Monthly Archives: May 2013

We Are All The Hardest Working Man in Show Business

Watch me, now.

Watch me, now.

Yesterday, I started the 7-minute workout, the latest fitness craze made popular by an article in the NY Times. According to the article, “exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10.” So, when I told my husband I’d done it, he asked if I’d remembered to work at 80% of my maximum effort. To which I responded: “Doesn’t everyone?”

My argument being that most people rarely function at 100% of their capacity unless they’re under special circumstances, like competing in the Olympics or being chased by killer bees.

It’s like when you go out for a run and finally settle into a rhythm, then a car drives by, or another jogger comes along and you speed up your pace. Turns out, you did have more to give, only you didn’t want to use it unless you absolutely had to, which, thanks to a hearty dose of shame, you did, as soon as that cute guy in the short-shorts whizzed by you.

I was thinking about the idea of pushing ourselves to the max and how it relates to being a screenwriter/novelist. There’s a lot you can say about showbiz folks, but the one thing you can’t accuse them of is not giving it their all. Be it the grueling dance rehearsals and tour schedule of a highly paid pop music diva or the hours a writer like me spends toiling away in solitude—the competitive nature of this business require that when we perform, we do it at no less than 100%.

I guess, in a way, being in showbiz is it’s own kind of interval training—sprint and rest, sprint and rest.  And we need those calm periods in between film shoots and manuscripts in order to slow down and reconnect with ourselves, to get more than five hours of sleep a night, and refill our creative wells. But the second we’re called to action, we’re off and running again. Because no one ever gave that break-out movie performance or landed a life-changing script deal by giving anything less than 100%.  

At least that’s what we tell ourselves each time our screenplays fail to sell, or when we don’t get that directing job or land that plum role. We rally, regroup, then push ourselves to do better next time. We double down. Then, we double down again.

Yet, in the rest of our lives, I think most of us operate at around 80%, at best.  Just last night I was talking about this with another mom (as we watched about 20% of our sons’ baseball game) bemoaning the fact that no matter what we do, we’ll never be better than be B+ parents.  I know this because during the first three years of my son’s life, I tried parenting 100%—hauling my floppy-necked infant to mommy-baby drum circles, my valuable hours spent filling ice cube trays with homemade organic baby food.  Turns out, 100% mommying is about 20% too much mommying for me.  At least it is if I want to leave space for any of the other important things in my life, like my writing, my husband, and my friends.

In general, I believe there’s nothing wrong with living life at 80%. It’s steady. It’s not totally exhausting. If life is a marathon, 80% is what we need if we want to cross the finish line. 

But what I’ve had to come to terms with over the years is that creative types like me don’t like to run at a steady pace.  We prefer pushing ourselves to our limits, even if we have to put ourselves in extraordinary circumstances and under extraordinary pressure in order to find out exactly what those limits are. Which is why we are all the hardest-working men in show business. (No offense to James Brown.) And even though it can feel utterly depleting at times, dancing as fast as we can without any guarantee  we’ll win the dance contest, I believe there’s great value in challenging ourselves. Like mothers who suddenly find themselves able to lift a Volkswagen off their child, unless we’re pushed to our limits, we may never find out how strong we truly are. 

 

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Hollywood Trend Alert! Is Quiet the New Noisy?

white_noise_tvNoisy is the new buzzword in television, and as several TV execs told me recently, the noisier the series, the better. In the old days, a few unsolved murders and a little sexual tension was enough to titillate the masses. But in today’s world of 10 billion channels, it’s no longer just about a cool, high-concept idea. For a show to succeed, it needs to make a frigging cacophony.

So, if your show’s main character is a time-travelling, gay, bi-polar cannibal who teaches Sunday school by day and by night, battles zombie prostitutes… congratulations! You might just be on to something. The equation for success in the TV biz being: More + More = More!

The word noisy so well-encapsulates the ideal of the modern television that it has officially dethroned Hollywood’s former favorite catchphrase, “fresh and edgy.” (A note to aspiring screenwriters still using the term “fresh and edgy,” you might as well describe your series as  “groovy” and see how well that goes over.)

It’s like that AT&T commercial where the guy asks the roundtable of kids, “What’s better—doing two things at once, or just one?” and the kids all shout “Two!” But when did we decide it was a good idea to listen to six-year-olds? These are people who actually laugh at The Chipmunks movies, people who prefer One Direction over Radiohead, people who’d eat an entire bag of marshmallows for dinner if we let them. Of course children (and their teenage counterparts) want noisy television. They are noisy. Which is why, whenever I find myself in a room full of kids, it takes everything in my power not to start shouting at them to zip their lips and calm the f*ck down.

My point is:  isn’t our world loud enough? Especially when it comes to TV. From the splashy lower-third promos constantly assaulting us, to the fact that roughly half of us now watch while simultaneously Tweeting, we have forgotten everything we once enjoyed about television—namely, the ability to lay down on our couches, get lost in a story, and forget all about our crazy lives.

And let’s not forget the shrill onslaught of commercials that come booming into our living rooms at alarmingly high decibels these days. After years of advertisers turning it up to eleven, the FCC has finally managed to avert their lecherous gaze away from celebrity nipple-slips in order to do their actual job. And for the past few weeks, they’ve been banging their brooms on the ceiling like the angry grandpas they truly are, shouting for advertisers “Turn that racket down!” The only problem: the damn commercials are so loud no one can hear them.

Of course, there are some cable networks that are making an impact with quieter, slower shows, like Sundance Channel’s great new series, RECTIFY. As many people have already commented, RECTIFY’s two-hour premiere episode was extraordinarily slow-paced—refreshingly, even shockingly so. But maybe that’s what it takes to truly stand out in today’s noisy world. Could it be that successful television isn’t just about who can create the biggest racket? Maybe being quiet actually makes the biggest noise of all.

Author’s note:  In the interest of full disclosure, I might be turning into an old crank, like my mother, back in the 80’s, who was baffled by my love of “quick-cut” music videos on MTV. “You’re going to get epilepsy,” she would warn as I lay, transfixed on the floor of our shag-carpeted family room. I recently went onto YouTube and re-watched some of these quote-unquote fast-paced music videos with my son, and we both agreed that by today’s standards, they seemed almost laughably slow.

 

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