Finally Removing all the Bricks

For those who have known me a long time, y’all know I tend to keep my feelings all bundled up and keep my highs and lows well hidden. I never wanted to be a burden to anyone, but I would always reach out whenever I saw someone might be going through a tough time. Everyone would come before my own self and my own happiness, and part of that made me content in life.

I had grown accustomed to building one hell of a wall around myself and what I was dealing with. I could get through life without letting those in on what struggles were manifesting deep within my soul. I didn’t want to be a Debbie Downer of any sorts, so I would wear my armor to keep me from getting hurt.

But deep down I was hurting. I was afraid. The depression would continue to grow and grow, but the armor still protected me from anyone truly knowing how sad I was inside. And by not talking about the issues at hand, it would fester and grow, so I would eat or do something else to sabotage myself. To allow layers and layers of fat to be a physical manifestation of the protective coat I would adorn.

This became my constant cycle. The battlefront that I would face day in and day out. The piles of bricks in front of me, keeping my already fragile and sad interior hidden from all, as that was the only way I knew how to cope with all this.

Then it happened. I hit rock bottom. I crashed so hard.

Around the time that this photo was taken, I didn’t have any fight left in me. The battles and the lies and the fake faces I put on when I was out and about… I couldn’t take it anymore. My head and my heart were so underwater I couldn’t breathe anymore. And when the inner critic spoke up one night, I wanted to end it all. And in normal Zac fashion, I had to go get my final meal of a pizza and some ice cream. While I was eating that final meal I decided to do a little Googling and to possibly find some inspiration, and thankfully I found it. And there was lots and lots of it out there. What I needed to read. What I needed to hear. And more importantly, what I needed to see.

Sure, I could have called any one of the countless friends and talked through everything, but there were too many bricks and layers that surrounded me. Instead, I found solace in countless strangers on the internet. I wasn’t alone. Many have come before me and learned to love themselves, to grow, and to live a truly happy life. The next morning I called my insurance and found out what sort of mental health coverage I had. I dug through local providers that would take my insurance and specialized in what has plagued me my whole life. And doing those steps was removing the first bricks in front of me.

Over the next couple months in my weekly sessions, more protective layers would be removed. Before a diagnosis was confirmed, I started opening up to some friends, which was removing more and more of the protective layers. Then removing the biggest layers of all was talking it out with some family members. As layers were pealed back, the fear would lessen. Happiness was starting to seep into my every day life that I hadn’t felt in over a decade.

I would vaguely talk about this and my struggles online in hopes that it may help others. And help others it did. The countless amount of calls, texts and PMs since the end of Summer has been wonderful. I could be an ear once again to those who were struggling, even if some were just an acquaintance online. The stories of rape, eating disorders, sexuality, depression, anxiety and so many other things. The friends who would say thank you for talking about ending the stigma of depression and other mental illnesses, all while asking how I was doing. Each of these conversations helped remove more and more of the protective layer that had piled upon my soul.

I’m now 81 days in on living a wonderful life. For those who follow along on the Gram, you can go back to the beginning and see how I never smiled, but now they come through so authentically. It’s no longer a facade. I truly am happy and loving life for the first time in so long. For those who don’t follow me there, maybe you’ve noticed it on Facebook. I know some of you have, as I’ve been told so many times “you look so happy,” “whatever you’re doing, keep it up,” among many other words of encouragement. For those that I’ve spilled the beans to I’ve been told some other things, but that’s saved for the post going live later on April 17th.

And now that the day is rapidly approaching… I’m scared. I’m happy to be putting this out there, though I truly am frightened. Not for what people will think or if anyone will even care, but because this is the final layer. The last piece that I can hide behind, and I’ve never been so truthful, honest and raw at any point in my life. Once this layer is removed anyone following along will see my soul for what it is. Every single flaw. All the pain and suffering. But all that past turmoil has made me who I am today, and who I’ll continue to be in the future.

I was recently asked by someone why I’m being so public with this, and it is because I must pay it forward. This post only exists because of some strangers on the internet putting their own heart and soul for all to see. Countless strangers that I’ll never cross paths with, though I did get to meet one recently and told them how much their videos have meant to me, and I want to be a voice in that choir. If I can help save one life, then this is all worth it. All the pain, all the suffering, all the battles within… Just know it does get better. And just like a roller coaster, there will still be ups and downs, but that smile WILL return, just like mine has.

And if you need someone to talk to, shoot me an email here, if you have my cell it is on 24/7, a message on FB, or on Twitter. Your secrets and struggles are safe with me. Don’t bottle it up like I did. The pressure will build and build until it feels like life isn’t worth living anymore, but it is. Every day is precious, and it would be a little more dull if you weren’t in it.

Confessions of a food addict

Addiction runs in my genes, and it’s something that I’ve always had to battle my whole life. There has been an addiction to gambling, a slight addiction at one time to alcohol, and an addiction to smoking hookah. They’ve all been overcome at some point, and rarely have I slipped up, except with the exception of smoking the hookah. I tell ya, thank God I can’t stand cigarettes, as the nicotine addiction is truly a devil in disguise. While smoking a single bowl of hashish, it is only the equivalency of inhaling two cigarettes. Considering a session is about 60-120 minutes, that ain’t too bad. But when you do it every day, it’s a problem.

But I’m digressing a bit from my original point of this post. While addiction is real, at least I can survive without that sweet taste of nicotine coated in a sweet fruit flavored molasses. BUT, the body needs food to survive. You need to nourish your body to live day after day, and even if you put the bad stuff in you, at least you’re feeding your body to expend (or store) those calories. Though, I know I should eat better, and that I should stick to a diet that is best for me. The problem arises when I’m stressed. I binge eat. I consume things because my mind has told me it fills this void deep within my soul, and only that delicious concoction can satisfy that need. It has been something I’ve struggled with since my later years as a preteen. See, I wasn’t always fat, but when my family moved and I had no friends, my comfort was coated in the decadence of ice cream, quesadillas, and string cheese. My eight year old body morphed from that of a kid with visible ribs, to shopping in the husky section over summer between third and fourth grade.

It was humiliating, here I am going into a new school, and now I’m going to be known as the fat kid. Sure, I was overweight, but it wasn’t as bad as it could (and would) become. Also this was a time that I learned that the layer of fat carried on my body could be used as a protective barrier for my feelings. Someone didn’t like me, it was because I was fat. If I was horrible at sports, it was because I was fat. And when hormones and puberty came into play, it could always be used as the reason why I’m single. It worked for a bit, and it was also used as another level of protection for other issues I was dealing with at the time, until 8th grade. Hormones were a flutter, girls were the basis of too many of my thoughts, and I started to lose some weight. I slimmed up. I still had some extra weight, but I was partially comfortable in my body, minus the ugly body hair. But that’s a whole different post.

Through high school the weight came back on. The suppressing of issues allowed me to eat my feelings again. I wasn’t popular in those years, but I wasn’t a complete outcast. I had a good core group of friends, and I was content with that. The fat layer was used as an excuse as the reason I wasn’t popular. It was the reason why I wasn’t dating. And it was also helping me hide some internal struggles. Once again, I was addicted to food, until my senior year. It was a year of change. My first and second girlfriends. The time of “becoming a man”. And between inner struggles and feeling like I should care about my body if I care for someone else, the weight came off. Part of it was due to high levels of stress. I would eat one meal a day and sometimes I would throw that up. It was a vicious cycle of me losing 24 pounds in a month and ultimately going from 204 to graduating at 159… one pound less than I started high school at.

Then depression hit. It hit so fucking hard. Inner struggles and fights. My lose of interest in school as I felt I wasn’t being pushed to my fully capacity. Problems at home, even if some of them were just typical teenage angst. And the idea of my first longterm relationship falling apart. I was a mess. And one day after the feelings got lower than low, I seriously contemplated suicide. To me, there was no reason to go on. There was nothing to live for if I had to continue to fight what was inside of me, the things I hated about life, and the thought of my future crumbling. So I started writing my manifesto. I bitched. I moaned. I was so fucking emo in this thing, but I realized that writing could be cathartic and a way to let off steam. To vent those daily frustrations. And to put my thoughts out there when I wouldn’t want to bother any friends with my asinine issues.

The last page, in huge letters I wrote one thing. I NEED HELP. I wanted a future. I wanted to beat this horrible moment in my life. I was at a low, but fuck, it could get better. I could hopefully climb out of this funk and hopefully live a life with a smile from time-to-time. And to this day, I must thank Robin for seeing the hurt in the letter and calling the authorities. I spent three days and some hours in a mental health facility working through some of my issues that I never explored. Sure, I didn’t go through everything, as an eighteen year old doesn’t know how to comprehend everything that is in the deepest recess of their mind. I saw I had friends that cared. That the family was supportive. That there was a great support network as my basis of surviving. I wouldn’t have to do this alone, even if the end I was left heartbroken.

Over time the weight fluctuated up and down. Always ranging between that low weight of 158 and the high 180s. Yeah, still fat, but not completely obese. Then I fell in love with another girl. She became my everything. I still adore Christine to this day, and it makes me happy that she found her true happiness and has two little kids that she always wanted. But she allowed me to be me. She loved me for me and didn’t judge anything about me. Then when the shit hit the fan in my life, I slowly pushed her away. And to this day I can’t apologize enough for what I put her through, but at least she ended up happy and with everything she wanted.

With the changes going on in the personal life, the weight slowly crept up. Work also started becoming a drag. I hated what I did, and as the creative side was suppressed more and more, the weight came on and before I moved to LA, I was at 219 pounds. I was eating, but I was throwing up almost daily on my way to work. I knew a change needed to happen and I moved to LA. The land of skinny folk, which was another tough battle. I was still slinging the wireless phones, and lost a little weight, and then went to trying to write full time. Sitting on my ass, eating like shit, and not really having many friends, the weight came on, and on and on. Then I got a job where I sat on my ass for 40+ hours a week. Plus all the networking with food and alcohol. My weight continued to creep.

Then the economic collapse happened. Another go around with this sweet girl Kelly became a possibility, even though I thought it would never come to fruition. We had planned to get married in Vegas, but soon before the day, we both decided to call it quits. We barely knew one another. We hadn’t spent enough time with each other over the years, and ultimately I like to think it was the best thing to happen to her. She grew. She flourished, and has become a great success in her chosen field and with an awesome husband.

But I was battling things. I was hiding from trying to be myself. I hated the way I looked, especially in the land of size zero and skinny jeans. I was an anomaly. And I decided to try to make a go at weight loss in 2010. I went up and down. I tried every diet known to man. I kept losing and gaining the same weight over and over. I was using food to cope with so many different things and I would start and stop a million times. I would waste so much money and effort on buying healthy food, only to stop for something of comfort in the drive through lane on my way home. The battle continued. I constantly lost.

In 2014 I started getting serious about my fitness. I’m starting to hit the back half of my thirties, so it’s now or never. Plus I was sick often, not knowing what was causing the constant battle with countless bugs. Some of it was stress, some was depression, and part of it was even living in a building with toxic mold. My body was sick, and I was sick and tired of being over weight. I still constantly started and stopped, but the first time some people saw me after a while, they would comment on how much weight I’ve lost. This was only with twenty pounds gone, but it made me start to feel better about myself. I could do this! I could overcome what people push off as “it’s just genetics”. Though I would constantly plateau between 235 and 245 for the next year and a half.

One night I was browsing Hulu trying to find something to watch. I came across a show called My Diet is Better Than Yours, and as a fan of watching Biggest Loser, even if I feel such shows are toxic for the overweight viewers, I was hooked with one trainer and his plan. Abel James was constantly motivating his contestant. The results were phenomenal, even if these weight loss shows are truly unobtainable for the average human. They have dieticians, coaches, doctors, and are constantly being monitored. This is the reason why so many put back on the weight after they leave the programs and real life kicks back in.

Though Abel James’s plan seemed simple. It’s semi-paleo, and it doesn’t make fat the enemy. Basically you can summarize his Wild Diet as “buying the best foods you can afford.” You want a great mix of healthy fats, quality proteins, and vegetables. When I’m on plan, my calories break down to about 60% from fat, 30% from proteins and 10% from carbs. I jumped in, as the low fat craze makes for very boring food. Fat is where the flavor is, and being able to not feat fat, I was loving it. Sure, I still had my cheat meals (or days), and sometimes I had more than I should have due to stress and my food addiction, but I was losing weight.

I also got on an awesome workout plan at Orange Theory Fitness. This place kicked my ass. The first session I spent 48 minutes of the 54 minute class in a heart rate zone of 85%+, with about 18 of those minutes at 91% or above. I was out of shape, but I enjoyed the workout. I signed up for their classes, dropping an astronomical sum of $129 per month for eight classes. This is basically how much I pay per year to attend LA Fitness. Part of the problem, spending so little left very little loss if I never used it. And within my first month at OTF, I attend more workout sessions than I had in the previous five years of paying for LA Fitness. Money was a motivator for me, and if I’m going to pay that much, I might as well lose it.

So finally I’m getting my life under control. The eating is going better, even if I’m only being good about 70% of the time. Then after dropping 40 pounds in total from all my starting and stopping and this new venture, I hit a plateau. Things were stressful in my life, and some stuff I’ve buried starting brewing up to the surface. I started cheating more and more on my eating, and then one night my inner critic said the worst thing ever.

“No matter how much weight you lose, you’ll never have the body you want.”

Seriously, FUCK YOU to my inner saboteur. I hit a high point in my depression. Something I hadn’t felt in years. Hell, even in over a decade since before I moved to the city of LA and Broken Dreams. This kicked me in the gut. I cried. I felt like shit, and I did what I always do when I feel like shit, I went to the store, got a large pizza and some ice cream. I ate that whole sucker to myself. Digiorno Pizza (and all other pizza brands) would like you to believe that it should be 5 servings. Ha! I laugh at your assumptions as I can easily pack this all away by myself in one sitting. We all know left over pizza doesn’t taste the same when reheated, so why ruin it. Eat it all! And I did just that, along with the pint of ice cream. Over a full days calories in that short window of so many minutes. And I probably had a shitty lunch earlier in the day. If I go back at check MyFitnessPal, this will 100% be confirmed, but I’m in the zone for writing, so there’s no time for research.

I felt horrible. And while I know I would never take my life, I couldn’t help but feel I was in that same place I was almost 19 years earlier when I ended up in the ward. So I started writing for myself. To explore the inner depths of my mind. What is bothering me? What does my saboteur mean that “I’ll never have the body I want?” I know I’m broad chested and bigger shoulders, and no matter what, I know I’ll never be super skinny, as it would look weird. I can’t explain it here, but in a future post I know I can dig deeper and fully express what I mean. Now is not that time, as this is food related.

So I started the writing and the tears flowed as my fingers clipped away on the keyboard. Words spewed out of me, and part of me is upset that I didn’t save that file, as I’m sure it would be wonderful to reflect back on as a moment that would finally start to alter my life. The writing gave context. The words formed to tell me what I’ve always battled. Why I go to food. Why I use my weight as a barrier to keep my protected from outside sources. And that’s when the research began.

As anyone who truly knows me, I like to go down the rabbit hole of the web. I’ll start with a simple search and continue to dig, refine and read my way through all sides of the issues that I’m battling. So I started with food and addiction. I went back to the thoughts of body dysphoria from my time with the 5150. I went through and looked up other people who hated what I truly hated about myself. I went to the negative side of things for far too long, and it didn’t help with all that pizza and ice cream sitting in my gut. Then I started to come out the other end of the spiral. I started to find people that tackled the issue at hand and work to truly make themselves happy.

I ended up in this awesome loop of videos on YouTube that showed me I wasn’t alone. That my story was similar to many that battle this every day of their life until they say enough is enough. Sure, not all were the same story, but the biggest motivator was seeing when the person in the video went from being depressed with their situation, to fully living life. Not only did their smiles change from those of being forced to actually being genuine, but most had a new light in their eyes. The pain was finally gone, while not completely with some, but you could finally see the shift of the interior soul. And then I saw the video that would finally give me hope. No, I won’t post it here, but I will in a future long-winded spiel. I promise.

The next step would be therapy. I would start to address my issues. The ones buried under years of hiding, the love-hate relationship with food, the battle with my body, and anything else that I could uncover in my weekly sessions. It was easy to navigate my insurance’s website to find someone nearby that would have a specialty in all my messed up issues. And I found him. If you need a good guy in LA, let me know and I’ll pass along his information privately. That first session was scary for me. I almost threw up on the way there, but alas I sat across from a stranger and let the words flow, just like I am now, and the tears would follow. While talking about some things that bothered me, I learned I smile as a defensive mechanism to try and hide the pain. And as I saw the clock was counting down, I mentioned the biggest thing bothering me. Something that I never said out loud, and it felt freeing. And in the following weeks we’ve started working through all the issues and I can’t tell you how refreshing it is. Tracking on my sleep shows I’m less restless and my resting heart rate has gone back down.

Yet the food has still been a battle sometimes. I stress eat and I eat things that I know are harming my body. I KNOW I feel better when I cut out gluten, but the best pizza isn’t gluten free nor are the best hamburger buns. I know the brain fog is gone when I avoid it. I know the lethargic nature is non-existent when I eat this way. But yet I also wreck my progress. I always let that inner voice cause me to slip up more than I should. Then I do my weekly official weigh-in, and then I feel down again. It’s a never ending cycle that I want to improve, yet for some reason I couldn’t.

Finally, I can’t slip up anymore. I have to make changes and change my way of thinking. Not because I want to, but because part of my healthy has deteriorated. I ended up with walking pneumonia a few weeks back and was put on antibiotics. Not the normal Penicillin or Amoxicillin as I have an allergy to those two, but one that I need to eat with, otherwise my stomach becomes a mess. So as I’m relegated to bed rest to kick this to the curb, I’m still keeping my calories up to avoid stomach issues. Then, a couple days later I ended up having a pain in my lower abdomen. I went back to urgent care and after the doc touched my gut, he quickly had me head to the ER to check for appendicitis. Here I am, bed ridden and now probably having to go under the knife to remove this thing that is possibly killing me. My mind was a wreck, but once the CT scan was done, I was told it was diverticulitis.

What is that you may ask? It’s an inflammation of the gut, and I’ll leave it at that, as I don’t know the last time you ate anything. And as a foodie, I know how important it is to keep that delicious food down. Can’t let it all go to waste. I was put on a liquid diet, one that I also included protein shakes so I wouldn’t lose too much muscle while I had more days of bed rest added to my new set of antis. I did my research. I went down the rabbit hole of this disease, but so much information conflicts with other information. Small seeds are bad. No they’re not. Surgery is the only option. Diet could keep you from undergoing surgery. Then I found out a writer I knew was misdiagnosed with the disease but then found out it really was colon cancer. I wish he was still around as I’d love to ask him his symptoms. But alas, he lost his battle with the disease earlier this year.

Thankfully my insurance got me into a GI specialist. I’ll be going under the scope soon to make sure the diagnosis is what the CT scan said, but I’m still stressed about it. The doc also talked over my other digestive issues and is assuming I’m lactose intolerant. It’s a bummer he won’t run an allergy test, but instead he prescribed an AIP Diet. Basically you cut out everything that could be an irritant or something you’re allergic to. No grains, no eggs, no dairy, no night shades, limited fruit. I also need to make sure what I’m eating is low in FODMAPS as some of those could also be the bastard who is causing my gut (and body) so much pain. This will be followed for 4 to 8 weeks, or whenever my gut and body finally feels better. At that point I could slowly start to reintroduce different things (though they advise to still always avoid gluten), so I’ll probably start with cheese, as my food addicted brain is causing my mouth to go all Pavlov just typing out this sentence.

So while it sucks that my body has gone into such a broken down state that it is causing so much hurt within the body and the soul, at least I know I HAVE to follow this eating pattern to the T. I can’t cheat on a meal. I have to avoid the chocolate, the sugar, the pizza. Avoid the stuff that makes this fatty want to eat. I have to find the culprit and lock it away, otherwise I WILL never have that body I want. I will never being running at one hundred percent, partially due to the decades of neglect, but at least I can get it running as smoothly as possible. There is a bright light at the end of this tunnel. And while I won’t be able to have everything I’ve loved ever again, some stuff I can still keep around if it isn’t that dang thing my body just doesn’t compute with.

So this food addict he did what he always does. I went and had all my favorite meals over the last couple days like a dead man walking. I had the pepperoni pizza. I savored every bite of the garlic burger from Coral Cafe. I had Baskin Robins Gold Medal Ribbon. I had some carne asada nachos from this little hole-in-the-wall spot on Santa Monica that I don’t know the name of. I ate these meals. I savored every bite. And before and after every single meal, I meditated. I wrote about the meal. I wrote what I liked, but I also listed why it is bad for me. Why it is harming me from the inside out. I waved goodbye for now, and if they aren’t one of the bad stimulants, I’ll have you again. But I know, I know my body deserves to be treated with respect. There’s only so many years here on this planet, and I’m slowly working on healing my mind (

The Best TV of 2015

I‘ve really been lazy and neglecting this blog as of late, and I’ll try to remedy that in the new year, that is, unless I make it a resolution, as we all know how those turn out.

But I’m already making excuses… so let’s get to the best television that has aired this past calendar year. Sure, I could go through and put them in some sort of order, but that is trivial and will cause some people to call me an idiot (which I don’t dispute) for not liking a certain show or putting it too far down on the list. So instead I’m cheating and listing things alphabetically. Yes, I’m a chicken-shit like that.

So here are the 15 best TV shows of 2015:

Broad City – Abbi and Illana are not like most women you see on television. They feel real. They have dreams and flaws like every human on this earth. Yet their characters are what you’d normally see in a Judd Apatow-esque comedy from the dudes. But these girls make me laugh over and over, week-after-week and I can’t wait for season 3. Best episode: Knockoffs (S02E04)

Catastrophe – When I first landed on Twitter I followed a bunch of celebs and comedians before finding out that I was wasting too much of my time and deleted a bunch. One of the few that I kept following was Rob Delaney, so I was stoked to find out he would be starring in a TV series. While this comes from across the pond, it still hits home by having Delaney as the American fish-out-of-water who sticks around after knocking up Sharon while in London. While series from Channel 4 are shorter than their American counterparts, I wanted more episodes, even if the two series that aired this year perfectly paced. Best Episode S02E01

Game of Thrones – Of course Game of Thrones is on my list, but it is quickly falling in rankings if I were to put this in numerical order. At times I wish the season could be longer as there are just too damn many characters to deal with, so each character seems to only receive a couple minutes of screen time per episode. But I keep coming back. Best episode: Mother’s Mercy (S05E10)

The Jinx – I was late to the game on The Jinx, having to binge the series in one week to be caught up by the time the finale rolled around. Robert Durst is an interesting man. A man who believes everything he says, or is it that he perfectly calculates every move, word and emotion that he utters? The man is clearly insane, but as each episode unravels, more is added to the madness, all coming to a strong conclusion in the final minute of the series. Did Durst know he was still mic’d, and it was all part of the game, or did he finally slip up once and for all? Best Episode: What the Hell Did I Do? S01E06

Last Week Tonight – I used to have time to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but as 2015 became more and more insane with each passing week, the amount of free time to watch 8 episodes a week was perfectly boiled down to an hour a week from John Oliver. Some episodes barely contained laughs, while others had perfectly crafted segments to go viral so they could educate some of the masses on a variety of topics.

The Leftovers – Season 1 was depressing as anything I’ve ever endured on television. It was bleak. Bleary. And knowing the creators would never answer the question surrounding why three percent of the world’s population vanished, I was questioning if I should go on another ride from Damon Lindeloff. But season 2 has cemented this show as one of the finest things to grace the small screen. Sure, there were more questions than answers, but the finale at least gave the viewers enough closure, that if HBO were to cancel it too soon, at least it would be satisfactory. Thankfully the decision makers have decided to give it one more season to come to a conclusion. Also it helps that this show has some of the best use of music of any filmed medium, supervised by Liza Richardson. Best Episode: International Assassin S02E09

Master of None – Speaking of use of music… Master of None has the second best use of music in a television series. But that isn’t all this show has going for it. The laughs are solid. The characters all feel real, the situations seem true to life, and having a great mix of supporting characters helps balance out Aziz. Best episode: Parents S01E02 (Hell, this episode could be chosen based on the cold open alone)

Mr. Robot – I was weary stepping into this show based on the title and billboards that were everywhere in LA. Plus coming from USA, which hasn’t been known for its serious dramas, didn’t help matters. By the end of the pilot I was hooked for the rest of the series. The idea of a blackhat hacker isn’t new. Hell, the show is even obvious to some of its predecessors that it was clearly influenced by (e.g. An instrumental of Where is my Mind). Hopefully Rami will be someone that shoots up on the casting departments lists. And honestly, this show has me struggling on which is the best episode, so I’ll say S01E01 so you start at the very beginning.

Parks and Recreation – Sure this might be the weakest pick on the list, based that it had one of the weaker seasons in recent memory. Or maybe it’s the fact that NBC decided to burn this off with a shortened season where 2 episodes aired each night. I don’t know why it felt weak to me, but it did. Where it exceeded though is in the series finale. Think back to previous series finales for a comedy, and some of the most loved shows had final episodes that even the most beloved of fans hate (e.g. Seinfeld). But the creators sent all the characters of Pawnee off in fashion, perfectly wrapping up the present with a magnificent bow. Best episode: S07E13

Rick and Morty – No, this series doesn’t make the list because it was co-created by fellow Manteca alum Justin Roiland, but because it is one of the most crazy, bat-shit, insane thirty minutes of television each and every week. And thankfully they toned down the burning of Rick this season, as it was one of the few complaints from season 1. Best episode S02E04 Total Rickall

Silicon Valley – Another great season, even if it didn’t have a moment as wonderful as the “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” that was in season 1. Though the show was strong from beginning to end, constantly following the paradigm of Entourage, but in a way that feels fresh and invigorating week-after-week. Sure, every episode begins with the guys on top, then being knocked down, only to try and end up or further down by the end of the episode. Yes, it’s formulaic, but somehow works. Probably from the strong ensemble cast, where there is not one week character. Best Episode S02E04 The Lady

South Park – Seriously? How the hell is this series still this strong so deep into their run? It could be due to the short production window (from concept to air in 6 days), or maybe when the world is in such a horrific PC-state, those who do satire well have the pulpit to preach from. And the season-long arcs help each episode to build to an epic (though I had higher hopes) conclusion. Best episode S19E08 Sponsored Content

Transparent – Okay, this is sort of a cheat, as I haven’t seen any of season 2, which is what actually aired this calendar year. But I’m making a decision to include this, as I finally was able to catch season 1 during this year. Sure, it’s cheating, but it’s my list and I’m allowed to make a single concession without losing credibility (like I have any). The Pfefferman’s are all sorts of fucked up, but they’re worth going on the journey. No one is likable, and this is proof against those screenwriting gurus that constantly tout “you’re characters need to be likable!” It’s Always Sunny has been on the year for how many years, and those are some of the most despicable humans on TV (except maybe the two leads on Difficult People – which deserves an honorable mention), yet they keep coming back year-after-year. Best Episode S01E08 The New Girl

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – The new 30 Rock. What, you didn’t like that? Then you might as well move on as you will hate this show (probably) just as much. The laughs come flying a mile a minute, and the just downright likable Ellie Kemper as Kimmy, this show makes me smile non-stop. But Zac, you contradicted yourself from the previous entry regarding the whole likable/unlikable thing. See kiddos, there are no rules in storytelling, other than to make your stories riveting and the characters someone you want to see week-after-week, whether you love ’em or hate ’em. Best episode S01E05 Kimmy Kisses a Boy

You’re the Worst – Never has a comedy made me feel so bad at times. While season 1 was a true gem, season 2 took everything and pushed everything up a couple notches. I would laugh one minute and have “the feels” (god, how I hate this saying) the next. Some people complained that they went a little too deep with Gretchen and her depression, but that is what sealed the deal for me. I’ve been there. I’ve been there before and I know how that feels. I know what it is to push something away, yet want nothing more. To feel like you’ll never be good enough, but know you kick ass. Thank you Fxx for having the faith to give this hard-to-sell show another season. It makes up for cancelling The Comedians, which for some reason people hated, but I found a soft spot for it in my heart. Best episode S02E13 The Heart is a Dumb Dumb (but since I’ve put too many season/series finales I’ll say S02E08 Spooky Sunday Funday

Stuff that I didn’t watch that I plan to catch in 2016:

The Affair (season 2), Ash vs. Evil Dead, Better Call Saul, Daredevil Fargo, Jessica Jones, Making a Murderer, True Detective (yes, I still haven’t seen season 1), Unreal.

So is there anything that I missed that I should add to my watch list?

Flashback to October 1997 as Premiere asked ‘What Will Hollywood Be Like in 10 Years?’

A few months ago I ended up coming across an old issue of Premiere magazine from October 1997.  This was their big 10th Anniversary issue, exploring how film had changed over the previous 10 years up until that point.  Buried on page 46 there was a one page spread asking many of Hollywood’s brightest where they thought the industry would be in 10 years.  How many were right?  How many missed the marks?

Well, I hope it won’t be that actors are no longer required. My hope is that our various unions are strong enough to keep us employed. – Kenneth Branagh

I would say the screens at home will be bigger, they’ll be clearer, and that the technology will go where it needs to go to get you out of your house. There might be a higher level of impatience with cookie-cutter stimuli – Warren Beatty

Who knows? I think we’ll still have romantic movies. At least I hope. I hope I won’t be doing Batman 57 – Alicia Silverstone

I think it’s going to be very computerized. I worry about that, because I like seeing movies with great actors and great faces, and brains and wit. – Stockard Channing

I’m about to do this STAR WARS project, and I was talk to George Lucas. He was saying, “I know you’re, like, a really good actor, but in this film you’ll probably be going, ‘Lot out! Run! Duck! -da, da, da’ and all the big speeches are going to be done by the thirteen computer-generated actors.” So maybe that’s how Hollywood’ going to control the escalating salaries. Just put their computer-generated stars to sleep at night and booth them up in the morning. – Samuel L. Jackson

Hopefully, stars will have cut their fees back and realized how immoral it is to take that sort of money. That they could perhaps be saving a few Third World countires. I mean, how many millions do you need? – Gillian Armstrong

I’d like to see a return to stories that really touch your heart, like PHENOMENON did mine. I hope we get back to uplifting stories. – John Travolta

I hope the next ten years will bring better scripts for women of all ages. Most of what you read today is just awful. – Anne Bancroft

There’s a big split between the big movies and the independents, and you’d love to see them merge, the way alternative music took over rock for a while. Maybe that will happen in the movies, if fate decrees. I’d be out of a job, but it would be cool. – David Duchovny

The exhibition business will be more like the circus than today, with home video less of a factor. It will be more computer-interactive-pay-per-view, and the theatrical business will be even more driven by event sci-fi movies. There will be 5,000 to 6,000 print release, which will have to be something presold. – Joe Roth

Regardless of the special effects, the size of the theaters, the constant will be that great story-telling by great filmmakers remains the most important part of the process. – Bob Weinstein

One of the biggest differences will probably be the price of the ticket. – Laura Linney

Technology will make it possible to make movies much more cheaply, and cheap movies can be more adventurous movies. Young artists will utilize the technology in a fresh and original way. Why I should be interested in young directors, I don’t know. Sergio Leone once told me that when they were trying to start a film school, he approached Fellini about it, and Fellini said “Are you crazy? Those are the people we should be strangling in their cribs!” – Robert Benton

I’ll probably be reading scripts for DIE HARD 9: HE’S BACK AND HE’S MAD – Bruce Willis

Well there’s a considerable chance Hollywood won’t be there. I mean, Nevada might be beachfront property, so the business might be in Florida. That’s why I’m staying on the East Coast – Matt Damon

So now on the eve of 14 years since the article, Joe Roth seems to be the closest in the predictions.  The studio system has grown to astronomical proportions and the indie world has taken many steps back.

Robert Benton, before he went off the deep end at the tail end of his comment came close to what the indie world has become.  It is now easier and cheaper to make an indie film, but finding the distribution model besides doing self-release to VOD is an ever decreasing landscape.

So now the real question is… what will the industry be like in 10 years from now?  Will the studios still be owned by the huge conglomerates?  Will there be another indie uprising with new distribution models and companies like Open Road, the joint venture of AMC and Regal Cinemas, that will allow more access to the indie world?

I’d love to hear comments what you guys think the industry may be like in ten years… Comment below if you can.

Tips for a Successful PitchFest – updated

Well it’s that time of year again, the Great American Pitchfest has arrived at the Burbank Marriott for two days of classes and unlimited pitches.  Every year hundreds of hopeful screenwriters descend upon Burbank from all corners of the World in hopes of shaking hands with Executives, Agents and Managers. Why do they do it? It is one of the few chances where Hollywood opens the door and allows the writer a chance to take their career to the next step.

But you may say why not do things the old fashioned way? You could send unsolicited queries or cold call after cold call?  Sure, some writers have had luck with those methods, but either you’ll just be a voice on the phone or an email clogging up an executive’s inbox.  This is the chance to meet face-to-face. To build those connections that can last beyond this weekend, and no longer will you be that faceless person on the other end of the line.

So how can you have a successful Pitchfest?  Well I’m here to give you a couple tips for this weekend.

  1. The GAPF gives all attendees a book of every company that will be in attendance on Sunday. This is the Holy Grail and lists the Executive who will be on the other side of the table, what they’ve produced in the past and what they are currently looking for. Once you’ve picked up this book.  Study it and make notes.  Start your game plan of the top 10 companies that you MUST visit on Sunday, ranking them in order that best fits your projects that you have on hand.
  2. I just want to be honest up front, Pitchfest isn’t about the Holy Grail of selling your script.  No company is going to buy the script outright from you based on the pitch right there in the room.  If they like your pitch, some will request (sometime after the event) to be sent a copy of the script (after you’ve signed their release form).  If the Exec likes the material, there’s a chance of landing an option, where the company will help you develop the project over the next 6 to 24 months.  Trust me, there’s no such thing as the perfect script and that is why development exists in this town.  On an option you can’t expect a lot of money, and many options for new writers will be free or a $1 good faith option.  Some may go higher, depending on the potential they see.  Then again, we don’t know if you can take notes, so why drop the big bucks up front.
  3. But instead of just hitting up the Production companies, why not hit up the Managers and Agencies that will be on hand for the event?  If I was on the other side of the table, this would be my number one priority.  Why?  Well if I have someone that represents me, it adds another person that is trying to sell me, my scripts and launch my career as a writer.  Plus if you’re not from LA, at least you’ll have someone in town that can be your face person while you write scripts from another area of the country (or world).
  4. You may want to put the bigger ProdCos at the top of your list, but honestly is this the best idea?  When you’re pitching these companies, they are pitched all the time by the A-list writers that are constantly working in Hollywood.  This is like you playing little league and battling the World Series champs.  Why not help your odds and look after the Indie Prodcos that are at the event.  No, I’m not saying that to help my chances of finding the great project out there and take it away from the Majors, but the Indie ProdCos sometimes have to look at different sources to find their next project and discover new voices.  Plus if you have a bigger budget film, most smaller Indie ProdCos can partner with a studio or a bigger ProdCo to finance and produce your big budget film.
  5. You must network during this event, even if you’re afraid to talk to people. Writers are creative people and not always the most out-going, but this is a town that operates on meeting and knowing as many people possible.  This doesn’t mean just networking with other Execs if they’re around, but also other writers and attendees of the Pitchfest.  This town is really all about who you know.
  6. Check out the classes (most are free) that are being offered on Saturday.  There are classes for everyone and no matter what type of writer you consider yourself, you should be able to find something that matches your interests.  There’s classes and panels on pitching, how to navigate the crazy world of Television, how to sell and market yourself from outside the 30 mile radius and classes on adaptations.  Also the people sitting next to you, these are people with similar interests and goals, so why not spark up a conversation as you’re waiting for the panel to start.
  7. If you’re not sure that your pitch is up to par, several pitch gurus will be on site Saturday to help take your pitch to the next level.  Of course there is an additional fee for this, but I would recommend Danny Manus of No Bull-Script Consulting.  Also Xandy from will be on site offering help with your pitch and one-sheets (for an additional fee).

You may be saying to yourself, “Zac, this is some great advice so far, but what about during the actual Pitch process?”  Well thanks for the kind words, but here is some quick advice for the actual day of pitching and your pitch session in general:

  • The Execs realize that you’re probably nervous. Honestly, don’t worry about it. Think of your pitch like a job interview or a speech that you gave to a class back in school. You’re there to sell yourself and your story, plus aren’t the Execs there looking for material? We need you writers to find our next projects!
  • Practice and hone the 90-second pitch.  Sure you have 5 minutes, but a great pitch can be condensed down into 90 seconds and still get the story out there.  When someone pitches me, I like building a little rapport first during the first 30 to 60 seconds.  After that, you’re off to the races with your pitch.  If we spent 60 seconds building rapport and then another 90 seconds on your pitch, you’re still left with two and a half minutes.  Why is this crucial?  Well every pitch I’m going to have a question to ask you (if you don’t use your whole 5 minutes), so you better know your story inside and out. Also if that pitch isn’t right for the company, it allows you to pitch another story or race back and beat all the other writers back into the queue for your next pitch.
  • Make sure you have plenty of one-sheets for your pitch.  If you don’t know what a one-sheet is, you can Google examples.  And no, a one-sheet isn’t a theatrical poster, but closer to what a query letter would be.  If you do have multiple pitches, you can do double-sided printing with all your other loglines on the back.  From everyone that pitches me, I request one-sheets from about 2/3s of the writers.  Why?  Sometimes you’re nervous and you missed something. Or as I stated above when talking about networking, sometimes writers are better at writing than actually talking.  I’ve requested a couple projects in the past that had mediocre pitches but blew me away with their one-sheet.
  • I know I said once before, but make a game plan and strategize who you are going to pitch.  Company A may have a line about 5 people deep which means you can’t pitch them for 25 minutes.  Wouldn’t it be better to have backups that you could jump into that line and not waste any sessions?  This is all a numbers game.  If your script has a 25% request rate and you hit 10 people, you’ll be read by 2.5 companies.  If you’re able to pitch 20 companies in the same amount of time with the same take rate, you just doubled your requests by planning ahead.
  • Please, please, please… don’t do anything that will distract the Exec away from your pitch.   In the past people have shown up with props, worn costumes, not brushed their teeth or picked up a pack of gum after lunch, missed their morning shower, showed too much cleavage, had their toupee on crooked, mentioned that this comedy was based on their life, or tell me you have a single daughter.  These things have all happened and distracted me from the pitch.
  • The best thing you can do… thank the Exec for their time in the beginning or in the end. We’re there on our Sunday and might have a stack of scripts to read once the event ends. It’s the small things that can make the difference.
  • If the person passes on your pitch or doesn’t request a one-sheet, don’t take it personally.  Not every pitch (even if it seems like something that the info sheet stated) is not going to be for everybody.  A lot of Execs will request your one-sheet but not make a decision until after the event.  Just think, if an Exec hears ten pitches an hour for seven hours, that’s seventy pitches.  I really can’t make up my mind what I want to read until I’ve heard everything and let it all sink in.

Most of all, have fun at the event and meet as many people as you can.  There are a couple writers that I still keep in touch with dating back to my first Pitchfest in 2007, allowing them a constant open door to submit to me in the future. Making it in Hollywood rarely happens as an overnight success story, but instead by building and nurturing long lasting relationships. Sure the guy you’re pitching to may be an assistant, but the assistants of today may be the ones running the studios in the future.

If you have any further questions and liked to pick my brain some more, you can follow me on Twitter or shoot me an email to zac at zacsanford dot com.  I must also state, since we have a no unsolicited query policy, if you do not pitch me at the event, I cannot except any pitches in email or on my twitter outside of Pitchfest.

Hope your Pitchfest is a success and to meet you when you pitch Suntaur Entertainment.  Even if your project isn’t right for our company, please feel free to say hi at one of the many networking events.  I will be hanging around most the day Saturday, attending the official #scriptchat meetup in the bar at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night, the Networking event after the pitchfest on Sunday, and the Script Magazine meetup on Monday (Time and place still TBD – but the last couple have been at Cat & Fiddle in Hollywood).