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

The big rock

I did tackle the big rock before romancing the other stones.

Overwhelmed by my to-do list this week, I wasn’t at all productive for the last two days. Nor was my sleep. 

I called my friend and mentor and spilled out my concerns.

“I feel like everything is so important that I can’t drop any ball I’m juggling right now.”

“Tell me what you have on your plate.”

“A new short film project. My weekly podcast. The dissertation outline that I’m collaborating with a Chinese screenwriting professor. The beat sheet of the animation project. And notes preparation for the three-hour lecture next Tuesday.”

“Here is a big jar and laying in front of you are the big rocks, the small pebbles and a pile of sand. How do you fill them all in without neglecting any?” 

He knew that I got the answer but kept going for my own benefit, “The big rock is your most important, most urgent task. Right now it is the short film that you need to turn in by end of tomorrow. How about you focus on that for the rest of the day and get it done, so you can have time to finish editing your podcast tomorrow?”

I couldn’t help thinking, “Why does it sound so much less messy when it comes out of my friend’s mouth?”

“You just can’t do everything at the same time.” 

True. ”But what if I am too tired too frazzled that I just watch YouTube?” I tried to hide behind the what-if, which is actually the reality I’m wrestling whenever the pressure gets the better of me.

“Well, then you just have some grow up to do. There are things you don’t like, but you are obligated to do it. Pace yourself and complete the task before those all-nighters compromise your health yet again.”

After the pneumonia-bad cold double whammy, I should know better. 

Several hours after our conversation, I now have a rough first draft of the short film. But I need to take a couple of more revisions first thing tomorrow morning before sending it back to the director. 

But hey, at the end of the day, I did tackle the big rock before romancing the other stones.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Get it done

I turned in my first major feature project a couple of hours ago.

In the midst of all kinds of interruptions from pneumonia, bad cold, friend’s visit, to other side projects, I got it done.

That “You can’t do it” voice in my head, so loud at times, finally quiets down a little.

I’m grateful for the people I’m working with. They were patient, and understanding.

That’s empowering.

And there is an obvious lesson re-learned:

How to get things done?

Drip by drip. Word by word.

I will catch some sleep. Because I have a new project to take on tomorrow, from scratch.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

Those commercial stuff

Can’t commercial do good too?

I just watched The Spy Who Dumped Me. I chose NOT to see it when it premiered. I remembered passing by the billboard when a friend drove us somewhere for dinner.

“The Spy Who Dumped Me.”

“What?”

“A new movie. Looks stupid.”

And that was the end of the conversation. When I smell something too commercial to my taste, I shoot it down, fast. I frown upon cheap spy movies, car chase movies, action movies. Because it’s almost always all adrenaline, no brain, no real emotion or substance. When I was still in film school,  I detested and resisted from writing commerical stuff. I even drew a hard line between artists and those sellouts.

I even take my coffee pure black, no milk, no sweetener or other weird stuff. I like to taste it real, with no disguise. And yet, a friend reacted, “Com’on, life is hard enough. Let’s make it sweeter.”

Interesting. Then I keep on drinking my esspresso, black.

Now here comes the plot twist. I took on a commercial feature project recently. Watching The Skp Who Dumped Me tonight gave me so much inspiration. I was with Kate and Mila all the way through on their wacky journey. I was laughing so hard that my chest still sores when I try to take a deeper breath.

So when I accused those feminist nazis, I became one myself. Can’t commercial do good too? Why does everything have to have a ‘point?’ Doesn’t make people laugh a lofty goal already?

Thanks to this commercial “stuff,” I just got an extra doze of motivation and drive to strive to make my own project sizzling fun.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

First Amendment

I thought in America, there is a thing called First Amendment. And it’s quite a big deal.

The script that I wrote for a student director got some attention after their chair praised it. Two more students got in touch with me today to work on their stories. It was good news, because I need as many credits as I can get for my artist visa application.

Then, I was on the phone with them, separately, for a total of three hours… Okay, I know if I were a lawyer, I’d a) never made partner; b) got out of business before I had one.  But, seeing it through the twisted lens of a screenwriter, it was actually not unrewarding.

First off, I see myself in them as a fresh film student taking on a mission impossible.

Then, I realized that these two new ‘potential clients,’ especially the latter, hadn’t thought out her story yet. I told her to speak with as many people as possible to get as many ideas as she could to understand her story better. And most important, what kind of ending she wants, what type of feeling she wants to provoke.

With the other slightly more advanced soon-to-be-client, I told her to transfer more stuff into words instead of sending me ‘mood shots’ because I’m not her cinematographer.

With my current client, she shared with me something revealing. Our story’s ending goes against the #MeToo movement. It seems that all men dig it, and all women hate it so much that they almost started a riot. The instructor pitched my client a sanitized version where the heroine rode the high way in the end.

I saw it coming. Hashtag Feminist Saves the Day.

Here is the thing, what do you call a writer who writes off her characters’ own intentions just because her own political viewpoints are just too fucking important?

What about… tyrant writer?

When you have all the setups towards the ending that shall run its course, but you choose get something else totally out of character because “it feels politically correct.”

  • As the audience, you won’t yell: holy shit, I didn’t see it coming.
  • You’ll be more like: this is total BS. Then throw your TV/laptop/iPad etc. off the window like Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook.  Because that’s how mad you are.  I get it.

If I have one thing to be grateful of my UCLA Film School experience, it is that no instructor tells the students what’s more right to write about according to the current political climate, or what character you should be writing because according the instructor’s monologue, she is lonely and she wants you to create more imaginary friends so they can have tea with her and her 15 cats.

But I’m a pro, so I promised my client to write the ending that would please her instructor. Plus, she would show both to the chair…

I thought in America, there is a thing called First Amendment. And it’s quite a big deal.

Okay, these students are from China. But they paid their tuition in full, not on some sketchy loans.  So treat them accordingly, okay?

 

Yours truly,
YZ

 

 

Worst case scenario

Enough good input will get some not-too-shabby output. 

I’ve always practised my life through the lens of the worst case scenario.

  • What if I would never be enough?
  • What if the shit hit the fan?
  • What if I got too broke?
  • What if I went loco?
  • What if I just didn’t have what it takes…

Well, if I’ve learned anything during my three-year LA sojourn, it is this: if you can’t be your own cheerleader as a writer, nobody else will. You can’t swallow and spit at the same time.

But how to believe that you’re good? It’s like the age-old chicken-or-egg debate. If you don’t have the talent, why even start? But if you don’t start, how else would you know that you’re pretty good actually?

Then, there is something in between. If you keep at it, you will get there. Someday. The next question is: how long is that someday? Ten months? Or ten years?

Sometimes, being a writer or any kind of artist need some level of self-hypnosis in the reality distortion field. You have to be crazy enough to want to be a writer, I think. With all the bleak future and the hard passes without even getting to the first bae, you have to convince yourself to go the extra mile, to write that extra page, to finish something else to call it your own fugly baby. And then, try to pitch it, sell it. In a way, you’re just like an entrepreneur. Time is basically your chips before it ran you out.

After days of distress, I got some good news from the two writing projects I was working on. The result was more than good. My clients were thrilled. And the revision notes would be minimum – so they say.

All my worst-case scenario drills for nothing?! Fuck it then. Going forward, I will replace it with something else: Okay. I know I’m good. What’s next?

I have a feature rewrite gig and two more short film collabs coming up in the next 30 days or so.  Of course, part of my motivation is for my visa credits. But then, it’s going to be good training for my future career as I turned pro, juggling enough projects so I didn’t starve myself to Gandhi.

Come to think of it, all I can do is just write my best as I can. Worst case scenario is nothing but ‘Thank you but it’s not good enough.’  Meaning not good enough for now if I use some reality distortion.  But I will get better tomorrow.

Writing will be then just like math. Enough good input will get some not-too-shabby output.

 

Yours truly,
YZ

PS. I learned a thing or two from my guest this week who is an eternal optimist. Tune in and find out.

Fear less, fear no more

How many 3-0 do we have in a lifetime? 

The good news of being back is that I’m now burning RMB instead of USD. Roughly at the current ratio, seven RMB equals one USD.

But still, I’m burning my time at the same rate like everyone else.  Some of my college, high school friends are officially 31, married with kids, richer than ever.  In less than four months, I will be too, their age sans the man or the kid.

For the better part of my 3-0, I had lived in fear and dread.

  • I feared that I might not get the work visa.
  • I feared that I might be let go from my work.
  • I feared that I might have to pack everything and move back to China.
  • All the above.

By mid-October, all my worst fears became reality.

Am I in the fucking hell?  Hell, no. I’m back in Shanghai. I’m still alive even though tortured by pneumonia to no ends right now…

After living through my worst fear (thus far), wasting away dollars on bullshits like moving, customs courtesy, and doctor bills, I’m still able to keep my hope alive somehow.

Fear has not destroyed me, or twisted me. But it did change me… to be an optimist.

True, my heart got lacerated the day I left LA. I miss my LA friends dearly. I miss LA terribly for its weather, food, water, air… all the basics that I once shrugged and ignored.

Most of all, I feared that my drive was lost during the move. And yet, out in the desert, a new kind of drive is sprouting out, strong and steady.

I have taken on three writing projects at the moment.

  • One short film.
  • One feature rewrite.
  • One writeup for a company.

And a couple of others I’m developing for my artist visa.

Because of my recent readjustment back into my hometown, I have put my novel on hold. But I have been thinking about the story beats while I was doing the IV infusion.

By losing this much, I finally begin to focus on what’s absolutely necessary.

This time, I have no financial emergency, no landlord final notice, no impending fate to be decided.

This time, I’m racing against no one but time. How many 3-0 do we have in a lifetime, eh?

And yo, folks in LA, don’t you forget me too fast and furious, okay?

 

Yours truly,
YZ