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THIS WRITING LIFE (JV’S BLOG)

I am writing this New Year’s message in between back-to-back zoom calls with family, friends and business colleagues, hence the title and the new geographical location we all inhabit in this life and times of COVID-Normal.

Welcome to “Zoom Town”!

Love it or hate it, Zoom has undermined the need for Offices, conference rooms, WeWork, Starbucks, being late for class – any class in any school or university, the series writer’s room, racing through LA traffic to make a pitch meeting in Santa Monica after finishing one in Burbank, trips to the doctor, the complications of assembling distant family members for that ritual reunion, funerals, birthdays, weddings, church services, SXSW, film festivals, lectures, speaking gigs, live concerts – did I leave anything out? Oh, yeah, Senate hearings and political debates. How can we forget those in the 2020 dysfunctional states of America elections?

In spite of critics dissing Zoom for being a poor substitute for real human interaction and connecting with live audiences [as in the lights going out on...

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What we write in the past lasts and has an after-life that impacts the future.

I experienced this in real time the last week of 2019 during a late-night writing session. The Hot Zone and Contact aired on different cable networks nearly back to back. I had to watch because of the unique serendipity of it all. I wrote the screenplays for Contact and The Hot Zone back to back in 1992 and 1993. And here they were, back to back, 25 years later, still reaching an old and new audience. I wondered how many writers have this shared experience. A true bliss hit and prompted the many memories connected to this writing life.

I had spent quality time with Carl Sagan and Annie Druyan while writing Contact, which inspires me to this very day. The rarefied air I shared with the Sagans happened because I am a writer. No other reason. The note that Carl and Annie sent me in June of ‘93 occupies a special spot above my writing desk to remind me of the longevity and permanence of the written word and the impact what we write can have on the world. I just read the note before...

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“…a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.”

– Cambridge Dictionary

Have you noticed epiphanies occur at the most unexpected moments, places and situations? They certainly do for me in this writing life. Our characters in our stories also need to experience epiphanies in their journeys they take our audiences on, hopefully to a satisfying ending.

Here are three examples of Good, Bad and Ugly Epiphanies in memorable films:

To Kill a Mockingbird; Scout has a huge epiphany when she learns...

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At 9pm EDT on May 27, Memorial Day eve, The Hot Zone, a 6 part mini-series premiered, based on Richard Preston’s terrifying 1992 article in the New Yorker, “Crisis In the Hot Zone”, and his even more terrifying 1994 book, The Hot Zone, introducing the unsuspecting public to the deadly pathogen, Ebol, finally aired.

This lethal filo-virus killed thousands in Zaire, Africa in 1976, and showed up in the U.S. burning through a monkey population in Reston, VA. In 1989.

The presence of Ebola on U.S. soil fueled a quiet panic among virologists and scientists at the CDC and USAMRIID at nearby Ft. Detrick, Maryland. A secret under-the-radar operation to destroy the monkeys and contain any human exposure or outbreak of the killer is put into motion. If Ebola spreads to the human population, thousands could die horrible deaths, as there is no cure and no vaccine. These true events and the true-life heroes who risked their lives to protect our unsuspecting species is the engine that drives the story of The Hot Zone.

Ebola, according to legendary...

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Why writers like to hang with each other and are “still crazy after all these years?”

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Exclusive HartChart Interview with Writer and Director Jordan Peele of “Get Out”.

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An invitation to any film fest is a call to action in Joseph Campbell speak, so to speak. But a hero’s journey to another country to attend an international film fest is an opportunity you must find a way to take.

Never mind the tsunami of weird, cool, challenging, inspiring, mind fucking films offered in different languages, the reason to attend these global gatherings is the people and characters you will meet who share your love for film and the craft; writers, directors, producers, financiers, agents, DPs, SFX wizards, actors [actors love film festivals].

Attending the panels and one on one interviews is essential, but the real networking is at the parties and in the bars between and after events. You will most likely end up having a drink and sharing war stories with a writer/director/actor/producer/animator/executive etc., you would find impossible to meet through normal industry channels. And then, keep in touch. Career opportunities are born in this kind of environment.

But the single most important reason to attend film festivals is:

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Every writer needs a happy writing place. And if we don’t, that is often the prime excuse we make for not writing. My computer crashed and I lost all my files is a good one. My significant other and I broke up works. Hey, I had to walk the dog. The baby is teething. The line at Starbucks was like, you know, around the block. Okay, and the dog ate my flashdrive – this may be a reach. Although my daughter’s dog did eat my passport.

I am sure you have your own stash of rational, perfectly believable excuses for not writing.

Back in the beginnings of my writing life, I lived in LALA Land. Coffee and the NY Times at the famed Farmer’s Market on Fairfax Avenue every morning from 8am til lunch time was the perfect excuse to put off writing.

The regulars included writer/director Paul Mazursky, screenwriters Leon Capetanos, Bill Kerby, Carl Gottleib, [IMDB them and see their credits], lots of working writers and wishing they were working writers.

My observation, as a young fledgling writer: not a lot of writing was getting done at the Farmer’s Market, but it seemed...

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After all the weeks and months and sometimes years of slaving over your script-to-screen adventure, it would be nice if your audience affirmed and validated your efforts by feeling satisfied by your ending — satisfied by the experience and the landing zone you provided for them; satisfied that the right or wrong choices your characters have made in their journey are real and earned.

If you have not read my previous blog post, “Dracula Sucks”, about how Francis Ford Coppola and I found the satisfying ending for Dracula months after principal photography wrapped and with a release date looming, please do.

The quest for the satisfying ending is what the collective “We” are all seeking — in life and in our art.

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[OR HOW THE HARTCHART WAS BORN OUT OF A CREATIVE CRISIS]

1992. I get a phone call at midnight in NYC. It is Francis Coppola. He has been in post production on Dracula for several months and it is not going well. Another disastrous preview has the studio on edge. He asks [politely commands] me to get on a plane and come to San Francisco. He hates the film, hates the script, hates me for writing it, hates the cast, hates the studio, and he wants to show me the film to prove it.

It had only taken me 15 years of rejection and failure to finally get Dracula produced. And now one of the greatest directors in history of filmmaking was at the helm of a disaster in the making How was that possible? What had gone wrong?

DECONSTRUCTING DRACULA

The next night I met Francis at the Zoetrope building on Kearny St. in San Francisco. He escorted me to the basement screening room, the Godfather room, with big leather couches, cigars, wine, brandy, two women who spoke only Romanian, and made sure I was comfortable.

He was right. For 2...

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This Post originally appeared on the blog ScreenCraft. ScreenCraft is dedicated to helping screenwriters and filmmakers succeed through educational events, screenwriting competitions and the annual ScreenCraft Screenwriting Fellowship program, connecting screenwriters with agents, managers and Hollywood producers. Follow ScreenCraft on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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The term “job creator” has been, perhaps, overused by our elected officials to convince the electorate that such alchemy exists and that these candidates for elected office know the secret formula to make it so. I say I am a job creator, therefore I am.

Let me say that with conviction. I am a job creator. Thousands and thousands of jobs are created by me and my screenwriting colleagues – every single year without fail. Thousands. And it does not require a vote of Congress, or a filibuster, or a threat of government shutdown, or actually living up to and delivering on a campaign promise made in the heat of passion in order to get votes.

I write about pirates and have been very successful at it. At the invitation of the Creative Rights Caucus, I’m on Capitol Hill this week to talk about how writing about pirates can lead to job creation – in contrast to pirate site operators, who profit from stolen creative works and eliminate jobs.

How the hell did I become a job creator? I am just a highly paid typist who is full of himself and can’t hold a coherent...

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