Skipping to the End

(I will fill in the space between Wednesday around 4 PM and Sunday at 4 PM later.  But this piece is written.  So up it goes.)

Day 4:

I hate the Suck.

That’s what Brett calls it.  The Suck is that moment when we’re all sitting in the Driskill Lounge and the reality of our collective future sets in.  One (or more) of us is about to leave.  There is high probability we won’t see each other again until this time next year.

And so, it is at that moment of course, when, having survived the entire weekend abiding by Rule #3, I then broke it.

I feel like such a baby.  Weak.  Pathetic.  I don’t even cry when my parents leave town or I leave them anymore.  But Brett and Julie head down the street to his car, and I’m like a mother at her child’s funeral.

I know why it happens – it’s a perfect storm, of course.  I’ve been running on fumes for days, burning the candle brightly at both ends, and here on the last day, right when I hit bottom, is right when they leave me.  Everyone else looks so puzzled.  They don’t quite understand why this is an emotional thing for me.

But the fact is, I am a creature of emotion.  Try as I might, to minimize or mitigate them with medication, therapy, sleep…the emotions are always there, running deeply and strongly.  It’s part of why I write, to have somewhere for all of the feelings to go besides raging around in my head banging against my skull.

It’s tiring being me sometimes.

The one panel I attended today was with Shane Black, Richard Linklater and Tim McCanlies.  Shane’s panel is always a good capper for the weekend, as he sends us back out into our worlds to face our demons down and conquer our fears, writing or otherwise.  “Faith, not fear,” he intoned today…so forthright, earnest…clearly, he wants us to approach our writing from a place absent cynicism and despair.  When talking about a friend, who says he doesn’t get his hopes up anymore, Shane ponders, ‘Why not?’  Paraphrasing Shane: We should hope.  We should want to do well, and sometimes we won’t, but we shouldn’t shut out the hope that we will succeed and deny the happiness or joy it gives us.  Shane’s an amazing man – someone who has overcome a lot, including early success, to land at this place, where he comes to this Festival as often as he can to give back to younger writers and inspire us.  He’s not an angry man or a cynical man, and anyone who thinks that’s what he is, just doesn’t understand him very well.  I don’t claim to understand him, but I see him…”You’re eyes are all so f*cking beautiful.” He told us.  Our eyes which are filled with hunger and drive and desire to write and be heard…we haven’t been worn down by the system yet, not by a long shot.

I’m sure he hopes we never will be.  Of course, the reality is, we probably will, and sooner than any of us wants.  Some won’t even get close enough to the system to be worn down by it, shut out by the gatekeepers and their own circumstances or doubts.  Those who do find passage into the rarified air will struggle forever.  There are certainly a few happy warriors in the land of screenwriting, but most every writer I know or meet has a deep inner pain which cannot be quelled by anything.  Even writing won’t sate the pain, but it is the least painful option available to us – to put fingers to keyboard, pencil to paper – and get it out of our system, at least for a little while.

4:30 PM.  Julie and Brett are gone, and I’m teetering on the edge of not going to a movie.  Again.  Much as I know I should go sit in the dark, repair this little break in the emotional dam and complete Rule #5 (see a friggin’ movie), there’s a deeper need to channel what I’m feeling right now into something useful.  Into writing.  Into words.

Most of the words might be crap, but I’m not going to worry about that.  I just need the words.  They are my friends, my constant companions in my life.  Words have never let me down.  Even when I am at a loss for them, and search high and low for the right ones, they always come back to me, eventually.  Words are forgiving and kind…some make me sound smart, some make me seem stupid, and some are just articles.  But they are all mine.  My words, there to fill the void and give form to the raging torrent of emotion in my brain.

Julie has just texted me – I MISS YOU ALREADY XOXO.  Tearing up again.  Fighting it back down.  No, maybe I shouldn’t.  There, it’s passing.  My heart aches.

And of course my mind now drifts off to what could be when I return back to L.A.  Of course we all vow to be better about our writing, keeping at it, keeping each other at it, and I don’t doubt that we will all try.  How long will our efforts sustain?  Hard to tell.  For myself, I can only speculate on what my future holds…finish specs with sis.  Finish the comic book.  Finish my short (or whatever it turns out to be).  Then, what to start?  A pilot? A feature? Something of my own?  And I have the assisting gig coming up this week, and it could last two weeks or two months.  But once that gig ends, I’ll need another or a full time job once more.

And I’ll find one.  I’ve no doubt in my mind.  I’m back on top baby, ready to take on the world.  Like getting a mouthful of water to spit out between rounds and maybe fix the gash over my eye, I’m charging back into the ring to take on the heavyweight champ.  And I am so. Going. To WIN.

Anyone doubt me?  Feel free to place your bets.  I know where my money is.

Posted under randomness, writing

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 28, 2009

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Austin Film Festival Musings 2009, Part One

(This is part one, and honestly, it contains absolutely no info about the Film Festival.  In fact, it only covers my trip to Austin.  So, if you really don’t care about my travel complaints, feel free to wait for Part Two).

Day 0:

My flight was scheduled obscenely early – 6:50 AM, which, if I was being dropped off at the airport wouldn’t be horrible, but due to a scheduling SNAFU, I had to order up an airport shuttle to pick me up at 4:10 AM.  Now, the shuttle service, being just a little too service oriented, felt the need to call me at 3 AM to inform me that my van would be 10 minutes early.  As in, it will be there at 4.  And they called me at 3 to tell me this.  After I had finally fallen asleep around 2:30.  Needless to say, when the phone rang and I jumped to answer, I didn’t go back to bed.  After all, I only had an hour before the van would arrive (and not an hour and ten minutes, as I had previously believed).  So, I got out of bed, showered and headed down to the street at 3:50, where I found my shuttle was, in fact, already there waiting.

Clearly these shuttle people know what they’re doing.

So I’m also first on this particular shuttle, driven by a grizzled Armenian man whos wife died last year and he has three daughters in various stages of adulthood/schooling, the youngest being interested in the film business by attending college in Santa Monica.  Mercifully before he could tell me about the rest of his extended family, we picked up the next airport traveler – a woman, who was saying a tearful goodbye to her late teens/early twenties daughter at 4:20 AM.  Clearly emotional, the woman sniffled, and our driver kindly offered her his box of tissues, which had one last tissue in it.  “Why are you crying?” He asked, as if he’d never picked up a crying woman headed to the airport before.

“I just miss her.  She’s my baby.”  The woman dabbed her eyes.

“Be patient, ma’am.” Our driver replied, and he continued on to the next passenger.  The chatter ceased and an eerie silence fell over the vehicle, with only smooth jazz on the radio to console us.

The third passenger appeared to be a business man, practiced in the art of travel.  He boarded, each of us sitting in a different row in the van and we were finally off to the airport.  Of course, me having been picked up first, I was last to be dropped off (not anyone’s fault, just the luck of terminal locations for all of us).  5:10 AM.  One of the longest fast rides to the airport I’ve ever taken.

Security was particularly picky this morning.  As I approached the escalator to the security line, a TSA agent stopped me.  I handed her my ticket and ID, as if on auto-pilot.

“You need to put your bag in there.”  She pointed at the sign next to the escalator…you know, the one that says ‘if your bag is bigger than this, you must check it.”  I always wondered if anyone actually tried to fit their carry on bag in that metal frame, just out of curiosity.  On this morning, the TSA agents had decided we all needed to do just that, and while I had to only move my Ziploc bag of liquids to my backpack in order to comply, the girl next to me in line wasn’t so lucky.  Try as she might, her bag would not go down into the frame.  The TSA lady just stared at her, shaking her head.  The girl sighed, tried removing a few things, shuffling around some others.  She put the bag back in the frame.  It got about halfway down before it stuck, and as she tried to push it the rest of the way down, an avalanche of small Styrofoam beads poured out of the front pocket.  Of course, I was already pulling my bag out and heading up the escalator, but I assume the girl hadn’t bothered to take her travel pillow out of her bag, and it looked like it wasn’t going to be much use to her now, or at least not nearly as helpful, what with half of its innards spilled all over the floor.

The security line didn’t move.  I’ve never seen this kind of logjam at 5:30 AM, but I can’t say it’s completely out of the ordinary.  I don’t often travel at that hour, but it seemed to me that we should all be flying through security.  Instead, as I waited, I noted they split our line in half and led some of us toward another line.  I shrugged at someone unlucky enough to have been in the front half of the immobile line, a vain gesture of apology that I had won whatever weird lottery we were entered in together this morning.

Finally both lines moved, and just as I have so many times before, I felt like I was in the starter block, ready for the gun to go off and start the race.  Remove the sweater. Take off the shoes. Hurry now, people behind you…take the laptop out of the bag, grab two bins, one for the shoes and sweater and –oh crap, I almost forgot the liquids! – and the other for the laptop.  Try to keep moving, juggling the two bins, my backpack, my carry on, my ticket and my ID.  As I watched the last of my items disappear into the x-ray machine, I mentally hit the stopwatch which timed my movements.  Not bad, bobbled near the end and lost a couple tenths of a second.  Not a world record, but not the slowest in the pack either.  At least I know well enough not to wear jewelry to the airport, so I breeze right on through, no sign of metal on my body.

Then the slightly slower jog to put everything back together.   I always seem to have one shoe that won’t go on my foot completely and I end up limping away from the conveyor as if I’m Quasimodo (which is a fairly apt description when I have my backpack slung over one shoulder, my sweater folded over one arm and I’m dragging my carry on behind me).  Once more I’ve completed the gauntlet, and am headed for the promised land – the alley of commerce and the gates.

The line for Starbucks weaved around a couple of pillars, so desperate were people for high end branded coffee.  I opted instead for the low-rent line at Burger King, so intent on a little grease to go with my large bottle of water.  Somehow I again won the airport lottery with an accidental free upsize on my hash rounds.  I don’t complain, obviously.

Now I make my way to the gate, and it’s not yet 6 AM, so I’ve got at least 40 minutes before my plane boards.  I scarf down my breakfast, gulp the orange juice (from concentrate) and rearrange the contents of my backpack as I search for the Dramamine.  Now, I don’t experience motion sickness on planes.  That is because I always take Dramamine, not because I think that I’ll get sick if I don’t take it – I have no idea if I’d get sick if I didn’t take it.  At this point, I take it more as ritual and habit than to actually prevent any kind of illness.  It does also help knock me out, and considering the half hour or so of sleep I got so far this morning, I sense I’m gonna need that.

After a frantic search, I finally uncover the Dramamine and relax.  Looking around, I can tell this plane is nowhere near full, which is a big win.  I had changed my seat at check in to put me in a row further back on the plane, but by myself.  Now it looked like that switch would pay off, as I took my seat and realized that once we were in the air, I’d be able to lay across all three seats.

Of course, about an hour into the flight, I was awakened (even with earplugs in) by the familiar ‘DING’ of the seatbelt sign.  We’d hit turbulence that was going to stay with us for the remainder of the flight.  Lovely.  I sat up in my seat, refastened my seatbelt and tried to get comfortable leaning against the bulkhead which was, of course, a total failure.

I know I didn’t sleep like that, but you do go into a sort of trance when in that position, because really, what else are you going to do?  I stared at clouds which got progressively brighter as the daylight grew in front of us.  Still, lots of clouds, lots of bumpiness.  Not the best flight ever.

Landing in Austin, I feel that familiar sensation of relief of having actually made it to my destination, and knowing a bathroom is now within a short distance.  As I stepped off the jetway and into the airport, I smiled.  I only see this place once (well, technically twice) a year, but it looked the same.  My internal GPS led me to the desk downstairs where I paid for a roundtrip shuttle ticket to my hotel, and waited.

Another long ride, with lots of stops, and though I wasn’t dead last, I was near the end of the drop offs again.  Local time: 12:30 PM.  I was here at least 4 hours before any of my friends would arrive.

This is the first year I didn’t book the hotel room.  I’ve never considered myself much of a control freak, but when I set foot into the hotel, I suddenly wished the room was in my name.  If I had been able to check in, I could’ve taken a nap as I waited for Brett and Julie to arrive.  Instead, I stored my bag and walked across the street to the Driskill.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 24, 2009

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Austin update coming.

In several parts.  Lots for you to read. Patience…

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 24, 2009

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Shawna’s Rules for Surviving Austin Film Festival

Some of these are general, but you’ll also see one or two and think, ‘hm, I’m not quite sure that’s something I need to do/worry about.’  Do not panic.  It just means you are a normal human being who isn’t filled with my challengingly high level of neuroses.

Rule #1 Get my badge early.

Never fails – I arrive on Wednesday, a full day before the event starts, and somehow I always manage to pick up my badge on Thursday.  Not this year!  In fact, I’ve already checked this off the list, so…well done, me.

Rule #2 Play I Spy.

I always forget where the outlets are in the Driskill and in the SFA lobby.  One of the first orders of business today is to map them all out in my head, for future powering of laptop.  This will become very important when all of the obvious outlets are in use.  Also good to remind myself where the CVS, Starbucks and Jimmy John’s is.  Because inevitably I will visit all three.

Rule #3 There’s no crying in Austin.

Well…unless it’s a particularly moving film or something.  I don’t know why but I am 3 for 3 on experiencing some kind of weird crying jag / depression while I’m here.  Ironically, this year has probably been shitty enough for me, that at this point anything that might have frustrated or upset me in years past is junior league and not worth the effort this year.  Unless I’m hit by a car, there will be no crying in Austin.  And even then…might as well laugh.  I’m here to have fun, right?  RIGHT? (Ok, self, glad we cleared that up.)

Rule #4 Do not mix types of alcohol.

It never ends well.  If I start with wine, stick with wine.  If I start with mixed drinks, end with mixed drinks.  No more than two different kinds of liquor at any given time.  Rule #4b of course is, alternate with water.  Duh.

Rule #5 Maybe this year we could see a friggin movie?

Yeah, I know.  It’s ridonkeylush — my fourth year at the Austin Film Festival and I still haven’t seen a…single. Solitary. Film.  Seriously, what’s my problem?  Oh yeah, see Rule #4.

Rule #6 No commiserating with bald heads. 

Not really a rule, per se, as a reminder to not be an idiot.

Rule #7 Ignore panel topics.

Okay, I know, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’ve learned over time, that whatever the topic of the panel is, is most likely irrelevant.  Pay attention to who is on it.  Spread the love around.  I don’t need to see Matthew Weiner in every one of his panels.  I just don’t.  I do, however, aim to get Petrie’s ‘shot of inspiration’ this year.  I’m always denied.

Rule #8 Muy Thai will not save you from pepper spray.

I have seen it first hand.  Secondary reminder: Saturday night’s alright for fighting.  Hook ‘em Horns.

Rule #9 Don’t be afraid of a nap or two.

Naps are your friend.  Especially around 4 pm before some drinking begins.

Rule #10 Update the blog.

Because I always forget to do so when I’m here.

Rule #11 No time like the present.  If someone sees me shrinking back against the wall, afraid to talk to a writer/agent/manager/exec, would you please slap me silly?  I’m here for a REASON.  Start acting like it.

I think that covers it for now…

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 21, 2009

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The return to Austin Film Festival is nigh.

It’s that time again…this time next week, I’ll be in Austin, Texas for the Austin Film Festival.  Long time friends of the blog may know that this is my 4th year attending, having had such a good time the past 3 years, and seemingly can’t shake the habit, even in a recession.

Sound off if I’ll be seeing you.  And to any first timers, welcome.  AFF isn’t something you’ll soon forget.  Last year, I fell down on the job of reporting back.  I’ll return to my better habits from 2007 this time –  reports will be forthcoming and tweeting plentiful.

Posted under writing

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 15, 2009

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Paving Stones

It has been one of those weeks.

I don’t know how I got here, or why.  I already wasn’t sure where I started, and now the terrain is really unfamiliar.  It’s like when Q sent Voyager into the Gamma Quandrant…okay, too nerdy.  It’s not exactly a road to nowhere or a stairway to heaven or some other metaphorical place (Hotel California?) but it’s weird.

First, it started with the not sleeping thing.

That happens sometimes, I know.  To everyone.  But it had started happening more and more to me over the weeks following my unemployment, and it was as if I was building to some Mozart-style fever pitch insomnia this week.  For all I know, my own version of Solieri is going to pop out of my closet and help me write my own Death Fugue.

Yes, there will be a lot of movie and/or song metaphors coming up.

So my doctor prescribed Ambien (which, now that I look at that sentence, sounds EXACTLY like the commercial line, which would normally be followed by a horrifically long list of potential side effects).  Apparently Ambien should NOT be taken with alcohol…though, in my defense, I hadn’t actually had any alcohol for well over an hour before I took it.

And when I had taken it in the past, I took half.  Now, these pills are eeety bitty.  Teensy tiny.  You honestly think, ‘half a pill isn’t going to cut it if I’ve only been getting 2-3 hours of sleep every night” when you look at them, as I did.

So I took a whole one.

And then it was like some Hunter S. Thompson gonzo nightmare featuring The Lizard King.  I’ve never done drugs so I have no frame of reference, but if you had seen me when I awoke from this stupor, I looked like Johnny Depp swatting at imaginary bats.

So I won’t do that again.

But really, that trippy little experience was like a microcosm of my week, which, if you were around for the last chapter of the blog, included finding out a long distance friend of mine has been dead for 6 years.  That little revelation led me down the memory hole, back in time through the miracle of ones and zeros…sorting through emails that are more than 16 years old.

16 years.  I know there are a lot of people who have had a ‘net presence for longer than that, but I’ve spent nearly half my life in the virtual world.  Now some kids will spend their entire lives there.  But that virtual life led me to Jason, and to many other friends…and now I want to find them all.

Of course, they may not all want to be found.  I’m still looking for Meg, my friend in Junior High who improvised stuff in my friend’s basement that still makes me laugh (before she moved away a year later).  And I’ve lost track of Keely, Tom and Steve…who, if you knew who they were you’d understand how implausible that seems.  My best friend, Susan…she has such a small internet footprint, well, it doesn’t leave a mark.  I’ve lost her too over time.

And I don’t like to lose anybody.  I’ve lost enough in my lifetime, that I don’t really have people to spare.

Fortunately, I found a few people I had lost this week, and that has really encouraged me.  But I also found Jason.

It happens every fall, I guess – I get weirdly introspective and moody.  Usually I come out of it upon my return from Austin Film Festival.  Ah, AFF.  I cannot quit you, even in a recession.

So, I’m going.  Again.  To see the people I call me far flung writer friends, who I do not want to lose and maybe get some writing mojo injected into my veins.  With any luck, the usual World Series timed malaise will pass, and I’ll be back on track.

Or I’ll be with Johnny, in Bat Country.

Posted under randomness

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 7, 2009

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The Good Wife and NCIS: LA get full season pickups

Per The Live Feed.

By the way if your show name is “Three Rivers,” this is not good news.  And even though it’s on a different network, “the forgotten” needs to watch its back.

Posted under tv news, watch list

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 7, 2009

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Fixed.

I’ve had problems with the blog the last few days…all seems to be working now, so new content coming. Really.

Posted under Uncategorized

This post was written by Shawna Benson on October 5, 2009