Updated Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Yeah, but what's it About?

My heart skips a beat, my mind races - even among friends I can feel my hands starting to get sweaty. I'm coming up blank and feeling the hot rush of blood to my face as I stammer and think, forcing myself to say something.

This is a show I've been working on for months, researching, crafting...

Yeah, but what's it about??

My friends are trying to help, the smiles on their faces let me know this is something they've endured themselves... but still - dammit! Why can't I just articulate it? Where are the words to sell my own friends on my great idea - this fantastic show that I know is in there.

Peter laughs and tries a different tack: What HAPPENS every episode, what's the engine? What's the franchise? I start to explain my story - he stops me. Uh-uh. C'mon, one sentence. What's it about? What happens every episode? Reflexively, I start into my story again - stopping myself this time. What the hell? Elize chuckles too.

What the hell is a story engine? Something that drives your franchise? Okay... How do I make a story engine? You need a hook - a 'holy shit' moment or a 'oh, wow' moment that will play into every episode. My brain's going numb, trying to process new information while still churning away at the old query. Why is this so hard? What are they expecting me to say?

Only 'what happens' - what it's about.

Simple question. The simplest question... and yet for some reason that question hits my cortex and goes fractal. What happens? Everything happens - cool shit happens. Cool people do cool things.

That's nice but why would I want to watch that? What makes your show better than all the other shows?

Then, lifting their beer with a grin the coup de grace is delivered: And why are you the one to write it? The ONLY one who can write it?

Oh shit.

Welcome to the real world, baby writer.

I've been up trying to figure out how to distill what I have into a kernel - a seed - that will take root in people's minds. To figure out that hook that will have heads nodding and people understanding what I'm trying to say as I say it... to be honest, it's kind of freaking me out a little bit - the idea that I've spent all this time reading and crafting and writing this pilot... and I can't even articulate what the show's about.

How the hell does that even happen? I guess you have to go into it with a clear vision of what you want, what it will be and do your best not to muddy the waters. Which, incidentally, is kind of what it feels like right now - I have this idea of what it is but almost like the more I think about it the more sediment gets kicked up.

Maybe I'm tripping myself up, grasping at straw that hasn't grown yet. Maybe the simple answer is 'I just don't know right now' what every episode's going to look like. What the engine is going to be. Why it's not 'just a movie'.

For sure, the one definitive answer is that until I can answer that question - in a heartbeat, with a smile -- let alone all the questions that are sure to follow - this baby's not ready to be born.

Though I swear I felt it kick.

Cheers,
Brandon

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Vegas was... Cold

We left with the temperature being in the single digits, dipping into the negatives (with windchill) and raining.

We landed in Vegas with the temperature being in the single digits, dipping into the negatives (with windchill) and raining.

Vegas was... well, Vegas was nothing like I'd expected. That's both a good and a bad thing.

Before we left we'd read the big books: our Frommer's and Fodor's and even the Moon's. We'd hit up sites like cheapovegas.com and mapped a good chunk of the strip in our heads. We learned all about what places we wanted to visit, what shops we wanted to see, where we were going to eat and how we were going to get there.

Those plans barely survived the landing, let alone the stay.

Over the course of 5 days we walked all over the strip (yes, walked) - from Excalibur to Palazzo, from the strip to Gold Coast, hell, the entire Fremont Street experience. (Freemont street's not that big... but it's not for those with ADD :P) We also used the Deuce for most of our other transit, whenever we needed to get from point A to point B in a hurry. $7 for an all day/all transit pass is a bargain - especially if you pick up the $15 3-day pass. One thing I will say is that their transit blows the TTC out of the water. Both fast and punctual, they issue electronic tickets with clear expiry times. It seems like such a simple thing that the TTC has yet to master.

Moving on...

Sooo... the fun question: How much money did I lose? Well, my games are Roulette and Blackjack for the most part. Roulette I did well - at my highest point I was up $100 on a $5 starting bet. Most of that I lost over the course of the trip, usually by betting on slots and Video Poker (why, oh gawd, why?!) . Blackjack I fared much better. I sat down at the $3 tables ('cause I'm hardcore like that, yo) and turned $3 into $60. Again, much of this was put back into the system for food and drinks and such. What can I say?

Vegas giveth and Vegas taketh away. My worst run happened at the roulette table - I was up $80 or so and tried playing with the big boys. $5 chips betting on the 4s and singles. Yeah, THAT's gambling. Needless to say, I didn't win.

One strategy I found worked out really well was to make sure I took back my initial investment. The moment I won triple my original bet, I pulled the original off the table and put it in my pocket. I made sure to do that every time I tripled my original. For Blackjack that proved to work brilliantly 'cause as soon as my chips were gone I'd know that my 'luck' had run out and I could leave without being empty handed. Doing that allowed me to walk away up $60 for about an hour and a half's play at the $3 tables. Of course who knows how much I'd be up if I'd just walked away at my highest point (or if I'd bet more like $10 a game) but it's best not to think about those things. I was there for the fun, not to make money.

For Vegas itself, I learned that most of what's in those books is nice - in theory. As long as there's not an economic crisis knocking on your door. For us, in a lot of ways, Vegas was like a shinier, flashier Toronto. As far as we could tell - with the exception of alcohol - all the prices seemed to be what we'd pay in Canada (albeit with American cash...). I'm sure a lot of this is due to the Vegas effect but it was interesting to note that a bottle of water's going to set you back a buck (oooor more... yeesh) no matter where you go.

Almost all the comps that the books had talked about - things like the fun book and most of their line passes/coupons - had been rescinded and we were greeted with less than happy tones when we asked about them. One thing's for sure, our 'conscierge' at the Imperial Palace was a cold, COLD lady who'd either been having the worst day of her life or, for some reason, took an immediate dislike to us. Let's just say that smiles were met with glares on more than one occaison.

Show-wise we only got to see one: Lance Burton's illusion show. One thing I'll say off the top is that this guy has some wicked, wicked illusions. Even sitting in the balcony, looking down and even looking for the swaps and such - he's really, really, good. What killed the experience a tad for me was the presentation itself. A weird mix of tangental stagecraft and dreamscape/nightmare, his show felt all over the place and outright cheesy at some points (the disappearing clown/phone box bit... ugh). I get that it's supposed to be a family friendly show, but some of it just seemed so cloying that I was pulled right out of the experience. Still, if you can stomach the cheezwhiz frosting, his show - his MAGIC - is brilliant. Highly recommended.

Food-wise, we helped ourselves to 2 buffets while we were there (and scoped out many more). The two that got us to spend our money were the dinner buffet at Rio and the Lunch/Dinner buffet at Harrah's. Rio set us back close to $50 for the both of us but was, by far, the best of the two. Massive crab legs, steaks, sushi, taquitos, you name it. The place boasted over 300 different items (no I didn't try them all) and was gorgeous - not as eye-popping as the buffet at the Bellagio, but waaay cheaper. They had real italian gelato in a ton of flavours and more fresh baked treats than you could even dream of eating. Harrah's got our money because we learned of a little trick where if you go in about 40 mins before lunch time ends, you can essentially stick around for dinner too. That one set us back just under $25 for us both and you could see the difference in cost immediately. The 'cooks' cooked like they didn't give a damn, most were standing around looking bored. They also had shrimp and crab legs, though they looked like the cast offs from from someone else's bigger table. Taste-wise things were okay, if greasy (looots of grease). Their brownies were badass and their wafflecones of ice cream were HUGE. So, yeah, dessert was good. If it sounds like the dessert stands were my favourite stop it's because they were. (Don't worry, I walked it all off... lol)

All-in-All, I enjoyed Vegas though I don't think I got the 'Vegas' experience - I didn't go there with a lot of money to lose and we did kind of tend to be tourists rather than gamblers. I filled up 5 gigs of memory with pics and about 3 hours of DV tape which I have no idea when I'll get around to cutting. The Bellagio, Palazzo and Venetian were my favourite hotels and the Fountain show in front of the Bellagio was gorgeous (though it seemed like every time we went there they were playing Celine Dion for some reason).

Would I go there again? Yes, there's still a lot for me to see, places I would've liked to spend more time in. I would've like to gamble a bit more as well. However, I think if we head to that area again we'll probably go to the Canyon and the Hoover Dam (both of which didn't make it into our itinerary...).

I know I've probably forgotten to include a ton of stuff, so if you have any questions, feel free to ask away. I'll try to have pictures up soon.

Cheers,
Brandon

Saturday, February 07, 2009

We're off to see the Wizard

The most wonderful wizard of... Vegas!

I'm about 8 hours out of sitting on a plane and flying where no man has gone before - a pristine world of lush jungles and native tribes, of exotic fauna - of babbling brooks and roaring waterf --

Huh?

What do you mean it's a desert?

Okay, someone seriously f'ed up the pamphlet then 'cause I --

No, this just --

Aww man! You mean I have to sleep in a strange bed, stare in awe and wonder at sprawling architecture and gorge myself on mountains of the finest cuisine from around the world?

Dammit! This just fucking sucks!

Where are the bot flies (NOT for the squeamish!)? Or the robber crabs? Or the Candiru (also not good... but less gory)?

Guess I should've paid more attention in Geography class... :P

Anyways, looks like it's going to COLD in Vegas... maybe I'll pack a sweater...

Any recommendations? Places I just gotta see?

(And no, for the record, we're not eloping... my mom would kill me!)

Cheers,
Brandon

Monday, February 02, 2009

Sludge hampster

January was a weird month for me, hard to get into the flow of things, hard to just sit down and get shit done. Unfocused at the best of times, overwhelmed as a general rule of thumb.

Felt like the hampster had officially ditched the wheel and took up a steady diet of pork rinds and Bailey's shots.

I'm not sure why my mind refused to co-operate - just being a fickle lil' so-and-so I guess. Stupid Diva Brain. This is what happens when I forget to check the rider - probably left a few green M&Ms in the bowl or something.

Whatever it was, next thing I know - BAM - imagination's on strike, focus is dulled to a butterknife's keen and suddenly shiny objects are, well, shiny.

And yet through it all I kept trying to push myself, force myself to work.

I knew I needed to get outlines done and pages written but every time, the moment I sat down to write, my attention would be instantly drawn to something more interesting.

Frustrating to say the least.

On the bright side, I finally beat The World Ends With You (only took me 8-9 months... *sigh* Still... a wicked, wicked, wicked game! Highly recommended).

I know that a part of it came from my own insecurities in telling the story that I'm working on right now. Some sort of mental rebellion when looking up at the monolith before me. See, it's a spec pilot with a concept that I love - it's a world that's not my own but very, very real. Everything about it is fresh and new and different from what I've normally done.

But in that, well, it's a tad scary too.

There's slang and jargon and - hell, a whole other lifestyle and I've been fighting myself hardcore over this; starting story ideas and then crumpling them up - trying to find my way in, trying to envision a way of life I've never seen but would be called on harshly if I got it wrong.

For the most part I'm not one to bow to pressure and if I do it's usually my own self-flagellation that'll get me to take a knee. But somehow I knew I wanted to do this right and, now that I've finally put pen to paper, I can understand where my fears had been hiding.

It's one thing to say, but in researching it I've come to understand (and accept) that what lies before me really isn't my world - it's something so far from the way I was raised, from the type of life I've lived, that I've been to hell and back trying to get any sort of real perspective on it.

Truthfully, I've been tempted to give up on the idea in its entirety as time rolls on and words like 'progress' seem to echo around inside the empty halls of my brain.

But I think I've finally found my way in.

All my research, all my frustrations as of late are starting to pay off. I've taken to keeping a small notebook on me and stopped bringing my DS with me on long trips, just WRITING whatever comes to my head but attempting to focus it into the stream of what I wanted to accomplish.

I've also taken to writing character studies, understanding the people I want to tell stories about so that I can better get a view into their world. That, in and of itself, has helped me immensely. Just being able to say 'what would they do'? in _____ situation, and being able to have a reasonable answer - something to build on even if it doesn't feel 'right' - has helped to de-sludge the corridors and get hampster back into the wheel.

For the most part.

February's going to be a busy month, gotta make up for January - gotta get shit down on paper.

But I'm feeling good and that's a start.

Cheers,
Brandon