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Five Best Pieces of Advice My Dad Ever Gave Me

polo shirt

Does this shirt say first Father’s Day to you?

On the occasion of my first Father’s Day as a dad, I’m reflecting on the most important things my dad ever told me.  I doubt he would remember saying them, or that they were even meant to be advice.  Nonetheless, they stuck.  Here are five moments that Dad influenced my life philosophy:

1.) Pay with beer

specific: When the house I grew up in was being built, my folks did whatever jobs they could during the construction.  There just wasn’t money to have contractors do everything.  They put on the roof and siding.  Seven-year-old me helped nail down tar paper.  Dad would enlist friends and family sometimes, and when he did he made sure to offer a six-pack.
general: Society assigns money a value, and we can trade it for goods and services, but this creates a weird side effect.  If you try to pay for someone to do a task, suddenly that transaction calls into question what that task is worth.  Maybe you can’t afford much, but you want to give SOMETHING in exchange for a favor.  So you offer what you can…  Paradoxically, a small amount of cash might be more insulting than no cash at all.  However, spending that same money to make sure a volunteer gets food and drink is respectful indeed.

2.) Befriend the janitor

specific: Dad was a school teacher.  He told me that whenever he was assigned to a new building, he would always make sure to introduce himself to the custodial staff, first thing.  They know a workspace better than anyone, and they’re not necessarily used to people treating them with much respect.  A good friend in a janitorial position will likely solve problems for you at some point.
general: In the entertainment industry, you always hear the advice, “Be nice to the assistants. You never know then they’ll be the boss.”  It applies pretty universally.  Just be good to EVERYONE.  You never know when you might need something.  Plus, quid pro quo aside, it’s pretty much just the right way to be.

3.) Remember channels

specific: Around age eight or nine, I’d go with my dad when he’d hunt geese on the bay.  He’d point to the little rivulets formed at low tide and remind me that if we cross one of those, we must be very careful to mind the tide.  Be too far out when the tide shifts, on the other side of a channel, and you could get trapped and drown.
general: Maybe I’m overapplying this one, but to me staying safe by fully understanding one’s environment applies pretty much everywhere.  Investing in the stock market, navigating office politics, taking a pitch meeting… Take your risks only with an eye to shifting “tide.”

4.) Admit ignorance

specific: At least for a few years, I became a teacher myself.  Before I started, Dad offered a singular, most-important guideline: If your kids ask you something and you don’t know the answer, don’t try to fake it.  Pretend, and kids will smell it.  Always, Dad said, admit that you don’t know, and tell the class you’ll look it up and tell them later.  Then, most importantly, follow through.
general: Pretty much anything that applies to kids applies to bosses.  Managers don’t need you to know everything.  Have the answer on their desk in a day or two, and you’ve maintained your value.

5.) Self deprecate

specific: In 3rd grade, I entered the school grade talent show with a ventriloquism act.  (Yeah. I’m EVERY kind of nerd.)  I was having trouble writing my act, and Dad pointed to Statler and Waldorf (the old guys in the balcony on The Muppet Show.)  Sometimes the best way to be funny, he suggested, is to make fun of yourself.  I changed my routine to have my puppets insult me.  I took second place, losing to a 4th grader who stuffed balloons in her shirt and lip synched 9-to-5 as Dolly Parton, but my act was a hit.
general: The nice thing about mostly picking on yourself is it allows you more easily to live by item #2 above. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!



Dif-tor Heh Smusma

Leonard Nimo as Mr. Spock1931-2015

“My job here is done.”

“What do you mean? You didn’t do anything.”

“Didn’t I?”



Eat Fresh. Eat three times the mustard.

Dear Subway,

Please change your mustard policy.

Yeah, okay, there are likely more valuable things I could be doing with my time, but man this bugs me.

A sandwich with a zig-zag

It’s just common sense

Mustard up the middle

This is no way to make a sam’ich.

At the culmination of my sandwich order, I’m asked if I want any condiments. I say mustard. Without fail, the “Sandwich Artist” will then run the dispenser up and down the length of the sandwich several times. But only in the center. The result is that the middle third of the sandwich has about three times the mustard one might hope to receive, while each third of the sandwich on either side of that has none:

I’ve asked. They’re trained to do it that way, a Sandwich Artist once lamented to me. The implication was that even if he wanted to, he was not allowed to dispense the mustard differently. Sandwich artist indeed. The fix – since my sandwich is being prepared live – is to request the mustard be applied “in a zig-zag.” But should I have to?

My suspicion is the technique is a throwback to the old version of your sandwich, in which a trench was carved from the center of the bread, all items place in the middle, with the bread then placed back on kind of like a lid. In this context, several stripes up the middle might make sense, because I’m essentially forced to take one big bite off the end, unless I want bites with nothing but bread. But you haven’t done it this way since the 90s…

Am I missing something? Please give me a little mustard in every bite.

Sincerely,
DigitalDeron

Readers: Who remembers the old way? Am I wrong that the current mustard technique is ridonkulous?



Scriptapalooza First Place! Chicken Dinner!

Had some exciting news in my inbox this morning.  The message from Scriptapalooza just said I had placed.  Extra good news when I checked the site!  That’s me, first place in the sitcom category!

topwinners



Breathing some new life into the ol’ blog

Greetings, fair reader! In an effort to make myself more hire-able as a writer, I’ve been trying to refine a personal brand. (Roll your eyes if you must, and I won’t blame you, but a the end of the day it helps a lot to communicate who you are, and that helps people see the value in staffing you.) I don’t have the quick pitch version ready yet, but it’s something like “nerd who writes.” I want to communicate that I’m a writer-producer with a background in engineering. I embrace the geeky and the techie, but thrive where that overlaps with the artsy.

As part of this update, DigitalDeron.com has been getting a fresh coat of digital paint. I’m nearly finished. Here are some of the changes:

  • I updated my colors a little. There’s more purple and green. It’s not a very 2015 look, but it feels connected to the Pacific Northwest, so I’m good with that.
  • I added the circuitboard imagery in the upper left, and the zeroes and ones below it, to give a quicker visual impression of “digital.”
  • But then I also added the camera and the stack of screenplays at the feet of the DigitalDeron avatar, so help convey at a glance that I’m a videomaker.
  • I added the zeroes and ones pattern that fades in as you scroll down the page. Cuz… it’s cool.
  • I’ve adopted colored carbon fiber texture as a signature design element, echoed at brevityTV.com and on my new business cards.
  • I’m un-publishing all of the new show reviews I’ve posted here. This is sort of a candy-ass move, in my opinion, but I also think it’s possible that I might meet someone in town who would decide not to hire me because I slammed their last show. Not super likely, but why take the chance? (Unfortunately, most of what I’ve published for the last several years has been new show reviews…)
  • I re-did the advertisements, especially on the pages that show monologues. They’re they highest-traffic locations on the site, and I can pretty much assume that their audience is a niche: young, female, and interested in performing arts. I’ve started advertising make-up, acting guides, modeling web sites, shoes, etc.
  • I’m going to need to re-do a lot of my stock images. I finally let screenwriterguy.com lapse, and didn’t realize that many of my site images were housed there.
  • Since the whole point of blog posts is to start conversations, I’ll be ending them from now on with some questions to the reader. Like this:

Readers: What do you think of the new look? Am I wrong to un-publish reviews? Does my personal brand come across?



My new business cards are here!

I received my new business cards this week. In case you can’t read it, that’s ‘writer-producer-nerd’ as the job title.  And then I used the process called spot UV gloss to add a tagline: “Sexy Smart Comedy with Heart.” (Look at me, all having a personal brand and whatnot…)

I’m trying to get some consistency across brand properties. Obviously the logo is the same as the blog here, but I’m also using this colored carbon fiber texture. What do you think?



Auditioning advice

This post is rewritten from an excerpt of a reply to a reader about one of my audition monologues.

Woman in empty theater with script in hand

If I may offer my own experience from the other side of the table… The last thing we’re trying to do is intimidate or make you nervous.

Frankly we want you to get the part. Yes, you. Right now.  Because if you do, it means we can finally stop worrying about whether we’ll ever find the right person to make this work really shine.  And man, if that person could be you, that would be so excellent.  Because we’ve watched so many people come in and do a bad job.  Or, even worse, a just okay job.  (Worse, because must second-guess whether we’re being too picky.)  So if you could come in and blow the doors off of your monologue or song, that would be DIVINE. Show off your particular skills, make us laugh, or move us somehow, so that you stand out from the boring afternoon of hearing people do the same monologue over and over. (You’d be surprised how many repeats there are in an afternoon.)

Meanwhile, we’re looking for someone with whom we can imagine spending all those hours it takes to put up a play or shoot a film or whatever. If you’re going to be annoying at every rehearsal, we don’t want you around, no matter how talented you may be. So be normal.  Seriously, stuff-I-learned-in-kindergarten normal.  You’d be surprised.  As you saw above, we’re on your side in terms of wanting you to be the talented winner of the day.  So you don’t have to impresses us.

Just be good and be normal.

My final word of advice would be to remember that there can be a million factors in a casting decision, some of which may not have anything to do with you. Maybe you’re perfect, but you don’t feel right with the person they’re casting as the leading man. Maybe the person who WOULD match well with you has a scheduling conflict, so we select a different pair entirely. Maybe you look too much like the producer’s recently estranged wife. I’m not kidding.

I was on a project where two women were the final choice for the leading role, and it was a complete, 100% tie for who would get it. But the assistant director’s name was Faith. The costume designer’s name was Hope. And one of the two potential leading ladies was, no lie, named Charity. So we broke the tie based on the NAME of the actor. (Incidentally, Charity turned the role down, so we went with Faith, Hope, and Melissa.)

Anyway, the point is that if you get the role, great, it’s all about how talented you are. If you don’t get the role, oh well, it probably had nothing to do with you. Keep auditioning and eventually things will line up your way.

Break a leg!



Billion Dollar Idea: The Card

credit cardIn my wallet, I carry a driver’s license, two library cards, three insurance cards and a drug cards, four credit cards, a Costco membership, a National Car membership, and then cards for Albertson’s, Ralph’s, and Pavillions. (I saved a little bit of space by putting a sticker from Rite-Aid onto my Albertson’s card, but this always puzzles the clerk’s at Rite-Aid’s checkout.) So when Panera Bread asks me if I want a membership card? Hell no. There’s no amount of every fifth pastry free that can get me to carry any more cards.

Solve it with apps? Frankly, I don’t want clutter on my phone any more than in my wallet. Just tell you my phone number? I don’t want to. You’re welcome to track my purchase habits, but you can do it anonymously, thank you very much

So, enterprising rich dude somewhere, I recommend you find a way to implement a single card. Several new companies (Wallaby, Coin, Plastc) do this for credit cards only, but I’ll sign on when it works for ALL cards.

Granted, there would be a huge start-up cost in building out the infrastructure. There would have to be a web site where a customer could manage their various memberships. Ideally, there would be kiosks in participating stores that allow you to add your other memberships by swiping your old cards to connect them to your new one. But the upside? Customers would have sincere motivation to move to this new, single (perhaps thicker) Card, so there’s little conversion cost. Meanwhile, perhaps you could offer them greater anonymity. What do you need besides their zip code? If you don’t ask me for my address and phone number, I’d probably tell you my race and gender, which should be more valuable towards statistics. Even if you get no information at all, you have an amazing product for sale: user tracking data across ALL participating stores.

Marketing companies would pay a premium, and I could have a thinner wallet.

When you’re done with all of that, please put it on my iWatch.

Readers: What do you need to be offered to sign up for a store card? How many cards do you carry?



Good Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV structure, or What Would Buffy Do?

woman with futuristic glassesA friend recently had a writing assignment to turn in an outline for a “genre” show.  (I hate that term, but more on that another time.)  He’s not much of a sci-fi and fantasy person, and so felt he wouldn’t be able to write for a monster-a-week show.  He didn’t know enough about monsters.  I pointed out that one gets to make up whatever rules are needed, so no actual knowledge is required.  I figured I should share it here with you, the world, because what else do I have to blog about today?

BASIC MONSTER-A-WEEK TV SHOW STRUCTURE:

1.) Someone gets attacked. Someone else glimpses the attacker. It was a bee monster.  A bee monster?!? That can’t be right.  Wait is that… honey?

2.) A librarian/engineer/wizard points out that there actually are quite a few references to bee monsters over here in my giant pile of books about monsters. No one believes librarian/engineer/wizard.

3.) While the heroes are engaged in a subplot, and a bee monster shows up and kicks everyone’s ass real hard.  Holy shit, a bee monster!

4.)Hero to librarian/engineer/wizard, I need you to find out everything you possibly can about bee monsters, like, yesterday.

5.) Romantic subplot.

6.) I hate to interrupt your romance, Hero, but I the librarian/engineer/wizard have learned a super secret about bees by looking in my extra good pile of monster books, which I always reserve for Act IV. I am never allowed to know secrets during earlier battles.

7.) Hero beats up bee monster using librarian/engineer/wizard’s knowledge. Climactic battle that couldn’t have been won without Knowledge!

8.) Huh.  Turns out there were bee monsters all along.  Let’s put a cutesie bow on our romantic subplot.

Point is, actual mythology doesn’t need to say a damn thing.  You can create the rules to your monster, and elude to things about it from actual history in #2, but then give it a name and weakness and details (that you make up) in #6.  After all, your librarian/engineer/wizard has better books than any real person, so whatever Knowledge you put in them will be the official rules of your universe, mundane-world mythology notwithstanding.



What’s shaking lately

We had an earthquake Friday night, the second one recently. Neither was huge, but both were big enough that everyone noticed them.

earthquakeI follow this Twitter channel.  It’s called LA QuakeBot (@earthquakesLA.)  It posts a tweet every time that USGS registers an earthquake, so that’s including low-magnitude ones that you wouldn’t feel if you stood right on top of them. Normally it’s just a cute thing to have in your Twitter stream.  It’s a quick answer in this conversation:  “Hey, was that a quake? No, don’t be dumb. Hey, yeah, it was, a 2.7 in Tarzana! Huh, go figure.”

Lately, though, it won’t shut up. By my quick count:

Date range # earthquakes tweeted
Feb 28 – Mar 6 24
Mar 7 – Mar 13 23
Mar 14 – Mar 20 45
Mar 21 – Mar 27 22
Friday, March 28th 62
Saturday, March 29th 67

And today’s on a similar pace.

I’m no fan of the way local news starts talking about “the Big One” every time a quake hits (here’s a story that will scare you, Los Angeles), but sheesh…

Just in case:




Meanwhile, I’m switching to @bigQuakesLA.  It only tracks the 3.5 and aboves.