Sunday, April 25, 2010

Without a Doubt

I can’t believe it happened again. But it did.

Our story begins 18 months ago, when I had an idea for a new spec script. The concept felt fresh and timely. Plus, it was a tent pole movie. A big flashy $200,000,000 action-adventure flick based on an obscure folk tale. A quick check on IMDB revealed that nobody had come near the source material in over twenty years. I quickly knocked out a treatment! My version was a total reinvention. I loved it. This idea would reinvigorate my writing career and put me in the big leagues.

Then, I showed my treatment to my manager and a producer friend of mine. Neither of them exactly gushed with enthusiasm. They seemed to see a number of problems with the basic concept of the film and felt the timing was bad for the source material. Although in my heart, I disagreed with their assessment, my enthusiasm began to wither. The treatment was quietly sent back to my “drafts” file to molder away with a few other aging ideas. I moved on, in search of another blockbuster; something more in line with what the “market” was seeking.

Then finally last week, I made a decision. I would dig that treatment out and write it! It was a great idea, Goddamn it! I knew it in my gut. This would be my new spec for 2010! With great bravado I announced my intention to write it to a producer-friend of mine, who informed me that I was a little late. An identical idea based on the same source material had just been sold with some major players attached. It had just been announced in the trades.

I wanted to shoot myself in the head.

The streets of Hollywood are littered with clumps of hair that writers like myself have ripped from our own scalps when we discover that our brilliant idea -- the one we've been mulling over for the last two years -- has been yanked out from under us by some other schmuck who got there first.

We all want to think we’re the talented ones. We’re the ones with our finger on the pulse. We’re the innovators, the mavericks, the trendsetters. It stings when the wet towel of reality slaps us in the face and we’re rudely reminded that there are a great many smart, ambitious people out there who are also plugged into the entertainment zeitgeist.

Goddamn it.

Sadly, this is a lesson that I seem to be destined to learn over and over again. I’ve often allowed a small doubt (especially if expressed by someone else) to blossom into a roadblock. Even more sadly, I have no one to blame but myself. Entertainment is a risky business. Representatives and business associates, when asked for their opinions, tend to err on the side of caution. I get it. Nobody wants to be blamed for having steered a friend or client in the wrong direction, causing them to waste a ton of time on an idea that might never sell. For many of us, all we need is the slightest shadow of a doubt and - bang! - we abandon our idea and go searching for something more commercial, more perfect, more safe.

What is so infuriating about these situations is that we should all know better. The most successful projects I’ve worked on were all born out of an impulse; a flash of brilliance that seemed to come out of nowhere. Each of these projects seemed to instantly possess it's own vivid, truth-filled life. All that was needed was someone to commit it paper. Almost without exception, when I listened to that impulse – and ACTED on it -- the project seemed to do itself.

If you are in possession of what you think is a great idea, I have a piece of advice for you: Don’t talk about it. Instead, treat it like a new toy. Take it out of the box and start playing with it right away. Squeeze it. Bounce it against the wall a couple of times. If it breaks, it wasn’t such a great idea after all. But if it continues to keep you engaged and entertained; if it gets bigger; more vivid; more full of possibilities, you might be onto something.

And why do I advise you to not talk about it? Because unfortunately, being creative means living in a perpetual state of insecurity. We are all a little scared of taking responsibility for our talent. We all want some reassurance that we’re clever and deserving of success. Talking about your ideas to your friends can actually create that warm, fuzzy feeling. Having your buddies serenade you with a few choruses of “Wow! That’s a great idea!” will satisfy your ego and your ego could care less if you ever write that script.

Mark my words, friends. Praise for an idea is nothing but a hand job. It’s nice, but there are better things out there.

If you truly think your idea is good, make it better. Then, make it great. Just do it.

Being ballsy is a gift. Most of the true innovators in this business possess an extraordinary ability to say “yes” to their own ideas when those “in the know” are busy saying “that'll never work.” Do the names Tarantino and Cameron ring a bell? The good news is that being ballsy can be learned. Not to get too spiritual about this, but having talent means that for reasons no one fully understands, you are connected to an ever flowing stream of ideas. They are not just “product” for the studio. They are your reason for doing this with your life. Treat your ideas like your offspring. Conceive them. Grow them. Deliver them into the world.

In case you’re wondering why I’m delivering this little pep talk, it’s because apparently (based on recent events) I need to hear it myself. Over and over. As many times as it takes until I learn to stop farting around and start saying “yes.”

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Shameless self-promotion:
http://daviddeanbottrell.blogspot.com/2010/04/thank-you-los-angeles-times.html

"STREEP TEASE" has been extended through May 22nd.
TICKETS: http://www.bangstudio.com/streep-tease

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Forgiveness, Folding Chairs and Ms. Goldberg

Recently, something happened in my show business career that truly pissed me off. For reasons that will soon become apparent, I’m going to stay vague on the details.

Basically, it wasn’t so much what went down, but how it was handled. Happily, there were a couple of other disgruntled parties involved, so soon the emails and texts were flying around like mad. A few backs got stabbed. A couple of characters were assassinated. And lots of pointless, upsetting drama was created. In the end, it all worked out reasonably well and everyone involved consoled themselves by saying those magic words, “It’s just business.”

Show business has never felt much like “business” to me. No matter where you are in the pecking order, from powerful executive to “background extra,” show folk tend to take things very personally. I guess that’s because here in Hollywood, Monday’s powerful executive is only one flop away from being Tuesday’s has-been -- while Wednesday’s background actor can quickly become Friday’s mega-star. In the entertainment industry, such things actually happen, so when shit goes down, we can get a little tense; sometimes causing us to say and do things we later regret.

I wish I could tell you that I, David Dean Bottrell, have always stayed blissfully above the fray, but that would be a big fat lie. A couple of times, in the heat of battle, I’ve behaved like less than a gentleman and in hindsight, there are a few moments in time I wish I could take back.

Like for instance that time I was trapped in a very unhappy collaboration with another writer who I thought was my friend. We were both young – well, we weren’t that young -- but we were inexperienced and our script was getting some heat. Unfortunately when that heat turned into a boil, we ceased to agree on anything and our friendship got scalded to death in the process. Things got ugly and the whole thing culminated with me leaving a long, horrible, expletive-filled message on my collaborator’s voicemail. It felt fantastic at the moment I was doing it. Not so fantastic ten minutes later.

So why did I act like such a butt-hole? Because no matter how much we try to laugh and be philosophical about it, you can only take so many hits in this business before you start to crack a little. Catching a break isn’t easy and when you start to think somebody is fucking with your break, screwing with your carefully-crafted work or in general, derailing a career you’ve starved and bled for, it can easily bring out the “kill or be killed” instinct.

Over time, I’ve gotten pretty good at cleaning up my messes and making amends where needed. Bad moments, if not properly jettisoned, can turn into a part of our history. That phone message still haunts me, mostly because what came out of my mouth that day was deeply personal, really hateful and totally uncalled for. In my defense, the other party involved was not exactly on their best behavior at the time and had for 18 months forced me into an untenable position and then blamed me for everything that had gone wrong as a result. Although, I later appologized face-to-face for my outburst, I was not forgiven. And that made me even madder. The importance of letting go of past grievances arrived for me one day in a very unexpected way.

A movie I had written was in pre-production and I had been invited to a meeting with the director, the producer and star of the film. The star was Whoopi Goldberg; an actor I’d always admired. I'd never had a meeting with a star before and was more than a little nervous about it. When I located the old production building where the meeting was to be held and climbed the dusty metal stairs to the assigned room, I found Ms. Goldberg patiently waiting by herself in the hallway. Apparently, both the director and the producer had been delayed and the room was locked.

I apologized profusely (even thought it wasn’t my fault) and managed to flag down one of those guys with keys on their belt to open the room. Once inside, I discovered it was completely empty except for a stack of folding tables and chairs shoved against the far wall. Again, I apologized to Ms. Goldberg and assured her that if she would just give me a minute, I would set up the room for our meeting. Surprisingly, she offered to help me. “What else am I doing?” she said with a shrug.

Soon, I found myself on my knees beside Whoopi Goldberg; both of us unfolding table legs as if we were doing some low-paying catering job. Gradually, our conversation drifted to the script and she asked me why I had written it. I told her the truth which was that the story was loosely based on my family’s history and my goal had been to write about the subject of forgiveness. As we settled, slightly winded, into our chairs, she nodded, saying that this was exactly what had attracted her to the script. “Until you forgive,” she said slowly, “You’re not really free.” I was stunned by the simplicity and accuracy of the statement. Suddenly, in my eyes, not only was Whoopi Goldberg a fabulous actress, she was also a Saint.

Once we got into production, I would learn that Whoopi was not a saint. She was a human being who had mostly good days, followed by an occasional bad one. But even then, I saw her move through the rough patches with professionalism and no small amount of grace. Grudges were not her style. She practiced what she preached.

In a business where we are constantly tested and forced to compete for even the crappiest of jobs, it’s hard not to harbor some resentments. It’s tough to let go of what was planned (even if it was only planned in our imaginations). Blame is a sloppy thing to fling around. It can often splash back on ourselves; filling us with sharp regrets about some decision we made or project that never came to be. Ms. Goldberg was right in recognizing how simple the equation is. Forgiveness for the lost job, the bad boss, the “not-so-talented-but-more-successful” peer and most importantly -- forgiveness for ourselves is the key to achieving any kind of real success; personal or professional. If you can lay down the stone, you’re hands (and heart) are at last free to create. Amen.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

Bio:
David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/

Twitter:

http://twitter.com/QuitcherBitchyn

Shameless Self-Promotion: http://daviddeanbottrell.blogspot.com/2010/04/thank-you-los-angeles-times.html

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sweet Charity

There have been a lot of news stories lately about celebrities showing up to raise awareness and funds for some of the areas of the world that have been ravaged by natural disasters. Most major diseases and political causes can usually count on a celebrity or two to fill the seats at a $1,000 a plate dinner. But what about smaller charities? Where do they turn when they need a name to put on the poster? They turn to people like me.

Let's make something clear right up front. I’m not a celebrity. I have no delusions about that. I’m just a guy who was on a TV show for a short while. According to IMDB.COM (a website that tracks how many hits a particular celebrity gets on a weekly basis), my “Star Meter” rating is 31,129 – meaning that there are at least 31,128 people more famous than me. Considering how many names there are in the data base, that ain’t bad. But I’m a long way from having my name above any titles.

Most of the charity events I’ve attended as a “name” have been small affairs. We’re talking “street fair” kind of events usually with paper name tags. Some have been nicer, in that there was an actual roof over our heads and the dinner was served on real plates. They’re usually fun and I don't think I've ever said no when asked.

A few years ago, I was invited to be the grand marshal of the Seattle Gay Pride parade and help raise some funds for a couple of Gay charities. I’d never been to Seattle, so I was excited. That is until I arrived and discovered that I had actually been invited to be "the guest of honor" at the Seattle Pride “March” which was a whole other deal.

The “March” was a much smaller, competing event that had sprung up because of a rift among Seattle’s Gay community involving the course of the parade route. Instead of sitting on a float or perched on the back seat of a convertible, I would instead be riding a segway through the Capital Hill section of town, followed by a half a dozen drag queens (also on segways).

Five minutes before show time, each of us received a quick tutorial on how to operate one of these wacky devices. We were strongly advised to stay far from the crowds lining the street in order to avoid any unfortunate accidents involving bystanders. Although I managed to hover toward the middle of the street, my royal court began to get cocky after the first block or so and started riding backwards and doing figure-eights, much to the delight of the crowd. Everybody loved it, but as my mother used to say, “It’s all fun and games until somebody gets hurt.” Let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed a 3-drag queen pile-up.

Last summer, my friend Pauley Perrette (a gal who does way more than her share of charity events) called me up and asked if I would be her co-host at a Sunday afternoon fundraising event for an organization that offered “Equestrian therapy” for disabled kids. The event was deep in the valley and I was sure Pauley mostly wanted some company for the drive up and back. I was happy to tag along.

The fundraiser was held on a large patio of a local restaurant that I would later learn had been a popular hangout for the Hell’s Angels in the 70's. Neither of us knew until we arrived that the event was scheduled to run for five hours. Every hour on the hour, our job was to mount the stage, where an Eagles cover band was playing, and auction off stuff for the cause. After the first couple of beers, we got pretty good at it. In fact, when we ran out of stuff, we starting pulling things out of Pauley’s slightly messy car, which she would then sign; magically turning an old T-shirt or a coffee-stained "NCIS" script into a valuable prize!

In between sets, we mingled with the crowd. Everybody treated us like visiting royalty. Well, they treated Pauley like royalty – which was no surprise given how popular her show is. Plus it wasn’t really a “Boston Legal” crowd. There were lots of families and quite a few children with disabilities. Then they showed the video of these young people learning to ride horses at the equestrian therapy stables. To see these kids experience such freedom and joy on the back of a horse was tremendously moving. Pauley and I stayed to the bitter end and sold everything that wasn’t nailed down.

On the ride home, we talked about how grateful we are for the lives we’ve been granted. Not only do we get to entertain people for a living, but we are the beneficiaries of this great storehouse of unearned affection and loyalty. This allows us to ask our “fans” (AKA people we don’t even know) to come out for an afternoon, enjoy themselves and contribute to the lives of others less fortunate. I’m not a guy who has a lot of spare cash lying around, but I've learned something in the last few years. Although I can’t print money, I can actually make time. And time can mean quite a lot to the lives of other people. As long as I’ve got it, I’m happy to share it.

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at
www.partsandlabor.tv

Follow me on Twitter:
http://twitter.com/QuitcherBitchyn

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Shameless!

When I was a young actor I was pretty damned determined to “make it.” To me this meant I had no choice but to nag the hell out of any and all potential employers. Every time I booked a job, I made sure every living person in show business knew about it. I mailed zillions of flyers, photocopied reviews and used a yellow highlighter to make sure that any favorable mentions I got were easy to spot!

Between acting gigs, I had an ongoing gig managing a hectic Manhattan real estate office. This was the 80’s when the property market in New York was exploding, so the atmosphere in that place was utterly insane. This made it quite easy for me to steal prodigious amounts of office supplies. I'll no doubt rot in Hell someday for all the envelopes, paper and postage I crammed into my backpack every week. Somehow, I managed to rationalize my thievery by telling myself I was “allowing” these money-crazed brokers to make an inadvertent “donation to the arts.”

In the privacy of my studio apartment, I was a one-man P.R. factory, constantly reminding every agent, casting person and artistic director on the east coast that I was the new voice of the American Theatre and that they should hire me now – while they had the chance! Amazingly, it sort of worked. I can still remember booking a job at a regional theatre in Philadelphia where I'd wanted to work for some time. On the first day of rehearsal, I spotted the artistic director in the lobby; a man who had been on my mailing list for well over a year. Brown-noser that I was, I strode over, shook his hand and said how pleased I was to be working for him. He smiled patiently at me and said “You were very good in your audition, but basically I hired you, so you’d stop sending me things.”

Over time, I learned to relax the manic self-promotion. First off, it became pretty clear that I was not the new voice of the American Theatre. I was just another energetic player on the field. Also, I became a writer and endless glad-handing tends to make people wonder when the hell you have time to do any writing.

Memories of my self-promoting days have been flooding back lately, due to my recent return to performing live again after a very long hiatus. Live performance is not (and never has been) a big cash cow. But it’s fun and it’s important for artists and audiences to get together in the same room once in a while and say hello. It also allows creative types to stretch and redefine themselves. One of the major reasons I’ve been doing these shows is to hopefully convince a few people in the industry that I might be able to play something other than a drooling psychopath.

Much has changed since my days of stealing office supplies. Now, we have email, Facebook and Twitter. For a borderline OCD sufferer like myself, this is something of a nightmare. Now the number of people I can harass has shot into the thousands! Of course, I fully understand that most of these messages and postings get deleted the millisecond the recipient spots them in their inbox. So why do it? Because it works.

I once got a powerful producer to read (and option) a script of mine because of a random email I sent her. I once got an acting job on a TV show because I sent a postcard to the casting director I'd never met – a postcard! Another time, I got my short film into a big deal festival because I happened to have a business card in my pocket at a party. For the thousand “messages in a bottle” that we cast out into the ocean, occasionally one of them actually washes up on the right shore -- at the right moment in time.

When I mentor young actors and writers, I talk about the importance of keeping busy, but I also talk about the importance of letting people know that you are busy. For a lot of us, the whole idea of self-promotion is mortifying. I understand, because at our core, most artists are shy. And there is, of course, a fine line between promoting yourself and coming off like a self-aggrandizing asshole -- a line I may well have passed over once or twice in my career. These days, I have a few hard and fast rules about promotion; the first one being that I don’t promote myself; I promote what I’m doing - and there is a big difference between the two. Second, I never promote anything that’s boring or a piece of shit – and yes, I’ve done some shit in my day. I also try to be light-hearted about it and make my promotions entertaining and not repetive. And the final (and most important) rule is that I never expect my promotions to have any effect whatsoever. That way if someone does respond, it’s quite a pleasant surprise.

Entertainment is one of the few businesses where talk is not cheap. In fact, it’s a highly valuable currency. The business lives on chatter. If you don’t have an agent or manager (or if you’re not happy with the number of appointments you’re getting) then you need to find a way to join the conversation. It’s not that hard. Just find something to do – hopefully something that, even if it’s not immediately profitable, is at least fun for you. When you run into a potential employer at a party and they ask what you’ve been up to, you don’t want to say “Absolutely nothing. How about you?”

It somehow seems fitting that I should end this particular entry by ever-so-casually mentioning that I just happened to be appearing in a very funny show called “Streep Tease” at the Bang Comedy Theater here in Los Angeles through April 24th. I guess it might be pushing it to say that the Daily Beast called it “Side-Splitting” and BroadwayWorld.com deemed it “A Gem of a Show.” Too much? Okay, well maybe I'll just close by providing you with this handy link where you can order tickets! http://www.bangstudio.com/streep-tease/

Have a great week, Hollywood! Make a dent!

Copyright 2010 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at http://www.partsandlabor.tv/

Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/QuitcherBitchyn