Wednesday, February 1, 2017

#1 Somebody Oughta Make a Movie About This Place

#1 - In the Beginning

“Somebody oughta make a movie about this place!”

How many times have you heard that when things get crazy? Especially at work.

I heard it all the time from staff, producers and volunteers at our community television station until it reached a crescendo in the spring of 2011. That’s the year we lost all funding and laid off all staff. Several board members and volunteers walked, never looked back, never returned.

“I’ve been here before,” one retreating board member loudly called over his shoulder. “You can’t run a television station with all volunteers. We tried it. I’ll never do that again!”

About a half dozen volunteers decided we could do it. We were naive. We were idealistic. Mostly we were angry. More than angry. We were pissed!

Giant corporations were furiously competing for the nation’s telecommunications infrastructure, rewriting state laws to improve their bottom lines and market shares, enacting those laws with the help of bought-and-paid-for politicians. Public Access, Educational and Governmental (PEG) channels were collateral damage. They lost funding and other long-standing protections. In our state and others, many went dark. Never to return.

We vowed to keep the lights on, but it was hard. Very hard. We had money problems, transmission problems, fund raising problems, aging equipment failures all over the place.

I gave up producing my two monthly television programs to run the business side of things. In all this chaos, I kept hearing:

“Somebody oughta make a movie about this place!”

Finally, after five months on this sinking ship with volunteers furiously bailing, I thought:

“Why not? I could write a movie about this place!”

For the first time in decades, I began writing. I had writing in my past: as a reporter for a state-wide newspaper chain, as a technical writer for a Fortune-100 company, some amateur attempts at plays and short stories.   

I learned a lot at the newspaper job. For example, I learned I should have taken typing in high school. These were the days of typewriters. Do-overs required retyping the entire story on tight deadlines. 

I learned a lot as a technical writer. I learned one could make a lot of money writing  obscure technical manuals for engineers and fellow technical writers. 

There were a few glorious, very low-income years of writing short stories and collecting rejection slips. I joined a touring children’s theater company and co-authored a few children’s plays. We performed our original “The Hungry Cyclops,” a musical, some fifty times.

Etc., etc., etc. 

Writing a screenplay? Child’s play. After all, I was a lifelong movie buff. How hard could this be?

Having prepared myself mentally by reviewing these awesome credentials I began. I downloaded some free screenplay software, did minimal research about how to format a screenplay and was off and writing. In three months I cranked out 250+ pages of black comedy. 

I passed it to a local, independent film maker who, after reading it, offered this comment:

“Jesus Christ! When I agreed to read your script I didn’t know you were going to hand me War and Peace!”

Apparently my script was longish. Screenplays, especially comedies, are supposed to run about ninety pages. Oops!

I had managed to vent all of my frustrations about our television station, saving the expense of a therapist. And I was bitten by the bug. I really enjoyed the writing and I really liked my screenplay. I  wanted to see it made into a movie.

What comes next falls into the category of “a learning experience.”

If you want to write screenplays, you may find this of some interest.

The community television station? Still going. The complaints average a few per week, down from an initial 20 per day. Our signal only needs re-booting a few times per month instead of  daily. Financially we are sustainable although our footprint has shrunk. 

We volunteers still are believers. We keep the lights on.

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