Maker v. Faker

You make till you make it.

Before I decided to become a screenwriter, I had dabbed in and around advertising for some three and a half years.

You see, advertising was my passion until it was not. I used to dream of working in that building where the Big Leagues like Ogilvy and JWT lived. One day, a president from a major advertising firm approached me. It seemed like an exciting opportunity. And guess what, I got to work in that building with other creative people! Three years after I graduated from college, I finally got my foot into the party.

Then came the part where it was left out in the happily-ever-after fairy tale, the level of creativity in my job was minimal at best, even though I got to have my own team.  Everything else – the title, the package, the location – were just not strong enough of reasons to keep me there.  And what should be like the Broadway stage now felt like a prison to me… And the hardest pill to swallow was: I was the one who turned myself in. All I need to do now was to watch Prison Break again and learn to break out of the cell… The rest is history. 

Today I met with the short film director. He once worked in that building too. And that was not the only thing we had in common. Unlike the most ECDs (Executive Creative Director) that I had the fortune and misfortune to meet in Shanghai, he is one of a kind! He won the best awards (from Cannes, One Show to Clio)  in advertising and ten times over. If an idea belonged to his subordinates, he would never call it his own. 

“You are a unicorn, man!” I exclaimed in the quiet restaurant.

“My work ethics is more important to me. I don’t want to cheat or brag about something that I didn’t earn. That’s all.”

He then showed me the spots he did for clients from Buick to Heineken, from Kiehl’s to Sprite. “What ad men here don’t lack is braggadocio. But most don’t have real work to support the statement, or their spines.” 

“And yet, there are more than a few of those live rather comfortably here in the city. With your calibre, you can start your own shop between the blink of an eye.” I added. 

“Yes. You’re right. I disassociate myself from the fakers, who are experts in hosting dinners and parties amongst one another so they can feed their bloated egos to keep feeling important and welcomed… in the cocoon.”

“I know exactly the kind of people that you’re talking about.” I beamed as memory flashing back, uninvited.

“I was one of the judges at an advertising festival. Then I stopped going. Because I saw the money exchanged behind the scene. I had better things to do.”

“You know, I once worked at this local advertising festival.”

“Oh, you did?”

I gave him the look. 

“You know, we call it Cabbage Award because everyone’s a happy winner of something as long as you paid to enter. Quite a spectacle to see how BIG it grew over the years, isn’t it? I always gave away my tickets.”

I didn’t tell him that just a few days ago I tried to reconnect with the founder of this local festival only to get turned down that he didn’t have time to meet after all. [Here in China, if you don’t get a yes, it’s a no.] The founder is a busy guy, because his festival is so in demand right now that everyone uses it as a crucial networking opportunity given how fluid the advertising job market is. Because I had seen how the sausage was made, I was never really impressed except for the founder’s persistence. 

So how do we measure our legacy? 

  • By how much money have we earned?
  • Or, by how many books have we sold?
  • Or, by how many people know our name?
  • Or, by how many souls have we touched?

In the end, who are you fooling if you’ve never given your best shot, never gone through and under your fear, never removed the mask you’ve tattooed on your face, because you convince yourself that the stake is just too high, now is still too early, the truth is way too embarrassing, and the road not taken is too damn hard that it hurts like a motherfucker… Don’t wait until you’ve run out of time and run into your own deathbed. That is a tragedy without a hero. 

Let them have the laugh, the stage, the floor, because if you pan up the camera, you see the puppeteer pulling the strings at them.

But you, you cut loose the strings so you can be the boss of your life. 


Yours truly,
YZ

And more thing, you don’t fake it till you make it. You make till you make it.

 

Haste makes waste

I had a call with my screenwriting sensei on a challenging project that I had been tackling with. Sensei started with chitchat. I saw what’s awaiting me… After some thirty minutes in, sensei stopped by saying, “Okay, now it’s time to draw some blood.” 

For some 2.5 hours. I felt every bit grateful for the notes he gave me. They were ruthless and spot-on, and exactly what I needed for the next over-haul.

For the amount of projects I have been taking on lately, I convinced myself that I would build the structure first and fill in the soul and flesh later. That way it wouldn’t kill the momentum of the dread of having to give birth to a first draft out of thin air. 

“By not feeling his desire, there is no weight to his denial. Always, always get the emotional beats out before you fill in the details. And I can see those fillers knowing that you are just trying too damn hard to avoid the difficult scenes that put your character alive.” 

Ouch. I felt like Po in Kung Fu Panda… So the question is, when will I stop writing with the head and start writing with the heart? I can use this project as a transformation point to my next phase. Or start with my next blog.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

A writer’s life

I’m proud to say that I’m now a working screenwriter. I’m for the moment out of my “between job” phase. 

After getting in bed (Hollywood uses it as a catchy phrase… so bear with me here) with some eight directors and counting for a number of feature and short projects, I’ve found the G-spots that are sure-fire turn-offs. 

Here comes the list:

  1. Comment that begins and ends with “The feel is not right” phrase. Then give no follow-up explanations, leaving the writer in the dark trying desperately – in all kinds of positions – to please the director who’s likely impotent. 
  2. Got the script from a writer who turned in at some strange hours but never ever say, “Thank you.” As a writer, I start hypnotizing myself that, “Now now, remember you got paid for this. It’s a blessing to earn money doing this. Just suck it up.”
    – But is good manners this hard?
    – Did someone just say ‘hard?’
    – My bad.
    – Come here, bad girl.
  3. The no-reply no-payment treatment till you beg for a response. Then the other side would simply say “Oh gee I forgot. I was so busy with XXX.”
    Or, give you the shrug plus the guaranteed eye-rolling in your back. Probably with the O.S. “The fucking nerve!”

I’ve never tried prostitution. But given the abundant resources out there, sex workers and writers share more than a few resemblances. More often than not, they get fucked in the ass for less than what they do to deserve.

But sometimes, you hit the jack pot too. Say, for a recent project even before I turn in the second and final draft, I got the rest of the payment in my bank account.  I stared at the incoming wire and couldn’t believe my good fortune. Alas, the gratitude is fleeting because you have other customers to please

Like Susie’s advice to Mrs. Maisel before baring her soul to the audience: 

Tits up!

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

How do you spend the day

“A day passes by so fast. I don’t even know what I’ve done and then day has turned into night.”

Is how you going to spend your life.

This quote often sends chills down to my spine especially when I’ve not been productive, or when I’ve squandered the day not accompolishing something meaningful.

When I was on the phone with a dear friend in LA the other day, friend asked whether I had gone to movies, dined with friends, had fun and what not apart from working.

I suddenly grew sheepish, because I hadn’t watched a single movie in the theatre lately. I blamed the lame movies that got imported. I hadn’t met many friends either except the ones I really wanted to meet because the deadlines had been hovering above my head since I got well from pneumonia.

It was as if everything I do, or plan to do, I had to give it some kind of meaning. Otherwise, it was not worthy of my time. It even haunted me in my dreams.

When dad asked me to help him to fix a phone app, I spent almost half an hour on it due to the app’s stupid user interface. Dad later apologized for wasting my time, for interrupting my writing. At the time, I did complain a little, explaining that it takes a person 30 mins to actually get into the groove to do anything creative.

Later, Dad, the busiest and earliest bee of the family, said without any context, “you know, a day passes by so fast. I don’t even know what I’ve done and then day has turned into night.” At the time, I was winding down watching Frasier. I looked up from my laptop and said, “Yes. I feel the same way.” Suddenly it struck a chord and made me meloncholy.

As of now, I am close with my loving parents, my needy cat who has to nap on my lap. Sometimes I admit I feel a bit overwhelmed. But soon, maybe a year or so, I will pack up my things up and leave again. This time, I will bid farewell and try to make my own home in LA, again.

You see, before we know it, our parents will be older. So are we. We dash through days, months, years, brushing shoulders with people zipping in and out of our lives.

By now, I don’t have a single junior or senior high school friend that I’m still in touch with. By uprooting my career some four years ago, I’ve made myself obselete in most of my old Chinese acqauintances’ memory drive while trying to squeeze into my American friends’ life, who may already have one friend too many… Such is a pickle of hard fact that I must chew and digest.

I only hope that when I take my last breath in this lifetime, I can say that I have had a brave life. I’ve done whatever I can to become the best version of myself with whatever resources that are available to me. I’m a good daughter, a sincere friend, a fun companion. And most important, I stay true to my heart.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Whose shit is this shit?

Dad saw a husky owner who didn’t pick up the dog shit. He called after the guy before he was led away by his dog.

“Sir, forgetting something here?” Dad pointed at the hot mess. Nerves on his temple bulging.

“You lost your marbles? Mind your own fucking business.” The man barked back and refused flatly.

Dad asked the Residential Committee to even things out. Its office is right beside where the shit show happened, fortunately.  And yet, not a single soul came out.

A staffer hiding behind her desk replied sheepishly, “[Dog poop] is NOT our job.” 

The man snickered at my dad, “See? It’s not their job. So what’s the fuss here? You’re a CPC member or what?” [Translation: CPC Member = Boy Scout with a twist.]

It was not until my dad threatened to call the police that the man dared to taint “the good name of CPC” that the man finally gave in and picked up the shit and apologized.

Dad told the story during dinner and added, “That’s why I warn you not to mind these monkey business. It does you no good.”

“But now we have one less shit to worry about, eh?  So who’s job is it when it comes to… dog shit?”

Dad didn’t have an answer. I don’t either. 

Truth is, you can’t expect every dog owner to remember pick their puppies’ shit up. Maybe another law will suffice?

Or maybe more folks like dad who is getting discouraged when he did the right thing.  Sometimes, if you meet people whose last layer of dignity is gone, there is nothing left for you to do. 

Did I mention that every person working in the Residential Committee is a party member? Yep, here comes the twist. Go figure.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

Happy New Year!

The power lies right within us if we dare to summon it, tirelessly, lovingly. 

Happy 2019!

And she’s back.

Yes!

I still have a few pressing writing deadlines at my hand. But I’ve decided to log back onto the blog I’ve been turning to since around my major Rock Bottom last summer.

2019 may very well foresee my film career officially taking off. My first feature movie will premiere at the end of 2019 amongst other things. It all sounds surreal, but getting back to LA won’t be for too long after all.

For 2019, a few things will be my priority:

  1. Fear less. Worry less. We shall see how my Mrs. Bennet-esque poor nerves would serve me in 2019.
  2. Just do it. I think, strike that, I know I can. (My guilt pleasure is still to binge-watch Frasier whenever life or circumstances spit on me. I’m currently on Season 3 Episode 22…)
  3. Spend quality time with my parents. (I will take my folks to Japan for a week in the fall if I finish everythething I should finish by April*.)
  4. Be a friend indeed to my friends in need. (Say yes if I can help it.)
  5. Get up early. Exercise daily. Eat healthy. (Well, I just ordered a large pack of MyLikes, aka. Chinese Maltesers…)

After the months crawl out of the shitty place, all I can say is this:

The power lies right within us if we dare to summon it, tirelessly, lovingly. 

Or as Sir Winston Churchill eloquently put it:

Never, never, never give up.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Here is my first four months to-do list:

  • Animation feature script – done
  • Feature script polish – done
  • Paper – first draft
  • New feature script on spec – first draft
  • New short script – first draft
  • The class plans for the spring semester (I’m teaching two screenwriting classes at a Shanghai college)

Under the moonlight

As a writer, my job is to bring what’s under the moon back to the sun.

The more people entrust in me with their stories about love, about rock bottom, about vulnerability, the more I realize that there is no such thing as a perfect life. If someone says he begs to differ, then I’d say he’s missing out on life in general.

Everyone at some point gets her heart broken if she trifles with love. Sometimes what they’ve experienced should only happen in a movie. And yet, the truth is stranger than fiction. 

As a writer, you get to see life in various shapes and colors. If you don’t have an open mind, you only capture a limited few layers of life and people. But if you are willing, willing to set aside your own judgement, your own opinion, maybe you will find that people are more alike than they’re willing to let on. 

And yet, we tend to preach the popular, go with the flow through sunlight. We only let go of our subconsciousness and desire under the moonlight.

As a writer, my job is to bring what’s under the moon back to the sun. When it’s done right, it provokes people, it makes them uneasy, angry, upset… But in the end, people see their true selves through the story. 

They won’t admit it, but they feel it. To a writer, that’s a job well done.

 

Yours truly,
YZ