Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Trans Con

One of my fantasies, and trust me there have been many, has been to ride my bicycle across the United States. In biking jargon such a journey is called a Trans Con which is short for a Transcontinental Bike Ride. Therefore, about ten plus years ago I wrote a screenplay based on that simple premise.

I based my screenplay on a number of books I had read from individuals who had the grit, determination and energy to do just such a bike ride. Then there was my own personal experience of doing the TRAM (The Ride Across Minnesota) two years in a row. Those cycling books and my own experiences inspired me to write the movie.  I thought if I can’t do it myself, perhaps the next best thing would be to write a story about just such a life-changing journey.

TRAM, the ride across Minnesota, is a week-long event held every year in July. When I did it back in 2004 and 2005, riders started on the border of South Dakota. After acclimating to our first night sleeping in a tent on hard ground and a port-a-potty half a block away, we were off and biking. The first day was usually a leisurely ride of fifty or so miles. There were lunch breaks along the way and no time schedule to adhere to. It meant riding, sight-seeing, visiting among various other groups and solitary time thinking about our sore backs, weak knees and the keg at the end of the day. We all adjusted to the routine quickly.

Then for the next seven days, we would average sixty to seventy-five miles per day crossing the state. We quickly got used to sleeping in our tents at night, riding in all kinds of weather; rain and wind and blistering sun. We sometimes drank ourselves silly at night in some small town bar overrun with dirty, thirsty bikers and were up the next day before dawn to do all over again.

Brian rode with me on the second ride, building up memories we both share to this day. Ah, but I was a younger man back then. Time changes a lot of things including my ability to do such a ride again.

Now it seems even the title of my screenplay has been corrupted by time.

In our ever-changing world of swirling, conflicting, and always-evolving social and cultural norms - there now exists a precedent that I will probably have to change the title of my movie. Recently, my editor pointed out that in today’s PC-laced world of ‘let’s not offend anyone, anywhere, anyhow, ‘Trans Con’ would probably be translated into ‘transgender convention’ just like Comic Con, etc. As open-minded as I see myself, that would probably be more than a little misleading for my intended audience.

So the title has been changed from ‘Trans Con’ to ‘Transcontinental.’  Now I’m pondering my next step in the chain of events that must take place in order for my script to come to life. One step is to actively market it and seek producers who might share my own vision of this story.

Making a feature film is a daunting task. Even without major investors, a production crew and actors who can carry their weight, producing movies is a time consuming and challenging task. Even more so for a novice such as myself.

Over the last twenty plus years, with the of advent of digital technologies, there have been many new avenues that have opened up to hundreds if not thousands of wanna-be film makers who now have the tools and knowledge to put a basic film together. While the charm and appeal of independent film-making hasn’t waned over the years, film distribution channels have been changing on almost a monthly basis.

Film festivals were once the gateway to acknowledgement of a job well done and possibly some kind of distribution deal. There was always the ever-hopeful wish for Hollywood’s possible notice. That is no longer true. Sundance has gone Hollywood and the proliferation of film festivals across the country and the world has diluted the impact that any one film festival might have on the successful introduction of a new film.

Nevertheless, filmmakers around the world persist in trying to make their films and distribute them. For me, it’s more than simply a long shot. There are other plays and novels screaming for my attention. My marketing efforts are sorely lacking and need a kick in the pants. Then there is the time and effort necessary to get such a project off the ground. In fact, it might be easier to just jump on a bike and do the ride myself.

For now, I’ll probably put off this particular project in lieu of several plays that show more immediate promise. Or take a long bike just to clear my mind…in hopes of meeting a Hollywood producer along the way.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Club

Cliques are a normal part of everyday life. They can be found in organizations of every size, shape and affiliation. Institutions, groups and gatherings often share the same pedigree. Back in the day, it was sandlot baseball and who got chosen to be on which team. In high school and college, it was those thinly veiled popularity contests within clubs and classes. It was any collection of the ‘in people’ who felt they were above the rest of us peons. We all knew who they were and so did they.

I guess the common denominator among those club members was their like-mindedness to the exclusion of everyone else. After sixteen years of academic game-playing, I thought I was done with that narrow-minded, sometimes contrived notion that their way was the only way. But I was wrong. They say that education, politics and the arts all seem to favor the ‘chosen ones’ above the rest of us. In other words, politics rules the roost. Certainly, the gatekeepers in those fields feel that way.

In my ongoing search for new venues and markets for my plays and novels, I keep running into private clubs that masqueraded as theatrical venues, writing groups, neighborhood organizations and the like. It’s almost as if I’m back in high school and once again I’m on the outside, looking in. But even at this stage of my life, I’m still not willing to do anything to be on ‘the inside’ like all the popular kids in school. In other words, most of the time I’m not willing to ‘play their game.’

One way to get around or combat this silliness is to know who the real players are and to ask myself if I’m willing to play ball with them. It’s analyzing ‘stated’ objectives and goals as opposed to the real objectives and goals. Then it’s deciding just how far I want to go to reach my own objectives.

 I was once told that making changes in the world of education is like steering the Queen Mary. It is nearly impossible unless all or most of the university’s colleges, departments, and faculty committees collectively buy into the changes. I don’t think it is much different with these aforementioned theatrical clubs and venues.

Like the TSA agent at the airport who controls your life in the security line for a brief period, usually the artistic directors hold the reins of their venue. It’s their turf, their kingdom and their domain. You’re only passing through unless you’re already a part of the club.

Boards and committees aside, the Program Chair, Artistic Director, or Director decide which plays get produced and whose theatrical work they will herald. This is their ‘real world’ where they reign supreme. Outsiders are simply interlopers who may or may not be welcomed into the club. Some are honest about it and upfront as to their taste in material. Others feign interest in new material but have already decided what meets their standards and critical best.

I had another turn down recently. But this one was different. Usually it’s the absence of a response to my inquiry that broadcasts loudly and clearly little interest in my work. I never get to find out why I wasn’t admitted into the club. This latest rejection came from a large senior living complex where their Performing Arts group puts on a play or two each year.

I had corresponded for several months with their VP of plays. She seemed very interested in meeting me and reading my scripts.  I felt confident I had a couple of plays that would meet their theatrical standards and would be a fun evening out for their residents.  We met over coffee. The meeting went well and she invited me to send her some scripts which I did that evening. Overall, it looked very promising.

The Vice President of Programming thought differently. She turned down both plays flat. When I asked for an explanation she didn’t hold back. I appreciated that. She was honest and clear about what she liked and didn’t like. She was firm but professional and she treated me with respect.

She certainly felt her reasons were sufficient to reject my plays. I personally thought her reasoning was a bit askew but that didn’t matter. She held the ball and it was her ball game. Now I know what she is looking for and might have something for her in the future. Or not.

I fear she is perhaps looking for that ‘find of the century’ in terms of theatrical entertainment. Some new approach to the theater that would make her a somebody in her tiny theatrical world. Never the less, she was honest and forthright unlike a lot of her counterparts.

I had a boss once who loved to exclaim: “If you take the money and the title, you should do the job.” She did and I respect her for that.

So my quest goes on every time I approach some gatekeeper about my plays. Hopefully, I’ve done my homework upfront. I should know what their audience makeup is like, what kind of plays they’re performing and how they see themselves in the wild and woolly, crazy and confusing world of community theater and art houses.

I’m trying to learn the game as much as I can as even it swirls and changes direction all around me. There are the ever-current trends and philosophies, financial considerations, political gamesmanship and the ever-present theatrical intrigue that permeates this business.

And I thought television was a crazy business.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Affair

It started out like an illicit affair, begun innocently enough and ending in confusion and finality. It was a gift of travel to an exotic location that hadn’t been on our vacation radar at all. Once there, the experience was adventurous, exciting, glamorous, and worldly. But it was doomed to failure right from the start.

Our host was impulsive, quick to judge and could turn her feelings around on a dime. Not surprisingly, the arrangement lasted only a couple of years. Then as quickly as it unfolded, it evaporated in confusion, finger pointing, and separation.

Our host was single, a shrewd and successful businesswoman who was always looking at the angles. She had just purchased a small condo in San Jose, Mexico on the tip of the Cabo peninsula near the town of San Jose. Since she was still working, she wanted folks down there at her place when she wasn’t around to watch over it and make their presence known. We certainly didn’t mind house-sitting a beautiful home on the cliffs overlooking the Bay of Mexico.

The small town of San Jose is located on the opposite end of the town of Cabo. It wasn’t as commercial as Cabo, its sister city sixteen miles away. The whole Los Cabos Peninsula was booming in real estate and commercial development. Sectur, the Mexican Department of Tourism, had picked the Cabo Peninsula for commercial development on a massive scale.

San Jose was small enough to reflect the charm of Mexican culture before it got corrupted by crass commercialism. Part of the rush to build included a number of unfinished condo projects scattered along the beach. Hidden among the commercial enclaves were small coves inhabited by Gidget look-a-likes and surfer dudes.

Los Cabos is a tourist town wrapped in wealth and poverty at the same time. For visitors and tourists it hosts a wonderful variety of attractions. Multi-million dollars yachts fill the harbor while erstwhile mansions climbed up the hillsides.

There is a famous landmark in the harbor called simply the Arch. Up the coast, the small town of Toto Santos is a step back in time, except for the Hotel California situated prominently on Main Street.

Over several years, we went to Cabo three times. Each was more enjoyable than the last. We even contemplated buying our own condo for retirement. Why not, what could go wrong with this perfect arrangement?

For one thing, our host and her boyfriend had never discussed her plans to spend six months in northern Minnesota at his cabin on a lake and then six months at her condo by the sea. This lack of communication blew up one day, extended on for several weeks, and eventually ended their ten-year relationship. Along with that severance came our welcome mat to her home down south. She decided to spend more time down there and wanted her privacy when she entertained other ex-pats at her place. It was completely understandable but unfortunate…for us.

We haven’t been back since. Cabo is a wonderful place to visit but I fear that the crass commercialization, overdevelopment, and fractional real estate world of that utopia can’t last forever. It was great while it lasted but time moves on.

If I had the chance again, we’d probably go back again. I’ve got my favorite haunts in both towns - seaside strolls, Cliffside harbors, and a never-ending curiosity of their real estate scene. It brings back many happy memories of a time before grandkids, winters out west, an intense writing career, and an assortment of other distractions from relaxation. Cabo was an escape from my reality and it might be fun to escape once again, if only for a short period of time.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Seeking Closure

While sometimes things are better left unsaid, more often than not closure is a good thing. Closure brings finality to the end of a relationship, agreement, arrangement or understanding. It clears out the cobwebs of words left unspoken, gestures not returned and comments not made nor taken back. It leaves both parties with their questions answered or resolved. Or at best, it brings acceptance that some questions never will be or perhaps simply can never be answered. The end of a friendship can be like that. Like the friends I made in Europe who stayed in place while I moved back to the states.

Unfortunately, there have been a number of involvements in my life that ended rather abruptly or without closure. Recently, I wrote about ‘Ghosting’ in my November 12th blog. Those relationships, agreements, or arrangements ended rather abruptly and without a clear explanation of ‘what happened.’

Me and My Mother
With her strong German heritage and stoic parental upbringing, my mother never talked about ‘personal things.’ In another blog ‘Hilde and the Old Man,’ I explored my mother’s fascinating upbringing that I never knew anything about until late in her life. As the end got closer, my mother slowly started to reveal things about her life and background growing up. But by that time, she was too far gone (in terms of mental lucidness) to have a really clear, succinct grasp of her past. Her memory was slowly failing and her stories kept contradicting themselves and causing only more confusion and doubt.

Me and My Father

My father died when I was six years old and for twenty-one years his name was never mentioned in our home. I never knew anything about my father so there was nothing to bring closure to that relationship. No chance of ever figuring that connection out. Therefore, I never had closure with my Mother or my Father.

Me and Mickey
I’ve experienced that same ‘failure to close’ with some past relationships and partnerships. There were words left unspoken, feelings left unanswered and questions still dangling in space. Growing up, there were friends who slowly but surely went their own way. There were school mates who promised to be there forever until we both faced graduation. There were job partners who stuck around when I moved on to something better.


Me with Pat
There were romantic entanglements that began in colorful hues and tints of spring. Then at some point gradually began to fade in the harshness of our collective conflicting feelings for each other and the future.

St. Thomas Yearbook

Maryland Center Gang
Then there have been a number of events and episodes in my life that came to a natural conclusion and it was a good final good-bye. Some past jobs simply ran their course and we parted on mutually agreeable terms. Phases in my life like real estate investments, producing, and marketing video programs and athletic endeavors all gradually ran their course and new opportunities took their place.

I read a million years ago that ‘if you’re in a good place’ in your life now, then you can look back at all those things that worked and didn’t work. The goals accomplished and failures along the way. You can summarize your past openly, honestly and without regret because in the end, it just life playing itself out again. That’s where I’m at now.

As Woody Guthrie immortalized in a song, ‘So long, it’s been good to know ya.’ It’s been one heck of a wonderful trip thus far and I hope for many more miles to go.