Friday, April 28, 2017

Wired For The Big Deal

Do you strive to earn income on your writing from other than royalties on books sales? If so, what additional income sources do you pursue?

I've been striving, but I can't say it's to earn income from my writing. For me, it's a personal thing. No matter what I do creatively, and no matter what I earn monetarily, I'm really only working toward a feeling. I have a lot going on in my mind and heart and it's important for me to get it out in a way that provokes a sense of fulfillment. That's made the folks who have been reliant upon my earning potential (agents, managers, bosses, spouses, the IRS) feel I'm a frickin' fruitcake. I'll cop to that, fine.

Still, ask an actor who received the big payday from, say, a series of national mobile telecom commercials how they feel when they're not logged in to online banking and, if you get them drunk enough, they'll admit that wasn't what they dreamed of when they were slogging through that MFA in Dramatic Arts at Cambridge. Dood wants to be remembered as Othello in Shakespeare in the Park, not the Verizon guy. Everyone sayin' "Can you hear me now?" to him at cocktail parties all the time. No one can tell me that is worth all that studying and training and accrued student loan interest. If that makes me sound like a snob, as we say, I'll be 'dat.

I can remember when I first started out in stand-up, and I was auditioning a lot. Sure, I gave it my all, but when it was for anything that wasn't a challenge to my talent, I won't say I phoned it in, but I always held something back, as if what was going on around me didn't need my full spirit. Then I wouldn't get the gig, and my peers would lament for me, but secretly, I was relieved. I can remember getting my third call-back for HOMEBOYS IN OUTER SPACE and dreading that I would get that gig, out of all the gigs I really wanted. Then I didn't get the part, and it felt like I dodged a bullet.

And then I thought, "Shit, I wasn't good enough for Homeboys In Outer Space?"

In coffee house debates with other comedians, I'd criticize one of the paragons for some outing that was beneath them, and then I'd hear it.

"Yeah, but Eddie gettin' paid, tho'."

"He gettin' paid, but how much money does it take to carry THE ADVENTURES OF PLUTO NASH for the rest of your life."

"Danny, you an idiot."

"An idiot who doesn't have to take the heat for bankrupting a studio."

*sips coffee*

Now I'm all grown up, and I understand the realities of being seen and being compensated. Not every gig is going to be a seminal cultural achievement, and if you're not active—especially in these social media times—folks forget about you, so you have to bang out a few now and again to ensure your face stays in the place. A few things I've done that haven't exactly spawned a zeitgeist, but also didn't mar my desire to write professionally are:

SCREENPLAY DOCTORING: This is a funny gig, because the better you are at it, the less anyone knows you do it. For all the names in the writing credit of a film or television pilot, you can add at least two or three that no one knows worked on the gig. Admitting your original script needed a specialist to come in and fix the ending, or the dialogue, is tantamount to going out to Whole Foods with bandages on your nose. Yeah, you can say you finally had that deviated septum corrected, but we all know. I've been fortunate to be called in on a project here and there to help it along. I've been told I'm great at fixing dialogue, plot logic, and pacing.  I usually hear it when some phantom stranger hands me an envelope under a bridge in the dead of night and tells me if anyone hears about this, I won't feel it comin'.

ADVERTISING: These past few years I've been involved in a few ad campaigns that have been run by friends and associates who appreciate my work in other mediums. That's usually because I have a diverse resume and bringing me on either sweetens the deal or shows the client they're willing to call in some hot-shot at the eleventh hour before they're fired. "This guy was on Def Comedy Jam, so you know he's funny." "Sure he can write. He's a novelist." "He's, like, really black." It ain't pretty, but it pays. For a television network geared toward the African American market, I authored three thirty-second spots, one sixty-second, and a really cool two minute short depicting black folk going to wine bars, doing yoga in the park and strolling through a farmer's market. You know, for DIVERSITY!! I heard they used about thirty percent of the stuff I gave them. I doubt it was black folk doin' yoga in the park.

ACTING: Just this weekend, I found myself in a harness and flying back-first into a fully-stocked refrigerator for a short film directed by a friend. Full-contact Siracha. He and I have a revolving favor where we pay each other little and rough each other up on stuff we write and direct. This was my turn, and once again, I was playing a neglectful alcoholic father who can't see past his own demons to take note of the potential in his son. This further validates my suspicion that all roles for African American actors over the age of thirty are some variation of Troy in August Wilson's stage play FENCES. Now that Denzel Washington adapted the play into an Academy Award-winning film, we're all trapped in a Russian doll reality where every role for an older black actor will be a strange variation of Denzel Washington playing Troy playing Troy in August Wilson's stage play FENCES. Carl Jung himself couldn't untangle this psychological bowl of spaghetti. Still, I received pay and credit, and I'll receive a copy of it when it's completed. I'll show it to my adult children during holidays to remind them to stop their bellyaching because that's the parent I could've been.

Although I treat my writing life with the devotion of a Grecian hierophant, I have recognized the value of taking gigs as they come and asking for a fair rate. It's akin to possessing a fine blade. Nothing dulls it more than leaving it untouched in a ceremonial display. Nothing damages it more than sharpening it with a whetstone. Every once in a while you gotta take it out and cut something. Sometimes it's for practice. Sometimes it's on purpose.

Like when your friends tell you you're stupid for not wanting that role in HOMEBOYS IN OUTER SPACE.

- dg


Susan C Shea said...

Laughing out loud, Danny. But also noticing that you'e a man of many talents and lots of cred. Another distinctively Danny post!

Unknown said...

From them all it seem novels are the best place to be. Acting too, except for the hazards, and the typecasting.