This is the first day of the rest of my life . . . I killed a man. In cold blood. With my mind . . . I’m on the run from a dozen of government agencies, including the FBI, CIA, LAPD, IRS, The Department of Water and Streets & Sanitation. The X-Men are trying to keep me safe. And I’m a 40 year old trapped in the body of a 12 year old cross dresser . . . and Ted Danson is my side kick . . .
See! I’m learning to be a producer in the Columbia College Semester in LA program. And by that wonderful piece of work above, you can tell it;s working. Now I just need a gay secretary to yell at.
So, yes, I’m finally in LA doing the LA program. The same program where I interviewed over the phone in the lobby of The Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Chicago while waiting for Leo Green to meet me . . so I could ask his permission to marry his daughter. Awkward. The same program I postponed so I could marry his daughter. Crazy. Just by participating in this program, I feel as if I’ve finally set myself on a career track. The track is scarier than shit. And let me tell you, if you’ve lived with Sean Tamisiea (Tamer the Hammer), shit can be supremely scary. I’m talking protein shake shits. Those things have consciousness. Like he’s had a baby.
The fact is, writing this blog will become more and more difficult as the 5 weeks continue. The workload isn’t heavy, but the time in which to complete it isn’t either. What I plan on doing is passing on nuggets of inspiration, motivation, information and maybe some more -tions from the speakers who visit the class. So, as I begin this journey, I give you our first speaker . . .
Mr. Robert Townsend!
This is a legendary man to have as your first speaker. His career has shifted all over the map – from comedy to drama to TV to film to the internet – he’s made a mark everywhere. I remember him form back in the day when he made his first feature, Hollywood Shuffle. What is weird is that all the other kids in my class (who are much younger) remember him from his sitcom, The Parent ‘Hood. Not me. I’m old, biznatch! Like Apple IIC, Camp Candy, Like Soda old – son!
Hollywood Shuffle, for me, is a classic. This was the film that launched careers like the Wayens Brothers and intricuced me to some of my first black comedians. Having him in the same room (a very small room, at that) was something you don’t experience everyday.
I guess we’re all a little jaded these days, because no matter how much you wish that celebrities will be down to earth, cool people, there’s another part of your brain that prepares you for an inevitable reality check; these people are more than likely big dicks. Not Mr. Townsend. He was energetic, charming, funny and totally real. Here’s a few of the nuggets of wisdom he laid down on us:
“Images – what we see is how we perceive ourselves.”
Speaking about how he grew up watching TV and how most black actors were portrayed. He grew up on the west side of Chicago. His mother was so afraid he’d be recruited into a gang, she told him to run straight home after school without stopping. She wouldn’t let him play outside, so he watched LOTS of television and learned how to imitate most characters. He didn’t see race, only characters . . . Until he started auditioning. Then he realized how different perceptions were and that he had to change those perceptions . . . enter Hollywood Shuffle. Seriously, see it.
“Be careful who you share your dream with.”
Mr. Townsend was adamant that we surround ourselves with people who want us to succeed and that would elevate our creativity. One sigh, one smirk, one whispered insult can crash a creative person’s world. Avoid that. When sharing your ideas, criticism is good, but destructive, purely negative criticism based on jealously is not good. Share your ideas and dreams with people who won’t be jealous, but will be supportive.
“The name is the game with characters.”
This is simple. When we’re writing our scripts, don’t give our characters arbitrary names like “Tom” and “Bob”. Names speak volumes about who a character is. A name can say everything you need to know about a them. August Forrester. May Trowson. Zephen Stallwart. I mean, what if Charles Foster Kane was Paul Smith – Citizen Smith? Booooring.
When Mr. Townsend was frustrated with his career path, so he decided to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I mean, I can relate to that. Whenever I’m frustrated with my career, I, too, climb a mountain . . . okay, I just drink. A lot. But I drink Coors which has a mountain on the bottle. Mt. Kilimanjaro doens’t have a cold activation on it. It’s just cold. Stupid.
When he started the climb, it was a full week of trudging through the mud at the base of the mountain. Not just mud like we see after a light rain. I mean up to his knees mud. Miles of it. He just wanted to be at the top of the mountain where it was beautiful and clean and full of fantastic post card views. He related that to his and all of our careers. When we start out, we all want to be at the top. No one wants to be at the bottom trudging through the shit jobs. BUT, we all have to start there, paying our dues. The only ones who get to go straight to the top are the beneficiaries of nepotism.- that is, they can just take daddy’s helicopter to the peak. Boo.
When he reached a certain elevation, his guide told him that he’d have to start changing his breathing pattern or he’d get God Sickness – being too high and taking in too much. God Sickness is an awesome term for altitude sickness. I’m going to make that phrase part of my lexicon. Hey, man, get over your God Sickness and help me move this chair! Or, man, he had God Sickness all over the front hallway . . . Anyway, this was poignant as well, for when we do reach a certain level in our careers, we need to slow down, and take deep breaths. If we move too fast or too hard we could pass out prematurely.
Finally, when he was towards the peak, his guide made him climb at night. It was so he wouldn’t be able to see down – which if he could, he’d surely panic and fall. While climbing in the pitch black darkness, in the highest elevation in Africa, Mr. Townsend had to trust his guide. He had to listen and take reassurance that they were on the right path. Sometimes, we too, when we get too high, have to strip away our arrogance and trust that those who have been on this path before, will lead us to the top safely.
When he reacehd the top, the view alone was worth the grueling journey it took to get there. Some people may think this was a cheesy comparison, and it is — but it’s pretty relvant and poignant as well.
Good first day.