Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Things you didn't know about American lit

These are excerpts from actual papers by my actual 17-year-old American Lit students. Enjoy.

The assignment: Read a book chosen from a list I give you. Research the history and literary criticism of the novel. Write a paper on the book's impact on American society.

"The book Color Purple impact America like the schools didn't want the students to read the book because they said that the book talk about sex... But why do they act like if the students don't know nothing about sex when they know about sex probably more than the teachers."

"[Sylvia Plath] had depression on mans before she got married with Hughes."

"The title of the book is Inherit the Wind. The book is about this man who breaks the law. He was a Roman circus man he used to do tricks and magic and more. So then one day the spectators, uneasely, barely able to restrain themselves. It impact society because if you break a law you go to jail or prison."

"George Lucas, the Father of Star Wars, ripped off Dune in many ways. There will be a bunch of Star Wars fans that will be pissed off after reading this, but who cares."

Tomorrow: Freshmen short stories.

High school: you'll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Did anybody see the LA Times yesterday? The kid on the cover tagging a bus window with the mayor and his press core inside? Yeah, that was one of ours. Our principal is less than pleased.

I'm tired from moving and I have twenty research papers and thirty-five short stories to grade today. So I'm spending the next two days showing movies. That is by far the best thing about my job. Have a headache? Need some time to post on your blog? Show a movie. It makes the kids happy and allows you to watch your favorite films while getting work done.

There are teachers who will show films like Saw and The Longest Yard, which kind of pisses me off since there's no educational value there. I never show anything I can't use to teach.

First period I'm showing Star Wars Episode IV to discuss story structure and the Hero's Journey and effective character development. I'm showing the original version because Greedo is a punk bitch. When I mentioned the film they all groaned, not because they've seen it, but because some of them have seen the new films and because they've heard Star Wars is for nerds. But right now they're mostly watching with complete interest. Suckers. I'll turn them all into nerds eventually.

Second period I'm showing The Outsiders because it's an American Lit class. The kids at my school love that film because it's about gangs. One of my kids did her research paper on that book so I'm gonna make her talk.

If only I didn't have to grade those pesky papers I could just sit back and watch movies. But I put it off to write screenplays and now I'm in trouble if I don't get this done today.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Emily's eyes are bigger than her stomach

I love how ideas come swarming out of my brain like a disturbed nest of mud daubers. I have this short I just finished writing and the short I'm about to direct and the autobiographicalesque feature I just started and the spec pilot I'm rewriting and a historical fiction project I've been working on since I was a fetus and then there's that comedy in the back of my brain that I hope nobody thinks of before I can afford to travel around and do research.

And last night I got a new idea. I was lamenting the fact that most of the actors in my contact list are blue-eyed blonds and that I need a little diversity when a friend suggested I use that. Why not write a script that took advantage of the similarities? A story about brothers, perhaps? Different elements of the same guy's psyche? Boys who get mistaken for each other like the Prince and the Pauper?

Then the ideas start to flow. After I film my shorts maybe I can raise the money to finance a feature. Maybe I can use this, find a way to make it on the cheap, a real movie with a budget and a location other than my living room. I can use somebody else's living room.

I know. My ambition is getting ahead of my capability. That's why I always end up doing thirty things at once; the excitement of the first idea doesn't wear off before I'm on to the next one and I'm plotting and scheming and seeing my future sitting in that folding chair hanging onto a megaphone.

And one day all those old white men on stage at the Academy Awards will move the hell over and let a woman through. I'm going to be the female Paul Haggis, except prettier and with all my hair and without having to write for Walker, Texas Ranger.

Okay, first things first. It starts with the search for a DP for a 12 minute short. Then we'll see.

Monday, February 26, 2007

A beginner's TV writing primer

I have assigned my freshmen to write short stories. We've been working on these stories all semester and now they're finally putting pen to paper. One of my kids handed me a very well-written Charmed fanfic and told me she wants to write for television. Well, boy howdy did she come to the right place. I typed up a primer and copied it here. What would you add?


Jane Espenson
A writer for Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Jake in Progress, the new Andy Richter show, Jane gives excellent advice to aspiring TV writers.

Alex Epstein
Alex is an American writer in Canada with several produced shows under his belt and is completely willing to give advice and answer questions.

Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio
From the writers of Pirates of the Caribbean, this website includes columns on writing that every aspiring writer should read before they even try to write a word. It also includes a forum where writers can swap ideas and ask questions.

Bill Martell
Bill writes action movies you may have seen late at night on USA and makes money doing it. He's amazingly helpful and considers it his mission to help aspiring writers tell the best stories they can, even if they star Steven Segal.

Script City produced scripts

Crafty TV Writing by Alex Epstein

Successful Television Writing
by Lee Goldberg

The Screenwriter’s Bible
by Dave Trottier
Adventures in the Screen Trade by William Goldman

Read produced scripts. Episodes of Buffy come bound in book collections. Those are probably the best for format. But read. Read as much as you can get your hands on. Not just TV scripts, but short stories and film scripts too. Try reading stories by Tim O’Brien or Edgar Allen Poe or J.D. Salinger of Ernest Hemmingway. In order to write good stories you must master the story form, and that means reading obsessively.

Watch TV. Pay attention to the structure because television is all about structure. How many acts does the show have? Is there a teaser (the short scene before the credits)? How does each episode begin? How does each act begin and end? What are the special techniques they use in every episode? What is the show’s message?

Once you master the form, which will take years so don’t rush it, you can look for agents. You write what is called a “spec script” and example of the show written on “speculation” meaning nobody pays you for it. You will never sell this episode or see it produced, but it is the best example of what you can write. An agent looks at it, likes your writing, and takes you on as a client. Then they take your work to a showrunner, who will read it. If they like it, they’ll bring you in to pitch. They hire you to write one episode. If you do a good job they’ll bring you back to write more until you are a regular series writer. Then you work your way up the ranks to become a showrunner yourself, then the network may hire you to create your own show. This takes several years.

Until then read, watch TV and film, and write. Get feedback from people you trust. I will gladly look over any scripts and help you as much as I can. At some point you’ll want to get a screenwriting program for your computer but that’s expensive and a ways away, so don’t worry about that now. For now just learn the form.

Death by furniture, it shall be

I survived. My apartment turned out to be unlocked, so after greeting the neighbors and convicing them to buzz me in the gate we were in business. I don't get my key until today though, so if you want to steal a blender just go by my new apartment and walk right in. Please don't let the cat out.

New apartment is better in every way except it's cold. It's colder in the apartment than it is outside, and there's no heater. But whatever. I can see actual trees and the Hollywood sign from my balcony and I have fancy new hardwood floors.

My neighbors used to sit on their stoop and drink forties while they played poker and looked at pictures of naked women and shouted to each other over the sound of horns honking and the same church hymn ringing out ever hour to drown out the sound of the technicians running tests at the car alarm installment facility.

Now my neighbors are gay men and cosmopolitan Asian couples with tiny dogs who walk serenely down the street and chat over the hushed tones of traffic as it glides gently by.

I can jog now, is my point.

But not today because I'm exhausted. And my apartment is in chaos because although my friends were troopers about getting the stuff in the apartment, they really didn't give a damn where they put it and weren't about to help me get organized. And I still have to clean the old apartment and get some food. My refrigerator contains one beer, and empty Papa John's box and a half-full two liter of Coke.

But I survived.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I rent two apartments but live in a truck

Moving day. I can't reach my new apartment manager so I don't have a key to get into my place. If I can't reach her by tonight I'll be living out of a Uhaul until further notice.

I haven't gotten the truck yet even though I was supposed to pick it up two hours ago. There's nowhere to park it.

I'm not done packing. You think the books are the hard part. No. The hard part is all that tiny little shit that just keeps popping up all over the apartment. Why do I own a dancing hampster? And a novelty magnifying glass? And puzzle glue? And if I throw it away will I suddenly want to put a puzzle together and frame it?

Half the people who volunteered to help me have bailed. These aren't even people I asked. These are people who nominated themselves. All the people I outright asked are gonna show, so I'm beginning to think pizza and beer is not enough of a reward. Maybe I should make them all executive producers of my short film.

My last move was not this stressful. My last move involved 8,000 degree weather in muggy North Carolina at the end of July and a bazillion mile drive to LA that took four days to an apartment I'd never seen in a city I'd never been to. But moving a mile down the street on a mild Saturday in Los Angeles is giving me a panic attack.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

I have Brattitude.

Whoa, nelly.

Boys and girls, it has been a banner day for Emily.

I'd best tell this chronologically.


The crew was filming some scene with a Brat and a bunch of mimes. And there was a guy filming the whole thing with a hand cam from the balcony right next to me. So if you see this film - and you know you all want to because you love them Bratz - when you see the surveillance camera footage of the girl with the mimes, know that I was standing right next to the camera when that was shot. That's how I learned that the camera guy went to art school.

There was this one crew guy - you can see the back of his head in that picture - who looked like Joe Flanigan. He was wearing Calvin Klein underwear that you could see when he bent over. It was a nice start to the morning.

I let my kids lean over the balcony and watch. The location manager - who works his ass off people, so much so that I'm shocked to find he has anything left to sit on - came up and I thought he was going to yell at me and instead asked if my kids had any questions. A truly nice dude.

Then a producer came up to talk to me. He asked me a bunch of questions about education and teaching and I asked him a few questions about the production. He did that thing that people always do when they learn I'm a teacher. They ask how long I've been teaching because they really want to know how old I am because I look like an adolescent. I mentioned my short film and that I have no money and he said "It's easier when you have no money than it is when you have a little bit of money." I really wish I'd followed that up with a clarification because I have no idea what that means. Unless it means that he was getting really nervous because what was supposed to be a tiny shot in the film was taking too long. He was another truly nice dude.

Talked to a security guard. He used to kickbox. His job was to prevent kids from going down the stairs and getting in the way of the shoot. For once I didn't have to troll the stairs for pot smokers.

Third period lasted the rest of the day because of filming and a play and you don't need to know the details so don't worry about it.

So I went to the library, where I always go to eat lunch with BEST FRIEND. That's where they were filming the promotional stuff. "Hi Wal-Mart! We're the Bratz! Blah blah blah cheerful!" I learned something from that because they managed to stay so professional even though they were repeating the same crap over and over with overly smiley faces. One of the girls mentioned she didn't have a script. I really wanted to volunteer my services because seriously, I had my laptop with MovieMagic and I can fill in any time and I don't care if it's an adolescent girl movie promo I'll write the awesomest promo Wal-Mart has ever seen if it means getting to work for...

Avi Arad.

Yes, Avi Arad was there. Ten yards from me. Watching them film a promo. I know it was Avi Arad because he wore a Spiderman hat, a Spiderman sweatshirt and a Spiderman jacket. And as he walked by I thought, wow. That man could make my career right now if I just said the right thing. And as I contemplated the most inciteful thing to say about Spiderman he walked out the door and I resumed watching the girls talk about the importance of staying in school.

"Stay in school. Read books," Cloe the Brat said.

Then they said something about having "Brattitude".

Then the crew broke down their set and chatted about other shoots they've worked. So I listened because I'm nosey and starved for information. I liken this whole Bratz thing to auditing a film class from the way back of the room. The director of the promos just shot what sounds like a neat documentary.

They asked if they could leave their equipment behind while they went to lunch. I was trying unsuccessfully to figure a way to pick their brains for advice on shooting one's first short film when one knows nothing about cameras and has no money but a funny script and one actor signed on when Best Friend interjected with "She's shooting a short film soon, so if your equipment disappears you know who the culprit is."

That's why she's Best Friend.

CAMERA GUY was intrigued for some reason. I have no idea what I did to deserve such good karma (I have not actually seen The Secret but apparently I no longer need to.)because Camera Guy gave me his contact information and took my card and volunteered to help me put together a crew for my short, even after I explained that I have no money and fumbled around like an idiot trying to give him my information.

Just once, I would like to be as coordinated in real life as I am on paper.

So that's my day so far, and I still have kickboxing to go. There's this guy at the gym I've been exchanging stares with for months now; I think today's the day to do something about it. Clearly the gloomy sky is not impacting my fortune. I don't care what people say; I love The Bratz.

They can't all be brilliant



EMILY the spunky but brutally hot teacher, mid twenties, walks up to two teenagers leaning over the edge of the balcony and looking down on the Bratz movie shoot. One of the teens is a GIRL, and the other a BOY.

Okay, guys, you have to go to class.

We have service.

We're trying to figure out how we can steal those cookies.

Girl points to the table below the balcony where the prop guys pack the fake school lunches.

We could get some string and lower you down and you could grab it.

I could go for one of those pinwheels.

Girl points to a circle of actresses in jerseys, kicking a soccer ball around on the grass.

What is this movie about? Soccer players or what?

No, it's about the Bratz.

You know, those munecas with the big heads?

So why do they have all these groups? We don't get in groups like that.

It's based on a cartoon, so everything's going to be a little exagerrated.

This is a cartoon?

No, it's based on a cartoon. This is real life.

So if I got in the video I'd come out as a cartoon?

Boy begins laughing hysterically. Emily begins laughing hystrically. Girl waits for an answer.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I go to school on a movie set

It was bound to end some time.

Until today our kids have been very respectful of the film shoot. Nobody's tried to get into the movie, they haven't trashed the set, and they've walked around the shoot instead of going through it. But at lunch some kids on the balcony threw some trash onto the crew below. The balcony is my territory. So much for my easy, relaxing lunch. From now on I get to be hall monitor.

Okay I secretly like being hall monitor. It's the power. It's nice.

I used to think that I should get a job in the industry. Working at a school doesn't exactly get me close to the action in Hollywood. But with the Bratz movie I've been able to see it up close. I've even snuck into craft services and had some tuna salad. Craft services is a little miracle of man's ingenuity. Steak and shrimp and ice cream and lemonade? For free? Every day? Holy cow.

I need to get up more courage and talk to more actors and maybe even crew people, though. I've lost a little of that nerve I had before.

The other thing about working at a school is the access you have to talents of all kinds. I'm going to have a student design the logo for my production company. And yesterday I learned that one of my coworkers is starting a film production class in March, so I'm going to use a couple of his brightest to help me with my short film - stuff like food and prop maintenance. And research; if you ever need any research for a film there's no better place than a school. Over 100 faculty, all experts in different areas.

Now I have to go shoo teenagers off the balcony so they don't throw trash on the blonde Brat and ruin her day.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

People are weird.



An effeminate BLOND MAN in his early thirties takes tiny bites of a tuna sandwich as he waits for the 40-year-old CASHIER, tall and frisky, to ring up his purchases.

Blond Man steps behind the register to throw away the sandwich wrapper.

You stepped on my foot!

No I didn't.

No, you didn't. You would have felt my toe under you, huh?

I'm a gentleman.

He takes a seductive bite of his sandwich and raises one eyebrow.

I feel everything.

EMILY, mid twenties, a spunky yet brutally hot high school teacher in her workout clothes and standing in line behind Blond Man, raises her eyebrows.

You know who else was a gentleman? Napoleon Bonaparte.


Homeroom students sit chatting and playing cards. Emily noodles around on the computer.

JULIO, 17, talks to JANICE, also 17.

Did you hear how he died, though?

Biggie was shot.

Yeah, but that fool was shot eating a cheeseburger.

No he wasn't.

Yeah he was. He was at a burger place, don't you remember? He was shot 'cuz he didn't want to pay for his burger.

But he was rich.

So? He was greedy. That's why they killed him.


Emily's eleventh grade English class settles in behind their desks. Emily stands at the front of the room.

JUAN, 18 and EVELYN, 17, sit beside each other. Evelyn has pink hair. Juan has long, rocker hair and wears a sleeveless shirt.

Two black loafers sit on their desk.

Now, you have three choices today. If you wrote your rough draft, you should...

She stops. Evelyn is sniffing one of the loafers.

Evelyn, did you just sniff Juan's shoe?

No, this is my shoe.

So you sniffed your own shoe.

Evelyn sniffs it again.

It's new.

I was sniffing it. I was sniffing her shoe. It smells nice.

And this is how fetishes begin.

Evelyn puts her shoes away. The class awaits further instructions. Emily shakes her head and reaches for her white board marker.


Sunday, February 18, 2007

Me, alphabetically

This thing is going around thanks largely to Red Right Hand. I like questionaires so here ya go.

A- Available or Single? Happily single. Seriously. Stop trying to fix me up with your dumpy friend.
B- Best Friend? A temporary librarian. We go together like peas and carrots even though we've known each other less than a year.
C- Cake or Pie? Cake. Soft, chocolatey cake
D- Drink of Choice? Dr. Pepper. Or Orangina. Think they'd taste good together?
E- Essential Item? My blue hooded Gap sweatshirt. You can wrap it around your waste when you're hot and put it on when you're cold and put the hood over your head when it rains. I'm rarely without it.
F- Favorite Color? Blue. Always blue.
G- Gummi Bears or Worms? I don't do gummy anything.
H- Hometown? Raleigh, North Carolina. Do not go there expecting to be entertained. There's nothing to see.
I- Indulgence? Clothes and books. That's like 90% of what I have to move.
J- January or February? February. Black history, schitzophrenic weather, and who doesn't love a month that changes every four years to help keep the sun on its toes?
K- Kids and Names? I have a cat named Cyrano de Greenville.
L- Life is incomplete without…? Books. I love books.
M- Marriage Date? None. Please stop trying to hook me up with your dumpy friend.
N- Number of Siblings? One older sister
O- Oranges or Apples? Green apples
P- Phobias/Fears? Fucking clowns. They should all burn in a fiery pit of distruction.
Q- Favorite Quote? "Men pay for their crimes by the lives which they lead." -James Baldwin
R- Reasons to smile? I'm writing, producing and directing a movie! And I live in LA! And I have more friends than I ever have in my life! And I have pizza for lunch! And I hit things twice a week!
S- Season? Summer. I come from a hot, muggy land and I love it. The sun is my friend.
T- Tag 3 people? You, you and you
U- Unknown Fact About Me? I have life-size cardboard cutouts of Han and Leia next to my desk. Leia is in the gold bikini and wearing Mardi Gras beads.
V- Vegetable You Hate? Asparagus
W- Worst Habit? Procrastination
X- Xrays You’ve Had? My teeth were a disaster area as a child. I had several X-rays of them.
Y- Your Favorite Foods? chicken parmesian, an Orangina, a rich chocolate brownie. If I were to be executed, that would be my last meal.
Z- Zodiac? Gemini. I'm two people, both equally crazy.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Val Kilmer could take that gorilla

I generally spend my Friday nights sitting around in my pajamas catching up on stored TV in between The Soup, Best Week Ever and Psych. By the way, there is a humorous billboard on Vermont/3rd of the adorable James Rodin running in the LA marathon with a look of serious intensity while two extremely hot women flail about in an effort to keep up. Every morning I think about how if you didn't watch Psych you'd think that billboard was really sexist.

I digress. The point is that Friday nights I usually sit around in my pajamas or I go out and karaoke to some loud, catchy eighties tune. But this week was a pajama week.

So I started to watch Peter Jackson's King Kong.

Notice I say started.

I never watched the original, so I'm just judging this on its own merits as a film I didn't actually have the patience to sit through.

Because what I saw was a bloated piece of crap. The writer and the actress fall in love by staring at each other a lot. And we're supposed to believe they've shared some intense romantic connection because she's giggly and he's intense. Because that always works. I was already bored as soon as they kissed because I really wanted to watch him fight against his love for her. He's a writer. Surely he doesn't want to get involved with one of his silly little actresses whose whole job it is to show up and look pretty. And surely she doesn't want to fall for the writer, all buried in his books and shy and dorky. Oh, they address that and then brush over it in like two seconds and suddenly they're in love. And they haven't even met the monkey yet, so they went ahead and got that character development stuff out of the way so they could get to the crappy CGI that was to follow.

They reference Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, my least favorite book in all of classic literature, except maybe for Joseph Conrad's Nostromo which might just have been worse. Okay, pretty much anything Joseph Conrad makes me ill. The point is, Heart of Darkness is all about evil black Africans and how they poison the souls of decent white folk. It's about a bunch of other crap too, but the main metaphor for evil is definitely black people.

Don't believe me? Ask Chinua Achebe.

Look, people, I'm an English teacher. Occasionally I'm going to rant about literature so you can calm the hell down.

I bring this up because the reference to Heart of Darkness, however annoying to me, was fairly apropos. These crazy black people on this island are pretty darn ignorant and evil too. Joseph Conrad would be proud.

After watching The giant CGI monkey swing a screaming Naiomi Watts around for about five interminable minutes I gave up.

And turned on Shane Black's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. It's a violent, Dickensian noir comedy and I loved it. Shane Black always breaks the fourth wall in his scripts - now he does it in film form and it's perfect. Each character has such excellent quirks, individual personalities and really terrific lines of dialogue. I bought the love story because these two characters had something in common besides surfacey stuff. They both feel like big old losers, and that that serves as an emotional obstacle between them. They have issues they have to work out on their own. Plus, funny dark comedy jokes. After my misadventures with King Kong I appreciated the joke Robert Downey Jr.'s character makes about the ridiculously long ending to Return of the King.

My only concern was that it was too in love with its own cleverness, but that only made it like that really hot guy who knows he can make you melt when he looks at you and you know he knows but you go home with him anyway and enjoy it so much you don't care that he'll never call. That's how I feel after watching this film.

Dammit, Peter Jackson, you don't have to throw money at the story to make it go. Characters, for crying out loud. Characters is the answer.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Just punch the keyboard and see what happens

Don't think. Do or do not. There is no think. Isn't that how it goes?

At the gym I think too much. I plan my punches. I reach for the bag and hesitate, thinking Okay... I should throw a hook. I haven't thrown a hook in a while. And then I'll throw an elbow, follow it up with a block and then a roundhouse....

And Trainer can tell. I telegraph my thoughts with every muscle twitch in my face and arms.

"Kick that bitch's ass!" He yells. "Stop thinking! Just punch! Stop thinking about it, dammit! Fuck her up!"

It helps. I go, "Okay, okay!" and started whacking the crap out of the bag, my little girl-esque pigtails flying. The jabs, the hooks, the kicks, they come on their own when I stop thinking.

It's a danger of scripts too. Planning is important when you're telling a story. Backstory is important. Character motivation is important. You do need an actual plot.

But the stuff in the middle? The little twists and turns your characters took when you weren't looking. You have to let it go.

I love Noises Off. It's my favorite kind of comedy - the constant dialogue, characters talking over each other and running in and out of the room at the exact moment that makes it funny. The entire play is based on "miscues" that if the actors actually miss the whole play crumbles into a crapfest. I love any comedy based on witty timing. I don't usually write comedy, but I find that comic moments based on lots of people having different conversations in the same room can add a lot of comic relief to an otherwise gloomy script because it's easy to keep it funny without moving away from the dark tone of the script.

I really wanted a moment like that in my current short script, Spaghetti Meat. I meant it to be a comedy but the subject matter is so serious that I'm finding it difficult to fill the script with jokes. I was thinking too hard. I just needed to kick through.

I wrote a comment for one of my characters where she lists an order of operations for what she and her date are going to do that day, but I accidentally left something off the list. As I sat, finger poised over the arrow key so I could go back and fix it, I realized that this was the opportunity for my comedic miscommunication moment. So I had a conversation with myself which is very easy for me since I'm a Gemini, or possibly just crazy, and I let the conversation flow. I believe I may also have been channeling Eddie Izzard a tiny bit.

It needs a little work to make it funnier, although it's supposed to be more amusing than hilarious, but here is the first draft of what I wrote:

So I want to shower and change and rifle through your cabinets and then I'll make spaghetti and meatballs and then you'll take me home.

Do I get to eat the spaghetti?

Of course you get to eat the-

Because you skipped that part. You said you'd make the spaghetti and then I'd take you home, but you didn't say-

No, we both get to eat the spaghetti. I'll make it then we'll eat it then you'll take me home.

Okay because if I wait 'till I get back from taking you home it will be cold.

That's why we'll eat it first.

Good. That's better than eating it later.

Do you have any clothes I can wear?

Thursday, February 15, 2007

High School Never Ends

Yesterday I tried to soak up as much movie as I can since I don't work in the industry and this is as close as I'm going to get to a big budget picture for a while - unless Clint Eastwood reads my blog and tracks me down to mine my incredible genius. But probably not. I spent much of my time listening to actors because I love actors. One more reason to love them: yesterday they unintentionally taught me a few things about life.

1) Who you were in school sometimes has absolutely nothing to do with who you can play onscreen. One guy told me he was an obese band nerd in high school who hated football players with a fierce, fiery passion. He was cast as a football player, letter jacket and all.

2) Being popular is all about how you dress. I was standing with all the jocks which is not something I ever did in high school. This one guy came up and tried to join the jock group but he was dressed as a nerd. He was completely shunned. He may have been an all-star quarterback in high school, but in this fake movie high school he was all pocket protectors and horned-rimmed glasses and there is no way the athletes were letting him in, even that one secret marching band guy. Even me. I didn't realize it until I got home, but I didn't want to talk to that dorky little guy either. How shallow is that?

3) Everybody in America is still reliving high school. I know this because everywhere I go, as soon as people find out I'm a teacher they ask a million questions. Even at my class reunion. It didn't matter if one of my classmates was the elected king of Punjab, as soon as somebody found out I was a teacher they pummeled me with inquiries. The actors yesterday all wanted to know stuff too. Like, where are the white kids? Do they have knife fights? Why is your school so nice when it's located in the middle of the ghetto? Don't you have a class to teach? Who is this "Little Round Boy" you speak of?

4) Stereotypes can be tricky. Two actors were playing Latino gangsters. I almost ordered them to go to class because I thought they were students.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Bratz movie is my valentine

Apparently the Bratz go to school in 1984. There are posters up all over our school that say things like "Succumb" and "Obey". Also, ninjas. There are ninjas at the Bratz school. They spent lunchtime playing with numbchucks. I never saw ninjas at my school. The marching band members spend all day in their uniforms playing their instruments. The hippies play hackie-sac. The jocks toss the football back and forth. The cheerleaders flip each other around.

I was in the marching band, but I learned today that I am a traitor. Not only did I spend my high school lunches playing hackie-sac and ultimate frisbee on the grass, but today I spent most of my planning period talking to football players. I'm the worst band nerd ever.

But let's all face the truth: football players are hotter than band nerds.

I actually handed out my card to some actors and told them about my shorts. Go me.

I took my class out to the balcony this morning to write descriptive papers about the scene they were shooting on the quad. They actually did the assignment and stayed quiet. And I finally got to see a film shoot. And one actor gave me some suggestions about where to get equipment. And the cheerleaders practiced their moves. And all was right with the world, except for the fact that the Bratz attend a 1984 style high school where everybody stands in easily-identified groups at lunch.

Here's another innocuous picture:

On a related note, in the middle of reading The Crucible, one of my students was talking about how he doesn't like Harry Potter. (Don't try to make sense of it or your horse will prevent you from going to college.) "All they do is use a stick that does magic," he said.

"Don't you wish you had a stick that does magic?" I replied innocently. The laughter carried on for about five minutes.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I'm training little Paparazzis.

The Bratz have taken over our school. Some of our kids have been asked to be extras, so that's pretty exciting. The "Movie People" as we have all taken to calling the crew, have actually been quite pleasant and have disrupted our fine educational institution as little as possible. They let us take pictures for the yearbook, and all I had to do was ask. There was this one security guard who had been assigned to protect this one sculpture against all gawkers and photo takers and guarded it as if it were his birthright, but once I pointed out that "Black Shirt and Khakis Guy" didn't care if my staff took pictures he backed off. The power of scholastic press is alive and well. The kids got thrown out of the gym later for muscling their way onto a closed set. Good for them. One of the Movie People actually said "Hola" with great gusto when she saw them, like she expected them to be little Mexican border crossers and she was breaking the great language barrier. The kids thought that was funny. They said "Hi" back.

Here's an innocuous picture that they took. Because if there's one thing my readers want, it's lots of information about the Bratz.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to item number 342 on my list of things to do before I sleep: write a grant proposal for the establishment of a newspaper program. I got it this morning and it's due tomorrow.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This must be what The Flash feels like.

It's just too much!

My brain is too full. I need more time in my day.

I took one of those quizzes that tells you what superhero you're most like. I'm The Flash. Always in a damn hurry.

Several of you have offered to help me with my filming of my short film, Game Night, and I'm overwhelmed. Thank you! If I can't find some way to include you I will for the next one. That's assuming I make it through this one. I'll at least invite you all to the world premiere of my fifteen minute directorial debut. There will be black bean spirals and sangria.

The next short, tentatively titled Spaghetti Meat, will be a bit bigger, a bit longer and more complicated. It's going to involve some special effects in the form of fake vomit. And it may not be a comedy. I'm kind of wandering through the first draft in an aimless fashion, but I like where I'm headed.

I'm supposed to be rewriting the spec pilot, but there's just so much to do I don't know where to begin. So I distract myself by working on other things. At some point I'm going to have to focus and get back to that big old gorilla.

I was going to put my feature to the side for a while, but I may have an opportunity to get a script in the hands of an "up-and-coming" producer soon, and all my current features are unimpressive because I've spent a lot of time on my TV stuff. So feature back in play.

I'm sort of just writing whatever I feel inspired to write at any given moment. One hour I work on my short, then I flip over to the other file and do a page of the feature. Then I stare at the spec pilot and groan. Then I go back to downloading some songs and making a CD. And buried in there I make some phone calls and talk to friends about how I can find cast and crew for Game Night.

And somehow I end up writing like five pages a day that way. Whatever works, I suppose. My process used to be so organized as I worked on one project at a time. I have no idea what the hell I'm doing anymore, but I'm pumping out some decent pages, so who am I to screw with that?

Oh God. I still have to move, too. And kickbox. I can't forget to kickbox. And have a social life.

And the yearbook is due to the plant tomorrow.

My brain may have just exploded.

I haven't actually made a lesson plan in like two weeks. That's one of the advantages of teaching English. Give the kids a book and make them read it. There's most of your lesson planning right there. If you can make them read silently and do projects, it leaves you lots of time to noodle around with your stories. Of course, you still have to grade all those papers, but as soon as I figure out how to get that time thingee Hermione has in The Prisoner of Azkaban, I'll be able to sort all this out.

When I was a little kid I drove my parents and teachers crazy whenever they tried to get me to take a nap. It didn't matter where I was or how tired I was supposed to be, I would pitch a fit and throw things and cry rather than go to sleep. It seemed like such a waste of time. I could have been getting valuable playing in the woods done while I was wasting sunlight by closing my eyes. I just don't have time for that kind of crap.

Thank God I go on vacation in March.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

If it truly loves you, it will come back to you

The good thing about having a month to move out of your apartment (I owe a big thanks to my new landlords for being so extraordinarily cooler than the douchefucks I currently rent from) is that you can pack slowly. Schools are filled with empty boxes in various places so whenever my yearbook runners have no job I send them searching the school for empty boxes I can have. So I have plenty of boxes and every day I pack one or two with stuff I can do without for a couple of weeks. Books, CDs, clothes.

Every time I've gone through my CDs it has filled me with great sadness. The empty cases where my now stolen favorites used to be mock me with their perfectly maintainedness. My CD collection is clean and orderly and all the correct CDs are in their correct cases unless I've pulled them out to put in the car.

My apartment is a giant clutterzone, but don't screw with my CD collection.

Thanks to the crack whores who broke into my car, U2 Rattle and Hum, Ben Folds Five Naked Baby Photos, Louise Attaque self-titled, Rusted Root When I Woke, Jump Little Children Magazine, Panic! at the Disco A Fever You Can't Sweat Out, Agents of Good Roots Where'd You Get That Vibe? and a few others - they're all sad and lonely shells of what they once were. Three of those - Ben Folds Five, Agents of Good Roots and Louise Attaque - are albums I'd have to special order to replace.

If you've never heard of Louise Attaque, they're a French band that doesn't suck at all, and that's pretty damn impressive because French rock as a rule is not so good. But these guys are. And they're funny if you speak French. And they use a violin.

The Ben Folds Five album is one I found in France while I was searching for Edith Piaf. They're from North Carolina and I adore their music, so I listened to that album constantly the whole time I was overseas. It helped keep me from being homesick. I was probably most sad to lose that of all the albums that disappeared.

And while I'm thinking about it, are car vandals really interested in Jump Little Children? Really?

I've already paid for these albums, so I'm legitimately downloading a few of them one song at a time to recreate them, but it's not the same. I took damn good care of my CDs and they play better in the car when they're not homemade.

Today when I was packing I noticed a stack of CDs around the stereo that I had recently taken out of the car. I'd bought a new case so I'd rearranged my collection, deciding to start over with only a few good driving CDs and add more as the mood struck me. I had yet to put the removed albums in their proper cases. And there they were: Rattle and Hum, Naked Baby Photos, Louise Attaque and a few others I thought I'd lost. It was like a glorious reunion of musical genius. Oh, frabjous day!

Sometimes when you think you've lost something you love you find out it was always with you. Never leave me again, Ben Folds Five album. I will always take care of you.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Why I won't see Norbit, part 2

The short script I'm filming is based largely on the principal that cokeheads are hilarious when contrasted with people of opposing personalities. Trainer has seen too many cokeheads. He says coke addiction is not funny.

Writing Partner, on the other hand, who has also seen cokeheads, thinks it's hilarious. It's the absurdity that interests him. The sex, the drugs, the board game gone horribly wrong.

Last weekend I thought up a new short idea involving drug addiction and slight insanity. Trainer thinks it's hilarious. Partner thinks emotional disorders and drug and alcohol abuse aren't funny. Go figure.

I say it's all about the subtext and the message we want to send. In Game Night, Partner and I are showing bored people all trying to entertain themselves through drugs, sex and the emotional games they play with each other. In the new script I want to show how the people we show the most disdain for are often the things we fear the most about ourselves. If I know what I'm doing that will come across.

It's all about the message.

Take Office Space, my personal favorite comedy of all time. It's a story about embezzlement, layoffs and burning down your office building. One character attempts suicide. But the absurdity of it all is what makes it funny, and everybody ends up coming through much improved in the end. The message: Do what you love. Stop torturing yourself in a cubicle if you'd rather be outside shoveling dirt.

Comedy has to have something serious at its core to ring true. But I guess what's true for one person isn't true for everybody.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Veronica is my homegirl

Can you shut it off? That voice in your head that constantly sees the pieces of the puzzle when you watch something? I don't usually see a film or TV show for entertainment anymore. I see the parts coming together to form the whole. I see the decisions that must have been made to get to the end result, kind of like that scene in The Matrix when Neo looks around and sees green numbers everywhere.

This week's Veronica Mars got me in that way. Keith shows up with his scary dog to a woman's house to ask her questions about her husband's murder. He says, "I was just out walking the dog and thought I'd save myself a phone call. Did you know we're just ten blocks apart?"


That was an odd line. It sounded to me like a discussion in the writer's room. A phone call is boring, so it's more interesting if he shows up at her house. But why? Why would he go there? He's walking the dog. So he lives nearby? Yeah. But how do we let the audience know that? He could just say it.

I think it's the "save myself a phone call" line that stuck out. In what world is it easier to walk over than to call?

But then later in the episode the same woman calls Keith to come over and stop a burglar because he lives closer than the cops.

Oh. Two birds, one oddly placed line. Still a little odd, but ok.

Did you notice that when Veronica went to talk to the preacher about the possibility that she might be an unwed teenage mother, she used the name "Hester"?

Hester Pryne. Get it? The Scarlet Letter. Doncha just love one percenters?

Then there was Keith's introduction of him and Veronica as Carson Drew and his daughter Nancy. It still took a second to connect that one. It was a lot more effective than having her walk in and announce herself as Nancy Drew because you still got to feel a little clever for getting the joke that the guy they were talking to obviously didn't get.

Then there's Dick. When Veronica told him that his ex-girlfriend banged her boyfriend, he acted like he didn't care. But in the split second before he put on his Dick Casablancas face, he slipped and showed all the emotion in the world. In Dick's case it's the emotions he doesn't show that tell what he's feeling. With all the crap his family has been through it's only natural that he perfect his aggressive persona to cover his pain.

In short, Veronica Mars is awesome.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

It's those poor fat people you have to watch out for

It seems to be the year of misplaced values at the movie theater.

I admit I have not seen either of these films but I will when they show up on HBO. It's the premise I have a problem with.

The Pursuit of Happyness (Don't get me started on what that title is going to do to my students' already warped sense of spelling.) is about a man who works hard to care for his son and gets nowhere. Then he sees a guy with a fancy car and decides to go for that job and succeeds in achieving the great American dream.

The dream of what, exactly? Greed? I understand that this is based on a true story, but we all know how often details change to suit the needs of the story. Would it have been so difficult for Will Smith's character to take a chance on being a stock broker because he really loved being a stock broker? That was his dream job and he only did the other jobs because he thought he had no chance at achieving his dream? Instead, it seems like he just does this for the money. That's a great lesson to teach his son. Money buys "happyness", kid, but it can't buy you the ability to spell words in the modern vernacular.

Then there's Eddie Murphy, who decides to follow up his Oscar-worthy performance in Dream Girls with the most vile, offensive-looking turd of his career. Wasn't The Nutty Professor largely about valuing what people have on the inside and not judging them on their appearance? Yet here's Norbit, a film about how poor little Eddie Murphy really wants the beautiful thin girl played by Thandie Newton, but is stuck with this fat, mean, bossy woman who keeps him around like her play toy. Haha, she's fat, see? Isn't that funny? Aren't fat people hilarious?

It's not that beautiful people have to be evil. And it's not that I expect an unrealistic world where a man genuinely doesn't care about the appearance of a woman. You have to be attracted to your mate of course. But Shallow Hal did it perfectly; Rosemary doesn't turn into a beautiful thin swan at the end because that's not the person she is. Hal has to change his perspective, not wait for a miracle to mold her to his expectations. That's the message a good film should send.

Instead it looks like Norbit's fat woman fulfills all the nasty stereotypes that make the rest of us throw fat people dirty looks for walking down the street - that look that says, "You don't deserve to live. Why don't you work out more?"

There's a woman at the gym who's been going there and working with a trainer as long as I have. She was morbidly obese when she came in and she's still really heavy a year later, but she's working on it one day at a time. I respect that a lot more than those people who took the gastric bypass route. Now they can eat whatever they want and still stay thin, so instead of dying from a heart attack brought on by obesity, they can die from malnutrition brought on by a steady diet of Oreos.

Stories should be about something. Your story should send a message you'd be proud to tell your kids. That doesn't mean every story needs to be uplifting and happy. I love Candide, but that has one of the most downer messages in literature - and yet it somehow throws out a glimmer of hope. The same goes for Lord of the Flies. I don't want anybody watching my films and thinking about how greed is the American dream or thanking god they didn't get stuck with some crazy fat lady as a girlfriend. I guess I believe in karma and I want my movies to reflect that.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Do the Bratz actually read?

Today is testing day. No student can graduate high school unless they pass this test, and I'm trapped for four hours with my homeroom. I'm debating whether to use the time to write the new short film I thought up over the weekend or work on my pilot revisions.

Also, it's 71 degrees today in Los Angeles. I'm wearing short sleeves and sandals.

An extremely popular kids TV show is shooting a scene for its impending live-action film in our school library for three days. The librarian is my best friend, so I'm going to beg and plead my way into observing the process. I'm hoping that telling them I'm about to direct my first short film without any actual experience on a set will convince them to let me sit in and observe. Plus, I eat my lunch in there every day and my class was supposed to be in there one of the days to work on their research papers, so they owe me. I was supposed to use the library for actual education that day, but hell, the kids need their movie.

The movie will make a bazillion dollars and the whole world will see our library in action. Fortunately I do not know any preppy preteens, so I won't be watching the movie unless it comes on HBO, and then only to see the same library that I see every day.

Still, I really hope they let me sit in on the shoot. I promise to be extra-quiet. Because a live-action version of a kids TV show I will never watch is still a hundred percent more film shoots than I've been on so far in my life.

Monday, February 05, 2007

This in no way implies I am a Carolina fan.


I like blue better than pink.

I went to totally redesign my links section and ended up creating a page filled with nothing but HTML code and had no idea how to fix it, so I upgraded my page in order to restore everything. And in the process I went blue. Like a Smurf. Because blue is my favorite color. And I don't know the air velocity of the average fully-laden swallow.

Enjoy the new hotness that looks a lot like the old and busted, but in blue and with new links.

Apparently I like Imogen Heap a lot

For those of us who write with music, it can be difficult finding the perfect mix to accompany the scene you're working on. As I've posted before, I've got several mixes in my ITunes that fit a particular mood.

For months my friends have been telling me to try Pandora. It's basically a radio station you design yourself. Enter names of bands you like and Pandora picks out similar music. You can tell it whether or not you like particular songs and it will adjust its playlist accordingly. Freaking genius. Not only does it provide me with great background music, but I learned about some new artists while I had it on all weekend while I packed up books and DVDs for the impending move.

And it's free with minimal popup ads. Yay.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

In honor of whatever team is playing against whatever other team...

I can't be the only person in America who doesn't give a rat's ass about the Superbowl.

I'm using the opportunity to go to Trader Joe's because on any given day the one closest to my house is like a rat maze filled with a 100 little Algernons wandering to and fro, picking out exotic juices and organic cheese. But the Superbowl will keep people at home and I can wander the aisles in peace instead of struggling to keep calm while I wait for the tiny 135-year-old man to decide which flavor of hummus to buy because he hasn't moved out of my way despite the thirty times I've yelled excuse me. He'll be home in his old recliner, eating his hummus and watching grown men throw themselves at each other in pursuit of an oddly-shaped piece of stuffed leather.

I saw Children of Men. Wow. Excellent example of structure. I need to get a copy of that script; it was textbook. Every time our hero's in peril you're wondering how the hell he'll get out of it. Most of the time he's proactive, but even when he's saved from outside it lands him in a worse situation than the one he was saved from. The character development is beautifully done; there's tons of alluded backstory for each person in the story. I'm not entirely sure about some of the plot elements, but as a story it was amazing. The action kept my interest from minute one.

And actor/singer friend of mine who I'll call Rock Star read my script and loved it. The lead in my short film might as well have been written just for him; there's nobody else who could play it. And he wants to do it, and is willing to help me find the right crew to pull it off. So yay. Hurdle number one out of the way. If he didn't want to do my script the whole thing would have been ruined. Rock Star will make the perfect sex-crazed coke-head.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Let's all just get hitched.

Have you seen The Family Stone?

Incredibly lame spoiler warning...

At the end of The Family Stone everybody's paired up. The father's wife is dead but she still watches over her happy family from a picture frame as they all come into the room hand in hand in their happy Christmas coupledom. Except for the youngest daughter, who's about 12. I don't know why she hasn't shown up with some motorcycle driving high schooler by now. What the hell is her problem?

It's like these are the only people in the world and they just shift each other around until the pieces fit. Nobody has to end up alone because dear god, that would be a tragedy. In fact, aside from the apparently socially inept preteen, nobody in this film has to spend ten seconds alone except the teenage daughter who is clearly a miserable bitch because she doesn't have a man in her life. But then they find her one and she's instantly a better person.

Ugh. That movie makes me want to hurl my Edith Wharton books at the TV.

On Grey's Anatomy this week - also spoiler warning - we had two accepted marriage proposals. One from a man who just lost his father and is looking for any way to numb the pain, and the other from a man who just got over a life-altering injury and spent weeks not talking to his girlfriend because then he would lose the mind game they were playing.

And Meridith is finally happy because she found a good boyfriend.

Izzie made some mistakes, but at least she's smart enough to spend some time healing on her own before running off to disguise her pain with sex.

Meredith's mother is a megabitch, but she has a point. Why isn't Meredith happy because she's a good surgeon? Why is everybody out to fill some deficiency in themselves by running off and finding the most available lover they can stand?

I worry about Addison. She almost had it right by staying away from all the men until she got her head on straight. Then she fell into Eric Dane again. Not that I totally blame her. Have you seen that guy?

I'm not suggesting we don't put happy couples in our scripts. I know a bunch of you are happily married, but far too many people get married for the wrong reasons. I know. I almost did it.

Society - and by that I'm including us the writers - keeps telling everybody they have to get paired up. Dermot Mulroney doesn't work for you? His brother Luke Wilson is pretty hot. He'll do in a pinch. Lonely? Get married to the first person who thinks you're swell. That will fix all your problems.

Friday, February 02, 2007

You'll laugh if I tell you to laugh.

Yesterday Trainer read my script and didn't like it.

That's not true. He liked it. He said it wasn't funny.

I must have looked obsessive, leaned out over my legs for way too long upstairs in the stretching area, staring at him while he read between sets on the machine he was using, holding my breath.

I'm such a writer. I was staring at the hottest dude in the gym just to see if he was laughing.

But he wasn't laughing.

He said it was a good script and the characters were really interesting and he'd love to see what they get up to next. But it wasn't funny.

We talked about what was missing. First it was the cocaine use. Then it was the sex. But maybe it wasn't the cocaine or the sex. Maybe it was the violence. Maybe it was all three together.

Oh yeah. It's that kind of script.

In the end he couldn't figure exactly what he didn't like, but it was something.

So last night Partner and I sat down and hashed it out and came to the conclusion that it's none of the things Trainer said. In fact, Partner is now concerned because he thinks I took Trainer's ciriticisms to heart too much.

Do I think the script is funny? Hell yeah. I went to sleep last night giggling over the absurd situation my characters created for themselves.

But that doesn't mean I'm going to ignore my notes. I listened to everything Trainer said, and Partner and I discussed his suggestions. We rejected a lot of them but realized that some of the things he said were things we were already thinking. So we tweaked a line here, an action there, and our script is a lot better for it.

And maybe Trainer won't like this version either, and maybe he won't want to play the part I've assigned him. But that's okay because it's LA and I can get another actor. I want Trainer in this role (He is so very pretty and talented - and did I mention pretty?), but I'd rather have someone who's passionate about the script. I want someone who thinks it's funny.

Because it is funny. Oh yes. It is funny.