I just submitted a short script to another student director…
Within a month, I worked on four short scripts (10 – 12 pages per piece), did the first pass on a feature rewrite (110 pages), gave two lectures (2 hours each), and landed my first Chinese animation feature project. Plus, I will work on a dissertation with my screenwriting professor friend. Next March, I will do a screenwriting class at SIVA with the freshmen.
And yet, I haven’t shipped a single podcast in two weeks now. When the third student director came to me with his project, I knew I can’t get everything done on time.
I was losing sleep over my podcast project. Am I dropping the ball now? Where can I find more time to do this?
I don’t have an answer yet. The beginning of anything is hard. You are underpaid, overworked, and sleep-deprived. If you stop right here, you get devalued by being stationary. Moving is your only option.
Right now, to be able to juggle many balls, it feels all of a sudden like a privilege comparing to my last 9-to-6 job. Something’s gotta give means I have more than a thing on my plate. Yes, sure, I give a thing or two if my plate is full. Keep my mind from wandering…
“If I want to go abroad to get a master’s degree?”
A girl from the class I lectured today asked.
I know that question. I’ve asked that question when I was her age, when I started working, and when I felt my soul was being ripped apart by the work I did.
“Most of us aren’t Steve Jobs, aren’t Bill Gates, we don’t know how to answer questions like this from the get go.” I said, “It’s more a process. I remember I read Man’s Search for Meaning, The Alchemist, when I was your age. I read memoirs, biographies ferociously because I thought I could find some pattern, some shortcut there from the lives already lived and proved. But in the end, you can’t calculate your 100th step when you barely have your step. Sure you will make mistakes, but that’s part life, part living, part growing. Media advocates overnight success, but we both know that it takes years to be an overnight sensation. And even if you thought that you found what you wanted to do for the rest of your life, sometimes you still get lost, get confused, get frustrated, wondering whether it was the right path that you took given the growing sunk cost…”
Some students drifted away already. Only a handful were still with me. I said that I didn’t know what to do with my expensive education for a while, whether I should ditch it and start something else… But I’m glad I didn’t quit. It’s only the dip.
Later I told my professor friend who invited me to her college that the students might be able to understand what we discussed today years later, or maybe not. But maybe it may benefit them. There is a huge chasm between knowledge and practice.
Just like when I disappeared for the last two days from my daily blog to finish the third short film in time, I realized that no matter how much I wanted to impress the director, I had to give him something to begin our polishing process.
And by now, I have a fourth short film to finish by end of tomorrow which I haven’t started yet, because I was out all day today in Songjiang, because I didn’t arrive home until 11 pm, and because the fourth director and I didn’t confirm until this morning.
Right after the fourth short film, I will immediately start working on the animation feature as well as preparing the notes for another feature rewrite which I already did the first pass.
“It takes 10,000 hours to become a master in anything.” I quoted Malcolm Gladwell as I kept on going with my answer. I told them how lucky they are to choose this path at this age. If they persist, by the time they are my age, they’d experts.
I used to get frustrated when I read Wiki entry of a famous person whose work I admired and who started early. Now, after the emotional move back to Shanghai, I’ve learned that everyone has her own time.
Like when Mulan’s dad pointed to his daughter, ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.‘
I would like to think that I’m one of those late bloomers.
I confess I’m feeling it the most as I got sick last time and I get sick again this time. I don’t want to finish my next podcast. I don’t want to write another blog. Everything seems a nuance. Obviously, I’m not cut out as a podcaster, a blogger… Or just anything on the face of the earth.
Case in point, so my next podcast which I vow to ship on Tuesday is not ready yet. When I could edit my podcast, I was catching up on SNL, all the years I didn’t know about it when I was and now am, back in China.
I will pull myself up and finish the rest of the edit and ship it when it’s still Tuesday in LA.
Oh, I know exactly why I was down. Someone shared with me a post via WeChat about this account getting millions of fans and likes. I couldn’t help but think: snap, why can’t it be me?
My friend was only trying to help. And yet, I read it the wrong way. (Because she sent it at the WRONG time!!)
I will get some zzz; when I get up, I will get the next episode shipped. The guest deserves every ounce of my kudos.
I’ve been grinding my teeth a lot lately. I know it because I have trouble moving my jaw without hearing it pop.
Our body usually gives us the red flag before things go awry. I discovered I had TMJ (Temporomandibular joint) pain while I was at UCLA. It wasn’t serious enough to put me into surgery but annoy enough to strip the fun off food. But I like chewing gum and eating in general. I binge and stress eat.
I was taking a producing class at the film school, the instructor invited a friend of his and called him a “grinder.” [No, not Grindr. See dictionary definition here.] “I’ve met and worked with a lot of people in Hollywood. Grinders outlast the rest and get things done. It’s how you succeed in the show biz.” The wise instructor ended on this note.
When I heard this remark, I thought I was a grinder. Not only I grind my teeth, but I would always follow though on projects and get things done whatever it takes. For a while after I graduated from UCLA, I thought if I could do one thing well, I can find an opening and pivot. Well, the rest is history. I ended up back where I come from, my hometown. It was a hard pill to swallow but necessary for me to see the big picture.
Since I got back recovering from pneumonia, I’ve been doing podcasting, working on short films, rewriting two feature scripts, preparing lectures for the coming weekend and next Tuesday… soon to start a book collaboration, and maybe two other feature assignments. Knock on the wood. And then of course, I will finish my novel before it’s 2019!
That’s a long way of saying we’re better off when our plates are full so our minds don’t wander. But don’t grind on things you don’t enjoy or benefit from, say rocks. You don’t need a dentist to tell you it’s not good for your teeth.
Jim Strain, screenwriter of the original Jimumji and amongst many, many other movies, shares his Hollywood journey and what he means by ‘mud pie.’
I love Jim’s intro accompanied by this revealing picture on his website:
I had never seen a “self starter” key on a typewriter until I found it on an old Remington 5 portable in an antique store. It now hangs on the wall of my office. When you press the key, the typewriter carriage advances in slow but steady increments. Seemed to me the perfect metaphor for life as a freelance writer.
I’ve written screenplays for virtually every major Hollywood studio and even had a few produced. I’ve dabbled in theater, contributed to magazines and newspapers, and published a few books. I wear many other hats including that of a teacher, consultant, and sometimes artist.
It’s hard if you are first-generation of anything. It’s especially true in the show biz.
Meet Jim Strain, who found his way into Hollywood by being a self-starter.
What you’ll hear:
Jim also graduated from the UCLA Film School, what does he think about the film school experience?
How did Jim end up in Hollywood? Or shall I say, get in and stay in the showbiz and still creating work from his heart and soul?
Jim has taught at the UCLA Film School’s revered screenwriting workshop for quite some years, what’s the key element to become a screenwriter, from his perspective?
How does UCLA Film School’s pitch week work from a professor’s perspective?
How did Jim balance his dream of writing and hard-living in LA before he broke into Hollywood?
Does hardship in life help you to become a better writer? If yes, how to channel it into your work?
How to find like-minded people to collaborate? Here is a clue: Not via Craigslist.
What exactly does Jim mean when he says ‘mud pie?’
And so, so much more!
The most satisfying thing in life is to share your “mud pies” for others’ sympathetic consideration. — Jim Strain
Another friend and I said farewell to each other today.
The reality hit me hard. At one point, I almost bursted into tears (again).
I’m not dreaming. I’m leaving for China…
UCLA Extension found out about me not actually enrolled into the program, they gave me an ultimatum asking me to pay for my tuition by October 8. I told them that I’m leaving on Oct 14 so don’t bother. They replied that I had, not 30, but just 14 days to exit the country that I had been residing in for three whole years.
It was like the bouncer found out that I was underage and I didn’t pay for my own drinks, so they tried to pluck me out of the crowd.
Then I said, “How dare you. I’ll walk.”
But after I walked the walk for about a mile, I couldn’t talk the talk. Because I broke down crying, missing all the pals whom I wouldn’t be able to say proper goodbyes “under the influences.”
Would I be doing this after I’m back in China? I hear you ask.
PS. Check out the latest #RBYZ episode featuring myself. It reads narcissistic. Hope it doesn’t sound so. Judge it for yourself.
Three nights ago, I submitted a scholarship application. The next morning I received a note which goes, “Based on the financial information you have provided your request for scholarship consideration cannot be considered.”
I was flabbergasted. I spent months on the application. That they demanded four recommenders was pretty remarkable — when I applied for grad school, it asked for three. I visited the graduate student writing center with my personal statement materials for six consecutive weeks. And now that was it? I told myself as I submitted the application that I did my best; if for some reason I was not granted anything, it was fine really. C’est la vie. But not like this! If I were not in a financial rut, would I spend hours of my life pondering on “what I can contribute to the world peace” when I can work on my screenplay?
After I calmed myself down, I emailed back stating the fact that the budget policy they mentioned in the previous email was never written on their website. And I certainly was not planning to drop out of school. All I did was being honest about my financial status — You wouldn’t possibly know what grants you are awarded, what waivers you receive, and whether or not you would get TAship months from now, would you? Do I look like a fortune teller to you, darling?
Thankfully, I kept the sarcasm to myself, and begged them for a second chance to send an amended budget.
I sent back the thought-through new budget yesterday after grilling them with detailed questions.
— We have now sent your application onto the Trustees. Good luck!
Then, sheer exhaustion overtook me.
Why do I have to fight for every bloody thing in my life?
I screamed at the top of my lungs — in my head. My brain raced. It took me back to January — Early in the Winter Quarter, I pitched four feature writing instructors. When the rooster was released that Friday, my name was on none of them. I emailed. I texted. I walked about in my room like a caged beast waiting for an explanation. In that darkest hour, my thought led me to the most desperate corner my head could possibly reach — My being accepted was a mistake. I was the mistake. I was Chinese. I was a joke. My story was worthless shit. Nobody liked me. Nobody wanted me here after all. Why the fuck was I wasting so much money moving over here and struggling alone? I cried and moaned for my pathetic status quo. It was only when a beloved instructor texted back having me in her session did it stop me from doing anything stupid.
Talking through what had transpired to my flatmate and to my parents via WeChat, I cried again, uncontrollably.
I never felt this vulnerable. Why do I have to fight for everything in my life? Why can’t I just sit there for things to happen, every once in a while? Why the worst-case scenario always happens to me? Why everyone else can lay back and focus on their work while I have to spend more energy than I wanted on things that are not even about writing? It is not even my fault…
I get it, life is not fair. But when shits happen, they exhaust me. I know there are a lot of things in life that are beyond our control. But I don’t have much memory about me getting lucky, ever. Getting accepted into the Screenwriting MFA program here is the luckiest strike that has ever happened to me. Period. But still, I planned a year and a half ahead working hard toward the goal.
Oh, by the way, have I told you that I haven’t yet had a guy confess his affection to me? And that I have never been in a serious relationship yet? I am 28 years old as we speak. I’ve tried chasing after guys. Guess what, it has never worked. Not for me.
— Am I trying too hard?
— I don’t have the foggiset idea.
A sage mentor says —
There are people born with resources. They take things for granted. They can. You know what’s the most important gift one can be given? Drive. People who are content and have everything won’t have that. Of course, life is hard. You, not anybody else choose the path you are now. You already know it’s not easy. You already are being resourceful solving the problems. When done, move on and focus on things you should be focus on rather than lingering on feelings and things you can’t change. Cliche as it sounds, we can only control our attitude towards what happen to us. People who have a chip on their shoulder think in a way that the universe is against them. Most of their energy is about life being unfair and people are vicious to them. You don’t want to be around those people, do you? Because the energy around them is off.
Granted, you are not born with resources. There are many people who are like you. But when they make it, they are able to say they made it from scratch. It’s exactly because you don’t have much in your stock, you have nothing to lose. But you have to keep fighting. You can’t stay stale and wait for things to happen. It doesn’t work that way.
You have to fight. Because that’s how you gain momentum. Because that’s how you earn attention. Because that’s how chances go your way.
If you don’t, even God can’t help you.
Because you, and only you are responsible for this life you lead.