Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Song Meme

There's a meme going around that I find interesting so I'm going to weigh in.

“Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you've chosen it. NB: It doesn't have to be your favourite song, it just has to express how you feel about writing and/or being a writer. It can be literal, metaphorical, about a particular form or aspect of writing - whatever you want.”

So I went through my ITunes and the minute I hit this one I knew it was right. This is how I feel about writing.

I bring you Carbon Leaf's "Comfort."

The lyrics are as follows:

I raced along an empty highway.
I chased the dawn
And cursed the new day,
Out of town, till nobody was around.

Love came along, my favorite enemy,
We hit head-on.
Why you befriended me... I don't know.
There's no need for letting go
When you've already lost control.

My life is open wide
The more you live, the less you will die.
Outside, floating free,
I'm finally open to see...
Could you be any more comfort to me?

Could you be...

You've figured out the warnings
And the reasons why,
You smoothed me out.
I hope you know there's nothing
I could give,
For showing me how to live.

I don't know how
But you know just how I feel.
Sticking out,
Like a dark horse in a snow white field.
Stirred up by the breeze,
Strong but not at peace,
Free but unreleased.

My life is open wide
The more you live, the less you will die.
Outside, floating free,
I'm finally open to see...
Could you be any more comfort to me?
Could you be any more comfort to me?

Caught up inside, all I wanna be...
Try to survive, all alone,
Outside your company.

Could you be any more comfort to me?
Could you be any more comfort to me?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Moments Before

The past couple of weekends I've been witnessing a crew film a web series starring The Beefcake called Moments Before.

This is my favorite. The Long Weight:

There's also two that were shot earlier. A Plate Too Far:

and Remote Destiny:

There are several more to come. I find them hilarious and they're only at most a minute long.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Directing: part 2

This weekend I watched some friends film again.

Okay, I watched Beefcake's friends film. We were supposed to go to the beach but there was filming for a couple of hours before we went that of course turned into an all-day event. I had fun anyway, even though I felt at times like I was getting in the way. For a while I was in charge of the air conditioning, so I feel like that made up for the two times I ruined a take by chortling.

Anyway, I realized while I was watching them shoot some YouTube footage that these guys are a pretty laid back crew and they own their own equipment and all they really need is material to shoot.

And it just so happens I have a cheapass script ready to go. The boxing script is ready but it's expensive to shoot and will take a lot of work so I'm slowly putting that together. But I have another script called "Guthrie" that I have long wanted to shoot. The script is just about as cheap as a short can get. I would just have to rent a studio apartment for a day.

Then this morning I was looking around Beefcake's apartment and realized that if I rewrote the script a bit I could turn the studio into a single and BAM, there's the location for the short. It's even messy enough that I don't have to do anything to it except move a couch around. And if I use those guys for the crew - this could cost me a cool $100 to shoot and still be good enough to put into festivals.

So even though Game Night is apparently in infinite post production, I might be able to shoot and edit myself a second film in the mean time. All I have to buy is food and a big sheet of green material and a cop uniform. I'm already cast and everything.

So I'm gonna make a movie again.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Be cool

Sometimes I say stuff.

I don't know what it is about how I write things but I seem to be able to make people really mad. Emailing friends or posting online or even here on the old blog, I get e-yelled at a lot for my choice of words. The thing is, I can say the exact same thing somebody else says but I get yelled at because what they said SOUNDS nicer.

Yet in person that almost never happens. In person I get along with almost everybody.

That may not be the best sign for a writer.

Or maybe it's just that you're missing the lovely inflection of my dark Kathleen Turnerlike voice.

I'm really not kidding about my voice. And I never even smoked.

Anyway, whenever I say something that makes somebody mad they tend to say something really nasty back, so I start to say something nasty back to them. Then I try to stop and take a breath although I don't always make it. Then I go, hey, Emily maybe you're wrong. Maybe you should be nice and logical and not raise your blood pressure. Or maybe you should just explain your position more clearly and without the personal shit. But then when I'm nice back they think I'm being passive aggressive, especially if I already said something nasty back a minute ago.

I'll give you a stereotypical conversation.*

Me: I think yellow is the worst color.
Them: What the fuck is wrong with you? Yellow is the color of the sun! Why do you hate the sun?
Me: I don't hate the sun. Yellow just sucks. Why are you being an asshole? Blue is a better color.
Them: Oh so now you're calling me names? Oh well look here, little girl [I get the little girl thing a lot], I don't know where you got your information but you should look ups some statistics on yellow. Sunflowers are yellow. Maybe if you had more sunflowers in your life you wouldn't be such a bitch.
Me: I just wanted to express my dislike for yellow because I still think yellow is a hideous color. I'm sorry if I offended you and am glad you enjoy yellow's company.
Them: Yellow is the best color to ever happen to the world and here's why [followed by long list of Wiki'd facts that I don't read because they're boring] and if you can't appreciate that then you should die.
Me: Okay. Maybe yellow is cool. You certainly make a good case. But I still prefer blue.
Them: That's because you're a bitch.
Me: I'm sorry you feel that way.

It's a whole snowball effect. Nobody wants to admit they're wrong once the yelling starts, even if they know they are.

And although it was one particular argument that got me thinking about this, this conversational progression is pretty common with me. Maybe I should stop being so blunt with my opinion. I should say things like "I prefer blue over yellow," but that usually doesn't occur to me until after I've been yelled at.

Besides, yellow IS the worst color.

I express opinions all the time that reasonable people disagree with, and sometimes it surprises me how mad people get when you disagree with them. I mean they get really mad. Like way over the top mad.

I really don't want to get mad. Around Christmas time I drive to the Target with the eight million people all pushing and shoving and cussing each other and I have a theory. I say to myself, Self, don't get mad.

And I don't. I wait for people to pass me, I take my time, I stay in a zenlike state the whole time, and then I enjoy my shopping trip. Seriously, it works. So I try to apply that to arguments as often as I can.

So the point is, if I sound mad, wait ten minutes and we'll be cool.**

*Conversation eggagerated for more awesomeness
**this also works in boyfriend arguments

Thursday, September 25, 2008


Here's the thing about vacation. I spend two months working on my script like gangbusters, getting up late and staying up late and lounging around all day on my couch with my laptop in my lap and Cheaters on the TV. I go to the bathroom whenever I want (something you non-teachers probably take for granted) and eat whenever I want and pop out to the store whenever I need something.

But the most important thing is, I'm writing almost every day. I get so used to it and start treating it like it's my real job so that when the vacation ends and I have to go back to work I get all pissed off. I don't hate my job; most days I kind of like it, but it's not a professional writing job. When I'm on vacation I work as if I'm a professional writer and it's glorious.

I finished adding in a couple of little scenes on the script so I have everything set now. And yes, it's only 77 pages still. But the next phase is to print the pages out and go through them to fix all the changes. By that I mean, all the times I'd get to a scene and say to myself, damn he forgot to grab that gun earlier. And then I say, no he didn't! And bam, a gun pops into his hand out of nowhere. So now I have to go back and put that gun into his hand.

So since that's the next phase and I have the whole basic story on the page ready for my first read through to see what areas are incomplete, I'm ready for my reward. I worked through the summer so I haven't been to the beach in four months. So I said to myself, Self, you can't go to the beach until you finish this draft.

Today was my reward. Today was beach day. I've been planning for today to be Beach Day for a week now - just me and a towel and a book and the shore. I knew if I could get everything on the page by Thursday I could go to the beach and I made it.

Then last night a coworker called and asked if I could sub today. I need the money so here I am sitting at a desk watching kids pretend to work when I was supposed to be at the beach.

Obviously since I'm on vacation I can just move Beach Day to another day, but it's the principal of the thing. This is another reminder of how my day job, although a pleasant substitute, is still just a substitute for what I want to do.

It just reminds me to work harder. No slacking off. I've got to get this show on the road so I can go to permanently sitting on my couch all day watching Cheaters and peeing whenever I want.

EDITED: While I was at work I was talked into coming in Tuesday for a meeting to discuss the journalism program. Tuesday had been my revised Beach Day. Then I was talked into subbing Thursday, which was my third choice for Beach Day. Then I leave on Saturday to go to Puerto Rico. So I guess I'll be there for Beach Week.

On second thought, that's not so bad.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I will not be in a God movie

I am on vacation and have been for a few weeks now. Because of this, I stay up until 3 am and usually wake up around the 10 o'clock hour.

So this morning at 10 something when the film crew called I was asleep.

My phone rang and I was jolted out of a cool dream. I saw that it was the gate calling so I figured it's either a delivery guy or the Beefcake. Groggy, I answered.

Now I sleep between two very loud fans so I couldn't really hear very well the woman that answered.

Her: Something something film crew in your area.
Me: Okay.

I have no idea why they would be contacting me. Are they really hard up for extras?

Her: Do you think something something God something beautiful something intended us to something something?

Oh man I just woke up and she wants me to tell her what I think God intended? I thought about turning my fan off, but I can hear enough to get this gist and this conversation won't be long anyway.

Me: I don't know.
Her: Well do you think we something something something something something?
Me: I don't know.
Her: Well it sounds like you're busy. Can we come back some other time?
Me: Sure.

Normally I wouldn't mind doing surveys, especially if said survey gets me on a film set, but it was just sort of unexpected and weird to conduct a survey over the gate intercom. I think what would have been better is if the woman had opened with "We are filming a documentary about religion in America and we're looking for people with interesting perspectives to answer a few questions. Do you think you'd be interested in doing an interview on camera?"

Then I could have come down or let her in or whatever. But just coming at me with two random religion questions right off the bat like that made me think of Jehovah's Witnesses and all I could think was DON'T LET THEM IN.

I really do hope they call back because I honestly wouldn't mind. I just think when you're asking such incredibly personal questions you need to buffer it a little. "Hello, what do you think God intended for us?" is a little forward, don't you think?

Oh well. I may have missed my opportunity to be in a movie. I'm sure there'll be another one soon. They're shooting a Monk episode down the street tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Thoughts on the show: The Mentalist

If Sean from Psych got older, confessed he wasn't a psychic, stopped cracking jokes, made ridiculous leaps in logic based on really obvious clues, and started being all pensive and put himself in situations where everybody was really predictable and melodramatic, he would be the star of The Mentalist.


The other night Beefcake and I watched Heaven Can Wait. Now I believe I saw this movie once as a young child, but it was so long ago that I didn't remember it very well at all.

Of course it stars Warren Beatty as a professional football player who is accidentally taken out of his body before he's supposed to be dead, then is temporarily put in another man's body until he can find an athletic body to move to permanently so he can resume his football career. Meanwhile James Mason stands around talking like James Mason.

This movie had its moments. I mean, who doesn't love Warren Beatty on screen? But there are some weird plot issues in this film where people behave in a way that is completely contrary to any reasonable human behavior.

I could get beyond that, though, if it weren't for one gaping issue that I couldn't ignore. Not once do we actually see the body he's been put into. We get a glimpse of the guy's arm while he's lying in the bath tub but we never actually see the body through anyone else's eyes.

So when Joe's lady love says she sees into his eyes all we see is Warren Beatty, except we know that's not what she's seeing. I want to know if she sees a big fat guy or what. And he keeps talking about how out of shape his body is, but seems to think he can get back into shape, but all we see is Warren Beatty in the same shape the whole movie. He doesn't see himself in the mirror, we never see him from anyone else's perspective, he doesn't see any pictures or anything. And it's annoying as hell.

I mean, the story is all about how he's in the wrong body but we never actually see the wrong body. How does that make any sense at all?

I can't think of any reason why you wouldn't at least get a glimpse of what he really looks like except for one thing - ego. Warren Beatty directed the film and I'm guessing he didn't want to share any screen time with another man pretending to be his character, even long enough to look at himself in the mirror.

Although Down to Earth was not the world's greatest remake, at least the Chris Rock version had the awareness to show the body his character was in. Hell, they used the old fat white guy's appearance for comedic purposes.

Ego can ruin even the best high concept comedy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Let the TV season commence

I love TV premiere week. And this one is more awesome than most because of the writers strike. A lot of these shows have been away longer than usual so I forgot all about what was going on before the break. Like Dean in Hell on Supernatural - I totally forgot about that and when I saw the season premiere I was all like Oh yeah! Oooooooh.

As I was watching that I couldn't help but think about Angel. Angel went to Hell once too, and then he came back. We never totally got an answer as to why he came back - I guess it was The Powers That Be saving a hero from Hell, but it was sort of glossed over a bit. So I was curious as to how they're dealing the Dean resurrection so it's not just a repeat of the Angel plotline.

I was also hoping they'd do something with Sam's superpowers because they seem to have forgotten all about them in the last season. But this episode did not disappoint.

One thing I love about Supernatural is how each season has felt like it had to be the last season. It always has this kind of epic, final feel to it. The end of world always feels like it's one episode away. And now, with Sam's crazy new powers and Dean's crazy new mission, there's gonna be some cool stuff going on this time around. And I still have no idea who to trust.

Meanwhile I've sort of lost interest in Fringe. It just kind of seems so kindergarten. It just doesn't seem like a lot of work went into finding the most interesting story to tell. Granted, it's only on the third episode this week, but I've got a limited amount of time in my day and I'm going to watch something that blows me away, not something that makes me roll my eyes.

I love Lost and much of Alias was awesome, but this one just doesn't cut it.

I am, however, enjoying The Sarah Conner Chronicles. Stuff keeps exploding. and Brian Austin Green continues to look hot and Shirley Manson stabs people in the brain with her finger.

And Heroes is back - yay! Heroes comes and goes for me. It has some really terrific episodes followed by some not so terrific episodes. But Mark Verheiden is working there now and he brings the awesome wherever he goes, so I'm looking forward to the new season.

And then of course, there's Pushing Daisies. I've heard some disturbing things about the studio's demands on Bryan Fuller this season, but I'm willing to wait and see. I'm afraid it will be like Friday Night Lights. Season one was so amazing and for me, season two of that show just lost me completely. I partly felt that way about Veronica Mars - season two was just not as strong as that first amazing season. I adore Pushing Daisies and I want to adore Pushing Daisies season two.

Also airing this week - the premieres of the NBC comedies. I love NBC comedies. I don't understand why ER is still on the air but there are weddings on The Office this season so that should be fun.

Anyway, I just love TV. What shows are you excited to see?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

If only I'd thought of it ten years ago

Yesterday I went to watch some friends shoot a YouTube short and ended up doing a line of voice over and posing as a hot slutty lady on some dude's arm. That's always a fun way to spend a Saturday. So now for my second ever appearance on YouTube I will be exposing my cleavage. I'm afraid I've been typecast.

What was particularly fun about this shoot is that when I got there the guys had only a vague idea of a story. Beefcake and I made a Home Depot run and when we got back there was a hilarious completed script and something of a story. So in one day the short was written, lit and shot. And it's pretty damn funny.

A friend who hasn't been a part of the whole zombie script planning situation finally got around to reading my script this weekend. The general opinion was that it's well written and the characters are well developed and there are some good set pieces and some interesting moments, but it seemed like a pretty standard zombie film.

And yet, he also said he was expecting more of a twist at the end. What if the protagonists arrive at their destination to find that everyone there has gone crazy from being locked inside all the time....

Oh, wait, that's 28 Days Later.

Okay, what if they arrive at the destination and the people try to kill the protagonists and take their children.....

Oh wait, that's 28 Days Later.

Okay, what if they arrive at the destination and the people try to kill the husband and take his wife....

Oh wait, that's 28 Days Later.

I admit when I was thinking of this story I was really worried about the similarities between this story and 28 Days Later, but there are enough differences to make mine a new story. If I gave the ending a twist it would become a copycat script. There's pretty much no way around that. I like my script, but that movie has made it much more complicated to sell.

Stupid 28 Days Later.

I am hoping that when World War Z comes out it does terrific at the box office, because then studios will be all like "Who's got a big budget zombie action movie so we can take advantage of this new craze? Oh if only somebody had a zombie movie with explosions and tidal waves and setting castles on fire!" and I will pop into frame like a hero with my perfect script.

Or, I'll just use it to get a job writing something else.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Failed again

Well I didn't win the John August thing. This week John August put up another scene challenge - this time it required the use of a fork, a photograph and a phobia. I haven't been able to set up scrippets yet so this will have to be ghetto style.

Loud music, children's laughter. Kids run like roaches all over the grass in some exhausted lady's backyard, surrounded by parents who have given up trying to corral them. A CLOWN bends some balloon animals for a small CHILD.

A 30-something man dressed in black and and out of breath, ROGER, appears at the entrance to the street. He pauses, looks around, then slips unnoticed into the party.

A woman in her twenties, SANDY, appears in the same street entrance, also out of breath. She scans the party. She see the Clown. She flattens herself against the wall and breathes deeply, eyes closed. The Child comes up to her, waving around his balloon donkey.


Nice... what the hell is that?

It's a donkey.

An ass? He made you an ass?

She looks up, steadily breathing, at the clown.

I fucking hate clowns.

She steels herself, then creeps into the party. She grabs a FORK from a table full of cake. She walks around the Clown, careful not to get too close. She scans the rest of the party, looking carefully through each adult she encounters. Then she sees Roger. They make eye contact.

Roger backs away slowly, looking around for a way to make a break for it. Sandy gets closer. Roger rushes over to the Clown and hides behind him.

Fucking clowns.

She takes several deep breaths as Roger looks to the street exit and back to Sandy, who is up on her toes, ready to give chase. She dares not go near the Clown. The Clown turns to Roger.

Would you like a donkey?


Fuck off, loser.

Well, I... I don't...

Shut up.

He pushes the clown at Sandy, who screams. The children scream. Roger runs to the street. Sandy stabs at the Clown with her fork. The Clown screams. Everybody screams. Sandy pushes the Clown and chases after Roger. Right as he's about to get to the exit she catches him and knocks him to the ground.

Where is it, Roger? Give it!

He tries to push her off. She clocks him in the head.



She digs in his pockets.

Help! Help!

The parents watch, drinking margaritas in plastic cups. Sandy pulls a POLAROID out of Roger's pocket. She looks at it. In the photo, Lindsey Lohan sunbathes naked in her backyard. Boobies are present.


If you come near Lindsey again I will fucking kill you, you giant piece of crap!

She leaps up and runs out of the party.
The Child comes up to Roger.

Did you see my balloon?


First of all, I wrote it in five minutes. I probably should have put more effort into that.

I chose one of the most common phobias in the contest - clowns. But look, other people who used clowns, Coulrophobia is my ACTUAL PHOBIA. I am actually terrified of clowns, unlike a lot of the people who wrote about them. I'm not talking "Clowns are creepy" or "I don't like clowns." I mean clowns make me hyperventilate and panic and possibly run like hell.

And while we're on the subject I would like to commend Beefcake, who asked me the last time we passed a clown up in front of the Kodak if I'd like him to "Beat the clown up." I did not take him up on it that time, but it's good to know he's prepared to commit clownicide if necessary.

Anyway, I also used another common occurrence in the contest - stabbing someone with the fork. But look, I had to incorporate violence somehow because that's what I do.

At least I had a female protagonist. Most people didn't even include girls.

And just now this minute I thought of an actual event from my life that did indeed involve all three of the elements in the contest. In retrospect, I should have just written up that scene. Maybe for shits and giggles I'll write that up tomorrow.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Time to mold the clay

I'm just about done with the first draft of Fear of Clowns and it's horrible. But that's okay because I expected it to be horrible. It's also going to be somewhere in the range of 70 pages.

I feel like this script, more than most, is a big pile of clay. I plopped it down and rolled it into a ball and shoved it on the wheel thingee and pulled it up into a tall blob. Now comes the part where I have to make it into a vase. Then comes the part where I bake it, and then the part where I paint it. And when I'm done it will be all pretty and violent.

Today I rewrote my final confrontation scene. See, the last script I wrote, as you know, was about fighting zombies. So the fight scenes I'd grown accustomed to writing involve lots of cool martial arts moves and bludgeoning and one-on-thirty battles with a broom handle as the only weapon.

So yesterday, when I sat down to write the final gunfight, I went a little overboard. The scene is this: a boy who has barely any experience shooting a gun walks into a room with three other boys, each of whom has a gun and each of whom is a better shot. And somehow this boy has to kill the other three without dying.

My first attempt at this was ridiculous. I had all kinds of complicated moves and lots of melodramatic shit. Then I went to sleep and I woke up realizing that it should be simple. Protag kills Kid 1. Kid 2 shoots, hits in a non-deadly place. Protag shoots and kills Kid 2. Kid 3 comes out of the bedroom where he'd been hiding. Both boys stand holding their guns on each other. Then a distraction, and Protag kills Kid 3.

The thing is, Kid 3 and Protag are best friends so I've got one of those, Oh no, what have I done moments where my Protag cradles his dying best friend in his arms after he shot him. And right now it's so cliche it's making me ill.

I don't want people to feel like I'm being melodramatic. I want them to naturally feel for these characters. I want them to really cry when my Protag has to kill his best friend. Right now they'll groan.

And that, I think, is what's in those thirty odd pages I'm missing.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Thoughts on the film: Choke

I just saw Choke.

I got really lucky on that, actually. I was at the gym until 6 punching a bag in front of Trainer while he leaned against a wall, chewing gum. The gym is in Hollywood, the screening was in Westwood. For those of you who don't live in LA, that might as well be in Mexico during 6pm traffic.

Thankfully, Best Friend got there before me and saved a place in line, but even arriving 45 minutes before the screening landed her way back in the line. We weren't sure we'd get in.

We crept to the front of the line and Jeff Goldsmith took in the four last people in front of us and told Best Friend and me, now the first two people in line, to wait.

We waited. About thirty people waited behind us.

He came back out and said there were 2 seats left. We cheered. Everybody else went "Awwwww!"

We went into the theater and Jeff said "Who are those two people with an empty seat beside them?

Four people raised their hands. So because a couple of people can't follow directions, like fifty people were turned away when there were two seats left.

But whatever. Even though we were to the right and in the front row so we had a very odd angle on the film, we were just glad we got in.

So, the movie.

Choke stars Sam Rockwell (who was at the screening and I now believe is also Jason Lee) as a historical reenactor who has a sex addiction thanks to intimacy his nutty mother's (Angelica Huston) bizarre upbringing. The film is mostly a comedy with a shitpile of sex.

It was good. Not great, but good. I laughed, I teared up a little, I enjoyed it. It had some plot elements that were so difficult to believe that I had trouble immersing myself in the film, but given the difficulty of the source material I think Clark Gregg wrote and directed the best film he could.

In the end it was worth the wait and the crappy seating location. And suck it, people behind us in line. Be faster next time.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Let it go

I was on a screenwriting board recently where a new writer was asking about motivation and I gave my two cents. And every single other person disagreed with my two cents. I didn't make a big deal out of it but I thought I'd go into it here where I can explain my opinion in detail.

The basic question was, Is it okay to abandon a script to work on something else?

And I said yes. And everybody else said no.

Allow me to explain.

I finished my first script. It was okay - not something I'd shop around, but not too bad compared to other first screenplays. I got one hit off my logline, but of course the script wasn't good enough so I never heard from that agent again, and to be honest I think she asked for my script less because of my logline and more because I raved about how much I liked the pictures of cats she had on her website. Which, by the way, was a good lesson to learn about the importance of personality in selling yourself.

Anyway, I finished a TV episode and another script and a pilot and another TV episode and that's when things started to go wrong.

The TV episodes were okay but the longer scripts were bad. Real bad. They were both about professional assassins - not the same story, but they both had connections to Mafia dealings and the like, which is something I know absolutely nothing about. So the scripts were terrible.

Then I started a script about three brothers who are professional thieves.

I a) do not have a brother and b) know nothing about professional thieving.

So halfway through the script I realized it wasn't working. I looked back at my previous work and noticed that the reason I was having such a difficult time was because I kept trying to write about things that were completely out of my range of experience. So I scrapped the script completely, 60 pages in.

I decided to try writing a Supernatural. I wrote one draft and it was clearly very bad so I started a rewrite with a new storyline and it was clearly bad and I started a third rewrite with an even newer storyline and it was clearly bad so I decided to give up on Supernatural. That show is surprisingly difficult to write for.

I started a My Name is Earl and realized five pages in that I only had one joke. My plot was about Catalina being threatened with deportation so Earl has to marry her but Randy gets pissed because HE wants to marry Catalina.

Anybody remember that season where that happened? Yeah I was pretty happy that I hadn't written that episode after all, and even happier that's I clearly have the right idea even if I don't really do "jokes".

My point here is, if a script is obviously not working then why not switch to something that does? I learned things from each of those abandoned scripts, but I really don't think my wasting any more time struggling through them, passionless and knowing they wouldn't work, would help me be a better writer. In each case I swapped that script out for something that DID work.

I'm not suggesting to abandon the script when things get tough. When I was working on Not Dead Yet I came to a moment where I wasn't sure I could keep going, but then I realized that I liked this script too much and it had too much potential for me to let it die, so I pushed through and got some help and finished it, and now I'm proud of the result.

If every script you start ends up half finished, you have a problem. But if you are dying to work on that fairy tale drama but feel like you have to wait until you finish this piece of crap torture porn thing you started five months ago and have dragged ass through because you have nowhere to go from here - I say put it down. Go work on something you want to work on. There's no reason to force yourself to finish something just to say you finished it if it's obviously not going to work.

That's just the way I see it because I'm not a big fan of wasting time.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An interview with Carl Greenblatt, creator of Chowder

Ladies and gentlemen, today's post is an interview with Carl Greenblatt, the creator of Chowder, a show on Cartoon Network about a chef's assistant named *gasp* Chowder who encounters all kinds of quirky encounters.

In past episodes Chowder has pitifully raised a baby banana on order from the girl who's madly in love with him, saved his boss' restaurant from an infestation of con artist rats and their pig leader, and gone into his own mouth to conquer the evil "Souron" taste bud that insists all flavors be sour flavors. It's quirky but grounded in a well-established world and it's definitely a kids' show, but with a few inside jokes adults can appreciate.

I don't watch a lot of kids' cartoons beyond
Spongebob (for which Greenblatt has worked), but I do like Chowder. It's entertaining on all levels, I think. I especially enjoyed the episode that intentionally broke through the fourth wall, where Greenblatt appeared in puppet form on a cloud to tell a character named Shnitzel he needed to go back home and reestablish the show's traditional dynamic.

And this year, thanks to all his efforts, Greenblatt has been nominated for an Emmy.

I had the opportunity to ask Greenblatt some questions about his journey with
Chowder, so here you go:

How did you break into animation writing?

It was a bit of lucky timing. I was working in New York as an advertising art director but felt that it was time for a change. I happened across an ad in Animation Magazine for Nickelodeon saying they were looking for creative people. I loved animation but didn't really have any experience in it. Most of my drawing training was from doing years and years of my own cartoon strips. Not really knowing what they were looking for, I put together a portfolio of character drawings, cartoon strips, and storyboards I had done in advertising. A few months later, I received a call about doing some freelance character designs. That didn't really lead to anything, but I stayed in touch with the development people. The next trip I took out to Los Angeles, I met with them. They really liked my cartoon strips and wanted to forward them along to Steve Hillenburg, the creator of
Spongebob Squarepants. He liked them as well and hired me on the show.

Have you written for live action at all? Or film?

Nothing that's been produced. Just some scripts for fun.

How did you come up with the idea for Chowder?

It was important to me that I really use the medium of animation to do things that you could never do in live action. That fantasy element led me to thinking up the idea of chefs who create made-up food. I was also drawn to the dynamic of the Sorcerer's Apprentice. I wanted a young kid who was learning from a kooky old master. The kid had to be kind of shy and weird and chubby. I wanted him to feel different from kids we've seen in other cartoon shows - he had to sound like a real, like the kids in
Peanuts. Once I had that dynamic, the rest of the show started to come together. The people at the catering company are essentially Chowder's family, so I had to create characters that would fill out familiar family roles.

What's the general structure of your writer's room?

It's very loose. Usually just three of us (me, the creative director, and the writer) throw around ideas until we get a story into some gelatinous form. Then the writer goes off and bangs out a first draft outline, usually about 2 pages long. After a few revisions, the outline is handed off to a storyboard artist. It's a pretty solitary process - the artist gets about 3 weeks to thumbnail/write out the episode. The artist then pitches it to us, we make revisions, then they take a few more weeks to draw it all up.

You write for a kids show. How do you make sure your jokes are funny to children, and not just you guys?

It has to be relatable emotionally. As long as the story is based on universal truths and relationships, it works. And the jokes can't be based off things in our world; I like to keep the pop culture jokes to a minimum. The comedy should come from the characters' decisions, actions, and behavior, not relying on the audience's knowledge of certain movies or tv shows. Funny behavior always seems to connect well with people of all ages.

How often do you make jokes you know kids are NOT going to get?

I don't mind putting in jokes for the adults. As long as it's a quickie and doesn't affect the plot or the scene. But I prefer it if the jokes work for both kids and adults. When you watch Bugs Bunny, there's stuff you didn't catch as a kid, but you totally can see now. It's not dirty stuff, just a little more sophisticated. I always try to write to that level - to what makes me laugh. Luckily I have the brain of a 13 year old.

How often do you try to make social statements in the show?

We make social statements all the time, but not in a didactic way. We're not here to teach a lesson. We're here to entertain. However, I think the best writing comes from a point of view, and it's hard not to expose your point of view when you're writing these episodes. You have to tap into a social truth to make a character really feel like he's part of a living world. I don't think a writer approaches a story with making a social statement as goal, but once you're done, it's easy to look back and see your views reflected in it.

How did the whole bit about making you into a puppet and putting you on a cloud come about?

We thought it would fun to have a "Wonderful Life" moment for Shnitzel. Peter Borwngardt, the board artist for that half of the episode, took it a step further and had Shntizel meet his creator (me). He drew a really funny caricature of me, and I thought it would be great to do it as puppet.

This year you were nominated for an Emmy. How does that make you feel?


If you win the Emmy, will you go to Disneyland?

No, I'll go home and sleep. The ceremony is over 4 hours long!!

Why is a helicopter hovering over my apartment right now? Am I going to be attacked by a SWAT team?

Well that's what you get. You shouldn't have mailed all that anthrax.

If I don't get attacked by a SWAT team, how would a person like me go about getting a job on a show like Chowder?

Kill someone on the crew to make a position open up. Seriously, it's hard for someone to come in cold.The reality of the industry is most jobs are usually filled by people the creator knows or has worked with. In my case that's because I respect their talent or know that I have a good working dynamic with them. It's such a stressful, hectic job that I need people I trust around me to get everything done. And I dislike drama at work.

Do you have any long term goals for the show?

My goal from the start was to make a show that gives kids out there the same happiness I felt when I watched cartoons as a kid. But on top of that, I want parents to say that they enjoy it just as much as their kids do.

Thanks ever so for taking the time to answer these questions. Do you have any extra advice for aspiring writers?

The same advice I give to artists - do it every day. You can always get better, no matter what level you're at.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

When story is secondary

The other night a friend and I got in a bit of a disagreement based on the way we watch films.

She said she loved 2001 and I said "Ugh. That movie was so boring. The plot was like 15 minutes long."

And she said she loved Napoleon Dynamite and I said "Ugh. That movie's plot didn't start until halfway into the film."

And she said there was this great moment when this one dude did this thing and I said "But that's a scene, not a movie. A movie is a string of related scenes that work together to tell a story, preferably one with some sort of meaning."

And she said "That's a film. A movie doesn't have to have a story."

And I said, "WHaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?"

This conversation made me suddenly realize why people love David Lynch.

And yes, I realize I have now insulted a lot of stuff some of you guys like. But at least now I get why.

I love movies with stories. To me, story is paramount. Every camera angle, every wide shot, every line of the score, every jump cut needs to push the story. The goal of the film is to tell a story. It had never occurred to me that there is any other purpose. Maybe that's because I spent my early life learning to be a writer, not a filmmaker. To me, story is the source of everything else.

But my friend disagreed. She said she loves to watch a movie with pretty shots or meaningless scenes that made her laugh. Story is nice and all, but it's not the main purpose of a film.

This is completely incomprehensible to me, but at least hearing her say that helps explain why people don't always consider the screenwriter worth mentioning when they list the credits of a film, or why people revere films that have weird camera shots for the sake of having weird camera shots.

I don't get it, but at least I now understand it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Today over at The Rouge Wave Julie talks about repetition of words in your script. You know, when you use the same language over and over again. I can relate to this problem, especially the part where your characters use the same words.

In Not Dead Yet I had a tendency to have every single character say "Jesus!" or "Christ!" to express frustrated alarm. I had no idea I'd done it this much until Ex-Boyfriend pointed it out to me.

In my current script my two leads are a white woman and a Latino boy, so it's been easy to make them sound the same, but I've had to really focus on giving the kids different personalities. I don't speak Spanish, but the kids speak Spanglish, so to make sure the dialogue sounds authentic but still makes sense to English speakers, I've been using a lot of slang nicknames int he dialogue.

For example, I call everybody "huey" (pronounced "way" and meaning something like dumbass or asshole) at least once. My kids call each other that all the time. I used to have this one kid who mumbled so much he barely ever said anything that made sense, except he used to yell "Hey, huey!" all the time. So his nickname became Hey Huey.

But that doesn't mean every kid uses it all the time. Still, in my script, everybody throws that word around almost as much as they say "fuck."

It's difficult to keep track of that when you're rolling through dialogue scenes, so I started doing something on the last script that I found enormously helpful in fixing this problem. As I read through the script for the third or fourth time, I try to read it as one character only. I read most characters as if I'm listening to them, then when I get to his lines I say them in character. That way I develop his voice with a little more clarity, and I notice when another character sounds too much like him. Sometimes I even switch the lines around when I realize the dialogue sounds more natural coming from another character's mouth.

I'm a big believer in going back and fixing stuff anyway. While some people agonize over that first draft and stop and start and go back and fiddle with scenes over and over before they're finished - I plop down a lot of crap and leave myself little "This sucks ass" notes. I find it a lot easier to go back and fix stuff once you know the whole story. So it should be easy for me to go through the script and make sure one Latino kid doesn't sound exactly like another Latino kid, because no matter what people say, they are not all alike.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fodder for the Soup

I wish I was a writer for The Soup. As you may know, I'm on vacation. So I've spent the past couple of days sitting on my couch reading, writing and watching TV.

Today I watched Bravo all day, mostly Million Dollar Listing since there was a marathon of it today.

The show follows these three guys as they sell expensive homes to rich people around the LA area. Like right now I'm watching this 19-year-old kid who goes to Pepperdine who has convinced his dad to give him 1.5 million dollars to buy a house so he doesn't have to languish in the dorms anymore but apparently that's not enough money for this kid. How can you ever relate to people in the rest of the world when you moved out of the dorm and into a house in Malibu?

Meanwhile there's this dude named Chad who puts a bottle of hairspray on his bowl cut and spends $600 on shoes that look like they came from Payless.

I know I'm not really a punch line writer, but I can make snide comments about rich people. I spent many of my nights as a teenager watching MST3K and building my own snark skills. I can't imagine much more fun than sitting around watching TV all day and making fun of it.

I love you, Joel McHale. And I love your dog. And I'm adorable. Gimme a job.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Some tips for the noobs

The other day - okay like two months ago - a first time screenwriter I'd given some advice to asked me to read his screenplay. After much hemming and hawing, I finally got around to reading it yesterday and made some notes.

It's been a long time since I read a first script. Oh man.

First let me say, this guy has what it takes in the attitude department. Not only does he take criticism well, but he begs for it. He doesn't get defensive or angry, he listens to suggestion and acts on it, and he has a real passion for the craft. And that's the only reason I agreed to read his script.

In the end, however, I only read ten pages because I realized he needed to fix a few basic things before I could give him any advice on story. I wrote pages of notes just on format and structural stuff and never had a chance to pay attention to the plot. So I gave him some notes and told him to fix the style stuff and send me the next draft so I could advise him on story elements instead of rambling on about character introductions and camera instructions.

I don't know how many of my readers are first time writers, but just in case you are, here's some stuff new writers do, and here's what I told this guy:

1) Make sure the script you're using as a format reference is a SPEC script, not a shooting script. This guy had a character list right up front, the way you do in a shooting script. Spec scripts are written for the reader, not the director, so not only do you leave out camera instructions unless ABSOLUTELY necessary, but you have to make the script feel like a story unfolding on the page, not like a series of instructions for a camera crew. So read tons of spec scripts and pay attention to how they flow.

2) That doesn't mean your script is a novel. Your screenplay is in third person limited point of view. What that means is, it's written by someone who's OBSERVING the events as they happen. I can't read anybody's mind if I'm a limited narrator; all I can do is tell you what I see. Now you may read scripts that include some introspection and mind reading, but chances are excellent that the writer is better known than you and that those instances are few and far between. Instead of telling me "Anna is royally pissed off," tell me "Anna puts her fist through a wall and screams." This especially applies to character introductions.

3) Don't bore me. This is actually rule number one in my classroom when the kids do group projects. You can walk into my classroom and ask all my kids "What's rule number one about projects?" And they will echo like good little boys and girls: "Don't bore the teacher." Your script is over 100 pages long. When's the last time you read 100 pages of something boring? Probably college, and probably with a great deal of resentment. Don't spend eight pages introducing fifteen characters. Get in, get to the story, and introduce the characters as they become necessary. If your story hasn't started by page ten, you've already lost your reader.

Now, I'm not trying to come off as an expert or anything, but I'm certainly not on my first script. God knows I did a lot of this crap when I wrote my first script, but I learned over time not to do this stuff. Maybe by reading this any newbies out there can skip that part so the first person to read your first script can focus on story, not format.

I have a feeling this guy whose script I read will figure it out pretty quickly. Hell he'll probably have a career before I do.

Speaking of my career, I have another cool thing coming up. The owner of PitchQ, a website that posts visual pitches and submits them to companies, is going to guide me through the process so I can blog about it. I'm going to film my pitch for Not Dead Yet and report back on the whole experience. I thought this might be neat because PitchQ is one of the sponsors of the Expo and a prize in the screenwriting contest. Also, I'm a big skeptic about this kind of stuff so it gives me a chance to see if it really works.

So stay tuned. That should be coming soon.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

B Story to the rescue

Yesterday I wrote five more pages and then I realized that I was almost finished with my script. Except I was on page 44.

I figure I've got about 15 or so more pages to write, which puts me finishing at around page 60.

I cannot stretch 40 pages.

So I took a look at my script. Should I add some more scenes? Should I pump up the dialogue? Is this maybe not enough story to carry a script?

Then I realized where my problem was - I forgot my B story. Then I realized that explains everything. I have two major characters in this script - a boy and a girl - and I've spent all my time on the boy's story. I've had no trouble writing him and his scenes, but for some reason when the two of them are together I've had a hell of a time with the dialogue. I've got bright yellow notes at the end of each of those scenes that say "Fix this. It fucking sucks."

So when I realized I had completely neglected the girl's story, I also realized that's probably why I'm having difficulty with the dialogue they have in common. I know him well, but even though I wrote up her backstory I still haven't spent a lot of time actually writing her character.

I'm going to go ahead and finish what I've got and get to the end of the story, then I'm going to go back and add in the B story, which will of course make some adjustments to the A story, but it should fix both the story and the page count.

In the meantime, I'm stoked to tell you that I'll be having a few interviews coming up. I'll be interviewing the Emmy nominated creator of the Cartoon Network show Chowder and hopefully the CEO of PitchQ, and then I'll see what friend relationships I can exploit after that. So watch for those interviews.

I've got to go write some pages.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Thoughts on the film: Sunshine

Last night Beefcake and I watched Sunshine. HOLY FRIJOLES that was a good movie.

Don't worry, no real spoilers follow.

I knew this was some kind of scifi space movie and I'd heard it was good, and that's about it. So about 20 minutes into the film there was this beautiful scene with some sunlight and fire and the ship's captain and it just blew me away. Beefcake turned to me and said, "That was amazing."

And I said, "I'm glad you thought so because I thought so too."

And I can't totally explain why it was amazing, it just was. I think like eight million story elements happened in that one moment and it was set to beautiful music. I decided right then that I loved this movie.

Somewhere along the way this turned into a suspense thriller, then a straight up horror movie. But I don't care about genre because in the end it just felt like a story about forgiveness and selflessness and humanity and hope and courage. I spent most of the film hiding behind my pillow.

I was really scared for these people, and I was scared for them because I knew them. Each of the eight crew members on the ship had a distinct personality that set them apart, and each one had a reason for me to care about them. A lot of people die in this story, but each one is a different experience and each one I genuinely feel sad about. Each death was meaningful - I didn't feel like any character was created for the sole purpose of being cannon fodder.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, Sunshine felt like a story. It didn't feel like it was written by committee or with a formula in mind or keeping strictly to conventions of genre - it just felt like a story. There were a few moments in the end where I didn't know what the fuck was going on, made more complicated by the bizarre camera movement, but after a bit it cleared up and made sense again, so it didn't bother me too much.

There were just so many beautiful moments in this film because in the end it was a story about eight people on a mission to save humanity while they figure out what humanity means for each of them.

And it was good.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

A couple of nonsequeetoorses

It feels good to be writing again after such a long hiatus.

I've got a pretty good routine going. I get up, I read for an hour, I eat some pita bread and hummus, then I write as many pages as I can until I run out of steam or I hit a roadblock.

Then I eat lunch and ride my bike or go to the gym, then do my errand running / TV watching. Then I make myself a fine meal.

I was going to try to force myself to write eight or so pages a day because I feel like I'm behind, but then I remembered what happened when I did that in the past. I used to be so eager to finish the script soon so I could start a new one that I'd write a ton of pages each day. But each script I did that on has since been scrapped.

Then I wrote Not Dead Yet at my own pace, at least a few pages each day but not forcing anything. And that script turned out pretty damn good even though Greg Beal hated it. When I get hired to do a job I'll worry about speeding up my process, but for now I want to take my time and make the script work.

I thought I knew every plot point, and I kind of do, but I hadn't really thought about transitions. Of course now that I'm thinking about the scene I'm currently stopped at I just realized how to solve my problem while I was typing this entry. Woohoo! Thanks, blog.

That works for me a surprising amount of time. When I go to write out what I'm having a problem with, I often find I write myself out of the problem.

On a completely unrelated note, since I'm watching the Republican convention, I just want to say one thing about this Sarah Palin business:

I have a vagina. She does not represent my interests. I really wish the Republicans would stop talking about women as if we're all just like Sarah Palin and will therefore vote for her regardless of what we believe in. Also, I don't live in the midwest and I'm not a redneck, but I am a real American. I was born here and everything. So, Republicans, if you could just respect me that would be great.

Except I'm not voting Republican anyway so I guess you have no motive to care. So nevermind.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

I'm back in business


I have my computer back! I will never under appreciate my laptop ever again.

That means tonight I can start back in on my script and now that I'm out of work I'll go at it like gangbusters. I'm hoping to get the first draft done within the next couple of weeks and then start on my pilot.

I think I can write this thing fast because although I haven't written any pages in a while I have never stopped thinking about it. I know every second of the plot so I should just breeze all the way through the next set of scenes.

Then I'll have two good completed feature screenplays and I'll have time to go back to TV so I can have a complete portfolio ready. I want to start soon on a pilot for a sort of space bounty hunter thing I've been toying with for years. Then no matter what opportunity comes up, I'll be ready for it.

It all begins with this beautiful blue laptop. I love you, laptop. Please don't ever leave me again.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Get busy learning or get busy being bored

I'm back. I went to Big Bear for the weekend. It was weird seeing stars and sleeping without the sound of traffic rushing by. But now I'm back to the constant hum of car horns and helicopters. Home.

After about three different nightmare discussions with various Indian Dell employees who all told me there was no way they could ship me a $12 part unless I gave them a skin graft and my social security number and the proposed name of my first child, I finally got one guy who was like, "Oh yeah no problem."

Dell, you are a stupid, stupid company.

Anyway so now I'm finally getting my cable, which is great because I've been using my old Acer laptop and every day something new stops working. Today my back buttons have stopped functioning in Firefox and there are no bookmarks.

As a result I haven't been able to write at all for the past few days. That hasn't been a major issue since I've been in the wilderness for four days, but now that I'm home and don't have to work for eight weeks I'd really like to finish my script. I keep staring at my Dell longingly as it rests in the corner all alone, dreaming of the AC current it needs to survive.

In order to not waste my time I've been studying. I'm reading Eric Lichtenfeld's Action Speaks Louder, a book about the origin and development of the modern action film. As I've been reading I've realized how many of these films I never saw, so I'm going through them one by one as I read. I'm learning all kinds of things about symbolism and technique that I would have learned in a film school class. It basically means I'm taking my own class on action for way cheaper than tuition and without having to drive anywhere.

It is my goal to see if I can go a whole week without driving anywhere and to use my bike to get around the city. Fortunately the Beefcake lives about two minutes from me, because if he was in the valley I think we'd have to break up.

Anyway, I'm going to begin my education with Dirty Harry in a moment. Yes, I've never seen Dirty Harry. Beefcake likes to make fun of the fact that if the film was made before 1980 I probably haven't seen it, so I'm attempting to remedy that situation one old movie at a time.

I've seen Taxi Driver and The French Connection and I've already made a big deal about how much I love Three Days of the Condor, but what else should I see? I can't possibly go through all the films listed in the book in the next few weeks but I can see a few. What would you pick for a favorite old action flick?