Forget dreams — this town traffics in illusion like no other.

Many who try to create the illusion of being industry vets instead drown themselves in their own hyperbole.

Once I reviewed a student’s acting résumé; it listed co-starring roles on several union shows.  The actor, however, was non-union.  I knew immediately the actual gigs he had were as background, not co-starring, work.

For last year’s US-China Film Summit, put on by the Asia Society (the event returns again this month), I relayed how the executive director of a non-profit claimed to have deals with every network and studio in town.  Everyone looked at each other and said, “Who they f— are they?”  Those I sat near snorted.  Others figured that any deals this non-profit had in hand were likely to have involved their having been given diversity money.

This town can give the illusion that entertainment isn’t work, but one reason so many in the business fail is because they don’t do the work.

In acting class long ago, I learned an essential philosophy: Go To Step #1: Laying a foundation and creating a wealth of tools and skills are essential in any endeavor.

Yet in acting — both creatively and from a business perspective — many want to leap over those important steps.

Recently I attended a special screening held at Nobu in Beverly Hills.  Yes, that renowned and expensive restaurant in Beverly Hills held a press preview for a first-time director and former restaurateur.  Famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa was present to welcome guests and introduce his food.  Special attention was given to those with dietary restrictions and extremely good-looking waiters made sure every guest was well-care for.  Lichee-tinis were a highlight at the open bar.  A small gift bag contained a canister of Nobu green tea as well as a booklet, an additional press packet, and occasionally a DVD screener.  Money was spent, it’s clear.

When it came time for the film, expectations were high.

The film producer/writer from Japan drew from personal experience for her story about a white producer who meets a young Asian widow.

I’m guessing maybe it was the director who convinced writer/producer Erika Fraade to change the focus to the white guy instead of the Asian widow.  That didn’t succeed in making the movie more interesting.   Colleagues of mine who were present at the screening insist that Fraade was conned by the director, seeing as how the film didn’t turn out as well as we all hoped.

In the press notes, Fraade says that she learned filmmaking from watching YouTube tutorials and Googling screenwriting.

That’s not exactly Step #1.

If you don’t know what a story arc or “inciting incident” is, take a step back.  If you haven’t heard of Save the Cat, save yourself time, money, and the ire from many and kill what you’re working on, because you really should read Save the Cat before you start writing.

If you base something on your life, walk out your door and meet more people because if you meet enough people, you’ll probably find stories among them way more interesting than your own.

Story structure is everything.  While much does get made without sound structure as a foundation, the highs and lows of a story are elements we innately relate to and need to relate to enjoy a good story.  Birth, life, death — that’s what we’re about, and it’s not a bad idea to think about how your story can incorporate the ups and downs of birth, life, and death when you write.

Jack and Jill went up a Hill–Action
To Fetch a Pail of Water–Goal
Jack Fell Down–Obstacle
And Broke His Crown–Result
And Jill Came Tumbling After.

Here you have a clear goal and obstacle and result.  While there’s no attempt by the hero to overcome the obstacle, this has a clear beginning, middle, and end.  There’s no scene or word that meanders.  Jack doesn’t loiter to gaze at a pebble.  Jill doesn’t pick up a shard of glass with malicious intent.  That wouldn’t have any effect on the story, its goal, obstacle, or resolution.

Consider this: Bedtime stories are steeped in action.  While action stimulates imagination, introducing it would seem not the best way to entice sleepiness.  But in a good bedtime story it does, because it activates uninhibited creativity — something found in dreams.  It’s my estimation that our natural programming is to sleep when we’re at this level of creativity.  This theory is supported by several acting and writing techniques that espouse releasing the unconscious, such as free-writing and method acting.

Speaking of sleeping, when it comes to this Nobu screening, I did fall asleep, but it wasn’t because my creativity was activated.  It was because I was bored.

What would you like to incite in your audience?


Ken Choy

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