Sunday, November 28, 2021

To Help Us Survive

I feel a great sense of loss at the departure of Stephen Sondheim. His mastery of the musical theater medium may arguably be unparalleled in our age. Certainly the breadth of his works is incomparable. And not just the volume, but the diversity. From murderous barbers to marriage foibles, from the death of vaudeville to the birth of East/West relations, from the aspirations of artists to the rancor of society’s disenchanted, Sondheim’s works have gone places no other composer/lyricist has gone.

Yet, within these esoteric subjects and intellectual musings, he has created some of the most beautiful music of our time. “Send in the Clowns”, “No One is Alone”, “Not While I’m Around” and so on.  Songs singers love to sing. To record. To share.

My first memory of hearing Sondheim was a television special called “Musical Comedy Tonight". Carol Burnett sang “The Ladies Who Lunch” which fascinated me; Bernadette Peters and Richard Chamberlain did “Barcelona”; and Sandy Duncan banged out “Another Hundred People”—a song that thrilled me like nothing ever before. Then I saw the original Broadway production of “Sweeney Todd” and I was obsessed. I never knew a score could be so complex. Then, by sheer chance, I got the original Broadway cast recording of “Merrily We Roll Along”. It was that album that cemented my love for this master of the art. The way the score itself worked backwards—like the actual plot—gave me unending lessons in composition and the mechanics of musicals. Not to mention songs that give me chills forever more. “Our Time”, “Not a Day Goes By”, “Franklin Shepard Inc.”. And that original ending. That gut-punch, ugly-cry ending.

Then it was “Follies”, “Anyone Can Whistle”, “Pacific Overtures” and on and on. Each show having moments of such magic; treasures that make my life all the richer for having heard them. I’ll never forget watching ”Sunday” from “Sunday in the Park With George” on the Tony Awards. I had no idea what the show was about. But I heard it was by Sondheim, so I figured it had to be worthy. And by the time the number ended and the painting was complete, I was shaking. Jaw dropped. Unable to move. Had I really just witnessed a theatrical representation of the creation of a famous painting? How did anyone even conjure up that idea? And to manifest it in such a visually clear way in synch with such a beautiful, stirring song?

That is the genius of Sondheim. With full props to his manifold collaborators, surely. Because theater is a collaborative art; “no one acts alone”. But to have a score that can stand so perfectly and solidly on its own is a marvelous, magical thing. And to create a lifetime of them and provide the world with “so much stuff to sing” is one of the greatest gifts I can imagine.

There’s a moment in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent film version of “tick, tick...BOOM!" where the main character, in the middle of a musical homage to “Sunday”, faces Bernadette Peters and puts his hands over his heart as if he cannot keep it inside for the love and respect he bears for her. It’s a callback to her gesture in the show being honored, sure. But it’s a perfect visual representation of the emotions I bear for Sondheim and the gift he gave to me.

“Look at all the things you gave to me”.

To all of us.

Farewell, “Old Friend”. You never knew me. But you have been some of the best “company” I have had. You helped "make me alive". And I will sing and celebrate your songs as long as I have breath within me. 

Till the days go by.

 


Monday, November 8, 2021

The Importance of Appreciating the Moment


Don’t worry: I’m not gonna get all “mystic guru” or anything. There has been a glut of folks yammering on about “being in the moment” in western culture as we slowly realize the value of each moment for what it’s worth. It’s a good thing to be aware of, but not a good thing to over-analyze or spend too much time thinking about; it pretty much invalidates the whole concept of noticing and accepting a moment if you’re engaged in picking it apart.

But here’s something I have learned…or re-learned as I was struck by two things. The first was my lack of offering a blog post for so long. That prompted me to wonder what I had been so busy doing that I neglected this aspect of my creative content output. The second was, as is my November/December routine, going through the year to see what I had accomplished to layout in my annual review I share on the “History” pages of my website. 

Here’s what I discovered.

I had some very busy periods…and some periods where it seemed I was not as “productive”. But notice those quotation marks. I think it’s important to recognize that you can be very productive without having a physical result to show for it. This is what vacations and other forms of time off, rest and relaxation and so on are all about: it’s productive for your body and mind to take time to recharge. To review. To ponder. To sift through or let go of things. And I think we’re realizing that more and more. Life is not all about achieving external things; it’s about achieving internal things as well.

So, what I came to realize was that I had problem…and maybe you have it, too. I felt a great sense of satisfaction and worth when I was busy and active achieving external goals but felt significantly less of that when I was “having” time off. Notice those quotation marks, again. What I wanted to say was “enjoying”. But I wasn’t exactly enjoying the time when I wasn’t working. I felt antsy. Guilty. Wondered about my worth to others. And the double-edged sword was: when I was crazy busy, I often pined for some time off…and when I had the time, I pined for work.

So, here’s the point of all of this. I think it’s important to learn to enjoy and embrace the moment you are in, regardless of whether it’s filled with externally “productive” activity or not. If we can learn to appreciate who and where we are—in each moment—we will live much happier, peaceful lives inside. And I think, how we feel inside translates to the outside world through our mood, our attitude, and our behavior: the more peace and joy we have inside, the more peace and joy slips out and is shared with others. And, as we move into the season that touts being all about peace and joy, that seems like a good thing to remember and to try to manifest.

So, appreciate the moment: whether it’s busy or not, challenging or not, you’ll never have the chance to embrace it again. Breath it in.

Now, let’s all sing Kumbya.



Monday, July 19, 2021

Sharing my Tools


A colleague of mine, filmmaker Jason Horton, asked if I’d be interested in creating a series of videos about some aspect of filmmaking that he could host on his YouTube channel. I was honored and said “Yes!” before realizing I might not have anything new to say.

But maybe the way I said it would resonate with someone. Or maybe I’d reach people who hadn’t heard some of these ideas before. In other words, if I did some good for anyone, it would be worth it.

So I did.

I decided to focus on writing—specifically screenwriting, since I do consulting for folks on that front. I thought I’d share some basic tools to help people make their writing a little better—even after a single video.

So, if you’d like to take a look, feel free. Some of the tips and tools are specific to screenwriting, but many of them are usable for all writing--including email, blogs and other prose.

The series is called ”Tools, Not Rules” and can be found on Jason Horton’s YouTube channel—which is full of great content for filmmakers.

The introduction is here:  https://youtu.be/RrbPYihHZ4s

Enjoy. And feel free to leave a comment!


And for tons of other great filmmaking stuff, visit Jason's YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/jhorton2003


Oh...and if you're interested in my screenplay consulting, check out http://www.2writers.com/Gregory_ScriptConsulting.htm



Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Keep Pushing


Long ago,                 Today, 
trying to fit in         being myself


When I started to try to get film roles, no one wanted me. I didn’t fit any brand. I wasn't tall enough, pretty enough, bulky enough. Back then there just wasn’t a cornucopia of roles for off-beat, quirky 20-somethings. So, I did background work. Some people love background work; I find it tedious and unfulfilling.

I finally got a few meaty roles in a few independent projects and, after years of that, landed an agent. Through him I got a nice recurring role on TV One’s “Love That Girl”—a perfect fit for my off-beat, quirky look and style. We all thought this was the beginning of a new trajectory in television. But, what we both learned, eventually, was that off-beat, quirky roles remained far rarer than the hunky, handsome heroes and winsome pretty boys that make up the bulk of male roles in film. The competition for the few crumbs was fierce and the roles often went to "known" names.

That’s changed a bit in the last decade or so with the explosion of new entertainment platforms creating a much wider variety of material—often aimed at niche markets. Sure, hunky handsome heroes and winsome pretty boys remain at the top of the food chain, but there are a lot more opportunities for those of us outside that domain of pedestrian pulchritude: those of us who fit in with Steve Buscemi more than Tom Cruise.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find directors, producers and audiences for my unique brand. But it took years—decades, in fact—and I’ve still got more to do.  The point of all this to remind any of you pursuing this careeror any career in entertainment or the arts—that this is a long game and there are many ups and downs. So my advice would be to tell you to enjoy whatever you can, wherever you are and (as the title of this entry spoils) keep pushing forward.

Best of luck on your journey!

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Story of How Things Work


I wrote a biopic script over twenty years ago. It got optioned once, but never produced. So, it sat on the proverbial shelf collecting proverbial dust for decades. 

Then, I was in a production of the musical “Working” a decade or so later. Theater is such an act of love and investment; I always make friends that last a lifetime when I do it. In this case, I met Jacquelyn Levy.  We did another musical together nearly a decade later.

Then, just last year, she hooked me up with a novelist who wanted to do a joint screenplay and novel deal about a famous musical group. I sent him a copy of my thirty-year-old script as a biopic sample. He dug it and so I started the new script. 

A few months later it was done, and he started pitching it. A producer contacted me to get a copy and find out more. I told her the story you’re reading right now.  She asked me to send her the new script as well as my thirty-year-old script.

A few weeks later, she called and said she wanted to produce the script that had been collecting proverbial dust for decades.

In short, it took time, friends, networking, patience, and the script finding the right person for this story to have its long-overdue happy ending. 

“Behind the Smile: The Story of Hattie McDaniel” is slated to go into production this June.

The moral of the story is: things have a way of working that you may never be able to force or foresee. So, make your art and let what happens happen.