Do your movies give people ‘pleasure’ or ‘joy’?

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

I have a feeling this is going to be a long one. Because it’s about my mom. Buckle in, my friends.

And I’m going to be saying ‘pleasure’ a lot. Try to keep your mind out of the gutter, Internet.

I can’t remember the last time I saw my mother enjoying something. I once saw her pop a pickle in to her mouth and she looked ecstatic.

But no, nothing after that. We spent her birthday in hospital in Vellore, Chennai. I tracked down a bakery and found her some awesome chocolate cake. She scolded me for it. And I can’t remember her eating even a little bit.

My mother felt the need to earn pleasure. To reward herself for hard work. For reaching a goal-post.

That’s all good. But the trouble is, those goal-posts are slippery. Like a just-lotioned toddler with no clothes on.

My mother never earned the right to pleasure, though she did a lot with her life.

Oh, but what is pleasure really, if you think about it? Life’s basic necessities with a little extra oomph. Tea and cakes instead of bread and water. A silky pajama with lace trimmings instead of trusty old cotton.

It’s, of course, a matter of taste what is pleasing. But what I’m getting at here is, it’s just a little prettier than what we would normally have.

There were times when my mother would deny herself basic necessities too.

I remember shopping for my impossible-to-please husband with my mom.

Some backstory: Sri Lankan Muslims have this beautiful custom of exchanging gifts when a couple gets married. There’s a couple of baskets of stuff for the bride/groom – usually clothes, toiletries, costume jewelry, the stuff you might give your spouse on an anniversary. And lots of baskets of fruit, chocolate, all kinds of food, for the bride/groom’s family. A flipping humongous cake is also customary.

After the wedding, the food baskets get divided among all the relatives present. It’s finger-licking good.

On this particular occasion, we were shopping for my husband’s baskets. I was sending him picture after picture, trudging into one designer outlet after another, and the dude just wasn’t satisfied.

I remember being pretty pissed at my husband. And my mother was frothing herself up into a panic. I can just imagine the thoughts swirling around in her head. “Oh my God, what are we going to do, child, he doesn’t like anything we choose, what will people think?”

But it was lunch-time and damn it, I wanted to eat. She wanted to keep looking.

Freaking heck, Indiana Jones couldn’t find what this guy wanted. But my poor dear mother wanted to skip a meal to keep trying.

Pleasure? She hadn’t pleased her overlords, so she did not even deserve food. I forced her to sit down and eat. This makes me a spoiled brat.  A food-court Chinese meal.

Tell me this isn’t about colonialism. That this isn’t about misogyny.

Now I’ve followed my mother’s example faithfully.I used to regularly work myself into a nervous breakdown.

BUT. After years of depression, anxiety and, God help me, a little guy who might follow in my footsteps, I want to change all that. I want to experience the delicious things of life. 

And I don’t wait till I hit a goal either. That particular habit, I haven’t shaken yet. My goals aren’t as SMART as I’d like. I’m working on it.

But – yes, another but – I’ve found that cake is nice and all, but it’s even better with company.

Which leads to me to this other concept. JOY.

What is joy to me?

Joy is sacred. Pleasure is the doorway to the sacred.

You can share pleasure with just about anybody. But joy has to be earned.

Joy is the difference between love and lust. Between hunger and satisfaction.

After overdoing pleasure, I’m now looking for joy. In every part of my life.

I’ve recently taken up yoga with this awesome woman’s videos.

I love that yoga practitioners tend to be radically calm. They don’t pour their bodies into punishing sports clothes and then yell and push till we all faint. I’d like to leave a session of exercise marveling at my body, not hating it.

Aerobics has always made me hate my body. Even if and when they speak of ‘modifications’, the underlying idea is that those are for the weak among us.

Adriene tells us to ‘find what feels good.’ My knee-jerk response to that was, ‘What right have I to feel good?’

The thought felt Like an electric shock, like a whip to my back. 

‘Let me punish myself before someone else punishes me. Because I deserve it.’

And joy? Joy was an insult to God. I need to always be humble and humility excludes joy.

I don’t know who taught me all of these lies about worship and God.

Which leads me to storytelling. My stories might be pleasurable, but are they joyous? This is where it might help to let go of structure and just tell a good story. To really dig deep into what makes you unbearable and establish a connection with the audience.

Ultimately the movies we remember didn’t just bring us pleasure, but also joy.

Oh but it’s more than that.

Because as we all know, Death is coming for all for us – and not the adorable Discworld kind either. Most of us have no idea when it’s going to strike. We should find that joy before it’s too late. And walk through as many pleasure doorways as our senses and values and resources will allow.

See. Told you it would be too long and about my mom.

Terry Rossio’s Time Risk in 11.5 minutes instead of 150

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
So I just finished an excruciating page-1 rewrite of Whose Wife Is It Anyway for Zero Draft Thirty.
I thought I’d take a glorious week off. Do some yoga. Meditate. Bake. Paint. Take deep slow nourishing breaths.
HA!
My friend Hudson Philips posted this on the Facebook group for ScriptBlast.
Terry Rossio, writer of Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, wrote an article called ‘Time Risk’ for his excellent site ‘Wordplayer’.
I read. I cried. I read some more. Cried some more. And now I want to get to work.
This article really made my head spin and it hasn’t stopped spinning yet.
I thought I’d do other time-poor writers a solid and write a Cliff Notes version. Feel free to suggest amendments.

What’s the one take-away?

Spend time making films, not trying to get films made.
That is, with the cameras rolling. When cameras are rolling, brands are built and power accumulates.
The assumption here is un-produced work is perhaps a paycheck but does not build a writer’s brand. (I only call it an assumption because I imagine tons of people have different beliefs. I believe this assumption myself.)
Damn. Makes me want to go out and get an Arriflex right now.

What is time risk?

Time risk = time spent on task (divided by) probability of said task resulting in writer brand-building, career stability or worst-case scenario, money (I know, Mr. Rossio has high standards for us.)

What kind of time-risks do other players have, compared to screenwriters? 

Directors

Directors can direct a hit feature and almost certainly be asked to do another, though it may not be something they are nutty about. They can direct a string of hits and become major league players who get to choose what they want to do next e.g. Spielberg, Nolan, Cameron, etc. Rarefied air indeed.
If they direct a flop film, they do land in movie jail.
Note – this is only with regards to features. I don’t think this language of flops and hits exists in the short film world, which are directing samples much like specs.

Actors

Actors are all looking for that big break. A lead on a hit film or TV show can instantly book tons more projects. If even one of these is a hit, it leads to even more.
Their foes:
  1. Time risk at the beginning is enormous: auditions, preparation, classes, etc. But the payoff, as described above is EPIC.
  2. Competition.
  3. Age (mostly for women – it’s a fact, don’t shoot me).
A working actor’s job also has lower time-risk in a few other ways:
  1. Their work usually starts when the camera is rolling i.e. onmaking films.
  2. Their time commitment to a project might be measured in months, not years. I’ve spent four years on Whose Wife alone. Gah.
  3. They can do multiple projects in a year due to this relatively lower time commitment.
Once they hit the big time:
  1. Much like directors, they might not always do work they like. But if they get really big, they get to choose.
  2. They might even charge a reading fee (just to read but not commit to the script). This further mitigates time risk.

Producers

Of all of the monkeys in the circus, I feel the most kinship with this one. With a few differences.
  1. We commit to one, maximum two projects per year. They commit to numbers in the double digits. Hedging their bets.
  2. Most of their work happens after the deal goes through. And they are paid for it. Ours – well, anyone who’s written a spec will know what a beast it is. And we’re only paid after the script is sold or optioned. And sometimes…not even then (wait till you see what I have in store for you.)
  3. They sometimes don’t even read the screenplay. They might have only read coverage.
  4. The writer faces that blank page with an idea and faith in that idea alone. We’re betting on our good judgment. The producer would likely only read the script after it was recommended by a trusted source. Raising the writer above the competition. He likely has more knowledge whether the finished project will work or not in the marketplace. Again elevating the writer. Then and only then does his/her work begin.

Agents:

All I could glean is that it is not the agent’s job to produce. It is their job to manage ‘heat, maximising pay-off when a project or writer generates interest.’ So after a writer does her job and a producer does hers, then the agent steps in and really blows it up. Right? No idea. Yet.
Okay, here we go. Clutch your pearls.

Screenwriters cop the most time-risk. Why?

Most of our work happens before cameras roll. By definition, we really get the short end of the time risk stick.
I tried looking for patterns, but realized that what we all want to know: Is there anything I can do? If so, what?
The only things we can control are our actions. So I divided the time liabilities by what we do to ourselves, what others do to us and things that no one can anticipate.
So here goes.

Things we do to ourselves.

Writing on Spec: Of course we all know what the time risk here. We’re faced with it everyday. The odd thing even pro writers are often asked to write on spec. WTH.
 
Free Revisions: Essentially it’s work for free for people who do not deserve it. Both factors must exist for this to be time risk. Free work. And the people must really not deserve it – bad notes, revisions are only a stalling tactic etc.
 
The Agent Hoop: Agents giving you notes when we are the experts here.
Assignment chasing: Essentially this is a job interview, which is enough to give me the shakes (I was laid off twice, fired once. Thank you, Recession). But it’s much WORSE than a job interview. You have to review materials – think of comic books that have editions stretching back decades. You have to develop a take. That won’t tick off fans but will hit all the right ‘boxes’. It’s enough to drive you potty.
The Free Outline: Unpaid work. Always a time risk
Giving notes: more unpaid work. But this time for friends. It’s awesome and fulfilling to help out friends. But there comes a point, I think, when it becomes a time risk.
There’s an old saying in Hollywood: “Get them into your film before they get you into theirs.”

Things other people do to us.

Death by Sale – a company might buy your script to hedge their bets and do jack with it. If we sell, we put all our eggs in one basket.
“Sell the screenplay, transfer the copyright, the day cameras roll, not before.” – Ram Bergman, producer (Looper, Brick, Don Jon)
Getting fired: Despite the fact that everyone who signs on does so because of the script, the person most likely to get fired for one reason or another…is the screenwriter.
Credit arbitration: The first time I’m thinking about it this way. When multiple writers are used on a screenplay, this naturally leads to credit disputes. The WGA limits the number to four and stratifies them according to who got there first. Not letting the un-credited writers leverage the produced film into their brand. Which is a huge bummer.
Sweepstakes Pitching: Oddly enough I think I was landed with this one recently. I guess I’ve arrived right? Arf.
Sounds like the studio opens it up, knowing that only one can be hired. Another way of hedging their bets. Sometimes there is no assignment a.k.a. The Phantom Assignment. Sometimes they’ve already chosen their writer and are simply mining ideas from the pitches that, if not written down, will show up in the next draft of the project. Sometimes they are leaning towards one writer.
The Rights Hustle: You think they have the rights to something branded, but they don’t.
Hidden Previous Materials Boogie: You think you are the first and the last on a project, but you weren’t (this is sounding a lot like a country music song.) Leading to a messy credit arbitration.
The Vanity Option: A movie star’s pet project (yours) is humored to stroke the ego of ssif star. Nothing ever comes of it. But no one will tell you that.
Parallel Draft Deal: asking one or more writers to write their take on an idea. Sweepstakes writing, rather than pitching.
The Round table: Writing in a round-table. May not be a bad thing, but when it comes to credit arbitration?
Contract delays: Nobody gets paid unless those freaking documents are signed.
Turnaround costs: Projects that die can be sold to other studios. Sometimes the first-buyer studio can charge a thumping sum or are just plain difficult to deal with.
Lawsuits: Apparently successful films are always sued. God.
Whims: Well. You can guess this one.
Gone in 60 seconds: A concept spoken about verbally is stolen.

Circumstance

 
The Boxed In Draft: Your draft is boxed in by the tastes of a high-powered player (director or actor, from what I’ve heard).
Pitching up the ladder: Us first-timers are unlikely to meet people at the top – the one who really makes the decisions. We are likely the people lower down who, if they like it, pitch to their boss. Then they bring us in to pitch to their boss. If they like it, so on and so forth….Lots of potential for rejection.
Note Delays: 
 In Hollywood, it’s well-accepted that projects in production take priority, then films in pre-production, then films in post, and after that, new projects.
That means that we get pushed to the back-burner. This is especially significant if a step must be executed for us to be paid.
Developmental Art: Might work in spades. Might also cost a lot of time and money.
The Competing Project
The Child Killing Gorilla: An executive who takes over from another and murders all their children (figuratively) i.e. their projects.
The Hit Song: We need more than one hit. We can’t be Milli Vanillis.
Option Expiration: Studio options an IP (not buys it). We get called in to write a script. Option expires before script achieves escape velocity (first day of principal photography). Now studio no longer owns IP. You would think that we could sell the script to the next owner. Nope. They can’t even read it for fear of plagiarism suits if they don’t buy it. Lord have mercy.
Learning curve: Man, it takes long enough learning this stuff.

What can screenwriters do about time-risk? 

Answer: spend time making movies, not trying to get films made.

This means becoming a hyphenate, whether we like it or not. Believe me, I don’t like it myself. But those doors slamming shut in my face are starting to ring in my ears. I’m starting to be frightened of my inbox. From those e-mails that start ‘Thank you for your submission!’ <—- notice the guilty exclamation mark.
We all know what they REALLY mean when they say ‘thank you’.

If you have a career:

Start and finish: If you’ve originated a concept – write a book so you own the IP. Insist on being a producer so again you’re attached to the IP.  Or if it’s the tail end of a project, write production rewrites, so you know your work will be filmed. It’s the middle that’s commonly termed ‘development hell’.
Pitch as high up the ladder as possible.
Double-book – train your agent to always be lining up jobs. Given the Hollywood machine – it’s hardly likely you’ll have two jobs at a time.
Prepare for the ‘You’re Dumped’ phone call – The phone call that lets you know that any or all of the above things have happened and your time has just been wasted. The hardest part is the person on the other end will likely be excited that their project is further along.

If you don’t have a career yet:

Make friends with sellers, sell to buyers: The buyers are the ones who greenlight pictures. Everyone else, even in their production company, is trying to get them to do so. So really we’re all in the same boat, just with various levels of access. Until you reach the seller, it’s relationship building, not selling.
Stop-loss: put an expiration date on your project.
Own your IP – write the book or the play instead. Then you own the original IP.
Ask the right questions. 
Spend your time risks – at the beginning of your career, we have time to burn. Use it wisely.
Stack: Work on two projects at a time. Maximise pace and benefit by working on one project with a partner or playing producer and outsourcing a concept to another writer.

General good sense: 

Make a movie, anyway, anyhow. Get your name on that screen however we can. More importantly:
Become a director. I’ll let Mr. Rossio say it himself.
“Either become a director, or form a team with a director. But better to become a director. And not a writer who directs, but a director who happens to write.”
When I asked if we should turn our focus away from screenwriting:
Be the Cohen brothers. Learn to direct as well as write. Concentrate on learning both crafts.
Television – Television is harder to break into but more stable once we get there.
Sequels: If you’re choosing between two ideas and one of them has sequel potential…Ocean’s Eight. Need I say more?
Give upwardly mobile notes: notes can be like a job interview.
Avoid the Money Guy like the plague: This is someone who doesn’t have the money, but claims they do from some rich recluse somewhere. Always boasts about something big they did previously. Always negotiating their cut.
Make incremental progress : one task a day rather than racing towards a deadline (that actually would never work for me. But to each his own.)
Start an animation studio: Because all you need is an idea, some clay, a kitchen table and a camera that takes good stills. Which is probably all cameras these days.
Is your head spinning yet? Mine is.
Once it stops spinning, I’m going to ruminate on next steps. Maybe road-test some things in the next few months. And come up with a modified plan.
Because those ‘thank you’ emails make me want to punch someone.

My 5-step program for dealing with rejection

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

So both of those opportunities I submitted to a couple of weeks ago? They both rejected me.

Not the first time anyone has rejected me, of course. And if I stay in the game, it definitely won’t be my last.

But these submissions were different.

I’ve never felt as good about any of my work as I did about these. I felt they really represented my voice and my abilities. For one of these opportunities,  I thought I was a shoo-in. For the other, I was less confident but I was sure that my submission was very strong.

It really does a number on your self-esteem when you feel good about something for the first time and it still tanks.

For a while, I drowned myself in Prince William’s wedding cake, namely chocolate biscuit cake. Because you know, chocolate. And biscuit (cookies to you Yankees). And cake.

But you know you’re a writer when the rejections are just fuel to the fire. They made me angry. They made me sad. They made me contemplative. They lit a fire in my belly. Ultimately, they made me recommit to my purpose – to be a writer, regardless of who is confronted by my story.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to lick my wounds a little bit. Here’s a really great process I want to record for posterity. Who is currently wriggling on my lap, paying not as much attention as I’d like to his alphabet video.

  1. Comfort

Like I said, chocolate. Or any comfort of your choice. Though overindulgence is perhaps inadvisable. We’re trying to rebuild here, not bog down.

2. Recovery for the writing spirit

I was feeling pretty battered. I didn’t have faith in writing anymore. Or my ability to tell a good idea from a bad one.

My chest felt full, if you know what I mean. So many eddying thoughts. It made sense to provide an outlet for them. So I returned to morning pages. 

I confess I did these religiously for months many years ago. I thought they were a chore.

But at this particular time for a few days, they were heavenly.

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I gave myself permission to moan and groan and regroup and reflect. And say anything I wanted to say without actually saying it loud and letting that morose energy affect my environment or relationships.

It was wonderfully freeing. I don’t do them everyday anymore. But whenever I feel that anxiety again, I whip out a pen and my notebook and just it let it all go.

I’m much older than I was before. It’s taken a lot of time, patience and a commitment to self-care to build that compassionate space for all of my ugliness. I didn’t always have the courage to look at my pain that closely.

What I’m trying to say is – morning pages sound easy. But they aren’t. So don’t worry if this isn’t wonderful first time around.

I hope the next one works for you. Because it still doesn’t for me.

Artist dates

Artist dates are all about getting comfortable with mischief, with messing around rather than mastering a skill. They’re about simply letting go and having fun, rather than doggedly focusing on the anxiety-inducing result. 

I’m pretty terrible at having fun.

I did go looking for inspiration and I did find it. In The Invitation, a movie by a woman of color who just came out of Hollywood jail.

And Stranger Things.

Horror. Sci-fi. Other dimensions. The 80’s. Geeky little boys. Bad-ass girls. Everything I love in one TV show. Sigh.

I also paid more attention to my time with my son. I let him be my teacher. There’s something to be said for letting toddlers lead the way. All he does all day is play and explore. He didn’t ‘learn’ to walk or to talk. He just got there eventually through discovery.

3. Recommitting to my vision as a storyteller

I went all the way back to the beginning. Why did I start writing in the first place?

At first – I mean, REALLY way back, when I was 6 – it was because it was fun. Was it still fun? Yeah, it is.

Then it was because stories inspired me. Stories like 12 Monkeys (which I saw way too young) and Edward Scissorhands. I fell in love with the underdog. I still am in love with them/us.

And then I realized I was the underdog (around 14). But nowhere was I represented, as either hero or villain.

So I set out to change that.

I dabbled with poetry (I was a teenager. They were mostly tear-filled missives to Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. Judge if you want. I sometimes do.)

I dabbled with short stories. I had more fun with these.

But ultimately my heart really sang when I watched movies. There’s a reason why they called them moving pictures.

Do I think there’s a possibility that I may never see myself and people like me represented onscreen? Oh yes. Given that black and LGBT people are only now getting the representation they deserve, that too mostly in the indie space, Muslims? I dunno, dude. Many people have told me just how conservative politically Hollywood is. ‘The greatest lie the devil ever told is that Hollywood is liberal’, a dear friend and actress told me. Will Muslims and their stories ever be welcome there truly? Only time will tell.

4. List my resources.

Okay, so I’ve established that I want to make a movie.

What resources do I have to do so?

  1. A little money.
  2. A little knowledge.
  3. My own family home here in Colombo.
  4. My husband’s family home is available to a lesser degree.
  5. To an even lesser degree and subject to many time and ethical constraints, I may have access to the homes of four or five relatives around Colombo.
  6. And them too to a degree, I suppose.
  7. Friends with money
  8. Friends with expertise.

The further away from me the resource gets, the less access I have to it.

But that’s not all the resources I have. I also have:

  1. Quirks
  2. contradictions
  3. Grief
  4. Fury
  5. Helplessness
  6. Dreams
  7. Nightmares
  8. Ambitions

The biggest resource I have is probably the story. But what story can I write with the resources I have? What story will really get me going?

This leads me to the last and most enjoyable step.

5. Combine and combust my resources till my passion is reignited. 

Working with what I have, I’ve come up with a bunch of one-location feature ideas. I haven’t decided on which one to work on yet. But I know why I want to work on it.

The why is this woman right here.

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I want to speak to my mother again. I want to relive the last days I had with her. Maybe be kinder, more honest, maybe say the things I wish I had said.

I want to see my mother again. As she was. As she could have been. As she is in my eyes. I want to ask her about being a mom. I want to ask her how to she dealt with it. I want to hear her staccato syntax construction again, part Sri Lankan, part ludicrously well-read classical and non-fiction literature fanatic. I want to hear her struggle to access the experience she knows she has. I want to help her find the words to articulate her experience.

I want to laugh when we fail. I want to laugh when we succeed. I want to cry when we disagree. To laugh when we disagree. I want to talk circles around her with my college brat arrogance.

I want to be with my mother again.

Maybe this story is my greatest resource. The outcome is the furthest thing from my mind. Within the story, I can move outside of space and time and be with my dearest friend again.

Do I need anymore encouragement? Not really. Do I need anyone to give me permission to write this story? Nope. No. Never.

Am I excited to write this story? Yes. Always. It would seem that everything I’ve written has been for my mother.

I can’t see beyond that. To optioning and pre-production and blah blah blah. And I don’t want to. I just want to be with my mother for a while.

That’s enough juice for me.

Would love to hear what story you have burning inside you. Figuratively, of course. As I said before – build up, don’t tear down.

Much love,

Sabina.

Submitting = energy

 

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
My mother’s death anniversary is in 17 days. And I’ve chosen to allow my son’s boundless energy inspire me, not tire me out. Notwithstanding bouts of depression and depression, both of which I’ve had in the past few weeks.
So barring the illegal and immoral,  I’ve wanted to take every opportunity I can. I want to love as much as possible, feel as much as possible and help as many people as I can. Do everything I can as long as I have breath left in my body.
So I’ve been playing the ‘Yes Man’ game, submitting to everything big and small.
YesMan2008poster.jpg
The only real failure is not losing money, love, respect or time, but losing faith in God and Him losing patience with me.
I tried not to overthink it. Just follow my gut and write what felt right.
Shockingly I was pretty proud of the results. This is the first time I’ve ever felt good about submission.  Seriously.
I felt GURR-EATTT for a little bit. High as a kite even. But then came the hard part – the waiting.
All kinds of scenarios play in my head.
‘They’re giving it to their neighborhood dogs to tear to pieces.’
‘They’re using it as diapers.’
‘They’re passing it around laughing at it.’
‘My face is on a billboard under a sign that says FOOL GIRL.’ (I love exaggerating)
 But since I don’t know which is going to happen, in my head, I give myself a standing ovation for trying. I am really proud of myself and what I’ve submitted, regardless of what the submittee thinks.
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I have a bad feeling these people don’t have chairs.
Heck, what else am I going to do?
Onto the next thing.

Art is wish-fulfillment

beauty_and_the_beast_beginning

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

For about the septillionth time this year, I find myself wondering why in the feck I’m writing screenplays. Short of papier-mache sculpture and nudist interpretative dance, I think it might just be about the hardest art-form to gain any kind of material success in. In fact, I think those two art-forms might be far more accepting of the under-represented.

My current project is a rom-com called Whose Wife Is It Anyway. It’s tortured, it’s romantic and hopefully it’s funny.

That’s my sales pitch to you.

But to me – I get to say goodbye to my mother. The way I wish I could have. I get to re-imagine a few acrimonious conversations as sensitive, peaceful, healing conversations. I get to have a few more funny, loving conversations with arguably the funniest woman I’ve ever met. I get to hear her voice again if only in my imagination.

And dear owner of eyeballs, you have no idea how long and how badly I have wanted to hear my mother’s high-pitched hectoring again.

A project I want to work on next year takes place all in one location, namely my family’s home here in Colombo.

I don’t have a sales pitch for you yet -sorry.

But for me – I get to be there as my mother dies. And I get to imagine her as a super-hero. No, more than that. A legend.

Even if it sucked donkey testicles in real life, on the page at least, I want to say goodbye to my mother the way I wish I could have.

As most Game of Thrones fans have, I’ve also been pondering the poor sodding fate of poor sodding Elia Martell. In love with a good-for-nothing foppy hair-brained prince. Nearly killed by childbirth. Twice. Abandoned by aforementioned blonde fop. And then raped by the Mountain. And killed. Brutally. But not before her children are murdered in front of her. Including her baby son.

If we stop to think about it, this is probably happening in the real world a whole heck of a lot. In fact, it might even be happening right now. In Palestine? In Syria? In some ISIS-controlled hell-hole where there are no reporters because no one in the outside world cares?

I invite you to simmer in that fetid reality for a moment.

Now. Why in the feck did GGRM enshrine it in fiction? Who’s fecking wish was he fulfilling?

Every pregnant woman in the series either dies a gruesome death or has the ones she love die in cruel and unusual ways. Robb Stark’s wife got off pretty easy actually. Daenarys and Elia Martell – I mean, seriously, GGRM?

Which leads to wonder why the male species would be so cut up about Ghostbusters. They aren’t real.

The rape and murder of women and children in times of war – that ish is far too real.

Whose wish are we fulfilling with our art? It’s worth contemplating. It’s worth questioning. It’s worth saying no to the beast when he asks us to make our darkest fantasies true on screen.

It’s Ramadan.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

It’s Ramadan.

I’m not sure what to say or think as I am more unmoored than ever. Quite literally this time.

We went on holiday back to Sri Lanka mid-April, hoping to return to the US mid-May. In time to prepare for an American Ramadan. But instead, due to visa issues I won’t go into here (because it’s boring and perhaps sensitive), we’re here in Colombo still.

Why do I feel like I’m on a desert island?

I have a nanny for Isa. And since we’re living at my in-laws’ place, they have a maid to help with cooking too. So essentially, I am duty-free.

What a privilege, what an honor, what a blessing. Man. I pray every day for these beautiful women for giving me a rest.

See? Unmoored. No longer full-time mom, only mom when I feel like it. LOL. No longer stay-at-home because we’re not at home. In fact, we’ve broken the lease on our beautiful apartment in Denver and it’s being cleared out as we speak.

No, all I have to do this Ramadan is be as Muslim as I can. Harder than I thought it would be.

You see, Ramadan has often been about facing our physical demons. Tiredness for me, hunger for my husband. Even before I was a mom, I was more tired than anything else. Now I’m face-to-face with the real demons. Anger. Judgement. Self-hate. Laziness. Fear. Lack of trust in God. Guilt for shirking what I consider my ‘duty’ – cooking and taking care of Isa. And plain old meanness.

With all other things quietened down to a large extent, I’m free to hear the voices in my head. And oh, they are some real cows. I can’t believe how unkind I can be to myself. And consequently to others. Or just plain oblivious to the suffering of others, including my son.

I’m trying to be kinder. And more loving. And more trusting of God. But it isn’t easy.

The point of Ramadan for me, I’ve found (please don’t quote me on this, just a writer, not a scholar), is to figure out who I am in the face of adversity. I’ve figured out that I want to love people as much as I can. And be kind as much as I can. But that however starts with me. If I can’t be kind to myself and acknowledge my pain, how can I be kind to others?

The first week of Ramadan was the first time I had no nanny for Isa since we came here. Child started shirking bedtime, going to bed sometimes at 10:00 pm or later. He’s also a toddler now, so keeping up with him is challenging. And he’s gotten a little clingy as well. So that means carrying his 20-pound little body a whole lot. A little difficult on a fasting body.

Very difficult.

I found myself getting grumpy and unloving with my little monkey. I would ask my husband my husband for help and would often get it. But anger and anxiety killed any gratitude and real rest I got.

Poor little bug.

Before things got really bad, another nanny appeared, due to stay till the end of Ramadan. I don’t know how things would have turned out if I hadn’t gotten a nanny. Chances are, he and I would have found some sort of rhythm. But I wonder if the damage to both of us would have been too far gone before that.

I wonder if I would have gotten resentful and morose and despairing and anxious. And hopeless and depressed and suicidal. I’m very ashamed to say, it wouldn’t have been the first time.

I’m going to try to be kind. To learn about God and to trust him. To read and to love His word. To forgive myself and forgive others. To do the best I can and work my very hardest at being kind, generous and loving with whatever resources I have that day. Be it a lot or a little. That’s who I want to be in the face of adversity. That’s even why I write.

It’s the best I can do. And then some probably.

Ramadan Kareem!

 

 

 

 

 

9 ways motherhood has helped my screenwriting. And vice versa

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem
A screenwriting friend and Story Broad recently shared this article that seemed to insinuate that creativity and motherhood were mutually exclusive. Until the very last paragraph.
Where one writer-mother said that mothering taught her how to ‘shape chaos’. Mic drop.
I want to expand a little on that sentiment. How has mothering helped my screenwriting and vice versa?
  1. When my son naps, I go straight to my current project. I no longer waste time. No Facebook-ing, tweeting or other nonsense. When he is awake, I am his. When he is asleep, I am mine. 
  2. I’ve realized I just can’t afford to waste time easing into it. I used to spend 30 minutes or more doing improv exercises, free writing, morning pages, etc., trying to warm up my brain. None of them worked. I’ve realized that my brain is warm, well, because, thank God, I’m alive. Which is good because I can’t ease into mothering either. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
  3. I pay more attention to EVERYTHING. Whether I’m exhausted or my son is saying his first word while I’m looking at my phone, I’ve learned to be in the moment, however uncomfortable it might be.
  4. I don’t waste time on anything that isn’t beneficial. That’s why I switched from straight comedy to romantic comedy. I’ve been in love ever since. With being a mom, I’ve learned the glorious power of No. If something isn’t good for my family, sorry, not sorry.
  5. I know when to fold. I know when to ask for help. I don’t work to myself to exhaustion.
  6. I’m open to play.
  7. I’m open to surprise.
  8. I have no choice but to roll with the punches. I keep the faith, keep a sense of humor and survive. Everything ends and everything changes if I just give it enough time.
  9. I’m no longer waiting on baited breath for the outcome. I try and enjoy the act of writing itself and try not to care too much about winning contests, agents, managers etc. None of those things are assured in any way, shape or form. So I might as well just love writing. Similarly with being a mom, I try to enjoy my little boy’s company. Not be forever thinking of the next thing to check off the to-do list or to constantly be thinking of how I can turn anything into a teaching moment. Fact is, whether his dad and I are ‘teaching’ or not, the child is certainly watching and learning. And I have no control over what choices he makes as an adult. Only what role models he grows up with.
It’s no secret now that the film industry is misogynistic but what that also means is that it is anti-children and child-raising. Since women are still expected to do most if not all of the child-rearing, children are probably not welcome anywhere near a film set.
A crying shame, if you ask me. Nothing was more inspiring to me growing up than seeing my mom be a total boss at work.
Oh well.

God help you, I’ve written another poem.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

Was feeling particularly joyful today, so I went for it. It might be because there’s talk of a snow storm tomorrow and I’m flying out of Denver to New York during said snow storm. With a baby. His first time on a flight. Joy. I hope he loves travel as much as I do (eventually).

Maybe it’s because hubby and I have bought gifts for practically everyone in Sri Lanka and I’m feeling a little slap-happy.

Maybe it’s because there’s so many variables in the coming experience (plane, baby, 24 hours of flying) that I have no choice but to let go. Maybe I’ve finally found my Zen.

Or maybe I’m just tired. Choose your own adventure.

Truth is, the scene description on my new spec is kicking my backside. So I’m trying to get back in touch with brevity and capturing an emotion or an image in a few VERY well-chosen words.

Screenplays, I think, should be like poetry. A moment in time crystallized for posterity. But because they are longer and more commercial, they are more complicated. Oh well.

Here it is.

I love being human

I can’t add much to what’s already been said.
But I’m going to try.
I love being human
I love the slack muscles and the slack jaws.
And the wide eyes and the awe
I love my split ends and hang nails.
I love the stubborn stubble on my legs and how I hate kale.
I love the naughty bits and the misshapen butt and the reaching-the-floor bits and I don’t care who knows it!
I love poop.
Yeah. I said it.
Poop.
Wiping poop off my son’s butt is a freaking miracle.
I’m told I should lust for God.
But I find God in my lusts
For macaroons and laughter.
For aliens and rabbit holes and electric storms and failure
I love that I’m too big to be contained by department store threads.
There is something beautiful in everything.
And no, this isn’t a paradise.
If I don’t find clothes that fit me, I’d be naked. And cold.
I didn’t find Bermuda without jet lag.
I didn’t find the love of my life without heartbreak
I didn’t find God without being human.
I love being human. I love looking for God. I love finding Him where I least expect it.
And I don’t care who knows it.

 

10 Great Qualities of Film – Part 3

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem.

Hello!

All of this is still true. And still enormously frustrating. In the face of waves of rubbish from English-speaking film, I want to hold firm to the mast of my principles i.e. the things I really love. I won’t be afraid to not like something and I won’t be afraid to fall head over heels in love with something. And I won’t be afraid to have my hopes dashed against the rocks either.

(But, thank God, I freaking loved Star Wars.)

Anyway, here goes with the last two in the series (Part 1 and Part 2 here)

9. Women/POC/under-represented people winning. Stories with these people which are not just about them being under-represented.

I HATE HATE HATE movies which make the conflict in the movie all about someone’s gender/culture/disabilty etc. As if the only story worth telling is how their depressing, awful, lack of privilege is making their lives depressing and awful. And often how they ‘rise above’ their depressing awful lack of privilege to become more acceptable to the privileged, one way or another.

Those things are true. It kinda blows not being a white able-bodied straight dude.

But heck, we have trouble finding parking too. We have days where everything goes wrong. Where our kids or spouse or co-workers or parents drive us crazy. Those conflicts have nothing to do with our identity categories. Couldn’t we also perhaps be caught unwittingly at the center of a zombie apocalypse? Alien invasion? Earthquake? A hostage situation? (To be fair, I can think of a few action movies that have represented women and people of color a little better. Salt springs to mind. And Jack Reacher.). A parental conflict? A black-magic ritual gone hysterically wrong? You know – life?

Romantic comedies make me want to weep (not in a good way). It’s all beautiful white people in sun-kissed environments falling in love. POCs fall in love too. And sometimes – really! – the people they are in love with aren’t too concerned with their background at all.

Now I’m sure this has shut down the brains of a lot of romantic comedy writers out there now. What? An Indian woman could marry a non-Indian man and not have to contend with culture?

There are other obstacles to true love. Drug abuse? Political rivalry? Bad weather? It’s called creativity. It’s worth exercising.

No, really. My kingdom to see a Muslim woman fall in love with someone who really is not intimidated by her faith. And I’m pretty…oh, I don’t know…hardcore I guess, but honestly, I wouldn’t care too much if their relationship was ‘Sharia-compliant’ (my Muslim peeps know what I’m talking about). Just Muslims being humans. The way I know them to be. Not refugees, terrorists or accomplices or victims thereof. Gah.

No, there are no examples of this because there aren’t any that I know of that don’t come from Bollywood, Korea, etc.

10. Dueling philosophies.
These kinds of movies positively cook with tension and are amazing fun to watch.

I’ve yet to see a better example of this than Skyfall. The dueling philosophies in Skyfall are the old (M, Bond and the M15’s ways in general) against the new (Silva and his tech-as-terrorism tactics).

One of my favorite bits of set dressing that reflect this – this bit of dialogue occurs when Q first meets Bond:

Q: It always makes me feel a bit melancholy. Grand old war ship. being ignominiously hauled away to scrap… The inevitability of time, don’t you think? What do you see?
James Bond: A bloody big ship.

Q sees the end of something great. James Bond sees something much more blunt, much less beautiful, still pretty awesome.

And at the end of the movie, when Bond meets the new M – Ralph Fiennes’ character, Gareth Mallory – they have their first conversation in front of a painting of another bloody big ship, this one sailing into the horizon.

In other words – ‘screw the inevitability of time’.

I just loved it.

When every filmic choice made speaks to this one theme, the film coheres in an immensely satisfying way.

For the record, there are very few movies that I would watch over and over again that are NOT comedies. Of the straight-up action movies, there are only 3: World War Z (for reasons mentioned in earlier posts),  Jack Reacher (for a great character) and Skyfall.

It’s been more than a year since I did this blog post. And yet again my thoughts on the matter have changed.

You see, just a couple of months ago, I realized I want to write romantic comedies. Heaven knows why it didn’t occur to me before. I’m a hopeless romantic and I love making people laugh. I guess I was just confused by my affection for fantasy, sci-fi and the perversely funny.

I think this list still holds true generally, but I’m going to work on a different list for romantic comedy. Gives me an excuse to geek out and watch as many rom-coms as humanly possible.

So there’s that. Cheerio, darlings.

What I said before – all nonsense.

Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem

I’m so full of feces.

I’m trying to distill life and death and guilt into bolded bullet points for your easy digestion.

When I’m fighting everyday at this keyboard trying to write something that feels honest. That cannot be contained by a three-act structure.

(That maybe does happen in three acts for clarity’s sake, but alludes to something bigger. Also because tying my brain in knots isn’t my idea of fun. And I want to make people laugh. And that means making sense. This is a long parenthetical.)

When my mom died, I learned that I don’t know how to grieve.

For a long time, I wondered if my father was right. If I was selfish. Whether I even loved anything or anyone enough to grieve if it left me. Other than stand-up, improv and my personal freedom. Grieving all of that sounds even more selfish.

But then Mama died and my life went on as if nothing had changed. As if I hadn’t lost a limb.

I’m not going to sit here and tell you how to grieve. Everything I said before was utter nonsense. Well, I do all of those things but only to survive the day. But I have a feeling that most of us want to do more than just survive.

Muslims aren’t really clear about grieving either. Sure,  there’s the washing and wrapping of the body, the Janazah (the funeral prayer), etc. But being in America and my mother being buried in Sri Lanka, I could not partake in that ritual.

Leaving no clean break in my life between ‘with Mama’ and ‘without Mama’.

The best I could get from YouTube is don’t wear make-up or colorful clothes. Well, in that case, I’m grieving most of the time. Or my wardrobe is, anyway. Surely grief is more than sartorial choices?

So I’ve decided to drown myself in other people’s grief. After finishing #ZD30Script (in which I hammered out a holey outline) – I thought I’d treat myself by binging on House of Cards AND Breaking Bad.

But I figure they’ll wait.

I scrolled down my Netflix queue looking for a face of color.
I found perhaps 12 movies in hundreds.
Weak. But okay. Gotta start somewhere. And checking my privilege is a good way to start.

Fruitvale Station

Cried for a young man about my age, snuffed out before he could prove that he could be a father.

The Butler

My struggle with my father was much the same. Less nation-spanning perhaps. But just as earth-shaking. Still haven’t reached that emotionally satisfying resolution yet, though we are on speaking terms.

Decided to watch The Station Agent – a little person is underprivileged too. Though unlike the POCs in other movies, does his happiness come at so steep a price?

Well, I guess everyone’s happiness comes at a price. Uncertainty.

One of those quiet indie movies with quiet change happening over many quiet moments. The humor is pretty quiet too. The only two jokes in the movie are in the trailer.

My life has never been that quiet. It’s always been loud, messy, chaotic, out of control. Even if I wanted to be a hermit, no one would leave me alone. No one leaves me alone long enough to complete a writing sprint. It’s a struggle to quiet the voices in my head.

And of course, sex. Changes. Everything.

And alcohol.

And things change all in a rush – that part is true to my life. And suddenly we’ve found our place in the world and all that madness was worth it.

I liked that movie. I’d like to see a movie like that about people of color.

There’s a grief here I can’t explain. Would movies have saved my mother? Would movies have kept me from post-partum depression?

Movies can’t even seem to tell my story.

There’s a discord here that I really can’t shake.
I wonder if movies have ever told my mother’s story. If they will ever tell my story. If I will always be forced to find myself where I’m not, where I might not even be welcome.
Will my son face that discord too? Will he be in the world, but not really acknowledged by it? Will he care all that much? I didn’t have much else to do other than movies, books and TV growing up.
Perhaps this is yet another thing I need to do differently as a parent. Give my son something else to do.
Fact is, the world may or may not change. I can try and try, but it’s not me that holds the keys. This right here is grief.
I tried most of my life to understand my mother, to be friends with my mother, even best friends. But for a number of years, my efforts were decidedly less than futile. Even counter-productive. And by the time those years were over, ALS had taken her voice. And now, it’s taken all of her. And I can try no more. Though still I try. With my forehead on my prayer mat, I scream in my head to see her again. If it works, I’ll let you know.
I can try and try, but really there has never been any guarantee that things will change for the better.
Not for me. Not for my kids. Not for my mother.
This is grief.
Maybe this is why I’ve believed in God from such a young age. Something has to be stable to keep me sane. Something has to make sense. And someone, and yes, I do believe it’s Him (God has no gender really) has to reward the effort, no matter what the outcome. Nobody and nothing else does on the planet.
This is grief.
This is suffering. I know I’m not the only one.
May I be patient with myself. May I know right from wrong, even when no one encourages me to do the right thing. May I reach out to others who are grieving. May I keep hoping and keep trying. May God reward all our efforts, whatever the outcome. Ameen.