Friday, July 19, 2013

Another Overnight Success Story Years in the Making

I “met” Thunder Levin minutes before his meteoric rise to fame (we’re all hoping fortune is soon to follow). I encountered Levin entirely by accident: I’m stalking late 80s heartthrob Richard Grieco*, and Levin wrote and directed Grieco’s most recent movie.

My research included the intriguing discovery that Levin’s AE: Apocalypse Earth (The Asylum’s “mockbuster’ answer to Will Smith’s After Earth) had climbed onto the list of the 50 most active movies on IMDB. In my book, this was already a pretty significant win, but it doesn’t begin to compare with what happened to Levin just weeks later, when a little film he’d penned by the name of Sharknado set Twitter on fire and drew news coverage from channels as far-flung as Good Morning, America! and The New Yorker.

It turns out that a little thing like 5,000 Tweets per minute can have a big impact on a writer’s career, and Thunder (who is also a director, though he didn’t direct Sharknado) now has a new agency representing him and bright prospects ahead. And I’m very glad he does—he’s witty, intelligent and well-informed, which is basically my checklist for people I’d like to see capturing more public attention. And, I happen to know that he has a little project called 2176 in development that I’m interested to see on the big screen.

I suspect that most of you never heard of Levin before last week, but that doesn’t mean he came out of nowhere. In fact, his earliest director’s credit dates back to 1992, when he was just 27 years old. My point isn’t to say, “Man, this guy’s old!” (he’s a year older than I am), but to drive home the fact that—like most people who suddenly catch the public eye in the creative arts—Levin has been building the foundation for years.  Decades, even.  And although I haven’t asked him, I’d wager that he never expected Sharknado to be the vehicle that brought his big break.

The moral of the story is one you’ve heard a thousand times before (and probably at least 500 of them from me): you never know when the first crack in the door is going to appear, or when the right piece of work is going to catch the attention of the right person or when the life-altering opportunity is going to come along. You might never expect that it will arrive on the tail of a flying shark, but sometimes it does. And the only way to get to that moment is to keep building the foundation in every way you can, doing what you were meant to do, finding a way to make it pay and being ready to move quickly when you see that sliver of light along the edge of the door.

*No, not that kind of stalking. I'm hoping that Richard will agree to be the subject of my next, "no, really, there's a lot more to this guy than you realize" biography.  So far, he's kind of a tease.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Who Stole My Phone Booth?

I wrote this article in 2005, for a website called CoolStuff4Writers. Though I've obviously written much more significant pieces in my career, this one received a resounding response--probably because so many of us feel like imposters while we're out there in the world doing what we do best. The article archives went offline a few years ago, and I though it was lost forever, but recently re-discovered the original draft on an old back-up, here it is.

Unthinking, I answered my cell phone in Wal- Mart. We were buying supplies for the Daisy Girl Scout meeting that night and I was absorbed in the variations of color and shape in the sequin packets when I found myself absently saying hello to a musician who's been making appearances on the Australian equivalent of the Billboard Top 40 for more than thirty years.

I was a teenager and Rick Springfield was a superstar when I decided, more than twenty years ago, that I was going to write his biography. I guess that makes me living proof that teenage dreams come true...but somehow I thought it would be different. I thought I would pack the lunches and distribute the milk money and sort the homework and drop off the kids, and then I'd transform from "Mom" into "Biographer to the Stars" like Wonder Woman spinning away Diana Prince. I'd buy the right clothes...except that when I went out to do that, I stepped out of the dressing room to hear my mother laughing. "I wouldn't wear the Velcro gym shoes," she said, "they kind of mark you as a soccer mom." I'd fly off to Los Angeles to do interviews...except that when I did that, I had to call home three or four times a day. I'd meet the coolest people...except that I already knew the coolest person, and I didn't have to fly anywhere to see her.
I wanted to be a superhero. I really did. But I couldn't find my phone booth.

My daughter was everywhere, and when I stopped and thought about it I realized that there was a simple reason for it: I wanted her there. Being a mom was an important part of who I was, and my daughter was just about the most important thing I could imagine. In an earlier age, that might have meant making a choice, but the logistics were manageable. The issue was one that apparently existed only in my own mind, an idea that it was somehow unprofessional to be a mother.

When I'd been teaching, I had never given it a thought, blithely standing before pre-law students with a bunny sticker on my jacket and calling home during the break to say goodnight. But the "Biographer to the Stars" I envisioned wouldn't wear Velcro gym shoes, not even to the grocery store. She could fly away on a moment's notice without having to worry over childcare, and she would never be hiding a chocolate handprint behind her lapel. She would not reach into her bag for a pen and come out with a crayon, nor would there ever be a My Pretty Pony in the pocket of her dress coat. Not even a very small, unobtrusive yellow one.

The news flash that shouldn't have been a news flash is that most people are parents. On the loading dock behind the EFX Theatre at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, I interviewed an actress/musician who had just released her first solo CD. At the end of the interview she took my hand and led me to her dressing room saying, "I have to show you my son." In Los Angeles my interview with a record producer with more than two decades of success behind him was interrupted briefly while he made sure that his teenage daughter had sunscreen on before she left for the beach. At a concert in Chicago the bass player brought his four-year-old son out to play the drums. I began to suspect that many people had Velcro gym shoes hidden in their closets.

Not long afterward, I realized that just as many people kept them on a mat in plain view of the front door.

I happily tucked that knowledge into my pocket alongside the glow-in-the-dark plastic alien and took to the road again, this time secure in the knowledge that the glamorous people I met along the way would understand--and maybe even approve--when I reached for a business card and came out with a gap-toothed first grade portrait instead.