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Bending Your Brain - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

"I can’t do that" is a phrase that is said inside someone’s head every five seconds.*

If you say it enough, or hear it enough, you will believe it. Unfortunately, a lot of times you’re wrong. 

It’s easy to be a pessimist. 

If you’ve got a pessimist on your back, think about their agenda, think about what they know, what they’ve tried, what they’ve failed trying and what the story is that they tell themselves about life and the world. 

Pessimism is a story with the same ending and it always lacks triumph.

Pessimism is also a really boring story and it results in a really boring life. Yes, it is a life with far less failure, less embarrassment, less financial strain, but nothing really interesting happens.

I dealt with a little pessimism along the journey to create the Vampire Mob graphic novel, some of it from a voice in my head telling me I couldn’t. 

Adapting a script meant to be shot with cameras into a script destined to be drawn by artists required some brain bending.  

Reading Scott McCloud’s books on comics, watching his TED talk, jumping on the net to digital read comics and talking to pals, Corey Blake and Terri Reed, I have a simple understanding of the form. Lots more to learn, just like filmmaking, but it’s taken months just to get to this point. 

A lot of the adaptation process is about what’s gotta go. Storylines, dialogue, scenes, absolutely everything is a potential editing target.

"Killing darlings" in screenwriting is quaint compared to the darling serial killing involved in adapting this screenplay into a graphic novel script. There’s darling blood everywhere!

What stays has to have a damn good reason for staying.  What’s important? What can I show and not say? How many darlings am I willing to kill? All of which are good questions for any kind of writing.

Bending my brain to see this story on the page, as a series of panels, still images, dialogue as the written word, that took reading comic book scripts and also comparing them with the finished result. 

Writing a graphic novel script reminds me a lot of editing video, where you pick the important moments, like a look from an actor that uses no dialogue.

It’s been a fun puzzle to figure out and there’s lots more pieces to play with. 

The Vampire Mob graphic novel script is in draft form at the moment. It appears to work, that’s all I’ll say for now. 

*This statistic is completely made up.

"They" - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

"They really want something that’s…"

Putting a graphic novel together for season three of Vampire Mob is a fun learning curve to ride. What I’m learning is that I need more help, lots more. 

Adapting a script meant to be shot with cameras and actors into a story that will be told in still images and text reminds me a lot of editing video. Choosing the moments that matter are important in both. 

That part’s easier than everything else involved, like finding an artist, inker, letterer, penciler… Lotta -ers. 

I understand what writers who can’t shoot or edit feel like, I remember when I couldn’t and it was frustrating. I can’t draw a graphic novel, at least not one anyone would want to see. But it’s a little less frustrating, this time. 

In discussing the nuts and bolts of the VMob project, the subject of “they” came up. In this case, “they” were referenced as one of the factors in making a few decisions about the graphic novel, including length. 

I pointed out there there is no “they” in the projects I work on, there is only the audience. Decisions about how many pages the graphic novel will be is much like deciding how many short films to shoot, it’s all about the audience. 

When “they” is cited, my first question is who are “they”? 

Usually gatekeepers, decision makers, the people who say yes or no to you getting to tell a story. When you write feature screenplays there’s a long line of folks who qualify as “they” to work your way through, sometimes for years, sometimes your entire life. 

I don’t waste any time thinking about what anyone wants except the audience.

The people who help me tell stories, the audience, are a small group of people, but their support is real.  It’s never going to be about if I get to make a story, it’s always about how much story can the audience support. 

When you take any thought of “they” out of your workflow and think only of the audience, see how that bends your brain, see how it changes what’s possible. 

Pitching a graphic novel to gatekeepers is not going to happen, much like pitching an anthology series of short films to gatekeepers will not happen. (Not saying I won’t take a meeting.) 

I get more done by doing, rather than waiting for permission to do. 

The VMob graphic novel will entail paying the folks who create it and sticking with a digital form, initially. My thinking is that two tiers of the budget will be worked out, one for a purely digital version of the graphic novel and a higher tier to create a physical version you can hold in your hands. 

The obstacle is to determine how much story can be made and at what cost. Raising the minimum to make the Vampire Mob graphic novel happen will be the obstacle.

I’ll take that obstacle over a gauntlet of “they’s” to deal with! 

Stealing from friends - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

Above is my pal @thegrrlgenius Cathryn Michon’s movie, "Muffin Top A Love Story."

Below is my short film, "A Tale of Two Bakeries."

Anything look familiar?

As you can see, I liked that shot! So, I stole it, kind of. 

Influence, steal, inspired by, all interesting takes.

I let Cathryn know the inspiration for the shot in Two Bakeries by phone, in case she saw it floating around.  

This was the first opportunity I had to use a window in any of the PlayShorts and the millisecond I walked into the new location, I knew where the table was going. I could already see that shot in my head.

And I know, we all steal, as you’ll see in “Everything is a Remix.”

The most personal is the most universal, as that saying goes, I think.

To some degree, it all has been done before. 

The combination of influences, life experiences, personal stories, all the stuff that makes each of us different, I think that’s where we all write from. 

Maybe if we put more of ourselves into the work, that’s where the originality will come from. 

How to not get stabbed - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

Photograph by Joe Wilson

The stories we tell ourselves about the world and ourselves paint the picture we walk in every day. 

If the story inside your head is a dark tale, the world’s going to change scenery to match that tale. When the story you tell yourself has a little more hope in it, even when it’s dark outside, there will be a little more light. 

If you’re in an alley and there’s two men who have you pinned against a wall, one holding a broken bottle in front of your face, a story might be your only defense, so make it a good one. 

"Are you making money off us?," I was asked by one gentleman, the one with the broken bottle in his right hand and my camera in his left. The camera was being pulled and the strap, still around my neck, was bringing my face closer to the bottle. 

The second gentleman, the bigger of the duo, hovered over his pal’s shoulder. His head darted to the left and right, searching the empty alley that seemed to be getting longer.

"Are you making money off us taking pictures?," he asked again, pulling the camera and my head towards him and the shattered bottle in his right hand.

The camera was a Leica, it was a really nice camera but looking at mine you wouldn’t know it. I covered it in electrical tape and masking tape, on purpose. If you’re going to walk around alleys and hang out with homeless people taking their pictures, a shiny camera is going to be a problem. 

In the 1980’s, I spent four months taking pictures of homeless people in Boston, all men. It was much different than shooting political demonstrations or punk concerts, where I’d blow through rolls of film. I would be out for hours hanging out with homeless people, but only take three pictures.

The rest of the time was spent in conversation, telling stories. Mostly them telling me stories but I would tell a few, like the one about the camera around my neck. It was from my grandfather who died and it had a lot of light leaks, but I taped them up and the camera works.

That was a lie, all of it. It was a good story designed to lower the value of the camera, but “you can always get something for it,” I was told. 

Shooting pictures of someone changes your relationship to them. When you live on the street and someone captures a moment of your life that you’d like to forget, it further complicates the photographer/subject relationship. 

Photograph by Joe Wilson

Stories became the keys. I was an art student, broke and lived in a dorm with roommates and there were security guards at the front door, that was my story. It kept those looking for change off my back and it was the reason I would give to those looking for a shower.

The guy with the broken bottle in my face wasn’t buying it. He thought I was from a newspaper or was selling pictures to one. I explained it was for school, for a grade. He was drunk, bloodshot blue eyes, the whites of them barely so. Still wasn’t buying it. 

I named names, “I know Jonesy ‘the mayor of Copley square’ and Sixty, with the scar down the middle of his face, he just got jumped and hit with a brick a couple days ago.”

That was true. I met Sixty in the morning, went to school, and returned late afternoon just as the ambulance left with him inside. All the guys I knew were genuinely shaken. He owed somebody money, I was told. It was the same story I was given for the scar down the middle of Sixty’s face. Never saw him again.

I told the two gentlemen whose patience was running dry, that I hung out behind the Boston Public Library near the heaters, where you could keep from freezing in the winter. 

He was cracking.

I named more names and more locations, names and locations I only knew because of the time spent hearing stories. His perspective was changing. Maybe I wasn’t who he thought I was?

"If I was from a newspaper, wouldn’t I use a better camera?"

The logic of that question, the story about my camera, all the people and places I knew. He dropped the camera, the metal body bounced off me. “You can always get something for it,” he told me, “Just don’t take our picture.” 

I hadn’t before, ever, and promised not to.

He dropped the bottle. I jumped a little. He smiled and they both walked away. I went in the opposite direction, checking behind me, fueled by adrenaline. 

One way to not get stabbed, tell a good story. 

Fragmentation is the Future - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

There used to be three TV networks, just three. 

All the shows you could see were on one of those three and that was it. Pretty easy to get millions of people to do what you want when there’s less choices. 

The three networks were joined by cable networks, renting videos and playing video games, and there were more options to be distracted. Throw in the internet, even more options.

Add all the ways you can watch video online, on demand, on your TV, phone, tablet, and you can also play games on all those devices. That’s a lot of distraction options.

Now, look at all the new shows coming from Hulu, Amazon, Netflix and the Playstation Network, yes, that’s a real thing. Even more options to experience a story. 

The reality of the future of entertainment looks like that picture up there. Those are all networks and circling around those networks, individual storytellers.

"Billions and billions" of stories. 

The future is fragmentation, that is inevitable. There is nothing slowing it down and there is no algorithm that can catalog it all. Like scrolling through the listing on your cable box, for light years. 

100 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube, per minute. 

Watching those videos would be like traveling to Mars and beyond. 

The music and book publishing industries have both been fragmented to the point where the stores that sold them closed, forever. 

Individuals with self-published books have been on the NY Times Bestseller list and bands with no label have been number one on the Billboard Charts. To me, that looks like fragmentation. 

The genie is out of the bottle and split into an infinite number of fragments and that’s where the opportunities are for individual independent storytellers.

Focus on the fragments.

How to disappear completely - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

I disappeared for a while, not really sure how long.

It was fun and I think it’s part of why I love telling stories, there’s a lot of opportunity to disappear. 

I don’t *actually* disappear but the world does.

When an idea is being made into reality there’s no room to think about the news, the worries of daily life or wearing matching clothes. There’s just the work. I love that part. 

Ideas take up a lot of brain-space. When they’re new, it’s like infatuation, you can’t think of much else and more ideas pile on.

If this happens to you, write that shit down! You think you’ll remember that cool idea and you won’t. No, really. You won’t. Write it the fuck down. 

Writing, even as I write this, the world can’t compete with Fats Waller in my earholes or the amount of brain-space it takes for me to type this. 

I think when we’re experiencing a story - watching it, reading it, hearing it from a friend - the world goes away a little bit. Suspension of disbelief has been a part of humanity since humanity could tell a story or draw one on a cave wall. 

Writing a story, rewriting, working with actors, figuring out how to shoot a script, directing, lighting, operating camera. editing, mixing sound, even putting together the credit sequence, all of these tasks make the world disappear. 

For me, that’s part of the process of telling stories, I have to be completely engaged in the tasks at hand or the end product is going to suck.

I have to disappear completely. 

What if? - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

What if there’s room for all of the storytellers in the world? 

What I mean by that is what if there were enough people on the planet for each storyteller to tell stories? 

I’m not talking New York Times bestseller lists and Oscars for everyone, but the act of telling stories to an audience, what if all who desire to tell one could? 

How would that change the stories that are told? 

What if the gem of a novel that’s been sitting on an unknown storyteller’s hard drive for a decade and change, what if there’s an audience for it that no publisher could ever imagine?

What if the time perception of success that has been taught to us was completely proven wrong?

No opening box office, no TV ratings, no bestseller lists, just lightyears of stories being told to audiences, worldwide, forever. ‘

A seemingly infinite universe of micro-economies for artists in all media. 

What if that’s already happening on a small scale, right now? 

What if those great times in history you’ve read about, what if you could be a part of one of them?

What if this very moment IS one of those great times in history? 

What if the bottleneck of gatekeepers is destroyed by a tsunami of individual storytellers creating an entirely new tributary system that goes straight to audiences?

What if the only way to know was to start? No maps or existing systems, just unknown terrain. 

The world is a very big place and there’s room for all of us.

All that needs to be done is to start.

Connecting Ideas - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

Ideas usually have to cook. 

Some ideas can show up seemingly ready to serve & sometimes they are. The fire of an idea is what makes it a good one, the “gut feeling” that sends you off on a mission to make it happen, perhaps a mission that changes your life. 

Sometimes cooking an idea a little longer, letting it simmer, adding other ideas, seeing what’s not working with the recipe and maybe burning the idea are part of the process involved in realizing an idea is bad, really, really bad.

If you didn’t burnt down the whole kitchen, you get to keep cooking. 

I’ve had “great” ideas, ideas I just *knew* were going to work, not work out at all. Like grainy, black & white films of men pushing the flying machines they just *knew* were going to take flight, but flip over seconds into attempting the slightest movement. 

Welcome to the mixed metaphor a-go-go, my name is Joe. 

I built a database once, for a company I worked for, it was fun. Before I started building a database, I had absolutely no idea how to build a database and I have no computer language skills. 

My pitch to them was the money they were about to spend on a consultant building a database would only result in more money being spent every time they needed a change or had a problem with the database. It was a tiny startup company and any idea that could save money sounded like a good one. 

They gave me a month to show some kind of progress. Mainly because I cost a tenth of what a consultant did per hour and it was a small bet for them to make. I read a gigantic manual as I made way through a series of non-catastrophic mistakes. 

Stepping back and looking at information, seeing how it can be made smaller, even more specific and at the same time seeing how it connects to all the other pieces of information it needs to, that’s a big part of the database game. Thinking like that permanently bent my brain.

At the moment, I’m a wee bit sleep-deprived. 

For some reason, 3AM is the time ideas like to show up, announced loud enough to wake me up for an hour or two. I often email myself whatever the rude idea is for review when there’s coffee in hand. 

Sometimes the ideas are fragments, like one line of dialogue or an image, a way to shoot something and I have no idea where the hell that idea is headed. Like picking out shutters for a house that doesn’t exist, but you file away the information for future reference. 

This most recent round of idea-riddled insomnia was like a brainstorm that had more to do with connecting ideas. Like building a database, stepping back and looking at specific ideas and how, or if, they connect to other ideas. 

A bunch of them connected in a way I hadn’t seen before and it kept me awake. I can’t explain it, but as I was cooking ideas, searching for a solution to an obstacle, I burnt a lot of ideas. The real solution was an idea that simply and only connected existing ideas. 

One way to look at problem-solving is to not to think of an idea that will solve the problem, but to think about connecting ideas that create a solution. 

I’d also recommend coffee. 


                               Ever help make a story happen?

Dear @Vimeo & @vimeostaff,

Please stop profiting from the work of dead artists. 

The ad below is running on Facebook right now (January 23, 2014) making a claim that is impossible to prove and I’m sure wasn’t cleared by any representatives or relatives of Alfred Hitchcock, Federico Fellini or Ingmar Bergman.image

I get what you’re trying to say, but aligning your service with the work of directors who are no longer with us makes you look like a fucktwat.

Why don’t you name any living directors who *would* use your service? 

Perhaps it’s because they would sue you? 

I have a suggestion, why don’t you talk about what’s *actually* happening with your service in ads? 

Who are the filmmakers who *are* using your service?

Who are the three, living, genius filmmakers who have their work on Vimeo, right now? 

Sorry about calling you a fucktwat, but when you throw around the names of dead directors in your ad it makes you look like you don’t respect them or filmmakers. 

Of course, if you have clearance from the estates of the above-mentioned directors, which we both know you don’t, and you still think it’s in good taste to profit from their work, then we’ll have to “agree to disagree.” 

Continue using the ad and my earlier characterization of you being a fucktwat is not only fair, but accurate, something your ad is not.

-Joe Wilson, storyteller

Why do they do it? - Confessions of a Lucky Storyteller

The tiny black box theater in the middle of nowhere that is being readied for opening night, why? 

The community art gallery in the middle of nowhere with new work on the walls and wine chilling for an opening reception, why? 

At this moment, somewhere in the world, someone is creating art.

Might be visual, might be music, theatre, performance, regardless of the medium, it’s always being made, worldwide. 


It might be a job, sure, but much of it is not a job, nor is it a “hobby.” For those who know the joy inside the process of making something a reality, that alone can be enough to continue. 

Micro-economies have existed for centuries supporting the production of art in all forms.

The black box theater that will be sold out tonight, all fifty seats gone, filled with friends, family, patrons, other artists, people. Only those in attendance will witness what is performed and then it’s gone. 

What if that tiny black box theater was on the internet? 

What if the small community who supported that theater was worldwide? 

What if storytellers had their own theater to show their work to the worldwide audience who support it? 

What if the micro-economy supporting that theater grew for years, creating opportunities to tell bigger stories? 

What if you mixed parts of Netflix, YouTube, Community Theater, Independent Filmmaking, Storytelling and “the Arts” & created a new way to tell stories?

What if it doesn’t work? 

One way to find out.