I had the pleasure of once again attending the Great American Pitchfest this weekend, joining my favorite Dude, Zac Sanford, at the Suntaur table, taking pitches from screenwriters near and far. I look forward to this annual event, the time spent with Zac, and the writers we meet. Last year, I was forced to miss Pitch day, as my health simply wouldn’t allow it. And so, the few hours spent Sunday was a little victory of sorts, a way of giving cancer the finger, and telling the little fucker I’m still here, and, despite your silent presence, I plan to outlive you. So there.
It would be most appropriate, of course, to follow the above with a post of mutterings and musings about pitching, and, after this weekend, I can assure you that this long overdue conversation is coming. I think it is vital for writers to know what is happening at the pitch tables; I saw the rise of some very disturbing trends at the event… and embracing these trends are killing pitches left and right. There is much to say, and I will say it, but, until then, let’s take a little break from the business of screenwriting, while I share the marvelous tale of the Inside People, a little gift given to me by friend Lynn Dickinson, as she shared her recent experiences in South Africa over lunch with joined by Zac and GAPF wonder woman Holly Fiske.
It’s impossible to hear the words “South Africa” without thinking “apartheid”, and Lynn shared with us the experience of coming face to face with the fallout of one of the most shamefully ignored international humanitarian crises. Apartheid may be gone, but the people who lived blithely within this systematic genocide are not. Opulent restaurants, hotels, and shopping centers are populated with the Caucasian community – which comprises a mere 6% of the population (yes, a scant 6% were able to nearly obliterate the indigenous peoples of their country) – and yet, the employees of these organizations (upper management excluded) are native African. The educational system has improved; many native Africans are attending college, in which they learn about the possibilities that lie within them…. and then, are faced daily with the harsh truth that while their dreams are endless, their opportunities are limited.
But outside of the great cities of S.A. are the smaller, rural, areas, the places where people still live in the bush. And that’s where this story begins. Wherever Lynn traveled, however impoverished the people and blighted the areas were (70% of native South Africans are infected with HIV; AIDs orphans abound), their absolute joy of living was present in every face that she saw.
Don and I have seen this several times in Central America. We would wander into tiny fishing villages, where there was no true commerce, where people would barter for goods. At the end of the day, the men would return from fishing, while the women would step outside of their huts, build their ovens, and begin preparations for dinner. As the sun would set, the children in the village would be gathered up by their abuelitas, and they would parade around the village, singing phrases of joy that their fathers returned safe, and that soon they would have food in their stomachs. There were no despondent teens sulking over the confiscation of their i-Phones. Everyone lived in the now, the present. They were happy for what they had – their families, their village, and love. Materialism and “mine” were concepts for others. True abundance was in front of them every single day.
Lynn’s experiences were very much the same – observing the joy of living, of true communities where people took care of one another. People would greet her as she passed by, they would look in her face, with eyes shining with true curiosity and exuberance.
One day, Lynn’s guide took her to a bush community outside of Soweto, where she had a most adventuresome time being thrust into the temporary position of an English teacher. Later, as she walked through the village, her guide would point out the huts in which people dwelled. She learned that the huts themselves did not indicate individual families; that families were defined by the mattress on which they all slept. Huts could have many mattresses – many families within them.
And for that reason, people in these communities live outside their huts, for the days can be scorching, making the huts uncomfortable and close. Everything occurs outside, in full view of the community; everyone’s life is, in some way, a shared experience. This, I suspect, is part of the joy that you will see in the eyes of such people. Their lives are truly enriched – not by things, by enormous houses and plasma televisions. Their wealth lies within themselves. Their lives are authentic, and lived with great purpose, for they know how fleeting life can be.
Later in the day, it was time to return to the confines of the city, and the plush accommodations that the privileged few can afford. As Lynn’s guide drove the bus back, he pulled onto the shoulder of the road, less than 15 minutes from the bush village they had left. “Look,” he said, as he pointed towards the hills. Lynn turned her head. The hills were filled with housing subdivisions, row after row of immaculate, identical houses, the sort of garish McMansions that have become so popular. It could have been Santa Clarita, or almost anyplace here, Lynn mused.
“See?” the guide continued. “This is where other people live. They live inside these boxes which have many walls, and then they walk as fast as they can into little boxes, which have walls and are on wheels, and then they drive, as fast as they can, to bigger boxes, where they work, inside, in their own little metal box. Then they come home, they go back into a box, and that is what they do, each and every day.”
He stood there, elegant, and poised, his eyes scanning the great boxes where people lived. “Do you know what we call them – the people who live there?” he asked.
Lynn shook her head.
“The Inside People,” said the guide. “That is what we call them. Inside People.”
The Inside People.
Lunch was over, and it was time for us to walk from one box – the hotel – to another box – the convention arena, which was portioned off into several boxes for classes, etc. We were in the largest box – the Pitch Arena – and everywhere I looked, people were scurrying around, eyes down, unaware of the wash of humanity surrounding them. They were tense and afraid. They had, at least for this weekend, forgotten what it is to live outside. They had become Inside People.
And so, this is what I leave you with, this beautiful, living, breathing metaphor that Lynn shared with us at lunch. And what I wish for you is to take note. Hollywood has a way of forcing creatives to live inside boxes, boxes with little names like “Opening Weekend”, “High Concept”, “4-Q”, and countless other little sound bytes, the corporate speak of modern American commercial cinema. And that’s the most dangerous thing for a creative to do – to live inside.
My wish for you is a life on the outside.
Now, go write.
HRH, Princess Scribe