RBYZ: Braveheart (#013)

Depression and procrastination are your twin babies if you’re a creator of any kind. This comedy writer, who was featured on the show last week, shares her struggles and strategies.  Tune in and find out how she did it. Kudos to her Braveheart! What you’ll hear:
  • Cinematic immunity is real. So is jackass.
  • Why was production jobs addictive?
  • What made her put her foot down to really pursue screenwriting?
  • How does she deal with the rough winter alone in LA when her father had a stroke and her boyfriend left her?
  • How did she overcome impostor syndrome?
  • The consequence of letting a revered professor co-op the script she was writing?
  • Why did she prefer writing comedy over drama?
  • Why did choose to write at Starbucks knowing the cliche LA writer?
  • What did she learn about herself and the business of counseling through the years of therapy and changing therapists?
  • What benefits does she see going to film school even though she had tons of on-set experience?
I would keep taking jobs. because I don’t want to face my own thoughts. The job had the best hours but I had the longest days. I have a blind faith in life. “What are you gonna do next?” People ask me. Well, I don’t know. It’s gonna happen though. Things would come around.  New writers are like a new virus that Hollywood wants to get rid of. If you are lucky, you get to take hold. Then you can’t get rid of Hollywood. I hope to be that virus.
Links from the episode: Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ: A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.
Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic
Yours truly, YZ PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

RBYZ: Share thy mud pie (#006)

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:

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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

Links from the episode:

Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ:
A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.

Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

It’s okay

I’ll do it again till I get used to this feeling of stark nakedness. 

I workshopped my first full-length feature script written at UCLA today.

Truth is, I hadn’t gone back to the story until most recently. I wanted to do a pass on it before sending it to the event organizer.

But I didn’t. The selling. The packing. The meetings. The podcasting… Plus, I knew if I started working on the story, I would have torn it to pieces. I would have detested so much that I would just call it quits.

So I didn’t. When I couldn’t procrastinate no more. I sent the script as it was.

I again, didn’t go to bed until after midnight last night, as if to dare if I would be able to make it to the meeting this morning. I woke up pretty early but didn’t get up until I knew I couldn’t sleep in no more. I gave myself just enough time to get dressed and called a Lyft.

Thankfully, I got there just in time. It would have been ironic if the writer was late for her own script, right?

They asked me how I wanted to use the next two hours, because everyone had read it.

Shit. They did?!?

Isn’t that the name of the game for the writer’s workshop?

I didn’t want to hear all of it. So I asked the group of 14 to read the ten pages from the beginning of Act 2, Page 30.

Then it was the critiques. I started sweating. It’s been a while since I was in a workshop setting like this. I felt naked. But those people read my script and wanted to help me to get better. That’s so big of them.

Here is what really happened:

  • I didn’t bleed to death.
  • People got excited about the potential of the story when I pitched them my plan for the next rewrite.
  • I got some pretty interesting notes and ideas.
  • We went to Panini in Beverly Hills for lunch.
  • I made new friends. Two would be featured on my podcast, after my move next Saturday.
  • A Chinese-American author/singer/mother gave me a ride to the gym later.

 

It’s not terrifying at all.

It’s okay… No, it’s fantastic! I’ll do it again till I get used to this feeling of stark nakedness.

To quote my new author friend:

“It’s time we Asian women make some noise.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Clocked in 460 words. Tallying 62,214 words. 13.89 days remaining.

Write or don’t

Do yourself a favor. Don’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write every single day. It’s a verb before it’s a noun. 

Why call yourself a writer if you don’t write? Just so it sounds good?

Okay. So what job shall I take when I’m back in China to keep me aloft?

If your parents can support you back home, I’d say don’t unless it’s a writing gig.

Here is the thing, if you can prove to yourself that you’re an “Extraordinary Alien,” you can apply for green card right away. That is, if you really prove yourself. 

I woke up with a headache and a tight neck this morning.

I dined at a Chinese director’s house yesterday. Our conversation couldn’t be more realistic. It couldn’t be more scary. Because she was telling the truth before I was 100% ready.

 

Just how bad do I want to be a writer before I’m anything else?

You have to be kinda crazy to be a writer. I’m a director and I still get to talk to people. You writers live in your head. It can be quite dangerous. 

Every word, cut to the chase. Every syllable, a sucker punch.

I’ve seen so, so, so many friends who are wannabe-aspiring writers for decades. Years later they’re still talking about the same story they told me eons ago. 

Shit. I’m gonna be that soon, if not already…

Sure you can earn buckets of money back home. But really ask yourself what you want.

Money is tangible, but it’s endless. 
Happiness is invisible, but you can feel it.

Do yourself a favor. Don’t call yourself a writer if you don’t write every single day. It’s a verb before it’s a noun.

You’re fooling no one but yourself.

Write v.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

RBYZ: I’m gonna still be writing (#001)

First-ever guest, first-ever interview.

From Midwest to LA, a teacher-turned-screenwriter’s California dreaming and dreading.

My first-ever guest is a teacher-turned-screenwriter who likes simple stories, complex characters, and real-life absurdism.

What you’ll hear:

  • What has teaching got to do with screenwriting?
  • Why did he choose film school after years of writing screenplays since he was 16?
  • Write what you know is a cliche. Write what scares you.
  • How does he deal with frustration, Rock Bottoms? Two words. Angry run.
  • Celebrate the wins. Celebrate the successes. But then, it doesn’t guarantee anything.
  • How to get the writing workshop going after film school? Consistency and the right mindset.
  • How does he process friends’ successes? Acknowledge it’s there and try not to let it consume you.

It’s hard to be successful at anything you do. You just have to like being unsuccessful. If you can do that, then you’re in the right line of work.

Your students are your audience. You’re not owed anything. If you fail to grab their attention, they’ll let you know.

If you think you’re writing something that is going to be successful or popular, it ain’t.

Wherever I end up in the world, I’m gonna still be writing.

Link from the episode:

 

Listen and subscribe to Rock Bottom with YZ:
A weekly podcast for and about anyone and everyone who has spiraled downward and doesn’t know which end is up.

Listen to Rock Bottom with YZ on RadioPublic

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. Click here to see ways to help #RBYZ to grow.

Take a deep breath

But when I meditate in the morning, the message is always something different. Today it says: When we let go of all expectation, there is peace.  So I took a deep breath. And settled in. 

I re-started meditation in May.

Today I was told that I am on a 83-day streak. My longest was 91. So eight days away to set a new record. I hope I would just keep going.

I was doing meditation even when my Chinese family of four was here from December to February.

But my auntie fell sick only six days before their trip back to China, right on my 30th birthday. Her face was so swollen that she could barely open her eyes and she was running a fever. I stayed with her in hospital for the first night trying to get to the bottom of the cause.

Long story short. Auntie’s symptoms were relieved. The family went back to China on time. My dad and I even went to the Staples Center for the LA Lakers v. Dallas Mavericks game on Friday night when auntie was discharged late that afternoon, two days before they flew back on Feb 25.

Then, the insurance coverage. I was the middleman for the Ronald Regan Hospital and the Chinese Insurance Company. Roughly a month later, the insurance company confirmed that they would cover the staggering $36,000 hospital bill. By then, I was bone tired.

  • Yesterday in the mailbox, I got a Final Notice from the hospital, staying that they still hadn’t got the rest of the money wire. I have until Aug 8 to fix it.
  • The communication gap between the insurance company and the hospital bureaucrat is appalling. As if sending me those bills, the niece of the patient can solve the problem for her. The insurance company already paid for the 1st half. Shouldn’t she keep talking to the insurance company?
  • I had to stop myself from digging into this rabbit hole, from getting worked up.

Since my family’s left, I felt a huge void.
Plus, I was anxious about the work visa (H-1B) lottery result, my work prospect with the company, whether I was a liability or an asset, and when my boss would send the office manager to break the news to me.

As of June 1, I’m not allowed to be paid anymore. My parents once again showed me just how diehard they are to keep investing in me, regardless of my poor ROI.

If I were the hero of my own movie, I feel the stakes keep rising.  I need to prove my worth to the immigration board next year to get the artist visa (O-1)…

But every morning I switch on the coffee maker, sit on my couch, and meditate, I get a different voice.

Today it says:

When we let go of all expectation, there is peace.
– Kim Eng

So I took a deep breath and settled in.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Drip by drip

By denying me the snazzy title, the to-do list, the caring boss, the paycheck, the work visa, the relationship… everything that I want, could very likely be the best things that can ever happen to me, all at once. It’s not 20/20 hindsight yet, but I have a hunch.

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