Writing is fucking hard.
No, the act of putting words together in a somewhat intelligible manner and having it make some sort of point isn't difficult. It's finding the desire to do so, over and over again, word by word, sentence by sentence, page by page, when it seems like no one is listening or reading. It's the belief that your own thoughts have some intrinsic value that need to be put down onto page, that someone else may gain some sort of insight that they may not have come across in their own experiences, that the very words you write aren't derivative of someone else's better and more lucid imagination.
Nowadays, people write. People write all the fucking time. Social media has engineered a way for people to share their thoughts to the masses, no matter how trivial or profound they may be, instantly to mass audiences. And it's annoying. People write whatever the fuck they want without any thought at all, and pat themselves on the back for what they think are clever insights which they then put on an instagram post that has nothing to do with the picture they posted. They're like novice photographers in the digital age who rely on the technology of modern cameras to take great photos for them, spraying and praying until they get a decent looking shot, instead of taking the care to set up the shot with technical know how and experience.
And I envy those people. There are countless times I have been too precious with my thoughts, not believing in their worthiness to even write down, even for myself. So much of my time has been spent waiting for the right thing to write, and to then fully focus on that one idea, that I neglect 99% of the millions of ideas swirling in my head at any given time. This is probably why I'm a mediocre improviser, an improviser is supposed to use any sort of inspiration and go with it, while my tendency is to wait until I think of something good and go with it. Warren Buffett and I wouldn't cut it in a Harold team.
Even writing this blog post, it's been nearly a year since I last wrote about Just Dougie. I could say I've been busy, but really it's fear of just this whole project not really mattering at all, fear that what I'm writing is just going to go into the ether and no one really gives a fuck. My megalomaniacal self identifies with the prophet Moses, wondering if I would lead my people to the promised land of representation, but not quite taste the fruit of the land of milk and honey. Is it worth being a trailblazer if you won't get to walk on the trail you've blazed?
I started writing at the end of 2014 for my show. I wrote vignettes of moments of my life based on my life as a millennial becoming an adult in New York. They were Louie-like stories, stories with no high stakes drama behind them, but deeply character building and changing nonetheless. Unfortunately, they read almost like a memoir, and after reading these drafts over and over again, I had to be honest with myself, no one was going to watch the emo ramblings of a random Asian dude.
At the same time, my life has the occasional markers of crazy circumstance, where dramatic life changing events seem to find me. I felt strongly that there had to be a way to marry the uniqueness of my life with the relatability of my character. I took it upon myself to seek out a writer to aid me, a recommendation from another screenwriter and a sitcom writer, Brian Shin.
One thing Brian and I spent a bit of time figuring out is what we wanted to accomplish first and foremost, since I had production firmly in mind for whatever we made. Making a TV show was never at the forefront of my mind, I was thinking smaller scale as in a webseries, and wanting Brian's expertise more in unifying all my little stories together. Brian wanted to start from scratch, wanting to tease out what was most interesting about my life as an Asian American actor, but also mining what was universal about it. Finally in our brainstorming sessions, we came across a short film made by Vin Diesel called Multi-Facial.
Multi-Facial is a short film made by Vin Diesel early in his career. It's a semi-autobiographical piece that focuses on his struggle as an actor who has difficulty getting cast because of his ethnic ambiguity. Before he made the short, Diesel was an actor from New York who out West with the LA dream but then moved back to NYC after frustrations with the industry. After making his short, it was eventually seen by Steven Spielberg who subsequently cast him in his first big role in Saving Private Ryan.
The short is powerful, it presents Diesel's best qualities as an actor (cleverly positioning him doing several auditions for different characters) and we can viscerally experience his anguish over his struggles. After watching it and discussing, this is the feeling and sentiment we wanted to capture, this became our blueprint, as my purpose was the same as Diesel's to be able to showcase my talents as an actor and while I didn't expect to capture Spielberg's eye with this (fingers crossed), I wanted something that would move the needle for my stagnant and nonexistent career.
We wrote without a budget or production in mind, our process was to just write the best story we could and figure out how to pare it down later. Perhaps this is where things started to unravel a bit and get slightly out of hand, our project morphed from a short web series into a short film and finally, we thought hey, we can make this into a pilot for a TV show. While our primary goal was to build out a self contained piece that could stand on its own, the opportunity to create a show out of my life seemed like a decent proposition.
That was until July of 2015, when I read in a Vulture article that Aziz Ansari was coming out with a show called "Master of None". I wrote an email with the link to Brian saying simply, "well, fuck." I didn't know how to process the information at the time, whether to cut the cord or continue to go full steam ahead on the project. How similar would the concept be? (I'll get to my thoughts on comparison in another post) As interesting a life as I had led, there was no competition if Aziz's show was essentially the same as mine. Ultimately, I decided there was enough differences and uniqueness about my own story from Aziz's life to share. And as Aziz says in his own show, "There can be one. Why CAN'T there be two?"
Over the better part of the year, we structured the story around my real life experiences, and what we knew from our friends in the industry as systemic problems that Asian American actors face. I've already written ad nauseam on the subject but my main take is that it's something that isn't fully understood and nuances I'm still trying to understand myself, My idea for the show could be meta in the way that Doug the character figures it out as well as me as the writer and actor as the show continues on.
It seems strange to say now that the best way to show these problems were structuring our A and B plots essentially around racial penis size analysis, but one thing I wanted to make sure is that I showed things as they were and didn't sugarcoat anything. Besides showing the struggles of an Asian American actor, with the opportunity of having the lead (myself) be Asian American, I wanted to do something that I think hasn't been done effectively in most conventional filmmaking, which is just two Asian Americans on screen having an honest conversation about dicks. It's something EVERY Asian dude has had in America with another Asian dude, and while it's simplistic and almost sophomoric, on some level it's the basis of a lot of the way Asian Americans, and for that matter racial theory in general, are viewed in Western society.
Brian and I spent the weekends for around 9 months working on the script. At the heart of my artistry, I believe I'm a writer and somewhat of a philosopher, which is why getting this part "right" was paramount. So much of the quality of a film or television starts from the concept and the ideas behind it, not its staggering production value (although I will get to my thoughts on that part later). We were only able to work weekends due to his commitment to working on Grandfathered as a Writer's PA during the week, and a lot of writing the pilot felt a bit two steps forward one step backwards with a lot of debate. Is this a comedy? A drama? How should Doug find the answers he's looking for? What are his biggest struggles? Why would we be interested in his journey? A lot of writing is figuring out what you want to say and then fitting the puzzle pieces around it to best present that idea, and it can be exhausting to say the least. Netflix shows where the writing really impresses me are Bojack Horseman and American Vandal. The sheer amount of ingenuity and intricacies needed to plan those kinds of seasons out are mindboggling.
At the end of 2015, I was ready to go with the script that we had. The question now was, how would I turn this script into production?