Thursday, December 31, 2009

Obligatory year-end post

2009 was a good year. The Beefcake and I bought a super awesome house and moved into it. I got Not Dead Yet out there, and it was enough to get me noticed by a few people here and there who want to read my next script. I didn't finish my next script yet, but I got the first two drafts done and got some good feedback. I rewrote the entire thing yesterday in three hours. Now I just need to find an ending.

I kept my job. I didn't kill any children.

This year I have plans. Finish the current script and see where it takes me. And after I finish working on this script, I'll start the next project, as soon as I decide which idea I want to run with.

I want to premiere Game Night and toss it to a couple of festivals, although I admit I've lost some enthusiasm I used to have since it's been so long since I started. This experience has taught me that I don't want to be a director, and although I officially have a "production company" I'm not sure I want to do anything else with it. But we'll see. Maybe making the festival rounds will reignite my interest.

I want to read more this year. Not just screenplays and nonfiction books, but more fiction. I didn't read nearly enough fiction this year. When I was a kid I used to devour literature like The Cookie Monster, but now I just sit and watch tv with my computer.

Speaking of computer, I need to break my addiction. I check my email every thirty seconds. Literally. I feel tethered to the thing and when I'm away from it I have withdrawal symptoms. But this past week I had to go without it and I survived, so from now on the computer stays in the office, not out on the couch next to me, and I will only check my email a couple of times a day.

I will paint the bathroom and unpack the rest of my boxes. And when everything is finally in its place, I will keep it there. This house will not become the cluttery disaster my apartment was. Everything has a place, and that place is clean. I don't want to feel like apologizing when people come to my house.

I will work out more. I used to work out a lot, then I had to get rid of Trainer because I was saving money for a house, but now I have a house with a pretty sweet gym and three Wii exercise games and all the equipment a girl could want except a dip assist and a heavy bag, so there's no excuse. I've let myself go in 2009. 2010 I will be a big buff machine like I was before.

Every year I swear this is the one where I find representation. Fuck it. This year I'm just going to write and send it out and see what happens.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I Survived

I saw Sherlock Holmes the other day. That movie is fun as hell. Just oodles of fun. Best work Guy Ritchie's done in a long time. I kept thinking Rachel McAdams was Penelope Anne Miller through the movie and wondered why she looked so young.

Anyway, I also saw this new show on the Biography channel called I Survived. Talk about story telling. Each episode, two or three people sit in front of a black background in close-up and tell a story. The story is intercut with still photos that are related to what they're telling, so the whole show is just these people telling a story and photos not of them or the story, but of other things. For instance, the pregnant lady who was attacked by a crazy baby stealer was intercut with pictures of dolls and an obvious baby's nursery.

Sounds simple, maybe even boring. But man, it really isn't.

I'm not sure how much coaching the producers do on the people who tell these stories, but they are engaging as hell. They've got ups and downs - almost all of them almost get away and then get dragged back in.

It's also a testament to our expectations of story. One woman was attacked in her house by a guy in a ninja suit with a meat cleaver who had been hiding in her attic for two days. She was wearing a towel. SPOILER WARNING FOR THAT EPISODE. The whole story you kept worrying he was going to rape her but rape seemed so obvious a storyline that we didn't actually think he would. Then he did. And she said it, just like that: "He raped me," angry as hell at the guy who did it. It wasn't fear in her eyes, it was rage. Turns out that since the event - during which she was also knifed and hammered in the head - she has become a victims counselor with the DA's office.

There was another episode where two guys were lost at sea. On the fourth or fifth day a boat almost ran them down but didn't even see them, so as they were touching the side of the boat trying to figure out how to get on board, it just passed them by.

A lot of these stories sound too insane to be true. They were all thrillers or horrors, and any one of them could make a great movie. And all it is is people just sitting in a room, talking about what happened. Amazing.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Back to the script

Computer is saved. Computer Guy turned out to be pretty cool and in the process gave me an education. I was getting too cocky about my computer knowledge because on a daily basis I'm surrounded by people who know far less than I do, but now I have been schooled.

Apparently after all that ranting about the evil virus creators, it wasn't a virus after all. It was merely a coincidence that I opened my friend's email the exact moment a gig of RAM exploded. I just needed a new gig of RAM, but that does not change my beliefs that virus creators need to be gorilla raped.

So after months of working on the house and putting my priorities in domestic life, tomorrow I will spend the whole day revising my script. I have painting to do, and window treatments, and more unpacking because there is no end to the unpacking, but I say Fuck All That. I'm taking a day off from life so I can immerse myself in story. And hopefully work out because I got two new workout Wii games for Christmas and I'd very much like to use them but I've been too busy stressing over computer problems and curtains. Not tomorrow. Tomorrow I exercise, eat, and write. That's all.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My computer is fucked

I am taking my laptop to a guy today to see if he can fix the damage and maybe save My Documents folder. It's so far gone it wouldn't even reload Windows, so it's time to fork over some cash to a professional.

It would be super awesome if someone could make a computer with the superior operating system of a PC and the superior virus protection of a Mac. Hear me, computer people? Can you get on that? I know, I know, some of you guys will be all "Get a Mac" but I cannot stand them. End of debate for me. Instead I'd love it if someone just made my PC more virus resistant. Is that one of those things they put in Windows 7?

Hopefully I will be able to resume posting and writing tomorrow.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What I got for Christmas

I hope everybody had a good Holiday. I hope you guys got presents that were awesome. I got a Snuggy type thing so I was pretty stoked. I put it on and did a dance in it which filled me with glee and mystified The Beefcake.

And then after all the presents were unwrapped and we got ready to relax and drink egg nog, I checked my email. Some lovely person hacked a friend's email account and sent me a virus for Christmas.

I gotta hand it to the asshole, he created one hell of a nasty bug. After 24 of attempting various methods to save the computer I have given up and will be reloading Windows in a minute. My screenplays are safe, but my teacher files, my photos, most of my music, and pretty much everything else are all gone.

So fuck you, asshole who decided it would be funny to destroy someone's computer for Christmas. I hope you die in a fire while being cut with razor blades and doused in alcohol.

I was supposed to be working on my screenplay today. So much for that.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best laid plans

Today is our last day of the semester and tomorrow starts a two week vacation. I feel bad because I haven't written in forever, but I have been thinking about my rewrite and I know what I need to do.

Today I should have the office finally put together in the house, so it's my objective to complete at least half my rewrite over the vacation. And I'll read some screenplays. And I'll work out too, I swear.

By the way, did you know the Shooting Script for Napoleon Dyanmite is available at the dollar store? Yeah, I bought it. I didn't love that movie, but it seemed like the right thing to do. I'll probably read it over the break.

But first I have to put all this stuff away. I threw away a lot of shit; how come I still have so many boxes?

Monday, December 21, 2009


No traffic today. I love Christmas in LA.

It's a good thing there was no traffic, because I nearly crashed trying to read the name of the upcoming performer at the Staples Center as I merged on the freeway. It was some kind of woman with her mouth open and her hair in her face so I couldn't tell who it was. It was all very pretty, but failed to deliver any useful information. I guess I won't be going to see whatever show that is.

This made me think about a screenplay I read a few months ago that was filled with stuff that was difficult to read. Vocabulary words Miriam Webster would be impressed by, long complicated sentences that meander like Dickens, a true exploration of elegance in writing.

Except this isn't a novel. I got my writing start in journalism, where we were taught to keep our language simple. The objective in a news article is to deliver information in the simplest way possible. If you want to write with skill, so be it, but keep the vocabulary to levels most people can understand.

I'm glad you know what "pedantic" means. Congratulations. Nobody cares. And if I can't understand what you're writing it's not going to help you. You can make fun of my lack of vocabulary and feel as superior as you want, but it's not going to help you sell your script.

Just because you can write like Faulkner doesn't mean you should. If you want to write with elegant, complex writing, go be a novelist. A screenplay is a document designed to tell the story in as visual and simple a way as possible. If you want to be complicated, do it with your images, not your language. Nobody needs that fruity shit in a script. I just want to be entertained.

Friday, December 18, 2009

How's my title?

I listen to NPR a lot - I give so I don't have to feel guilty - and lately they've really been pushing the new Jeff Bridges movie Crazy Heart, about an alcoholic country music singer named Bad something or other.

The movie sounds interesting enough and it's gotten some critical recognition, but all I think about when I hear the title of the film is just how bad it is. The title, I mean. "Crazy Heart" reminds me of other movies with "heart" in the title. Lionheart, Thunderheart, Untamed Heart, Hearts in Atlantis... none of these are movies I was wild about or particularly wanted to see - okay maybe Lionheart. And Untamed Heart in turn makes me think of Bed of Roses, which was an abysmal film, but that's not Crazy Heart's fault. But "heart" in your title to describe your protagonist is a tad cliche, no? And it sounds a bit sappy.

The protagonist's name is Bad; they couldn't think of any way to use that in the title?

Your title is the first thing anyone's going to know about your film so it needs to make me want to see it. Just look at last year's Black List: I Want to Fuck Your Sister, Fuckbuddies, A Couple of Dicks. And of course this year's winner for attention grabbing title: Balls Out. Even Hancock was originally title Tonight, He Comes. Tell me that title didn't get reads.

I was thinking about why the Crazy Heart producers decided to go ahead with that title - didn't they ask anyone what they'd think of that movie based on just the title? Then I realized I hadn't done that either, so I figure I should see what people think of my title.

It's Burnside. What does that make you think?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Smoke in your panties

When I first got to LA, all wide-eyed and hopeful, I met this guy at work who was also a screenwriter. He wrote Saw-like torture porn and claimed to have once been a Nicholl quarterfinalist. I'm still not sure that's true.

He told me he knew these two managers and would love to introduce me to them, so naturally I got all excited and brought him my script the next day with hopes he'd pass it on to his manager friends.

"Oh you don't really want a manager. You want an agent. I know this agent I'll hook you up with, only he's out of town...."

A few months later he told me he has sold a show to a network - or as good as had sold a show, it was really gonna happen any day now - and once he went off to run it he would bring me along as a staff writer.

One night he called me from a bar to tell me these two blonde Russian models wanted to have a threesome with him, but he just loved his girlfriend too much to cheat on her.

And so on.

Once at a party a set PA on Big Love told me he could get my script to the head of HBO. I'm pretty sure he was trying to get into my pants.

I was on the world's worst date once and while I was singing karaoke to avoid the horror, some guy came up and told me he could make me a recording star. He was trying to get my date into my pants, which at this point would not have happened even if this guy had been Justin Timberlake.

Actually if Justin Timberlake spoke to me at all, Justin Timberlake would definitely have been in my pants. But not my date. Ever. I would rather have used my pants as a weapon and strangled him with them.

Anyway, these blow-smoke-up-your-ass people are everywhere in LA. Do they believe the shit they spout? I don't know, but I do know I bought this stuff completely when I first got here. Everybody's just one step away from the big break.

I get why they do it. I met a produced writer the other day and I felt like an ass saying I have screenplays to sell. I sound like every other nobody wannabe in this town with a script in his drawer and a dayjob paying his bills. It sounds way cooler if I just lie to myself and everybody else and tell them a bunch of producers are in talks to buy my latest opus. A little denial may make me feel like I haven't wasted my time.

It can be confusing, though, for someone new to this town. Just like I was completely swept up in the fervor of my former colleague the compulsive liar, I imagine a lot of wide-eyed LA transplants fall for the smoke-up-your-ass types.

So here's how to know if that industry type at the party is the real deal.

1) Is he promising you something? He's full of shit. Every legit insider I've ever met is at best willing to LOOK at your material. They never guarantee anything unless they want to see your underwear.

2) Have they named, unprompted, four or five top executives who are looking at their material? They're probably going to go home and weep on the toilet tonight as they reread their latest agency rejection letter. Most legit people I know don't talk too much about the deals they're trying to make unless you're a close friend who wants to know.

3) Do they talk about how awesome their script is? Most pros I know are pretty humble. I mean, sometimes a douchey writer is an amazing writer, but you don't want to talk to that guy anyway so best keep your distance.

4) Are you hot? Are they drunk? Yeah, they want in your pants. Are you not hot but they're really really drunk? PANTS. I mean, they could have gone home with those two hot Russian models, but you're so smart! You write and stuff! And your racist werewolf/ Mexican zombie love story is so marketable! Take me back to your place and I'll read it right after I take off your panties!

Be on the lookout and keep your pants on. Unless it's Justin Timberlake.

I hope this helps someone.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Army Men

I have this project I do every time my class finishes a novel. I collect as much random material crap as possible, which right now since I just moved into a house is a pretty substantial amount, and throw it on a table. Then I put the kids in groups and give each group a section of the book. Then they get three days to create a three-dimensional representation of a scene from that section, a scene they think is important. Today we do All Quiet on Western Front.

This project does a lot of things. First, it allows me to sit on my ass all day while the kids play. Second, it forces them to be creative, share, work together as a group, discuss the novel, and make sure they understand what they read. Then they present their artwork to the class.

Things went well with first period. That's mostly girls, plus it's early in the morning so everybody's sleepy. One group brought in their own bag of tiny Army men to glue onto their project, then they gave me the bag of leftovers to give to third period for their use.

This was a big mistake.

I tossed the bag of Army men on the table with the construction paper and cardboard and wire and styrofoam and whatnot. As soon as I said go, they nearly killed each other going for the Army men.

One group got the bag, then every other group tried to steal or trade for the Army men. Instead of looking at the tools they had and finding a creative solution by using the plethora of tools I gave them, they ran around like lunatics, hitting each other and screaming about Army men. Usually the projects with the Army men look all flashy but don't have that creative spark I love to see, so if they'd just stop looking for the damn Army men and try to make something nifty with that they have, they'd probably get a better grade.

This is something that has bothered me considerably about the state of action films lately. It seems like everybody's so busy throwing money at films when they should be working on the story. The GI Joes and the Transformers and the Terminators - actually there's a great example. The original Terminator has a fraction of the new movie's budget but it was infinitely better because the story was stronger. Alien. The first movie had a fraction of the budget of that fourth horrific film because it was just a good old fashioned story about a bunch of people in a confined space with a monster. This wasn't a microbudget film by any means, but the spending was restricted to necessary levels.

Just because you have money doesn't mean it's better to use all of it. The storytellers who don't have the money often have to compensate by finding interesting ways to get around budget restrictions.

Aren't we always hearing that some of the best scenes in history arose out of difficulties? Indiana Jones shooting that crazy sword guy, for instance? I think filmmakers should start pretending they have no money even if they do, just like I wish these kids would forget about the damned Army men and try to find a more creative solution.

Oh sweet Jesus, now they're playing cards. I've never had such a hard time getting a group of kids to cut and paste. So much for sitting on my ass for three days.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Be nice

The recent Scriptshadow controversy has really shed a light on some of the issues between aspiring and professional writers.

Take the Black List. It's a list we all wait impatiently for so we can grab a copy of the scripts and read them and discuss them and figure out how we can capture some of that industry love, and yet we've been told we're not allowed to. Professionals are allowed to, but those of us who haven't sold anything have no right to discuss our opinions with the rest of the world.

Several months ago I questioned whether or not sexism was still rampant in Hollywood and was told women just don't have what it takes to sleep in cars, as if sleeping in cars while you pray for a job is the preferred way of life.

When ever I tell a professional writer that I am hoping to one day write professionally as well, I feel apologetic, as if I'm probably not worthy and they'll most likely think I'm a loser.

There is so much money going to so few jobs and there are so many of us, it's like we're clawing at each other for a crust of bread. We're so quick to jump on each other and say things have to be one way or another and well, I had to suck dick to get my job so you'd better do it too....

Then you get the handful of pro writers who are genuinely awesome. I've met a few. I've been helped by a few.

You hear all the time that pro writers help the aspirings all over town, and that's partly true. Bill Martell, Unk, John August, Mystery Man, many writers who don't have blogs...

But then you get some who seem so afraid of losing their place that they forget to be nice to the new guys. They make us feel undeserving, and we play right along. We bicker with each other, we pass judgement on each others' scripts, we argue over whether or not Josh Olson's attitude is anything other than dickish. We're so desperate for a pat on the head we'll punch each other in the face if one of the pros is watching.

Then you get guys who say they hope Carson does ruin careers so he can get the jobs the old guys will vacate. That's a particularly nasty kind of newbie, one who doesn't really deserve any help. I wouldn't want to be that guy either.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, hey man, don't be mean.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Avatar: Not another teen movie

Sometimes when I start to get all mad about something, I think about starving kids in Africa and it kind of puts things in perspective. Someone compared Carson Reeves to a rapist.

Anyway, today I polled my classes about whether or not they'll see Avatar because I was curious as to whether or not the film appealed to the teenage audience since they were a huge part of Titanic's draw. Generally, the answer is no. Only a smattering of hands went up.

Here's what surprised me. Several of the students asked me why the aliens are blue. "Because they're aliens," I said, making a mental note to read that article I saw where James Cameron talks about why he chose blue.

"But then how come in the cartoon they're orange?"


Apparently - and parents may know this, but it came as a complete mystery to me - there is a Nickelodeon cartoon called Avatar: The Last Airbender. All the kids thought this Avatar was that Avatar. But as you know if you've paid attention to previews lately, The Last Airbender is M. Night's latest project.

I was kind of surprised to learn this, since The Last Airbender sounds retarded. He bends AIR? Really? Is that how far down the superpower list we have tumbled? But when you realize it's a Nick cartoon, I guess it makes more sense. Kids like that kind of stuff.

At any rate, apparently the aliens on this show are orange, and since Avatar is also about aliens, the kids are confused. They seem to have liked the cartoon, but most of them aren't interested in seeing Avatar because it doesn't look like the cartoon so they're not sure what to expect.

Teenagers are the most desirable of markets in the film industry. I wonder if anyone in marketing thought about that?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Skipping chapters

I made a confession that horrified a couple of English teachers today. When one teacher asked in a workshop how to get her class through a long novel, I suggested some creative editing. Right now my tenth graders are reading All Quiet on the Western Front. If you've ever read the novel, you may have noticed the preaching.

There's a lot of preaching.

"War sucks. It really sucks. People die. Did I mention how much war sucks?"

Now here's the thing. I think it's a great novel. The scene where he's stuck in the foxhole with the dying Frenchman is probably one of the best all time moments in literature, and the kids always remember the scene where the horses run around with their intestines falling out after a shelling. There are a ton of great scenes to discuss in a classroom setting.

Know what we don't like discussing? All that preaching. "War is bad, okay? All my friends are dead. Here some Russian guys. They think war sucks too."

That's why we skipped chapter eight in its entirety.

I get that Remarque was a soldier, and he's definitely right. War sucks. And as someone who's never fought in a war I can appreciate his desire to make me understand. The problem is, he doesn't trust his own story. He is so passionate about telling the world how much war sucks that he is afraid to let his story tell me how much war sucks. He crams in so much preaching the story loses momentum. You and I might not notice it because we like to read, but let me tell you how quickly a class full of teenagers who hate to read will turn on you when they're bored.

So as a defense mechanism I developed my own edit of All Quiet, where we stick to minimal preaching and just focus on the action. Then we discuss what we learned from the action.

Maybe that's just a screenwriting thing. Maybe I'm just the worst English teacher ever, but I actually think the kids are onto something.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Scriptshadow conundrum

A debate rages through the screenwriting world today. John August started it. And Done Deal continued it.

His premise is that Carson Reeve's website Scriptshadow, where "Carson" reviews both produced and unproduced screenplays and posts links to the scripts on his site. August says this hurts screenwriters because it puts their screenplays under lock and key so Carson can't get at them.

I gotta say, if that's true, Carson took less than a year to become one of the most powerful guys in Hollywood without even working at a studio. You know that's gotta get him a lot of tail.

I see what JA is saying. I think if I were a pro screenwriter I'd be pretty pissed if some upstart reviewed my script and said it was crap, but probably no more irritated than if some upstart reviewed my movie and said it was crap.

My theory on the subject is that if Carson can get the scripts, Carson absolutely should review them. I'm not so sure he should be posting links to them. As much as I enjoy having access to those scripts, I'm not sure posting them is okay. On the other hand, let's say Carson posts a bad review. I can download the script and read it for myself and I might disagree. In the end I think that should be the writer's choice.

Someone on Done Deal posted a viable solution. Tell the writer you will review his script and offer him the opportunity to give you a newer draft and to choose whether or no you want him to post it. The studio will probably object to it 9 times out of 10, but personally I don't go to Carson's site for the script. If I really really want the script I can get it elsewhere. I go there for the reviews and the following discussion and the opportunity it gives us to talk about what makes a spec screenplay work.

My two pennies.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Thoughts on the film: The Goods

A tip: Always read the reviews for the business before you hire them. I will never, ever rent from Budget Truck Rental again. Horrible. Just horrible.

On the other hand, I will eat at Koo Koo Roo many times. Always nice, those people, and good food.


I watched The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard this weekend. So sad. This movie began so well. We were all laughing our asses off at some expertly written unexpected jokes. At one point during a Will Farrel cameo Beefcake doubled over in uncontrollable laughter and couldn't breathe.

Why did a film this funny bomb, you may ask? That's what we asked too, at the beginning. But as the movie wore on it became glaringly obvious where the flaws were. I kept thinking there were pages missing. There were all these character development moments that didn't make sense. Suddenly our protagonist cares about the dealership? Suddenly the owner doesn't? There was kind of a ticking clock, but nobody seemed terribly concerned about it, and there was a father/son thing that felt sort of thrown in to fill up pages.

I'll expand on that if you don't mind some minor spoiler warnings. There's a character named Blake who looks nothing like Jeremy Piven but does this hand motion he does, so naturally Jeremy assumes the kid is his son. Okay it's a quirky comedy, I may be able to buy this, but then Blake gets barely any screen time. In fact, there are a bunch of characters who get almost no screen time. Why is Ken Jeong in this movie? I suspect because somebody thought the Pearl Harbor joke was irresistible.

That's the big flaw in this film. Somebody loved his jokes a little too much. There are multiple times in this film when a joke hurts the plot. The joke may be hilarious, but it's so far out of left field and not the best move for the overall story that it drags the movie down.

It was definitely a case of "Hey this movie's really funny! And it really sucks!"

And in keeping with the Frankenstein plot choices this movie's got, there's a scene where Jeremy's character sits down to a family dinner and pulls out a bucket of Arby's. Why? Clearly because Arby's bought screen time. It has absolutely ZERO to do with the plot.

So in short, great jokes and interesting scenarios pieced together with a crap story. It kind of makes sense when you realize that the two writers (Andy Stock and Rick Stempson) and the director (Neal Brennan) have almost no experience working with features. Their combined history is mostly sketch comedy.

We can learn two lessons from this, lessons we already know but should always bear in mind.

1) Kill your darlings. The joke may be hilarious, but if it fucks up the story, it has to go. At one point in this film there was an opportunity for a great turning point when the bad guys offer to buy the dealership, but that moment is sacrificed in favor of a funny joke. I don't care how funny your joke is. If it throws the story out of whack, it has to go. You can tweet it if you want, but take it out of the script.

2) A bunch of nifty characters and jokes do not a story make. Is there a plot? No? Then write something else.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Good advice

A friend of mine asked a TV writer to speak to his class today and teach them how to write dialogue and I took pictures and sat in on the lesson. She worked on Life on Mars, so I was able to tell her how awesome that ending turned out to be. She said they came up with it like the first week of brainstorming and were really satisfied with how it turned out.

My friend told her I write so she asked what.

Then this is the part of the story where I lose all confidence. See, this woman has no way of knowing if I'm just one more delusional wannabe who writes shit and hides it away in a drawer, or if I have even a modicum of talent. She probably meets people all the time who just suck horribly and want to tell her about their pilots.

So I stare down at the floor and shuffle my feet and kind of shrug as I say "Just screenplays. Usually action."

If she thought I was a loser she refrained from saying so. I told her I'd had a script out to some people but hadn't really gotten very far and she graciously gave me some advice.

"Just live your life," she said. "I went off and wrote for TV news and had a baby and went about my life, and then a representative came to me and it all just happened. If it's meant to be, it will happen."

Just live your life. Write your screenplays and live your life and eventually things will happen. Seems simple enough.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

DVD placement

One of the first boxes I opened was the three holding all my DVDs. I sat for about an hour with all of them laid out neatly in rows on the floor in front of me as I carefully arranged and rearranged them. A tad OCD? Yes. But one of the more fun parts of moving.

I usually like to arrange my movies by categories. I have two shelves of TV shows - One shelf dedicated almost exclusively to Joss Whedon and one shelf that is 50% Farscape. I have a shelf of foreign films and a shelf of movies I need for school. The rest I'm not sure. do I put all the comedies together? The trilogies? What about subcategories like noir, should those get their own shelf? Alphabetical order is so old school, but it's an option. I have no tv and spotty internet, so this is my current form of entertainment after making dinner in my new stove.

How you arrange your DVDs is very important. Chances are, however you arrange them that first time is how they'll stay forever. You can't just toss them up on the shelf all willy-nilly. There has to be some logic behind your order.

I feel so High Fidelity. These DVDs look pretty cool all laid out on the floor. Maybe I should just leave them like this so all who visit can examine my collection with ease.

How do you arrange your DVDs?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

All moved in

We put the TV on the curb. Five hours later we came back to clean and it was gone, so I hope someone will love it now.

Budget gave us the wrong truck so we had to make two trips - one to my apartment and one to the Beefcake's - but we got it all done, and I got to scream at the Budget clerk while The Beefcake intimidated. We make an excellent team: Blind Rage and Mr. Scarypants.

I was packing or unpacking or cleaning from 7 am to 3 am. By the time I got back to my apartment to clean I decided the security deposit can go fuck itself. I threw some shit away, swept and walked out.

I think the moment I realized I owned my own house was when I got really cold after my lukewarm shower and decided to turn the heat on, then figured we can probably fix the shower temperature on our own. Because it's our house. I enjoyed eating Carl's Jr on the floor and then figuring out how the hell I'm going to fill up all these kitchen cabinets.

The new TV doesn't work, the internet doesn't work - Sorry, neighbor I'm hijacking. Thanks for not putting up a firewall - and the refrigerator has a piece sticking up that scrapes against the top and is going to drive me batty. I also observed that even though we already have ATT internet, there is only one phone jack in the house and it in the dining room. I guess we're switching to cable.

So I'm spending the first day in my new house mostly on the phone. I wish you could program your own hold music.

I guess I should at some point plan for work tomorrow. I haven't been there in a week.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Free TV

I'm trying to give away this awesome TV:

Yes, that is a cabinet TV. It weighs thirty thousand pounds but it's on wheels and I have an elevator, yet nobody on Craigslist seems to want my beautiful television. It's an RCA 27" and it was actually made in 1997 as far as I know. You have to tune it to channel 91. Why? I don't know. It's always been a big mystery. The TV works just fine, but I don't want to move it again and I bought a new flat screen instead with my credit card points.

Every time people come over they say to me, "Is that a cabinet TV? How old is that thing?"

When the Beefcake bought me a Wii for Christmas last year he gave it to me early because he was afraid it wouldn't be compatible with my giant television.

It was made in '97, I swear. It's got stereo and hookups for the old red, yellow and white cables.

I bet you wish you had a TV this cool. Now is your chance.

Look, dammit, if nobody comes and gets this television I'll have to take it downstairs and put it on the damn curb, and that's more work than I want to do right now. The TV works just fine and I watch stuff on it every day. It would look great as a movie prop. It's its own entertainment center because you can just throw everything on top of it, which is what I have done for the past eight years. And did I mention that it's on wheels? Because it's on wheels. Who has a TV on wheels? Well now, you can.

Somebody come and get this goddamn television. I live in Hancock Park and there's plenty of parking in front of my building. Plus I'll give you a free used air filtration thingee or a bag of maybe used, maybe new AAA batteries.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Preparing to move

I'm not surprised to see The Road bombing this weekend, but I'm sad to see it. We did our part. Even though I already saw it, The Beefcake and I went over to the Grove to watch it on Thanksgiving. We were originally planning to see John Woo's newest, Red Cliff, but that long a time with subtitles started to sound kind of annoying. We'll Netflix it so we can go the bathroom and get snacks.

First of all, who's the idiot who brought their 3-year-old to see The Road? You should be beaten. Of course he cried all the way through the movie. I'd cry all the way through that movie too if I was three. Fantastic Mr. Fox and as much as I hate to say it Old Dogs were both playing right next door and at the same time.

We're officially moving on Monday, but since I thought I was moving much earlier, I had the satellite cut off Wednesday. Did you know that without a subscription, you can still get Style Network, VS and every channel that sells something. Plus Pay Per View. So we can't get Comedy Central, but we can get Lady Lickers 9.

Last night we were excited to see Bloodsport, but most of the time all that's on is Supernanny. That lady is a genius. I know a couple of people who could use her help.

And did you know that the host of Clean House is one of the officers on Reno 911? I learned this because I was forced to watch Style all day. Clean House is like A&E's Hoarders but with a sassy black lady, a southern bimbo and a gay stylist in place of a therapist and a depressing soundtrack.

I am not a hoarder, but I have a lot of stuff. I have no problem throwing away stuff and I took six bags to Goodwill, but there just seems to be more, you know? I look around and think I'm almost done, and then three hours later it looks like I just started. How does that happen? Where does all the stuff hide while you're living your life? And why do I only have one walkie-talkie?

Anybody want this awesome 26" cabinet TV? I think it's the last one RCA ever made.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving thanks giving

Today is all about feeling grateful, so I stopped moping long enough to think about all the things I'm thankful for.

I have a house. I can't move into the house, but I have a house. A lot of incredible people helped make that happen.
I have a great boyfriend in the Beefcake. He's good people and we're good for each other.
My cat is not dead. It was touch and go there for a while, but now it looks like he'll squeeze out a few more happy years and he'll get to play in our new yard. Plus he's the best cat ever. Even the vet said so.
My mom is not dead. She almost was, but she's okay now.
I am healthy and I have a job with good benefits. Sometimes I even love my job.
I get to write screenplays whenever I feel like it. It's fun.
Chocolate. It exists.

Your turn, if you feel like it.

And happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


In any other state in the union we would have gotten the keys to our property last night when we signed the thirty thousand pieces of paper to buy the house. Apparently there is a law in California that says you cannot fund your loan and take possession of your property on the same day. Guess when our loan funds? Today. It's a long weekend. Guess when we can get in our house? Monday. As an added bonus, we get to pay $200 for the privilege of not moving in.

Four day weekend, wasted. Instead we both have to take off work Monday and move everything in one day. Fun times. I'm trying to be positive because I just bought a house in a time when people don't have jobs, but I just feel kind of stressed out right now.

Since my tv is set to cut off today and I've already packed the DVD player and I pretty much already packed everything else, that gives me four days to clean, grade papers and work on my screenplay. And since everybody else left town, it should be pretty quiet around here. Maybe now is the time when I will have some genius inspiration that will set my career on fire.

Still, right now I'd rather be unpacking boxes in my new house.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why we are not moving today

I'm in the middle of what one would call a clusterfuck.

We rushed like crazy to get our paperwork done for the house so we could close before Thanksgiving. I mean we busted our asses as did our agent and our mortgage broker, and got everything in under the deadline.

Then someone at the title company decided to pick our file at random to audit.

We were supposed to move in Saturday. Then today. Now, best case scenario, the sellers agree to let us have access to the house starting Wednesday. Worst case scenario, we get in the house Monday, which is November 30 and the last day I can be in my apartment, but we still have to wait until whatever time the bank officially does their loan thing. Except we still get to pay interest on the four days we can't get in the house.

I would like to personally thank Bank of America, who kept us waiting an hour and a half the other day to do something that in the end took them 10 minutes to do, and by the time it was finished we had passed a deadline we needed to close Friday. Thank you, guy who told us he'd be right back then went to get lunch. I needed this added stress so that you could get your Koo Koo Roo ten minutes earlier.

Excuse me while I scream.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Twilight is just another knight's tale

I just thought of something just now while I was typing out a response to a Done Deal post.

Twilight is a knight's tale.

This is an old story. Ever read The Canterbury Tales? Don Quixote? The myriad of knightly tales Cervantes made fun of in Don Quixote?

I'm talking about courtly love.

If you ever want to roll your eyes out of your head, read A Knight's Tale, the first tale in The Canterbury Tales. It's all about two best friends who fall in love with a woman at first sight and fight over her while she has no idea either man even exists. It's all about that hero who fights for the beautiful, unattainable woman. They call it courtly love.

That skinny emo vampire dude is a modern knight. He's strong and good looking and would sacrifice his life for the beautiful, unattainable girl he loves. He can never truly have her, but he'll do anything for her.

The girl is the modern day princess. She's on a pedestal. She's got some mystical beauty, some special element that makes her superior to all other women, and often the knight - in this case a vampire or a werewolf - falls in love with her immediately. The old knight's stories of courtly love were all about the man falling for the woman just by seeing her beautiful face. Doesn't that emo vampire love that wistful emo girl because she looks like somebody from his past or something? That's what I got from the previews. Then he sets out to protect her. He even has to sacrifice and leave her because he loves her so much. That's perfectly in line with the old knight story where he travels the world in her name, but can never have more than a handkerchief or a kiss from the woman he adores.

So it's not a new thing. It's a very, very old thing, and clearly it's still relevant. So in case you were wondering why teenagers love this stuff - teenagers have always loved this stuff. Teenagers are still naive enough to think this is what love is. They love the idea of pure love - it's the same reason they love Romeo and Juliet. It's that idea that when you love someone, fireworks explode and the universe spins in a new direction.

They don't realize that true love is your boyfriend gleefully showing you the massive shit he just dropped in the toilet.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Gloom and doom for us all

My cat is home from the hospital and today I am supposed to buy a house so I was really excited all morning, then lunch time came and the union meeting.

Over the next two years, California's education budget is slated to be short by a billion dollars. That's BILLION. With a B.

That means probably more teacher layoffs, maybe furlough days, cutting programs left and right. Maybe no more music, art, yearbook. Probably no more textbooks. We already cut out board cleaner and tissues. We've never had markers or construction paper. I'm about to run out of giant chart paper and then there will be no more. Classes will get bigger - one of my classes already has 39 kids in it, but now elementary school classes will probably go up to 30 kids per teacher. Can you imagine 30 little kids to one poor, overworked teacher?

This is where we are headed. It's a gloomy outlook.

I honestly don't know what's going to happen or what we can do. Did I mention that I just bought a house? And they're laying off more teachers? One of my friends is getting married in a few months. She's rethinking her honeymoon because she doesn't know if she'll have a job.

But beyond just me and my friends, the kids are going to suffer from this. We've been struggling for years to get them up to grade level, but now we might as well be babysitters for all the work we'll be able to do. We'll keep trying, but it just seems like the state has resigned itself to an uneducated youth. Except the private school kids. They'll still get educated just fine. Our poor Mexican kids? Fuck 'em, right? They'll never know what they're missing.

I started out today really excited about the future. Now I'm not so sure.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

MST3K: Wasn't it awesome?

It's parent teacher night once again, and I generally go through long blocks of time where nobody shows up. I'm supposed to be grading papers, but I'd much rather watch movies. I just got done watching Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist. That's a damn fine film.

I have to do something to distract me from the fact that I am right above the band room and some beginning band kid has been practicing his horn for the past half hour.

So anyway, when the movie ended I searched the instant viewing on Netflix because I only had an hour left and that's not nearly enough time to watch a whole movie. I tried checking out the Showtime series Brotherhood but I got like 10 minutes before I was so bored I almost shot myself.

Now I'm watching the MST3K episode Werewolf. I just keep thinking about the genius this show is. Just pure genius. I wonder, did people watch movies like this before and these guys made a show about it, or do we watch movies like this now because the show taught us that it was okay? Because one of my favorite pastimes is watching a shitty movie and make fun of it. The other night The Beefcake and I put on The Blue Lagoon for that very purpose.

When I was in high school I used to rush home from work during the summer to plop down on the floor in the family room to watch the show with my stepdad. It was one of our few treasured bonding moments. My mom never did understand what the hell the show's appeal was.

A minute ago a student and his mom walked by right as I let out a loud guffaw at some comment Tom Servo made. I thought it would be appropriate to remind everybody how awesome Mystery Science Theater 3000 was, just in case you forgot.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Scriptshadow's logline contest

So as many of you guys already know, Carson picked his top ten loglines.

In case you haven't heard about this yet, Scriptshadow, the guy who reviews a screenplay a day and who's blog you should be reading if you are serious about the craft, put up a contest to select a good screenplay from among his readers. First, you submit your logline and he picks 10 he'd like to read. Then, you submit your first ten pages or a one-page synopsis and he picks 25 of those he'd like to read. Then you submit your whole screenplay and he picks his top three.

Guess whose logline he picked in his top 100? Memememe!

Here is my logline:

Twenty years after the zombie apocalypse wipes out life as they know it, a pair of survivors learns they are not alone, and must fix their issues to protect their warrior children on a dangerous journey by boat to save a woman who may be the key to reviving humanity.

Now here's the thing. I know I don't have the world's most original idea. It's not a high concept script by any means, and up next to all those other loglines it looks really boring.

Take this logline for a script by Josh Eanes called Humans!:

In a world populated by sentient zombies, an outbreak of humans threatens the lives of two ordinary zombie youths, as does an increasingly chaotic military response.

Or this one, by Mike Rinaldi titled In the Heat of the Dead of Night:

A Southern town divided by racism, intolerance, and William Faulkner must come together to survive an invasion of the walking dead and the only man who can unite them is a compulsive necrophiliac.

My heart kind of sunk when I saw those because let's face it, they're more clever than mine. I want to read them. I want to see them on screen.

So that brings up the old discussion about concept vs execution. These two scripts are terrific concepts that announce their potential up front. Mine is a story not unlike some we've seen. So when Carson reads our scripts, I'm curious to see how strongly the idea figures into his decision. It could very well be that all three zombie scripts are strong, but let's say one is not - will the idea save it? I don't know. I'm interested to find out.

I'm not sure I stand much of a chance anyway, since I just discovered that the screenplay I consider the best I ever read, Tonight, He Comes, is one Carson thinks is stupid.

Still, it's a cool exercise and I'm sort of amazed that Carson has taken all this work on himself. I'm also pleased to see not only a pro you probably know already - William Martell - in the list, but also a 19-year-old writer. It doesn't matter who you are, an idea's an idea, and all ideas are welcome. It's going to be pretty neat to see the development of where the clever ideas leave off and the great scripts take over.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

How to love your asshole protag

Remember the last season of The Shield? I recorded the whole thing on my DVR and never watched it. It's been sitting there for about a year. Well next week I'll be mailing my DVR back to Dishnetwork so I can move to North Hollywood, so I decided that now was the time to plough through the last season. I think the reason I didn't before is that I knew I was gonna need to concentrate, and it was gonna be depressing.

But watching the show again after all this time has made me think about the deeply flawed protagonist - when he works, and when he doesn't. I don't want to say unlikeable protagonist because Vic is likeable as hell. He's also hateable as hell. That's what makes him so great.

As Vic descends further and further into the chaos he created, you know he won't climb out. There's only one end to this man, but somehow you still hope he'll get away with it. Unless you think about Terry Crowly, the cop Vic shot in the first episode. The minute he did that, you knew this was all headed in one direction.

So it's not like you think Vic is a good man, but you still understand his motivation. You see how the first few bad decisions were made with the right intentions, and everything just spiraled out of control. You want him desperately to stop before it's too late. And then the Armenian money train thing happened, and, well, too late. Now we just watch the fallout.

It reminds me of Sweeny Todd. You spend the whole film knowing he's not going to stop killing people, but you kind of wish he would. You feel his pain and somehow that makes him sympathetic instead of hated.

Then you get House. I've started to dislike House lately because he ever since he got off his meds he seems even meaner than before. I think the problem has become that before, you could see every time he popped a pill that he was trying to avoid the pain of being him, but ever since he stopped the medication he has no excuse. Or maybe I don't like him because this last episode (SPOILER WARNING) Cameron gave up on him. Cameron is so nice she has always believed in him, so if she doesn't, I don't. Maybe it's a combination of events, but really I think it just boils down to the fact that House has stopped having any redeeming qualities. He seems to be less concerned with the medicine and more concerned with fucking with people.

See, I think as long as Vic Mackie is nice to somebody - his wife, his fellow strike team members, his hooker contacts - you see that he is still not a horrible person, but the second you make him hateful to every single person, which is what House seems to be doing, you lose the love of the audience.

I almost don't want to watch House anymore because I can't stand watching how mean he is to everyone, but I'm glad I went back to those Shield episodes because Vic stays intriguing all the way through. You love him then you hate him then you love him again. But you definitely want to keep watching.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thoughts on the film: The Fantastic Mr. Fox

Saturday night at a gathering a friend of mine said, "Hey let's all go see Fantastic Mr Fox tomorrow!"

Of course I was down. I still have my well worn copy of the old book I used to read obsessively when I was a child, I read and loved the screenplay, and there is pretty much nothing Wes Anderson can do that I won't love him for. The man makes perfect little films that I just adore. A. Dore.

So of course I went to see Fantastic Mr. Fox. And this review is most likely biased because I was sort of predisposed to enjoying it.

So friend texts me that we'll all see it at the Arclight at 4:50. As many of you know, the Arclight is assigned seating, so normal protocol calls for the group to meet there a little before the movie, buy your tickets together, then go right in. This time, however, my friend texted that they had already bought their tickets online. So I had to go online, become a member of the Arclight, and order my $15.50 ticket with one unknown person sitting between me and the other five people in the group.

Then about half an hour before the start of the film I get a text: "Oops! Mike had to change his flight so the movie is canceled!"

On the upside, I got five seats to myself.

If you like Wes Anderson you'll like this film. If you don't, you probably won't. It's pretty much that simple. He and Noah Baumbach took a short story about a snide, clever fox and turned it into a tale about family and courage and rabid dogs who like blueberries. It's cute as hell.

To me, it gets off to a bit of an awkward start because the animation they used is unusual. I've never really seen anything quite like it, but once you get used to the visuals the story really moves along. It's fast paced, clever, and filled with delightful little jokes that make you chuckle. That's Wes Anderson's style. He doesn't make you laugh hysterically, he makes you chuckle. I probably had a smile on my face the whole movie.

Just like the book was well aware that many of its readers are adults, the film makes that same acknowledgment. The studio didn't make them take out the description of how perfect and alcoholic the cider is that they steal from the apple farmer, and they replaced the word "fuck" with the word "cuss" so frequently they may as well be tossing around F bombs left and right. And you know, using the word "cuss" is actually better because it makes the moment more comedic.

There's also all these unexpected little moments where in the middle of a dignified speech or action where everyone's wearing three-piece suits and speaking eloquently, we are reminded of their status as wild animals because they'll suddenly get comedically violent.

Pretty much everything that jumped out at me as a problem in the screenplay has been fixed. This is a delightful, fun film that will no doubt rake in the dollars at the old B.O. Thanksgiving weekend. As well it should.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

A new site for your perusal

A friend of mine started a new website of articles contributed by various interesting writers. I've been watching it for a week or so, and I've decided it's worth checking out. Might be worth reading when you're bored and looking for something to think about.


I've already contributed my own piece: Cyrano is sick.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thoughts on the film: The Road

Last night I sat in on the Creative Screenwriting screening of The Road.

For the record, if there are three film screenings going on at the same time at your theater, you should probably warn people so they don't spend two hours looking for parking.

Also, if half your theater is reserved for VIPs, you have too many VIPs.

So anyway, there was a movie. I've never read the book; it was one of those I've had on my list for years but never got around to, but I brought Best Friend, who adores the book and has frequently recommended it to me.

Best Friend was concerned going in and almost didn't want to watch the movie because she was afraid of what they would do to it. The joy of reading Cormac McCarthy, she said, is in his style. In a film you'll either lose his beautiful prose or you'll end up with two hours of voice over.

The writer, Joe Penhall, and the director, John Hillcoat who also directed The Proposition, went in completely aware of that problem. They said in the Q&A that they decided to ignore the beauty of his prose because otherwise it could become a crutch. So instead of a film full of voice overs, they only kept a few short and significant moments when The Man, played by Viggo Mortensen, expressed his feelings directly. This way, those moments meant something. And it worked.

It made me think about the horrible piece of carrion that is Lions for Lambs. That film was 88 boring minutes of talking heads. In the Q&A for that film the writer, Matthew Michael Carnahan, admitted he originally started it as a play, and when he went to turn it into a screenplay he decided he didn't want to change anything. But it's not a play. It's a film. The rules are different, and by ignoring them, he created the most boring movie I've ever seen.

Yes, it's even more boring than 2001.

But The Road, on the other hand, deftly navigated that pitfall. They took the core of the novel and put it on screen perfectly, leaving out the redundancies and speeding up the pace, which is exactly what you do in a novel adaptation. Best Friend was pleased.

This is a story about a father and son surviving the end of the world. It's not about the end of the world, it's about the unbreakable bond between two men who only have each other. Small story, big world. It would be easy to lose focus and focus on explosions and spectacle, but this story is so much better than that. 2012 can have its explosions, this film is about people and what we become when law disappears and we have to choose. Are we good guys or bad guys?

It's absolutely beautiful. Normally on the way out of the theater I deconstruct what I just saw and try to figure out where the weaknesses were in the film. This time, I got nothin. I think The Road is an example of a film crafted by men who love and understand the story as if they had lived it. Every beat is an emotional journey.

Plus the casting is awesome. Is there anything Garret Dillahunt is not currently in?

It's not a laugh riot, to be sure, which is why the Thanksgiving release date might hurt its performance, but The Road is well worth seeing, if for no other reason than to demonstrate how a story should be told.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Mystery Man recently link this article on why McKee is not worth the ridiculous price he charges. I've been thinking about it since I read it.

I like sitting in on seminars with good teachers. The times I went to Expo I got some great ideas from some of the classes I took, and of course I believe a good teacher can make a huge difference in your education on any subject.

That said, I've never trusted gurus. I think the big problem here is the same problem you always have with teaching art - it's completely subjective. One of the first things I say on the first day of a new class is "I am not here to teach you to write like me. I'm here to teach you to figure out how you write." There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all writing method.

Sure, I read Syd Field just like everybody else. I think all new writers need some kind of format to start with, just like a kid who's never written an essay needs to be introduced to the five-paragraph format. But at some point in every kid's education they need to upgrade from five paragraph to something more fluid, just like all writers need to learn to adapt their screenplays to their personal style. The problem in both cases is that teachers often get so caught up in the rules for beginners that they forget to allow for growth and creativity. And this is a creative business.

I've never read McKee. By the time I began writing screenplays I already had a masters degree in creative writing, so I'd read just about all the storytelling textbooks I can handle. And lord knows I'd never tell anyone to avoid using one of those guys - there are certainly people who swear by McKee, Field and Snyder. I was about to say you shouldn't pay $600 for a weekend seminar, but then I thought about how much my year-and-a-half in grad school cost me and, well I can't really talk, can I? I don't regret going for the second degree. However, I do believe that any teacher who refuses to take questions is not a teacher I want to learn from.

But I do admit I've learned more about storytelling as a teacher and from blog posts and articles and just writing screenplays than I did in school.

So I suppose I think new writers should listen to McKee if they feel they're getting something out of it, but none of these guys are all-knowing. In the end you have to be able to trust your own instinct and listen to your own voice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Bitter Script Reader on how not to write a screenplay

I am drowning in paperwork and red tape and bullshit, so I will turn over today's post to The Bitter Script Reader, whose post, "The Worst Query Submission I Have Ever Had to Read" is a must-read for all new screenwriters. Don't be that guy.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Why, Wolverine?

Curious to see why Wolverine: X Men Origins was so horrible, I jumped it ahead in my queue - Ahead of Wasabi even. I knew what would happen, but I did it anyway.

Why do we do this to ourselves? Okay maybe you don't, but I do. I keep watching these movies I know are going to suck ass. Hell my finger lingered over adding Tranformers 2 to my queue yesterday. Am I on crack? Maybe.

Wolverine really is about the WHYs.

Why can't Wolverine's brother Victor, who appears to have the same power as he does, be the one who gets the adamantium skeleton?

Why are they trying to kill Wolverine if he's their big new weapon?

Why didn't Stryker lock Logan up the same way he locked up everybody else?

Why did Victor kill those other mutants instead of capturing them like he did some of the mutants?

Why does Gambit sound like a midwestern frat boy?

Why is Gambit even in this movie?

How does Victor always know where Logan is?

Why was the blob not a blob until late in life?

Why does Victor wait six years before coming after his former team mates?

Why did a studio hand over its tent pole film to a director with a history of making shitty B movies and Stargate SG1 episodes?

Why? WHY?????

Friday, November 06, 2009

Supernatural lampoons your show

For the past couple of seasons, Supernatural - the only show that makes the CW worth not obliterating - has been super serious. When they started, the show had this serious plot but with lots of comedic elements thrown in, mostly due to the comedy stylings of the perfect specimen of a man that is Jensen Ackles.

But a couple of seasons ago they sent his Dean to Hell and he's been kind of pissy ever since, and then there was Sam turning into some kind of demon vampire and then the end of the world came and nobody was really laughing.

The past few episodes, however, the writers have gone back to funner times. This week's episode in particular made me giddy.

The premise, if you didn't see it, was that Sam and Dean were trapped in one television show after the next, starting with Dr Sexy, MD.

It was Gray's Anatomy. It was so much Gray's Anatomy that I'm not even sure it counts as a parody because it was so dead on. Everybody was fucking everybody else, a ridiculously sentimental soundtrack swelled, and people described these absurd surgeries for even more absurd conditions. I only wish they could have found a way to reference the fact that the guy playing the ghost character on Gray's Anatomy was also their dad.

They ended by poking fun at CSI: Miami, which of course meant they both did the David Caruso like five times. It was some excellent David Carusoing.

So if you love TV and parodies of TV like I do, go over to Hulu or Itunes or maybe the CW if it's there and watch last night's Supernatural. It was just so damned delightful I could have pinched myself.

Kudos, everyone involved, on a job well done.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

The curiosity of spoilers

Warning: No real spoilers ahead unless you never finished season 2 of Alias.

Today I was reading stuff online and clicked on a link for a discussion about Ultimate Fighter. It should come as no surprise that I LOVE Ultimate Fighter, but I can't usually watch it until Thursday or Friday because I refuse to watch it without The Beefcake. Then today I forgot I hadn't watched the most recent episode and the very first sentence of the link I clicked gave me the winner. I cried out and closed the window, but it was too late.

Then again, maybe I can look really smart when we watch the show by pretending to guess what's about to happen.

Anyhow, it's just so interesting to me the sense of dismay you get when you get spoiled on the ending of any story. Today I started All Quiet on the Western Front with my 10th graders and one kid flipped to the end of the book and found out the fate of our narrator. I immediately fretted that he would reveal the ending to the rest of the class. Hell I probably would have tackled him to the ground to shut him up. Fortunately he kept his mouth shut, and the rest of the students resisted the urge to look at the ending first.

And yet when I was a kid, I always read the last page before I finished the book because I was too impatient to find out what was going to happen.

That's funny, right? It's such an interesting element of the human personality that we hate knowing the ending. We want that journey in a linear fashion, we want to earn the reveal at the end. A book almost isn't worth reading if you already know what happens.

But then you look at the latest trend in TV storytelling, one popularized by Alias, where we see a scene from the end before we see how we got there. That works too, sometimes, although often I've wished they just allowed the story to flow in chronological order so I didn't know what was coming.

Except I did love that shit when they did it on Alias, I guess because the scene they spoiled made me more curious instead of disappointed, especially the best episode that show ever had besides the pilot - the one where they brought down SD-6.

I was so into that shit and so excited about finding out what was going to happen, and yet I have that season on DVD and sometimes rewatch that episode even though I know how it's going to end. But then you have a show like Lost, which I also own on DVD and yet never watch because I already know how each episode ends. I don't know why even though I love both shows, I'll rewatch Alias but not Lost.

I just love that about people. We will go to many lengths to avoid spoilers and we get downright pissed if someone doesn't respect that voluntary secrecy, but we also like to rewatch stories we love, even to the point where we have them memorized. It's bizarre.

I don't really have a point, just an observation.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Thoughts on the film: Fantastic 4 Rise of the Mediocrity

Because I hate myself, I watched Fantastic 4, Rise of the Silver Surfer last night.

There's much wrong with that film and its many flaws have been brought out for all to see, but if I had to pin down the one thing that bothered me the most about the film is that it felt so contrived.

Johnny Storm somehow and for no logical reason whatsoever gains the ability to switch powers with his cohorts. Why? Because somebody thought it would be funny to watch Jessica Alba fly around on fire panicking. And then at the end Johnny uses all their powers at once, which he assumes is possible even though nothing up to that point has suggested that he can have more than one power at once, and in fact he has been losing his power every time he switched.

But okay, let's say this silly thing has to stay. Johnny gets to have everybody's power, not just his own. Know what? Johnny's a cocky asshole. Johnny would not just hand back all the powers when he's done. He'd get so excited he'd struggle at least a little before sacrificing all this power. And I'd much rather watch a hero struggle with desire for power than watch Dr. Doom sneer ineffectively while creating a nuisance.

Instead of having a real conflict within one of your major characters, it seems like somebody decided it would be cool to have a few seconds of Johnny with everybody's powers at once and contrived a story to make it happen.

But the truth is, it IS a cool idea. There are things you can do to make it an awesome story, none of which was done here.

For example, while Johnny's fucking around with this new thing he can do, The Thing - Ben - grabs Johnny and switches with him for a few seconds, during which time he jokes and giggles.

Granted, they played with this in the first film, but they didn't go far enough. Here's a guy who can't live a normal life. He can't go anywhere without being stared at, can't fit in normal sized airplane seats, can't wear normal sized clothes, will never ever fit in again. You know he has to dream about being normal; anybody would.

And for a few seconds he sees his human hands again, then has to give it back to Johnny.

Now I don't know about you, but I wouldn't be able to stop thinking about that. I'd wait until Johnny was asleep, then smack him and fly away on my new flamey rocket feet. He wouldn't mean to do it for long, maybe one night of hot steamy human love with his girlfriend where he can feel her hands on his skin, or a chance to walk among regular people without being stared at. Then he'd have every intention of going back to his life, except maybe by then he didn't want to....

Instead, Ben laughs it off and that's that. Then we get some silly plot about a character with few non-expository lines and his magical surfboard.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: CONFLICT. You have to push your characters to do things you don't want them to do - things THEY don't want them to do. Your characters have to have flaws and you have to exploit them.

If not, you're nothing but brainless entertainment.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

My office

I've got some ideas on how to edit my script, but I won't be touching it for a few weeks. I usually take a break because sometimes distance can give you excellent perspective. Once you've been away from a script for a while you can look at it and say "Jesus what was I thinking?" as you read what you once thought were brilliant exchanges of dialogue.

I'm not going back to my screenplay until I'm doing it in my office. It's a tiny room - a complete square that barely qualifies as more than a closet right between the master bedroom and the guest bedroom and with a lovely view of my neighbor's driveway. But it's my room.

For the past three years I have written screenplays on my laptop in my lap on my couch. I have a desk in my bedroom, but the bed is so close that I can't put a chair in front of the desk so I have to work hunched over and leaning from the bed or standing up. So I worked on the couch. It's not exactly the most ergonomic way to work.

So I'm excited. I get a room where I can put my desk and a chair and my bulletin board of ideas and my inspiration movie posters. Well, poster. I plan to buy another one now that I have a place to put it. I'm thinking Zombieland. It will be easy to get inspired when the poster next to your head tells you to "nut up or shut up."

And I have to paint. I'm thinking a dark blue gray because I like to be at ease when I work and I already have two shirts that color so I can match my walls, and who doesn't want to match their walls?

Know what the best part is? I can shut the door.

Monday, November 02, 2009

What would you do with The Canterbury Tales?

I have a sort of challenge to issue anyone who cares to join in.

This month I'm working on The Canterbury Tales with my senior English class. I plan to do the same thing my teacher did with my class - pairs of students choose one tale to perform for the class and analyze. That got me thinking.

Aside from a French version many years ago, IMDB says every version of The Canterbury Tales has been a TV mini-series, the latest in 2003 starring Johnny Lee Miller, Bill Nighy, and Chiwetel Ejiofor among others. Netflix doesn't have this particular one available, which I think is kind of a shame because I like a lot of these actors and would love to see this version myself.

However, the truth remains that there is no real contemporary film interpretation of The Canterbury Tales. I can imagine why. It's split into short pieces with tenuous thematic connections, it has a barely-there plot, and it's unfinished.

Which is why I thought it was a cool challenge. I started thinking of ways I'd approach it, and although I never plan to actually attempt such a feat, I thought it would be interesting to see the different ways you could interpret Chaucer's unfinished masterpiece on film. It's rife with creative possibility.

So here you go. If you had a $90 Million budget and complete creative control along with studio backing and a guaranteed wide release with any cast and director you want, how would you do it? How would you structure this film so that it made sense?

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why I am not afraid of Freddy Krueger

Look at this guy.

Look at his fucking sweater. It's like he picked it up in a dumpster outside a Goodwill.

Look at his fucking face. Did he put his head in a pot of boiling water and then sit in the sun for five hours? He looks like a dried peach.

Look at that hat. Why a hat? I mean, he clearly doesn't have much style because look at his fucking sweater. Is he still trying to cover that bald spot he got when he got his fucked up burned face? Is he still trying to pick up hot ladies in their dreams? Because honey, that hat is not going to do it. You should invest in a toupe or some rogaine or something.

Look at his claw hand. What the fuck is that about? Was he rooting through his mom's basement full of old ass boxes and found a collection of old thimbles he could stick hypodermic needles through? With all that sewing equipment on his hand, you'd think he'd take some of his downtime during daylight hours to fix his fucked up sweater.

Look at that pose. Is he about to break into song? Nightmare on Elm Street, the musical? Freddy Krueger does "I Dreamed a Dream"?

But mostly, look at that fucking sweater. Even my grandpa didn't wear clothes that lame.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Happy endings

I am sick as a dog today. Actually I was sick yesterday, but didn't realize how bad it was until I was already out the door. So today I'm staying in bed while some stranger gives my students a state-mandated test. That'll make 'em appreciate me.

I got a note on my script the other day that I thought was worthy of its own post: the need for a Happy Ending.

Personally, I'm a fan of the bittersweet ending. Some character we all love sacrifices himself so the others can get away, two people get what they want in life but can't have each other, the good guys win but at a huge cost.

Pitch Black, Once, The Magnificent Seven, Last of the Mohicans, basically any story where you achieve your goal, but at an almost unbearable price.

Although Beefcake says by this definition Predator is bittersweet. I suppose that could be debated.

One of my very favorite genres of film is the artsy Chinese martial arts film. Your Crouching Tiger, your House of Flying Daggers, your Hero. I started thinking one day about these films and what they have in common and how a person could create an American version of these stories. I deconstructed them and recreated all their key elements into a story I could write.

One of the common threads of these films is the death of the lover. Each film is at its core a love story, and in each film one of the lovers dies, usually in some great sacrificial or symbolic gesture. If I'm going to adapt that genre, I need to keep that consistent trait. So I killed one of my lovers.

The friend of mine who read my script gave great notes and I definitely appreciate his reading my script because it's helping me spot some problems, but his final comment was that he thought I should give the story a happy ending. American audiences want a happy ending, and it feels like a cheat to take that away.

I get that the ending needs work for sure. I don't want anybody to feel cheated - I want them to feel like this is what had to happen. When I watch House of Flying Daggers I desperately want everybody to live, but when they don't I don't feel cheated, I feel moved to tears at the tragedy of it all. That's the reaction I want to elicit. So clearly I need to develop my ending to give that feeling.

However, a happy ending? Do you think that's true? Pitch Black is one of my favorite examples of a bittersweet ending, but it was an independent film. In fact, when I think about movies that had these kind of endings, they're almost always indies. And the Chinese martial arts films I'm inspired by - well, they're Chinese.

But I just can't see my characters with a happy ending. I even give them a dialogue exchange where they talk about ridiculous scenarios where they'll live happily ever after while they're both pretending not to know how ridiculous that is.

After all, we would never have heard of Romeo and Juliet if they didn't die in the end. But we Americans, we do love our happy endings. Can I sell a story where my protagonist dies?

What do you think about the American need for a happy ending?