My Lasik Experience

I recently had Lasik eye surgery.  As many writers wear glasses I thought it might be worth noting my experience with it.

THE CONSULTATION

So there I was.  Sitting in the waiting room at a Laser Eye Center.  Knee bouncing in nervous anticipation.  Could have been the thought of eye surgery, could have been because Must Love Dogs was playing on an a Plasma TV just next to my head.

I had been wearing glasses full time since I was about 14 years-old.  I wasn’t blind without my glasses, but it was pretty much a bitch do anything without them.  I tried wearing contact lenses a few times.  Each attempt met with disappointing results.

So there I was.  Just looking to hear what my possibilities were.  They called me in and walked me through a series of tests.  Before I knew it they were offering me a same-day procedure discount.  Being a poor writer, you bet I went for it.

THE PROCEDURE

If you’re not familiar with the procedure here it is in a nut shell.  They slice open a flap on your cornea and shoot lasers into your eye to clear a path to your retina.  There are different options in technology as far as how they slice your cornea and the types of lasers involved in recalibrating your eye.  This customization is how the pricing changes.

In Pre-Op they handed me a list of what seemed like 1000 fun facts about the surgery that I needed to initial.  I’m sure it was all just legal cover-your-ass stuff.  But here are two of the fun facts.

  • You may never see as well with the surgery as you did with your glasses or contacts.
  • You could go blind.

There were many other jaw dropping ones that, sadly, I can no longer remember.  But I’m sure they’re very rare.  I know a lot of people who have had Lasik and they all loved it.  Not one complaint or horror story.

They gave me a Xanax to help calm down during the surgery.  Only problem was, they were operating on me only 15 minutes later.  I’m pretty sure it takes longer than that for the body to ingest and distribute a drug properly.  Maybe not LSD.  I was laid out on a reclining chair.  All the while my mind raced with thoughts of Tom Cruise in Minority Report when he had his eyes swapped out.  Son of a bitch!  The Xanax wasn’t working.  I’m a big guy.  One wasn’t enough.  I need two.

They put some kind of numbing drops in my eyes.  Everyone was telling me to relax.  It’s go time.

Everyone told me not to move.  Lasers in my eyes.  Got it.  Don’t move.  Here comes the cornea cut.  Call me a baby.  This did not tickle.  It wasn’t horrible, but it certainly wasn’t painless – and you try not to move.  So now the eye is open and they’re playing laser tag with my retina.  This didn’t hurt, but it certainly wasn’t comfortable.  What did it look like?  I was going to insert the scene here from Fire in the Skywhere the aliens bring that needle probe down on D.B. Sweeney – but that’s too hyperbolic, and that scene freaks me out too much to watch again.  Ugh.  Stupid aliens.  The procedure lasted about 5 minutes per eye.  When it was done they ushered me into a dark room to wait for fifteen minutes by myself.  After a few tests I was released.

I stumbled into the hallway, ready to leave, finally feeling the effects of the Xanax.  At this point I had plastic shields taped over my eyes and a sweet pair of regulation sunglasses.  Afternoon now.  I headed home with a list of things I could not do for the next five hours.

  • I could not watch TV
  • I could not look at a computer monitor
  • I could not read
  • I could not sleep

Basically they told me to go home, close my eyes, and sit in the dark for 5 hours.  But don’t go to sleep.  And mind you, sitting in the dark after taking a Xanax, sleep is the thing you want most.  I listened to TV for 5 hours, then went to bed.

The following days consisted of a series of 3 different types of eye-drops taken at different times, sleeping on my back with plastic shields taped to my face, and trying to shower without getting water anywhere near my eyes.  They gave me a couple of Vicodin for pain but I did not experience any post-surgery pain.

But what about the vision?

DAY 1

Immediate improvement.  I could read signs at a distance.  I still had some blurred vision here and there.  It was not 100%.  I saw a lot of halo-effect on lights at night.  However, I was told that I will continue to improve over the next 2 weeks.  So far, success.

9 DAYS LATER

Despite the fact that I’m still seeing things blurry, my vision is checked as 20/20.  Still seeing halos on night vision.

28 DAYS LATER

I still see halos at night.  My vision is great in the morning but during the day it gets worse; as if my eyes are fatigued.  Sometimes it takes a second for my eyes to focus on things.

I see much better now than I ever did before without my glasses.  However I wouldn’t say I see as well as I did with my glasses.

Oh well.


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Welcome to Los Angeles

If you want to write movies professionally you ponder the move to Los Angeles at some point.  This article is not about why or when you should move to L.A., but rather, what to expect when you get here.

WHERE TO MOVE

Don’t move to Hollywood.  Seriously.  It’s an easy mistake.  You figure, that’s where they make movies.  Truth is, the big studios are mostly in Burbank and Culver City.  Hollywood is a busy, dirty, and rarely necessary place to be.  When I worked production I spent a lot of time there: prop houses, truck rental, production rentals.  But unless you want to be close the Roxy, Whiskey A Go Go, or anything else on the Sunset Strip, I don’t recommend Hollywood.

West Hollywood and North Hollywood are not Hollywood.  Both are nicer and very acceptable places to live.  North Hollywood is in the San Fernando Valley.  The Valley is full of good places areas, and is cheaper.  Sherman Oaks, Valley Village, Studio City, Burbank, Van Nuys (depending).  The only real complaint people have with living in the Valley is that it’s hot in the summer.  And it is.  But it’s hot everywhere, unless you live by the beach.

Speaking of the beach.  Here are some more great places to live: Santa Monica, Venice, Marina Del Rey, Playa Del Rey.  It’s more expensive there, so hardly the place for a struggling writer, but it’s also very nice and much cooler.

Don’t move downtown.  It’s just a bunch of financial buildings and sports complexes.

Most people I know did not move to L.A. with a place to live.  They slept on a friend’s couch or floor until they moved into their own place.  That is normal.

PEOPLE

Everyone in L.A. is from somewhere else.  That’s not true.  But it seems like it is.  Every day people flood into Los Angeles.  Some from other parts of the country.  Some from Mexico.  When someone asks where you’re from, they mean where are you originally from?

Oh, and of course they’re all writers.  Everyone is “X” and a writer.

Side note.  I don’t know why but it seems like everyone buys their liquor from the grocery store at 6pm.  What’s up with that?

WORK

Bankers hours are for pussies.  If you work in the entertainment industry you better come to play.  A 12 hour day is common.  My first month in L.A. I once worked a 12 hour work day – for free – then drove two hours to another set and worked another 12 hours.

No matter what you do, be on time.

If you’re early you’re on time.  If you’re on time you’re late.  If you’re late you’re fired.

TRAFFIC

It’s worse than you think.  It is the devil.  There’s no such thing as rush hour here.  There.  Is.  Always.  Traffic.  If you Google Map a destination, double or triple the drive time, just to be safe.  And I don’t know why, but it seems like L.A. has imported the worst drivers from across America as some sort of sick experiment.

Turn signals?  Not in L.A.

And God help you if it rains.  Everyone shits their pants like they’ve never seen the stuff.

SMOG

Instead of writing all kinds of fun facts and statistics about just how horrible the smog is here, I included a picture that sums it up.  I took this picture from Runyon Canyon (a popular park and hiking trail).

WEATHER

You really can’t beat the weather in southern California.  It’s sunny nearly every day.  They get less than 15 inches of rainfall annually.  Most of it in the winter.  Before I moved here a friend of mine warned me about the four seasons of California: wildfire, mud slide, earthquake, and summer.

FOOD AND DRINK

Every other block you can find a Subway and a Starbucks.  No shit.  So if you want to be that douche who writes his movie at the Starbucks feel free.  You won’t be alone.  I personally think Starbucks coffee is swill.  I prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee but there aren’t any in California.  But that doesn’t stop them from running the commercials anyway and haunting my every waking moment!

When I first arrived in L.A. everyone made their own list of places I had to eat.  Sadly, this was the list: In & Out Burger, Carl’s Jr., Jack in the Box, Baja Fresh.  You get the idea.  Don’t fall for it.  Fast food is fast food.  There are many excellent restaurants in L.A.  The Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and Thia restaurants are plentiful and delicious.  Plenty of good sea food too.  Sadly, not so many good Italian places.  And I still can’t find a proper cheesesteak out here.  Balls.

TOURIST SPOTS

There are so many fun and interesting spots to visit in Los Angeles, like, the place where O.J. Simpson killed his wife, or, the place where Phil Spector killed his wife, or, the place where Robert Blake killed his wife.

You know what?  Fuck it.  This town is sick.

How to make an independent film or die trying.

Movie making seemed like a distant unattainable idea when I was a lad in the 90’s.  Then one day I saw Clerks.  I couldn’t believe something like was at my local video store next to Tom Cruise and Denzel Washington movies.  Don’t get me wrong – I love Clerks.  But the production value looked like something… well… I could do.

I began researching and learned the story of how Kevin Smith used credit cards to fund his $28,000 movie.  Then I read about Robert Rodriguez and how he made El Mariachi.  Still more accounts of low-budget filmmaking: The Evil Dead, Blood Guts Bullets & Octane, Open Water. They made it all seem so attainable.  And yet, it’s not.  Making a film is tough enough but you better have made the right film or you’re going absolutely nowhere with it.  And after making two independent films of my own, I’ve got some tips to help you get there.

First, a disclaimer.  I’m talking about actual independent movies.  I’ll qualify that as under $100,000.

1. Read everything you can on distribution

Start at the end.  Seriously.  Before you even start writing the script.  If you want to make a great movie that does absolutely nothing for your career, ignore this step.  If you actually want to have a career you will start with this.  The only reason you’ve heard of any of the movies mentioned above is because they got distribution.  If a distributor doesn’t think they can sell your film they won’t buy it from you.  It doesn’t get much simpler than that.  I can’t stress this point enough.  In fact all my following advice stems from this one idea.

And don’t just trust that you’re movie will be so good that it will get into Sundance and some random distributor will be there to buy it.  Sundance ain’t what it used to be.  It’s full of “studio indies” staring famous people, made by famous people.  You’ll be making the rounds at many festivals if you’re lucky.  Many of them won’t be attended by acquisition people.  But you can use any festival attention as P.R. later to attract distributors.

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Anything but write!

Writers tend to be procrastinators.  I mean, I shouldn’t be writing this blog should I?  I should be writing my screenplay.  But I am.  And here you are.  Doing anything but writing.

As I spend my career bumping into other wanna-be writers by the hundreds, I’ve noticed a horrific trend.  They seem to be concerned with everything but developing their writing.  What am I talking about?  Here’s a list of things that seem to consume their time: inserting pictures into their script, changing fonts, obsessing over margin settings, display settings, cheating line spacing, and the list goes on and on.  Here’s a tip.  When your comedy spec script is 160 pages long, tweaking a margin setting is not your main priority.  Fix your script!

Here’s another trap.  Researching too much.  Yes, it’s important to do research for your script.  I keep a file for each script I write.  But you can easily go too far and waste too much time researching for a script.  No matter how much you research you still have the same number of pages to fill.

And then there’s this guy.  Let’s call him Smokey.  Smokey reads every screenwriting book he can get his hands on.  He wants to know everything there is to know about screenwriting before he starts writing a script.  This has been going on for years.  Last time I checked, he had written zero scripts.  Hey, man.  Books are great.  Kudos for getting educated.  But if you want get to the other side of the pool you’re going to have to get in the water.  There is not such thing as a perfect screenplay.  There just isn’t.  Don’t even bother emailing me with an example.  There is no such thing as a perfect screenplay.  So sit your ass down in front of your computer and start typing.  Of course it won’t be good.  Like Ernest Hemingway said, “the first draft of anything is shit.”  So get on with it, Smokey.  Then rewrite it into something good.

Final Draft 8 – Product Review

You’ve come a long way baby!

It doesn’t feel like I’ve been writing all that long.  That is, until I looked back over all the different tools I’ve used over the years to write screenplays.  I started off on a word processor that only allowed me to see a few words at a time.  I’ve written in Word, Celtix, Zahura, Screenwriting Pro, Movie Outline, Movie Magic Screenwriter, and Final Draft.  Not to mentions countless outlining programs.  It’s safe to say I’ve been around the block.  I’ve been happily writing in Final Draft for a few screenplays now.  This past week Final Draft released the first update to their Final Draft 8, which has been on the shelves since late April, 2009.  I figured that now is the best time to truly rate this product.

First, I find the art on the cover ugly.  Maybe that’s just me.  I’m here to rate the program, not the cover art.  The first thing you’ll notice when you launch Final Draft 8 is that the Navigator is now a separate window.  Not contained in the panels like it was in version 7.  Below that is a brand new feature called the Scene Properties.  Here you can type notes that are specific to each individual scene.  You can also type a scene title and color code it.  All this information automatically reads into the Navigator, making it much easier to organize you script.

While Windows users won’t notice much of change to the toolbar areas, Mac users may be surprised to find that the toolbar is now connected to the script.  This is much better than the floating toolbar in version 7 that could get lost or hidden.  Also, much of the toolbar information, like zoom percentage and the element box, have moved to the bottom of the script.  The panels still exist in version 8 and there’s a new feature called Scene View.  Scene View allows you to see your script as a list of stacked scenes.  You can move them around with a simple drag and drop.  Also the color coding and other information you added in the Scene Properties translates into the Scene View.

Creating a PDF is a hugely important feature to have.  64-bit Windows systems like Vista 64-bit and Windows 7 prohibited the PDF function in version 7.  Final Draft version 8 has corrected for these new operating systems.  Not only can you once again save PDFs easily, you also have more options.  You can save page ranges, revisions, or sides to PDF.  In previous version you could not save text document files to PDF.  That has been added in version 8.  Now can save your script, treatments, outline, or anything you write in the program as a PDF.

Most noticeably the recent update to version 8 corrected a few small things that annoyed me in the initial release of version 8.  The Save as PDF button has returned.  There’s a Save button on the title page.  There’s a Send to Script button on the Index Cards so you can send notes directly into the script.  These were all necessary improvements, and Final Draft listened.

The program retails for about $249 on their website.  But the upgrade price is only $79.  That’s a huge discount for loyal Final Draft users.

My official grade for this product:  A

Screenwriting and depression

Hey, Fus.  Where ya been?  It’s a fair question.  I haven’t been on here in almost a month.  Truth is I fell into a bit of a well and it took awhile to climb out.  I was depressed.  And that caused me to stop writing.  Which depressed me more.

At first I was just taking some time off because I was hunting for an agent/manager.  I’ve been writing like a madman but it’s all for naught if I don’t get it into people’s hands to read.  I was lucky enough to get some feedback from a manager and a working screenwriter.  But that’s all I got.  And then, when I should have gotten back to work, I didn’t.  I can’t explain it.  I kept waiting for the inspiration, the passion to return.  But it never did.

I wasn’t a zombie.  I went to work, made jokes, lived life; but I wasn’t myself.  This, my friends, was my depression.  Perhaps mild when compared with others, but depression all the same.

So how did I occupy my time?  I obsessed over a new email address for a month – finally changing it, twice.  I watched a lot of 60 Minutes and House.  I started painting, took a boxing class, learned to make bread, started drinking scotch, played a lot of Madden.  I did a lot of stuff; none of which was helpful to my career.  I wanted to get back to work but it seemed like such a distant thing.

I suppose I’ve had seasonal depression before – when I lived on the east coast.  But this was summer in southern California.

And then the epiphany came.

My entire life I’ve been plotting, working, writing, scheming.  Passionate.  Motivated.  And suddenly I wasn’t reading any books, or writing any blogs or screenplays.  I wasn’t pushing myself to work harder and be better.  I didn’t want to make myself better.  I wanted to be told I’m okay.  Which is a primal thing.  Everybody needs a little pat on the back now and again.  But being okay would mean nothing needs to change.  And there is no stasis in life.  Things are always changing.  Stasis is death.

When depression hits you’ve got to find a way to power through and keep working.  There’s only so much life to go around.

So it’s back to the factory for me.  I’m writing this blog.  I’m reading a book on playwriting.  And I’m rewriting my script again.

And if that doesn’t work, I’m taking some drugs.