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 Broadway], or younger students not having the necessary in-classroom experience, and security researchers calling Zoom “a privacy disaster” and “fundamentally corrupt” as allegations of the company mishandling user data snowball, the demand for Zoom has increased over 500% daily for demand.
In my house, my wife has a regular girl’s night, where their cadre of amazing women all put on pretty tops [usually tards on the bottom] and spend 2-3 hours over wine and cheese doing every week what they might only be able to do maybe 2-3 times a year in person since the group is from all over the United States and sometimes international members show up.
My writer Son’s regular Dungeon and Dragons game is a zoom event with players all over the U.S. His pitch meetings are all on zoom with 8-10 people participating. Lookbooks, pitchdecks, sizzle reels are all controlled by the writers doing the pitching.
My writer/director daughter has production meetings for prep and post on features via zoom; no traffic, no parking issues, no studio gate passes, if you have kids, that does not keep you out of the meeting. Everyone is happy.
No one is late for a zoom pitch meeting or gets interrupting phone calls from dutiful assistants.
IS THERE A SILVER LINING IN ZOOMTOWN?
So where is the “Silver Lining” for Writers in a pandemic that has killed 300,000+ in our country alone? Are we allowed to even consider the possibility of a Silver Lining? What is the role of the “Creative Writer” in the midst of this environmental disaster which has disrupted the world?
I left LA on March 11 on a Jet Blue flight where only a dozen people wore masks, and the plane was half full. Felt like the last plane to Lisbon in Casablanca. Trump gave his infamous speech while in the air and when I landed in NY the wheels had come off the world. Since March 11, I have completed 5 scripts and am 1 week away from completing my 6th; 4 feature scripts, 2 pilots, plus 2 70page bibles, and 4 treatments. I have not been this productive in years – if ever.
Apparently, not having to travel, drive to meetings, dress for meetings, prep for meetings, have lunch and dinner meetings, drinks meetings, go to festivals, do live masterclasses and seminars, or battle the traffic from Santa Monica to Burbank at 5 pm quality left time for, what else –
Imagine that. And no distractions or excuses not to. And no places to go or be late to. And, did I say something about no excuses allowed? I suddenly had 6 months of clear runway with no real industry pressure as the bottom was falling out of production, development and distribution. The only pressure had to come from me —— to write.
I arrived at our apartment in NYC where my son, Jake and his amazing Rebecca, had taken up residence from LA for 3 months for Broadway auditions and some soak time in the city, only to find themselves in lockdown and the lights on Broadway dark. My wife, Judy, quarantined me in my office, my daughter, Julia Hart’s, former bedroom, where I would also sleep during my quarantine [post leaving LA “on a Jetplane, don’t know when I’ll be back again”].
This photo of what I call “my new barn” is the desk and workspace I have holed up in since March like a fugitive doing time, complete with a sofa bed and my own bathroom–
MY NEW BARN; AKA “ZOOMTOWN” – THE SIGN OVER MY DESK READS: “IT WASN’T RAINING WHEN NOAH BUILT THE ARK!”
Gimme Creative Shelter
That 14 days of quarantine, banished to my “shelter in place writer bunker”, as I came to refer to my sanctuary, I pigged out on countless zoom calls, consults, masterclasses, and seminars – all conducted on Zoom. I was immediately connected to the global Zoomtown while writing 12-14 hours or more a day. Up at dawn, all day writing until about 1 am and sometimes dawn to dawn, while never having to get on a plane, fight gnarly traffic, or worry about what I was going to wear. I discovered a writer’s perfect storm amid a horrifying contagious world having a political and socio-economic meltdown.
I could not stop the pandemic, find the cure, make people wear masks, rig the election, attend industry events in person [all online]. And, being in the age group most susceptible to the “bug”, my mandate and call to action was to stay in my room and create.
Brian Wilson’s lyrics to his incredibly relevant song, “In My Room”, became a new mantra.
There’s a world where I can go and tell my secrets to
In my room, in my room
In this world I lock out all my worries and my fears
In my room, in my room
Do my dreaming and my scheming
Lie awake and pray
Do my crying and my sighing
Laugh at yesterday
My shelter in place writer’s bunker quarantine “in my room” sparked a creative tsunami.
Just to compare, in 2019 sans COVID and Pandemic, I made a total of 4 live talks, HartChart masterclasses and my annual live chart presentation at the Austin Film Festival where the HartChart was born and has been a staple at the AFF for 20 years+. I owned the Stephen F. Austin hotel ballroom every year, usually filled to capacity for that year’s latest HartChart session. A thrill for this writer to play to a live interactive audience, but not necessarily the best experience for the audience.
The problem being, even with the digital chart projected on one huge screen and film clips on another, the content could not be read or were legible past the 20th row. The people in the back could not see and absorb the intricacies of the chart and what it reveals about a finished film and its script. But they stayed and supported this writer, laughed at the right places, and gave us rave reviews.
However, In 2020, with all the spare time the “creative class” suddenly had on their hands, being forced to stay at home during lockdowns, self-imposed quarantines, and either furloughed or jobless, the demand from writers, in all stages of their careers, for guidance, mentoring, writing seminars and masterclasses in creating content for film and television erupted!
2020 Zoomtown, I am glad to report something positive in 2020; 5 private consults, 4 podcasts with video, 7 masterclasses, 3 workshops, and 3 general interviews about career and writing. Thank you Zoom.
And, because of Zoom, the HartChart presentations put every participant in the best seat in the house. Nobody had seats in the rear rows not being able to see the details of the charts and the clips or not being able to hear!
Participants had a more intimate shared experience, still had a rigorous q&a, and many connected in the chat stream where links, emails, comments, and side-hustles were shared in the streaming chat room on the side.
In one masterclass, there were participants from 16 countries! [Just like SXSW!]
No airfares. No visas. No hotels. No car rentals. No venue costs. And No COVID super spreader concerns.
Yes, there is a definite economic impact on employees and vendors and companies who service live events, festivals, etc., nothing will ever equal or replace the experience of the Austin Film Festival live and in person but look at our ability to share and spread our creative productivity to a global audience from the comfort and security of our own shelter in place writer’s bunker “in my room.”
Have a zoom script reading with your friends, bringing that first draft to life.
Set a regular time for your writer’s group to zoom each week or monthly to share your pages of progress.
My friend and business partner, Nancy Giordano held a New Year’s Day event to begin the year with a program called “better NEXT”, with keynote speakers on the positive side of the future, a live music performance by noted artist, a mediation, and book launch – all free and reaching a global audience. This creative way to begin the New Year was initiated and made possible because of Zoom technology.
Nope. Zoom won’t write your scripts for you but zoom brings your collaborator into the room with you, connects you to other creators and colleagues, who offer a network and circle of writers a keystroke away when you need them, when you want them, and when they need you and your creative energy to type “The End.”