Author Archives: GemmaBurgess

On… pitching

So, I went out to LA to pitch two tv shows to producers a couple of weeks ago, and I’m heading back next week to pitch them again, this time with the producers, to studios and networks.

I’m excited.

I love these two shows. And I love pitching. I really do. It’s odd, because in most ways I am a total writery writer: I recharge when I’m alone. I think about things way too much. I have a rich inner life (in other words: I play a lot of make-believe in my head. Like a LOT. When I’m walking on the street alone you will catch me muttering to myself and doing pretend reactions… oh yah it’s seriously lame).

But I must have a latent showoff inside of me somewhere, because I love pitches. It’s probably the same showoff who liked to act in high school, until she discovered directing at college and the utter joy of being in charge of everything, and then in her 20s realized that writing was like breathing: easy, invigorating, and essential to life. (Though I often wonder what would have happened if I had actually pursued directing instead of assuming it was a club I would never be invited to join, and what would happen if I pursued it now… Never mind, that’s a thought for another post, or another year.)

Where was I? Oh right. Pitching.

Pitching is just so much damn fun. It’s a cross between a job interview and a date. I used to LOVE job interviews (a chance to talk about me? come on!) and I LOVED dating (a chance to talk about me, to guys who hadn’t heard all my adorable anecdotes? Again, come on!). I also really, really like meeting new people and talking to them about their lives and finding out what they think is interesting. I like telling people about the aforementioned make-believe stories that I made up in my head. Most of all, I like it when other people get as excited about the story as I am. That’s all that pitching is: connecting with the person, and telling them a story.

If they’re not excited about the pitch, then it’s probably because I lost focus and just plain told it badly. Or my accent got too distracting (I have a weird Hong Kong accent, somewhere between London and Australia but people think I’m Irish or South African or anything – but it’s a legit Hong Kong accent. My sister has the same accent, other expat brats have the same accent. If I hear someone in a bar with my accent I accost them like, ‘YOU MUST BE FROM HONG KONG or Singapore or maybe Dubai’, and I am always, always right. Okay sorry, back to the point). It might also be that they’ve heard something like it this season and thought it was stupid so my idea is tarnished by association, or pitched something like it a few years ago and failed badly, or bought a similar idea from someone else last week and can’t buy it again.

There is always, of course, the chance that the reason they’re not excited is that the idea is shitty, but I try hard not to not think that. I have a healthy amount of self-doubt and self-loathing, but by the time I’m in the room, I force myself to believe that the reason I flew all the way to goddamn LA and sat in traffic in a stupid Lyft and woke up at 3am with jet lag and adrenaline and got lost on the Warner Bros lot AGAIN and asked the security guys to give me a ride in the golf cart (side note: the moment I started hitchhiking around lots on golf carts, pitch life became a lot more fun and I got many less blisters, plus they get really excited that I’m there to pitch which means I get a LOT of high-fives) was worth it. Anyway, I’ve told (and sold) enough damn stories by now that I know that when an idea makes me tingle, it should make other people tingle, too. If the idea doesn’t land, it’s not the idea’s fault, it’s mine.

Another reason that a pitch doesn’t land is the simplest: they weren’t listening. Seriously: listening to a pitch is way harder than actually pitching it. It is very hard – practically fucking impossible – to listen to a WALL of words. And characters descriptions and background stories and plots and themes. I can’t imagine having meeting after meeting where you have to listen to some nervous writer stutter his or her way through a pitch and then assimilate every piece of it and rebuild it in your imagination, and then analyze it and really think about what it will look like, who will watch it, and what the advertisers will think. It must be beyond exhausting. You can tell when people stop listening – it’s like a little light in their eyes goes off. They nod a lot, but they’re clearly thinking about lunch, or needing to pee, or their boyfriend, or wife, or that new Winona Ryder show, or how amazing Leslie Jones is at tweeting the Olympics.

I can’t blame them. If you came into my office right now and told me about your eight best friends and how you know them and why you love them all, I would remember, at best, two or three of those friends. Wouldn’t you? But you can tell when someone is really listening: they go into a sort of trance. They write things down. They stare at you, barely reacting, but totally involved and engaged. They laugh at the right parts, and most of all they ask ‘so what happens next?’

That’s when you know it went okay. But you don’t always know. You can’t. You just smile, walk out, and hope for the best.

So if you need me over the next few weeks, that’s what I’ll be doing… walking out of pitches, and hoping for the best.

 

 

 

On… Love Stinks

The first twelve seconds of this clip make me laugh out loud every time.

WHOOPEDEEDOO pretty much sums up, oh, everything, sometimes. (It’s from The Wedding Singer, by the way.) (But you already knew that.) (Did you know that? We know that stuff here, right? It’s baseline knowledge.) (It’s not like I’m assuming you’ve watched Grown-Ups or whatever. I’m not delusional.) (But I AM growing increasingly attached to these endless parentheses.) (I might just keep writing in them forever.) (Even though I have a script to finish and it’s not going to finish itself.) (See? Still doing it.) (I wish I could train my scripts to finish themselves. It’s so EXHAUSTING sometimes, like running a marathon in my head. I’m basically hallucinating the last four or five miles.) (LOOK A SCHOONER!)) (This is why people have writing partners. Because otherwise they end up writing endless parentheses just to amuse themselves and procrastinate finishing the damn script.) (If I had a writing partner, this is when I would send off my script and think ‘find me a plot twist, biyatch’.) (Then it would come back with a spelling mistake or the wrong ‘their’ and I would be forced to kill them.) (Still doing it. Still doing the parentheses.) (It’s just a really good way to avoid having to make a point.) (Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. Going now. No seriously. I’m hanging up. You hang up. Stop reading.) (Stop reading!) (Seriously!) (Bye. Mwah. Bye.)

 

On… some things that will make your life better

Oh, man. What a horrible terrible awful week. Is everyone okay? No? Me either. Is the world batshit crazy? Probably.  

Here are a few things to get you through the metaphorical night.

The best banana bread ever. (I don’t use words like ‘best’ and ‘ever’ lightly, so you can trust me on this. I am also not an obedient cook - i.e.  I never do exactly what a recipe tells me, ever. Too boring. So with this one, I throw in chopped apples or blueberries or yoghurt or sour cream or kefir or great big dollops of jam or whatever else floats my boat, and the result is ALWAYS amazing. This banana bread is bulletproof. I also put sea salt and brown turbinado sugar on top before baking because, well, everything tastes better with extra salt and sugar.) 

The best vanilla cake ever. (I’m slightly more obedient with this recipe, but still mess with the number of eggs, or add coconut flakes or almonds meal, for fun.)

Pretty damn good chocolate chip cookies. (See? I didn’t say ‘best’ or ‘ever’ because that would be a lie. But they’re pretty damn good. Actually, cookies and I have a mixed relationship. Sometimes I just think they’re too crunchy and tiring.)

If you’re pregnant, you only need to wear Cos and Topshop Maternity. I love those posh brands but dude, I wouldn’t spend $250 on a freaking t-shirt dress that I’ll wear for a decade, let alone one that I’m only going to wear for nine pathetic months and then HATE the sight of immediately afterwards. (No, I’m not knocked up. This is just something that I often think about. When someone I know gets pregnant I text them ‘Cos! Topshop!’ and they reply ‘oh i’ll just wear my own clothes as long as possible, I don’t think I’ll get very big’ and then I laugh so hard I walk into a wall. Then they text four and a half months later ‘I am HUGE’ and I reply ‘Cos! Topshop! And you’re not huge. You’re just pregnant. But you still deserve to look nice and feel pretty.’)

The only game I ever play on my phone is WordWarp. It is basically Tetris-level technology (millennials, Tetris is the caveman version of the entire Internet), and I only ever bother to get the six-letter word, because I’m writing out ‘tap’ ‘map’ ‘rap’ ‘tarp’ etc is a waste of my valuable time. 

When you have a newborn, get this. It will save your life.

I don’t know this woman, but her advice columns are BRILLIANT. 

If you get really bad stomach pains and/or bloated after eating certain foods but can’t figure out what or why, look into Fodmaps. It’s probably not dairy or wheat that’s bothering you, it’s probably the polyols: watermelon and peaches and onions. Those things are total bastards.  

Watch this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and this movie and you will feel better about the world, which is very important this week. And hug someone. Hugging is even more important. 

 

On… Disco

I have two little boys, aged two and four. They like cars and trucks and airplanes and fire engines and police cars and ambulances and baseball. And manicures and disco.

I know. I know. But they just do. They don’t have any preconceived ideas of gender or whateveryouwannacallitIthoughtwedidnthavelabelsanymore. They just like what they like. Errol’s favorite color is ‘red glitter’. Ned’s favorite color is ‘bloooooo’ but that might only be because it’s the only color he can say. (Both kids were/are late talkers. It’s all grunts and clicks around here for the first few years, like a tiny ginger version of The Gods Must Be Crazy.) And the only music they like is disco. Full on, shake your groove thang, point at the sky DISCO.

Now, Fox and I are ever-lasting fans of all music of the indie-rock persuasion, so this discovery has been tough on us. We used to be able to play the Lumineers basically on repeat and they didn’t really protest, because, you know, they were too tiny and helpless. But for the past year or so, if we played the Lumineers (or Jet or the Kaiser Chiefs or The Cure or Passion Pit or LCD Soundsystem or Mass Gothic or Sleigh Bells or Hozier or Bastille or anything else), they both would put their fingers in their ears and yell “NOooooooooOOO” until we turned it off. For a long time the only – the ONLY – song Errol liked was ‘Everything Is Awesome’ and it would STILL be his favorite song if I hadn’t told him that my iPhone lost it. I could get him to dance to my favorite song, but only by giving him chocolate when he did, in a sort of Pavlovian training effort, but Ned still hated it. So – and THIS is tragic – we just didn’t listen to music until they were in bed.

But then a few weeks ago, during my little Everybody Wants Some binge, I played Bad Girls by Donna Summer. And they LOVED it. Errol sang it to himself all day afterwards, while playing with firetrucks. It was so adorably camp.

So then I played Daddy Cool by Boney M.

Then Macho Man by The Village People.

Then Hot Stuff by Donna Summer.

Then It’s Raining Men by The Weather Girls.

Then Angel Eyes by Roxy Music, which might not be strictly disco, but I got away with it.

Then I remembered The Last Days Of Disco, which is a fantastic movie (my friend Caroline will read this and text me ‘that is a TERRIBLE MOVIE what are you TALKING ABOUT PUT DOWN THE CRACK PIPE’, but she is incorrect and I am not even HOLDING my crack pipe), and I played More More More by Andrea True.

And then Love Train by The O’Jays.

And then Oogum Boogum by Brenton Wood.

And everybody was happy.

 

On… sharing an office

Fox and I share an office in our New York apartment. Literally share it: a small room, adjoining our living room, with two crappy desks from Overstock pushed up against each other, and two big huge flatscreen monitors blocking our views of each other’s faces. In other words, unless one of us is at the gym, we are probably within 15 feet of each other at EVERY MOMENT OF THE DAMN DAY.

This feels completely normal to me now, in the way that having him traveling two or three weeks every month with his last job, and living our entire marriage on WhatsApp, used to feel completely normal. People would make pained faces when I said how much time we spent apart. Especially when I had a tiny baby or two. I could see people thinking: ‘these guys are doomed, and she is NOT going to clean up on Tinder if there are breastmilk stains and babies in her profile pics’. But now, when people hear that we share an office at home and that we have a two-year-old and a four-year-old, they just scream “WHAT THE FUH HOW ARE YOU NOT KILLING HIM?”

So here is the big secret to sharing an office with your spouse:

Ignore each other.

Fox is not a writer. He works in start-up finance. No, I don’t really know what that means. He does a lot of reading and modeling (not that kind of modeling, the demand for 38-year-old red-headed Irishmen isn’t what it should be) and calls. I, obviously, AM a writer, so I just sit there and tap away furiously for hours, and frown and swear and get up and make tea and then taptaptaptaptap furiously some more. Sometimes I stare into space for a long time. Sometimes I stand up and say ‘I can’t do this anymore, this is a fucking RIDICULOUS story and I hate it’ and I go half-assedly Kon Mari my wardrobe or put on red lipstick or eat some chocolate standing up in the kitchen. Sometimes I go play with the boys if their laughter/screaming penetrates my writing trance, but they’re out most of the time. Mostly, I just sit there and sweat and fume and tap, and Fox sits there and thinks and calls and taps, and sometimes goes to the gym, or goes for a walk to think his way through a work issue, and we ignore each other.

The other question people always have is: don’t the boys drive us nuts? And well, not really. Other people’s children would, obviously – in London we lived on Colville Terrace and our bedroom, where I wrote, overlooked a school playground, and I hated each and every one of those screaming little bastards. But when it’s YOUR kids, it’s different. It’s harder for Fox, who is accustomed to the serene space of a finance office, but as I’ve probably said before in my adorably repetitious way, I used to work in advertising agencies and those places are fucking zoos. Good training for working from home with very small children. And of course, we have an amazing and wonderful and lovely nanny, who makes it possible. Ned plays, and eats, and naps, and plays, and then they pick up Errol from preschool at 3pm, and then they all go to the playground for a little while. And I normally stop working around 4pm or 430pm or so, and bake a cake with them or do a puzzle or play Lego or firetrucks or whatever. A couple of times a week I take Neddles for to the playground alone, or take Errol for after-school cake or a manicure (fact: four-year-old boys love glittery nail polish only slightly less than they love airplanes and Paw Patrol), just because it’s nice to have solo hang time with them. Then it’s dinner time and bath time and story time and bedtime for the boys. Then the day is over and we collapse in a heap, exhausted.

And there’s the rub.

Because at this point in the day, you have to NOT ignore each other. You have to talk, ackshuary liderellah talk, not just put on The Night Manager or Silicon Valley or Veep or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or Younger or Amy Schumer or any of the other shows you both love. Talk about your day, and what happened with your work (which the other person genuinely isn’t aware of even though it happened just inches from his or her damn face). Talk about stuff in the news and what’s happening with our extended family and our friends and that article he read and that idea I had and that thing I’m worried about and you know, stuff. Conversation.

I find adult conversation ASTONISHINGLY hard after a day of making shit up in my head.

Not just hard. Impossible. It’s like there’s a wild, hilarious party in a room in my brain, and I just want to go back to that room rather than exist in the real world. You’re right: it’s probably not healthy.

Kid conversation is different. I’ll talk to Errol about volcanos and space and puppies (he is obsessed with them all) or play hide and seek with Ned, or make papier mache bowls or do watercolor painting with both of them, no problem. That’s easy, because it’s almost meditative. (Sometimes I cheat, and part of my brain is still thinking about a story while we’re drawing quietly, and then I have to grab the Crayola marker and write an idea out on the paper before I forget it.) The moment they’re in bed, I just want to go back to that party room in my brain and let my imagination do its thing.

But I can’t. I have to close the door to that room, remind myself that I can write tomorrow, turn my brain outward to face the real world and actually talk to my real husband. As soon as I do, I’m glad I did, because he’s hilarious and interesting, and reader, that’s why I married him.

In summation: if you’re sharing an office with your spouse: ignore them. And then don’t ignore them. Repeat.