Monday, July 25, 2016

Life Lessons from Comic-con: Kevin Smith, Ron Moore, and J. Michael Stravinsky

I just got back from San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) and it was as usual, a madhouse.  Some 200,000 people went through the convention center, and there were great costumes and panels.  While I could tell you about the various announcements (the new Wonder Woman trailer for example), those have been covered by many other sources.

Comic-con is actually a pretty inspiring place for writers and creative types, who often start as “fans” and end up giants in the field.  In addition to the big giant panels (Game of Thrones, Star Trek, Star Wars, Walking Dead) there are actually a lot of smaller panels that offer tips for those looking to break into the industry and to create their own art.

I thought I’d write about lessons from 3 well-known writers who spoke at Comic-Con whose talks you may not have heard about on the latest geek newssite:
  • Kevin Smith, who usually has a huge session at Hall H on Saturday night, is of course the writer/director of Mall Rats and Clerks in the 90s, and just launched a show on AMC called Geeking Out. 
  • J. Michael Stracinsky is the creator of Babylon 5 and the more recent Sense8, and a well known writer in Hollywood.  
  • Ron Moore, recently show runner of Outlander and Battlestare Galactica, started his career working on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

While I could write entire blog posts about each of these guys and what they said at Comic-Con, I thought I’d share one little inspiring tidbit from each talk:

J. Michael Stracinsky:  At the end of his talk, JMS told us that he was once just like those of us in the audience, sitting at Comic-con looking up to the writers/creators on the stage.  He did this to encourage those of us in the audience to “take the leap” and express ourselves creatively, and see if we can turn it into a career.  

He then told us the story of one of his friends who worked for the state of California until she was 53 years old.  She told JMS that she felt like there was nothing of her in the work she was doing – there was no creativity, and she wanted to do something that expressed her personality more, but felt like it was too late.  JMS asked her what she was passionate about – and she said she liked “pets”.  She was also into “photography”.  He encouraged her to combine these interests and to do “pet photography”.  Her objection was that while that would be a good "hobby",  it would take years to establish herself to be able to make a living at something like, this – it might even take three years, and then she’d be 56 before she was really doing what she loved as a career.  At this point, he paused and told us he asked her this question: “And how old will you be in in 3 years if you don’t pursue this passion project?”

“That’s right, you’ll be 56 years old.”  He told us this story, he said, to remind us first of all that it’s never too late to get started, but also to remind us that time is passing and that we should get started on those ideas and stop wasting time, start doing the things that we love now.
Ron Moore:  Ron was on a panel with other writers of Star Trek.  Of course, he spent many years working on Star Trek: The Next Generation and then various other Star Trek properties before becoming a show runner of his own.  He tells the story of how after he moved to LA, he was struggling as a writer.  He started dating a girl that worked on the set of the new Star Trek.  She was able to get him a tour of the set.  He was so excited that he wrote up a spec script for ST:TNG and took it with him.  At the end of the tour, he pulled out the script and asked the guy who was giving the tour if they could get the spec script to someone that could take a look. The tour guide ended up being Gene Roddenberry’s assistant, and took the script to the show producers, who liked it enough to hire him as a writer on the show.  It goes to show you, you never know what coincidences or circumstances will lead you to get a break in front of the right person.

Kevin Smith: Kevin always gives a great talk at the end of Comic-Con, usually with a few unexpected stories about Ben Affleck and/or JJ Abrams (whose Star Wars Panel  was just before Smith’s last year).  Kevin said a lot, but here are a few random inspiring thoughts. You can make a TV show but getting it on a network may be tough; you can make a movie, but getting it into theaters may be tough.  Do a podcast and there are no gatekeepers, you can send it in to iTunes and there it is, and he encouraged everyone to start their own podcasts, just start recording yourself and others talking about stuff that you care about.  He also said that there was a time when Star Wars wasn’t cool (I remember this time) and no one talked about it.  Grown men were OK talking about sports and stats, but not about Star Wars and Comic-books.  Since he had no one else to talk to about Star Wars, he put scenes in his movies where the characters were sitting around talking about Star Wars. This inadvertently led to many opportunities for him – but the key was he was just putting down what he wanted to talk about.

How many times, he asked, have you sat there watching something on TV or elsewhere and thought, I’m just as smart as those guys, and could do this as good as they’re doing it? He used to think the same thing.  He told us the story of how he told his sister, when he was 21 years old, that he told his sister that he was going to be a film-maker.  She told him “OK, then be a film-maker”.  He repated that he “was going to become” a filmmaker, but she insisted that he just start “being a film-maker”.  He started following the advice and started to think about of himself as a film-maker who just hadn’t made a full feature film yet.  He adopted the mindset of a being a film-maker and started making films about stuff he knew and he was passionate about.  And that led to him becoming a film-maker and then being there on stage in front of us at Comic-con, and he encouraged everyone in the audience to do the same.

So there you go, Comic-Con is not only a place to see your favorite actors, or cosplayers dressed like super-heroes, it’s a pretty inspirational place, especially for those of us who believe we have our own stories to tell and want to turn our passions into reality.

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