Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Five Cents: Inspired By Zachary Levi and Nerd HQ...

Confession: I wanted to get into the entertainment business to change it. 

Growing up, I didn't want to change the world in some profound way like curing cancer or inventing a car that ran on trash or catching a serial killer. Well, okay maybe that last one. I was a kid who watched and told stories, more times than not just to see what I could get away with-- what I could make people believe. 

I was interested in simple stories-- ones about characters. I could easily be more caught up in eight pages of dialogue between two characters than eight pages of car chases and explosions. The key, I thought, was making sure there was something worth being said, and then maybe showing it in an interesting way. The latter was just icing if the former was already true.

I didn't grow up in Hollywood, but I knew I wanted to move there. I didn't want to work there, though. No, I wanted to work just outside Hollywood-- outside the studio system-- making the projects I wanted to make, even if they bent or twisted the typical rules. I wanted to show there was creativity beyond the routine we saw so often. The studio system was broken, I thought; it was run too much on nepotism and greed, focusing on the business and losing sense of the artistry and heart. Creative types are told to make one movie for the studio and one for them. "If you never make one for the studio, you'll never be able to make one for you." But too quickly it becomes making one for the studio and then a really quick follow-up or sequel right after; you'll get to your passion project next. Until another offer you just can't refuse comes along and along, and then you're fifty with a stack of dusty ideas and a yacht and no vacations in ten years so you just sail to one of the islands where you have an offshore account and sleep and eat and never make that thing that the ten year old you dreamed of.

What can I say? I grew up in New York; I was a jaded kid...

Zachary Levi is a storyteller, but he is also a visionary. He is smart enough to understand the business of this industry, but he is grounded enough not to get so caught up in it. He is also a lucky guy, though; he has managed to surround himself with people who are just as successful but still passionate as he is, which allows him to go off and make the things he wants to make in his downtime from his "Hollywood" work.

This weekend was the second annual Nerd HQ, a fan convention that Levi and The Nerd Machine throws concurrent with Comic Con. Stemming from his love of nerd culture, designing tee-shirts, and talking video games, Levi started his company to be a hub for like-minded individuals. The convention was born out of his experiences with the much larger convention, one he now accurately deems "entertainment con." He is too nice a man to say it, but I'm not: Comic Con has become very corporate, and not even just in the last few years. What used to be a somewhat underground, somewhat "safe haven" for those who felt different or disenfranchised or misunderstood now embraces everything in a way that sounds like a nice message on paper but ends up keeping a lot of fans out, just due to sheer volume.

Levi looked at the institution that Comic Con became and respectfully saw flaws in it. Wanting to right those wrongs for his own fans or even the fan still left inside himself, he created Nerd HQ. And that, in turn, has set inspirations blazing anew. At least for me.

I got into this business to do something different. I got into this business looking at what I deemed as flaws and wanting to offer another option. For a number of reasons, I am still waiting to make my mark in so many ways, but watching other people like Levi succeed is what keeps me in it, fighting the good fight, continuing to plug along.

I can't say exactly what Nerd HQ has inspired me to do yet. Right now I'm sitting on a feeling. It's bubbling up, electric, little by little. It makes me want to create, but I'm just not sure in what capacity right now. I have a number of ideas, but nothing is tangible yet. I don't want to commit to something, only for it not to come to fruition due to my own limitations. I don't have the team around me that Levi has. Yet. But I'm working on it.

I'm also working on two novels, two web series, a television pilot pitch, and a charity. I am nothing if not a well-intentioned idea machine, but I don't want to simply be an idea person whose great concepts fizzle and die because it takes a village, and I can't find a suitable one to help me execute said ideas...

In the end, though, I think all I really want is to be a part of something that's bigger than myself. Writing can be a pretty solitary existence. Sure, I can see how many people are engaging with my content through StatTracker and Google Analytics, and my Twitter at replies, and whatever, but it still feels, a lot of the time, like just throwing more noise into the universe. Nerd HQ felt like a boomerang; Levi and The Nerd Machine threw it out into the world, and when it came back to them, it did so with hundreds, if not thousands, of others who believed in their mission and not only wanted to help but actually did help.

I understand why Levi cries at these things now!

In the meantime, if you were inspired by Levi, Nerd HQ, what I wrote here, or anything really, I would ask that you turn around and pay it forward. I would also ask that you donate to Operation Smile, the beneficiary charity of Nerd HQ. I couldn't be physically down in San Diego this weekend, but the live-streams were enough to start me on this (hopefully life-changing) tangent, and those kids deserve to reap the rewards!

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