Friday, February 29, 2008
Today is the last day of the semester and I have eight hundred bazillion thousand million and seven things to do today, but I have to post something or you fickle bastards will forget I exist.
So since I have built up some excitement about zombies I will share a bit from the old zombie script. I plan to work the second draft this weekend when the chaos has subsided.
So here's a scene from the third act.
INT. OLIVIA'S BEDROOM - NIGHT
Zeke closes his eyes and readies himself to pull the trigger.
Olivia's eyes flash open and she knocks her head against the gun, knocking it out of Zeke's hand onto the floor. She kicks at Zeke, who slips and falls, unable to catch himself fast enough with his one good hand.
Olivia pulls against her restraints, moaning.
She slips out of them and rolls onto the floor between him and the gun.
Zeke backs up. She lies on the floor, crawling toward him.
He tries to reach up for the knife on the table but she catches him by the leg with her zombie grip. He struggles to get away but he can't. He grabs the edge of the knife but it falls off the table onto the floor just out of reach.
Olivia, let me go!
Just as he grabs the knife she takes a bite out of his ankle. He shouts and pulls free, holding the knife up at her.
She lets him go and looks at the door.
She stands and walks out of the room.
Zeke slides back against the wall, staring at his bleeding foot. He stares at the knife.
And he puts it down.
Blessed are the dead.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
The final exam for my class was to watch Batman Begins and analyze its portrayal of the Hero's Journey. Because I'm that kind of teacher.
I'm not even gonna break it down and give you little snippets because this time, there's a clear winner. The thing about the essay that follows is that the student who wrote it is a good writer. She once wrote an excuse for why her paper was late that was moving and interesting and well written and I totally fell for it even though it was complete bullshit. So the girl can spin a tale.
Unfortunately she can't pay attention to anything for more than five minutes, even a comic book movie with Christian Bale.
Here is her essay:
Well, this film named "Batman Begins" by "Henri Ducart" started in the city of Gotham. It's about this guy that his name is Bruce Wayne, born in a special birth but he doesn't know it nor his parents. He was born to be Batman but his fear are bats. He is so afraid of bats that one day he fell into this hole where alot of bats lived and then he called his parents for help to rescue him from the bats. But then after he was rescued there happened something like a crush so then both of his parents had to die. So then he stayed orphan and some guy named R'as Al Ghul started to take him and train him and guided him to the world of Batman. He got this special gift from R'as Al Ghul after he got left orphan then he started to know that the world was bad and because of this we could tell that this film does follow the Hero's Journey because he had to go through a lot of trouble and overcome his fear in order to obtain that special gift of being "Batman."
Furthermore when he becomes "Batman" he rescues this lady named Rachel the one he likes and the one he felt was his goddess figure. He rescued her from some gas poison some guy threw at her and Bruce helped her out. He also meets this guy who burns down the building and tell him and reminds him all about his parents and then he gets sad. Also when he rescues the lady, the lady gets happyand she asks the guy for his name but he doesn't tell her
And that's it. That's the end. I even let her take the paper to her next class to finish it but that's all there is.
I should also add that this is the first essay the child has turned in all semester - I assigned four. She also came up to me at the beginning of the exam to tell me that she didn't take good notes when I went over the material and can I explain it again? And there were two other questions she could have answered.
And there were very good essays this time because overall my students are improving but nobody wants to read the good ones. They're not as much fun.
Anyway, react appropriately.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
It's the end of the semester and that means essays. Here are some of my favorite excerpts.
This assignment was to interview someone who represents the American dream and write an article about them and their struggles. The students had to use quotes from the person.
She also came to the United States to make a better life for her "children." She works hard so that her "children" could get a "good education." Because when she used to be little she did not "finished school" in "Mexico."
This is an assignment to research the presidential candidates and write an expository essay about why you would vote for that candidate.
1) These esay I am going to write is about the election for presidential. The essay is going to be about the presiden I am voteing and why I am going to vote for that person. Then after I tell the reason I voted for that person then I will be done with my essay.
2) Hillary if elected president, she will be prepared to handle problems like her husband did in the 90's. Hillary will be in the presidency as two figure heads, both her and her husband. And that is a good thing. I believe this because Hillary will be receiving good advice from her well experienced husband.
3) The dropout rate is going higher, and teachers leave after their 5 first years of teachings (some).
That doesn't mean all the essays had major problems. Some were relatively logical and well written. These are just the ones that made me slap myself on the head.
(On a side note, with grades due this week I've had no time for anything, so if you emailed me and I haven't responded it's not because I'm ignoring you. It's because I'm hip deep in essays like these.)
Monday, February 25, 2008
I have a website for my production company so this blog will be moving soon. There's nothing on the website right now except the logo so I won't direct you there until there's something substantial to look at.
But here is my logo, designed by a student of mine named Ricardo. I changed it because my designer added color:
*This is my corporate logo. You may not use it for your own purposes.
But here is my logo, designed by a student of mine named Ricardo. I changed it because my designer added color:
*This is my corporate logo. You may not use it for your own purposes.
I'm happy for Diablo Cody. I think now she can probably afford a dress that doesn't make her look like a stripper. But really, that was pretty cool. She's a true representation of the American dream.
Now in honor of last night's no-surprise-at-all win by Daniel Day Lewis, I give you this reenactment of the now famous Milkshake scene, created by a man who goes by the name of Toshiro Mifune's Letter Opener:
Now in honor of last night's no-surprise-at-all win by Daniel Day Lewis, I give you this reenactment of the now famous Milkshake scene, created by a man who goes by the name of Toshiro Mifune's Letter Opener:
Sunday, February 24, 2008
As you know it's Oscar day. I've got a couple of people coming over to watch it with me. I'm making finger food but first I have to go back to the store to get the damn cream cheese I forgot yesterday.
Anyway, I'm not going to make predictions because I have learned from posting on Scott the Reader's weekly box office prediction posts that I am lousy at making predictions.
I haven't seen most of the films this year and I've only read a few of the scripts anyway, so I'm in no position to judge.
I feel like we are missing a category at the Oscars. That category is Most Awesome Film Ever Since the Last Awesome Film.
What defines an Awesome Film? You're watching it and you think to yourself: this is the most awesome thing I have ever seen.
You can do it in a Butthead voice too. That makes it cooler.
Payback deserved and Awesome Award. The Transporter deserved an Awesome Award. But not the second one. The second one was crap. But the first one was Awesome.
This year I bequeath Emily Blake's Awesome Award to Shoot 'Em Up.
I watched it last night and have decided it's the best movie ever since the last time I said that, which was like two weeks ago when I went to see In Bruges.
It's riddled with ridiculously cool and impossible action stunts that just flat-out rock. Plus, there's a baby and a hooker and everybody's got a little hinted backstory that lets us know there's something else under the surface but we don't have time to go there because we're too busy shooting people while fucking freefalling in a skydive.
And the carrot thing. The first scene of Clive Owen's character you see him chowing on a carrot (which I especially loved since the badass in Game Night also eats carrots). But it's not just a character quirk, it also serves a purpose. He uses a carrot as a weapon like eight times in the movie. I didn't know you could shove a carrot through the back of a guy's skull but apparently you can.
This year two of the top contenders at the Oscars are blood baths, but I still feel like there should be a separate category for those that manage to take out all that sappy meaning shit and leave with all awesome, all the time. I want an Awesome Award.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
The last post spawned some discussion about the purpose of a screenplay. Obviously if it's a screenplay by the Cohen brothers, they know it's going to get produced and they'll have a great cast and blah blah blah awesome.
But the rest of us usually don't get so lucky.
So what is a screenplay for, anyway? If you're not already an A-List writer, I mean.
There's that old "blueprint" theory. It's a blueprint. It's a document for building your movie with all the pieces listed in clinical description so all the construction workers can follow along and do their part correctly under the watchful eye of the contractor. If the blueprint is off, the house will fall unless the contractor does some quick calculations on the spot to fix it. And if a construction worker decides to ignore the blue print he might create a cool new breakfast nook or an unstable support and the whole thing could come crashing down.
That's a pretty good metaphor right there.
But a screenplay also has to be read. It's not a novel, but that doesn't mean it shouldn't still feel like a story. I feel like a script is good if I can see the events in my head. If I have such a good grasp of the characters that I laugh at the jokes on the page or I get nervous over the possibility of death around the corner.
If you're directing your own material of course it doesn't have to be as exacting as a spec you're hoping to pass around town, but even then you still want your actors, your DP, your prop guy, your costume designer and everybody else to be able to read it and understand it and hopefully also feel passionate. Movies are always better when every person involved is there out of love. And if your script is simply a scientific document - well, it's kind of hard to love a script written by the numbers.
The best screenplays I've read - Little Miss Sunshine, Sideways and The Matrix being in the top three, give you a very clear sense of what's going on and a ton of personality. When I read those screenplays I feel the right vibe coming off of them. I sense not only what the story is, but what attitude it has. I know exactly what this film should be when it's all put together.
So I think a good script should stand on its own to some degree. Obviously it's mean to be produced just like a play. Even without the actors Romeo and Juliet is still moving, but it's inspiring enough to want people see the possibilities and want to put the thing together. A good script should do the same no matter who you're writing for.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I've been trying to get in the habit of reading at least one screenplay each week. I'm going to try to set aside at least one day each week on the blog to talk about that screenplay and maybe share anything I may have learned from it. We'll see how long that lasts.
A few days ago I finished the first draft of Not Dead Yet, and since I'm waiting until Sunday to start my first revision just to give me a little distance, I quelled my zombie jones with a little World War Z. It's a really good script, scary and tragic in parts and with a clear sense of theme, but it doesn't beat you over the head with the point.
But what I really want to talk about is the screenplay for No Country for Old Men.
I have not seen the film, but I'm sure it's a fine piece of cinematic spectacle. The action is constantly pushing the story forward and the characters are interesting and there's plenty of cool dialogue.
BIG OLD SPOILERS AHEAD
For example, check out this scene with CHIGURH* (The Bad Guy) and some road side PROPRIETOR:
Chigurh is digging in his pocket. A quarter: he tosses it. He slaps it onto his forearm but keeps it covered.
Just call it.
Well -- we need to know what it is we're callin' for here.
You need to call it. I can't call it for you. It wouldn't be fair. It wouldn't even be right.
I didn't put nothin' up.
Yes you did. You been putting it up your whole life. You just didn't know it. You know what date is on this coin?
Nineteen fifty-eight. It's been traveling twenty-two years to get here. And now it's here. And it's either heads or tails, and you have to say. Call it. A long beat.
Look... I got to know what I stand to win.
You stand to win everything. Call it.
All right. Heads then.
Chigurh takes his hand away from the coin and turns his arm to look at it.
Here's the thing that's pretty brilliant about that scene. Chigurh is flipping the guy for his life. You know enough about this guy to know that he's letting this coin toss determine whether or not he comes back to the house later tonight and murders the Proprietor. But he never has to say a word about it. That's terrific characterization.
I have a major problem with this script. Half the time I have no idea what the hell is going on. I assume this is a Cohen thing - I've never read one of their scripts before - but the exposition tends to be a bit hard to follow at times. For one thing there are places where a character we've been introduced to is listed as MAN for a while for no real reason since I'm assuming we'll know it's the same guy when we see him on screen.
Speaking of which, there are a LOT of characters and dead bodies listed as "Man," which gets mighty confusing since half the time I thought two people were one person and vice versa.
But it's little stuff like this I had the hardest time with:
The truck stops and Moss opens the passenger door and swings the case in and climbs in after. The driver, an older man, gapes at him, frightened.
I'm not going to hurt you. I need you to-
The windshield stars.
A quick second round pushes part of the windshield in.
"The windshield stars"? As clever as that may sound, it's confusing. I had to stop a second and reread the line because I wasn't sure what it meant. So I was like, huh? Wha.... oooh.
Wells looks at Chigurh, waiting for a decision.
The low chug of the shotgun.
Aside from his finger on the trigger, Chigurh hasn't moved. He sits staring at Wells's remains for a beat.
Again, very poetic and in the moment, but it took me a second to figure out what happened. I was like, did he just.... was that.... oh, okay. He's dead.
There are also scenes where I have a hell of a time trying to figure out where the characters are in relation to each other or the geography of a room in a scene where that information would be immensely useful.
Part of me wants to chalk that up to style points and get over it. But part of me does not like the way I had to constantly pay close attention to understand what the hell was going on in this script. The story should flow like a story, not feel like an assignment for my college English class.
Is it just me?
*Isn't Chigurh a great villain name? It's memorable, different and it reminds me of chiggers. And for those of you who didn't grow up wandering barefoot in backwoods North Carolina, chiggers are tiny little bugs that crawl in your skin and make you itch.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
The other day Leif asked about different approaches to different lengths of script. I can't speak for everybody, of course, but I have my own view of the subject so I will address it now.
I like television, short and feature length scripts. At the moment my shorts are probably stronger than the other two, but every day I work a little harder to pull features up to par. One day I'll concentrate on TV again. Unless somebody pays me to write features, then I'll pretend I didn't even know television.
All three genres require a different approach. With short films you have to focus. You have one story, one major theme, a limited amount of space and time and you need to move quickly. That film better go as soon as you hit play and not quit until the credits. No time for side trips or pondering, and it's always better if you have some kind of surprise twist at the end.
That's why I'm good at shorts. I'm the champion of the fast-paced opening. My stories always begin with a fight or a rescue or some kind of urgent situation, and that's really what makes a good short film: urgency.
Television is all about structure. You have to study the show you're speccing carefully, analyse the act outs and how many act breaks there are. Is there a B plot? Is there a C plot? Do those plots connect or are they separate entities? What is this show truly about? What is the common thread between every episode?
You have to study. Hard. You have to make the episode sound original while copying someone else - not an easy task. For advice from a much more knowledgeable head than mine, read Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing, linked over in the sidebar.
If you're writing a pilot you get to be the one to set the rules, but that's not any easier. You have to know where you're going in episode two, episode four, season two. How will you sustain your story? My biggest problem in television these days has been my frustrating inability to use cuss words.
If you've read any of my work you may have noticed my overwhelming desire to use the word "fuck" as often as possible.
Actually that's not accurate anyway. My current stumbling block with television has been my overwhelming desire to write features.
Features require logic, patience, a well-developed backstory. Sure, there's structure, but your acts are loose. The pace may start out fast, but you have to learn to back it off or you'll lose the impact of big events. You have to make sure you have enough story to easily take up 110 pages without so much that you're fudging fonts to make the script look smaller.
When I write a short I take an idea, I write it in a day, I revise it a few times and I move on. Honestly I think shorts are more fun than anything in the world.
When I write a TV episode I research the hell out of the show and rewrite over and over until it feels perfect. When I write a feature project I spend ages planning and contemplating and note carding and rethinking before I jump in. And halfway through I change my mind about all kinds of things I thought I had all figured out.
So yes, I think you have to approach each style of writing differently. Maybe that's why people are so adamant that you pick one and stick to it.
However, no matter which type of script you write, the same approach to character development and story still apply.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Like every other aspiring screenwriter with a little know-how, I occasionally get asked to read a friend's script and give them notes. Now we all know I'm not an A-list writer or anything but I do think I'm pretty good at figuring out what's lacking in a script and suggesting ways to fix it. It's a lot like what I do at work.
When I give notes I never make any observations without also giving a suggestion, because "this doesn't work" doesn't help much without "but it could if you put it in the first ten pages."
Sometimes I think you can tell a person's writing experience level by how they handle notes. About a year ago a newbie writer friend gave me a script to read and when I told him it required deep, fundamental changes he shrugged and thanked me and let me know he would be taking none of my suggestions.
Even though I told him he was wasting his effort, he submitted the script to Austin. Surprise! It didn't win anything. Then he gave up writing altogether and moved back home.
Not that I've won anything either, but I do always try to listen to the criticism if I've asked for it and I refuse to submit a script to any producer or contest unless I feel comfortable with the reception it gets from others as well as me.
I have one exception. A few people don't get Game Night. I decided long ago that after making many changes and feeling good about the state of the script I love the story too much to worry about those people who still don't understand. I stuck to my guns on that, but I know why I was sticking to my guns and I'm aware that there will be people who will continue to not get it. If David Lynch can do it, so can I.
And man, don't get me started on Mullholland Drive and the aneurysm it gave me.
Once in a workshop class in college there was a big dude named Elton. I knew he'd be trouble the very first day when the prof had us write down the names of our favorite writers. Elton raised his hand and asked "Can you put yourself?"
Every time we workshopped one of Elton's stories all he did was argue. We didn't understand his genius, see, and if we only understood we'd see how great the story is. Sometimes he would shout.
Then the professor told Elton we couldn't workshop any more of his stories unless he shut up. So Elton shut up and we finally were able to tell him just how much his stories sucked.
But if nobody tells you your stories suck, how are you ever going to make them not suck?
It's a miserable feeling when you spend all this time and energy and love writing a screenplay that everybody tells you is crap. You cry. You panic. You try to start over but it seems hopeless. You tell yourself you're a lousy writer. You tell yourself they don't know anything.
And that's where you see what you're really made of. Because at that point you have two choices - 1) admit that you're not a genius yet and fix the problem so you can become one or 2) tell yourself they're idiots and they'll be sorry when you sell this brilliant piece for a billion dollars.
If you choose option 2 you have only yourself to blame when you fail.
If you want me to read your screenplay expect me to give you notes. And if you read my notes, expect them to be brutal. I'm not a gentle note-giver. I will tell you what's good, but I will rip that bandaid right off on the bad stuff because I don't have time to worry so much about your feelings when I'm trying to figure out why your script is so boring. And yes, I will use the word "boring".
But I will always give you a suggestion on how to fix it.
That doesn't mean I'm right about everything, but I am right about a lot of things, and if I have a problem with a part of your script I guarantee an agent or producer will too.
Never give me a script expecting me to glow over how wonderful it is. I care about you too much to let you live in denial. And I expect you to burst my bubble all the way in return.
Because I frequently suck, but I'll suck a lot less if somebody points out my suckitude and tells me how to fix it. So buck up and thicken your skin and take the notes like a man. And mix your metaphors if you want to.
But the only way to get awesome is to figure out why you suck first.
Monday, February 18, 2008
In LA there's a film festival every other weekend. This past weekend it was the Show Off Your Shorts festival at Raleigh Studios. Since that place is a ten minute walk from my apartment and I knew Christopher Stack's An Exercise in Vigilance was playing, I called up Michael and we trucked over there for the Saturday screenings.
And I learned. Oh how I learned.
I learned that shorter is relative. So many "shorts" were waaaaaaaaay too long. There was an animated short that Mike loathed but I didn't mind until it kept going and going until I was squirming in my chair, praying for the end.
There was a short about beatnick homeless people who are awesome because rich people suck. Know how I know that was the point? Because it was beaten into me with a frying pan of obviousness. It was 28 minutes long.
There was a short about an Australian girl who did lots of drugs and screwed up her life. The entire film was told in voice over. There wasn't really a plot, just a girl riding around town on a bus talking about how she wished she could change. And the audio was terrible.
That was a major problem in several of the bad shorts - terrible audio. But there was one short that had terrible audio and really dark lighting and still came out a win because it was only a few minutes and it had a clever, cute story.
Because that's the other problem - too many filmmakers try to make their shit IMPORTANT. There was so much pretension going on in that screening room I wanted to throw things.
THIS IS MY POINT! ISN'T IT IMPORTANT?!!!! is maybe not the best way to go about telling your story.
That doesn't mean every short was bad. There were some really amazing pieces there. One short, Nonplussed, was nothing but two people in car for 13 minutes. The drama between them was so intense and the acting and camera angles were brilliant, so the story didn't feel too long at all. I'm glad I didn't read the logline before I watched the film though. People, if you have some bit of surprise in your story, don't announce it in your logline.
Speaking of surprise, I am relieved to say that An Exercise in Vigilance is awesome. I was a bit worried that I'd have to fake liking it - the way you do, you know - but there is nothing fake about my joy. It gets in, gets out, entertains and has a perfect surprise ending.
Plus, the guy who plays Mark is hot and any time a director can give me hotness to look at things are always better.
Other films were really good. Eli is a sci-fi action story starring David Anders. I was completely riveted the entire length of the film. Confessions of a Slacker was hilarious and did a brilliant job of making a point without shoving it in my face. Bombay Skies was a clever film that tips the American dream on its head complete with Bollywood dance numbers.
I just wish I didn't have to sit through all that crap to get to the good. But then again, I learned from the crap so that makes it good.
All in all, I'm glad I went. I learned from the good films and from the bad. Next film festival on the calendar: The Beverly Hills fest in two weeks, where SoCal Film Group's Children of Scum is playing.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
I got a couple of questions the other day relating to my education as a writer so I thought I'd address those today.
I grew up in a house of educators. Both my parents are teachers and I went to a school where academics was everything. Your SAT score was more important than who you were taking to the prom. I worked on the school newspaper. I wrote poems and songs and short stories in my spare time.
Then I went to college and majored in English with a concentration in creative writing and graduated in three years.
Then I looked around at the real world and decided I didn't want any part of it.
So I went back to school for another year and a half and got my MA in creative writing. I wrote a collection of historical fiction for my thesis.
Then I graduated. Then when I decided to become a teacher less than a year later I had to take more classes. And I have spent my life since in a classroom teaching.
So education's nice and all, but I'm retardedly sick of it. No more classes. Except Spanish class because I'm sick of not being able to talk to parents.
I learned a lot about story while I was getting my degrees. It was really valuable and my thesis director was awesome, but when I left that school I was still a beginner. I learned much more by hanging out with writers and reading blog posts and screenplays and writing.
And more writing. Writing is the answer. Every time you write something you get a little better and relax a little more about the rules and expectations. And after a few scripts you start to figure out your style.
I'm choppy. Oddly enough I kind of hate Hemmingway's work, but here I am emulating his style. Fragment sentences, short paragraphs. I'm not sure how it happened but it's my style so I embrace it.
And the day I embraced it I found it much easier to write. I don't stop and start much, I just go straight through. I start on page one and go to page last, and then I go back and fix the things that need fixing.
And I'm done when I a) feel satisfied the cohesion of the script, can't think of any ways to improve it, and the criticism from friends is nothing but tiny tweaks here and there; or b) when I dread working on the script. If B happens I move on to a new project and chalk the previous disaster up to another script that will help make me a better writer.
Because there's no point in working on something if you don't like it. I write because I enjoy writing; why would I want to write something that feels like boring work?
That's why I write action. I ain't the kind of girl who's going to win Oscars for deep, emotional dramas that make you cry. If you cry in my film it's because you're really sad that the funny guy got his head blown off.
It's taken a lot of false starts to get there, but I'm pretty sure of who I am as a writer.
And as for my education, I enjoy sitting in on lectures sometimes at the Expo, but I'd much prefer to sit around with a bunch of writers and talk one on one than sit in another classroom.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
Yesterday Christina asked what my goal as a writer is. So today I will answer.
I want to get paid. I want to quit my job as a teacher and write screenplays full time. That is my goal. Anything else I do is just a method to reaching that goal. I don't care if it's TV or film, if someone is willing to pay me to write something action-oriented with good characters and effective drama, I will take it.
Lately I've decided to put more time into film specs. But if the TV opportunity comes along I also want to be prepared because I love both forms.
I'm not planning on directing. I was an okay director. I work pretty well with the actors. But I think the main reason the short is looking really good is because I surrounded myself with people who know way more than I do and did what they needed to whether I gave the order or not. The reason they were all there is because apparently I am an awesome producer.
So I wouldn't mind producing but I don't think directing is in my future. I directed the short because I wanted to experience it and see if I was cutout for the job, and more importantly because I now will have a produced version of my work.
The short route is a way to get your writing some attention. In this business you can write the greatest screenplay in the world but it won't matter unless you can get it into someone's hands. And that means exposure. So I write this blog, and every time more of you lovely people read my ramblings it means a greater chance someone who can give me a job will see it.
I also write this blog because if I didn't I'd explode from trying to keep all my ramblings contained. Plus, I've made some great friends through the blogosphere.
I produced and directed a short film. That means when it's finished I can take it to festivals. At those festivals I can meet other filmmakers and producers and maybe someone will see it and go, what else you got?
In the meantime I write as many scripts as I can so that when opportunity knocks I'll be ready. Because opportunity will knock after you've called it a bunch of times and asked it to come over.
That's the big difference between living in LA and other places. In other places you have to submit your scripts to contests and query agents or nobody will know you exist. But agents are largely a waste of time unless you have a specific connection and contests? I've entered a few but haven't won anything yet. I don't bother too much with contests because only a few of them really matter.
I'll enter zmbie script in the Nicholl but let's be realistic - it's a zombie script. I don't know how well it will compete with Alzheimer's Grandmother Living in the Basement story.
If you live in LA, thought, you don't have to worry so much about contests and agents. In LA you go out and you meet people. And I have. And eventually I'll develop a reputation of being really good at well-developed action scripts and someone will mention my name at the right time in the right place and I'll be on my way. That's what I'm waiting for, and in the meantime I'm putting myself in a position to make sure enough people know my name in that context.
That's my view of it. But it's easy for me to wait and build contacts because I actually like my day job and make almost enough money at it to make ends meet.
But there are eight hundred ways to break into this industry so everybody's got their own. Feel free to share your theory.
Tomorrow I'll answer part two of Christina's question and Leif's question because I think they're connected.
Today I'm going to the Show Off Your Short film festival three blocks from my apartment.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Question: How many scripts does it take to get good?
Answer: Infinity. Or one. Or forty. Or six.
I can't shut off my imagination. At night when I'm bored I imagine what it would be like to be on an adventure somewhere fighting for survival or uncovering a terrorist plot.
In college I mostly shined at creative nonfiction but I could never stop wanting to make up stories. My thesis director always wished I'd stick to nonfiction. I refused.
Then I graduated and stopped having a push to write.
One day I thought up a story about a girl who is the only survivor of a space ship that crash landed with only children on board. Lord of the Flies meets War of the Worlds meets Cast Away meets an episode of Star Trek.
I kept planning to write the novel. And I kept planning and planning and planning until I had a whole story and no words on paper to prove it.
Then I read Bruce Campbell's incredibly inspirational first book (referenced in my sidebar) and discovered that people actually write movies down. So I looked up the format and asked all the standard newbie questions and in one day I had twenty pages of my story in a Microsoft Word file.
And it was easy and fun and on the page. And it was mediocre. But it was my first. I actually got an agent interested with the logline but I never heard back. And I'm glad because I wasn't ready.
I moved to LA. I wrote a script about a teacher who's secretly a badass martial artist who leads a bunch of kids out of the ghetto one night while they're being chased by gang members. I wonder where I got that idea?
It was awful. Then I wrote half a script about something I don't even remember. Then I wrote another half a script about something else I don't remember.
Then I turned to television. I wrote a pretty good Lost script that became obsolete two months later. I wrote a really good House script. I wrote half a Supernatural. Then I wrote another half a Supernatural. Then I wrote another half a Supernatural. Then I gave up on Supernatural.
I tried to write a My Name is Earl but it wasn't funny. Then a month later they used my plot so I'm really glad I only wrote five pages.
Then I wrote a pilot about a guy who's recruited into the mafia. It was a great idea but I was too lazy to do research and you could tell.
Then I cowrote a pilot about the aftermath of a school shooting. It was a great idea but it never felt right. And since there's a school shooting every couple of months, it will never be commercially viable until I have a proven record of pulling off edgy material. That ain't happening any time soon.
Then I discovered short films and found out I was really good at them. I co-wrote one, then I wrote another one, then another until Writing Partner and I turned them into a feature. Then I wrote some more. Now I write shorts just for fun when I'm bored. I have about eight I'd be proud to show anybody.
Now I'm writing my zombie flick. Will it be good? I don't know. I think so. I feel so. I've had much more fun with this than anything else I've written. I feel like I know what it takes to tell a good story, like I've learned a ton from what didn't work in all those crappy features.
So I don't know how many screenplays you have to write before you stop sucking. How many did it take you?
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Last night I was talking to someone about the film Braveheart. That reminded me of the time I first saw the movie. It was all wrong.
It was back when movies came on VHS. Braveheart came on two tapes because it was so damn long. so I pulled out the tape in slot one and put it in the VCR. Then I went to the kitchen to make a snack and when I came back the movie had started. Some girl was walking through some trees so I sat down, thinking I had missed all the previews.
Then people started torturing Mel Gibson. I kept waiting for the flashbacks to begin to explain what the hell was going on.
Then he died.
And I went, What?
I put in tape two. Except it was tape one. I watched the damn movie backwards.
So I've never been able to fully appreciate the film because it was ruined for me from frame one.
During Spiderman 2 when Spiderman is being lifted by the people on the train car and crowd surfed to a soft landing my date leaned over and whispered, "The passion of the Spiderman," and I laughed. Except that now I can't watch that scene without thinking of the Passion of the Spiderman.
I saw Ransom in the theater. At the end when the cops shoot Gary Sinese's character a dude in the theater yelled out in a thick Southern accent: "Oh no! They shot Lieutenant Dan!" I can't watch that scene without giggling.
First impressions stick with you. I don't know that I had a point other than that.
I just mostly think it's kind of funny that I watched Braveheart backwards.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
I got schooled in the Valentine's Day thing. Alas. Mine was "The Pitts," a tale I wrote in three minutes about a Oscar-nominated actor whose girlfriend broke up with him on Valentine's Day and he copes by getting drunk at the La Brea Tar Pitts.
I think it was the typo that lost it for me.
Anyway, it's cool. I'll do better next time.
I would like to take this moment to thank Josh Friedman for casting so many beautiful men in the Sarah Conner Chronicles. Especially Brian Austin Green. I never thought that much of him on 90210 but man, he has aged to extreme hotness level. I'd hit it like a screen door at a daycare.
That show is pretty engaging. It's taken a bit of time to get on its feet but every week I like it more than I did the previous week. I do wish the plot with the Turk guy had been drawn out more. There was a character who will be responsible for Skynet's creation and it looks like Sarah might be falling for him.
Cool. If she wants to stop the machines she has to kill the guy she loves. This could be a neat plot twist. But then somebody killed him off already so that didn't end up being an issue. I guess that was so they could bring back her old boyfriend. But then that could still have been cool - a love triangle complicated by the fact that one member of the triangle might have to kill another.
Still, the story is moving along enough that I'm willing to see what else it has up its sleeve. Because it still has lots of guns and battles between terminators.
And it will involve more hot Brian Austin Green.
I'd hit it like a fly swatter in the Amazon.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Who's excited? Because me, I'm excited! Weeeeeeeee!
Writers are going back to work tomorrow!
And on an unrelated note, please go read the four scenes in The Rouge Wave's Valentine's Day contest and vote. One of them is mine but I won't say which until the voting has ended.
Guesses welcome in the comments below.
And yay! TV is back! Almost!
Monday, February 11, 2008
I spent all day in a room with 13 other teachers, a Statistician and his sidekick.
Statistician told us that only 19% of our students are auditory learners so we really should work hard to incorporate visuals and tactile experiences for our visual and kinesthetic learners.
He did this by talking nonstop for seven hours. He went on about research and how the researchers over at UCLA who sit at their computers crunching numbers all day long know way more about classroom management than we do. Because "Collectively they are smarter than all the people in this room."
I told him to speak for himself.
I drew a picture of myself as a stick figure stabbing another stick figure I chose to call "Pedagogy".
I drew a picture of a dog and labeled it "el perro."
I wrote my thoughts in stream of consciousness form. My favorite series of notes: What the fuck are you talking about? Lou Diamond Phillips. Run, bitch!
I have no idea what that means.
I worked on outlining a short script I'm working on for a client. (Yes, I have a client. I'm official, bitches.)
I started fantasizing about what it would be like to have angry sex with Asshole Teacher who was sitting across from me. Asshole Teacher and I loathe each other. I began to picture a scene where we screamed at each other until he grabbed me and ripped off my clothes while I punched him in the face and called him names. It did not make me like him any better but it did give my brain something inappropriate to do.
It was a really boring day.
On the upside I found three face-up pennies in three different locations on campus, so I feel that good things must be coming my way.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
I just went to see In Bruges.
Well, duh, Emily, you may be saying to yourself. Of course you went to see In Bruges. Anyone who's read this blog for five minutes could have told me I'd go see In Bruges. Comedy, absurdity, a strong focus on snappy dialogue, a wise-cracking dwarf, lots of guns and violence with a dramatic twist - that's kind of what I live for.
Plus, Colin Farell being hot AND vulnerable.
So I went to see it. It's not like I had a choice. It would be against all my principles to not see this film.
And now I'm kind of wishing I hadn't.
Not because it's a bad film because whoa, nelly is it not a bad film.
No, I'm slightly regretting my decision because this film was so fucking good that I now feel totally inadequate.
I feel like the cute guy who always felt well endowed until he was invited to the barbecue for porn stars.
Halfway through the film when I was guffawing uncontrollably I started to realize how goddamn good it was. By the end when I was weeping silently in my chair I realized how much Zombie Script sucks.
Then I had to remind myself to stop being so hard on myself because I'm still only on the first draft. Myself.
I have to do more character development. I want my script to be as good as that. Yes, my zombie script. Zombie scripts can be good. Suck it, haters.
I now want to be Martin McDonagh when I grow up.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Last night at karaoke I finally conquered "Black Velvet" after months of stalling for fear of screwing it up. But I got lots of applause and high fives from an audience that had been pretty bored, so I would just like to share that with you because what good is a musical victory if you can't brag about it on your blog?
This week's Friday night television was weak tea.
Psych, usually one of my favorite shows, was all over the map. Usually the show expects me to believe that professional detectives make lots of mistakes while the fake psychic solves them by actually detecting. That's normally fine because the show is a quirky comedy with lots of absurdity. But last night they tried to get serious with a couple of subplots that could have been comedic then sandwich them between scenes that seemed really unrealistic and contained some stereotypical unfunny jokes. The result was a giant Fail.
Then there was Stargate Atlantis. Every so often that show has an awesome episode filled with subtext and nifty conflict and hot hot Ronon, but the status quo on that show is to take the easy route.
On last night's episode McKay, Carter and Keller got trapped in a crumbling mine shaft and spent the whole episode trying to get out. I was so very bored the whole time. There was no subtext. The characters argued a little bit and discussed which celebrities they'd rather bang and talked about McKay's recent love troubles and that was it. There was no personal conflict between them.
Once on one of those previous fantastic episodes McKay was trapped in a sinking Jumper and to survive he fantasized Carter was in there with him, seducing him. So here he is, actually trapped with her underground but also trapped with the station doctor who knows intimate things about both of them. So much potential for personal conflict. Here he is, his fantasy coming true, but there's someone else getting in the way.
All of that was wasted in favor of time filling conversations. There's a whole subplot with some kids spotting them but refusing to run for help and it was pretty clear the story was only there because the writers couldn't figure out how else to fill up 40 minutes.
And then after all that, for no reason whatsoever and with no development in that direction during the long time of being stuck underground, Keller asks McKay out. Seriously?
It's almost like the writers discussed all the possibilities for conflict and decided to do the opposite.
Conflict, for crying out loud. If you're trying to shove a bunch of characters in a room together, make sure they're the characters who have the most conflict. Then make use of it.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Today's lesson in class was about beginnings. As in, how do I open my story? It's the first question I usually get so I developed a lesson plan that seems to work. And even though it's geared toward prose and not screenplays (which are much easier with the INTs and the EXTs and the location being first and all) but I still thought the theory behind it might be useful.
My thesis director once said that the page is silent until you give it sound. So there are no words, no thoughts, no nothing. Just blank potential. The first word on the page breaks that silence. It's the first thing you hear, the first thought you're allowed to have.
So it better set the tone for your story.
Take the following three opening sentences:
1) Call me Ishamel. (Moby Dick)
Wow. Three words and not only do we know the guy's name, but we know a bit about his personality, too. He didn't introduce himself, he issued and order. It sets his character up in an instant.
2) In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me a piece of advice that I've been turning over in my head ever since. (The Great Gatsby)
We know he's old now and telling us a story about something that must have happened long ago. But more importantly look what this sentence does to keep you moving. For most people your immediate response to this sentence is to wonder what that advice was. So you move on to sentence two to find out. It keeps you reading.
3) We are at rest five miles behind the front. (All Quiet on the Western Front)
This one's my favorite. Just look at that sentence. What do you learn from it? You already know this story is about soldiers between battles in a warzone. And look at that tense: present. This isn't some old man telling the story from his rocking chair in an old folks home, this guy is still in the middle of it. In fact, this isn't even a guy at all. That sentence opens with "We". We're in this together, right now, five miles from the battle we just came from and will go to again.
You learn that from one fantastic sentence.
That's why these are great novels. They're on top of it right from the very first word.
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Today I managed the senior panoramic picture where I had to split our senior class into two groups to make an 0 and an 8 on the ground under the blazing sun after my students and I put down like a mile worth of colored paper.
Then I had to go to Spanish class and learn how to tell time.
I think I had about thirty minutes today where I wasn't running around like a lunatic or practicing vocabulary words.
I'm tired now. Trainer will be pleased.
The other day I expressed dismay at not having finished Zombie script. The next day I wrote two pages, but I got side tracked because I had the opportunity to submit one of my shorts to a group of student filmmakers and I needed to do a quick edit before I sent it to them.
And as I said, this moment right now is the first I've had today to relax. But tomorrow is Friday. I might karaoke tomorrow night at Boardwalk or Backstage but I refuse to go anywhere until I write at least a few more pages.
But first, sleep.
Actually, first I watch Make Me a Supermodel, which is kind of bad but for some reason I can't stop watching it, largely because of this terrific gay subplot they've got going.
The married Southern prison guard is so clearly falling in love with his gay roommate it's ridiculous.
I wonder what his wife thinks of this show as her husband keep flirting with a man who is prettier than she is.
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
Do you practice making stories?
I can't turn off. Seriously. Monday at Spanish class we were looking at this picture of a man buying a train ticket from some woman at the station and the teacher asked "What do you think is going on in this picture?"
"She's suing him for sexual harassment," I said. Everybody laughed. I've become the class clown because I can't shut myself up. Give me an opportunity to say something witty and I consider it my duty to come up with the most creative response possible. I consider myself a failure if I don't get a laugh.
Today I was making a joke about the nightmare of putting a condom on a banana in health class.
"I want to hear that story," someone said.
So I made up a story about crushing a banana with my bare hands while the other students in the class threw pencils at me.
The other people listening to the story all believed me.
I felt pretty awesome about that. There's a sense of vindication you get from making people laugh. I get up every day and spend about five hours trying to make teenagers laugh, and when they don't it freaks me out.
Yet I don't write comedy.
I met another writer last Saturday night who was a) Adorable as hell and b) super funny and quick witted, but doesn't write comedy either. So I'm thinking this may be a common thing. Even if you're not funny on paper you feel pissed if you don't manage to pull out the best joke on the spot.
I think, though, that this is strictly a screenwriting thing. Novel writers tend to be pretty emo.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
I'm stalled out a bit. I couldn't think of what to write today, which is a reflection of the fact that I haven't been writing.
I've been thinking about writing. I've been planning and outlining and daydreaming, but I haven't been typing up pages.
I'm about ten pages from finishing the first draft of Not Dead Yet, the infamous zombie story, but I can't seem to get up the energy to finish.
"I'll do it on Sunday," I say to myself. But Sunday rolls around and I type up three lines of dialogue and then run off to buy groceries, done for the day with creativity.
I have testing today, all day. I give out a test and read some instructions and sit in front of my computer for five hours with nothing else to do.
But still I don't finish it. Oh, I wrote a scene for the Rouge Wave's Valentine's Day contest, so it's not like I'm blocked.
It's more like I'm afraid to finish the script. This is the first script I've ever written on my own that I've felt completely solid about. I did everything right. Not that I don't have any mistakes or that I won't rewrite the hell out of it, but I just feel good about the story and the characters and the themes and everything, more so than I've ever felt about another full length feature.
I've written like seven features by now, but none of them make me as happy as this one.
But I won't finish it.
Because what if when I finish it the happy goes away?
What if I finish it and it's not as good as I think it is? What if I read through it to do my first edit and realize it's garbage and I have to start all over? What if all these things I think I did right just serve to prove what a lousy, uninspired writer I am and that I'm totally deluded?
So I don't finish it.
At night I think about it. I keep telling myself I'm tweaking it, that I need to know exactly what those last scenes are going to look like before I type them up.
But that's a lie. I already know what I'm going to do as much as I need to before I let the page tell me where to go. I know how this story ends - zombies on fire and a daring escape - but I refuse to get there.
As long as it's not finished it can't suck. Because I'm a pussy.
So tomorrow I stop being a pussy. I'm not afraid of zombies. Tomorrow I have a whole day to sit in this frigid room and fight zombies while my students take their standardized math test.
I prefer to listen to music but I can't listen to music tomorrow. Oh well. That's an excuse and I'm not having excuses anymore. I'll just have to hear the music in my head.
No excuses. Only writing. And if it sucks, so be it. That's what editing is for.
Monday, February 04, 2008
I saw There Will Be Blood yesterday. I can see why everybody's raving about it. There were some really brilliant moments and Daniel Day Lewis definitely puts his soul into that part, and overall I liked the film. But I think its greatest strength was also its greatest weakness.
At first I thought this was a story about a man and his son. Then it became a story about a man and his relationship with the town, specifically the local minister. Then for a while it was about a man and his brother. Then it was about all that other stuff again. I could never get a lock on the story because key characters would disappear for half an hour or more while we concentrated on something else.
That wouldn't be a problem if I felt the thematic connection between them. There probably was a thematic connection, but I wasn't really sure because so much of what went on in this film was unspoken. There was an enormous amount of subtext that was probably supposed to clue me into the point of the film, but I just didn't follow it.
Very Minor Spoilers to follow....
And that's also what made most of this film so good. There is a scene where Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day Lewis) realizes another character is not who he says he is when the character slips up and says something he doesn't even realize he said. The only way we know he did anything wrong is the look on Plainview's face. That's it. And you get it right away.
But the best thing about this film is the first 15-20 minutes. There is no dialogue. None. We learn everything we need to know about this man as he drags himself with a broken leg for miles over the desert so he can sell the ore he found in his well. We see him go from ignoring a crying baby to touching its face with affection. We see the work he's willing to put in and the sacrifices he's willing to undertake to succeed. And he never says a word.
The other great thing about that lack of dialogue is the concentrated silence it creates in your brain. You've been sitting in that theater with all these other people, just contemplating the events before you without anyone even having to speak. Then Plainview begins to talk calmly and quietly. Then a bunch of people start yelling.
Since it's been so quiet for so long, the yelling is jarring as hell and you get his frustration and annoyance right away. It's a very effective contrast.
It's also a terrific way to demonstrate how a script is built on action. You can do so much without words if you know how to build subtext into your action.
If you want to read the script, you can get it here from Paramount.
WARNING: The comments contain some major spoilers.
Saturday, February 02, 2008
Lost is back.
And it's still just as awesomely confusing as ever, except now instead of flashing back they're flashing forward. I have no idea what the hell is going on! Yay!
ABC did something interesting the night before they aired the season premiere. They showed the previous season's finale with a Popup Video style ticker running notes about the show to explain why characters were doing certain things.
I think it was a clever idea. ABC has an opportunity here. Lots of people have wanted to get into Lost but were afraid of starting in the middle and not understanding what's going on. But with the strike on there's not much to choose from and ABC will probably get a lot of new people checking Lost to see what all the fuss is about.
So they provide notes to get the newbies acquainted.
A good idea. But it was poorly executed. Of course, with the writers strike on they had to resort to some executive's office assistant or something to write the notes. And it really felt like they'd chosen Big Gay Al.
In addition to the occasional explanation, the person running the ticker also gave you commentary. "Big Papa's mad!" it said at one point when a character was clearly angry. "The love triangle gets more complicated!" it said when the love triangle got more complicated.
A writer would have known that you don't point out the obvious to people. You let them figure it out, because most people aren't as dumb as most people think.
Isn't that interesting? How we think everyone else but us is dumber than we are?
The whole Lost ticker thing reminded me of the commentary on the Dead Zone DVDs. Whenever Anthony Michael Hall is the one recording the commentary he gives you no useful information whatsoever. His character walks into the kitchen. "Here I am, walking into the kitchen," he says in the commentary. "You can see that I use a cane."
Well duh, dude. Can you please tell me something I can't see with my own eyes as I watch the show?
The average viewer is capable of putting two and two together. Sometimes you have to have a little faith in the intelligence of man.
Friday, February 01, 2008
Sorry about the hiatuses (hiati? hiatrioli? hiatoxen?) of late. I have plenty to say, just not enough time to write it down.
I graded short stories yesterday. These kids had some terrific ideas but they all made the same four basic mistakes in telling them.
1) They didn't show me, they told me. They told me two characters were best friends. They told me a boy and girl were in love, they told me a boy's mom was a whore. I gave them examples of how you can add a scene into a story to show the relationship in a way that's much more effective at getting me into the story.
2) They didn't get in late and leave early. I sat through a lot of conversations that went like this:
Victor called Angie on the phone to ask her if they were still going out.
"Hi," Victor said.
"Hey," said Angie.
"Are we still going out tonight?" Victor asked.
"Yes," said Angie.
"What time you want me pick you up?" said Victor.
"Seven," said Angie.
"Okay, I'll be there."
"Okay, I'll see you later."
"Bye, Angie," said Victor.
"Bye Victor," said Angie.
At Seven, Victor pulled up to Angie's house. And Ms. Blake shot herself in the head because she was too bored to go on living.
So I told the kids about getting in just before the action gets going and getting out when the gettin's good.
3) The conflict was pretty weak in a lot of stories. One girl fell in love, got married and then got pregnant. When she got pregnant her husband didn't believe the baby was his - not for any particular reason - and decided to leave her. Nine months later the baby was born, he looked at it, realized it was his and they got back together. The time when they were apart? About four sentences. The entire nine months of pregnancy was not in the story. All the conflict was gone.
One kid wrote about a boy who's mom is a whore, so the boy tells his father and the father goes off and kills himself. The boy is so angry he vows revenge and swears he will kill his mother, so he stabs his aunt to death. The boy never even had a conversation with his mother through the entire story.
I wrote a story once in college where a girl goes to her estranged father's funeral and her grandmother keeps wanting to talk to her, but the girl avoids the grandmother and at the end manages to avoid that confrontation. The professor said, "You don't want to talk to your grandmother, do you?"
He knew that I didn't want to make this girl talk to her grandmother because I didn't want to talk to my grandmother. I have a feeling this boy has some rage issues at his mom but isn't ready to confront them, so he didn't have the guts to make his fictional boy confront them either.
4) I couldn't identify with the protagonists. One kid wrote a great zombie story where this couple ended up running from the zombies together until she was bitten and he had to kill her. Great potential for conflict. Only I never really got why these two people were in love because there were no scenes of them alone together. The story moved too fast; it never took a moment to let me see these two people form a bond.
These are the problems my high school students had with their stories, but I took into account that for most of them this was the first story they'd ever written and all things considered, they did an awesome job. We might have some future writers here once they figure all this out.