Buzzer Beater

I have mentioned before that I play in a men’s recreational basketball league with a bunch of (much younger) friends. A few Sundays ago, we were down by 2 with 15 seconds left and I made the tying shot in the lane with four guys hacking the crap out of me. Did I get the foul? No, the ref called travelling. There were so many people around me that he didn’t see that I dribbled. Even then, I only took one step! Disappointing, sure, but what happened next is what is stuck in my brain. They missed a free throw and we got the ball back. It was in-bounded to me. I shot-faked, dribbled left and popped a three. Missed at the buzzer. Just short. A shot I make probably 50% of the time. It felt great, right in line, just off the front of the rim. I make it, we win and I’m a hero, I miss it and everyone else wishes they had taken the last shot.

So why is it, after a whole game of flat play and missed shots, that it feels like the last shot made all the difference? The guys were all cool and didn’t hold it against me, but since then, I’ve had dreams where I made that shot. I wake up in the morning still aggravated that I missed it. In an effort to put some relevance on this thing so I don’t feel so absurd that I’m spending so much time replaying that shot in my head, I tried to find analogies in life for the last second shot. The buzzer beater.

Here’s what I came up with: the buzzer beater is the basketball equivalent of the overnight success. People love those stories. They love to hear that M. Night Shyamalan or Robert Rodriguez (old references, I know) showed up out of nowhere with a movie and hit it big. Same thing with the last second chance to win. It’s always a highlight on ESPN or on Youtube. There’s even blog space dedicated to the best buzzer beaters organized by NBA season. People like to think all success can be summed up in the last moment of the desired goal. Want to win the game? Hit the basket that puts you ahead. Think nothing of the exertion of the preceding 47 minutes and 59 seconds. Want to be the next JK Rowling? Or Darren Aronofsky? Just pull a kick ass book/movie/album out of your pocket.

I’m not treading any new territory in pointing out that success takes hard work and years of preparation, and that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is my personal problem: I look back and only identify the complete ideas that have gone nowhere. I just want to change the finish on them and receive the cheers. I dream about that final moment and what follows. Just like the game where I wish I had made the last shot. What I should be doing is evaluating the whole game and thinking about the accumulation of mistakes or lapsed effort and applying that to the next project.

A week ago, we were in another final second situation in the men’s league, but this time the opposing team hit the final shot and won at the buzzer. I could have put my arm up and contested it, but I had already realized the truth. The whole game had led to this moment. Make or miss, we didn’t deserve the win. Is that any way to think? My answer is no. That doesn’t work either. You can’t blame a loss on a missed last gasp, but you can’t pass up the chance to win, either. You must try. At every possible opportunity.

New Fire

My new favorite things are the pilot for Terra Nova and the website Brain Pickings. Before you stop reading, hear me out.

First, Brain Pickings. It’s a blog of interesting things this person finds around the internet. Always intellectual. Always interesting. Never pop-culture-y or affected. Love it. It makes me think about all the cool stuff that’s out there that I’ve never heard of and reminds me that I’ll never know everything. Which is a good feeling for someone who likes to learn new stuff. Definitely add it to your Twitter and/or RSS feed. And if you have a few bucks, donate.

Now for Terra Nova. I thought the pilot was pretty cheeseball. Then I thought, “Oh, they’re going for a mid-level, family audience.” So then I thought maybe the cheeseball was purposeful and appropriate. Nothing too challenging, nothing too dark. Like ST:NG or a watered-down Jurassic Park. But ultimately, it didn’t move me like early episodes of Walking Dead, The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Deadwood, or any other kick ass show that surprises you with how kick ass it actually is. So why am I listing it as a favorite thing this week? Because I got a hold of the pilot script. And guess what? It’s not strong. But even better than that, I can see how greatly improved the pilot is over the script. Whomever re-wrote the pilot for production really made some great adjustments. Particularly in the opening “teaser” ten minutes. They took out tons of VO, dialog, and standing around. They made everything into action and not discussion. The same story elements were there, just converted into actor movement and visual context. Watching the show while following along with the script was like a shot in the arm for me.

As I may have mentioned before, I’ve been working on some Earth-based sci fi stuff for a production company with no guarantees of anything, only the request to read my stuff. I have the story broken down into “chapters” which will easily become “episodes” but I was worried that if I blasted out a pilot script, I would need a great cliffhanger to keep the show going. Reading the Terra Nova script pretty much cleared my mind of any concerns. A) Because the producers reading it will change everything around once they’ve read it. And B) because the script feels like it was written pretty quickly. These writers had a great idea and blasted something out that would be readable and have the key plot points in obvious time markers for commercial breaks and the finale. So yeah, it went through a bunch of re-writes. Why wouldn’t it?! I don’t know why I thought I would have to deliver genius in the first draft. Maybe it’s a procrastination/avoidance technique that I’m using subconsciously. Either way, I’m back on pen and paper and moving forward.

UPDATE: A while back, I read a book by Ania Ahlborn called SEED. It’s a self-published novel about a deal with the devil. It was a fun, fast read (worth way more than the .99 I paid for it on Kindle), but I thought, “How is this thing selling so crazy well?” Then I found out from her blog the book got picked up by Amazon’s print publishing division AND she’s talking to Paramount about movie rights. Whoa. Then I saw this post, and I tied it back to my Terra Nova experience. If you check it out, she has very graciously posted an image of the revisions in Word from the Amazon people. There’s a LOT. Just like Terra Nova, people saw the great idea and picked it up even if they wanted to make a bunch of changes or clarifications. The lesson? Forge ahead! Be the bull in the china shop and smash your way through to completion. If the idea is there, people will get it. Maybe it will end up a cheeseball TV show, but I bet you that’s something compared to the nothing you get when you don’t finish anything.

Getting Reacquainted

Here’s a quick one… I’m finally sitting down with the book after a month or more away. I’m done with chapter 9 apparently. I had forgotten that! Sad, right? Now I need to move forward and crank out the final eight chapters or so. I’m right at the unofficial half-way point so it was a good place to stop, but now as I sit here, I feel like I’m starting from scratch. It’s like I’m in the midst of a long-distance relationship and my partner is back in town for a weekend visit. We have to get to know each other again. The question is, how do you have small talk with a book?

A friend of mine – writer, animator, artist, director, renaissance man Mike Wellins – once told me the best thing to do when getting back to an idea is read through everything you have and change one thing. Force yourself to change something. Anything! Guess what? It works. I’ve used this tactic before on screenplays and even altering a line of dialog that I previously loved really helps re-connect me to the material. When I come back to a writing or editing project after a few weeks away, it’s like somebody else’s project. And that’s true… the person who last worked on this was the me from a month ago. Sometimes I think, “That guy from five weeks ago was a genius!” And other times it’s like, “What the hell was he thinking?!” Either way, making changes here and there reestablishes the immersion into the material that I really need to start thinking in the world of that story. The present-day me owns it now.

So here I am, past the 20,000 word mark and moving forward. Cheers to the me from a couple months back who did all this work. But he’s gone now. I’ll take it from here.