writing

September 20, 2016

September 20, 2016

I felt terrible about being tardy on the very first day of a nine-month class and the panicked rush to minimize the damage made me even more nervous than I would have been anyway (which is pretty darn anxious). A fight-or-flight surge of adrenalin takes over when I have to speak in front of a group of strangers and unless I’m very careful, I talk at supersonic speed. I felt like I was making a terrible impression on this new group of kids which flustered me even more. There’s an obvious solution – think less about how I’m coming across and more about the kids I’m here to teach. Gradually I leveled out. I took some admittedly poor photos of my class that first day.

They weren't being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me - to help me me learn their names.
They weren’t being rude and texting. I asked them to take selfies and email them to me – to help me me learn their names.

This was the first day of my second year teaching Screen Writing Symposium at Columbia and I couldn’t imagine ever liking a class as much as I liked my first class. I kept up with them (as much as you can with occasonal updates on Facebook) but I actively missed our Thursday afternoons in Room E.  I struggled to remember the names of my new students. I thought, it will never be the same.

Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny
Josh Andersen, Kevin Salcedo, Peter Zaragoza, Kaitlyn Hutchins, Justin Thompson, Alex Falcon, Charlotte Scrivener, Holden Weihs, Ryan Brennan. Not pictured: Tanner Novotny

I was right; it wasn’t, in the same way my second child isn’t the same as my first and my third is quite different from both siblings. Inevitably, every class – especially one that meets four hours a week for nine months – develops it’s own unique identity. Comparing them is futile, they’re both special – irreplaceable – in their own way. Just like I miss the kids in my first class on Thursdays, I miss the kids in my second class (except, I taught them on Tuesdays, Fridays, and finally Mondays, so I didn’t associate them with a day).

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank

I hope to keep up with them as they traverse the real post-college world, probably via Facebook.  I’d like to see all of them again too.  I fantasize that if and when I retire, I’ll host a party at my house for all my former students and the ones that show up will regale me with the highs and lows of their careers. Hopefully, their wins will far outpace their losses.

top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O'Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.
top, l-r: Jarred McClarty, Kendall Collins, Danae Fishman, Andrew Levin; bottom, l-r;David Alvarez Faith-Ann Bishop, Ryan O’Donnell, David Lugowski. Not pictured: Michael Akkerman, Natalie Frank.

September 17, 1979

September 17, 1979A

My career had yet to begin. I was closing in on a paying gig as a writer but it hadn’t happened yet. If you’re in my situation – no prior job, no WGA membership, no credits – you need to do what I did. Seek out fellow young, hungry producers or directors, work out stories with them as a team, pitch them to anyone who will listen.

Typing

I was fortunate to find a friend and champion in David Bombyk, a smart, ambitious, charming guy from Michigan. He was a year younger than me. We laughed a lot when we got together to gossip or break stories. I can’t remember who slipped my spec script to David – Martha Coolidge? Kip Ohman?  David and I partnered on several spec pitches and a couple of bona-fide (paying!) development deals but – alas – none of our joint efforts survived to see the light of day.

David made it big without me when he found, developed and co-produced “Witness” in 1985. The same year he produced “Explorers” and in 1986 he produced “The Hitcher” with his friend Kip Ohman.

David Bombyk, Producer

Kip succumbed to AIDS in 1987 at age 41. I met David for lunch a few months later. He looked haunted and thin; he talked about how hard it was sorting through and dispersing Kip’s belongings after he was gone.

David Bombyk 1952 - 1989

It was the last time I saw or spoke to David. He died on January 20, 1989, age 36.  His mother got in touch with me shortly after the funeral and sent me a beautiful ceramic vase David wanted me to have. He collected them.

Green Vase_edited-1

She was charged with the excruciating task of sorting through and dispersing her son’s possessions. I can’t imagine how painful that must have been.

LA Times - David Bombyk

AIDS took a lot of good people, especially in the 80s. For me, David Bombyk was one of the great ones. Unfailingly kind, loyal to his friends and brilliant when it came to developing scripts. Witness has long been a staple in screenwriting classes to illustrate a near-perfect script. I see David’s fingerprints on it. I don’t know if I’d have a writing career at all if David hadn’t believed in me before anyone else did. I’ll always be grateful; I’ll miss him and his laughter forever.

Of Mere Being

 

September 10, 1996

September 10, 1996

This was an exciting, productive time in my writing career. Maybe a few lucky screen and television writers enjoy steady careers uninterrupted by unemployment; I suspect the majority, like myself, are either overbooked or out of work and terrified their career is over. My specialty, which kept me employed – mostly by NBC – during this period was my speed. I could deliver a Movie of the Week (MOW) ready for production in two weeks. It might not win any Emmys or Humanitas awards, but no one needed to use a pseudonym or hang their heads in shame.

8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.
8/7 PM Saturdays on NBC.

I felt the pressure but didn’t mind it; I thrived on the crazy deadlines. I enjoyed and respected the creative people I worked with. I loved how MOWs (especially green-lit ones!) went into production minutes after I handed in a script. None of the months and years of development that went into film assignments only to wind up abandoned when the studio regime changed.

NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday - year and everything) when they visited us in California.
NBC Loomed large in my life and my cousin Craig and his wife Karen (who shares my exact birthday – year and everything) when they visited us in California.

Another perk – television writers exert considerably more control over their work than feature writers; this is far truer for staff series writers than MOW writers. Either way, you are far less likely to be rewritten in television than features. That said, I did my fair share of MOW rewrites as well as originals; my name doesn’t appear on some of them because, unless it’s a page-one rewrite, it’s difficult for second or third writers to get credit and it always involves a WGA arbitration.

Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.
Outside in the NBC parking lot with Craig and Karen Thu again.

Kanan Road – which became Malibu Shores – has a special place in my heart because it was a backdoor pilot for a series which was ordered into production early in ’97. It turned out to be short-lived (being scheduled at 8 PM on Saturday nights – what some people called “the Tower of London” because that’s where NBC shows awaited execution – didn’t help. Especially since the target demographic was teens). That said, I learned a lot and appreciated every minute of it. I’m grateful to everyone who made it possible.

NBC Dropped the ball on this one..........
Did anybody drop the ball, who knows?

 

May 23, 1981

May 23, 1981

J, myself and CD - not really rocking the Renaissance look.
J, myself and CD – not really rocking the Renaissance look.

To this day, I think this is the only time John and I experienced Ren Faire so it’s kind of interesting (to me, anyway) how Ren Faire wove through my life anyway. Long after we broke up, my college boyfriend Luke became a weekend Ren Faire entrepreneur selling costumes and period weapons. I had no idea he was such a Renaissance buff.

Arriving, taking it all in. Now that I look again, we were hardly the only ones who couldn't cough up a costume.
Arriving, taking it all in. Now that I look again, we were hardly the only ones who couldn’t cough up a costume.

It left a huge imprint on the four-year-old brain of our son, CD. For years, he and his girlfriend (and future wife) Serena spent every weekend with their network of friends at Ren Faire. (He’s a lot better at roughing it than I am.)

CD loved the area they set up for the kids to create art.
CD loved the area they set up for the kids to create art.

Later still, my screenwriter pal Art Everett and I collaborated on a spec script for the Practice (my sister Janet worked there at the time) which featured a comedic Ren Faire “B” story. Sadly, the Practice ended its run about the time we finished and our spec ended up in a desk drawer.

J enjoyed this one more than I did.
J enjoyed this one more than I did.
Instant karma strikes! Dad tweaks Mom's nose - Son tweaks Dad's nose and pokes eye for good measure.
Instant karma strikes! Dad tweaks Mom’s nose – Son tweaks Dad’s nose and pokes eye for good measure.

If I were going to do it again – and I’d like to, it’s only been 35 years since our last visit I’d spent a little more time and money (both of which I probably have more of now than we did then) and invest in an appropriate period costume, throw my inhibitions to the wind and enjoy a day of real-time role-play. Oddly enough, I think it’s also becoming easier to let loose and play as I get older.

When will the codpiece come back into fashion?
When will the codpiece come back into fashion?

If anyone’s up for an LA Ren Faire excursion soon, call me. Let’s meet up.

Gorgeous family
Gorgeous family

 

 

May 21, 2005

May 21, 2005

Our treehouse

 I was in charge of planning our cross-country road trip and booking our lodgings. Most of my selections came straight out of the pages of Eccentric America, a terrific resource.  The Out ‘n’ About Treesort in Oregon and Ravenwood Castle in Ohio (exactly like it sounds like it should be – a replica of a Celtic castle) were the two most interesting places we stayed. I wanted to book a night at Sod House, so we could experience how early American settlers lived, but John drew the line at sleeping on sod.

The Oregon Vortex

There was a bag swing and rope ladders at the treehouse. I chided Sam and Alex when they were unable to climb up the rope and offered to demonstrate how easy it was. To my horror, apparently I’ve lost ALL of my upper arm strength over the decades – I couldn’t make an inch of progress.  To explain my failure, I shouted “I have Fuchs!”  and they responded with hysterical laughter. I do have a tendency to blame Fuchs (genetic cornea disintegration, basically – link to blog 9/4?/04) for everything, even though realistically it has no effect on anything but my corneas. This episode was videotaped but, alas, we lost the camera and all of the film well before anybody could post my humiliation on YouTube.

Sam on the swing
Sam on the swing

As one would expect, there was no television and no internet service in the treehouses so we spent an old-fashioned evening playing hearts and spades.  I regret not taking more photos since each treehouse was unique.  Ours had an upper adult unit connected to a smaller kid’s room by a swinging bridge. The only downside was showers, sinks and toilets were on ground level, about 75 feet away.

May 19. 1972

May 19, 1972

Asleep

 This is another one of those mortifying memories I would’ve successfully repressed if not for my diary. Obviously, at 21 my social skills were sadly lacking. I didn’t even try to engage when I felt intimidated – the only thing I could think of to do was escape. If that meant falling asleep under a table, so be it.

Wanting to escape reality
Wanting to escape reality

I never did become a party animal. Truth be told, I’m uncomfortable at parties now – even small dinner parties. I think today there’s a term for this – social anxiety – and it’s considered a genuine psychological disorder. I believe I suffered from it then (and now). It was worse when this condition didn’t have a name or diagnosis – when it was simply weird behavior.

Social anxiety
Social anxiety

Over the years, I learned to hide my social anxiety far more successfully than I did in ’72.  I understood it sprang from extreme self-consciousness, the ridiculous fear that everyone was looking at me and judging all the things I did wrong.

Cornered
Cornered

For a few years, alcohol eased my self-consciousness and enabled me to socialize more freely but it was a temporary fix that – if anything – exacerbated my underlying insecurities. It was only after I gave up the crutch of alcohol that I began to make real (if slight) improvement. I’ll never be the life of the party, but I don’t think I’ll crawl under a table and go to sleep anytime soon either – although sometimes I still want to.

 

May 15, 2005

May 15, 2005

My favorite photo (that I took) of Deadwood
My favorite photo (that I took) of Deadwood

 This was one of my favorite family vacations. Sam graduated from an upstate New York college the week before. John and I flew to Buffalo and rented a gigantic van. Our plan was to load four years’ worth of Sam’s worldly possessions plus ourselves in the van and drive it across the country to LA. None of us had done it before.

Alex joins the Rowell Road Trip a couple days late
Alex joins the Rowell Road Trip a couple days late

Aside from the fact our luggage didn’t travel with us to Buffalo and we weren’t able to reunite with it until we hit Philadelphia – aside from that snafu, everything went as smoothly as it possibly could for a sweaty family of four jammed into a hot (that’s hot as in sweltering, not Corvette).

The second time we drove far out of our way to see Mt. Rushmore and - once there - stuck around for less than five minutes.
The second time we drove far out of our way to see Mt. Rushmore and – once there – stuck around for less than five minutes.

We picked up Alex at the Columbus airport after he finished his finals. Regrettably, Chris and Serena couldn’t make it. Just as well, since two more riders would’ve meant strapping someone to the ski rack. Our van featured a DVD player to help the boring miles speed by. In between all the anime, we viewed the first season of Deadwood again to psych ourselves up for our visit to the same.

Alex in the Maze
Alex in the Maze

A brief review of Deadwood, the HBO series. The first season was brilliant.  The second had its moments. The third jumped the shark.  A traveling Shakespearean acting troupe planted themselves in Deadwood for the season and – like the big black hole of an idea this was – gulped airtime and sucked away all semblance of plot.  A mercy killing would’ve been kinder. The Shakespearean acting troupe  was tantamount to a Deadwood Talent Show.

Laverne & Shirley - The Talent Show

You remember the dreaded Talent Show trope, you’ve seen it before – most egregiously in the final season of Showtime’s OZ, when inmates in a maximum-security prison sang and tap-danced for their fellow sadistic killers. Laverne and Shirley’s brewery threw a Talent Show. So did General Hospital. Suffice to say none of them have elevated the art form.  IMHO, when a show stoops to the dreaded Talent Show, it deserves to die. No appeals, no reprieves. Everything must end someday; some should do it sooner.

Great Family Road Trip

Back to the Great Family Road Trip through Eccentric America in a few days.

May 9, 1993

May 9, 1993

Jim McCann, Judith Russell, CD Rowell, me and John outside the Great Western Forum.
Jim McCann, Judith Russell, CD Rowell, me and John outside the Great Western Forum.

I rarely watched sports at all (certainly not by choice) before my obsession – some might say my addiction – with the Lakers began. A novice at rolling with the ups and downs of a long season, I took every loss to heart. Viewing the game through the lens of a die-hard fan, I was outraged at how the referees routinely called phantom fouls (and otherwise screwed) my beleaguered Lakers. Did somebody pay them to make my team lose? When obsessed, my thinking gets increasingly deranged.

1985-86 Lakers team
1985-86 Lakers team

How did this obsession begin? My very first Lakers game – an early round of the playoffs, 1986. The Forum was shaking; Laker fans were confident they’d breeze past Houston on their route to a second NBA Championship. The Lakers led the scoreboard every single second of the game -– until the last one, when Ralph Sampson drained an impossible three and the Lakers were out. Dream over. If they’d won as expected, I probably wouldn’t remember it so clearly. The out-of-nowhere last instant loss was high drama, to say the least. I was hooked.

The Forum basketball court
The Forum basketball court

John’s theory was after a loss like that, they’d come back strong and win the championship the following year so we bought our first season tickets. We were high in the rafters but we made friends with the interesting crew of people who owned the seats around us and it was a great year. They did indeed win the championship. I almost fainted, it was so exciting. We videotaped the games (VHS) so – if they won – we could watch them again when we got home.

Arty night shot of Forum
Arty night shot of Forum

Yeah. We were really that crazy about the Lakers. And it was a blast to be a fan in 87, 88 and 89  when they won everything. Less so in 90 and absolute misery as I write this. I’ll never give my heart to another team, though. It can only be broken once.

John and me in front of the Forum.
John and me in front of the Forum.

When I wrote I was a “smidge” down, I was trying to manage my emotions. I’d read that using words that minimized pain could actually reduce one’s emotional reaction. It worked, but gradually I slipped back into my catastrophizing ways. This entry is a timely reminder it’s far better to be a “smidge” disappointed than bereft because my life is over.

 

May 5, 2012

May 5, 2012

Hollywood Bowl1
It was thrilling to explore a legendary venue like the Hollywood Bowl. Actually, any casual visitor to LA can explore its exterior – the site is neither gated nor guarded. Tourists can park in the lot, stroll up and down the shell, even take the stage if they choose on off-season days when no one is doing a sound-check or performing.

13 Daisy Dell

Backstage, of course, is off limits. That and its exclusivity endows it with irresistible mystique, at least to me. I’ve been backstage at a few rock shows (notably Bruce Springsteen, Motley Crue and Kiss) but on those occasions I was so in awe of the performers that specific details about the surroundings were a blur.

Dressing room, Hollywood Bowl
Dressing room, Hollywood Bowl

The tour Michael arranged was perfect. Our guide, who’d worked there for years,entertained us with anecdotes about the rich and famous and we could take our time. I took a lot of photos, many already in the clubs and venues section of my site, some reprinted here.

View from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl
View from the stage of the Hollywood Bowl

Why my interest in the inner workings of the Hollywood Bowl? I’m writing a novel about a defunct rock’n’roll band, famous in the sixties. One member went on to success beyond his wildest dreams. My hero did not. The book – half of which takes place in the 60s – is about their attempt to reunite 25 years later. Will the secrets and betrayals that shattered them in the seventies resurface in 2000? Have any of them really changed?

Hollywood Bowl Empty Seats

April 26, 1996

April 26, 1996

Malibu ShoresUnfortunately, this was the first and last cast party for Malibu  Shores – eight episodes aired on NBC at 8 PM Saturday nights before we got cancelled. It makes me feel a little bit better (but not much) that our time slot was referred to as the “Tower of London” – where shows were sent to await execution.

Malibu Shores TV

Pull the plug

Malibu Shores TV - OFF

This was my only experience on staff at a TV show. At first, it was a huge shock to my system – we were expected to work in the Aaron Spelling offices from 9 AM until midnight or beyond (plus weekends) if necessary. Eventually, I adapted and grew to love it right around the time it ended. The time pressure could be as exhilerating as it was exhausting. It was gratifying to see what we wrote produced as soon as copies could be made instead of enduring the uncertainty of casting-contingent MOWs (also referenced above).

Charisma Carpenter
Charisma Carpenter

For the millions who never saw a moment of Malibu Shores, Charisma Carpenter was cast as the ultra-bitchy queen bee popular girl. She played the part perfectly – no one came  close to her reading in the casting process – which was truly a testament to her talent for acting. In person, she was delightful, friendly and unassuming.

Charisma Carpenter, Queen Bee
Charisma Carpenter, Queen Bee
Keri Russell
Keri Russell

Keri Russell was also terrific in the lead role, which she also nailed with a sensational audition.

Star-crossed Malibu Shores teen lovers Keri and Tony
Star-crossed Malibu Shores teen lovers Keri and Tony

I love to watch her brilliant, nuanced performance on The Americans today and remember the beautiful sun-kissed teen she played on Malibu Shores.

 


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