Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New year's resolutions

2008 was good to me. I started out the year completely depressed and confused and tired. And now stuff is better.

In 2008 I made the same resolution I've made for the past 5 years - find representation. And I didn't.

I didn't because that was a stupid resolution.

I also started off the year with my personal life in shambles. Know why? Every time I was single I would go to a party or a screening or a whatever thinking, "Oh I wonder if there will be boys there." Somewhere in early 2008 I started working toward personal zen. I began to look at myself in the mirror and smile every morning. I finished a new script I felt good about, I worked on new short scripts, I decided to work on being the best writer I could be.

So in late June when I was invited to a party where I knew there would be writers I thought, I hope I meet some cool people to talk about movies with. The thought of meeting a boy in no way entered my mind. I dressed all pretty on the off chance there would be somebody there who could help my writing career.

Look, you gotta use what you got. If the curves get people to come talk to you, you gotta use 'em. Then you keep 'em there with your witty dialogue.

Anyway, I got there and what do you know, I met a boy. Good thing I wore my fancy backyard barbecue dress.

That is a dress I wear to backyard barbecues, not a dress made out of barbecue.

I digress.

The point here is, I was concentrating on the wrong thing. Instead of making myself happy and healthy, I was trying to will a man to come love me. And instead of breaking down my scripts and looking full-on at what I needed to change, I willed the agent to come to me.

Fuck the agent.

What I got instead was help. I got a new friend? Mentor? Stalker? who has been helping me. (just kidding about the stalker thing, buddy. Please don't stop giving me notes. I'll even send you those pictures you asked for.)

I started listening more carefully to my writing group. I started paying more attention to what I can copy from a good spec script. I started letting my ego take a break and I released my fear of suckage so I could replace it with confidence of nonsuckage.

I'm not at the nonsuckage yet, but I'm getting closer.

One day in June a boy asked me out and I was ready to go because I was good happy and healthy and I didn't need any extra work.

My resolution for this year is IF an agent or manager or producer or director or pool boy shows an interest in my script, I can confidently give it out and know that it and I are ready.

I hope you all find what you're looking for this year. Thanks for reading. I'll try to be clever enough to make you stick around.

Thoughts on the script: Gaza

I love stories that take a situation I've always taken for granted and flip perspective. Today I read the Black List script Gaza by Frank Deasy because - well, because that giant clusterfuck in the desert is sort of prominent in the new right now. And it definitely flipped the switch on perspective.

We hear all the time about how important it is that we stay good friends with Israel and everybody in America knows Hamas is a bunch of terrorists and Arabs are evil and plan to kill us all if they ever get the chance because they hate Peace. As they hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.

It's also possible I'm thinking of Tybalt.

It looks like Gaza has been picked up by the BBC, which makes sense. I very much doubt an American studio would produce this film without some major script changes. We can't have a script that makes Palestinians look like the victims.

Not that Gaza is all woe is me, I'm Arab. There is just as much stupid violence coming out of the Palestinian side in this screenplay as there is from the Israeli side, but since the protagonist spends most of the story inside the Gaza strip, we get the unique perspective of a culture of people who feel trapped within their own ghetto of a country.

The story is about Ruth Haas, a British lapsed Jewish doctor who journeys into Gaza to retrieve the body of her journalist daughter who has been murdered by Fatah soldiers. She learns about her daughter and the conflict that has consumed what used to be a beautiful, free country. Needless to say, she comes out a lot more aware than she goes in.

The writing is okay. The style is pretty standard and the character descriptions are terrible - for a long while at the beginning I was confounded in my attempt to figure out which character was Rose and which character was Ruth - but the story is just solid. The character relationships feel real and developed and full of complications.

But the best part about this script is how many thoughts ran through my head while I read it. It doesn't really try to answer any questions or find any permanent solutions to the problem in Gaza, but it does put forth a shitload of questions we all need to ask ourselves about our capacity for inhuman behavior.

It's got a mixed bag of an ending. There is optimism for certain characters but Gaza is fucked. I guess the point is, if you don't want to die in Gaza you have to get the hell out.

It's not an uplifting story. Especially since the second I closed the file I flipped on CNN and watched the fallout right there on my television, but it really helped me understand what the hell is going on in that Godforsaken land. I wish we could send Cher over there to smack every single one of those people in the face. Snap out of it!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Thoughts on the script: Butter

Yesterday I read the Black List script Butter by Jason Micallef. It's a script near the top of the list - it got 44 recommendations.

For a reason. This script was fantastic to read.

Butter is a relatively short script at a 105 pages, and it's a story about a group of people who engage in underhanded dealings to win a butter carving contest in Iowa. You can sort of sense the comic potential already, don't you think?

I'm a professional multitasker, so usually when I read a script I am also watching a movie, checking email, cleaning my apartment and eventually falling asleep. I started out that way, but after about five minutes I turned the movie (Dial M for Murder) off. Then I stopped checking my email. My house was a mess and I was wide awake. I was just enraptured by this adorable little screenplay.

What makes this screenplay so fantastic is its sense of personality. The characters were so clear and well developed and each had his or her own voice, but the voice of the script as a whole was the bonding factor. It wasn't over the top and it wasn't out of place. It felt organic to the script.

Here are some examples of action lines that made me chuckle:

AND THEN, as the fog parts, a woman emerges. This is LAURA PICKLER and her age is none of your business.

Bob is surrounded by adoring women. He’s like a chubby, diabetic Zac Efron.

Laura looks around: Hummel Figurines, a painting of a crying bald eagle hovering over the Twin Towers on 9/11, a picture of a few of Orval and Helen’s fugly-ass children. We just know what Laura is thinking: these people are disgusting.

A 19-year-old woman works the pole (NOTE: no nudity, please, it’s not that kind of movie) to Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love.”

Fantastic stuff. It didn't get in the way of the story and it didn't feel forced. It felt like the writer really captured the essence of these people and the community they live in. I feel like I really know these people.

I've been reading such downer material lately that this was a breath of fresh air.

Reading these cute little one liners helped me in my rewrite too. Yesterday one of my missions was to trip my action so that I say more with fewer words. I thought about the way Butter does it with a flirty little aside and decided to use that technique in a few places - not too many because I'm not trying to be cutesy, but here and there where it adds a little something to the tale. I hope it makes my script a more fun read.

If you get a chance, read Butter. It's a terrific example of how to put voice into a screenplay.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Spellcheck is for losers

This is a grammar rant that could very well come back to bite me in the ass some day but I don't care. I'm an English teacher and a writer and I can't let it go without speaking my little piece.

A few days ago I read Tarantino's latest, Inglorious Basterds.

Why is it spelled like that? Because Tarantino is too important and busy to run spellcheck.

By now you may have heard about the typos. The script is riddled with them - apostrophe errors, spelling errors, misused words, awkward sentence structure - it reads like an essay written by a smart, lazy 12-year-old.

Okay first of all, Tarantino has done some amazing work. Reservoir Dogs will always be one of my top ten films of all time and Pulp Fiction is brilliant. I confess I didn't love Kill Bill. In fact I think as you go backwards in his career Tarantino's films get better. He had some great ones right at the beginning.

And to be honest, Inglorious Basterds is an interesting story. It's sort of revisionist history: A group of Americans and a Jewish French girl independently conspire to assassinate Hitler and other lead members of the Reich.

It's got its moments, but it's a Tarantino world. He loves mixed race relationships so he put one in here. A Jewish girl in hiding falls in love with a Negro man who wanders freely during the day. In occupied France. Because apparently while Jews were forced to hide, black Europeans were free to roam the streets as Goebbels talked about their glorious culture in admiring tones.

In case you're wondering, there were about 600 or so black Europeans in the occupied territories and as far as I know none of them made it to the camps. They were mostly shot and dumped into pits. It's not as easy to hide if you're black as it is if you're Jewish, and Goebbels certainly didn't think the Negros of the world were swell beings.

(And in case you're wondering what makes me such an expert, the home front during WW2 was the subject of my masters thesis. I don't know everything, but I've done a shitload of research.)

But this is Tarantino land, and the story changes history anyway, so maybe we can pretend Nazis liked black people.

There are some cool scenes in the script. There's good tension and there's a pretty cool standoff in a bar that I enjoyed very much. I'm not so fond of the ending because I feel like it sort of fizzled out a bit, but the story isn't a bad one.

No, the big problem here is the grammar and spelling. He spells gun "gunn" for instance. Basic stuff. I mean hell, he misspelled the title of his own movie.

Some have said it's no big deal. It's just spelling, the story is the important thing. Everybody makes mistakes.

Well, yes and no. Everybody does make mistakes and I usually hate people who correct minor grammar errors in others' work, but the mistakes in Inglorious Bastards are ridiculous in number. And it's a problem for two reasons.

One: for God's sake, the man's a professional writer. The least he can do is run spellcheck, just for integrity's sake. I doubt very much that Bill Goldman sends out screenplays covered in typos like this, but I guess since Tarantino has gotten older and can make anything he wants, he doesn't have to slum like the rest of us saps who are expected to make our work look professional. He can turn in his screenplay written in crayon and he'll still get funding for his next picture.

But that only works as long as his films keep making money.

It's not just about professionalism, it's also about readability. There is a scene in the beginning of the film where a Nazi officer speaks to a French family in French, but in the script it's written in English. The officer continually says "purpose" instead of "propose."

Now here's the problem: Is he doing that because his French is bad? Is that an intentional mistake? Or is this another Tarantino typo? It's impossible to tell. How are the actors supposed to know? There are places all over this script where I had to halt and go back to reread something because the words didn't make any sense.

And before anybody rushes to exclaim that this is probably just a draft Tarantino sent to his agent that got leaked, I heard from a medium level reliable source that this is indeed the version being used on set.

If this is true, it means Tarantino did not even bother to have someone proofread his script before sending it to the actors, the producers, the location manager, the thirty thousand other people who have to read and understand this script to do their jobs. So instead of taking a couple of hours to spellcheck and proofread, or pay a couple of bucks to an assistant to do it for him, or even ask a friend - hell I'd do it for free - he allowed his script to go public as a working document riddled with mistakes.

He's eccentric, see. He doesn't have to use spellcheck because he's a rich genius.

He has every right to do what he wants of course. As long as people keep seeing his movies he can write how he wants. But it's pretty rare you see a prima donna writer, you know? The least you can do is run spellcheck on your title.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Easy research

I like hanging out with new people because when you hang out with new people you learn new things. Everybody's an expert on something.

I've dated a geologist and a rock musician and a welder and an aspiring stunt man and a guy who didn't have any hobbies at all, but for most of those people I was able to learn lots of interesting things. I saw Dante's Peak and a bunch of shitty emo bands I had to pretend I liked and did not weld anything but I zapped myself in the leg with a stun gun and sat around and did nothing.

And now Beefcake has the most interesting hobby so far. I don't have to fake interest like I did with the emo bands.

Beefcake is into a particular type of contest I didn't really know anything about before I met him, but now he's exposing me to it on a regular basis and I am fascinated.

But the coolest thing about this is that NOBODY has mined this area for stories. Before Christmas I looked all over for a movie or book on these contests to give him and I came up with a big goose egg. Actually that's not true. There's one ghost written autobiography nobody's ever heard of and one shitty looking amateur documentary.

The field is wide open, my friends. Wide fucking open.

The problem when you write about contests, though, is avoiding the obvious story cliches: the big come-from-behind victory or the Rocky I-just-proved-I-could ending. Redbelt managed to get around that by being a story about a man whose mission was to avoid the ring entirely. I need to find something like that, something that makes this unlike other movies about a competition.

My plan is to let it come to me. I'm still fixing Not Dead Yet and after that I'll be fixing Fear of Clowns so I have some time before I can start working on this. (I'm putting the vampires away indefinitely because I have a feeling we are about to be inundated with vampire scripts.)

In the meantime, I'm going to go to at least two more contests and visit the players while they train and listen and learn. And I'm hoping something will click and suddenly there it will be: THE STORY.

See, this is how you do it. Write about a topic on which your boyfriend is an expert and the research comes to you.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in LA

Everybody's planning to vacate the town. Coworkers are packing up, the Beefcake is driving a different person to the airport every morning, the freeways are empty.

I love when the freeways are empty.

Everybody keeps asking me if I'm going home for the holidays and when I tell them no their eyes bug out and they stare at me, incredulous.

But EVERYBODY goes home!

On Christmas day I plan to go to the mall to see Benjamin Button and I bet there won't be anybody there. Hell, I can go to Target on Christmas Eve and it will be like a regular shopping day. But not Wal Mart. Don't go to Wal Mart on Christmas Eve because the people who don't leave town are the same people who go to Wal Mart.

Anyway, if you drive down the street it is empty. This morning on the way to work I had normal traffic on the streets, then when I hit the 10, NOTHING. Usually it's packed but today it was a breeze.

So while everybody else is crammed up with family visits and packed malls and snowy roads, LA is a ghost town. I love when it's a ghost town.

My family always has appetizers on Christmas Eve then plays a board game, so this year Best Friend will come over and we're going to eat my appetizers and play Wii. She's Muslim so her family won't miss her. Then in the morning after Beefcake and I do a gift exchange he has to go to work so that's when I'm heading to the movies.

Benjamin Button just feels like the perfect movie to watch alone with the Jews and the Athiests on Christmas Day, don't you think?

Anyway, I have a three foot tree and a scented candle so I'm ready. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thoughts on The Wrestler, Once Upon a Time in Hell, and Grand Theft Auto

Saturday the Beefcake and I went to see The Wrestler at the Arclight.

There's this really, really long moment after the film fades to black before the credits come up and it is completely necessary so we can all gain our composure before we have to start concentrating again.

"That was a good movie," was pretty much all I had to say when we left the theater. I didn't want to ruin the film by overanalyzing it.

But then a little while later we started to talk about it and I said there was a bit of point-of-view violation. And then I couldn't think of anything else to complain about. It's just a fucking great movie. Much like Mikey, The Beefcake hates everything that isn't Robocop, but he loved the hell out of The Wrestler.

This weekend I also tore through three screenplays. I'll get to Inglorious Bastards later, but I also read Once Upon a Time in Hell and Grand Theft Auto because I really enjoy being depressed about the human condition.

Both of these scripts were well constructed and both were really violent tales about revenge and greed and women whose men treat them like shit. Once Upon a Time in Hell is not quite as clean a read - there were parts where I was a little confused as to what was going on, mostly because Brian McGreevey & Lee Shipman change people's names regularly depending on how they've been described. For instance, they'll start out by calling a guy "MAN" then later somebody will call that guy "PORKY" so they'll change his name to that, then later on we'll learn that his real name is "BOB" so they'll start calling him that. That's not literally what they did - nobody's named Porky - but that's sort of how it reads. Once Upon a Time in Hell also flips back and forth between past and present so frequently that it gets hard to follow the timeline.

Very mild spoilers follow.

The story itself is pretty good - really gritty and violent, as the title would imply. The young son of a mobster is ready to begin a promising career as a lawyer with his beautiful fiance at his side when his brother betrays him and takes everything he had. Which of course leads to some pretty nasty revenge.

The movie has one of those "happy" endings that's sort of like "Oh. Everybody's fucked but they're kind of okay-ish for now. yay."

I also read Grand Theft Auto.


Usually when you get a video game adaptation it blows big fat goat chunks because they either have to blow off the game aspect to make a good story or they try too hard to make it feel like the game so that the story sucks (*cough* Doom *cough*).

But Grand Theft Auto, written by Jason Dean Hall, felt like both a solid story and a transfer of the video game. Our protagonist, Emile, is a reformed criminal and drug addict trying to make it right by working a legitimate job as a repo specialist, but it seems like everything in his life is in foreclosure, so he gets back into his old life for one more job.

Then the shit hits the fan. Drugs, gunfire, lots of stolen cars, a helicopter, a naked lady, cops, Yakuza, Mongols, decapitations, betrayals, suicides, you name it the shit's in there. But somehow it all feels organic to the story.

I think what works here that felt a little forced in Crank - it has pacing like Crank or Shoot 'Em Up, fast as fuck - is that our protag is not just trying to get away or maintain, he's actually on a mission, a mission with a clock. This film is GO GO GO from the second you hit the first page. Usually when I read a screenplay I get sleepy in the middle and have to break before I can finish it. Not this one. This puppy was rock 'em sock 'em.

I'm not sure which one I want to read next. Maybe Butter.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Game Night Update, part 376

Previously, on Game Night Update...

Over a year ago I shot my first short film, Game Night. A few months later my editor said she couldn't finish the project so I found a new editor. And he did like a minute of footage a month. My actors have been emailing me, asking where the hell the footage is so they can update their reels. Then last month I told my editor I needed a rough cut by December. Period.

The following is paraphrased.

So last night I got an email from Editor saying Oops! Sorry, but I couldn't get it done for December but I'll get to work on it as soon as I get back from my trip in January. And there's some problems. I showed what I have to a test audience of friends and they didn't get what was going on so we should probably add some voice over or reshoots.

I took a sip of my eggnog.

I stared at my computer.

I typed my response.

I will be by when you return to pick up my footage. I'll cut the rest myself, but thank you for your time.

To which I got a response of Sorry! I swear I'll finish it! I'll work harder. I'll get it done.

I stopped being mad and finished my eggnog which helped because a third of my eggnog was actually Bacardi and realized how to solve the problem with the short.

I emailed Editor and told him to move one line of dialogue up five minutes in the short.

Then I sat back and thought.

Okay this guy has put most of the footage together. He has nine of the twelve minutes done, and he really cares about this project. He's doing it for free and it looks pretty good and he's an all around nice guy. I know he isn't delaying on purpose.

But good grief. We shot this thing in 2007, it's 12 minutes long and it won't be finished until 2009. That's embarrassing to have to confess when people ask me how the short is going.

Now I'm faced with a choice. Do I believe him and keep waiting? Or do I try to edit the rest myself even though I've never edited anything before? He also has access to a recording studio for some voice over work and a sound editor to polish some of our audio issues.

And yes I realize several of you offered to edit my shit before and probably would have been done by now had I taken you up on your offers.

Oy ve, you guys.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

A Conversation with Mystery Man: Part 2

Here's the next and final chapter of this year's blog talk.

I'm responding to Mystery Man's post where he discusses this year's highlights.

Highlights of the year, eh?

This year I felt calm. My personal life has been a big old mess for some time, but I finally figured out this zen existence around June. So now I've been able to focus on writing instead of figuring out who the hell I am as a person. So yeah, this year was good for me. As a result I finally wrote a script I feel is worthy. It needs a bit more work, but it's got the goods.

Obviously In Bruges was a highlight for me, and I've mentioned about thirty thousand times how much I enjoyed reading Tonight, He Comes. Those were the two film experiences that genuinely blew my mind this year.

I also spent a good portion of the year putting together my own personal film school type dealy. I bought a couple of books on film history and went through the movies mentioned in the books so I could learn as much as possible. First, I read Action Speaks Louder and watched a bunch of old action films. Then I read Dark City and accompanied it up with a series of noir films. I learned a ton from doing that, so now I'm trying to figure out which genre to go after next.

I still haven't read that Darabont script, although I have it along with about 300 other scripts on my hard drive, and I'm reading Inglorious Basterds right now. I really need to read that Darabont script because that episode of South Park where Indy kept getting raped? Yeah I could relate to that episode. I need to go read that script so I don't feel so hopeless about the whole thing. It's kind of like after I saw The Highlander 2. It hurts so much. So very, very much.

This year I read a lot of spec scripts. I love having scripts available. Any time I watch something and say to myself how did they write that up? I go to my computer and find the script and there it is. So there's something new. This time last year I didn't have nearly this many scripts available to me. My favorites were The Wackness and Burn After Reading, which I find especially interesting since I felt like No Country for Old Men was not a terribly good script. The Coens like to keep you on your toes.

This year I also nursed one hell of a zombie jones. Know what? I don't think there's a book on zombie movies. Somebody should write that.

So to sum up this year: Zen, Zombies, In Bruges, lots of screenplay PDFs.

See you next year!

And good luck with your short thing. I thought Paris, Je T'aime was terrific so I'm all in favor of more of that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Conversation with Mystery Man: Part 1

It's time for Mystery Man's year-end review blog talk. Last year he talked with The Unknown Screenwriter. This year he's talking to me, so clearly I'm moving up in the world.

Yesterday's post is here.

And this is my response.

Oh come on, it can't be THAT bad. Let's see. Okay I'm looking over the list and I don't think anyone expected The Hottie or the Nottie to be any good. A screenwriter lands a job like that and he sort of sighs and self medicates and collects his paycheck.

I didn't see most of those "bad" movies, but I don't think all of them are bad. Okay The Incredible Hulk was paint-by-numbers, but Wanted had some really kick ass action scenes. The thing that bothered me the most about that movie was Angelina's spaghetti arms. Okay that and the complete lack of physics. And The Bank Job? Why is that on there? That was not a bad movie, and it comes in handy in an argument whenever I try to defend Jason Statham as an actor. I also thought Redbelt, although it had some flaws, was a very creative take on the fight movie. Instead of the worn out story of an underdog just trying to stay alive in the ring, we got a man who was fighting to stay out of it.

Although I am glad to see I'm not the only one who wasn't doing cartwheels over The Foot Fist Way. That film was all kinds of worshipped by a lot of people and I really didn't get the love.

And true, we did have both Meet the Spartans AND Disaster Movie this year. And on my trip to Puerto Rico I flew on two different airlines, both of which offered me the opportunity to watch Get Smart for free. I declined both times in favor of Predator and Memento on my laptop.

So that's pretty bad, but I dunno, was this really that much worse than last year? Last year had Lions for Lambs, which has replaced Spy Kids as the biggest waste of more than an hour of my life ever, so that drags down last year's average in my mind.

Besides, this year we got In Bruges. You want some passion? That film has got it, baby. Sure it was all the way in February but it was hands down the best film of the year. That's right. I'm saying it was better than Batman. It's the only film I saw this year that made me cuss myself as I came out of the theater that I wasn't good enough to write a movie like that.

So there's two. The Dark Knight and In Bruges make our truly great movies of 2008 list. What else came out this year? Surely something....

Oh wait. Wait a minute.

Hancock. Damn.

Hancock is the biggest heartbreak I've ever felt over a film. The spec script was so amazing, so incredibly moving and original, I was drooling over the prospect of going to see it opening night. Then I saw it. And my naive little heart was broken when I saw what they did to that fantastic story. Talk about the destruction of a passionate screenplay. Well that does bring this year's average down a bit.

How many truly good movies is that? Two? And how many bad? Like thirty?


Monday, December 15, 2008

This season blows

I was having breakfast at The Griddle yesterday with a few people. Did you know they sell more than pancakes? I got a lovely healthy sandwich and a bowl of fruit while everybody else at my table was eating eggs and pancakes. And since I was wearing a pair of sweats and tennis shoes I really looked like a healthy nut.

Appearances deceive, people. I was wearing sweat pants because I went there with the intention of eating the Yellow Brick Road, which is pancakes filled with butterscotch and some other crazy shit, and I wanted to make sure I had an elastic waistband. Plus the night before I ate 2/3 of a pizza.

But I changed my mind when I saw the rest of the menu and ate a healthy sandwich. I was able to sample someone else's cinnamon apple pancakes for dessert. If you've never been to The Griddle and you're in the LA area and you love pancakes, for God's sake go there. But there's always a line so make sure you have time.

Anyhow, one of the people there was Red Right Hand and eventually we got to talking about TV because that is where his brain is 93 percent of the time. Nobody knows more about genre TV than that guy.

He mentioned how much he loved Leverage and that it's his favorite new show. And I said, "What? That show SUCKS. Why is it even still on the air? How on Earth can you like that show?"

And then I stared at his blank face for a second and said "Oh wait, you said Leverage. I thought you were talking about Fringe. Yeah Leverage is good."

Because it is. The ending was a little saccharine, but the characters are good. I was trying to explain the show to Best Friend and I said (SPOILER FOR LAST WEEK'S EPISODE) "At the end the band of thieves gave all the money to a veteran in a wheel chair." When you phrase it that was it does sound remarkably cheesy.

But overall I still think the show's got legs and the characters are fantastic. Red Right Hand and I continued to talk and sort of realized there was nothing new this year that was any good except Leverage and Life on Mars. Where were all the brilliant pilots we were supposed to get out of the strike? Where did they go?

This shit better improve, TV people. If you're taking away Pushing Daisies and The Shield is over and Heroes is stumbling, you have to replace them with something. And that something is not Jay Leno.

Tomorrow: Blog Talk with Mystery Man.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Reading Material

The Black List is out. Last year's list included World War Z, The Wackness, and Burn After Reading so it will be fun to see what rises from the pack this time around. I think I'll be spending a large portion of my winter break reading some of these, starting with Once Upon a Time in Hell.

Why that film first? Because it has an awesome title. You just know with a title like that this film will be gritty and dark and violent.

Other good titles on the list include Fuck Buddies, I'm With Cancer, A Couple of Dicks, Gay Dude, The F Word, and Your Dreams Suck.

Each of those scripts sounds like it has heaping piles of personality. I see that title on a script in my pile, I'm reaching for it first. They all sound dark and cynical, but possibly very funny.

Freshly Popped makes me think of zits so I'm going to assume it's a teen comedy.

How to Be Good is a novel by Nick Hornby, who also wrote High Fidelity. It was too dark and depressing even for me, so I'll be curious to see what they do with it in script form.

There are a few scripts on the list that seem pretty easy to figure out based on title: Samurai, Sherlock Holmes, 'Til Beth Do Us Part.

And dudes, I cannot wait to read the The Gary Coleman, Emmanuel Lewis Project. You put a title like that on your script, it will be jumping off the slush pile. It also helps that it has a picture of those two dudes on the cover, even though you are never, ever supposed to do that. I think this is a definite exception.

I'll begin reading this weekend. And I'm gonna keep on reading until I've gone through my favorite titles. Then I'll report on my findings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I have to find my own voice that I already have

One of my writers group members said something interesting last meeting.

He said something to the extent of "I don't know you very well, I've only met you a couple of times but already I know you have a very distinct was of speaking. I think you should put your voice in Kate's mouth."

Kate is my female lead.

At first I took some notes and said "Oh okay." And then I said "How do I do that?"

Because see, I didn't know I talked funny. I just talk like I talk. I always thought the voice I gave my characters WAS my voice.

I say "dude" a lot. Is that what he means? Should Kate say "dude" more?

"Hey, dude, smash that zombie in the face!"

I guess.

Perhaps I should sit around and tape record myself talking to the cat.

It's easy on the blog for me to use my own voice because the character I'm playing is me, but it seems so much more difficult to nail down my voice for someone who's not me. I mean, Kate's been through some pretty harrowing shit. She spends her days on the run from the zombie hordes. Right now my biggest concern is how to get all this goddamn cat hair out of my keyboard. Every time you clean this shit out, there's always more. I think at night Cyrano the cat climbs on to my computer and rolls around on it just to fuck with me.

But I digress.

Maybe Kate should digress a lot.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Thoughts on the film: Rendition

The other night the Beefcake and I watched Rendition, a star-studded film nobody watched in the theater. I had wanted to see it as soon as I saw the first preview but for some reason I never made it to the theater either. So I Netflixed it.

The story is supposed to be about an Egyptian man who lives in America and is abducted by the US government and shipped off to Africa to be tortured for what he may know about a terrorist while his wife tries to figure out what happened to him. Then there's the second story that's about a teenage Muslim girl who gets involved in the wrong crowd of Death to America type people while her father tries to find her in the city. Both stories had terrorists and torture and people looking for other people and that's how they were connected.

At first it seemed like this was about the Egyptian guy, then suddenly it was about the girl, and they never seemed to be the same story until the very end.

I liked a lot of things about this movie, but then the end came.


Let's talk about that ending. See, this whole movie the dad has been trying to find her daughter after a bomb went off in the middle of a square. But we know his daughter has been running around with a wannabe terrorist who has only seduced her to get to her old man. Can Daddy find his daughter before her boyfriend assassinates him? A worthy question filled with possibilities, and there is a moment right toward the conclusion where Dad is thiiiiis close to finding his daughter at the same time the boy is going to blow him up and ohhhh nooooooooo.....


Except then suddenly we find out the daughter has been dead all along. She died in the bomb blast at the beginning of the film.

That certainly does seem clever. Very Sixth Sense on paper. This whole time we've been following the girl out of time and didn't know it, and then suddenly we're supposed to realize she's already dead and her father can't find her because her body is blown to bits, not because she's running around with the boy. Her story is out of time with the rest of the stories in the film.

Except instead of going oooooooooooooooh cool! and feeling like you should have seen it coming, you're more like hey what? What just happened? I don't.... wait, did she already die? Was she not in the same time as everybody else? Oh. I guess. Or something.

I think the problem is, in The Sixth Sense there were clues, and you were following along with Bruce Willis so you failed to see the same clues he failed to see. You didn't feel tricked, you felt like you should have seen it coming. But in Rendition I just felt like they fooled me by letting me think the daughter was still alive. The whole time she was in a different time period than everybody else in the movie, which is something I never would have been able to guess because all the clues leading to that were the same clues that would lead to her just running around with a boy in the city. Which is why it wasn't an AHA! moment, it was a What the fuck? moment.

I figure that whole thing was very clear on the page, but in film form it felt like someone was very in love with their cleverness. And I'm not even sure why it was necessary for the story for us to be fooled in the first place. It really screwed up what could have been an otherwise cool movie.

Monday, December 08, 2008


In the new movie Valkyrie, Tom Cruise plays a German guy with an American accent.

Officially I have no objection to this. He'll be speaking English so it makes no sense for him to fake a German accent when in reality he'd always be speaking German so to the people in the story it wouldn't sound like he had an accent.

Have you ever seen Seven Years in Tibet? Brad Pitt's accent is horrible. If he'd spoken with an American accent the movie would have been a lot better, except that David Thewlis had a good German accent and if he didn't use his accent he would have been British so either way Brad Pitt's accent would have been wrong. Maybe they should have just gotten somebody who could do an accent.

On the other hand, you have Kevin Costner in Robin Hood. Now I know people like to hate on Costner but I liked Robin Hood, and after the first few minutes you don't really notice his accent anymore, although that may be because he was in the Middle East and there were several different accents going on. Or maybe they should have cast someone who could do the accent.

Not long ago I watched The Ron Clark Story, a TV movie starring Matthew Perry as Ron Clark, this dude who wrote these books about teaching, books somebody gives me like every Christmas because he's sooooo awesome. Okay he's kinda awesome but still, give it a rest. Anyway, Ron Clark is from North Carolina but Matthew Perry is from New York. He didn't even attempt that accent. At first it bugged me, but then I got over it. I still wonder, though, could they have found someone who could do the accent?

Then you have that thing where we're used to hearing all European accents as British accents. Everybody in Rome was actually British. Come to think of it, every movie I've ever seen that takes place in Italy was actually starring British people. I blame Shakespeare.

So it's just weird, I guess, to hear that overly American Tom Cruise accent in a movie about Germans. It's befuddling a lot of people from the trailers, I know that. People are confused as to why an American is trying to kill Hitler.

I dunno. I guess I'll see it. But I'll do it with a British accent.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Thoughts on the show: Leverage

Sunday night was the premiere of John Rogers' Leverage on TNT.

Overall I liked it. It had a leap in logic or two but I really like the cast and it's got a terrific flow. It's not boring, which is key.


If somebody in the states bought the rights to the BBC show Hustle and Americanized it, that show would look an awful lot like this, but not quite as good and with fewer explosions.

I love Hustle. LOVE IT. And Leverage didn't quite have that fun spark Hustle's got. And it had this weird scene where the FBI guys didn't seem to know what they were supposed to be doing.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, this didn't seem as clean and polished as Hustle. Leverage shows promise, but felt a little unsure of itself at times.

On the other hand, it does have Christian Kane being awesome. And it does have explosions and gun battles and clever ruses.

And it was a pilot so I have to cut it some slack because shows need to find their way over time.

Maybe part of my issue is that the pilot wasn't so much about leverage as it was about revenge, so the capers the team of criminals pulls in the future will likely be somewhat different from this one. An interesting choice for a pilot.

So because of explosions and good characters and because I do so love a good heist show, I'm giving Leverage a solid B.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Time to make the donuts better

Last night was writers group so I got notes on Not Dead Yet.

The good news is, things have improved. It turns out that keeping Grandma alive a lot longer was a beautiful decision because now when I kill her people are sad. Apparently I made her pretty cool. I modeled her from my grandma who is, in fact, one of the coolest people I know.

One of the better things I changed was a scene in a pharmacy where my female lead is cornered by zombies. Originally I had a scene where she pulls out a broom handle and whacks at them until her people come to save her. Then in the middle of one of Bill Martell's seminars at the Expo I decided to rewrite that scene by figuring out all the ways you could kill a zombie in a pharmacy. I made a list. Imagine that, designing a scene out of your character's surroundings, not just some contrived bullshit. So anyway I redesigned the scene based on the list I made and instead of being a badass, she ends up cornered by the drinks fridge. And the note I got on that scene was "I really thought she was about to die."


On the downside, I still have a shitload of work to do. I need to do the same thing with my other action scenes that I did with that pharmacy. Apparently I like to write complicated action scenes that go on too long and confuse people, so I have to simplify. A clear goal, a clear sense of geography within the scene, even if it means scrapping some of my favorite jokes.

Unfortunately I also keep getting the same note over and over and even though I keep trying to fix it I guess I'm not trying hard enough: apparently my theme is still unclear. I'm hoping that some of the changes I already need to make will take care of that too because I've never been a big fan of any character standing up and waving and yelling HEY. HEY YOU. THIS IS THE THEME.

So in the end I have a lot to do here, and then I'll probably get more notes and have more work to do after that. Good thing I like zombies.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I love zombies thiiiiiiiiiiiis much

I get why George Romero does it.

While I'm waiting for today's writers group meeting so I can get notes on Not Dead Yet's newest incarnation, I'm supposed to be thinking about the other script on my docket: Fear of Clowns.

My usual creative process is to lie awake at night and tell myself the story of my screenplay until I fall asleep. Then the next night I start from where I left off and build from there until I fall asleep again. I get the best ideas this way, while I'm not trying too hard, just attempting to entertain myself until I drift away.

So last night I lay down and started to think about my little Cholo and his white friend and dogs and guns and muggings and all the other things I've got going on in my newest script, but I didn't want to. It's not that I don't like the story, because I do, but maybe I'm not sure yet how to fix the fundamental problems so I just don't want to deal with it.

But really I blame the zombies.

All I want to do all the time is think about my zombie story. Maybe that's why it's so easy to go back and revise it - I want to revise it forever and ever until the real zombie apocalypse begins. It probably won't be so much fun to think of zombies then, but at least I'll really know my game plan.

This is very dangerous, I realize. Not the impending zombie invasion, I mean, although you really should prepare. No, I mean that I just want to keep working on this script forever. It really does need work - I know that. But at some point it has to stop. I can just see myself at future studio meetings...

"What if the Bratz find this cave outside their high school and it's filled with hybernating zombies!"


"Look, Mr. Eastwood, I know this is supposed to be a story about a man who's just too stubborn to live so he goes out seeking vengeance on his dead wife's killers, but what if he is actually a zombie hybrid? What if his wife is actually a zombie and he wants to get revenge on all the zombies for destroying his marriage? Eh? Eeeeeh? Think about it, babe."


"Okay so Will Smith is the last man on Earth and there are these CGI zombie creatures that want to kill him but he and his dog try to save them by curing their disease and eating a shitload of Barilla pasta sauce. Doesn't that sound awesome?"

I think I have a problem. Is there a zombieholics anonymous program I can join?

My name is Emily and I like zombies.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Where stupid signs come from

Sometimes when I see a stupid sign I like to imagine why that sign was necessary. Like "Don't drink water out of the toilet" or "Do not put this plastic bag over your head."

You can just picture the Will Farrel comedy moment that spawned those gems.

This morning a child pointed out to me that something was wrong with the pencil sharpener. She thought maybe there was a broken off crayon in there. I thought, who would be so stupid as to put a crayon in the pencil sharpener? But it was worse.

I carefully examined what looked like a big block of pink in the hole. I bent a paper clip and dug into it.


Someone put an eraser in the pencil sharpener.

So after about five minutes with the paper clip as my filthy, graphite covered hands I finally pulled forth a chunk of pink eraser and held it aloft for all to see. Then I wrote on a bright pink post-it note that I placed on the bottom of the device: "Please do not stick erasers in the pencil sharpener."

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Getting Started part 2

Yesterday when I talked about getting started I didn't mean getting the movie started, I meant getting the PLOT started. I worded it poorly so I think almost everybody who commented talked about a kickass opening scene.

I totally agree. Every movie needs to smack you in the face in the beginning, even if smacking you in the face means a really great set of jokes or an intense emotional moment, the first scene needs to plant the theme of the story and wake the reader up.

But I was talking more about getting to the story quickly. You know how James Bond has that terrific opening where he shoots down airplanes and has sex with like thirty women while cracking wise to the bad guy, but all that introduces us more to James than it does to the story. Sometimes it relates, but some times it's just pretty explosions. The story starts later, when James gets back to headquarters and flirts with Moneypenny.

Which brings me to my point. Last night Beefcake and I watched this week's episode of Chuck, and Beefcake expressed annoyance at the fact that there were three stories in the episode, none of which had anything to do with each other. There was no common theme.

That happens all the time on TV shows, but it probably shouldn't. I was thinking about the best episodes of House, when all the stories are connected through theme. The episodes that aren't connected are still good to watch, but when they work together to tell you something, they have a much stronger impact.

So even though I love those big blasty opening James Bond scenes, I think they're stronger when they connect to the plot at large. Like Goldeneye, where the first action sequence was completely necessary to the rest of the story.

Right now my first scene is pretty kickass, but I'm wondering if I can't make it more than just an introduction to my characters and the world they live in.

I'm going to give that some more thought.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Getting started

This evening I watched Tenacious D in: The Pick of Destiny.

For the first ten minutes I was all "What the fuck is this shit?" I like Meatloaf and all, but the movie was ridiculous at first. And then when the pick came into the story it got a lot better.

The songs got better, the plot got better, the jokes got better.

It's the Napoleon Dynamite syndrome - let's just tell some silly jokes and then some time we'll eventually get around to telling a story. Too much time spent on setup and not enough time spent on the plot.

I've been thinking about that a lot today because I did a major rewrite of the zombie script this weekend and one of the issues I've been having is after my kickass violent opening, I spend a lot of time on killing grandma before I get to the actual inciting incident. I decided not to kill grandma until later so I could move up my core problem, but that still left me with some important setup.

I can still cut more if I have to, but I feel like the family dynamic that affects the rest of the story needs to be established early. Plus, I kind of packed an action scene like every thirty seconds, so the brief moment in the beginning where nobody is shouting or hacking at body parts is a deep breath to preface my awesome action thrill ride, complete with tidal wave.

After I cut and moved grandma around I ended up with my inciting incident on page 14.

I've never been a big formula person, so I'd never say I should have a certain page for a certain event. There's a woman at work who does that - she keeps talking about how she put a plot device on page whatever and a turn of events on this other page, just like Syd Field says you're supposed to, but nobody wants to read her script.

I should also add that this woman has connections coming out of her ass and still nobody wants to read her script. Lady, that should tell you something about your current talent level.

Anyhow, What do you guys think? How soon in your script do you usually like to start the events rolling? Can you think of any movies that did a good job getting things started quickly but without feeling like you're missing something? Let's have some dialogue.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My tragic fake love life

Lately, instead of watching Bridezillas marathons to procrastinate on writing, I have started playing video games. The Beefcake got me a Wii for Christmas and was impatient to play it so I already got it and bought Zelda and Mariokart and Mortal Kombat.

But today's game was Fable 2 because Beefcake also has an XBox. Let me tell you about my day on Fable.

On Fable you become a hero - in my case a sexy lady in an awesome coat - who travels around saving people and/or killing people and solving a mystery from your childhood. And along the way you can change your clothes and hair and get tattoos and get married and make babies and buy a house and put furniture in it.

I married my first husband when I was still very poor. He was a traveler and I passed him on the street and he said I was hot so we got hitched. Then I took him home to my Gypsy caravan and left him there with $20 a day and a sleeping bag on the floor.

And then three months later when I came home he left me in an angry huff.

So I decided I'd treat my second husband right. Howard was a bookseller who was shy about telling me he thought I was hot with my crossbow and my iron mace and my body tattoo. Yeah, we were different, but I like a man with smarts. He helped me find some dog training books and the attraction was clear. I bought a two story house in town and put a nice new bed in it and we tied the knot.

But even though I bought two condoms from the general store he still wouldn't have sex with me. I bought him flowers and whistled at him and even bought a lute so I could play him some music, but he still wouldn't put out even though he kept giving me health potions and saying he loved me.

So I decided to take him to his favorite place - some lake just outside of town - and see if that got his libido going, because a woman who kills as many wasps as I do needs a little nookie and I gave that man a house and a ring already.

We warp to the lake and he's all excited and he finally opens up, and it turns out old Howie really wants to buy the shop one day and start a family. Where I had been eager for a little shy guy sex, I now thought maybe I should come home to this guy more than I was planning to. Maybe I'd even buy him a nice bookcase for the house.

Then we rounded a corner and ran into some bandits, so I whipped out my mace and mowed them down. And just when I declared victory and collected my magical experience points I turned around and Howie was dead.

If that was a movie I'd be all crying and shit. But that was a video game - a VIDEO GAME. I've seen films that don't have plots that good.

I just thought that was cool and wanted to tell you guys.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I made pie today

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am thankful for the following things:

The Beefcake
My awesome apartment
I can pay my bills finally
Cyrano the cat
My friends
I'm healthy
I like my job
My students
Los Angeles is beautiful
My brand new Wii
Pecan Pie
Buffy The Vampire Slayer on DVD
My parents are supportive
My grandma
I get to write screenplays whenever I want

You know what? It might be faster if I list the things I'm not grateful for.

I am not grateful for the following things:


Wednesday, November 26, 2008


I watched Maxed Out this morning, a documentary about America's lust for credit. And before the film was even over I was on the phone with my credit card company, asking if they could lower my APR so I could pay off my balance sometime this life. Right after they lowered my rate - all I did was ask - I logged onto another credit card account and paid off my balance in full.

There's something to be said for a documentary that changes your life.

In my third period I've spent the semester talking about diet and exercise as a theme they can write about. I decided it would be better to stay on one subject that the kids need to know about rather than introducing new topics every week. So yesterday and today they watched Supersize Me and next week we start reading Fast Food Nation.

Supersize Me is another documentary that changed my life. I stopped eating fast food the day I saw that film and I've eaten very little fast food since. There was a time when I went to Taco Bell once a week, but now I occasionally visit El Pollo Loco when I forget my lunch and I don't remember the last time I ate at McDonald's.

So I'm hoping that the lessons I learned from Maxed Out stick with me.

That's a hell of a thing, don't you think? The power a film has - just a simple story about the facts and their impact on everyday Americans - to completely change your life. Somebody put up some money and did some research and carried around a camera, and my life changes for the better.

I'm not planning on making a documentary any time soon, but I'm impressed with how much of an impact a simple story can have on my life.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I've seen lately

I watched The Hulk. It was better than the Ang Lee version, but not by much. It felt like a paint by numbers action film where the plot twists were exactly what and where you thought the plot twists would be. Not terrible, but not particularly original either.

I also watched Mongol. That was really good. What was most interesting about that film is how Turmudgen, the protagonist, spends the first half of the movie running away or in prison. He is constantly attacked and loses. Yet you sense that once he figures it all out he's going to be kind of awesome, and it turns out that all that time spent running is what teaches him how to be a warrior. It breaks so many of the rules we're all taught in those beginner classes but it was miles above most of the movies I've seen lately.

Speaking of other movies I've seen lately, I tried to watch Barton Fink. I kept reading these cinematography and film studies books and they all mentioned Barton Fink like it was a movie I should have seen. And I do like the Coen brothers' work - well, about half of it. I loved O Brother, Where Art Thou? and of course Fargo and Burn After Reading. Some of their other work I never really got into, but I just kept hearing about Barton Fink. And I watched about 45 minutes of it and couldn't watch anymore.

Yeah, I know. I'm not supposed to say stuff like that. The cinematography was lovely and the actors were doing their jobs well, but I just found the whole thing to be so self-indulgent. For me, the vibe was sort of one big inside joke, like in Oceans 12 when the whole troupe thought it was so very clever to have Julia Roberts play herself. Barton Fink felt unrelatable to anyone outside the Hollywood system.

Not that you can never write a movie about making movies. State and Main is a good film because it's about small town politics. Swimming with Sharks is fantastic because it's about an employee snapping under the pressure from his crazy boss. And I guess Barton Fink was supposed to be about a guy... well what exactly is it supposed to be about? All I got is that it's about the Hollywood system. But Barton is already successful when the film starts and he has no trouble breaking into the movies - hell they beg him to come. So it's about a guy who's got a successful career trying to break into another successful career while staying true to himself. Except himself is kind of a pompous ass, just like so many people in Hollywood.

Again, I only watched 45 minutes of it so maybe I'm grossly uninformed. I took the movie out and watched Monster instead.

And whoa. I can see why Charlize Theron won the Oscar for that. Like Sweeney Todd, she a protagonist who starts out as sympathetic and then goes way too far until you know she deserves what's coming to her and all the while you're begging her to stop. That shit is not easy to pull off. And Christina Ricci - what a bitch. I love that the real monster in that film was the one who never lifted a finger to stop the horror from happening.

I also finally watched Rushmore. I love Wes Anderson.

And that is what I watched this week. This weekend I will watch JCVD even if I have to alter time and space. I'll probably just drive to the theater.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who's that guy?

I'm so glad 24 came back for a night, although now that we have DVRs the TV season is pretty random. We had Sunday's two hour episode and then the real season starts in January. Why? Idunno.

But it's still the most ridiculously fun show there is. It almost takes the sting out of the cancellation of Pushing Daisies. Almost, but not quite.

I'm sad about PD going the way of Firefly. I do think this season has faltered a bit - this last episode in particular felt lost somehow, like the premise of the show has gotten muddled in too much backstory. But sometimes shows need a bit of time to wiggle through the rough patches. But we're an impatient culture and we go straight to divorce these days, so of course we're not willing to keep a show around unless it's bringing home the bacon as consistently as it did last year.

So anyway, back to 24. I wanted to point out this nice little blunder in the season premier. Somewhere around the 33 minute mark when all the kids and Jack and that other guy are running into the woods away from the helicopter, if you pause the screen you can clearly see a camera man dressed in black, standing still as the kids run by him. Hell you don't even have to pause it to see it - he's clear as day in the middle of the damn woods.

Maybe he was some white guy shooting a documentary in a made up African country when the shit hit the fan. But I doubt it.

I know that kind of stuff happens on set but how did that get past editing? Was that the only take they had? Did nobody see that guy standing there? Did they think we wouldn't see him?

I know it doesn't matter in the scheme of things because the show is still awesome as ever and Jack is still a heroic whirlwind of violence, but you don't often see a mistake that obvious on TV these days. That's probably a good thing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Play me a screenplay

I've been thinking about structure lately.

One day when I was 9, while my parents were searching for a hobby for me to take up, they brought home a nickel Bundy flute from the flea market and handed it to me. I learned to play it.

It seems like every girl was handed a flute at some point in childhood. I hear women all the time saying, "Oh yeah, I played the flute," when what they really mean is "Oh yeah, I picked up a flute and learned to play a scale and then forgot about it."

Not me. I actually learned to play the flute. I got a better instrument eventually, but I never got the B foot or the gold plated mouthpiece like some spoiled brats who think they're so awesome but have stringy hair.

I loved my flute. I liked the low notes best and always tried to get second part so I could play the harmonies. While the other girls were coming to blows about who gets first, I would volunteer for second. A band director once said it's probably because I'm an alto, so that's the range where I am comfortable.

I had a private tutor for a while and she thought I had enormous potential, but my mom stopped paying her because she said I didn't practice enough.

But here's why I didn't practice enough. Practice is boring. All those notes and scales and dippy little runs that you have to do over and over - they are not nearly as much fun as making up your own stuff. I was part of a flute ensemble and the band director who knew nothing about flute and never really taught us anything would hand us these little Mozart quartets to play. I don't care how great people say Mozart is, I loathe the man because of how many stupid little derivative flute quartets he wrote that all sound like an inverted "Eine Kleine Nacht Musik." That's right, I said it. Mozart sucks.

Anyway, I was never a very good reader. I'd go to auditions and contests and rock the prepared piece and play the scales just fine and then I'd go into the sight reading room. For those of you who don't know what sight reading is, it's when you get a piece in front of you that you've never seen before and you have to play it right then and there. I always sounded like I'd never even seen a music note before.

But at all those auditions they never had an improv category, and that's where I would have won. I used to start off during practice playing my flute and then I'd get bored with the piece in front of me and go look out the window while I made stuff up. And my mom would say, "Wow that was really pretty," and I wouldn't tell her I wrote it. The band director would overhear me do it sometimes but he never once mentioned it. And then one day I put it to good use by joining a rock band. Those were the days.

So you may be asking yourself, what the hell does this have to do with structure? Okay here it comes.

A screenwriting mentor of sorts has recently suggested I go back to my zombie script and do a new outline to restructure my script, and a member of my writers group is always asking what outlining method you use or suggesting everybody restructure stuff, usually using the Blake Snyder method because he's obsessed with Blake Snyder.

But I find that very, very difficult.

I outline, for sure. But it's a loose outline and as soon as I start writing I veer off and let the story take me through. I always outline, don't get me wrong. I would NEVER suggest starting a story with an idea and a cup of coffee and an hour of wasted time. But I like to improv.

When I play flute I know the notes and the key and the time and the tone I'm going for, and the rest is just filling in the gaps with what sounds right. I think the same way about writing. I know the basics of the story and of course I know how to write a screenplay like I know how to play a song, but I feel trapped when I feel like I'm interpreting too close to the lines.

But I'm trying to play the song the way it's written.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The noir saga continues with Brick

I'm really enjoying my noir film series. Last week it was Vertigo and the essay question is this: Choose one of the four major characters and analyze their relationship to sin and guilt and how it affects the film as a whole. They're due tomorrow so we'll see how that goes. I told them if the majority of the class fails to turn in the assignment we will not be watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit? after Thanksgiving.

This week, however, I showed Brick. I was blown away by how into this movie they were, I think partly because they were just confused enough to want to know what was happening, but not so confused that they didn't care. Even the kid who never turns anything in and sleeps through everything was watching, except he was also annoying the shit out of everybody by asking what was about to happen every thirty seconds. I think I'll encourage him to go back to sleep.

I know my inundation with noir film is working because when the seductress walked onscreen I said, "If this is a film noir, who is she?" and I heard about five or six voices yell out, "The femme fatale!" That's how you know it's working.

I also taught them the difference between a studio film and an independent, and why everything in the film looks blue and how the empty looking school serves to heighten the isolation of the characters and how the sudden jumps from extreme close-up to extreme wide angle also move toward expressing isolation. I knew that film was good, but I don't think I realized until today how technically interesting Brick is. And now the kids realize it too.

I promised them an essay topic on Brick tomorrow, but as of right now I have no idea what I'm going to ask. I'll figure something out at the last minute. I'd like to ask them to write analyze any aspect of the film the want, because I feel like there is so much there worth examining but they can't handle that kind of vague prompt.

I really wish I could just sit around all day and show cool movies and talk about them and not have to worry about grades and shit.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pitch Q

I don't really have an appropriate picture today so I figured it was a good time for Golem Cat. Because it amuses me.


If you went to Expo this weekend you may have noticed a booth where people were filming pitches. That was the Pitch Q booth, and I think what they have going is pretty cool so I thought I'd share it.

Now normally I think a lot of the Expo booths are just trying to take your money and offer you crap in return because a foolish amateur screenwriter and his money are soon parted - see Craig Mazin's latest post for more proof of that - but Pitch Qis actually a really good idea for a new writer with a good script.

So if you don't have a good script yet, nevermind. That's why I haven't pitched with them yet. I don't feel like my script is ready. I did, but now I don't so I'm waiting until I finish my next round of work on Not Dead Yet before I pitch it.

Anyway, if you have a good script this is how it works. You film a pitch of your script - if you don't have the equipment to do it yourself, Pitch Q has a place in town - and you upload it onto the website. Producers are able to browse the pitches and find what they're looking for.

So here is why I recommend the site, especially for people out of town who have no access to industry parties: In the eight months this site has existed, six writers who've uploaded pitches have either had their scripts optioned or landed assignment jobs. And when you think about the odds, that's pretty damn impressive.

Mel Scott, who owns Pitch Q, also offers pitch coaching. At first I was skeptical. I don't need no help, dammit. I got personality. But then I sent him my initial idea for a pitch and he gave me some tips and I thought - okay, yeah, he's right.

It doesn't hurt that of the six writers who have gotten jobs or options from posting on Pitch Q, four of them were coached by Mel.

It's pricey to be sure, but if you feel ready to pitch and isolated from opportunity, this is a genuine option. It's not a scam, it does have a success rate, and the good news is even if you don't have any money, you can still go on the site and create a profile and just look at other people's pitches. You can learn a lot about what works and what doesn't work by seeing how other writers do it.

Anyway, check it out. It's a pretty good option - much more effective than plaguing the town with query letters.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Open scene

Congratulations to Mike! Red Right Hand won one of two awards given out to TV episodes at the Expo. He got a plaque and some money so we made him buy us pizza. Not really. We split the pizza.

Anyway, here is my Open script that didn't win. For those of you who've never been to the Expo or done the Open, it works like this. You go into a big room and some people give you a prompt and you write a scene in 90 minutes. And then the top 10% come back and do it again. And then the top 10, or in the case of this year, 13, come back Sunday to write a third scene. The top three of those get performed by a group of actors on stage. The audience votes and the winner gets the prize.

So here is the prompt I got:

Your PROTAGONIST is someone not well-regarded by the community. In fact, the protagonist's past is dark indeed, although he (or she) has turned over a new leaf. Write a scene in which an ANGRY MOB confronts him at the worst possible time.

And here is what I wrote:


CRAIG, 23, stands in the middle of the kitchen with a piece of brown birthday cake dribbling out of his mouth. He is dressed entirely in Abercrombie and holds a half-consumed beer in one hand while he shoves cake into his cake hole with the other.

Until he sees GENEVIEVE, also 23, as she walks into the kitchen and stops suddenly.

Someone in the other room begins to blast "Highway to Hell" and several off-key voices sing along with enthusiasm.

But Gen ignores them as a seething rage boils up into her face.

Craig stops eating the cake. He spits the last piece out and it falls to the floor.



I am going to kill you, you fucking tard nut!


He quickly swallows whatever cake is left in his mouth as he grabs the closest weapon, the plastic fork he has been using to break off bits of cake. He aims it at Gen.

It was an accident!

Gen looks at the cake, or what's left of it. On top of the smeared brown icing remains only this in yellow letters:


Gen starts moving toward him, her blue eyes looking like tiny little light saber beams.

It was too good! I couldn't stop myself!

Gen continues to advance, paying no heed to the plastic fork. She stops and reaches into a drawer beside her and slides out a long, shiny knife.

You see this, you big douchenozzle? This is what I was going to use to cut Dominic's cake. Now I will use it to cut off your-

But I've changed! Gen, I'm a new man!

He doesn't let go of the fork.

Remember that time I ate Dom's cake? That was old Craig! New Craig would never do that!

You're saying you've changed?


From who you were three minutes ago?

That guy was a dick. This guy is all sunshine and rainbows, baby.

She pulls the knife up to his face.

Craig throws the fork at her and backs away as it clatters to the floor. Then he thinks, then tosses the whole beer. It hits her in the neck then plashes her face.

Craig uses the distraction to whip around and flee from the kitchen.


Craig runs into the party, chocolate icing still on his chin, and slows to a casual stroll.

Hey, guys!

The music is still loud and people casually acknowledge him, There are about 15 early-twenties guests, mostly preoccupied with watching Dominic the body-builder attempt a keg stand on a pony keg.

Gen appears in the room, still holding the knife.

Get him! HE ate Dom's cake!

But that was the old me! Learn to forgive! Turn the other cheek, right?

But nobody can hear over the noise. Gen marches toward Craig, knife still in hand.


He pushes people out of the way to get to the door. Just as he's almost there the song ends.

Craig ate Dom's cake!

The entire party turns to face Craig. Dominic coughs up beer.

Is this true?

Technically, but I said I was sorry and all and I really learned from it and-


The entire party rushes Craig, who screams again and tries to escape.

Gen appears in front of him, still wielding her knife and barring him from the door.

There is no escape for you, cake eater!

The crowd shouts in agreement.

Cake eater! Cake eater!

As the crowd closes in, Gen stands back and pulls a piece of cake out of her pocket. She chews apathetically on it while Craig disappears into the chanting mob.

And here was the coverage:

The best part of the scene is the disproportionate outrage and false sincerity of Craig's actions. A little more indication of social standing or backstory could clarify the "not well regarded by the community" aspect. The scene could do more to expand the conflict between Craig and the mob (especially from Dominic, whose genuine pain could get more mileage). Otherwise, it's a fun, lively scene with strong mechanics and good presentation. Keep up the good work.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another year, another missed second round

I began my morning getting punched in the throat by a 25 lb medicine ball. It did not feel good. You have to be careful when you let Beefcakes teach you weight training lessons because sometimes they don't realize that you cannot catch a 25 lb medicine ball when it's thrown at your neck with full momentum.

Then I went to the Expo.

I did the Open. The prompt was basically this: Your protagonist is someone unloved by society but has changed his ways. Now he is confronted by an angry mob.

So at first when I went in I thought it would be a good idea to try making up some character details and backstory to save time so all I had to do was alter a character I already created. So I planned to use what happened to me with the medicine ball that morning.

When I read the prompt I started to write a story about a former beauty queen who has aged and gotten fat and wants to get back to being beautiful so she takes a weight training class but everybody else in the class resents her and attacks her with medicine balls.

But I got about a page and a half in and realized it was boring as hell.

I have a formula for short films. Not on purpose, mind you, but I've noticed that all my shorts have a common style: an unnecessarily extreme reacting to events, a gun or knife used to threaten, quirkily repetitive dialogue a la Pushing Daisies.

This beauty queen thing was not my style.

So I walked up to Jim Cirile and asked him if I could have a new copy of the prompt. And I just started writing with a vague idea of a story and no outline.

I'll post the pages tomorrow together with my coverage, but for now I'll just share a lesson I learned.

I was about four pages in when I decided this was crap too. It was better crap, but I felt a little confused since I didn't outline. So I figured I had already lost so I rushed the last couple of pages, didn't reread it and threw it in the basket up front.

And when I got it back the score was 89. The cutoff for the top 10% was 91.

So I learned a few lessons from this. First of all, I'm getting better. Last year I got an 86 I think. I also need to learn to maybe not be so damn critical because I write better than I think I do, but also trust my instincts because that first attempt really was bad and if I hadn't started over I would have gotten a much lower score. But maybe if I hadn't determined my suckiness I might have written the ending better, and the ending is what kept me out of the top 10%.

And the truth is, when I picked up my script three hours after I wrote it I reread it and realized it was a lot better than I had originally thought, so clearly I need to cut myself some slack.

I'll post it tomorrow or Monday.