Many, Many Bewildered (and Sad) Breakfast Faces: RIP, Sam Shepard

There will be a general lack of toast in the neighborhood this morning. And by “toast” I mean theater-related joy. And by “the neighborhood,” I mean “American theater.” And by “this morning,” I mean… well, I don’t know how long, but it’ll be longer than a morning.

Actor, playwright, and director Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73.

I first learned about it in a piece in Broadway World, which is worth checking out. You can also read about his life and work in:

Many of us picked up this book yesterday and leafed through it.

I’m not the only one of my generation of theater folk who feel this loss on a personal level. There are many playwrights like Shakespeare or Pinter or Wilson of whom I’ve either read or performed or seen productions of nearly all their works. But Sam Shepard is somewhat different.

Shepard has a distinct, American voice that resonated with so many of us. It was years since I had read or seen all of Kaufman and Hart. It would be years before I would connect with the work of Eugene O’Neill (that’s another tale). Sam Shepard was alive now and pushing his creations out into the world, where we too were training and working to make our marks.

Decades before Neil Gaiman was to tantalize us with his tales of American Gods, Sam Shepard was constructing a uniquely American mythology with plays that were simultaneously gritty and real, yet surreal and absurd. His characters often lived on the edge of society and frequently violated societal norms. There were no gods so much as forces of nature and Fate that his fabulously flawed characters would contend against when they weren’t fighting with one another.

I had many classmates who never looked at me quite the same way after they had seen me play “Mike” in a college production of “A Lie of the Mind.” It’s a disturbing yet incredibly human fairy tale set in a immediately recognizable yet unknowable America. At first, Mike seems like a more sensible character than his parents or brain-damaged sister. By the time he carries half a deer carcass on stage, you realize just how quietly crazy and savage Mike might truly be (and his exit from the play, presumably to start a whole new dysfunctional family cycle, is uncomfortably real). Sam Shepard wrote characters that rich into which actors can dive and explore, with motivations so plausible, audience members can wonder where the character ends and the actor begins (hence my classmates’ apprehension).

And those plays are still with us, thank goodness. If you haven’t checked any of them out (or any recently), do as Craig Mazin advocates: locate a copy of True West and read it out loud. His many parts in films are likewise, thankfully preserved for the ages — and his appearance always bodes well for whatever film in which he appears. Outside of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, is there a better film icon for American manhood than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeager?

(Come on! I can’t be the only guy who watched The Right Stuff repeatedly growing up).

Yeah Harold Pinter had acting turns too, but he subverted the sound barrier with pauses, not breaks. You see, I’ve studied Shakespeare, I’ve enjoyed Pinter, but with Shepard, you had someone to aspire to, with a voice from your tribe. On the one hand it’s silly and illogical and not something to motivate you… but in the best tradition of so many of his characters, by God it did.

He was inspirational as a playwright. He was moving as an actor. As both, he connected story to audience in a way you long to do as an artist.

Is that a man? Damn right it is.

Threat Alert Thursday: Cyber Attacks on Small Businesses

Since mentioning yesterday about creatives needing to put their marketing hat on and be the small businesses they are, it seemed like a good idea to share this article from The Hartford about various types of cyber attacks that can befall small businesses. Our creative endeavors often fall into this realm.

The article also links to a brief guide that, in order to get it, harvests your email (again, a reference to yesterday). It’s not a bad trade off in my mind, but relationship disclosure: I’ve used The Hartford for my general business liability insurance and found them great to work with. Therefore, I’m inclined to pay more attention to their articles and am already on their mailing list.

Russell Nohelty Wants to Help You Sell Your Soul

Last week, I pointed out an article about how to promote one’s film via social media. I like occasionally linking to pieces that are straightforward and give one practical tips for when you have to wear the marketing hat.

Because let’s be honest: I know I’m not the only creative who doesn’t love wearing that hat. Oftentimes, it seems to involve activities which are anything but creative and pushed by people who clearly want their photo as part of the dictionary definition of “unctuous.”

I worked for a while on search engine optimization (SEO) and related concerns in the early naughts as part of my job managing web projects. I decided to abandon getting better at it because of the prevalence of “black hat SEO” activities. In fact, many good practitioners of SEO appeared to be, at best, “Grey Hats” using purposely inscrutable, self-serving jargon to advocate strategies that would be outdated with the next tweak to Google’s search algorithm.

I do not consider myself a marketer.

However, I’m convinced that rejecting the marketing hat completely is going to damage my creative career in the long run. Since all of us have different comfort levels with selling ourselves and our work, I don’t want to be too prescriptive, but admitting you need to wear the marketing hat means several things to me.

It means I might not want to tune out everything a marketer has to say. Lord knows a disproportionate number of marketers talk at me, never asking about what my problems are because they’re so sure of the rehearsed solution they’re speechifying. But there are those marketers that listen and share the fruits of all their listening.

It means I might really want to harvest some emails. Yeah, I used ‘harvest’ on purpose. Does it make you feel like some insidious alien spreading sliminess into an unsuspecting populace? Me too. But the truth is that email marketing can be one of the best ways to engage your audience.

It means I need to Vulcan up and admit that my creative endeavors do constitute a business (assuming I want to make a living from my creative endeavors).

Storyteller Russell Nohelty is a lot less reluctant to wear the marketing hat, perhaps because he’s made the jump from writer to writer and publisher.

He’s created a Facebook group for fellow creatives to compare notes and note triumphs. He also does a podcast called The Business of Art that features some great interviews with creatives who are making it work. Finally, he has a forthcoming book called Sell Your Soul, which distills many of the insights he’s talked about via the Facebook group or the podcast (and, well, making his company a profitable concern).

It was reading the first part of his book (which you can do for free at the link above if you allow him to, yes, harvest your email address), that made me think about writing a post. Because, honestly, he shares a lot of great practical advice and resources — and a heck of a lot of it is free. So if you’re working on comics or writing or other creative endeavors, do yourself a favor and check some of it out.

You might find a marketing hat you’re comfortable wearing.

A Modest, Logical Proposal: “Vulcan Up.”

I’m working on a longer piece regarding Star Trek in advance of its 51st anniversary on the air and the upcoming premiere of Star Trek: Discovery.

And while I was writing, I came up with a phrase that I think is too good not to share. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest it should be spread to hither and yon among all your geek colleagues.

That phase is “Vulcan up” as in, “You’re going to have to Vulcan up and realize the only one responsible for that warp core breach is you.”

Or, you know, the real life equivalent of a warp core breach. Or even just the warp field collapsing. Or things not involving warp fields.

“Vulcan up” easily sidesteps the worst implications of “man up” and fully supports the best implications.

“Man up” has been used for all sorts of things one should do. Moving past the emotion of the moment? Stepping back to take a look at the big picture while stepping up to your responsibilities? Cool.

“Man up” has also been misused for some less than sensible situations. Accepting bullshit projected onto you? Ignoring pain that is in no way gain? Illogical and not cool.

Tuvok is cool, T’Pol is cool, and Spock is surely the coolest of them all. And they are all at their best when they Vulcan up and employ logic to help themselves or others.

So for those of you so inclined to speak geek in your dealings with others, I encourage you to replace “man up” in those dealings with “Vulcan up.” It may get an arched eyebrow here or there, but I think they’ll find it’s reasonable.

Note: based on my experiences studying anthropology, it’s entirely possible that the principle of independent invention is in play. Someone else may have coined this same phrase. For that reason, it would be illogical for me to claim the sole invention… and, in fact, that is not the goal. The goal is that this phrase enter the pop culture sphere for the benefit of all. The needs of the many and all that.

A Writer Writes… and Finishes

Continuing my series of Monday posts about motivation, I wanted to share another favorite post about staying motivated by Terry Rossio from the inestimable resource that is Wordplay. It arguably builds off the tough love/cold water of The Speech two weeks ago. And while I’m going to focus on writers and motivation, I have observed (and been told) that this sort of motivation (and procrastination) is something that all creative folk encounter.

But back to writers. There’s a notion that writers “hate to write, but love having written.” (I’ve heard it most frequently ascribed to Dorothy Parker, but when I tried to validate the reference, I had some problems). Now while I understand this notion, I actually like the process of writing. Sure, it can be difficult at points. Sure, I might encounter a rough scene that I can’t crack for days (or have to abandon and return to). Sure, I’ve had dozens of pages I look back on and decide to throw out. But more often than not, I’m enjoying the actual activity of writing (even on those pages I later throw out).

Still, it’s very easy to procrastinate on writing — and it doesn’t have to be a bad reason. What if my son wants to show off his latest LEGO creation? What if my daughter wants to play that dragon game? Life is for living, not simply observing… otherwise, what are you writing about?

But eventually, you need to be writing. You need to write, not wait.

So that’s why I linked to Terry Rossio’s article about never waiting. And if you didn’t read it at the top of this post: go ahead and read it now.

Makes you reflect, doesn’t it? It explores so many angles: from simply knowing you need to take action to delving into the nuances around the sentiment of “not waiting.”

If you want to explore the whole Wordplay site, you’ll find a host of great articles, some of which I’ll probably link to in the future. “Never Wait” remains one of the evergreen articles for me, because it never stops being relevant.

I waited a week to write this post. Originally, I was going to finish it up and post it on Monday, July 17th. I didn’t because I spent the weekend shooting a film and getting stuff from Ikea. Hey, the film gave me the opportunity to make a film with people I love to work with — and the Ikea trip was fulfilling a home organization goal long planned for.

But I waited to write. I waited to finish writing.

I’ve been tracking how long I write each day for seven years — pretty much ever since I read Cory Doctorow’s article about writing in the age of distraction and wanted to finish some Rogue Tyger scripts.

And it’s worked. I’ve been able to track my progress and know when I’ve been slipping in my daily discipline. But you know one way in which this technique fails? Tracking when I finish a piece of writing.

See, I can get shelving units or play games or do any number of things. But if I’m a writer (or a painter or a filmmaker) and I say I want to write (or paint or make films), then the writing and painting and filming doesn’t matter so much as finishing the writing, the painting, or the films.

This, incidentally, is why my colleague Bill Coughlan loves the 48 Hour Film Project so much: because after a weekend, you have a finished film. And look at all those films! That’s over 13 years of not waiting. It adds up. That’s one of the reasons I loved shooting the film this past weekend: it’s now a finished film.

And that’s what puts that phrase that writers “hate to write, but love having written” in an additional perspective. I love writing, but I hate writing and not being finished. How much work am I doing to not only write, but finish writing?

And this is where it gets tricky. Because getting the shelving units is good for me and my family. Making a film is fun for me (and hopefully others). Playing games with my kids is definitely fun. But when is the writing going to get done?

It usually happens when you decide to not do some of those good and fun things. You have to gamble that good things still happen to those who never wait.

Perhaps that can be a motivation to finish faster.

(Spoiler: Worked for this post.)

Threat Alert Thursday: Bad Check Voiceover Scam

With great Internetting comes great scumbaggery.

Alas, just as email has allowed voiceover artists to connect with producers that much easier, it has allowed scammers to try make the world a worse place.

This article detailing a voiceover scam was written last year, but I understand that these delightful maggots have been hitting the DC area in recent weeks.

Be aware!

(thanks to Steve Ray and Diane Samuelson for alerting peeps in posts elsewhere).

Promoting Your Film on Social Media

Indie producers always need to wear lots of hats — and one of them is often that of marketer. And since we don’t have the funds for a conventional ad buy…

Welcome to social media marketing.

No Film School has a post about promoting your film on social media — and while it has some nice tips and tricks throughout, I especially like the thought given to voice and what the different channels (e.g. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) are good for.

For the producers among us who are also writers, the talk of “voice” can be a character, and the channel or platform can be a genre. And that’s something we can energetically explore.

Another 48 Hours

This weekend, I will be doing my 19th or 20th short film competition. I’m not sure on the number.

I’d like to say “everyone loses count after a dozen or so,” but it might also be because I’ve passed the big two-five (I say this purely to make 30-somethings uncomfortable). If you’re not aware of the 48 Hour Film Project or its sister competition, the Four Points Film Challenge (formerly the National Film Challenge), check out their website.

The films include some of my favorite times directing as well as one of my all-time favorite “day player” appearances (if you see it, yes: I did that makeup). I’ve done just about all the different jobs one could do in cast and crew.

This year, I’ll be working with one of my “home teams” again, Tohubohu Productions. This will be their second 48 this year — they’re kind of addicted.

One of the nicest things about these weekend film competitions is that –good, bad, or ugly– you have a film at the end of 48 hours. So if you need a kick in the pants to get going and make a film: see when it’s coming to your part of the world (it happens on six continents).

Voiceover Update: Ripcoil (VR Game)

Since some of my previous voiceover updates either have no audio online or have audio that has been removed, I figured I’d point to another bit of voice work I’ve done in the past year.

Ripcoil is a game for Oculus Rift. I can’t help but think of Tron — and one reviewer deems it every college freshman’s dream come true.

I got to be the stadium announcer you hear during the matches, which required me to record roughly 147,000 different responses depending on whether the players triumph or fail. Here’s a video review with some game play. You can see the match and hear me at about 1:30 in the video, but he actually responds to one of my quips at 3:10 or so, which I love. It makes me feel like I did my job as a voice artist (NSFW Caution: the reviewer uses some profanity).

Those of you who find the announcer really annoying may be slightly gratified to know that my voice was bit hoarse after the multi-hour session needed to get every variant line laid down. Of course, that was only the case for this Sunday, SUNDAY, S U N D A Y ! ! !

Prepare for Warp Speed. No, Really.

This is the 30th entry in a surprisingly long series of posts about Star Trek’s future and its fandom called Crisis of Infinite Star Treks.

A lot has happened in the months since my last Crisis post, so let’s focus on Discovery.

You mean we should check the orbit?

Fine, Star Trek: Discovery. We now have:

Aja Romano has a nice summary on Vox of what we know, and perhaps should know, about the upcoming series. The article is cautiously optimistic, as am I (and I’m very excited about both Michelle Yeoh and Jason Isaacs as Starfleet captains — they’re usually good in any role in which they’re cast).

Bill Allen on TrekFanProductions.com sums up many of my feelings about encountering new Star Trek TV series. His specific misgivings are different from mine, but they echo my journey through each new iteration of Trek, a journey that has always ended well (maybe not good final episodes, but good endings).

In the end: we have a brand new, official Star Trek series. And as Mr. Allen points out: that’s cause for celebration in Trekdom.

Given my previous installments, I should mention that, yes, Axanar continues (Not like Star Trek Continues, but still…). In case you hadn’t picked up from my last Crisis installment, I don’t have any hopes for us seeing further Axanar: certainly not the feature-length version and probably not the “two 15 minute segments” version. Posturing and acrimony remain should you care to throw yourself into that particular Briar Patch. I keep an eye on things, but at this point, my flying leg kicks on the matter are known.

In the meantime, if you’re itching for Star Trek fan films to tide you over until September 24th, there’s plenty to choose from. (This is assuming you have already re-watched all the canon TV series on Netflix). You can check out some of the latest episodes of the aforementioned Star Trek Continues. In fact, if you go to that same website with the Bill Allen post, you’ll see a whole page of fan film productions you might want to check out.

Fall will be here before you know it. It’s no longer a training cruise, people.

Prepare for warp speed.

P.S. Oh yeah, this Fall, there’s a Star Trek homage/parody from Seth MacFarlane which looks like it could potentially pick up the torch of Galaxy Quest. I’m hoping both shows are good.