Friday, May 30, 2008

Carrie would look down on my closet.


Last night one of my oldest friends called to ask me if I thought she should wear a suit or something more artsy to a job interview.

I laughed.

I've had two real jobs in my life - reporter and teacher. And at both jobs I wore jeans and button down collared shirts as my standard wardrobe. I don't even own a power suit or anything that resembles one. My shoes come from Sketchers, Nike and Payless. My wardrobe is 90% The Gap. My going out clothes come from Forever 21. My really nice going out clothes come from Frederick's of Hollywood. My fanciest item is a skirt I got off the sale rack at Bebe four years ago. I don't own any heels higher than kitten.

Maybe that's why I don't get Sex and the City. I like clothes that look good and I'm horribly jealous of my coworker who always puts together these fantastic clothing combinations that would never occur to me, but if I had a choice I'd reach for the jeans and T-shirt every time.

Sex and the City is about four women who have lots of dramatic relationship issues and wear expensive clothes. It's not about a whole lot else. I talk about clothes sometimes. I talk about sex sometimes. But by and large those conversations are a small fraction of how I spend my conversational time and I can't fathom spending 2 and a half hours bouncing between sex and the shops on Melrose.

I get that lots of women like that they aren't afraid to talk about sex openly the way men do. I like that the women are fairly independent and have jobs and stuff. That's great and for some people that's enough. But I can't think of much more boring material to sit through.

Unless there is a gun battle in the middle of the wedding. Is there a chance Aiden shows up with a gatlin gun to demand Carrie back from Big right as they're saying their vows? Because that would make me watch it.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The scenes you remember


Today I'm doing my favorite assignment ever. We just finished reading Elie Wiesel's Night, so I have the kids get into groups and make an art project. Each group has a paper bag with art supplies in it. Using only the supplies in the bag, they must create a three-dimensional representation of a pivotal scene of their choice from the novel.

So for two days I sit and watch my kids cut and paste, and I learn. Right now the group with the laziest, most frequently absent boys who have the worst collective grades in the class are working their asses off to create this really clever project where little people are going to pop out of a paper and march around in the snow. They're really pissed because I only gave them one pencil.

You have never seen such adorable concentration camps in your life, I swear.

One of my kids is very excited because he saw "Jewish churches" recently and was surprised to learn they were still around. The kids really should leave South Central more often.

Anyway, one interesting thing I learn through this and other assignments is what in a story stands out in a kid's mind. Violence, intense natural images, extreme circumstances, the unexpected.

In Night it tends to be the long march the prisoners take through the snow, or the hanging of the child, or the moment when a man's son murders him on the train for a crust of bread, or the moment when the Nazis throw babies in the air and use them for target practice.

In All Quiet on the Western Front they remember the horses screaming in the middle of the night while they trip over their own intestines after an attack. They also remember how the soldiers walk naked in their boots to meet the French women they plan to have sex with.

In Great Expectations they remember the cake covered in cobwebs.

So it makes me think about what scene in my own scripts would stick out in their minds. In Not Dead Yet, I'm pretty sure it's the moment when a kid gets his arm chopped off or the tidal wave.

If my kids had to make a project out of your movie, what scenes would they remember? What would be the most important moment when the point of the story summed up in an image or two?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Confused thoughts on the film: The Foot Fist Way


On Memorial Day I walked up to Raleigh Studios to watch a screening of The Foot Fist Way, an independent film shot in Concord, NC about a somewhat inept Tae Kwan Do instructor. This film premiered at Sundance, where it was picked up by Paramount Vantage thanks to the efforts of Will Farrel, who apparently thought this was one of the funniest films he ever saw.

Yeah, I wouldn't go that far.

SPOILERS

This film was all over the place. I hated the main character, then he surrounded himself by such despicable people that I hated him a little less, then I hated him again. I thought briefly that the film was spoofing Tae Kwan Do, but then it wasn't. I thought one dude was a pedophile but that didn't go anywhere. I wasn't sure if this was about fighting or breaking boards with your fist. The main character was a completely incompetent idiot, then suddenly he was a great teacher.

This would be okay I guess if it was some kind of progression set up as the guy's journey but I have to say I was never sure what the hell the guy's journey was. By the time I figured out what lesson he was supposed to learn he'd already learned it. So I was kind of like "Oh. Oh is that what this movie was about?"

There were moments when people in the audience burst into hysterical laughter and all I could do was look around the room trying to figure out what in the sam hill was so god damn funny. I laughed out loud about four times, but the audience lost its shit a lot more than that. I'll be damned if I can figure out why.

This movie had genuine moments of brilliance, but each one was followed by a scene that could have been written by one of my tenth graders.

I loved the protagonist's creepy best friend and his sincere love of the sport, and some of the kids' arcs were fantastic. But for every scene I loved there was one I hated just as much.

For instance, there is a scene where it looks like our teacher and some of his students are at a party and one of them named Henry, I think - by far the most interesting character in this film - starts a potential brawl in the room when some lame guitar player insults him. And I thought - oh cool, this movie's finally getting good - as each of his friends get ready to duke it out in one of the few truly funny moments in the film. And then the leader of the other crew just laughs it off and the fight defuses. I was disappointed as hell after all that build up.

There is finally a fight between our protagonist and his disappointing hero that I really enjoyed, but then it's followed up not by a climactic fight, but by a competition to see who can break the most boards with his fist. So again I was saying to myself, is that what this movie's about? Is that what Tae Kwan Do is about? Breaking boards? What the hell good is a fighting movie when winning a fight is not the goal?

Then again, a part of me thought that was an interesting twist.

Then again, I can't argue with the fact that I felt let down by the ending.

So all in all this movie left me perplexed. Parts of it I loved. Parts of it I spent leaning out of my chair, dreaming of the sunlight outside and wishing I could get some soon.

So if anybody gets a chance to see this movie, let me know what you think. I'm not even sure what my opinion is.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Thanks, Sydney Pollack


As you've probably heard, Sydney Pollack died today. And although I recognized him as an actor I couldn't remember more than three or four of his eight bazillion projects as a director. So I looked up his IMDB credits, and man are there a lot of great credits on there: The Firm, Out of Africa, Tootsie, The Way We Were, Jeremiah Johnson.

I don't love everything he's ever done, but there is one movie that tops all others for me: Three Days of the Condor.

Robert Redford plays a CIA analyst who is the only survivor of a massacre at his office. And as he tries to figure out who's responsible and who he can trust, the bad guys try to finish what they started by tracking him down.

These days many action movies are all special effects and absurd irrelevant situations (see the new Indiana Jones for examples) but Three Days of the Condor was one dude with no real training relying solely on his instinct and his surroundings to survive each day. No special effects, no crazy stunts, just conflict brought on by story.

You know this guy isn't a kick ass martial artist, so you're really worried about him every time he has to fight for his life against the next professional assassin. Plus he's Robert Redford so he's hot.

The fight scenes are intense because you're caught up in the story. You don't need and crazy impossible stunts.

This is the kind of movie that inspired my desire to write action films.

So as soon as I remembered how much I loved that movie I scrolled through the next week's movies on all the channels that show older movies to see if Three Days of the Condor was airing any time soon, and what do you know, it will be on TMC Tuesday night. So how do you like that?

So thanks, Sydney Pollack. You left behind one hell of an awesome legacy.

I hope when I die I leave one eighth as much awesomeness in my wake.

Thoughts on the film: Indiana Jones


No Real Spoilers.

Okay I know I said I didn't want to read reviews before I went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, but it turns out that wouldn't really have mattered. For some unfathomable reason, the critics are dry humping this movie all over the place.

I went to a 10:30 showing at The Grove last night which was sold out. I chose my seat carefully and stayed in it for half an hour while every other seat in the house filled up. The seat next to me stayed empty because I'm apparently the only person in Los Angeles who has no problem going to movies alone.

So after the lights have already gone down and the previews have started this old foreign couple comes up and the wife just plops down in the seat next to me, leaving her husband stumped and standing in the aisle. She looks at me and says, "Are you alone?"

"Yes."

"Would you please move to that seat over there?"

The seat "over there" was a terrible seat. I did not just spend half an hour guarding my seat to give it up to these people who didn't have the foresight to come early to a soldout screening. Besides, there were still some spots up in the front two rows.

"No," I said. And she was completely taken back. She ordered her husband to sit "over there" instead and like an abused domesticated animal he silently complied.

I started watching the movie thinking, "Okay. Not the opening I would have hoped for but it's still fun"

Then I was like, "Okay it's not great but it's still fun. It's entertaining."

Then I was like "Okay that would never happen. In fact that's a little ridiculous."

Then I was like "Okay this is absurd. People don't behave this way. Physics don't behave this way. This movie is terrible."

A couple of moments of suspension of disbelief I can handle, but when people continually behave in a way contrary to logical human behavior, it gets harder and harder to lose yourself in the story and shut off that piece of your brain that finds it all stupid.

Also, Han - I mean Indy - actually says "I've got a bad feeling about this." Really? REALLY?

Mystery Man does an excellent rundown of all the reasons this movie doesn't work, but my biggest problem is simply that I don't buy it. I'm willing to forgive a lot of little issues, but when a teenage boy who dropped out of high school turns out to be some kind of super human sword fighting, archaeological experting, strategizing, snake catching, kickboxing, mortocycle repairing, vine swinging, monkey rangling, tear dropping greaser who can balance between two Jeeps while fencing and getting hit in the nuts repeatedly, I start to groan.

And that's what this movie is. A groaner. I simply do not understand why the hell the critics tricked people into thinking it was great.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I'm gonna be a star

Red Right Hand made his movie. It's called Area Five and it's all up on the Youtube and it stars some chick who has frizzy hair and takes her shirt off so you can see her pot belly.



And RRH talks about the making of it HERE.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The easy answer


Okay this post is going to be a little negative. I don't like being negative but sometimes, dammit, it has to be done.

The other day this dude posted on Wordplayer asking for a way to guarantee his masterpiece will sell. "How do I get my script in front of readers?" he asked.

Everybody answered him, a couple with really eloquent posts, about how you need to write a great script and meet people and enter contests and
learn the ropes and that there is no easy answer. And the guy kept coming back with the statement that these suggestions gave an "unknowable" outcome.

Well, yeah. This isn't physics, dude. It's art. And art is subjective and competitive and indeed unknowable.

As proof, I offer the movie Torque which is playing on my TV right now. This movie is awful but a lot of people put a lot of time and money in it. The reason why is completely unknowable. So why the hell am I subjecting myself to this piece of crap on a motorcycle? I'm about to go to bed so I don't want to invest my time in something I care about, and this movie has completely ridiculous explosions.

OMG! They just drove their motorcycles so fast they merged into a video game! That bullet just set fire to his leaky sesium fuel deposit or some shit!

This movie is retarded. Unless any of the people involved in making that film should happen to read this blog someday, in which case I find it a thought-provoking piece of excellence in cinema, sirs.

But I digress.

This guy on Wordplayer kept coming back with the same comment about how he needed to know what method to take to get his script in front of the reader. He rejected anything that wasn't a logical, mathematical formula for how to become a screenwriter.

Every year people move to LA and give themselves a year to find a job as a professional screenwriter. Don't do that. It will not happen in a year and most of the people who think it will end up giving up and going back to the familiar when they don't make their goal. Know why Diablo Cody is famous? Because nobody else has ever done what she did, so don't go thinking you'll be like her. If you are like her - AWESOME. You've beaten the odds.

I've been in LA 3 years. I have some contacts, I have a solid script and a bunch of not solid scripts, I have great friends. I know people who've been here for decades and have only scratched the surface of the industry. I know people who work as writers, but still have to struggle to find jobs every time they finish the last one.

So if you're one of those people who wants to move here and try it for a year, save your money. Write a bunch of scripts and then come here prepared to invest some time.

Most of you already know that way better than I do already so I'll finish up my point.

This guy insisted on an easy answer so I told him to get the Hollywood Creative Directory and query agents, which as you all know is 98% a waste of your time. But he thanked me and was so glad somebody finally answered his question so he could go on his merry, but not before asking me where to find the HCD because apparently he is unfamiliar with Google.

Now maybe he's just knew and eager and excited and scared and will figure it out the hard way. Sometimes new people don't want to hear the truth because the truth is depressing. But he'll either learn soon or hang on to his day job.

Don't be that guy.

Good new developments, everybody. Torque ended and now I'm watching Housesitter, which is a much better film. I would totally go shopping with Goldie Hawn. She makes up for the lack of explosions.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sometimes I read the reviews


I was supposed to go see Indiana Jones tonight with my college roommate but God ordained that she would not be in LA tonight. He blew up her water heater and then he gave her bronchitis. Mysterious ways indeed.

So I do not have my opinion of the movie ready. I'll either see it tomorrow as I run around the city doing stuff or Sunday as I run around the city doing stuff. Saturday I'm staying home and doing stuff.

I usually read the reviews because I don't want to pay money and deal with parking in order to see a movie that sucks. And I don't mind being mildly spoiled sometimes.

Reviews are what made me see Iron Man. They're also what made me avoid Speed Racer. I feel satisfied with those choices.

But this time I haven't read any of them. I don't want to know. I plan to see Indy no matter what the critics say and I'm worried that it will not be good so I'm avoiding any outside opinions whatsoever. That will be difficult since Ex-Boyfriend and I are hanging out tonight and he watched the movie last night. I don't even want to know if he liked it, but I'll probably ask him anyway because I can't help it.

I know a lot of people hate reviews, but the truth is that the reviewers are right a lot of the time. Sometimes they gang up unnecessarily on a movie - I mean Waterworld wasn't THAT bad - but most of the time they make some really good observations. Or at least if they're wrong they're like a million degress wrong and it's pretty obvious.

So usually if I'm deciding what to see I'll check the reviews. But I don't care what they think about Indy. I'm prepared to love it.

I'm not going to read reviews of The Dark Knight either. But I will read the reviews of The Hulk.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The day I met my mother


On May 22, three decades ago, my very pregnant mother sat on a wall watching her Catholic school students play during recess. A nun walked up to her and said, "How are you?"

"I'm in labor," my mother said.

The nun understandably freaked out. My mom told her to chill.

She went to the doctor's office for a check-up because I was due any day now. I'm punctual like that.

"You're in labor," the doctor said.

"I know," replied my mother.

Then she went to pick up my father for his birthday dinner. She told him happy birthday, but she'd have to put it on hold because they were about to have a baby.

They took my sister to my grandma's house and mom drove them to the hospital. The doctor said she had a while to go and did she mind terribly if he went home and got some dinner? She said okay.

And as soon as he drove out of the parking lot I said "I'm up out this piece!" and I decided to break loose from my watery cavern.

And the nurse who was supposed to give my mother an epidural dropped the needle twice and my mom said nope! and at 10 pm she pushed me out all by herself, no doctor, no needles, no nothing.

And I was a wee little hairless baby who weighed five pounds nothin. She said I looked like Gandhi on a hunger strike.

And the first thing I did when they shoved me in her arms was grab her necklace and look her in the eye and go, "Look here, lady. I'm in the world now. Things are gonna change."

And they did.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Group Work


Every now and then a big flare up will happen over at Wordplayer over how much feedback you should get on your script. There are actually people who believe that you and only you should be able to determine what your script needs and you should never have another person give you feedback on your script.

And that is just retarded.

Even the most amazing writers in history had editors. Even Dickens ended Great Expectations with the depressing realization that Pip and Estella were not meant to be and they were both kind of unhappy until Dickens' editor told him to happy that shit up or else. So he split the difference and gave us the ambiguous ending we now have. He took advice from people.

What the hell makes some writers think they're so special they're awesomer than Dickens, huh? Because let me tell you something, pal. You are NOT awesomer than Dickens. Nobody is. Except maybe Shakespeare. Or Chaucer. But since Chaucer didn't even finish his shit I don't think he counts.

So get feedback, is the point.

That's where a writers group comes in.

It's hard to find a good one. There are some crappy old writers around LA who get together to give each other metaphorical hand jobs over how incredible they are. There are some who get together for the sole purpose of ripping other people's work to shreds. There are some who advertise on Craigslist for "Professional writers only" so that they, an amateur writer, can find themselves a human ladder to climb.

I was lucky enough to land in a group of people with limited professional credits but considerable experience. We're mostly all either just starting our first paid project or on the cusp of breaking through, so everybody has something valuable to say when it comes to criticism.

We keep a running dialogue through a Yahoo group so that between meetings we can still get advice and share news. Then, once a month we try to meet, usually at the house of the person whose work we're primarily critiquing that meeting. Sometimes we'll do more than one piece, but usually there's only one full length script up on the chopping block.

Whoever provides the location also provides snacks. Sometimes the snacks are better than others. Sometimes the parking is better than others. Some people never host because they live in the Valley and nobody wants to drive there. Ever.

We do a check-in where every member of the group lists the things they've been working on and how they're going. That takes forever because one FUN member of our group who shall remain nameless likes to talk more than any human being I know - including me - but it's all fun and interesting and positive so it's definitely a valuable part of our routine.

Then we get to critiquing. Most of the time we've all read the material although on occasion one of us will be reading while we walk in the door and munch on Cheetos. Usually we have written notes that we read.

It's not the kind of group where you sit silently until the damage is done. Sometimes questions come up or it's helpful to explain what you were trying to do in order to get the right feedback. And everybody's really supportive and respectful so it works.

Of course, every group is different, but I like the way ours works. It's informal and fun and I always come out invigorated. Usually the whole drive home I'm thinking of how to make the changes I just thought of during the meeting, changes I never would have figured out on my own.

So if you don't have a writers group I suggest finding one. If you live in LA you have plenty of choices. I know at least two people who belong to television only groups. Ours is mostly screenwriting but sometimes we get a short story. Scott the Reader belongs to one that does live readings with actors. Just find whatever floats your boat and hop on. And if that doesn't work, find another. And if that doesn't work, start your own.

But don't try to do this alone because remember, you're not cooler than Dickens.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The killer monologue


Every year during the Oscar broadcast the Academy people have to decide which scenes to show as the example of how awesome the actor nominees are.

There's always all this passion on screen, usually part of some key confrontation between the lead and some other character, a cathartic moment with a lot of yelling or crying or emotional reveal. Sometimes I wonder about those scenes and how they came about - what makes a moment on the page that transcends simple dialogue and becomes a thing of beauty.

I've written some pretty good scenes before and I'm really proud of Not Dead Yet, but I don't think there's a scene in there that would pick up and Oscar. I mean, it's about zombies so it's probably not getting an Oscar anyway, but it's such an ensemble piece that there's no real room for one person to go ape shit on dialogue. It was written to be fun, not overly thought-provoking, although it does have its share of deeper meaning.

But tonight as I was thinking about my new project and a particular scene between the two major characters and I started acting it out. I used to do that all the time; I bought a pair of guns at the dollar store once so I could have props to run around the apartment with as I was writing scenes. It's one of the reasons I live alone.

The scene calls for a driver's license and a weapon. I grabbed a big old kitchen knife but that felt wrong. So I grabbed my cane from when my foot was injured and waved it around. And that's when I realized this character had the cane because she was injured earlier in a scene I already wrote. Instantly more interesting.

So I was holding up the cane and my driver's license and yelling at an empty corner of my apartment - you know, the way you do when you're batshit crazy - and I realized this has the potential to be one of those moments. I'm not egotistical enough to suggest that my script will win an Oscar or anything because that would be ridiculous. But I do see where those moments come from. It was there. I was standing there in my living room freaking out the cat and realizing that I know how to write a moment that an actor would kill to play.

Of course the danger here is that I try too hard and end up overdoing it. Nobody likes a preachy monologue. But maybe if I'm swinging around a cane and yelling a lot it will be cooler.

So in theory my script is awesome. We'll see how well I pull that off in reality.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Writer's Salon is a hit


Earlier today I was part of the pilot episode of The Rouge Wave's Writer's Salon.

Three other writers and I brought our laptops and our ideas to an undisclosed location in Los Angeles, where we discussed our stories and got advice from professional script consultants. Julie - The Rouge Wave's actual name - wants to make this a regular thing and I think that's a fantastic idea.

Two of us were working on dramas. Two of us were working on high concept romantic comedies. All of us had strong story ideas but a few stumbling blocks preventing us from carrying our scripts to greatness. All four of us came out of that meeting with a better understanding of where we're headed.

When I arrived, I thought my problem was that my story was too much like Crash and I was spending too much time on the wrong protagonist. It turns out that wasn't my problem at all. My problem was that I had a cool idea and some interesting scenes, but not a lot of energy pushing the story forward. There was no urgency.

So after brainstorming a few suggestions we came up with a great set of changes that suddenly makes my story a whole bunch of times better without destroying the original concept. And now I'm super excited.

Usually I don't get that kind of feedback until I've finished my first draft and hear the criticism from my writers group. This time I got it right up front. That was important. I have a tendency to get to a point in the script where I'm not sure how to proceed so I just stop and toss it. I have a feeling that would have happened her too if I hadn't gotten the advice I did today, and now this story could really be something.

So I have to say the inaugural Writer's Salon was definitely worth the time. One girl drove down from Napa to participate but I think she got enough out of it to justify her trip. I hope she went to Pink's Hot Dogs while she was in town.

Plus there were cupcakes.

Julie plans to turn this into a recurring thing, so keep an eye out for the next installment.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I'm uncomfortable with change


Has anybody else noticed that they changed Law and Order?

Special Victims Unit usually begins with Elliot and Olivia being called to a crime scene and finding out what the situation is.

Criminal Intent begins with a series of shots showing some clues to what happened and who may have done it before we see the results of these people's shady dealings.

And vanilla flavored Law and Order has always opened with some random person doing some random thing and stumbling on a random body.

But not anymore. I don't know how long it's been going on because I stopped watching Law and Order for a while. I started up again when it was just about the only new thing on the air during the strike. And now that it has Jeremy Sisto and Anthony Anderson, two amazing actors that will probably end up being underused, I'm watching it every week.

I'm totally in love with Jeremy Sisto, by the way. Oddly enough I fell in love with him when I saw him as a skinny, twisted Devil worshipping serial killer in Hideaway. Apparently I have issues.

Anyhow, now instead of showing people finding the body, Law and Order has begun opening with a shorter version of Criminal Intent's series of shots. At first I thought it was a one-time thing and figured the episode may have been written by a Criminal Intent writer or something. But no, it was a regular writer for the show. And then every week since then they've started the show the same way.

It's not really a big deal, especially since a Law and Order spec is kind of useless these days, but I still found it intriguing. It was clearly a conscious decision by the showrunner to change things up. I wonder why? The show has clung to the same formula for over a decade, and now it's suddenly shaking up this one thing while leaving everything else the same - well, besides the ever-rotating cast.

I just thought this was interesting and that you should know.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Make me cry


You know what you shouldn't do at 7:30 every morning? Read Night out loud to a class full of sleepy teenagers. This is the third day in a row I have spent the morning sad and cranky.

It's amazing that a story about a Hungarian 15-year-old boy who ended up spending a year in a concentration camp can still make me depressed for like four hours. That's the power of story, right there. Even if the story wasn't true I think it would still affect me in a pretty strong way.

That's the thing we strive for, isn't it? To make your story so emotionally moving that people cry or laugh or write letters to their congressmen? I know I want that.

When I wrote my very first screenplay I had this death scene that turned me into a big puddle of saltiness. I kept playing "My Immortal" over and over as I wrote it and I was just moved to depression by how heartbreaking my death was.

And nobody else really felt that way when they read it.

That's partly because it was a first screenplay, but also partly because the screenplay form is not really one that naturally lends itself to tears. We cry when we watch a movie because the actor on screen is believable and we're wrapped up in the story as presented us with color and imagery and editing and music. So the chances of what's on the page pulling down some kind of emotional reaction are not as good as in a novel.

Still. Sometimes it happens. I try to make it happen but there's a fine line between emotionally gripping scenes and super sappy ones. I've laughed at jokes in screenplays before, but it's rare that I actually cry. Tonight He Comes actually made me cry because I felt so much pity for Hancock when he hit rock bottom. But I can't think of any other screenplay that did.

Can you? What do you think is the line between sappy and moving? Have you ever written anything that made people cry?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Homeless people need to stop breaking into my shit


So a few months ago my car got broken into in the garage. The tapes show a presumably homeless guy walking in when the gate opened to let somebody out, going into my car and ransacking it. He didn't take anything except the clicker, which he later threw into the bushes. But he did throw everything in my car around. My guess is he was looking for drugs because he took none of the loose change I keep in the car for parking meters or any of my CDs.

I drive a Jeep, by the way, so there's no way to prevent theft. You just have to be careful about what you leave where in the car. But I never really worried at this apartment because it's in a gated garage monitored by video surveillance.

Anyway, today when I got home from work as I was leaving the garage and going into the building a beat down dude leaned against the gate and looked in. I went into the building and remembered that homeless guy and wondered if this was the same guy. I watched as he left the garage and plopped down on the wall in front of the building, waiting for another car to come and open the gate so he could come in and ransack my fucking car again.

I thought for a minute. Should I say something? What if this isn't the guy? What if this dude is nuts? And why deny him the opportunity to just sit on a wall? He's probably got a shitty life anyway so I should let him sit on the wall.

Then I remembered how he ransacked my fucking car and pulled off all the damn tape that was holding the glove compartment together.

So I went back into the garage and locked up everything I could lock and took anything of value out of the car. I considered putting a note on the glove compartment that said, "There is nothing in the glove box. Please do not rip all the tape off because it is a massive pain in the ass to put back on."

But I didn't because I had no paper.

As I walked back past the gate, the homeless guy was back in front of it, looking in. And he saw me. And I glared at him.

As soon as he realized I was staring right back at him he backed up and looked up at an apartment on the second floor.

"Heeeeeeeeeeey!" he called to an imaginary tenant. "Yo!"

Then he backed away from the building and ran across the street.

And that is what screenplays are made of.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Protagonist board meetings are boring


In all my self pity I forgot I was supposed to talk about jobs. So now I'm going to talk about jobs.

I don't know about you guys, but I am really tired of people who work in advertising firms in movies. And sometimes they're lawyers and sometimes they're just people who work in some random office overlooking a beautiful view of the city. There are so many jobs out there, it's kind of lazy for a writer to fall back on an office job, especially an office job working for a magazine or an advertising firm.

So don't do that. I plead for a release from advertising firms and magazines as the place of employment for your main character.

So where do you get ideas for jobs? There's a couple of places.

First of all, if possible you should make the job match the story thematically. In the script for Tonight, He Comes, which has been turned into Hancock, one of the major characters is a security guard. This job is completely appropriate because the main problem is that he's completely lacking in testicles and his ego is next to nothing. A job as a useless security guard is absolutely perfect for the situation. Of course in the movie that job was changed to a PR exec, which to me is a lot less interesting, but is appropriate to how the story is now more about Hancock getting his shit together.

Try watching Dirty Jobs some time. There are a whole lot of people in this country who never set foot in an office, and Mike Rowe interviews a pile of them.

Even if you Google "unusual jobs" you come up with things like "chicken sexer." That must be a hell of a job.

For me, I usually use jobs of people I know. In Not Dead Yet, before the zombie apocalypse my female lead was a stunt performer. I chose that career for her because it makes her easier to believe as an action hero and because Ex-Boyfriend is on his way to becoming one.

In Jacking, I made a character a professional dog walker and pet sitter. Ex-Fiance did that job for a while and it also helps the story by giving my character a love for pets that makes her really sympathetic. Whenever I try to figure out what my characters do, I think of what interesting jobs my friends have, then I think of which job would really help push the story forward.

Every day you interact with people who don't work in an office. Ever buy a taco off the truck? (Seriously if you haven't, go do so immediately.) Ever ride the Metro? Ever bought anything, ever? That stuff doesn't go straight from the office to the street. I once dated a guy whose dad made a fortune building the machines that package pills for Glaxo Smith Klein. He worked in a warehouse all day.

Apparently I get all my job ideas from the boys I date. Come to think of it, I've never dated someone who works in an office. Ever. I tend to shy away from those guys because they're more boring than your average chicken sexer.

So please, please use your imagination next time you're giving a character a job. It makes them more interesting by giving them something to do besides sit around a conference table and it makes you stand out.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Page one - Jacking


Yesterday was a rough patch. In my lashing out I managed to piss off not one but TWO people. Sorry, people I pissed off.

I realized maybe one reason I was so unhappy yesterday was because I hadn't written anything in about three weeks. So I sat down and cranked out the first two pages of Jacking. That's a temporary title, by the way. I guarantee that won't be the title I end up with.

Anyway, writing pages always makes me feel better and this time was no exception. Whenever I get depressed I just remember to be proactive. Do something that you've been wanting to do and you automatically feel good about yourself. Like magic. So now I have the first draft of my opening scene.

Before I share this with you, some of you may remember the story of my mugging from several months ago. The mugging is what inspired the script, so I used it almost exactly as it happened in the opening scene.

So here you go, my new first pages:



FADE IN:

EXT. SOUTH HOLLYWOOD STREET - NIGHT

Three in the morning on a street off La Brea. A group of kids wobbles down the street, giggling. A cab pulls up and two white girls get out. They're drunk and wearing dresses without pockets. Both carry purses.

One girl, ROSE DAILY, hands the driver a carefully counted out handful of bills and both girls cross the street as the cab drives away.

ROSE
I'm sorry. Are you sure you don't mind walking? That guy gave me the creeps.

Rose, 26, is petit and sparkly, a bright little ball of drunk energy. Her companion, ANDREA, 28, carries a sophistication that shines through her inebriation.

ANDREA
It's okay. You're paying, you get to say where we get out.

ROSE
I love walking in Los Angeles. I know you're not supposed to, but-

Two LATINO BOYS wearing hooded sweatshirts move fast up behind the girls, coming out of nowhere.

One of them grabs at Andrea's purse. She resists and he knocks her to the ground, ripping the strap. He runs down the street.

The other boy grabs at Rose's purse and runs with it, but he doesn't get far.

ROSE
Oh hell no!

She reaches out and grabs the boy's hood, knocking him on his ass. In the process, Rose loses her balance too and falls down on the sidewalk.

They look at each other, both brought down unexpectedly. The Boy has a cherubic face. His head is shaved. His eyes are wide in surprise. For a second they connect, the victim and the criminal.

The boy leaps up and runs off after his friend, still holding her purse. She jumps up and out of her kitten heel shoes, tearing after him, barefoot on the pavement.

ROSE
Come back here, you son of a bitch!

But he's away and their belongings are gone.

Rose stops her chase. Andrea stands up and brushes herself off.

An EXCITED GUY rushes across the street and up to the girls.

EXCITED GUY
Oh man! I can't believe that just happened! I saw those guys come up to you and I just thought they might do something and then they did!

Rose and Andrea both stare at him. He smiles.

ROSE
You want a fucking cookie?

His smile fades. Andrea grabs Rose's arm and leads her away.

ROSE
(angry)
Thanks for all your help, man!

They head down the sidewalk, leaving the bewildered asshole behind them.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Get out the violins


A friend of mine upset me this weekend and I wrote a whole thing about it but I don't want to be all angry and ranty about it and people started making mistaken assumptions about who I was talking about so I deleted that and wrote this instead. And in the process I deleted the comments people left by accident so, um, sorry about that. Feel free to comment again.

Anyway...

I am emo today.

I got my first rejection letter from the pile of queries I sent out a few weeks ago. It's to be expected - I certainly didn't think the world would flip over my zombie logline and immediately sign me to a six-picture deal - but it's still sort of got me thinking this is the first in a long line of letters about why Hollywood doesn't want what I have to offer. And then the short film is never going to be finished and my feelings got hurt and my love life is a mess of confusion and it's really hot because the sun is glaring at me through the balcony door and I'm tired.

I'm turning 30 in two weeks. I was supposed to be a rock star by now. Then I was supposed to be married with kids, living happily ever after writing novels about spunky French queens (the royal kind, not the gay kind). Then I was supposed to be a screenwriter. Instead I am a girl who lives alone in her one bedroom apartment with her cat, wishing someone would pay her to write some fistfights so she could quite her day job. I am not a rock star at all, despite the fact that I have a tank top that says so.

And I finally broke down and bought a book of stamps for the first time since the price went up. The price is going up again on Monday, god dammit.

And people's comments are still deleting for no reason. I swear I have approved all comments so far and none of them are appearing, so please post them again. Grumble.

So I'm having a bad day. This too shall pass, I suppose. Sorry about the whining but I can't be optimistic all the time.

At least my hair looks good.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Waiting


Once upon a time Emily and a Craphead wrote a short film together called Game Night. Then in September Craphead, Lead Actor, DP and some other incredible people all got together to film this magical story about a dude who snorts coke and wields his gun around while everybody's just trying to play a game. And everything was good and Emily was happy.

And then AD didn't have time to edit the film so Emily looked for a new editor. And lots of nice people volunteered to help but most of them were out of town or didn't really understand the story. But Emily found a new Editor who did have time and resources and talent and lived nearby and said he could get it done soon and would definitely keep her posted. And Emily was happy.

And then Editor was so swamped at work that he didn't have time to edit anything so Emily offered him $100 to speed things up and Editor was very excited. And three months went by.

And Emily emailed Editor and said, Hey. Dude. Where's my movie?

And Editor swears he's working on it and that he now has time and will show her a rough cut soon. And it's May now and Cannes is about to come and go. Then Austin will come and go. And the LA Film Festival will come and go.

And Emily will still be here, waiting, sadly staring out the window hoping that one day her short film will return to her.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The story of Not Dead Yet


I didn't write yesterday because I was ever so busy. I went to hip hop dance class last night where I learned that although kickboxing has given me power and strength and endurance, my flexibility is for shit. I think I'm gonna start going to yoga. My legs hurt. Also I suck at following choreography. I spent most of the hour flailing my arms about at random.

A question was posed some time ago that I have been hesitant to answer. I was asked to go through my process with Not Dead Yet from conception to finish. It's not my first script by any means, but it is the first script I feel totally good about. I can pitch this sucker. I could sell it to somebody with piles of money.

But that's all according to my own opinion. For all you know it sucks donkey balls. I certainly haven't sold it yet and I may never, and I'm not a professional writer until I do. So I feel weird about going through my process because it makes me sound like such an authority. But I did write a script I feel good about and I was asked to explain my process, so I will do so.

I've talked before about how I got the idea. I thought about what it would be like to survive the zombie attack only to be stuck with the only other survivor being someone you've just started dating. My family of zombie hunters, 20 years after the attack has killed off almost every human on earth, must travel to California to join up with the only other people they know to exist.

I started by brainstorming. I always start by talking the script out loud to anyone who will listen. Ex-Boyfriend, who helped me come up with the story, was invaluable because the geography of the story was all from his neck of the woods. I planned out the trip the family takes from beginning to end so I knew where they would be each step of the way. Then I got out my index cards.

Everybody has their own theory of index cards. I use them. They force me to organize my story by plot point so I know where I''m going. I only use about six or seven because they're just rough ideas and then flesh them out as I write, so an index card will say something like this:

Chris, Josh and Kate fight their way into the hardware store. Josh kills a zombie alone. Kate goes alone to drug store, she's attacked. Walkie talkie dead, out of ammo, boys come to save her. Gas tank blows up.

All my index cards are pretty colors so when I put them on the bulletin board in my room I'm encouraged to work on the pretty story because it's always there where I can see it as I go to sleep and right as I wake up. I also put loglines on yellow cards so that if I ever have to pitch to someone on the spot I have my logline all bright and cozy on my board.

Then I just write. I start with page one and keep right on 'till I'm done. I sometimes skip scenes if I know what happens in them but either need to look something up or just plain don't feel like writing that at the moment. Usually it's a dialogue scene. I don't really know exactly what the characters say so I leave it for later. But most of the time I don't skip because something important happens in every scene, so if I skip it I'm not sure how my characters have changed since the event unfolded.

This caused me some major problems on Not Dead Yet that stalled me out for almost a month. I came to a huge set piece that involved a lot of research and comprehension of physics that I don't necessarily have seeing as how I suck at physics. I couldn't get past it because it was a very important sequence of events and even though I tried to skip it I just felt lost.

I kept reading and thinking and writing and rewriting and throwing things until finally I called up Ex-Boyfriend and said help! And we went to Dougboys and I had the after school special (OMG so good) while he helped me figure it out because he understands that stuff.

After that I finished the script and then left it alone for about a week. Then I printed it out and read it out loud and marked up things that didn't sound right. I don't usually pay too much attention to typos or grammar at this point because I'm just going to make more later.

I did my first revision then I took it to the group. My writers group is pretty solid. I cannot express enough the importance of a group whose opinions you respect. With this script I came out of the meeting with a clear sense of where I was headed next because the feedback was overall pretty consistent. Plus there were snacks.

I did another revision then sent it to Ex-Boyfriend for a technical read-through. He came over and told me what did and didn't work. He's an expert on guns and geography and tidal waves and was the reason I ended up with a character who's obsessed with trying to flame throw all the zombies, which was one of my favorite things to write. I don't know why, but having a teenage boy wax philosophic about how much he wants to set the undead on fire fills me with glee.

After I did another revision I sent it to two more people. They gave me very few notes so I figured it was ready, but just in case I still let it sit for about two more weeks without looking at it. Then I did one read through focusing just on typos and grammar issues and then I shipped it off to the contest circuit.

And it's still out there, somewhere, waiting to be loved.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Zombie dreams


Today was teacher appreciation day. There was food. I was appreciated.

I had another zombie nightmare last night. I'm not even working on Not Dead Yet anymore, but I like it so much that some nights as I'm going to sleep I replay scenes in my head and smile at the awesomeness of smashing a zombie's head in with a hammer.

Sometimes I still use "Zombies" as a zen word. Whenever I get all worked up and bent out of shape I say "zombies" and I feel happy because I love writing about zombies.

And that means sometimes as I drift off to sleep I dream about them. And last night they responded by scaring the shit out of me.

I was at a pitch meeting at Universal when this little girl came in all zombiefied so I cut the meeting short even though I hadn't finished my pitch and called 911. A dude answered.

911: Where are you?
Me: WeHo (In my dream, Universal is located in WeHo. Because it needs to be gayer, I guess.)
911: It's spreading.
Me: Really? That's not good. What should I do?
911: What is it?
Me: It's a little girl.
911: You're going to have to kill her and board up the windows.

At this point the little girl zombie is aimlessly wandering around the office carrying a teddy bear and not really biting at anybody.

Me: Okay. Thanks.
911: Don't die. It was nice talking to you.
Me: Yeah I hope you live too.

Then I hung up and opened a door where some supplies were located but a guy who a minute ago was just a dude, smashed the door open fast right into my face and he was a zombie. I tried to shut the door on him, then I screamed for Ex-Boyfriend who turned out to be standing across the room with an ax. So he came over and we killed the zombie and then started to board up the windows so we could protect the Universal executives, who were sitting around calmly watching as the little girl zombie continued to wander around with her teddy bear.

And then I woke up.

And sometimes I should probably stop thinking about zombies.

Monday, May 05, 2008

My real job is getting in the way of my fake job


I've noticed a common problem among us artistic LA transplants. Work keeps getting in the way of the art.

Every time I work out with Trainer I ask him if he's gone on any auditions lately.

"No, it's been kind of slow," he admits. "I've just been too busy. I need to get on that."

He didn't come to LA to be a trainer, he came here to be an actor. But training is getting in the way of the whole reason he's here. Half the people I know are in the same boat.

For two months I was on vacation and I got used to having all the time I wanted to work on my script. I started a couple of projects before I found what I wanted to work on and now I'm back at work but still trying to find time to get the project done. Except I haven't done shit since I've been back at work.

I've thought a lot about my newest script but haven't actually done anything. I've been working on lesson plans and working out and going to parties where 90% of the attendees were gay men which makes my awesome new cleavage enhancing bra completely irrelevant. I've also been going to parties with Maggie which is awesome but still making my cleavage irrelevant. Then I've been going to dance clubs where some 24-year-old tried to dance with me but has never heard of The Cure before and doesn't understand its purpose. So my party hopping hasn't exactly been a boost for my industry contact situation because apparently without cleavage as my weapon I am handicapped.

I have 1,000 awesome new business cards. I've given out exactly zero.

But I digress.

I've been busy going out and working and kickboxing and I haven't written shit in two weeks. That's an eternity for me. I didn't come to LA to be a teacher. I was already teaching just fine in my little back woods land of Republicans and mule celebrations (Not kidding - they have an annual festival where they celebrate the existence of the mule) and definitely did not need to trek my ass across the country to trade my tractor driving kids for my adorable band of city folk. I came to write.

I have to get back into a routine. If I write the same time, same place every day it will get easier. Because although I like my day job, I'm not letting it get in the way of my dream job.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Good movies make more money. Duh.


Of course I saw Iron Man this weekend, just like everybody else in America, and of course I liked it, as did everybody else in America.

My main thought about this is that the studios need to take note of what makes the big bucks this summer. Iron Man didn't make a ridiculous amount of money simply because it had explosions. It made money because it had explosions AND was a good story.

People like the spectacle. They like a fun film with badass moments, but those moments are useless unless the story is good. A movie with explosions makes a lot of money. A movie with explosions that push the story forward makes more.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Those first ten pages


Last night while I was lying awake and going over my usual script notes in my head, I distracted myself from plotting my next screenplay by thinking about introductions. Well okay it started with my effort to rework my mugging scene to be as original as possible, and then that lead to me thinking about what makes a movie intro good.

As we all know, one of the things that readers do is throw scripts away after reading like ten pages and being bored. Whenever someone gives me a script to read I always read the whole thing, but I do admit I form an opinion on whether or not I'll like the story as soon as I read the opening sequence.

As I lay there, listening to the traffic go by on Beverly, I created a theory. I think there are two things that are key when you write your opening:

1) Make sure the opening sequence is an accurate representation of your script. By that I mean, if this is an action script then you better damn well open with a fucking action scene. X-Men 2 is all crazy action as you watch Nightcrawler hop around the White House like a maniac. When The Matrix opens you have no idea what the hell is going on, but you know it's cool when Trinity runs up a wall and knocks a couple of cops right the fuck out. Even Shakespeare knew. Romeo and Juliet opens with a sword fight and when you think about it that story is pretty much an action script. Look at Star Wars - that big space ship goes flying overhead shooting that little one and you go - oh hell yes this is about a big old space ship shooting people and shit.

So if your story is a romantic comedy then I should see some funny relationship antics right up front. A talky drama? Give me some really dramatic talking.

But it's also important that it not waste time. The opening scene to Romeo and Juliet sets up why Romeo is later deported, and it also tells us about the fighting between the Capulets and Montagues. Nightcrawler's attack on the president is what clues the X Men into what's going on, and it sets off the president's persecution of mutants. Okay so maybe Trinity's big rooftop race isn't completely vital to the plot, but it sets up the world we live in for the duration of the film, and it does hint at the treachery to come.

2) The opening scene needs to grab my ass and plant it in a chair for the duration. Yes, I prefer action so unless you have an explosion or gun battle in the first few minutes you will have a hard time demanding my attention, but you can still get it. Give me an emotion. Give me a person to care about.

The opening to Office Space is nothing but dudes sitting in traffic. But when Peter watches that old man with the walker speed ahead of him and gives up all hope of being on time for work, you get not only a good chuckle, but a good idea of who Peter is. And then when Michael Bolton locks his door surreptitiously because he's afraid of the black man selling flowers when he was busting rap lyrics two seconds ago - a laugh and a clear idea of who Michael is. And speaking of traffic, as soon as Michael Douglass steps out of his car at the beginning of Falling Down you immediately get a sense that some shit is about to hit the fan. It keeps you watching.

I think the most important thing about an introduction is not to waste any time. Some writers get all caught up in introducing the world of the main character in this laborious way so that we see every aspect of their lives and leave nothing to chance. And that's great and all and I'm glad you did some backstory, but I don't care. I want the laugh or be moved or watch something explode. Get to your point quickly and move on.

As for me, I opened Not Dead Yet with an attack almost immediately. Within the first 10 pages a mass of zombies has been taken out, an old lady is dead and a husband and wife have a break in philosophy that affects how they deal with each other for the rest of the script. So it may be a lot of things, but my intro isn't boring.

Usually I turn to gunfire and explosions to make sure my script opens with a literal bang, but this time I don't have that. I have a mugging, which is pretty exciting, but it can also be boring as hell if I don't do it right since the muggers don't actually have any weapons. And with the added bonus of not being able to use the old Haggis Crash intro, I'm going to have to work to figure out a clever way to get my reader's brain firmly focused on my script from minute one.

As soon as I figure that out I'll post my results.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Thoughts on the script: Tonight, He Comes (AKA Hancock)


Yesterday and today, according to my plan, I finally got around to reading Tonight, He Comes, which was the original title for the new Will Smith film Hancock. I'm not sure how many changes have been made to the draft I read because it was a version from 2002 and it read very much like a spec. It's pretty obvious already that there are some significant changes from this version to the screen which makes me sad because I think Peter Berg could have shot this as is and it would have been satisfactory, but he usually does good work so I'm willing to trust him a little.

But seriously this may be the best god damn screenplay I've ever read.

No, really. I'm not even fucking kidding.

I'm really, really glad I scrapped that super hero with social anxiety script because this is a similar concept executed a thousand times better than what I was planning.

Why did I love this script so much, you may ask?

A lot of that probably has to do with my personal preferences in film anyway. It's no secret I like a lot of violence in my stories, but I also love relationships featuring a strong woman and a man who can't quite prove himself the way he should but understands her better than he knows. I also love flawed heroes. This story has all that.

Hancock is a Superman like hero who strongly believes in doing the right thing, but can't handle the pressure of being solely responsible for protecting people. He can't get close to anyone and he's cracking up. He befriends a family run by a patriarch with no balls of note who is of course humiliated by the fact that this stranger can protect his family better than he can.

It's about different kinds of courage. It's about not letting life drag you down. It's about accepting who you are. It's about what true love means. It's about family. I laughed out loud six times. I cried a little. I smiled warmly at the end. I fucking loved this script.

Some of that is also probably a result of the style. The writer, Vy Vincent Ngo, who up to now has only some minor television credits, has a really distinct writing style. It borders on too much personality at times, but for the most part it's fun as hell to read.

For example:

INT. NICK'S MARKET - DAY

Your average market, mom and pop.

Artichokes! Mary handles an artichoke, contemplating. Nick (30), the grocer, moves in behind her. He's handsome in a greasy, grimy, rebuilt carburetor kind of way.

NICK
That's a lovely dress, Mary.

If he could mount her, he would.

MARY
You're sweet Nick.



There's a lot of little chuckles embedded in the script and I really enjoyed the read. There are some that don't work (A look "squatted" on someone's face comes to mind) but you get a real sense of a broken world in desperate need of fixing on the part of everybody involved in this story.

Sadly, I just read a few articles on the film and it looks like they gutted the script I loved so much.

I am sad.