The Do it Yourself Conundrum

Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with the expression, “If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.” There’s a paradox attached to this, since he believed it but failed. This begs the question: does doing a thing yourself guarantee that thing is done well enough to succeed?

People would argue that a men like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are among the most successful people of the modern era. However, is it because they are single-person armies of DIY greatness, or because they knew how to properly manage a large enough group of people that knew what the hell was going on?

That's why he kept his hand in his jacket: he totally forgot to pack warm enough for the Russian offensive.
That’s why he kept his hand in his jacket: he totally forgot to pack warm enough for the Russian offensive.

So, Napoleon wouldn’t listen to anyone, and failed. Gates surrounded himself with brilliant people, and now spends his life giving away money. Is it possible for people to succeed without one another? Trump would probably say yes, but even he’d have to admit that a team could easily defeat one star player.

Not all teams are winners, and you do need strong leadership, that’s what my take away is from this. Michael Jordan couldn’t do it alone, but as a great team leader, he led by example and mentored greatness in others. He also exuded confidence, as proven by his commercial contract with Hanes.

I just recently cut ties with a program I was volunteering for where, as the only non-paid employee, my natural position should have been in the background. Somehow, I ended up taking lead on developing a project, yet never got any of the things I needed from the “team” to succeed. In the end, when things weren’t being handled properly by the people needed to do the things I could not, all the fingers pointed at me, probably since I was the only one doing anything, and also since I was the only one whose job wouldn’t be affected by a show of poor management.

On the other side of the coin, my web-based sitcom K’s House has just finished¬†shooting, and while we had many, many setbacks, I was completely in charge of production. Even though I have the basic knowledge needed to do everything myself, I left things to the people who were most experienced. The quality of the product will be evidence of this, by contrast to the public access show I produced twelve years ago, where I tried to do every little thing by myself.

“K’s House” premiers May 13th.

Trust becomes the key issue, I think. I trusted others to do their part, and got burned. I’ve worked in groceries, where you have to be very selective about whom to trust, since anything they do wrong will have those aforementioned¬†fingers pointing your way once more, and in a hurry to boot.

Where’s the line? In a world where everyone is out for themselves, where close associates will chuck you right at the street in front of that bus if it means safeguarding their own situation, where strangers are just as apt to steal mail from your porch as give you a dollar for gas, where is that line? ¬†From what I can tell, it moves. A lot. So good luck finding it.

A song about being alone, but they still needed each other to sing it.

Enough Already?

Last night the wife and I had the rare opportunity to host a dinner party, featuring the girlfriend of an acquaintance, who is visiting from Russia. My food-centric friend and I quietly competed for most grandiose offerings, and the table was spread with everything from grass-fed bacon cheeseburgers to asparagus stuffed chicken.

The thing that struck me immediately about our honored house guest, was how well she spoke English; better than the lot of us, I’m afraid, with all of our swearing and missing consonants. Of course, she didn’t get to say much for most of the evening, but then that’s what she gets for dating a chatterbox American actor with obnoxious friends.

When we did allow her to speak at length, the conversation turned to the food, the amount of it, its over-the-top extravagance and variety, and how this seems to be a norm in our country. So many choices, such immense portions, and everything just killing to make us obese, with us dying to get as much of it as we can.

Moscow the Cat is saddened by your decadent, sedentary lifestyle.
Kiev the Cat is saddened by your decadent, sedentary lifestyle.

Since my first career was in grocery management, I had some interesting stories to add the the argument that America was crazy for consumption (not tuberculosis). Since her visit was almost exclusive to the biggest cities in California, I submitted that she got the absolute worst of it. Vacation destinations and BBQ gatherings, where people splurge on purpose, and have to go enormous because what they’re used to is already so much.

She did mention, however, that our mustard isn’t nearly as flavorful as what she’s used to back home.

The question is: when is plenty too much, and when is too much almost a bad joke? Would it take someone from another country, sitting in your living room and pointing at all the food you’re leaving out, to illustrate just how amazing you have it?

Go to the supermarket and count the number of apple choices. Do the same for the tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and citrus fruits. If you live in California, you’ve given up before you’ve finished. We get everything we want anytime we want it, but did you ever stop to consider that you shouldn’t have farm fresh berries year-round?

An cardboard sign I bought from a homeless street vendor in Vegas. He had several signs, but this one seemed the most poignant, buying it from a guy with nothing but strips of cardboard and colored pens.
An handmade sign I bought from a homeless street vendor in Vegas. He had several signs, but this one seemed the most poignant, buying it from a guy with nothing but strips of cardboard and colored pens.

Here’s an interesting article, from Forbes. In it is a graph that shows an Economist study of the socioeconomic state of the top and bottom ten percent of several socially democratic countries. If you look closely, the bottom ten percent in the US seem to have it better than the top ten percent in Russia, where our charming guest is from. If the results posted in the article are to be believed, in a country stereotyped by corrupt fat-cat officials, those top tier individuals live like people in the worst slums in America.

Is it so hard to believe that it can’t possibly be true? Or are we so well off that we’re too high on our mountain top to see the valleys below? Quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter. We can’t make the world an entire ball of American standards; in fact, many places would out right refuse if we could and tried.

It all boils down to our good fortune. We are born here, or immigrated here, and thus enjoy the perks of what our society has created. Yes, it makes us fat, and makes us tactless, and we don’t really concern ourselves with the state of another country’s union, but then, we’re here and nowhere else, so what should it matter?

Happiness is a choice, not bound by circumstance.
Happiness is a choice, not bound by circumstance or surroundings.

Happiness is relative to circumstance. The homeless addict finds joy in the receipt of a half eaten fast food meal. The average American Joe is overjoyed when a new season of his favorite show starts. The same can be said for people in any country, in every condition of life. The young lady who came to visit us would have only had hearsay evidence and her own country’s stereotypes of us, if she hadn’t hopped on a plane and came to see for herself.

I say: live the life that you have, don’t stop trying to better it, and don’t feel bad about it. As for our visitor, it didn’t seem like she had too bad a time, enduring our insanely over-indulgent lifestyle, although it did seem to bother her maybe a little. I’d probably know for sure, if we’d let her get a word in edgewise.

We all knew this song was coming, so stop with the face. Seriously, how bad can it be? Hot chicks in every major city, and rock ‘n roll seems to have found its way there.

The Secret Science of Screenwriting

In all the literature I’ve ever read on the subject of screenwriting, the advice is: write, that’s the only way you’ll finish. I’ve finished what I will largely refer to as “my first feature script,” and I’m damn proud of the fact that I finished it, put it through the paces, completely rewrote it, and finished it again.

Will it sell is a completely different subject.

So many people want to “break in,” that the system of finding new talent for writing TV and film is irrevocably deranged. Imagine you are a high-profile movie manager, and your job is to find that next great talent, that diamond in the rough, that one in a million with the perfect idea at the perfect time. Oh, and you also get a thousand query letters a week from wannabe screenwriters like myself, only 996 of the emails are written so badly, you don’t even want to read the log line.

You're in that line somewhere, so your chance has to come eventually, right?
You’re in that line somewhere, so your chance has to come eventually, right?

That’s just the first guy, and he’s already too bombarded by bad ideas to even consider your half-way decent idea. If you happen to get the manager, who will read your stuff, tell you how to fix it, and help you develop your craft, you still have to get that polished turd into the hands of someone with money to pay you for your time (and your manager’s too).

They say Hollywood is like a small town, where everyone knows everyone. Your shot at the big time is so far away, you’ll have run, climb, swim, and fly to get there. Even if you do, what if that one chance lands in the wrong hands? Not what they’re looking for right at that moment, and it turns into a waste of their time, and now you’re on a list in a computer that tells everyone else that they shouldn’t waste their time either.

We haven’t even found an agent yet, or a lawyer, neither of which will waste any of the little squares in their scheduling calendar on you until you’ve proven you can find work. Usually this means actually finding work.

So what’s the secret? There must be a science to it, because the Internet is saturated with persons and companies that swear they have the sure-fire formula for breaking into the business. If that is true, what is holding all these hundreds of thousands of Hollywood hopefuls back?

No wonder regular people can't figure out the Hollywood job formula: i sure don't have a degree in theoretical particle physics.
No wonder regular people can’t figure out the Hollywood job formula: i sure don’t have a degree in theoretical particle physics.

I think it goes back to the original conundrum: writing. If you suck, you suck, and that’s a really hard teet to ween from. Anyone can aspire to do something, and when you have websites and magazines selling the email addresses of every script buyer in the world, of course every American Idol schmuck that got too much unwarranted praise from their family is going to give it a shot.

There is also an originality debate. You need to have an original idea, but it can’t be so original that there’s no telling if people will like it. That’s just too risky for anyone to pledge a hundred million dollars to, and that makes perfect sense.

Personality is also a big part of the equation. Say you get into that meeting, and you pitch your project like the village idiot with a stray cat. Who is going to want to start a long-term business relationship with you, especially when they’ll have to introduce you to people with money, and pretend that you’re the next big thing? if I owned the agency, I’d fire myself.

Then there’s the middle of the sandwich, the PB&J: perseverance, blink luck, and just plain patience. Okay, it didn’t work out well as an acronym, but you get the picture. You’ve got to keep fighting, working on your craft, improving your skills on and off the typewriter, and then after years of submitting queries, entering contents, and going to pitch fests, you still have to be in the right place, with the right idea, at the right time.

Not that I’m telling bad writers to move aside and let those folks with a real chance to stand out more. I’m definitely not saying that, especially because I’m not sure which side of that particular fence I’d land on. Follow your dreams, but don’t just dream about following them.

There you have it, the equation of screenwriting success, as far as I fail to understand it right now. Work hard, be good, don’t give up. And maybe buy some online guy’s ultra secret list of top executive emails and blast them into space; who knows? Luck may be all you need.

If you think you’re going to fall ass-backwards into money for nothing, maybe you should keep you day job for now, just in case.