Sunday, November 30, 2008

Getting started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 29, 2008

My tragic fake love life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I made pie today

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I am thankful for the following things:

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

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

I am not grateful for the following things:


Wednesday, November 26, 2008


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What I've seen lately

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I also finally watched Rushmore. I love Wes Anderson.

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

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Who's that guy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 21, 2008

Play me a screenplay

I've been thinking about structure lately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I find that very, very difficult.

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The noir saga continues with Brick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Pitch Q

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Open scene

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

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

So here is the prompt I got:

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

And here is what I wrote:


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

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

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

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

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



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


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

It was an accident!

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


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

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

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

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

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

He doesn't let go of the fork.

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

You're saying you've changed?


From who you were three minutes ago?

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

She pulls the knife up to his face.

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

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


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

Hey, guys!

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

Gen appears in the room, still holding the knife.

Get him! HE ate Dom's cake!

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

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


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

Craig ate Dom's cake!

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

Is this true?

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


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

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

There is no escape for you, cake eater!

The crowd shouts in agreement.

Cake eater! Cake eater!

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

And here was the coverage:

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

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Another year, another missed second round

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

Then I went to the Expo.

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

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

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

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

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

This beauty queen thing was not my style.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I'll post it tomorrow or Monday.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Expo day one lessons

Today is Homecoming so there were cupcakes this morning for all the teachers so we could be like Goooooooo team! and shit, and then there was a pep rally and now my class is watching Vertigo as part of our noir series and I'm coming down from my sugar rush and I was out late last night so now I'm like ugh.

Vertigo is pretty awesome.

Yesterday I made it to the Expo and spent all day hanging out with Bill Martell. Even though I've heard almost all his classes before, I still like listening to Bill talk. I get new ideas from him all the time.

One of the things I was told was weak in my zombie script is that I kill all the zombies the same way. I have this scene where my female lead kills a bunch of zombies in a pharmacy, so while Bill was talking I got an idea to write down all the ways one can kill a zombie in a pharmacy. And immediately I thought of a much more interesting and tension filled scene.

Before my lead grabbed a broom and swung it around, taking out zombies left and right. This time my lead throws bottles and other objects and kicks and stumbles, and the scene is in general a lot more intense.

That's really why I go to the Expo. I sit in a room with my script in the back of my mind, and every time I hear some advice I think about how I can use it in whatever project I'm working on.

That and the networking. I made three new friends yesterday. Hi new friends!

I like giving my business cards to people because they're pretty.

I don't think I'll be at the Expo today. It's the day we take the senior class picture and if I'm not there it all goes to hell, plus I'm very sleepy.

But I'll definitely be there Saturday and Sunday, hopefully rocking the Open, and then cheering on old Sullivan, who's up for an award for his Mad Men spec. And then when he wins I will hit him on the head and steal his award and run. That is, assuming I have the energy.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My ego hurts

I suck.

This is important for me to know. My name is Emily and I suck.

See, I thought I was the shit. I wrote all these crappy scripts and then realized they were crappy and tossed them aside. And then I wrote this one great zombie script that was going to finally open my doors and rescue me from oblivion.

But apparently I was the only person who realized this. The script didn't get past the first round in the Nicholl and I made all kinds of excuses: zombies don't do well in prestigious contests, people just don't get what I'm trying to do, everybody read it as a horror film, blah blah blah. And then it didn't get past the first round at the Expo. Well that was a bigger blow because I was convinced I would at least get to the finals. I mean, this script is like the best thing ever, so how could it not set the world on fire?

Just like a newbie.

And that's when I took a good look at myself. Even accounting for taste, a good script should be able to get to the second round in a contest.

So I emailed someone who's been helping me and said "Why do I suck?"

And he said, "You're filthy. When's the last time you cleaned your bathroom? And Jesus, lady, do you even OWN a vacuum cleaner?"

And then he said, "Oh you mean as a writer."

And then he told me that basically I suck less than I could but more than I should. And then he told me why.

That is not an easy thing to hear but I steeled myself. Because I would rather buckle down and do the work and admit I have a problem so I can fix it than continue living in denial about my supposed awesomeness. I could keep pretending this script is the best thing going and everybody who doesn't see that is an idiot, or I could figure out how to fix it so that it IS the best thing going.

I have a lot of work ahead of me. That's the tough part - knowing that after all this work you still have lots more work to go. I don't want to have lots more work to go. Poop.

So Not Dead Yet is back out and in revision again. I refuse to give up on it. I refuse to suck anymore.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Yesterday Beefcake and I went to the zoo. Apparently so did every person in the greater Los Angeles area who possessed a small child. It made us both very tired so I had no energy for a post yesterday.

Anyway, I will be at Expo this weekend but in a limited capacity. For me this was the worst possible week they could have scheduled the thing. We have that earthquake drill tomorrow and then Homecoming is Friday so we're taking the senior class picture for yearbook and Saturday morning I'm doing a whole thing and Saturday night there's another whole thing and I'm somehow going to try to cram in Expo time.

I will be there some on Thursday and I will definitely try the Open. I may not be there Friday at all but I will be back Saturday if I advance in the Open and I will be there Sunday evening to see if a certain someone wins the whole shebang with his TV episode. I unfortunately did not advance because I suck.

I'm pretty sad about that, especially since I submitted not only Not Dead Yet but also my favorite short script, The Corner. I'm doing some real soul searching at this moment, trying to figure out if my perception of my own talent is really that far off.

What if I'm one of those sucky American Idol people who think they can sing but can't? What if I sound like a hyena on crack?

I know, I know, it's just one contest and it's just one script. It's just - this is the first script I've ever written that I feel 100% confident about. What if that confidence is completely misplaced?

I'd better finish my next script so I don't get depressed and eat a whole bundt cake for dinner.

In the meantime, I might see you at the Expo or a might not. I'm gonna bust my ass to do well in the Open though. I need some restored confidence.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Thoughts on the film: Street Smart ( It's not very good)

I tried to write this whole long post about Sunday's King of the Hill and how sad it is that NCLB has made a lot of schools try shady shit to pass the test, but it was a really boring post. I got bored just writing it, so I can only imagine you passing out and drooling on the keyboard and that's just not a good idea. So I'm looking out for you by being less boring.

Instead I'll talk about how much Street Smart sucked.

Street Smart is this movie with Christopher Reeve that was made in 1987. I don't know how it ended because I fell asleep. Beefcake kept making me wake up to watch something else that sucked so I'd raise my head up and look and go Uh huh and put my head back down. And then when he was done with his oatmeal he turned off the movie and we both went to sleep, so neither of us actually know how the film turned out. It sucked that much.

Because that's my general rule: If you don't care how it ends, it's a piece of balvarine turd. (I may or may not have been playing Fable all day.)

So here's an example of why it sucks. Kathy Baker plays a prostitute and there's this scene where she's having sex with Christopher Reeve and it starts with her telling him a story about some time she seduced this Russian guy. As she tells the story she acts it out until the end when she's on top of him and they're literally rolling on the bed together.

Now here's what's wrong. This is the moment these two characters have supposedly been building up to, and now finally after some forced sexual tension they do it. It=sex. But while she's talking and climbing on him the camera is in a wide shot with no close-ups and for some reason "Natural Woman" starts playing so loud that you can't hear her Russian John story. And then every couple of seconds it fades out and you hear a sentence and then it comes back again. It's like the editor hated the dialogue so she covered it with music. And there was no chemistry so the director covered it up with a wide angle.

Why did we watch this horrible movie in the first place, you ask? Well, it's what my mom and I coined a "back of the box" movie. My stepdad used to go to Blockbuster and pick up some random movie and read the back of the box and then rent it and it would be awful. So Mom and I used to ask him when he brought home a movie if is was a back of the box movie. So Street Smart was a back of the box movie. And it was awful.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

See one, do one, sit around and do nothing

Thursday I was on the field trip for the Maltese Falcon thing so I had a sub. The sub was okay, laid back like I like because when the sub is too strict he yells at my kids and it puts me in a bind when I get back. So this sub was okay. I saw him in the morning and gave him some last minute instructions, none of which he remembered because if it wasn't written on the sheet he didn't say it.

Now normally I like subs to just follow my instructions and not go too wild with their own ideas unless they're an expert on the subject at hand. I had a shop teacher once sub for me and he decided to explain the meaning behind a Shakespeare sonnet. He decided "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun" is a poem about a woman Shakespeare was having an affair with. One day a sub gave them the assignment, told them to do it if they felt like it, then turned on the NCAA tournament and broke my stool.

But this was a different situation. This guy's in film school. I talked to Sub Thursday morning and told him they were watching Chinatown and he needed to finish it with them. And I asked him how well he knew Chinatown and he said "Oh yeah I'm in film school. A lot of my friends rave about that movie."

So yesterday I got to class and asked all the kids what they thought of the movie and I got blank stares. I'm sure he showed the movie, I'm not so sure he did anything else. I get the impression that they were paying very little attention and he didn't explain anything. Then they were supposed to answer a heaping pile of questions about the film and film technique and most of them were confused.

So let me ask you this. If you had the chance to teach Chinatown and help a bunch of students answer film analysis questions, how would you react? Here's an opportunity to share what you're learning in school, ideally your greatest passion, with a group of well-behaved teenagers.

Instead, most of my kids didn't even understand what happened at the end, much less discuss the significance of it. I get the impression he just sat at the computer and played sudoku or something.

So I ended up showing the ending again and discussing it myself. Not a problem for me, but still kind of disappointing that he didn't offer them another perspective. I think maybe this guy shouldn't be in film school.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The Big Read is the Big Awesome

Today was the awesomest field trip ever, even better than that trip to Glendale last year where we had free burgers.

Today kicked off The Big Read, a program sponsored by Mayor Villaraigosa and the National Endowment for the Arts designed to encourage reading around Los Angeles. Five different high schools, and maybe more, all agreed to use The Maltese Falcon in our American Literature classes.

So today another teacher and I took 26 hand-picked kids from our school to Barnsdall Park where the city had a classic car demonstration, a real live falcon, a jazz band and a staged performance of the play version performed by a troupe from Long Beach. They fed us veggie burgers or chicken thingees. I ate the veggie burger because I'm trying not to be fat. It was okay.

In case you've never noticed, teachers will do just about anything for free food. You think cops love donuts? Pwah.

James Avery
was there in a wheel chair since he just had foot surgery. Here is Carlton's Dad preparing to eat his lunch like three feet from me.

Austen Perros was there, and I'd never heard of him before but judging by the ear-splitting screams emanating from the teenage girls beside me he's very popular with the teenage girl set. There were some other cool people there - Hammett's granddaughter and great granddaughter were there. They taught me that Dashiell Hammett's first name is pronounced "Duh-SHEEL". So that was news.

We got T-Shirts and gift bags - and you know how gift bags usually have a book mark and like three brochures in it? Not this time. We got all kinds of cool stuff - a graphic novel and some mints and a fizzy soda-like-but-not-actually-soda-drink, and a pencil. Oh, and a magnet with the superintendent's name on it, I guess so I can remember who he is every time I go into my fridge for barbecue sauce.

The mayor was there with his cloud of camera people:

And he stayed to give us all a nice speech about the importance of reading. According to the event organizer he NEVER stays that long in one place. He was really enthusiastic. Since I was also taking pictures for the yearbook I had a camera on me, as you can see, but I only thought of recording his speech for YouTube halfway through so I didn't do it.

We watched the play, which starred some very talented actors and one trumpet player who actually read from the script and appeared never to have even read the script before so he covered his unprofessionalism by breaking the fourth wall every three seconds. The poor lead actor was doing his best to work through it.

Anyway, when all was said and done it was a great success. The kids are jazzed up about the book now and they're all supposed to go back to their classes and teach the rest of the kids what they learned.

One of our kids won a copy of the film in a raffle. It's like a $25 DVD set. She clearly didn't want it, so I leaned over and said, "You can sell that."

And she goes, "Really? To who?"

And I said, "Me."

And she said, "Five dollars."

And I didn't have any cash so when we got back to school I ran up to Best Friend and demanded five dollars and bought the movie. And then our donated camera came in for yearbook. And then, since I had a sub in my class, I went home early.

It was a good day.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Every Girl in LA is blonde

Obviously today was the best day ever. Except for that one proposition, but other than that - I drank all my Kool Aid for today.

Anyway, I was just watching the most recent episode of The Sarah Connor Chronicles and something really bugged the shit out of me.

Sarah Connor is a brunette with wavy hair. Cameron is a tiny little brunette with long straight hair. The evil head of Skynet is a stylish redhead. All of these women have memorable faces.

But every time they need another secondary female character they make her a long-haired blond. John's friend is a medium-build long-haired blond girl. That chick Cameron almost killed is a medium-build long-haired blond girl. And if their neighbor weren't pregnant she'd be a medium-build long-haired blond girl. And they all have relatively the same complexion and pretty similar facial structure.

Why does this matter, you may ask? Because as I was watching the show I got super confused. There's a scene where Blond Girl A is talking to the bad guy in the grocery store and two aisles over Blond Girl B is walking around with John Connor. But even before that I thought Blond Girl A was Blond Girl B and that Blond Girl B was betraying John Connor by talking to the bad guy.

Maybe it's just me, I dunno. Maybe I'm just not paying enough attention.

But I'm just wondering if casting people noticed that. Or if maybe hair and makeup people can do something a little different with the next medium-build long-haired blond girl they hire.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How to make teenagers shut up and watch the damn movie

Chinatown went well. Today was a big testing day so I only actually had 11 kids, but you would have thought I had a Marine unit, they were so goddamn loud. They're really excited about election day. One kid was completely thrilled to learn that he leans Republican, I guess because it makes him a maverick.

But after I finally got them to shut the fuck up so I could start the movie they were mesmerized. I didn't have to shush them at all - just gave them a list of questions to answer and let them watch. I kept nearly breaking my neck to turn around and see the movie so eventually I just admitted I wanted to watch it again and moved to a student desk. That's how I noticed that I do not approve of Mrs. Mulwray's drawn-on eyebrows. She could be a chola with those sharpie-looking things.

One of the things I've noticed about kids and movies is they need to know what to expect. Once I showed a class Seven Years in Tibet. If you've ever seen Seven Years in Tibet you have no doubt noticed that although it is a very meaningful and wondrous film, it is also ungodly boring. So I told the kids "Hey kids," I said. "This is not the most exciting movie you have ever seen. It's very slow paced but it's about the message of ego and beauty and patience and all the typical Buddhist attributes. So you won't see a whole lot of explosions here, but it's a beautiful film and I really like it."

And you know? I didn't have a single complaint. When they know it's not an action film they know how they need to watch it.

My current class has been reading The Maltese Falcon so all I had to do today was tell them Chinatown is a lot like the book we've been reading. "It's not full of explosions and fun battles," I said. "But there is sex and violence and a great big tragedy. Plus it's about Los Angeles. I love this movie. If you want to love it you have to be a little patient and wait for the story to unfold at its own pace."

And it worked.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Chinatown on election day

I'm very excited about Tuesday. Tuesday is the eve of glorious things. I don't usually get all political, but I just want to encourage Californians to vote NO on proposition 4. Many families are open and loving and teach their kids to do the right thing. Some families aren't so healthy, and some girls would be beaten or kicked out of the house if they came home pregnant. Some would not be allowed to get abortions if they wanted them. I know some of these girls. So please vote NO on 4.

I like voting in my neighborhood. The area is all million dollar homes and families and our one apartment building (Which also means I got lots of parking) so I get to go vote at somebody's house. For the primaries it was a garage in some dude's mansion. The old ladies running the voting booths were eating fried chicken. And they gave me extra "I Voted" stickers. So voting in my neighborhood is fun. I'm going to ride my bike.

Also Tuesday I get to start the noir film showcase. I'm starting with Chinatown. It's odd, I had seen Chinatown long before, but I was studying it after I originally read Syd Field's Screenplay. I think I was looking too hard at structure to appreciate the film from a story perspective.

But the other day I watched it again. And this time I just watched it to make sure there wasn't anything I had to worry about or explain for the classroom - for instance, the fact that LA is located in a desert. And as I watched the film again I realized just how beautifully tragic it is.

Sometimes I forget to just watch movies. I'm so busy analyzing, reviewing, picking apart the details to see what works and what doesn't, that I forget to bask in the beauty of a good story. But right there alone in my apartment watching Chinatown I felt so damn sad at the ending in a way I never felt before when I watched it. And sometimes, if I'm careful, I can make the kids feel it too. If you introduce a movie just the right way they'll love it forever.

So I hope we all have a good time watching Chinatown on election day. Kind of fitting, I think.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Save the daisies!

Pushing Daisies is in danger.

According to an article on Yahoo! The studio has not ordered a full season and told Bryan Fuller to make episode 13 a possible finale. It was supposed to be the first half of a two-parter. This is pretty much the same thing that happened last year since the strike cut the season short.

The decision has not yet been made, but Jesus, if there's one show that deserves more episodes it's Daisies. If Daisies goes away and Fringe sticks around I am going to wail on somebody.

So if you like Daisies or if you haven't seen it please give it a shot. The show is so original and beautiful and well worth watching. And it doesn't deserve to get the ax.

And if you want to get caught up, all of season one is now out on DVD. The extras kind of suck, but at least you can watch the episodes over and over all you want.