Every city has one – they have to: a freeway that at one moment is free-flowing, then at the next, a parking lot. These highways also contain people who shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a vehicle. It’s as if a switch is flicked and the moment the tires of their vehicle touch the freeway, they suddenly turn into a raging maniac behind the wheel – ignoring all traffic signs, signals and their fellow drivers. It’s a ‘get-out-of-my-way’ entitled attitude. It’s this kind of careless havoc that kills people. Fine. If you want to kill yourself behind the wheel, go ahead and do it – just do it on a deserted road somewhere and not on a freeway that carries thousands of vehicles a day.
Calgary has such a freeway. It’s called Deerfoot Trail – or as I have come to know it: Maniac Trail or Googly Eyes Trail. A lot of people complain about the design of the highway. Guess what? – that has nothing to do with it! It’s true that Deerfoot Trail was built to serve a certain capacity of vehicles. With all its twists and turns in the SE and incomprehensible 3 lanes turning into 2 lanes at some points, it was never meant to handle the capacity it has now with bumper to bumper traffic all going in excess of 100 km/h.
Which brings me to all the maniacs that travel on it. I avoid Deerfoot Trail at all costs. I will go out of my way to avoid driving on it so that I consequently avoid all the crazies that inhabit it. For me, Deerfoot Trail is a white-knuckle drive, and I don’t even drive it during peak rush hour. Like I said before, something happens to normally sane, conscientious drivers when they get on Deerfoot. I know there is a psychologist out there who has done a study on why normally sane drivers turn into complete maniacs behind the wheel. I would love to read their study.
There are two elements that make drivers maniacs: they drive wayyyyyy over the speed limit, but they don’t stay in just one lane to prove how fast their vehicle can go. No, they insist on weaving from lane to lane to lane at top speed, attempting to get ahead of the pack for some reason. They seem to think that it is their right to put other people in danger. Just this past week, I was almost side-swiped off the road by morons tailgating other cars, then swerving into my lane ahead of me just because I wasn’t tailgating the person in front of me, so that gave them license to ram their car into the tiny opening in front of me. It’s not just one type of driver – it seems to cut a swath across generations and type of vehicle, though the worst seem to be the ones with a ‘support our troops’ ribbon sticker on their vehicle. Why is that? I don’t get it. It’s that old entitlist attitude I guess – ‘you’re not going to tell me what to do, I should be able to drive like a frickin’ maniac if I want to and the government can’t stop me blah blah blah’. That one.
There’s not much I can do about it – except this: complain. Oh, and not drive on Deerfoot to begin with and avoid the whole aggravation. It’s just that these maniacs take their maniacal driving from the freeway to the city streets. I see it all the time. If the police wanted to pay for their own salaries instead of having the city fund them, they could easily do so by catching all these maniacs and their googly eyes driving and fine the hell out of them. I know their resources are stretched as it is, but if they are ever in a cash crunch…
I am quite confident that if everyone in Calgary was forced to take a driving test – they’d fail miserably and be forced to hand in their license that they got from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. People still blatantly text and talk on their cell phones; tailgate; change lanes recklessly; don’t use their turn indicators; speed. Something is very wrong with this picture. Driving is a privilege not a right, yet people abuse it as if they are entitled to act like maniacs. Fine, drive like a maniac, just stay away from me.
Spec screenwriting is not only a lonely, solitary profession, but it is also incredibly frustrating – especially when you hear about certain trends and fads in film – you know, teen vampires, old people, superhero comic book characters. I just have to wonder how many spec screenwriters are going to do a 360 and start writing a superhero comic book or graphic novel just because they are ‘hot’ at the moment… or start a young adult teen angst story just because they are ‘hot’… or start a story about octogenarians because they are ‘hot’ etc etc etc. By the time all these ‘hot’ stories are finished, they won’t be ‘hot’ anymore. I wonder how many writers are feeling burned that suddenly decided to write about teen vampires because they were ‘hot’. As a spec screenwriter, you are already behind the eight ball and are now even further behind it because you have ‘wasted’ your time writing for a fad which has now burned itself out.
My initial goal when I started screenwriting was to build up a vast portfolio of screenplays across many genres. Through that time, I ignored all the trends, the hype, the fads and the ‘what’s hot now’. Just because teen vampires were hot didn’t mean that I was going to slip a teen vampire into my screenplay about assisted suicide. Just because twenty-something buddy comedies were hot at the time doesn’t mean that I was going to slip two of them into my sci-fi screenplay. I just concentrated on being a better screenwriter, finding what I was good at and rewriting rewriting and more rewriting. Now that I have that cross-genre portfolio built up, I feel enough confidence to enter into the next and most scary phase – marketing and selling them.
Spec screenwriting is a total crap shoot. Luck is what is going to be the determining factor. It’s going to be luck that knocks on your door, not because of the talent you have. Don’t get me wrong, you can have all the talent in the world, but if what you have written doesn’t fit with what people are looking for, it’s not going to happen. The genre or hyped hot genre at the time will be the 99% deciding factor, but also somebody taking a chance on you – luck. You have to believe that there is a home out there for something you have written. Trends or fads have a funny way of popping up out of the blue. Perhaps something in your portfolio will fit the bill. It’s a waiting game. I don’t think the spec screenwriting market is dead. I think it’s just dormant.
My advice to any spec screenwriter is to continue writing whatever you are writing. Explore all the options open to you as a writer – yes, comic books, yes YA novels, yes different genres. From all of these things, you’ll find what you’re best at and in the meantime, hone your craft and get better at it. But trying to chase the ‘what’s hot now’ carrot will drive you insane. The only people who should be chasing the ‘what’s hot now’ carrot are those writers who have been hired to write or rewrite a screenplay that has already been green lit or about to go into production. For spec screenwriters, doing this – changing your original stories to fit what’s currently hot, dropping your projects in favour of fads (that will eventually fade) – is a pretty stupid thing to do.
There is a terrible trend happening in popular music these days – something that had been on the fringe of the music business going back to the 1980s, that gained traction in the 1990s and was glorified and hammered over our heads in the 2000s. Now, it’s a part of our everyday lives. Noise – or as I call it, oversinging – is an assault on all of our ears.
Why do singers feel that by screaming their vocals that they somehow sound better? It’s part of a trend not only in music, but in our daily lives – noise. Oversinging is just noise pollution. Every TV talent show, every radio station, every YouTube video has something or someone engaged in destroying our hearing with their over-the-top singing. I’m glad my TV has a remote, my radio has a dial and my computer has a mouse so I don’t have to listen to this assault. There’s a time and a place to belt a song, to become emotionally connected to a power ballad – but 24 hours a day? Enough.
It wasn’t always this way. Vocally, songs were a lot more quieter. But something happened in the 1980s. I’m not quite sure what the touchstone was, but it might have had something to do with the me me me decade and its excesses. Singers (Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey to name two) started this oversinging trend. At first, it was remarkable to listen to because no one had ever done that type of singing before – full on, over-the-top, multi-octave, ear splitting screaming. Looking back at their catalogue, I am less impressed with this and more impressed with their ‘regular’ singing.
That really started a wave of oversingers (yes, I made that word up) in the 90s – singers who used the power ballad as an excuse to shine in the spotlight of cookie-cutter, appeal to the lowest common denominator to gain the most fame. At the turn of the century, just when you thought that they had had their time in the spotlight, along comes American Idol, which only exacerbated the problem of oversinging and took it to a whole new level – bringing it into everyone’s home and making people think that oversinging was natural. Guess what? It’s not!
Does anybody watch American Idol anymore? It was an interesting experiment on the concept of Star Search back in its day. Now, it seems like it has become what drives entertainment today – celebrity tabloidism (yes I made that word up too) – car crash moments involving the lives of celebrities that are known more for being celebrities than for possessing any kind of talent. Unfortunately, Idol has spawned even more oversinging contests. Amateur singers see oversingers oversinging and think that they can do it too. Please, I beg you, for the sake of all of our aural senses, don’t do it. It’s not natural.
I am more impressed with singers who have a way with a lyric and who can do more with a song with much less bravado. I’m thinking specifically of singers like Anne Murray and Karen Carpenter, who, when they open their mouths to sing, their voice comes out effortlessly and naturally. There is more power in this than the scream singers who buzzkill their way through a song. I am of the schooling of less is more. Less is also better. Murray and Carpenter are both highly, highly underappreciated singers because their singing is less about bravado, glass-shattering, moment-stealing singing and more about technique, breathing, confidence, professionalism and understated talent.
I just have to wonder what the next trend in singing is going to be. The oversinging trend has worn out its welcome. I’m waiting for the day when clean, clear, nuanced, effortless, natural singing catches on. We deserve it after 25 years of being bludgeoned over the head by the scream singers.
I have never understood the need to pay already-rich professional tennis players hundreds of thousands of dollars (indeed, over 1 million) to just show up at a tournament. Yes, they have to play, but they don’t have to put in an effort. They could lose in the first round and still pocket enough money to feed an entire country’s school children breakfast in the morning.
Okay, I do understand why tournaments do this. I just don’t agree with it. To entice a big name player to a tournament entices patrons such as sponsors and the fans – sponsors to put up even more money, fans to buy tickets, revenue from TV to go up. The more money the tournament can make, the more it can disperse to its ‘shareholders’. It seems like a classic capitalist business model – in the end, everybody wins.
Maybe it’s the human in me that thinks that this business model stinks. The already-rich top pro tennis players have no need for any more money – really. Paying them an exorbitant appearance fee just for showing up screams greed and elitism to me. They could easily pass for a Canadian Senator. When I hear of players whining about how they’re not paid enough through prize money, I just cringe. I’d just like to remind them that if we the fans didn’t show up, there would be no you.
I have always liked pro tennis over other professional sports because I liked the payment schedule – you win, you get paid; you don’t win, you don’t get paid. You are forced to work for your paycheque instead of just showing up and doing nothing and getting paid for it (a classic union scheme, but that’s another rant). The whole hockey lockout fiasco this past year was a classic example of greedy millionaire players, greedy billionaire owners and fans caught in the middle. Going to an NHL game will soon be for the millionaire fans. It’s perfect though isn’t it: millionaires watching millionaires making billionaires.
Maybe there is a place for appearance fees. I just think it’s messed up at the moment. If a tournament feels the need to pay a highly-ranked player to show up to boost ticket sales or increase their revenue in other ways, I believe the fee should be paid out as the player advances into the tournament. For example, if the players is promised a $1 million fee, it should be paid out if he/she wins the title – not if they get bounced in the first round. There is no rule for appearance fees that I know of, so the tournament is basically making their own rules in regards to paying players.
Currently, appearance fees just seem a bit too shady to me, as if they are being paid under the table. I think if appearance fees were more out in the open and fair, I’d have a lot less misgivings about them. In these troubled financial times, especially for individuals who are struggling to make ends meet, I find it very distasteful for already-rich millionaires to pocket millions of dollars for not doing anything.
Out of all eight of the screenplays that I have written, this one by far was the biggest surprise. Although I credit ‘Why Won’t You Die Miss Tutley?’ for getting rid of my writer’s block after a year or so of being afflicted with it and coming out of nowhere when I least expected it, ‘The Seventh Saint’ was the biggest surprise because I sat down one Saturday and wrote it in 2 days. Once I started, I couldn’t stop – the words, the plot, the characters – everything just rolled off my mind into my fingertips and onto the screen.
The genesis of ‘The Seventh Saint’ began a few years ago when I was looking for something to write for entry into the CBC Literary Awards – a short fiction contest. I actually wrote the story but had to stop when circumstances that befell one of the characters happened to one of my co-workers. I put it aside, then finished it, but I knew it had no chance at a literary award because it wasn’t high-brow enough, so it has remained on my computer for about 3 years.
A couple weeks ago, the Bluecat Screenplay Competition announced their 2014 contest – one that would now include short scripts. I thought, ‘hmmmm, I have an idea for one and it’s on my computer’. So I revisited the story to see if it had potential. It did and I was on my way to writing a short screenplay adapted from my short story. It was quite fun doing an adaptation because I had never done one before. Granted, I knew all the characters, the plot and how it was going to be written, so everything flowed very smoothly as a screenplay.
I wanted to get in for the early deadline, so I set a goal of finishing it in 2 days. Surprisingly, I had it finished on time and had extra time to give it a re-write and a polish before I sent it off. It worked out really well. Of course, if you’re a writer, after you finish what you’ve written, you think it’s the best thing since sliced bread. I didn’t think that about this though. It’s just a nice, adult, dramatic piece that would work well as a short film.
‘The Seventh Saint’ is about an elderly woman with a terminal illness who attempts to stop her grandson from becoming the latest statistic in a town overwhelmed by teenage suicide. It is no comedy. I think a director with a deep social conscience and awareness of the human condition would do a great job with this script – someone like Sarah Polley. Hmmmmmm….
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