Funky Ave


I'm in a funk. My funk is not one of those pill-popping, liquor swilling, dark depressed moods. In fact, my mood is rather buoyant. My funk is from my confusion about what I should be doing on a day-to-day basis. When I've been hired to write a screenplay, I know what my daily task is: sit down and write the damn screenplay. That work typically engages me anywhere from four to fourteen hours a day. I love the work. But now, I'm sooooo in between jobs, that I'm lost, disoriented, in a ... funk.

Most veteran writers suggest we take this time to write that special spec script we've all be harboring for months or years. Or take the time to write a new sitcom. Or play. Anything--just write. And I'm cool with that, except for one thing. Many of these veteran guys have some cash to sit on while they wait for the next job. Not this lovely writer. In the words of that great poet Heavy D, "I ain't got nothin' but love for you baby." But love does not pay the bills.

So what do I do?

My friend Darryl says loudly, "Go get a job!" And I hear him. In fact, I hear my own voice joining that chorus. (I think my mom is in that choir too.) But here's the rub: I feel lost at how to get a "regular" job. I've been out of that market for so long that a high school senior knows how to land gigs better than I do. Honestly I just don't know what to do! Flip through the want ad section? Pass out my business cards? And what kind of jobs do I actually apply for?
I think people like me, in the arts, need a job a counselor.
But until I get one, I guess I'd better figure it out quickly. Hey, Santa is coming soon. I've been a good boy. Maybe he'll bring me something I need: money and work--in that order.

Am I On Strike?

This Thanksgiving I went back home to Chicago. Amidst the turkey, dressing, mac & cheese, sweet potato pies, collard greens and other calorie laden holiday delectables, I was frequently asked, "Are you on strike?" That question puts me in an odd position. On one hand, I totally support my fellow writer's and their cause to such a degree as going out marching myself and possibly leading them in a good old Negro spiritual inspired civil rights marchin' song:

Ain't gonna let no 'ducers turn me 'round, turn me 'round, turn me 'round Ain't gonna let no studio turn me 'round, Keep on a marchin', keep on a writin' , wit all my residuals in hand...

On the other hand, "being on strike" means that you are refusing to work until certain employment conditions are met. But what if you weren't working before the strike was called? The WGA brass would answer that being on strike also means that you refuse any work offered while the strike is in progress. Okay, that's sort of a positive approach, but with 48% of the Guild's membership not working at any given time, how realistic is it that writer's will be given "offers"--especially now? I'll tell you: not very likely at all.

I would imagine that if you're a writer who has walked off a television show, there's a good chance you've got a financial cushion to ease your glutes after you leave the picket line. But if you weren't working before the strike, get no "offers" during the strike and the opportunity for work after the strike looks as bleak as it was before all this began, then where are you? Singing a spiritual I guess, expressing solidarity, fighting for the cause. However, given the extremely tough nature of employment in his business, this writer's spiritual may sound less like a civil rights song, but more like a blues tune.

"Am I on strike?" Yeah, I am--not by refusing work (because that's not really MY situation at present)--but more on the issues the WGA is fighting for: DVD residuals, a piece of "emerging media" ect. So, while the big boys (and girls) haggle this thing out, I'll be doing what I've always done: hustle to survive and hope that this "strike" yields not only better benefits but will also open some doors I've kickin' at with my marchin' feet for a few years.

"Redirecting Eddie" Rises

For the past several years, it seems as though whenever I've discussed the movie business and me, I've been pissed off. It usually stems from my frustration that a script I wrote is not moving toward production after all the parade marching ballyhoo to the contrary from the star or producer that hired me to write it. So it's a pleasure to finally share some good news about a film I've scripted.

In 2000, I was hired by a sharp, aggressive and very good-natured first time director/producer named Laurence Kaldor. He needed a screenwriter to whittle down some early drafts and write a script for a movie idea that he had been struggling to create. The story, which was originally called "Project: Indie," is inspired by Kaldor's personal dealings with his own filmmaking sister and his efforts to make a feature film. I think Kaldor tried to write the script himself. When that wasn't working he hired some "Hollywood" writer to script the film, but that failed too (and he lost a lot of money.) After repeated failed attempts to get the story right, he called NYU to ask for their recommendation for a screenwriter. They suggested me.

I interviewed with Kaldor and his producer. We never discussed it, but I think the young Jewish director and his crew were just a wee bit surprised when this young black man walked into the room. Several other writers were interviewing also but I got the gig.

Over the next several weeks, Laurence Kaldor worked closely with me as I rewrote the script. In October of that year (the same year I moved to Atlanta) Laurence filmed the movie, which was called "Directing Eddie." The first cut of the film was completed in early 2oo1. It stars Valerie Perrine, Jaid Barrymore (Drew's mom) and Deidre Imus (yep, his wife) and it was completed in time to screen and go on to win "Best Comedy" in the New York Independent Film & Video Festival 2001. Distributors were lining up to take it nationally. Then 9-11 struck.

As that fateful tragedy fucked with everything in the world, it also rocked "Directing Eddie." All at once, no one was interested in distributing a comedy set in New York. "The country just isn't ready," they said. "And it shows the twin towers!" So the movie hit the shelf and a year or so later Laurence left New York to move to LA.

I heard Tom Hanks on a few interviews talk about the "movie god." He calls her "Pelicula" or "Cineaste" or something like that. Anyway, whoever this celluloid oriented deity is, she has smiled on "Directing Eddie" because (drum roll please) the movie is rising again! From what I hear, "Directing Eddie" has been recut, reworked, re-something else (maybe the twin towers were digitally removed) and renamed to, "Re-Directing Eddie." A new song from Cher is even in the film now. Also, a new website has been constructed and a new campaign has been erected to take the film off the shelf to now be put, hopefully, on the screen. It's first re-showing will be at the American Film Market in Santa Monica, California next month. So here's the link to the website: Re-Directing Eddie... and click here for the movie's trailer.

Honestly, I don't know how good the movie is, but that really doesn't matter. Really it doesn't. I'm just glad to see something FINALLY made! Hats off to you Laurence Kaldor. Now the rest of you stars and producers go and do likewise!

"Sermons By Lavell" Off To A Great Start

Wow! It's been ten days since my last post. I promise, I'll post more frequently and with shorter entries. (I know some of y'all are just too busy to read more than a few lines!) So here's what's happening:

My first big push into TV Land is with a spec pilot I wrote entitled "Sermons By Lavell" starring, you guessed it, Lavell Crawford. I've been blessed to now have a veteran showrunner attached. His name is David Duclon and his credits are deep--as far back as "The Odd Couple" and "Happy Days." He was also an executive producer on "The Jeffersons" "Punky Brewster" "Silver Spoons" "Eve"-- and many more.

Last Sunday, David and I met with Lavell and his team (his manager Coco and roommate Jay Lamont) after the Last Comic Standing Tour Show in Anaheim. It was a solid meeting. For the next two days I retooled "Sermons..." then David took it to his agent at ICM to get his thoughts. We're awaiting word from him concerning the script and possible representation of me. Things look good. But then there is the approaching strike...!

More later. (I promise!)

Gimme The Pliers... I'm Changing Stations!

Tony Robbins, the mega-selling motivational guru, says, "If the plan isn't working, change the plan." Sounds like good advice to me. So that's what I'm doing.

After years of encircling the world of feature film writing, I'm breaking free of that very frustrating and too often disappointing orbit to seek another mission: TV writing.

I've dabbled in it before when I've scripted pilot specs either for myself or people like "Nephew" Tommy Miles and Master P, but I never really firmly committed to the genre. Why not? It probably has something to do with the daily grind of the TV schedule and the nervousness of "pitching" jokes in a room of very funny people. But ya know, I'm ready to get over that.
The new mantra needs to be: TV is my job; film is my hobby.
The reality is that I know more people working in the television biz than the film world. And it's true about Hollywood: it's who you know that makes a difference. Now I don't mean to make this crossover sound as simple as walking over to the other side of the street. Blasting out of ones orbit takes a lot of thrust and when I arrive, there's no guarantee that the good people of TV land will be any more open than those in movie world. When I told Wendy Raquel Robinson I was going to make this transition, she snapped back, "Why? Ain't no writin' jobs in TV either. What you ought to do is reality shows."

Mmm. Not yet. I want to give scripted shows a shot. I know I have the talent and ideas to go along with it. And I think I may just have a key element to my TV plans. I'll know for sure on Sunday, so tune in next week. '

"Tune in."
Wow, I'm talking TV already!

This Day I Tread

I hate days like today.

I feel like I'm treading water in a fog so thick I can barely see my hands. I'm unclear. And I ask myself constantly: Where I should go? What I should be doing?

It gets like this sometime, especially when I have no major projects I'm working on which normally lead me like a lighthouse beacon into a some kind of clear direction, some harbor. Sure I could do something--email, script rewrites, research--but what is the most important thing to do NOW? Oh I hear the chorus (lead by my friend Darryl) responding loudly: Do something that will get you some MONEY, now!

But what is the best way to do that now? For the past several years, I've hustled up dozens upon dozens of writing jobs--from academic papers to artist bios to scripts--but honestly, I'm tired of that particular hustle. It's like pitching pennies when I should be bowling for billions. I've got film projects ("Crossed," "Jade the Protector"), TV projects ("Sermons by Lavell"), animated projects ("The Circuit") all floundering on the waves, in that damn fog, waiting for the Hollywood lighthouse to bring them into harbor. And I have more projects I want to write which will undoubtedly add to my sea traffic.

But what do I need to do today, or tomorrow, or the next day? Do I create more stuff? Do I clean up the flotsam of business emails, phone calls or the jetsam of domestic duties? Do I attempt to steer the present projects into some kind of settled waters?

Or do I say the hell with these waves and start swimming toward different waters where Post Office buoys and other traditional nine-to-five flotels bob temptingly in waters I once pledged to never again tread?

I thank God for all my days, but I really hate the way this one is going.

First Runner Up is Good, Right?

By now most of you (who follow such things) know that Lavell Crawford was not the "last comic standing." That first place prize went to Jon Reep, along with $250,000. If you watched the show you could see the huge wave of disappointment wash over Lavell's face. It's understandable. I haven't called him yet. I'll wait a few days until the cacophony dies down. Undoubtedly, his climb to runner-up garnered him a lot of exposure. Maybe that will still translate into somebody wanting to center a show around him or feature him in a film. Only time will tell. Remember that "runner-up" in American Idol a couple season back? Clay Akins? The way he was positioned in the market, one might actually think HE won first place. So it's up to Lavell and his people to ride this wave as best and as long as they can. Congratulations Lavell!

Will Lavell Crawford Be The Last Comic Standing?

I've known comedian Lavell Crawford for several years. In fact, during one of the low times in my career (which one you say?), I crashed on his couch in Los Angeles for a few weeks. He was rooming with "Jammin'" Jay Lamont, a music-comedian, and an incredible talent in his own right. Weighing in at close to 400 pounds, Lavell can look quite intimidating, a beast--and indeed for hecklers he is!--but while I stayed in his apartment I came to discover that not only is he an incredibly nice and generous guy, but he's also a well-spring of creativity. He regaled me with movie ideas--one of which I turned into a screenplay entitled "Pimp Juice."

"Pimp Juice" is about Farnsworth, the grandson of a legendary pimp, who must return home, defeat an evil pimp and reclaim his heritage. I know, I know I hear you---but it's about "pimps" right? How can that be funny? Trust me it is. When Lavell pitched me the idea, I had my own reservations but as I heard his ideas I saw the humor. (My friend Phillip at Morehouse College says regardless of how funny it is he HATES the idea! Pimps Avery? Give me a break!)

It was during my stay at Lavell and Jay's apartment in Woodland Hills that I came up with a sitcom idea about a young preacher of a small church in a poor neighborhood who has two roomates: one a musician, the other a writer. I wrote it, infusing it with Lavell's comedy, and entitled it "Sermons By Lavell." Everyone that has read it says it's funny as hell. But "Sermons" or "Pimp Juice" never went anywhere because, well, Lavell and I didn't have any Hollywood juice, per se. However that tide may soon turn.

As some of you may know, Lavell has been a contestant on this season's "Last Comic Standing." Over the past several weeks he has weathered situational challenges, heckling, time constraints, odd costumes-- and yet each week he has come out on top, such that it's now down to only two contestants. The final is this WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 19. For those who don't know, the final contestants are selected by the public--not only here, but in places like Canada and Australia! So now, until September 19th, people around the world are calling and clicking their mice to vote for one of the two comedians. You can vote more than once too. Trust me. It's quick and easy. I hit my speed dial dozens of times a day. At the bottom of this post I'll provide the number so you can call in and vote or click on the hyperlink to NBC.

I really hope he wins. And who knows, if he is the last comic standing, perhaps "Pimp Juice" (sorry Phillip) or "Sermons By Lavell" will see the light of a studio's day and get made. Lavell Crawford is a talented guy who deserves a big break.

Heck, for that matter, so do I.

Call: 1-866-978-2702 or click here.

Exit Star Enter Hev

Heavy D called me yesterday to tell me that the "star" who was going to get on board "Crossed" has passed on the project. He offered no reason as to why. I think that exit was more of a blow to Heavy than he indicated to me because he is now making plans to do some music shows after several years of saying he's out of the music biz. However, the former overweight lover (remember he's lost a helluva lot of pounds) needs to make some money and to keep himself active. People have said to him that they'll come see his music shows when he mounts them (in a few select cities, beginning with LA) so we'll see. In the meantime, as we're still pushing "Crossed" and Heavy's gearing up for his show, what do I do?

I gotta eat too, so I have several projects hovering in the air that I will turn greater attention to. But instead of filling up this post with a laundry list of what they are, I'll discuss them individually in future posts. In the meantime, dust off your hip-hop shoes and get ready for "diggidy dee, diggidy dee."

Could "Crossed" Stars Finally Be Aligning?

A couple of years ago I wrote a movie called “Crossed” with my friend Heavy D. It’s a taught edgy little drama about a cop who may have crossed the line in his attempt to get at a notorious drug dealer. The cop will be played by Heavy D. Since it’s completion, “Crossed” has been read by a LOT of people including Will Smith, Alan Alda, Laurence Fishburne, Demi Moore, James Lassiter, Wood Harris, Antwone Fisher, Salli Richardson, Denzel Washington and Tim Story. Folks love the script--they really really do. Last year I met Denzel at a gathering at Morehouse wherein he said to me, “That cop story? You wrote that? That’s a good script man.” (I hoped he would call me “son” like he says to people in the movies.) Then he asked me had Heavy and I made the movie. Of course we hadn’t. But why hadn’t we-- especially if the script is that hot?

Well, this is Hollywood and oftentimes things don’t happen until the stars are in alignment. Really, THE stars--those that rest in the constellations of Beverly Hills, Malibu and the like. Heavy D is a very good actor. He won the Drama Desk award for his stage work in “Riff-Raff” and showed more than ample chops in the successful run of the two man stage play “Medal of Honor Rag.” However, no one was willing to bank on a movie starring Heavy--no matter how much they liked him as a person (which they do) or the script (which they do.)
Recently however a star has come into the “Crossed” universe. I can’t reveal who that is--at least not yet--until papers are signed and the orbit is actually in motion, but THIS STAR CAN GET “CROSSED” MADE.

Am I excited? Mmm. Somewhat. I remain cynical because this business is rife with so many disappointments that I refuse to mount my joy unnecessarily. However, as it moves closer to fruition I know I’ll shine brighter--like E.T.’s heart light-- and I’ll definitely keep you posted as to what’s happening.

In the meantime, I’ll be writing new stuff while keeping my feet on the ground and reaching for the, um, stars?

Harry Potter and the Black Readers

I finished reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” the seventh and final book in the series, last night. Many avid readers of author J.K. Rowling’s young wizard’s odyssey finished the book over a week ago, but I got started late and I only read in spurts. (Hey, I gotta take time to post this blog right?)

“Hallows” is an incredibly well-written novel and Harry’s tale, which is meticulously and amazingly woven through seven books, never loses its momentum or tension. Obviously I’m a fan—a big fan. But after I closed the book it lead me to wonder, with over 12 million copies printed:

Are there a lot of black folks who are reading the Harry Potter series?

I asked short story writer and home schooling consultant Candice Davis that question. “Amongst readers, yes, the Potter books are popular. But unfortunately many of our black children are not avid readers,” she says. I asked about adults. “Most of them when they do read, don’t read fiction.”

I’d love for there to be some poll to discover what percentage of black people are avid readers (I hear the question coming: What determines “avid?” But that’s the surveyors job) and what are our avid readers reading?

Might it have anything to do with wizards, Quidditch, wands or a kid named Harry?