Communication

I was going to have three calls today. One with the feature project director. The other two with the short film directors. 

The first one went extremely well. I was elated how this pro from the Big League liked my voice and nuances in the script. 

The second director was caught up in production. So we rescheduled till tomorrow. 

The third, boy oh boy, the third one got my head spinning like crazy. The director bumped into every possible pet peeves I had, the ones I didn’t know I had or the ones I thought had departed me…

Maybe I was being greedy. Because I didn’t need this extra short for my credit list when I was slaving away three short films, one feature while trying to build up the structure for my first Chinese animation feature plus a few other things.

Through the communication with the third director today, I learned a few things about communication and miscommunication.

Phone manners: Never answered the phone while you are in the loo when you tell the other side that you are ready while actually you’re not. Lock yourself inside the room when you know your call would meow and distract your conversation. The director blatantly did both. I rolled my eyes so openly. Thank the Lord it was not FaceTime.

Everyone needs to be acknowledged. This person never once said: “Thank you so much to turn it around within the 12 hour window.” Maybe she’s just another spoiled rich brat from China that need some spanking. I heard myself thinking.

Especially for screenplay projects, written words should be everyone’s best friend. I found myself trying to convince the director my vision from our previous conversation. It became her words against mine. When she said, “oh, my characters won’t do that. You can find it in the file I sent earlier.” “No, you didn’t.” I called her out loud. “Oh, now the male character has changed so much blah blah blah and the female character…” That part of our convo was a mistake, if not a disaster like Trump v. Pelosi & Schumer. I should ask her to send me more background stuff in bullet points before I started. Maybe she is young; maybe she’s inherited the worst part of the director title before earning it.

As a rule, I try to speak Chinese unless I can’t come up with the English word. I know how pretentious it could sound to the others in certain scenarios. We are both Chinese. So what the fuck? The director’s cringe-worthy English pronunciation got on my nerves if you want to know the truth. I’m not a pronunciation Nazi, but having so little awareness of how poor her English is by contaminating her mother tongue is what gets me. I found myself speaking English unnecessarily frequent with her as a way to beg her to stop.

And earlier I should sense the red flags. Like when I told her my price. She tried to bargain for a few rounds when I already told her that was what I charged for her three other classmates. Or, the part where she tried to give me RMB instead of USD and calling it thoughtful because I’m in China. I would have appreciated her street-smart in a whole different setting. Right then, I was not impressed to say the least.

When I asked her at the end of our call to send me her notes in bullet points, she never did. I recalled earlier when she came to me that she was worried about not being able to make it in time to the hands of her producer. Now she’s stalling?  Or maybe, we are just not the right fit. It happens. 

When my mentor asked me to not to internalize other people’s urgency but to go with my pace, I said I don’t have many choices right now because I want to get back to LA before I get bogged down by the Shanghai way of thinking (translation: What’s in it for me? How much can I milk out of it?)

I know better now after the bumpy voice call with the wannabe director. I took the rest of the day off; took a stroll with dad in the park; caught up the latest Colbert I’ve missed for the last few days; lit my scented candle and took a warm bath. I felt calmer. 

On the flip side though, I can’t help but think about those general meetings which I never heard back from. Is it because I was having too huge an ego for my petite stature? 

Hell, I can’t please everyone. All I can do is to listen better; make sure who does what by when in writing especially when I spar with another person whose personality doesn’t fit mine, which I’m sure may happen quite often.

And yes, I will need to breathe more and chill out. 

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Learning by doing

I woke up this morning noticing a bunch of new messages at strange Beijing hours, plus a new contact invite. 

Another student director contacted me to fix his thesis short.

After collaborating with two student directors there, their program chair and the other screenwriting professor who’s no feminazi seem to approve of my craft.

This third director is someone I’ve been dying to work with.

Before switching to filmmaking, he had been working in advertising for the most part of his adult life.  Having looted every “big deal” advertising award on the face of the earth, the guy decided to switch industry. 

Just like that, he quit his ECD (Executive Creative Director) job in a 4A agency in Shanghai. He applied and attained his special talent visa (EB1-A) within a month. Then he simply immigrated his family to the US, his wife and their three-year-old daughter. 

I love his personal story as well as the short film he pitched me. Just like that, I landed my third short film project within a month. 

By end of December, I would be able to see him and the first student director in person in Shanghai. Without fearing that I may become cocky or expensive (cocky no; but expensive, for sure), they confessed just how hard it was to find decent writers (let alone good) and they want to keep working with me in the future. Without even seeing his story in my words, the guy said he trusts me and believes that I would do a good job. 

If I had 20% chance to get myself back in the US within a year and half, now that number can at least beat Trump’s latest approval rate. 

But most of all, I love discovering the differences of people’s creative minds. I used to roll my eyes when a director started to describe how he would frame a scene, and how much in love he was with the color, the tone, the mood… “Dude, those are fine, but they don’t help me to move the story forward!!” Now I relish their visual talent which I haven’t yet developed.  

I finally began to appreicate when Prof. Howard Suber told us that film is a collaborative business. Because when the right people meet their right match, things just start to click and work. UCLA helped me make my tool. But these collaborations make a skeleton key out of that tool.  

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Drip by drip

A friend contacted me about a gig: interpret a dozen of non-Chinese films for a Chinese movie critic who is a judge at an international film festival. I would help him to understand what those movies are about to write reviews and score them.

I definitely want the gig. Here are my rationales:

  • I’m curious about what movies get selected and the process on the whole.
  • I want to make connection with this Chinese movie critic.
  • For someone doesn’t have an income right now as a full-time foreign student, I can always use some extra bucks.

But by taking this on, I’m contending with my own projects: My scripts. My novel. My podcast.

I feel stressed.
Actually I can’t remember the last time I was ever chill.

Earlier this year, I was more than just stressed. I was depressed. I felt I was not going places. My work didn’t amount to anything. I was not valued in the office even though I was hired by the big boss when I was still in film school.

Here, Simon Sinek might say this is the typical Millennial Syndrome because the Millennials want things to happen right here, right now.

In my defense, I was asked to read scripts. I read so fast. Soon I ran out of materials. I went after books on Amazon. Then office manager told me the (outsourced) finance manager need to see the producers’ green-light notes before I could order them online. [Translation: Stop doing what you are not told to do.]

So I stopped reimbursing and used my meager salary looking for new materials for the firm. I wrote treatments. I tried pitching to the producers. But their hands were full. Their desks are loaded with more important projects. [Translation: projects that would generate revenue; projects that have higher ROI; projects that they found themselves and appeal to their own tastes.]

As this route led me nowhere, I was dejected. I grew cynical. I thought about quitting. But I had nowhere else to go. My screenwriting mentors asked me to hang on because I was right next to the Hollywood mojo.

Watch and learn, kid!

And yet, I couldn’t see the value of this 9-to-6 job.  I was utterly unfazed after the bedazzlement. I finally came to my senses: it was just like any other jobs I’d held over the years. Who said Hollywood was all dream and drama?  For a few months, the closest drama I’d got was: I was dying of boredom. (Melodrama of course…)  I wanted to create my own stuff. I knew I had ‘the Right Stuff.’  I didn’t want to disappoint. But to be frank, I was disappointed. After the recruit, my boss scarcely bestowed his wisdom like he did in the class.

I wanted to stand on the desk and scream at the top of my lungs in a place everyone was talking but nobody was listening—

Gimme somethin’, sire.
Anythin’!
And I’ll make you proud!

The dream of working for the producer came true fast. But the reality hit me, faster and furious. Finally I realized that I was both the Boy and the Emperor. I had no clothes on. At least I was honest about being naked. This was nothing but day-trading. This was bullshit.

But after getting the H-1B work visa rejection letter from the immigration board, I had an epiphany.   I, not anybody else, had to fight for my artist visa next year, to maximize my chance. Instead of half-assing my effort betting gold on others, I have to do the work and ship fast.

In those darkest days, I came up with a podcast idea called Rock Bottom with YZ. Hence the namesake of this blog. Then the machine started running again:

  • I began my first novel. 47,000 words and counting. Half way through.
  • I picked up screenwriting, after abandoning it for a year.
  • I returned to the world, after being a scared and hurt hermit.
  • I did a lecture on storytelling, mading an impression and some new contacts.
  • I joined a Chinese TV Pilot writer team, not caring who takes credits.
  • I’m about to collaborate with two artists on a short about immigration.
  • I’m going to collaborate on a book project with my Chinese writer pal.
  • ….

The list goes on.

I was stressed that I didn’t know what to do a year ago.
Now I’m stressed that I have only 24 hours a day minus 6-7 hours of sleep with all the things I want to create and collaborate.

I know I’m closer.
I know I’m getting there.
I can feel it in my gut.

I just need to take a deep breath and repeat my mantra: Drip by drip.

By denying me the snazzy title, the to-do list, the caring boss, the paycheck, the work visa, prospect of a romantic relationship… everything that I want, could very likely be the best things that can ever happen to me, all at once.

Bring it on.

It’s not 20/20 hindsight yet, but I have a hunch.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Maybe there is a better way

Yesterday afternoon, my colleague and good friend and I went through the storyboard for his shooting this coming Saturday. At first, he just ‘donated’ me a writing credit for the short, because it would help me with my O-1 (Artist Visa) next year. But I wanted to earn it.

Frame by frame, I gave him new angles, ideas and recommendations to play with. I saw his eyes lit up. We were on the same page the whole time. Just by sitting there talking, it rekindled my love for screenwriting.

I told him I felt like I was in a silo when I was developing these feature-length scripts. I have no one to talk to unless I’m in a workshop or when I do a script exchange. I want to be part of the creation, from script to screen. It is never meant to be done alone in the first place.

My friend then said his director buddy approached him. The director wanted to do some projects, not those assignments to pay bills, but stories that can nourish his soul. They narrow it down to this theme: immigration. My friend mentioned my name and my story.

I was flattered and humbled. I pitched him my ideas on the spot.

“Hey, hey, hey, hold your horses.  How about the three of us grab lunch next week and start hashing out the story?”

I was thrilled. Maybe, just maybe, I would be able to apply for O-1 next year after all. I will emerge from an unproduced writer to an aspiring writer with a few body of works.

All this time what I have dreaded impossible is actually doable. Because I just need someone who believes in my potential.

One person at a time.
And then, the Snowball Effect.

 

Yours truly,
YZ