Sometimes the Day Job takes over

While most of us would rather pursue our deepest passions every day of the week. For me, that’s writing, be it oddball short story collections, novels, or even screenplays, but from time to time it becomes necessary to dip one’s toes back into the waters of the dreaded, “Working for Someone Else.” This usually means little time for writing, as television and film production, more often than not, leads to 14 or more hour days. Sometimes, however, the end result is so good it’s worth it.

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Oh yes. Weeks of sleep later, I’ve recovered from my recent gig for FX and I have to say, it is shaping up to be a really good show. If you’ve ever been interested in the origins of crack cocaine in 1980’s Los Angeles, John Singleton’s Snowfall is the show for you. Check out the FX trailer.

It’s coming July 5th, so please, give it a try. We put a LOT of hours into it, and the entire cast and crew sincerely hope you’ll enjoy it.

Self-Publishing Can Work for You

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Alright, if you’ve been following my blog, you know it’s been a bit now since I started this self-publishing experiment, and I want to tell you a few things I’ve discovered.

First: If you don’t put in the work to publicize your books, no one will just stumble upon them. I’ve experimented with various methodologies, and while some work better than others for driving readers to deals, (Freebooksy/Bargainbooksy are favorites), the cold, harsh reality is if you don’t actively promote your work often, it will go unnoticed. Have a plan, and follow it regularly to increase awareness and drive traffic.

Second: Reviews and ratings are crucial to increasing your download and purchase numbers. The more reviews I get, the higher the percentage of conversions I see when people follow a link to my Amazon page. This makes perfect sense, of course. Don’t just focus on Amazon, however. goodreads-logo-1024x576-7abf5bd8d98b9d10Goodreads is also a great source to introduce your work to new readers, and the community is a bit more self-policing than Amazon.

Third: Quantity is king. A single book won’t do much for you, but if you have several, or better yet, a series, you can drive traffic to your other books when you do a promotion for just one of them. I publicized a giveaway of Worst. Superhero. Ever. for five days (each with a different listing site, which is when Freebooksy became a favorite). The result was over 3,000 downloads (over 2,000 from Freebooksy alone), and in the weeks that followed, my other books began to see an uptick in purchases. A freebie isn’t always a bad thing. If you provide something that people like, a good many will purchase your other works. There’s no guarantee, and it may take months (some people download everything they find for free and eventually get to them), but it’s definitely worth looking into.

Fourth: Set up a mailing list (here’s mine for those interested in quirky short stories). People who enjoy your work and sign up for your list will most likely purchase your other books as they come out. Additionally, they’ll promote your work for you. Build a solid base of fans and interact with them, but don’t spam them. One thing I like is running potential cover designs by them for opinions. Another is to occasionally send a free short story, just because. These are people who genuinely enjoy your work, so treat them as such. They’re not just consumers, they are people who appreciate what you offer. Create a loyal fan base (by not being a dick) and you’ll stand a much better chance of gaining traction with every new release. MailChimp is a great resource for mailing lists, by the way. mailchimp

Fifth: Few will sell millions, but if you’re feeling frustrated or unsure, read this article about Amanda Hocking. She self-published her works (rejected by numerous traditional publishers) to help her fund a trip to a convention. Much to her surprise, they were a hit, and she has now sold over 1.5 million copies of her works.

There are no guarantees, but it’s better to try, and possibly fail, than to never try at all.

 

The Queen of the Nutters

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Fellow writers and lovers of quirk, I’d like to introduce you to my latest brain-baby, birthed in the midst of the holiday season. She’s a funny little thing, full of humor and whimsy, along with a healthy dose of “Where the hell did he get that idea?”

I’ve found the process of self publishing to be an interesting combination of daunting and invigorating. If you’ve tried it, you know what I mean, and if you’re reluctant yet considering it, I highly recommend it. Sure, the act of putting your work forth for public consumption and review is a little terrifying at first (and I highly recommend trying reddit’s DestructiveReaders for brutally honest critiques from your peers), but it gradually becomes less nerve-wracking. Some people will love your work, some will hate it, but very few will ever take the time to write about it to either extent.

When my first (and to date, only, knock on wood) terrible review of my previous book, Worst. Superhero. Ever. worstsuperheroever_cover1came in, I was, by that point, ready for the inevitable. It had to happen eventually, a bad review is a rite of passage of sorts (and getting one from a reader who admittedly didn’t even go past the first short really didn’t sting too much). What I’m saying is don’t let fear of negativity hold you back. I’ve found the support and positive feedback from readers and other writers has overwhelmingly outweighed any negatives.

As for the publishing process itself, well let’s just say the writing is the easy part. With this, my third e-book, I’m finally getting the hang of the self publishing game, but it still takes hours to properly format the book, get the table of contents and back matter in order in a way that ensures Amazon’s acceptance, and do the final re-re-re-reads even after the editor has picked it apart.

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Shortly I’ll be putting up a separate post with links to some online resources I found helpful that should be of use to other indie authors. We are all in this together, and, at least in my case, I’ve found my peers to be wonderful and supportive. In the meantime, please give The Queen of the Nutters a read, and maybe even leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads if you’re so inclined. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and would love to hear your feedback.

Happy Holidays!

 

Worst. Superhero. Ever.

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It seems like only last month I released Lost & Found: And other odd short stories… oh wait, it was! Originally I intended to publish one or two large collections of short stories, but instead I took the advice of published shorts authors and broke my work into more manageable sized ebooks. Learning the ropes from people well-versed in the ebook world proved a fortunate turn of events, and now I’m releasing my second batch of quirky short stories, Worst. Superhero. Ever.: And other odd short stories

The book officially releases on Tuesday November 15th, but is available for pre-order on Amazon (and is part of the Unlimited program as well). Go get it! (is that the worst call to action ever, or what?)

Seriously though, it’s been a bit of a challenge getting this one to market while working  long hours in TV Land (my day job), but time was carved out and here it finally is. I would hope other aspiring writers take this as inspiration and perhaps a kick in the butt to keep working on your passion. Even if you pull 17 hour shifts (which I did several times this week), it is still possible to nurture your artistic side, even if things are hectic. Do what you must, but keep that creative spark alive! Your fellow authors are rooting for you.

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And thus my brain baby is released into the world. All joking aside (except that found in the book of course), I sincerely hope you decide to give this book a try. If you liked Lost & Found, I think you’ll truly enjoy the quirky tales in Worst. Superhero. Ever.

One last thing. If you’d like to be notified of future releases, sign up to receive my newsletter. It’s infrequent, not spammy at all, is only about book releases, and can easily be unsubscribed from at any time.

Lost & Found — A collection of odd short stories

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After much procrastination and reworking, I’ve finally released my first small collection of short stories. Four to be exact. A bite-sized e-book to put the first few of my brain babies out into the world. It was hard to stop editing and tweaking them and just let them go out into the wild, but now that they are, the feeling is wonderful. To all my fellow writer friends on the fence about doing the same, I just want to say this: Keep at it and put your work out there. Discovering new stories is a joy, and you can contribute to the body of new work available to eager readers.

As for me, I’m humbly asking those who are interested in quirky and odd short stories to take a chance on my little $0.99 e-book and give it a read, and if you should get some joy from my stories, please take a moment when you’re done to leave a rating or review (the lifeblood of indie authors) on Amazon or Goodreads (or both). It would be immensely appreciated!

Lastly, I know it can be rough out there, so if times are tight and you cannot afford the download, please message me directly and I’ll gladly send you a version for free.

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The Mice of Troon

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It was a fine day in in the town of Troon, though perhaps a wee bit overly damp from the ongoing rain and cold wind blowing in from the sea.

The young boy played by himself in his home, left to his own devices to amuse himself indoors until the weather cleared while his mother finished on some chores. Naturally he spent the morning doing what young boys so often do when stuck indoors, namely he had adventures in whatever way he could.

Now this lad had been born with poor vision, which was a hindrance in some ways, but also led to his greater attention to subtle details. His parents and teachers were often amazed not just by his imagination, but also the way he noticed the little things others might often overlook.

On this particular day, the boy had discovered the knotted cord to the recessed ladder leading to the attic of his home. He hadn’t noticed it before, for him this was a new and as yet un-touched adventure waiting to be experienced. What was a young boy to do but investigate?

He stepped up on a chair, ignoring the slight wobble, and stretching above his head, stood on his toes and reached up until his fingers finally curled around the cord dangling from the ceiling. Victorious, he pulled until the ladder revealed itself and extended down to the floor. Torch in hand, he slowly climbed the rungs towards his mysterious new adventure land, until his feet finally disappeared from view as he stepped fearlessly into the dimly lit attic.

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He spent the better part of the afternoon up there, and after several hours of adventure digging through the treasures secreted away in his newly discovered playground, he came across a small old metal and wood device tucked in a corner. The pine was coated with dust, the metal bits had long ago developed the patina of age. Curious, he decided to carry it downstairs and show his discovery to his mother.

Back on the ground floor, he brushed the cobwebs from his clothes as he stepped into the kitchen, finding his mother busy making mince pies to follow the evening’s supper.

“Mummy, why do we have these in the attic?” the boy asked.

She looked up from her work to see what new mischief her son had gotten into, her eyes falling on the disused device in his hand. She wiped the flour off her hands with her well-used apron and smiled warmly at her son, running her hand through his hair with a loving ruffling as she exclaimed, “Oh, you’ve found some new treasure have you? Well do you know what that is for?

“No, what is it?”

“That’s a mouse trap. They’re used to catch the mice in the house.”

“What mice?” the boy asked, “everyone knows there’s no such thing.”

His mother chuckled. “Don’t be silly, of course there are dear, but the traps are just rubbish at catching them, that’s all. That’s why we got Mr. Jingles the cat, to keep the mice out. Of course he shreds the curtains, but that’s why Humphrey is such a good dog, he keeps Mr. Jingles in check.”

The cat slowly blinked as he looked at the boy with a sly look in his eye, his jingling bell collar chiming out softly as he turned his head.

“No mummy, can’t you see? There aren’t any. Mice don’t really exist.”

“Don’t be silly darling” she replied as she turned her attention back to filling her pies, “Of course they do.”

“But have you actually ever seen one?” He asked. “I think the cat is just playing a trick on you, convincing you they’re real so he’ll have a nice warm place to live and plenty of food to eat.”

mti4otkzmdyzndkzmzu1ntmw            A slight tingling of bells chimed as Mr. Jingles slowly turned his head and fixed his gaze on the boy, giving him a rather nasty look.

 

His mother, however, paused for a moment, digesting the thought her son had put in her mind. “Come to think of it” she said, “when have I actually seen one?” The seed of doubt just planted, suddenly began to take root.

A slight puff blew through the room, and just like that, things suddenly felt different.

“Why come to think of it, I believe you’re right.” she said. “In fact, I know you are. Goodness, I don’t know what I was thinking, of course mice don’t really exist, how silly of me. Aren’t you a clever boy.” she said, smiling at her son proudly.

“You see mummy,” said the boy, “I told you. It was all the cat’s doing.”

“Cat? What cat?”

“Mr. Jingles, the cat Humphrey is always barking at.”

“What cat?” she said once more, “Darling, everyone knows cats don’t really exist.”

“What do you mean?” asked the boy. “I’m sure I saw him.”

No sooner had he uttered those words, he heard the quiet click of paws on the wood floor as Humphrey slowly padded into the room, casual in his gait, tail swishing in a slow arc from side to side. The old dog paused at his bowl, tail still wagging, and looked the boy right in the eye. Even with his impaired vision the boy was certain the dog smiled at him and winked before he looked away, turning his attention to the mound of kibble before him.

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~ For Bean ~

 

 

Pitfalls of Shooting Digital

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Now that digital has more or less caught up to shooting on film, though some purists will still argue that digital isn’t quite there yet and that film looks better, we see many of the constraints of working with film gone, only to be replaced with problems of a new sort.

Exhausting the actors.

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When mags of film would roll out and require a reload, directors were forced to better plan what they wanted and then do their best to capture it efficiently. Unless you were a big production, the cost of film alone prevented doing massively long takes and shooting a dozen different angles just to have more to play with in the edit. Indecisiveness and lack of clear vision was shunned. Unfortunately now with the leeway of digital, we see dozens of takes from a multitude of angles as clarity of vision is often replaced with a wing-it “let’s try this” approach. Actors love to get to try different things, and many times that produces pure gold, but when this new flexibility is abused, actors can get worn down. An entire day shooting a 3 page scene over and over and over would tire even the most seasoned actor, and performances start to drop off. Then there’s crew. They get far less turnaround between days than actors do (9 hours on stage and 10 hours on location, including drive time home and back to work the next day… Teamsters only get 8) and safety and productivity can suffer greatly as your crew wears out. nap on set

Running up the budget.

Another problem stemming from the overshooting/underplanning issue is one directors often ignore, but one that keeps producers awake at night. Budget.

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Paying an entire crew for those extra few hours tacked on to each day because of a less constrained process can cost tens of thousands of dollars an hour. IATSE film crews get time and a half after 8 hours, which they almost always go past. Once you pass 12 hours your crew goes into double-time. If you go long, you’ve essentially hired an entire second crew (money-wise) for each hour you go over, yet you still get the output of one crew, and that’s an increasingly tired crew at that. Then factor in meal penalties (a union crew must be broken for meals every 6 hours, otherwise they are paid a penalty every half hour, which can really add up) and costs skyrocket. One way to avoid running long is by tacking on additional days to keep the overtime low, but we’ve seen in countless times, if you give an extra few days leeway, the 10 hour days will still often creep up to 14 or 16 hours, and now you’ll just have more of those overtime days rather than actually cutting costs.  Adult Supervision (i.e. a producer with balls to stand up to the director when need be) is vital on a set where money is an issue.

Screen Shot 2016-05-20 at 1.21.05 PMIf you’re shooting on location, you may have to pay the location, neighbors, traffic control, security, rental bathrooms, and other equipment for extended hours as well. Long story short(ish), if you don’t rein in your director the budget can go out the window.

Those poor editors.

I worked a project recently that shot back-to-back takes of 38 minutes and 42 minutes with two cameras operating. That’s 160 minutes of footage shot in 80 minutes of work. These were unusually long takes, but are indicative of what can happen when a director goes off-book. The five most dangerous words in Hollywood are, “Hey, I have an idea.”

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If a director shoots with two cameras and averages three 10 minute takes per setup, then shoots sixteen setups per day on a 30 day shoot, you’re looking at (roughly) 16 hours of footage a day, or 480 hours of footage at the end of 30 days. That’s a month of non-stop viewing on an 18 hour day schedule, not including the actual act of editing.

Now consider that continuous rolls means no slate to break up the action and mark a moment. Unless the director is very good at telling the script supervisor which moments they really like on the fly as they happen, the director and editor will later have to re-watch all that footage to find what they want to use, searching for that needle in a haystack. Amusingly I’ve heard from several editors that almost always in this situation the director will use the first take that they come across that they like, even if there may have been something amazing further down the line.   needle haystack man

I love digital. I believe digital opens up many opportunities to be creative and efficient, but it is also important to not allow the benefits of shooting digital be erased by poor filming practices. Directors need adult supervision to keep them from shooting 2 hours of insert shots of hands from 7 different angles. I’ve seen a director (who happened to be the showrunner, so he got away with it) shoot multiple masters from different angles. The guy had so little clue how to shoot or what he wanted, he was just getting a master, then closer, then closer, then closer from every angle. no_idea_by_workisnotajobIt was a shit-show and the actors (not to their head honcho’s face of course) were even breaking composure and bitching about it.

Use digital as the amazing tool it is, but plan ahead and use it well. If you treat digital like film and follow at least some of the same production practices (for the most part, after all, flexibility of digital is a big plus) then you should still be quite able to shoot excellent material at a much lower cost in terms of money, time, and frustration, than film.

Lastly, Always Remember the 5 P’s: 

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