Sunday, December 9, 2012


Dear Reader,

There is a tree just past the porch in the front yard of the place I sometimes stay when I am working in central Florida.  There are lizards in this tree.  Each maybe five or six inches long including their tails.  Some green, some brownish.  There is a spongy layer of bark mulch and leaves surrounding the base of the tree’s trunk.  The first branch of the tree is perhaps six feet off the ground.  

So if you do the math, a six inch lizard six feet off the ground is about 12 times its “height” up in the air.  That’s roughly equivalent to a six foot human sitting on the tree branch 72 feet off the ground.  You jump from that height and even if you’re landing in spongy bark, you’re pretty much making your last withdrawal swipe at the ATM of life.  But not these lizards.

The first time I saw one of my little cadre of reptilian pals make the leap, I didn’t actually see it.  I heard it.  Little sound sort of like hearing a hackey sack drop onto a playground jungle-gym rubber protection mat.  Blop.  So I paid a little more attention, watched the lizard sit there for a minute, do a few push-ups (as lizard are wont do), presumably recovering from the jump and getting his wits back, and figured I’d just heard the result of a rare miss in the natural world.    Like it was a mistake.  Like he’d slipped and fallen.  It was funny.  I laughed at him.

That’s something we don’t see very often, if ever, right?  An animal making a mistake, like: a squirrel falling from the TV cable it’s running across between telephone poles (wait, are there still telephone poles?) 

A Rocky Mountain Goat slipping and plunging 6,000 feet to it’s death.

A Peregrine Flacon diving 200 miles an hour and forgetting to pull up, then smashing head first into the ground,

Or, and this is my favorite, a Howler Monkey missing the landing on the those 30 foot leaps across the treetops in the Amazon canopy.  You don’t see that sort of thing in the animal world.  I’m sure it happens, but on a statistical, let’s say comparative basis to the human world, not so much, if ever.  Why?

Because animals don’t ride motorcycles, drive cars, skateboard, ski, base-jump (unless they’re Suicide Lizards in Winter Park), play football, work on oil rigs... you get my point.  And although, certainly, everyday is a life and death struggle in the wild world, for the most part an animal lives in, with, and as a part of its environment, which for them is a closed system; there are only so many things that can go wrong; a finite number of hazards that can injure them.  Only a certain number of other animals above them on the food chain that feed on them.  

Humans, on the other hand, masters of the complicated physical cacophony that is their modern artificial world, may not struggle on a life and death basis everyday (at least not in most of the western world), are nonetheless surrounded by about a billion things a day that can injure, maim or kill them.  In other words we’ve filled our daily lives with so many potential hazards that it’s tough not to have an accident.

Which brings me back to my suicide lizard pals.  The little dude had not made a mistake as I had first thought.  I watched him climb back up the tree trunk and out onto the very same branch from which I had presumed he had fallen.  He sat in the sun for a minute, then, I swear he jumped.  On purpose.  Blop.  He hit the spongy bark, shook his head because I guess his cage got rattled, and then - Blop -  his buddy who’d been right behind him jumped too!  What the hell?  

Clearly, I surmised, I had stumbled upon some undiscovered species - The Suicide Lizards of Winter Park - I immediately named them.  Just as I was about to phone the nearest University Biology Department and report my findings, both lizards clawed back up the tree trunk, out onto the branch again, sat in the sun for a bit, then jumped again.  

Shit, was it that bad?  Had their lives become so insurmountably complicated, or boring, or awful that this was the only way out; a long term solution to what might be a very short term problem?  And furthermore how many ways could these guys possibly figure they had at their disposal to commit the final act?   Three?  Four maybe?  Run under a car.  Seek out a snake and leap into its mouth.  Listen to a Katy Perry song - any Katy Perry song?   Or jump to their scaly little deaths?  That had to be it, I thought, as I stood there trying to figure this revelatory bit of nature out.  Clearly they were attempting to jump to their deaths, and to their macabre little credit, if it didn’t work the first time, they seemed determined - hellbent even - on keeping it up until it did work.

After realizing I was, at best, anthropomorphizing, I thought about it... what’s a lizard’s life filled with anyway?  Staying warm, finding food, avoiding becoming food, and making little lizards.  Pretty much, right?  So where did the Lemming behavior come from?  Or was it really Lemming-like at all?  

It was a warm day.  There were hugely populated ant hills nearby (food), no predators in sight, and presumably they’d already done the tiny-nasty for the day (or week, or however frequent lizards bump uglies).  So, then, WTF with the base-jumping?  Here’s what I came up with, for them, like for me (all of us in the indie film world) it was the “in-between time.”

If you work in television or film, especially independent film, you’ve either heard or experienced the horror stories; pre-dawn call times, grueling 18 hour days, no over time, catering care of the local pet food manufacturer, crafty tables, from which, ingesting any item, will kill you, in-human turn around time... Yet, the second a job appears we take it.  Instantly.  Not a second thought.  I actually create almost all of my own work (I write a script), and direct it, and edit it, so I’m not going to say no to “me” after all the agony (in a good way) of creating the story, the characters, the world, so I’m talking in an overall crew way here, including myself amongst us all, because still, even although I created it and have an obligation to see-it-through, to make it as good as I possibly can, to helm the picture, I’m still a crew member.

Lemmings taking the easy way out

Here’s a video of indie-film crew members rushing to get hired on a film with a good budget and a long schedule:

When we work; that is not the problem.  We crave it.  We’re blessed in the sense that our lives are the inverse of the norm.  The norm goes something like this: work at a job one hates, wait for the no-work time, recreate.  Our norm goes something like this: survive the in-between time, go to work and love every second of it.  It’s the doing that we cannot do without.  

Bill Murray said it well in a recent article.  Here’s the salient part, the link to the whole article follows:

“I try never to be desperate for a job. . . . I don’t even go looking for work and the good stuff comes to me.  Better stuff comes to me than I ever got [when] I had agents throwing junk at me. It’s just sweet. It’s swell.”

Murray will next star in... the World War II heist drama “The Monuments Men,” directed by George Clooney. “I envy people like Clooney.  God, he works so hard,” Murray says wistfully. “He’s working all the time. But he doesn’t have a wife, you know? He doesn’t have kids. If I didn’t, that’s just what I’d do, because it really is fun.” (Murray has six children and was divorced from his second wife in 2008.)

“People like George and myself, we really like the doing of it,” Murray explains. “So my challenge is to try to live as well when I’m not working as when I’m working. . . . I’m much more of a whole person when I’m working. I’m more collected, I’m more connected, I’m more there.”

“That’s why I feel better when I’m working,” Murray explains. “Because I have to be. There’s real proof of whether I am nor not. . . . When you make the day, you can look around and everyone knows whether you were or you weren’t. You are, or you’re not. That’s why I have to be at hours at a time, even if they’re only minutes at a time, and not get too gone for long periods.”

So in the indie film world (the whole filmmaking world really) we’re at our best, or at least feel that way, when we’re working.  My little lizard pals have a short list of worries, we on the other hand may have a very long list; food, clothing, shelter, kids, school, alimony, bills, debts, yada yada.  So even on a pragmatic level our work (since it’s intermittent) kills the worry about those things - at least temporarily.  But still that’s not why we do it.  It’s like Murray said, “There’s real proof of whether I am or not.”  Am or not what?  I would answer, Alive.  In the keenest sense of alive, all the neurons firing cleanly and clearly.  And creating.  Here’s an excerpt from the new book, Antifragile, by an author I admire very much, Nassim Nicholas Taleb (he wrote The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes and Fooled by Randomness, among others):

“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire.  Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them.  You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.  We just don’t want to survive uncertainty, to just about make it.  We want to survive uncertainty and, in addition - like a certain class of aggressive Roman Stoics - have the last word.  The mission is how to domesticate, even dominate, even conquer, the unseen, the opaque, and the inexplicable.

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love and adventure, risk, and uncertainty.  Yet in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile.  Let us call it Antifragile.

Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness.  The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”

Here’s a link to the book:

Exactly.  I’m a very big believer in the two things only that matter in Hollywood, perseverance and determination.  I would add, though, that neither how determined you are nor how much (or long) you persevere, you won’t make it without being Antifragile.  That is without coming back stronger each time you are told, “No, thank you.”  My personal response, and the way antifragility manifests in my character (for better or for worse) is saying, or at least thinking when I am told No, thank you, “You’re an idiot.”

So back to the title of this essay, “It’s the waiting that kills.  Notes on surviving the in-between time.”  When we work, we live.  When we’re not working (in the in-between time) we’re prone to all sorts of nasty shit, depression, worry, self-loathing, self doubt, and, for some, any number of liquid of pharmacological anxiety dullers.  We’re desperate for a job but CANNOT let that be known in any way whatsoever.  The desperate in Hollywood are bleeding fish in shark infested waters.  So what then, to do during the in-between time?  How to be, or at least use, the anitfragile to survive the very real and brutal external and internal (the internal being far more brutal) human frailties during the in-between time?

Back to my little lizard buddies.  They just kept jumping.  Over and over again, all day long.  Here’s what I think, I think they were in their tiny in-between time.  My analogy gets a little wonky here, but stay with me...

... all their worries and needs presumably being seen to already - they were in the in-between time of either finding food, avoiding becoming food, staying warm (they’re cold-blooded, the sun was out) and making little lizards - I think they were practicing antifragility in the only way they new how.  In other words, they were thinking (mentally visualizing) “Hey, if I can survive this - comparative - 72 foot leap, I can get through this in-between time, until I need to go do what I gotta do once again.”

Similarly, but not necessarily conversely, that’s all of us in the indie film world.  It’s the waiting for the next gig that kills us.  Not the long, brutal hours, days, weeks, months of production.  So how do we survive that?  How do we manage to be antifragile while the work isn’t there, not seem desperate, when all our responsibilities (financial and otherwise) are breathing down our necks?  The first thing we do is hang on.

Heres one suggestion that was recently made to me: Reinvent yourself.  Sorry, but that’s utter horseshit.  Remember, perseverance and determination while cultivating one’s antifragility are the Commandments.  Do not break the Commandments.  Do not change lanes when the traffic gets thick.  Because you’re not gonna get there (to the next gig) any faster like that.  In fact, it’s a deadly mistake - changing lanes - because the second you do that, you will (I guarantee) miss the next gig, and the guy behind you,  in the lane you just turned out of,  will get it.

Here’s a quick example; I have a script I wrote (adapted from a book) about ten years ago.  I’ve heard all the accolades about it, even sometimes from people whose opinion I actually value, “Best script I ever read.”  “It’s great, any leading man in Hollywood would pay you to play the lead role.”  And so on.  In ten years though, I have not had a single bite on the project; no one offering to finance it, no foreign sales company willing to do preliminary numbers gratis, no bankable leading man ever willing to read it with out a cash offer.  And it’s a good script.  No, it’s a great script.  How do I know?  Because  I say so.  That’s how.  That’s an antifragile attitude (some would say arrogant or you’ve got a chip-on-your-shoulder, to which I would reply, “You’re boring.”)  

Anyway, I have never stopped pushing this project, never stopped trying to get it into the hands of a bankable, leading man actor with whom I can secure the financing and finally go make the film.  I have never stopped “pushing” during this project’s “in-between time.”  And guess what?  Last week, I got a call from a producer friend, whom I had given permission to show the script to a friend who owns a studio (in another state) who is friends with the manager of one of the bankable leading men that has always been on my cast wish list.  Yes, I swear, that’s how it happened (remember, everything in Hollywood is People).  He read it.  He loved it.  He’s committing to the project.  I’m finally going to make this picture.  And I am as enthusiastic about it now as I was when I wrote FADE OUT ten years ago.  I can imagine this actor wondering, “Where the hell has this script been?  It’s great.”  I would answer, “In the in-between time.”

So the lesson here is not simply to get back up when you run into a brick wall, although that’s important.  The lesson is that once you get back up, find a way to either go over or around the brick wall.  If that doesn’t work, blow the brick wall up and walk through the rubble.

What do I do during the in-between time?  I write.  I read.  I make calls.  I email.  I hustle.  When I hear, “No, thank you,” I become more determined.  Sometimes angrily so.   When time seems to crawl by, I persevere.  I will not lose site of the goal.   And more than anything else I never, ever give up.  I never stop believing that I have something of value to say.  To write.  To commit to film.

I checked with my lizard friends.  They agree.  Just before the first one made his last jump of that day, he said, “Leap, and the net will appear.”

So don’t be this:

This is fragile

This is an indie filmmaker who believed the guy that said, "No, thank you."

Be this:

The is Antifragile 

Be anitfragile and blow this up if necessary

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