Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Raining Words.
musing about the muse, from Simon

Strike or no strike, writing seems to be in the air.

As I write this, Sera is ensconced in some top-secret East Coast garret, summoning the muse in a highly classified way. I envy her the novelty of the setting; I imagine (though she's temporarily incommunicado) that she's inhaling a plume of steam from her mug of jasmine tea and gazing out at some byzantine Manhattanscape, letting the view summon the words.

Seemingly in sympathy with her NYC adventure (or perhaps bereft at her absence), the L.A. skies have been emptying bucketloads of rain – a relief to my garden, though the drops fell with such violence this morning that our downspouts began a gargling metallic song that woke Julia and me from our fitful, cold-addled slumbers.

The prolific raindrops make me think about writing, naturally.

You see, I started a project eight or nine years ago that never really got going ... but never really went away, either. It stalled after a few dozen pages, and my attempts to revive it with writing workshops, vacation laptop marathons and copious pots of coffee all failed. I just couldn't move ahead. Partly, I guess, because I'm better with the moment-to-moment details than with the whole narrative-structure thing (in case you hadn't noticed from my very hot rambles).

I'd return to the thing every couple of weeks, dropping in tidbits but not making any substantial headway. Still, the enterprise wouldn't leave my brain. And don't get me wrong: I don't believe in completing something just to say it's done. If the passion is gone, forget it and move on. But it kept haunting me. My iPod features a playlist that forms the intended soundtrack, and every time I listen to it the faint outlines of this ghostly scriptive entity sparkle in the middle distance.

But recently I found that whatever brain blockage had prevented me from moving forward had come unstuck, and I made a huge amount of progress in a short time. It's not quite done yet, but the end of a draft is, for the first time, in sight.

I say this not to elicit congratulations (why, after all, should you care?) but to underline a point: If there's a piece of art in your mind that won't go away but won't fully arrive either, don't despair.

No drought is forever.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

a little stuffing-day meditation from Simon

Last night Sera came over to hang out at our place with the crew (Jules; sister-in-law Jo; her wiener dog, Wiener; Jim Dinda; Mollie). We chatted. We ate Vietnamese take-out and sipped bubbly. We watched an episode of the super-scary TV show Sera writes and screamed at all the appropriate moments (and several inappropriate ones).

Dinda regaled us with a virtuosic reading from the Wikipedia item on "Turducken" (which stretched far beyond the literal confines of its compound-bird entrée entry to encompass multiple-fowl hyphenates worthy of Caligula — bustergophechiduckneaeal-
, anyone?), leaving us breathless with laughter. We spent an extended period freestyling on this culinary sport: "What if you stuffed a chicken and a Great Blue heron in an albatross and then shoved the whole thing in an owl?" mused Sera. Later on, Wiener climbed in Jules' lap and they both caught a few winks.

It was a million miles from today's flurry of preparation and relatively dressed-up revelry, but it definitely felt like Thanksgiving.

Because when it comes right down to it, hanging out in my own place in my sweats with our little bunch ... let's just say: Zing! Went the strings of my heart. And not because of a gravy-saturated, artery-plugging bolus of turkey.

Don't get me wrong: I love the traditional bird-a-thon with the whole mishpuchah. But I'm also digging on the low-key living-room gathering big time. And feeling ever so grateful for my friends.

As I write this, Julia is laboriously buttering yams for my family's T-Giving chowfeast, while Dinda is prepping an apple pie for another event.

No doubt you are all girding yourselves for a stuffing-stuffing. Rest assured, wherever you are, that we're hugely grateful to have you as part of the VHJ community.

When we recover from the national pastime of gorging ourselves, we promise to get back to such core issues as the strike, everyday anxiety, the hotness of our tribe and stickin' it to Hitler.

Monday, November 19, 2007

La Luta Continua
a sugary selection from Simon

First things first: For you L.A. peeps, VHJ and genius comic Jill Kushner will perform Tues. night at a strike support show with several other funny persons. If you've got five bucks — and I know you just spent at least that much on a venti half-caf no-foam soy macchiato — head on down to show strike support at the strike support show.

Details can be found on this flyer, which is so classic-labor in its spartan layout that it gives me a rush of righteously indignant nostalgia:

OK, it's Small Jewy World time. We got a super-sweet note from Elaine, one of the two Portland, Ore., Jewesses behind the extremely funny and acerbic GirlGoneChild blog, which suggests what Sex and the City would be like if it were about real chicks in a real city, rather than newspaper columnists who are somehow able to afford sprawling Manhattan digs and stuff their regal walk-in closets with Jimmy Choos (I'm keeping up the "writers don't get paid nearly as much as some people think" theme as best I can, in case you hadn't noticed).

Anyhooze, Elaine writes in and says, we're two of the 12 Jews in Portland, and I'm all, uh, there are a lot more than you think — in fact, Jules and I just had a lovely visit from our Portland-based pal Joanna Miller, a ravishing Semitic goddess (and inspired candy blogger). And Elaine's like, nope, I've known J-Dog since we were micro-'brews at Camp B'nai Brith together. She's one of the 12.

So I stand corrected. All I know is, I have even more reasons to revisit the town where I spent my undergraduate years becoming lysergically attuned to Pink Floyd and learning my one true skill: dancing to the B-52's without spilling my beer.

Oh, that Joanna Miller. In addition to being the only person I've met who can converse as volubly as Julia and her littlest sister (also Joanna) about the relative merits of "real" vs. "fake" buttercream frosting (the true adept will prefer the latter) or the best way to eat candy corn (hint: keep those incisors sharp), she also engaged us in an endlessly enjoyable sitcom-trivia game. Where did Full House take place? Huh, you don't say.

And who dreamed up those countless sitcom scenarios? That's right, the writers. And what do they want? A little cheddar from the new-media taco stand, bub. The struggle continues.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Not Kvetching.

I was listening to the radio on my drive home from picketing the other day, and the radio lady was interviewing a writer, asking his opinion about the strikeness. "One thing that people say," she said, and I'm totally paraphrasing, "is that writers make a lot of money and they shouldn't complain."

I can say to you, Very Hot Reader, that I am not complaining. Striking ain't kvetching.

And I should know. My people have cultivated the ennumeration of complaint to levels of complexity and sophistication far exceeding my meager blogging abilities. Especially since I don't speak Yiddish, a mighty language when one is inclined to bitch.

Look, I make a nice living as a writer. I'm not a millionaire. (Not even close. More like, "I'm finally outta debt.") I live in a cute apartment, I have a cute dog, I own some cute shoes, I drive a Toyota. Most of the writers I know live comfortably but by no means extravagantly; they live and die by Trader Joe's and Targay same as everybody else in La-La-ville. And a few writers I know have made great successes of themselves. You've watched shows they invented in their massive, labyrinthine brains; you've stood in line to watch their movies. They are to the writing of scripts as those Top Gun fellows were to the flying of fighter jets. Those particular specimens, I must report, are quite well-to-do. They live the life I assume Radio Lady was talking about. They have lovely houses with furniture so velvety you wanna French kiss it; their cars are precision-German; their superfierce shoes are Italian.

Maybe I'll one day make the kind of money they do. Maybe I won't. Who can say? All I know is, I didn't get into the writing racket just to bank. And I'm not striking out of greed.

I recently experienced a chance litmus test that enabled me to take my own true temperature about the money thing. I was at some casino in the desert on the Fourth of July (long story). I was waiting to hear if a network wanted to buy my pilot idea. I passed a flashing neon sign that said

I envisioned winning four million dollars. Pretty sweet, right? I asked myself, what would I do? Buy a shiny boat? Shopping spree for purses made of weird exotic leather? Trip to the land of the Euro, which is kicking the American dollar's tuchus ten ways from Sunday? And all I could think was.... GodDAMN I hope I get to write this pilot.

But, Sera, I reminded myself (silently, though I do sometimes talk to myself aloud like a crazy beyotch).... no pilot would ever earn you anywhere near that. In fact, you could successfully produce the subsequent show for a long-ass time and not rack that level of cheddar.

And I realized that someone could walk up to me right at that moment and hand me a check for ten million buckaroos, and I would still just want to write my own TV show. I wouldn't switch careers. I wouldn't quit and live the life of a character on Dirty Sexy Money. I'd write, and I'd write, and I'd blog about writing. I dunno, maybe I'd be writing with like a really expensive pen or something, but otherwise... I'd keep on keeping on. Because I am doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life, and the fact that it affords me a not-too-shabby lifestyle is a thick buttery layer of frosting on an already delicious slice of Fuck Yeah.

This makes me a lucky person. I don't do what I do for the dough. And when I look at my career - in fact, every single time I crack open my paycheck - I feel the same feeling. The feeling is the opposite of kvetchitude. It is gratitude.

So hell no, I am not complaining. Not by a mile. And I am not assuming that any of this is my right. I knew this was a competitive, poodle-eat-Frenchie biz when I jumped into the dogpark. There's no real job security in script writing. Every gig could be your last. Cancellation and bum box office hover in every shadow, staring at you like that evil subway guy in Ghost. That's the real reason the strike isn't freaking me out as much as one might think: I never assume I'll have a job in six months.

That's me in a nutshell: plum whackadooed that I managed to pull a fast one with this script thing and avoid having to go to law school/med school/ acupuncture college. And, on the other... half of the nut, or whatever, aware that with good fortune comes a certain degree of responsibility: when the contract being offered stinks up the joint, I gotta stand up about it. Not just for myself - we've already established I still look around corners waiting for Candid Camera to jump out and go Surprise! We totally fooled you into thinking you could make a living writing scripts about tragically misunderstood werewolves! But for my peeps: the writers of yore who stood up and got me pension, health and residuals. The writers of Tomorrowland, who will be writing snippets to be downloaded directly into your cerebral cortex, and need to be paid for that. The writers of Right About Now, even.

I'm not going to try to convince you that we're in the right here. I'm not here to explain the pie that is Hollywood and why we deserve a slice. There are plenty of hilarious and/or informative youtube videos that do it better. This strike is not fun, and it is not cute. It's serious shit, and it's a damn shame it's come to this. Layoffs. TV shows stalling at the starting gate. Incredibly talented writers holding signs when they should be typing something incredibly incredible. I mean, I was on the line this week with the guy who created one of my fave shows of all time (hint: high school; nerds; cancelled in one season). It took a lot of willpower not to gush about the level of influence his work has had on mine. I can't get over what a waste it is that all of us are standing around getting crispy in the Burbank sun when we could be merrily pulling our hair out over some form of filmed entertainment.

On said picket line, I've heard a lot of worry and guilt about having to fire below-the-line employees. Speculation about the fate of the holiday movie season. Frustration as another day goes by without new negotiations. Forced optimism. Only slightly less forced humor.

The only thing I haven't heard? Complaining. Not from the Emmy winners, not from the Oscar nominees, not from freshly-minted newbie staff writers or plucky middle-management hyphenates (that would be me) or guys whose show just got cancelled (sorry, staff of Viva Laughlin. You seem nice). Hollywood writers, from what I can see, know they're lucky. The (often Very Hot) ones I've met in the past two weeks remind me of no one so much as... me. They work constantly; they take little for granted; they're proud of their work and hope to sustain their careers. Oh, and when they introduce themselves to the man standing next to them and he says he's Peter Filardi, they fall all over themselves like geeky 13-year-olds to tell him how fucking awesome Flatliners was.

And if they are indeed like me, then I can safely say none of this has sprung from a place of egotistical entitlement. It's not about getting a pile more money and rolling around in it Demi Moore style and spending it on stuff that increases our carbon footprint or what have you; it's about protecting ourselves down the line. We - understandably, I think - want a working contract that prevents us from sustaining crippling losses as the industry evolves and the distant future becomes the regular old present. Writers like me want to negotiate. We want to come up with a fair compromise. We just want to get back to work.

You know, so we can settle back in to our comfortable routine of staring at our computers in caffeinated horror, agonizing over our scripts and kvetching.

Friday, November 09, 2007

From a Fellow Traveler
a strike-supporting salvo from Simon

I can't let Sera do all the heavy lifting on the blog just because she's in the middle of a historic strike. So I thought I'd jump in to say that I, too, am astonished and inspired by the number of people who've written to express their support for her and for the other striking TV writers.

A doctor's appointment in Burbank (don't worry, mom, it was totally routine) actually lured me out of my media batcave yesterday. It took the Jules and me past several throngs of picket-walking scribes; we dutifully honked, but we also had occasion to observe the seemingly VERY high morale of the strikers.

"It's because the producers don't have a leg to stand on," Julia noted with her typical alacrity. "I've been looking for one press statement where they make their case, but they've been almost completely silent. Everybody knows the writers deserve to win."

Her point was underscored by a quote from Weeds creator and smokin' Jewesss Jenji Kohan in Variety:
"This is a war against corporate greed, and we're on the side of right," she said. "The producers are being completely unreasonable and incredibly greedy and piggish. They're making enormous amounts of money, and we deserve a share."
(Can I name-drop for a sec, since we're all sharing a venti Hollywood bloggiato with extra foam? We totally know Jenji and are kinda sorta crushed out on her. Sera tells me she was walking the picket line with her yesterday, gabbing about the shortfalls of the cable residual system, reminiscing about our seder last pesach, and admiring her "totally sweet sexy-secretary glasses. They have, like, little stars on them!" Anyway, she stokes our fire. There; we said it, it's out in the open and we can move on.)

While writers strike to make more on these, you can get a bunch from Netflix.

The self-evident rightness of the writers' case is clear. Still, it seems to me — I almost said it strikes me — that some of the solidarity we've been seeing is due to the existence of blogs.

Here's the thing: Blogs are a powerful organizing tool under ordinary circumstances, even if you're running for city countil in Des Moines. But Hollywood writers are, well, writers. And people want to read about entertainment anyway, so there's an incredibly energized platform in the hands of people who really know how to tell a story and make an argument.

Meanwhile, video bloggers, indie filmmakers and online documentarians are taking their cameras to the picket lines and telling the story from an anti-corporate perspective. Not only that, but they have groovy media tools like this one at their disposal:

Meanwhile, the blogs enable writers to stay in touch with the show's fans in an unmediated way. Hence the aforementioned extremely touching and wonderful displays of support.

So yeah, that's all good. But just because morale is high now doesn't mean this thing won't drag on and start to really hurt the people who write your favorite shows. Here's the blog as soapbox: Writers are striking to pay their rent, their mortgages, their health coverage, their kids' day care, their treats for their dogs named Mojo, their vodka that is so essential for the 3am story-breaking. Most of them are not rolling in money and for them there is no such thing as job security. Your support isn't just appreciated — it's vital. So keep on honking and writing and making online videos and signing petitions and telling your friends. It's going to make a difference.

And since we've been talking about blogs and precious little about hot Jews, we're delighted to introduce you to the sassy online stylings of Katie Schwartz, whose All the Way From Oy to Vey is so Hebrewliciously up our alley it's not even funny. Except that it's really funny. Like us, Katie works blue, so if you're put off by the dirtiness, don't blame us (but really, get over yourself, because dirtiness is where it's at). Check it out, you righteous hottie, you.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

No, You're Very Hot.

Wow. Thanks for all the love, guys. We're so touched by the show of support for the Very Hot On-Strike half of this duo.

Before Sera became a screenwriter, if you'd asked her to name five writers, she'd have said, "Matt Damon... Ben Affleck... um..." So we are as surprised as we are verklempt that the online world is so replete with writer-friendly mensches (both Hebraic and Scintillatingly Attractive Non-).

So thanks ever so for the kind words, sweet comments, mash notes, and Wiccan contract-negotiation candle rituals. You make us proud to be types who type.

P.S. (added on Thurs., November 8) Thank you to the show fans who brought the fruit to the picket line! The writing staff of my show will be out there this morning, at the Warner Bros Studio Gate 5. Some of us will probably be out there next week too, on the morning shift that goes till 1 pm. Feel free to come and join the picket line, if that sounds like a bitchin' good time to ya. We're out there commingling with Pushing Daisies, Gossip Girl, Mad TV, ER, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Smallville, and other very hot shows. Yes, actors stop by too. Yes, they're fucking gorgeous. Plus assorted luminaries; I got to meet Garry Marshall on the line yesterday, which was pretty cool. He's a spry guy, and does it get better than Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, and the best rainbow-suspendered alien show ever, Mork and Mindy? The answer, my very hot friends, is nyet.

P.P.S. If you think the logo above is cute, get it on a t shirt here. We didn't put it up there to shill it - we found it googling for an appropriate image to open this little postlet with - but we do like to give credit where due.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

My Very Hot Pencil Is Down.
(by Sera)

So as of 12:01 Monday I am, for the first time in my life, on strike. Which is weird. Is it good? Is it bad? It's good if it works. It's probably going to be difficult in the short term. If it doesn't wrap up right quick, it's gonna play hell on the Hannukah shopping season in Los Angeles. Bad, for sure, for that post on dreaming that's been pending for over a month now (I'LL GET TO IT!). I suppose the best question is: necessary?

A: Yes.

More on that... probably not here, because I am not a Very Hot New Media Expert Jew. There are better places to go if you want to plunge into the heated debate. For instance:

The Writer's Guild, Nikki Finke, Defamer, The WGA Strike Captain Blog.

Many, many Smokin' Fierce Jews and Gentiles will be picketing. You will see them on the news. You may think we writers are passionate and righteous; you may think we are spoiled, overpaid, and by and large pasty. You may think movies and episodes of television spring fully formed from the lucious mouths of your favorite actors, and have never really thought about s0-called "writers" at all. Think what you will, I am all for this strike. It's necessary at this point, because the contract we were offered was somewhat like being told to turn around, touch our toes, and perform a certain famously uncomfortable sex act, without the benefit of lubrication.

I missed the first day of school on the strike line. The weeks leading up to the expiration of our contract was a harried sprint on all fronts (including a front or two that exposed me to whatever virus is goin' round), and now I'm paying the price in sheer physical exhaustion. But my comrades are there, and so I shall join them. Though probably not wearing a red shirt, since they flash me back to my unhappy past life in Communist China.

I may or may not blog more about le strike here at Very Hot Headquarters. Just because I'm fighting for a cause doesn't mean I'm any more reliable than I used to be. But the silver lining for our blindingly sexy readers is, Simon and I don't get paid a bum nickel to write this stuff, so I can keep doing it while still striking against the conglomerates. We do it for love, we do it for fun, we do it because there's shit we really should be doing and we take procrastinatory activities where we can find 'em. So I thought, hey, check in, say yo to the readers, and tell you I'm alive and well and ready to stick it to The Man.

Till then, I leave you with two pieces of good news.

1. You can get the new Radiohead album online for as little as 46 pence , because they too are grooving on the sticking of It to The Man. So they released the album themselves, and - I dunno why, but I like to think it's to prove to all the player haters that they didn't just do it to be greedy - they let YOU pick how much you pay for it. And... it is beautiful. It is the kind of album that makes you think of staying up all night with someone you just met, talking and talking and falling more and more in love. So, go experience the wonders of new media in the hands of the creative at their website.

2. Mojo spent Halloween trick-or-treating with my goddaughter. (I wasn't there, 'cause of the aforementioned work sprint.) My mom emailed me to ask for my permission to... put clothes on my dog. Which I am against as a rule; I feel dogs should be given their dignity. But since it was only a costume, I decided it didn't count. So, the upshot is... photos of Mojo dressed as the devil. Gaze upon the sheer hilarity every time your morale wanes.

Mojo says you're welcome.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Irony, While the Strike Is Hot
a few pages of hope from Simon

So you've probably heard by now that the writers are on strike. You'll be hearing a lot more about that from Sera because, well, she's on strike too — but thanks to some exhaustive negotiations, I managed to persuade her to stay on at Very Hot Jews (she's getting a bigger cut of our merch, especially the keychain and underwear concessions, as well as a massive royalty bump when we finally hit syndication). Whew!

In any case, I've been meaning to send out a quick entreaty to the other writers out there. Just because you can't work on your shows doesn't mean you have to put your creative genius on hiatus.

Why, you can finally start researching that massive tome you've always wanted to write on the history of scrimshaw.

Or perhaps pen a cheeky roman à clef about the kooky world of TV production! We know that in your mind you're already casting Ryan Gosling or January Jones to play you ... come off it.

Jeez, you could just blog while catching up on your backlog of TiVo'd procedurals. It's what I do most of the time, and I'm technically still at work.

Oh, there is something else you can do that's a smidge more relevant to your profession. Aspiring TV writers who hope to be successful enough to go on strike one day: You should be especially attentive. Put down that copy of Us Weekly, swig that Macchiato, and peep this.

Dec. 15 is the deadline for the Other Network Comedy Writing Contest. Which means that if you have an original comedy property to write and/or shoot, now's the time.

What's the Other Network Comedy Writing Contest, you ask? Well, if you hadn't been paying so much attention to Suri Cruise's diamond-studded pacifier and daydreaming about being wealthy enough to turn your own baby into a sociopath, you'd already know. But that's cool, I'll hip you to the deets, as they say during story meetings at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

Some of the smartest, most enlightened comedy people in town are looking at original comedy submissions. The contest was started by Greg Miller and Beth Lapides of the amazing Un-Cabaret (where comics and comedy writers showcase their most personal work — it's a million miles from those topical-gags-in-front-of-a-brick-wall clubs); the judges have worked on shows like, oh, The Simpsons, Sex and the City, SNL, The Office and many others. They know their shit, and they wanna see yours.

Past winners of the contest (now in its fourth year) saw their work read by top execs at Comedy Central, got (useful) notes from showrunners who expressed interest in being attached to the projects, got hooked up with top agents and managers and, for all we know, had sex with Charlize Theron in a bathtub full of champagne*.

Yes, there's a nominal fee to enter. I don't want to hear any whining about that. Do you think these folks should pay to administer the contest themselves? Are they beholden to Us-wielding acolytes for some reason? No, I say. Pay up and be glad about it.

You can see all the rules on the contest page. Go here for details.

At the very least, it'll help you focus some ideas. Be honest: Do you really have the patience for that scrimshaw book?

*sex with Charlize Theron not guaranteed to all winners. Nor is anything else.