Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Free parking should not be a pass to pay adjuncts ridiculously low wages

I’m an adjunct faculty member at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester. Because there are so many adjuncts, I am a member of one of the majority populations on our campus. As such, I enjoy the following benefits:
  • Free Parking
While I enjoy my benefit of free parking, it is

not the only reason I teach. As an instructor here since January 2004, I teach because:
  • I enjoy working with the curious, creative, and dedicated UNH students
  • I appreciate watching as my students grasp what I am sharing with them
  • I treasure the many opportunities to celebrate the successes of my students
But I am exhausted by years of neglect from a system that does not value my service. Therefore, in addition to the free parking--or in exchange for that golden ticket--I would like to see:
  • Equal pay for my work, acknowledging my experience, education, and dedication to the same degree as my tenured associates
  • Health benefits
  • Education benefits
  • Retirement benefits
  • Multi-semester contracts
  • An office, even if shared, with privacy and storage space
  • A way to easily communicate with my adjunct colleagues
I know it’s a shock that I would give up my free parking for all of the benefits that usually accompany a profession, but that’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Should we organize the adjunct faculty at UNH Manchester?

Working with the students for more than a decade at the University of New Hampshire at Manchester has been an amazing experience. Not only are the students dedicated to their education, but many of them hold down a job and are involved with their families. 

However, working for extremely low wages, without benefits or an office, and asked to commit to a semester's schedule when the class might not even run due to low enrollment, has become burdensome. There are a couple of us who have been talking about organizing over the past year. With National Adjunct Walkout Day (or Teach-In Day, which is how I plan to use it) scheduled for this week, now is a good time to talk about our options.

I created a flyer that I asked to be emailed to the adjunct professors; however, I was informed this morning that it was not going to be forwarded. Therefore, I am trying to reach my colleagues through various social media outlets. Please help me spread the word; feel free to send this information to any professors you know.

If you're an adjunct professor at UNH Manchester--and you're interested in possibly organizing--please contact me through the comments section, via Twitter @biscottidana, or drop me a note in my on-campus mailbox (listed under "Myskowski"). I will be happy to share with you the link to the password-protected on-line survey for UNH Manchester adjuncts.

Thank you. And happy #NAWD!

Friday, January 23, 2015

From the Shore Scripts Website: On the screenplay "Niki Sweet Talk Moves"

Note: This is an old post from The Shore Scripts Competition website, which accepts new entries on March 1st; if you have a screenplay to submit, I recommend you check out the website.  
What first got you interested in screenwriting?
I wrote an unpublished YA novel that I saw cinematically unfold in my head. I researched how to write a screenplay, and I adapted the story; it was my first unskilled attempt at screenwriting. About a year after that, I took classes via UCLA’s Professional Programs in Screenwriting Online.
How long have you been writing for?
Since I was four; my mother still has my first poem–something about a cat, I think, for Halloween, though I recall more of the snowmen poem I wrote for Christmas that year.
Do you keep to a routine?
I used to, especially in grad school a few years ago. I’d wake at 4:00 a.m. and write for two hours daily; then I’d take care of getting my kids off to school or ready for homeschool lessons, and finally I’d tackle my other homework and try to weave in a bit more writing time. I’ve been out of my writing routine for the past two years due to a prolonged illness; now I write whenever I can.
How do you find time to write?
I schedule it into my to-do list, or else snatch the time when I can. When my kids were young, it was the wee hours of the night. My daughter awoke at 3 a.m. for years; I’d get us each a snack and we’d head to my office where she “worked” on her coloring and I wrote. She’d fall asleep on the cot I kept there, and I’d get a couple great quiet hours to write.
How many screenplays have you written?
I’ve written almost 20 feature scripts, teleplays for a couple dramas, a handful of sitcoms, and more than 20 short screenplays. I’ve also written numerous industrials for companies and nonprofit organizations.
What gave you the inspiration for this screenplay?
I’d been hired by our local planetarium, which is now known as the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center, to write a 45-minute screenplay about global climate change for a junior high audience. I interviewed numerous scientists and ended up with heaps of notes. Some of my extra notes have seeped into two different screenplays, including this one.
How long did it take to write?
As my thesis project for my MFA in Creative Writing/Screenwriting at Goddard College, I wrote the first two drafts over the course of a semester, staged a reading and critique at residency, and revised the drafts, ultimately turning in about the fifth to seventh draft of the screenplay to graduate a semester later. That draft was stage read before an audience at the University of New Hampshire, where I am an adjunct professor. Afterward, the script went through a few more revisions before I submitted the current version to Shoreline Scripts.
What do you enjoy most about writing?
Meeting new characters and inventing new worlds, then getting to know my characters on a deeply personal level as their stories unfold. I’m never lonely when I’m alone writing.
What do you struggle with the most?
Currently, due to my long illness, I cannot concentrate as long as I used to, though with therapy, holistic treatments, prescriptions, and a new diet and daily regimen that includes yoga and now Qigong, I am regaining my strength and cognition skills. I’ve actually recently written another BBC-style sit com episode for a series I developed with a team, and am ready to dive into a feature project that a friend and colleague has asked me to consider co-writing with him.
Do you feel that the film industry embraces new writing talent?
The film industry is in a state of flux. If you’re referring to the old Hollywood system, I’d say no way, or at least on a very limited basis. However, with new technologies for both creation and distribution, there are a wealth of opportunities for new writers in the growing indy market. The one obstacle though is funding. Not everyone can find the necessary funding through traditional channels. Supportive audience members can help fund many projects via the crowd-funding sites, but not all of the projects that are out there will find the necessary funds.
Have you found it difficult to get your work out there and read?
Yes and no. I’ve found different outlets that have been helpful, and I’ve run into obstacles such as friends of friends who are too polite to tell me they don’t care for my writing…and then a couple years later I find out from their former assistant who becomes an agent. In that instance she loved my writing and eagerly repped me, though we had little success as a team. I had one big-budget script optioned, only to see it fall apart when the financiers backed out. That was a sad day for all of us; even the costumer had begun designing the pirate costumes.
How did it feel when your script was shortlisted, then becoming a finalist, and then one of the winners?
It felt good. It’s always nice to be validated. I like my writing, but I’m too close to it to be objective, so it was thrilling when my screenplay made it all the way to the Top Five. The experience has actually opened up a new screenplay that I am beginning to outline; I hope to submit it to next year’s Shoreline Scripts competition.
How did you hear about Shore Scripts?
Probably on Withoutabox, though I’m not certain where I first heard of it two years ago. Last year another script I wrote, “My Father’s Dairy,” made it to the next-to-last round. I was determined to make it to the Top Five this year.
What goals do you have for this script and your future career?
I’d love to see this script filmed, but realistically, I’m not sure it will happen since it’s a bigger budget, especially if it’s filmed in Nunavut, Canada, where the majority of it is set. Otherwise, I hope that this level of success will help me in chatting with producers who may like my writing style and want me to pen something in collaboration with them, or want to see something else I’ve written. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and working with my university students and with the teens I mentor; one of my teens and I wrote a historical comedy stage play that we’re hoping to see produced locally next February on the 100th anniversary of the historical figure’s death. Eventually, if I get well enough, I’d like to produce my own feature film; I’ve produced short films, and that would be the logical next step in my career.
Thank you!

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Treating the film treatment as a short story

Why write a film treatment? My introductory screenwriting students at the University of New Hampshire might answer: “Because it’s assigned on the syllabus.” 

To which I would ask, “But why did I assign it?”

“To give us busy work?” one or more of my more cheeky students might reply.

I don’t assign busy work. At least I hope I don’t. In the case of the treatment, I want to help my young writers think beyond the short scripts of our introductory class as they expand their imaginations to the two-hour cinematic story-telling event. (Writing the feature-length script is a one-semester advanced class, which is offered this fall at UNH at Manchester if you’re in the area and interested; new scriptwriters are also invited to attend this class.)

The treatment tells the screen story in a neat, short package, generally 1 to 25 pages. I submit that shorter is better as I want my students to focus on the core of the story, especially their central characters.

Building from the protagonist with a clear do-or-die goal, and the antagonist who opposes the hero with equal force, I want them to think out the major beats of the story. What happens first? What happens after that? And after that? Who else is involved? These are the general questions they need to answer as they proceed to pen a concise summation of their script story.

When I first learned the technique, treatments were described as a dry capturing of the cinematic events that will eventually take place on the screen. Yet, in culling the net for examples to share with my class, I’ve found that treatments are as varied as the authors who write them.

Therefore, I’d like to suggest a short story approach to treatment writing. “Entertain me!” I beg of my students and of anyone who attempts the treatment. And since short stories are my second favorite form to read (behind screenplays), what better way to fashion a dynamic treatment that leaps off the page?

Grab me not with FADE IN, but with a killer opening line. Fashion it around the reason the story begins today. Often films begin with a wedding or funeral because these are dramatic events that rock the protagonist’s world. 

Who is a treatment for? In the case of the dry or step-outline treatment, I’d argue it’s for the writer. Though even this could be used as a sales tool. In this case, the treatment is strictly the spine of the story, or as the Story Merchant writes, “If a screenplay is the blueprint for a film, the treatment is the blueprint for a screenplay.”

While I agree with this logic, I also think that the treatment can be a tool for determining what doesn’t work. In the case of the early treatment for “The Star Wars” (if it is indeed a legit treatment by George Lucas and not just a writerly hoax), one can read how the early treatment differed from the eventual film. In this case the treatment is one in a series of steps toward defining your characters and finding your screen story. (Link thanks to Simply Scripts.)

The treatment can be a selling tool, so why not package it in as entertaining a manner as possible? Again, the short story springs to mind, though if you’re writing the treatment to an epic poem adapted to the screen, you might want to play with cadence and pen your small opus in stanzas.

Why write a film treatment? Because it provides another step toward getting to know your characters and discovering your story. Enjoy the process and write something entertaining. Who knows? You might even get thanked for all your hard work with a movie deal. Or an A. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Turning a question into an opportunity to teach research skills to a teen

While working with my junior high mentee last winter, she asked about a local legend: the Ghost of Ocean Born Mary. "Who was Mary?" she wondered.

Our research on the internet, at the local library, and at the town's historical society turned up more than just information about the Widow Mary Wallace; we also learned about the huckster who moved to town in 1917 and proceeded to spin a number of yarns about the Ghost of Ocean Born Mary who allegedly haunted the home he shared with his mother.

As an internationally-recognized photographer, Louis Maurice Auguste "Gussie" Roy knew his way around the press. During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, stories of the ghost who haunted his Henniker home were published across the country. At the height of his publicity campaign, as many as a hundred tourists could be seen queuing up to take the famous Ghost Tour.

Wanting to share the juicy details with others, we decided a stage play would be the best presentation. Thus was born "The Ghost & Gussie Roy." Coincidentally, we were also able to whip the play into shape by the 200th anniversary of Mary Wallace's death: Feb. 13. It will be featured as a staged reading on Wednesday, March 19, at 7 p.m. at the Congregational Church of Henniker.

What's next? We hope to see the play fully staged, of course. And we're considering co-writing a screenplay for a film about Gussie Roy and his Ghost, which would be filmed and released in time to celebrate Ocean Born Mary's 300th birthday in 2020.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Nice to know we have a safety plan

While 2013 is still a dazed blur of doctor's visits mixed with life's normal ups and downs, 2014 has already proven to be a year of personal and professional growth, which promises to deliver me safely to my new normal.

I'm secure in my latest diagnosis: Chronic Lyme Disease, which explains all the auto-immune disorders heaped upon me by those blasted borrelia burgdorferi bacterial spirochetes over the past couple years. In getting better, I'm backing out the way I came in: shedding my latest diagnosis first and then the next and then the one after that, and so on. It's decidedly unscientific at this point, especially since the CDC refuses to recognize the possibility that Lyme Disease can persist beyond a couple weeks or a month, and necessitates a much too hyped bulls-eye rash, which if I'm any indication, can easily be misdiagnosed in and of itself. 

Indeed, traveling backwards in time through my medical records with my physicians, we have found a bulls-eye rash in my history, though it was thought at the time to have simply been ringworm rash. A nurse at one of my physician's practices, who believes in the CDC rules only, ignoring all ILAD findings, asked me if the fungal cream cleared it up. While I recognized it as a trick question, she thought it blatantly black and white. Yes, the rash disappeared, but had it been a Lyme bulls-eye rash, it would have disappeared with or without an anti-fungal cream.

While ridiculous controversy surrounds Lyme and all its possible manifestations, certain facts are irrefutable and should serve as a cautionary warning to us all:
  • Lyme Disease exists. Check.
  • Lyme Disease can be transmitted by a tick smaller than a pinhead. Check.
  • Lyme Disease has been found across the country, the continent, and around the world. Check.
  • Lyme Disease is more prevalent than before. Check.
Looking at that list, I now wonder why I even believe we have a safety plan, as I've indicated in my title.

I confessed to my physician that I am afraid of going into my beloved gardens this spring. He agreed that I have much to fear there. We discussed the exploding deer tick population, and the findings by scientists who study them. I shared that in the fall I attended a talk by Dr. Alan Eaton, an entomologist who teaches at UNH, and who serves as statewide coordinator of Integrated Pest Management programs, identifying and providing information about ticks and mosquitoes and the diseases they carry. Dr. Eaton reported that a large percentage of ticks he and his team study are infected with the Lyme bacteria.

Further cause for concern is that the ticks are not only grabbing the Lyme bacteria from their deer host, but also from the cute chipmunks, wily squirrels, and rampant field mice that populate our suburban settings. Scientists have discovered that the small rodents are apparently perfectly suited to harbor and grow the borrelia burgdorferi bacteria. As the host, the small rodents don't get ill; instead, they provide the perfect environment for the bacteria to grow and multiply, ultimately becoming a filling station for the ticks that attach to them.

Oy. I might never garden again. I know I never want to get so sick again that I can't think. At the worst of this disease, I lost about three months to black outs, restless sleep, and just plain fatigue that was so overwhelming I could not read to the end of a sentence without recalling how it began. For a writer it was devastating. For a professor it was debilitating. For a mom, a wife, a friend, it was disheartening. No, I don't think I want to go there again for anything.

Lest you think this an essay in self-pity, it is not. For all the disease has taken from me, it has given me tenfold. I found yoga and meditation. I discovered a new appreciation for life. I uncovered a deeper ability to love. And I stumbled upon the answer to my life's search for happiness: that happiness lies within; no matter how much money or objects accumulated, the pleasure they may bring is fleeting. True happiness lies deep inside, where I've also found God. In fact, I've reconnected with Him (or Her) in a way I haven't experienced since childhood.

So no, I don't want to experience Lyme again, but I wouldn't change a step in my journey thus far. And whether or not I tend to my gardens this spring--clad in the most unsightly get-ups imaginable, possibly even a hazmat suit--I will smile with my newly discovered inner peace and joy, resting assured that a safety plan is in place. Even if I don't yet know what that plan is.