunch of time and energy. His paraphrase of the Bukowski was “the kindest thing you can do is tell someone not to write because it won’t work on the people who need to write.” (I can’t find the exact quote. If anyone can, please let me know and I’ll put it in.)  Penn didn’t endorse this position, just thought it was worth looking at. I understand why.

For a long time, actually, I held to that same opinion. It’s part of what I hated about the entire screenwriting guru industry and, in fact, the entire industry of teaching people to write. The truth is, I still think talent ultimately determines artistic success. And by success, I am not referring to commercial success. Though that too is largely determined by talent.  

But.

I have come to think that sometimes, maybe often, talent hides. And that I’d rather help people find a way to discover that hidden or latent talent. I think it’s worthwhile pursuit for people whether they end up unearthing that talent or not. The sort of deep diving I’m talking about, achieved by slugging it out every day, using things like journaling, meditation, long walks to help, offers massive benefit regardless of the quality of the artistic work produced. As does just doing something really hard, like finishing a draft of a novel or a screenplay. 

The positive effects of this kind of success can be stunning. And not just in self-esteem. When an individual has been blocked, stunted, and then breaks through it, producing a completed piece of work, something changes in them forever.  And it’s something that the people in their lives notice. In a really good way. It just makes them easier to be around, better company at the dinner table. 

And so that alone would make me want to continue to help people drive themselves forward.  But there’s another reason too. The one group of people in all creative fields that I despise maybe as much as the false prophets who hold themselves out as experts without having accomplishment to back it up, are the gate-keepers. Especially those gate-keepers who are more interested in keeping their jobs than in nurturing worthwhile creative voices. Included in this group are everyone from college drama teacher to reader at book company to screenplay reader for a production company to junior A&R person at a music company (I was an A&R guy in an earlier life. I know from whence I speak).  Let me add to that, actually: I also include lower school art teachers and english teachers who, far too often, have a rigidity in their approach that kills burgeoning creativity in their students, favoring those who draw within the lines both literally and figuratively. 

Sure, there have always been curators. They serve a useful, necessary purpose. But as art has become more commoditized, the range of their vision has shrunk.  

I guess what I want to say to my friend is this: what I have come to believe is the world is already out there dispensing “reality,” discouraging the creative journey, tamping down enthusiasm, limiting opportunity. So I want to stand there in the face of that reality, cheering, lifting up, rooting. 

Is it possible you’re not going to sell that book you’re writing or picture your painting or screenplay you’re in the middle of outlining? It’s not only possible. It’s likely. Isn’t it fucking awesome that you are doing anyway? 

I think it is. And I want to help you get to the finish line any way I can. Once you’re there, you’ll find plenty of people to tell you how you screwed up.

But you’ll know that at least you ran the race and didn’t quit when it started to hurt.  And you’ll be that much more ready to run the next one.

UPDATE: So after I posted this, Penn emailed to say he’d read it, agrees, and I should feel free to say so. So, I’m saying so. Glad we’re in sync on this.

A short twitter Christmas Remembrance (from an atheist Jew)

December 25, 2013

I did this as a twitter story yesterday. So, in case you missed it…here it is. 

 

A short twitter Christmas remembrance (from an atheist jew). 

 6th grade. My best friend was Italian, Chris P. His mom, Mrs. P. was the nicest woman on earth. 

 Mrs. P. was always more aware of my judaism than I was. And thought even secular jews were kosher.

 So, I’d be a their house and she’d make amazing Italian feasts for the family, pasta and sauce redolent with pork.  

 And on my plate, a turkey sandwich on rye, which she would call “a nice jewish turkey sandwich”. I’d eat it while pining for the pasta and pork.

 But she was so sweet, and I knew it mattered to her. That she really cared. 

 And would always say things like: Your mother would kill me if I let you have that veal parm: it’s cheese and meat.

(my mom made veal parm). 

 Chris was less sensitive. Once, while playing ping pong, a ball I’d struck hit the net chord before dropping in. He called that a “cheap jew shot.”  Mrs. P. would not have liked that, I’d bet. 

 I didn’t actually care. I knew he didn’t mean it. At all. And would’ve beat up anyone else who said it to me. And the shot was kind of a cheap jew shot. 

 One Christmas, Chris and family took me on a trip to Boca Raton, Fla. And we went to Midnight Mass.  

 Mrs. P. and Mr. P. (a lawyer with, everyone whispered, deep mafia connections) sat in the back of the church. 

 Chris, his two sisters, and I sat in front. This was a big, huge, giant church.

 Lovely service. Nicest mass I ever attended.  

 And then came time for communion. I had no idea what it was. Chris said to follow him. So I did. 

On the line we went. I watched, fascinated, as the priest went through the ritual, blood and body and all that.

And I was hungry and thirsty. 

 Finally, I was at the front of the line. I had watched Chris, so I knew what to do.

Stuck out my tongue. Priest had the wafer ready to go, when… 

 I felt myself YANKED back by my shirt collar. Mrs. P., had come running from the very back of the church. 

 The entire congregation watched as she dragged me away from the alter. “He’s a jew! His mother would kill me!” she said.

 Which made me, ya know, a little self-conscious. 

But it also led to an honest conversation later that night which ended with me finally getting to dig in to that delicious, mind-blowingly great pasta.  

So in the end, it was a Merry Christmas for all. Which this atheist Jew hopes all of you have as well.

1/4 second from death

December 11, 2013

Dec. 10th, 2013 (journal entry I decided to share)

I almost got killed yesterday. Missed, by about 1/4 second, getting crushed between two cars at a crosswalk. One car was stopped and the other genius decided, with no warning, to back up at around 30 miles an hour. I had taken one step past the stopped car when the collision happened. Turned around with the sound of impact and saw the cars bounce off each other. 

It was so strange and powerful and bizarre–how often does a guy just back up at speed on West End Ave in the city without even looking in his rearview–that the guy in the stopped car, a Russian who spoke like a movie villain Russian, got out of his car, looked at me and said, “why that guy wants to kill you?”  He said this like that could be the only rational reason for the crazy driver’s move. And also like he’d seen THAT move before. 

And then the CD got out of his vehicle, and it all became clear. He was just an addled jerk who had made a mistake on a Monday morning drive to work. Was he texting? Did he forget that his car was in reverse? I’ll never know. I just stood there for a second. Well, to be honest, first I got right in his face and screamed at him that he was a dumb motherfucker who almost killed me and what the fuck was-a-matter with his stupid fucking brain. Not proud. But it happened. ANYWAY, after I was done yelling, and he was done half-heartedly apologizing, the Russian and he started discussing bashed-in front ends and insurance (funny, neither one wanted to bring insurance into it), and forgot about me. And I just stood there, in the middle of the street, staring at the damage, dazed and aware at the same time that the scene could have been entirely different. I could have been lying there, dead or bleeding out or, at best, with shattered legs, barely conscious and hoping that between them, the Russian and Crazy Driver had a cell phone contract that was still in effect. 

Finally, I moved on, casting one look back at them still standing at that intersection, still negotiating who was going to call in what favor  to get the bodywork done. 

As I was walking to the office, it occurred to me that exactly nothing had actually happened to me. An accident happened to two other guys after I moved past.  The fact that it almost happened to me was jarring because of the proximity.  But mostly just because I happened to notice. And because the accident was loud.

It got me to thinking about how many collisions we miss all the time, or that just miss us. How many apartments we walk by that have had unbelievable acts of violence happen in them, how many doors we pass not having any idea that something brutal might be occurring at that very moment. 

It’s true, looked at one way, I was seconds from death. But looked at another way, with the weight of the earth’s time, aren’t we all, at every moment, seconds from death?

Amy (my wife–this parens was not in journal entry. It’s for you to follow) is a genius at understanding this and at living in the present, in the very moment, appreciating all of it.  I am not. Though I try. 

And I am determined to try harder. 

Two guys smashed into each other in the street. I could have spent the rest of the day, week, month, year dwelling on how close I came. Instead, when I got to the office, I sat down and began to write. 

Because I was here. I was unharmed. And I am lucky enough to do something I love.  Most days, I don’t really think of it that way. 

Yesterday I did. 

Today I’m gonna try real hard to. 

What should I write?

December 8, 2013

Right behind the Most Asked Question is this: which genre should I write in? And, of course, its companion: which genres should I avoid? There’s also this variation: how do I know which of my ideas is the most commercial given the current market conditions? 

Ten years ago, I hardly ever heard these questions asked. Sure, there were magazine articles about what types of screenplays sold and which ones were made, but there wasn’t this idea out there that the screenwriter had to be as calculating and careful as a scientist plotting the course of a space craft, where a mistake of even one centimeter could have horrific and permanent implications. 

I think these questions come from twin desires: 1) the desire to feel like we’re not wasting our effort and 2) the desire to believe that we can reduce the odds of failure.

And I get it. Nobody wants to feel stupid or vulnerable or like we deserve the blame for failing. It’s so much easier to look to external conditions, outside advice, expert opinion and say: but I listened, I did the right thing, I did as I was told. 

The problem with this is it’s a false construct. There are no experts. Nobody knows what anybody will want to buy, watch, read or sell. Nobody ever has. Which is why most movies and television shows fail.

So why do so many people claim to know which genres are viable and which are losers? 

Because they want you to feel like you don’t know, like you don’t have an internal compass, like you NEED them. 

But you don’t need them. In fact, what you need to do is shut them out. 

Is it true that certain genres did better at the box office this year? I’m sure it is. Is it true that certain others did worse? Again. Yes.

But ask yourself this: would any of those experts have told you to write The Butler? Or Enough Said? Or even American Hustle? 

No way. 

Somewhere inside you, you know where your storytelling passion is. You know what you have a true point of view on. You know the story that only you can tell in the way only you can.  If you write that one as well as you can, if you are consistent and rigorous and honest with yourself, if you are brutal with the screenplay, get all the bullshit out of it, get all that you know and feel into it…hey, it’s no guarantee of anything but this: that screenplay will give you the absolute best chance you have to make an impact, get noticed, get started. 

I know that’s not the same kind of promise many of the clowns leading seminars at the Radisson will give you.

But it does have the advantage of being the truth. 

Now dig in. 


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