In his 2009 kickoff column, Mark Simon tells us all about his holiday vacation and rebooting his creativity.
Yeehaah! Vacation. Time to forget your clients, avoid due dates, gain weight, waste your mind and spend far too much money on crappy trinkets. A week later you'll finally unpack your suitcases to get rid of the stench of old clothes and you'll try to remember why you bought all that cheap crap.
This is all true, but something amazing can also happen. You can find inspiration.
If you are at all like me, you find it tough to take the time for a vacation. But it is important. Think of your creative self like your computer and follow the first rule of fixing all computer problems. Reboot. Taking a vacation is like rebooting your creativity.
I needed a reboot, so before Christmas, my wife and I decided to take a ski trip. The snow skiing in Orlando is terrible, so we packed up the kids and flew up north to Vermont.
If you've traveled by plane recently, you know to expect delays. Our flight was two hours late arriving. We didn't mind that as much as losing our luggage. Our kids didn't care; they just wanted to play in the snow. But when they found out that all their snow gear was in the missing suitcase they started to care... loudly.
We arranged for the ski resort to pick us up at the airport, but we couldn't find the driver. When we called, the resort couldn't find him either, so they hired a taxi service to drive us. An hour and 20 long minutes into a brief 45-minute trip, we know something was wrong. Our driver was lost in the mountains. It's a good thing she had that a brand-new TomTom GPS unit, which she spent half the trip talking about, mounted on her windshield. It never once dawned on her to actually use the damned thing.
Besides the annoyance of taking an unexpected tour of dark mountain roads, I had a never-ending litany of "Are we there yet?" questions coming from my twin boys, and "I'm going to claw my way through the driver's chest!" from a wife whose blood-sugar was crashing.
Not exactly a great beginning to our vacation, but I figured all the bad stuff had already happened, so the rest would be incredible. I was partially right; our missing luggage showed up first thing in the morning, we had fresh snow every day for a week, the skiing was great and I was inspired.
My wife, Jeanne, had created an animated show called Luke and Reece Save the World last year. We slowly worked on development together but it was slow-going. One night after a sub-zero day of gracefully falling down a mountain, my family passed out early. I pulled out my laptop and started to write a pilot episode.
With a relaxed mind and no worries, the ideas flowed like incoming credit card bills. Before I knew it, I was laughing out loud and the script was done. (Note to other husbands: Wives don't think anything is funny when you wake them up at 2:00 am to read them your script.)
Between snowball fights and blizzards, I started roughing out the boards and we recorded a scratch dialogue track and I edited an animatic. We found ourselves working on it every night and every morning. But it wasn't work, it was fun.
Remember when being an artist was fun? Sometimes all it takes is a change in our daily life to help us remember why we're artists and creators. It's fun!
On Dec. 21st, we were scheduled to return home. This is when the real fun began.
When we left that morning from the resort, a huge snowstorm was hitting all of Vermont. We checked our flight online, but the US Airways site is useless. All I could find out was that US Airways might still be in business. We got to the Burlington airport without getting lost in the mountains this time, but we were greeted by a line of passengers the length of the entire airport. Granted, the airport is only about 15-feet-wide, but the line looked huge in comparison.
As I glared at the flight board, I watched one flight after another being cancelled. What I didn't see was the flight we were looking for. While my family camped at the end of the line, I snow-shoed up to the front to ask about our flight.
A very nice and toothless (well, not completely toothless, but close enough and I couldn't look at anything else) attendant told me our flight was cancelled. She was kind, and toothless, enough to schedule us on another flight. Unfortunately, the flight was not going to Orlando, but it was to Washington, D.C., but at least we would be leaving Vermont. To make it even better, the flight wasn't leaving until the following afternoon.
Remember the days when an airline would put you up in a hotel when you were trapped? Evidently US Airways doesn't. The best they would do was to give me a phone number for a hotel that offered discounted rates. More expenses. Oh joy.
The hotel was nice enough. The biggest problem was that I have two nine-year-old boys who were really concerned about getting home in time for Christmas. ("Dad, why can't we go home?" "Dad, are we going to miss Santa?" "Dad, what's the square root of 225?")
The next day we arrived three hours early at the airport, expecting further problems... and were sorry that we were right. There was no line, which surprised us, but we still ran into problems right away. We used US Airways' self-check-in machine and registered to check three bags. About 10 minutes later the attendant, with just one missing tooth, came over to put the label on our bag. That's right... bag. Just one. Somehow, they lost the tags to our luggage instantly from right behind the counter. The tags evidently followed all the missing teeth. It then took him an entire hour just to reprint the missing luggage tags.
Just as we were ready to skip happily to our gate, the attendant brought me three boarding passes... for four people.
"I'm sorry. I have boarding passes for three of you, but not for Luke," one of my nine-year-old twins.
A soft, quivering voice drifted up to my ears, "Dad? Are you going to leave me?" (I promise I only considered it for a few minutes.)
Somehow, the four seats we had reserved the day before were changed and now we were one ticket short.
We went to the gate to see if the attendant there could get my son on the flight. Luckily, the person at our gate was the same toothless wonder from the day before. They had oversold our flight and had to get volunteers to delay their travel. Luckily, my son Luke was first on the list to get an available seat, and we all boarded the plane together.
Our glee was short-lived, as our flight was sliding into an ever-lengthening delay. The airline only gave us 35 minutes at our connection, so we were a bit tense.
We arrived at a Washington, D.C. airport about an hour after the supposed-last leg of our trip home took off. Along with hundreds of other not-so-happy travelers we checked our travel options.
It was Monday night and they told us the next available flight to Orlando wasn't until Wednesday or Thursday, Christmas day. I've been happier than I was at that moment.
I told the new attendant, one with almost all her teeth, but totally lacking in personality, just to get me to Florida. The best she could do was a flight to Tampa (just a one-and-a-half hour drive from Orlando) the next morning at 5:45 am.
In their infinite wisdom, US Airways again did not offer us a hotel to stay the night, just a discounted hotel service.
As we walked through the airport I called the service to find a room. My wife told me we were at Reagan National Airport; the service booked us in a nearby Westin and gave us instructions on where to meet the shuttle. However, nothing at the airport matched up to their directions. We couldn't find anything and after 40 minutes of arguing with people on the phone, we realized something. We weren't at Reagan National, we were at Dulles International. You may think this would be a good time to tease my wife, except I had no clue where we were either.
Our adventure continued when we realized that it was late enough that getting to a hotel would only leave us a couple hours to sleep. We broke the news to our boys that we would be spending the night in the airport. Much crying ensued. And my boys cried too.
The airport wouldn't let us go to the gate area, so we had to find a place to crash in the lobby, which was filled with comfortable marble floors, tiny armed chairs, hundreds of really happy, stranded passengers, continuous "The security level is currently set at orange" warnings (quite a relaxing lullaby) along with a contingent of over-zealous cleaning men.
Just as my boys were drifting off while curled into a shivering fetal position, we were woken up by this cleaning crew from hell, telling us they had, just had, to polish the floor right under our seats at that very moment. We argued, but anything beyond "We clean floor now," was beyond their understanding of the English language. We joined an ever-happier group of people trekking through the airport, looking for a place to curl up and die.
Behind one of the small retail counters was a rubber-padded floor. It looked like heaven. Hard rubber (which is better than hard marble) to lie on and we were blocked from view. Or so we thought.
A short while later, I was woken up by one of Washington's Finest, who quickly threatened to arrest me if we didn't move. I argued strongly until the handcuffs were staring me in the face. "Daddy? Are you going to jail?" Luckily, I didn't, but at that point I would have been happy to go anywhere with a bed.
We spent the rest of the night in the airport chapel, which when we rearranged the pews and turned out the lights, was actually not terrible. About the only noise we heard was the crashing sounds of the airport police as they rode by on their Segways and crashed into doors and walls.
The next morning the airport added insult to injury. Because our flights had been changed a number of times, we were put on a security list which resulted in our being pulled out of line, security going through our things, eBaying stuff from our luggage and the ever-pleasant anal probes.
Once we redressed, our flight left right on time, which was good, because we still had a connection in Charlotte, NC. Besides having to sprint through the airport with two kids and seven pieces of luggage to make our connection, the flights were uneventful. Once in Tampa I rented a car and drove home and Christmas was saved. It only took us three days, one hotel, one airport, four flights, a car and a jar of Vaseline to get us home.
It was the worst travel experience I have ever had, yet it was still all worth it. We returned energized to work. We have a new script, a rough animatic and more story lines for our Luke and Reece Save the World series. Plus, our trip inspired me to write this article and now I can write the entire thing off as a business expense. Yeehaw!
Mark Simon is an award-winning animation producer/director and speaker. He owns Animatics & Storyboards Inc., A&S Animation Inc. and is co-founder of TV Pitch Tips Audio Postcards. Register for your weekly audio postcards of insider Hollywood pitch tips, tricks and secrets.
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