Monday, August 31, 2009

My second job

Now that I'm on vacation, it's like I'm going to my second job. I absolutely MUST finish my screenplay. That's priority #1. I have about thirty thousand other things to do so somehow I have to organize my schedule to get both relaxation and work in over the next eight weeks, and at some point the Beefcake and I need to find and hopefully move into a house.

Busy busy busy.

I figure things go better if I treat screenwriting like a job, the way I will when somebody finally figures out how awesome I am. I wake up around 8 or 9 and read for an hour in bed. (I LOVE reading in bed in the morning. I never get to do that when I have to be at work at 7 am.) Then I get up, drink some juice and watch a little TV while I check my emails and scroll through my favorite blogs and websites. I write my day's post.

Often, I'll get so inspired by something someone says that I'll start working on my screenplay right then, but just as often I don't feel like working yet.

I've discovered that I have to be out of bed and out of pajamas so I always make sure I'm on the couch and that I've changed into day clothes. As long as I'm in pajamas or bed, I don't feel like I'm supposed to be working.

Basically, I spend my morning fucking around on the internet and watching TV. Then I eat lunch while watching a movie. After that I have no more excuses. I start working on the script. Some days I'll crank out page after page - usually on days I write action scenes because they come much more easily - but some days I have to force myself through two pages and then I'm out of creative energy. On those days, I quit early and read a screenplay. If it's a boring screenplay, I take an unintentional nap.

Then I work out or run errands. Any down time is devoted to packing or cleaning or working on any one of my other projects, like finishing Game Night or house hunting.

Most days I follow the plan. I don't work weekends because that is the fastest way to burn out. I don't mind it feeling like a job because it's a job I enjoy, but I don't want it to feel like an all-consuming exhausting job.

Okay now I've finished my fucking around stage. Time to eat lunch and watch Let The Right One In.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

HGTV is no long boring to me

So I'm on vacation and so far I've watched too much HGTV. When did I get so boring? I remember a few years ago thinking HGTV was the most boring channel on television but now I'm completely obsessed with it.

I saw this one episode of House Hunters from 2007 where this guy bought a new condo with 100% financing and two mortgages for his first place. I wonder how fucked he is right now.

Then I watch a show about remodeling and I'm all oooooh! Look at that flooring!

When I was a kid my birth father used to watch This Old House and take me along with him and my first stepmother when they toured the Parade of Homes. I thought I might leap to my death from the roof of one of those fancy houses just to get away from the torture. I never understood how the fuck they could be interested in this shit. And now - now I think that sounds fun. Eight-year-old me looks at Now me and says "What the fuck have you become?" Eight-year-old me had a foul fucking mouth.

Anyway, it's intriguing to me that I find these things so much more watchable now that I'm looking for a house. And at a party last weekend while others were playing cards I was standing in a remodeled kitchen, asking the host about his Caesar Stone countertops.

When I did I get so boring? What happened?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Here comes Summer

Two days until vacation. It's weird sometimes because while everyone else is going back to school I'm headed to summer break. I keep seeing all those commercials for back to school stuff and it confuses me for a second. And then every time I tell people I have to go to work during the month of July they're always like "Whaaaa? How is that possible?"

I forget that B track is not the normal school schedule.

Anyway, the past few weeks I could see vacation on the horizon, ever closer and yet so elusive. Now my room is almost clean, my grades are in and the kids are practically out the door. Friday afternoon I'm going to come home and sleep. Then next week I start to work on my other job.

I should be finished with my first draft of the current screenplay by the end of September at the latest. I will also have changed oil, shorter hair and an apartment full of filled boxes waiting for a new home.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

To Expo or not to Expo

if you're on Creative Screenwriting's mailing list you've probably been inundated with emails from them of late. Expo is upon us once more, and it's time to make some decisions.

For two years I volunteered at Expo, and the second year I had an awesome time as the volunteer coordinator's gofer, so I got to really see the thing from the inside out in a year when organization at the top was nonexistent. For the next two years I volunteered as Bill Martell's assistant, which was great because I got snuck into a part with free booze and got to sit in on Bill's classes, which are always terrific. Unfortunately Bill is all booked up this year and can't make it, more's the pity. So now I have a decision to make: volunteer again, pay, or don't go?

For new writers the Expo is an absolute must if you can. The interviews with successful writers, the workshops offered by some of the teachers, the networking opportunities - all of these things are a huge benefit to a growing writer who may feel overwhelmed by all the wheels you have to spin to get this career going.

I highly recommend the Expo to new writers. Highly.

But for me, I just don't see the sense in paying for another year at Expo, and volunteering has been handled poorly in the past, so I'm not sure I want to deal with that again. I entered Not Dead Yet in the contest, although now I'm not sure that was a good idea since I've been hearing some negative feedback from last year's winners. Still, the emails coming from CS seem to indicate some of those problems have been solved. Winners last year got their money, it would seem, but none of the promised industry exposure, which is the real prize. So I don't know.

But if you're a finalist you get tickets to the Expo anyway.

Then there's the Open. I almost considered going just for the day to do the Open, but then CS came up with a pretty brilliant new plan for that. You can now enter the Open from anywhere in the world. And I love me some Open.

The Open, for the uninitiated, is a three-part contest that in the past has taken place during the Expo. You pay $10 would go into a very cold room with 100 others and then some volunteer would hand you a prompt. You have an hour and a half to write the best scene possible within the given conditions. You get your scene back a few hours later with coverage and a score. The top 3-5% return the next day and do it again, and the top 3 of those get their scenes produced on stage. Then the audience votes for the winner. It's a terrific exercise. I've done it the past two years, gotten a higher score each year and some good thorough coverage.

This year they're changing things up by making the Open an online task. They'll send you the first prompt before the Expo and you email in your response. Then the second round is done over a weekend. The third is done during the Expo. I like it. Julie Gray and John August have similar contests on a regular basis and it's always a terrific learning experience. And this way you get coverage no matter how high you place.

So I'm just going to stay home Expo weekend and enter the Open contest, unless of course I win with Not Dead Yet.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teenagers everywhere are pissed at me

I feel pretty bad about myself right now. The main assignment for my seniors for the semester - this was for most of the marbles - was to write a research paper about a country of their choice exploring the literary culture of that nation. The basic question in the prompt was what aspects of the culture lead to certain literary habits? For example, in Nigeria European colonization lead to a surge in literature in indigenous languages, and inspired Chinua Achebe to write work that countered the white perception of his people.

I talked about how to cite sources and develop a works cited, but I don't think I went over it enough. I did one lesson on it and gave them all samples, but I sometimes forget these kids tend not to remember something unless you've explained it to them five times.

At least half the class didn't cite a single source. One girl copied and pasted and didn't proofread, so her paper ended with the line "Now he joins us in the studio today."

You can tell when people copy/paste most of the time because the stuff they copy is so much better written than the stuff they write on their own. Most of my students have a lot of trouble with sentence structure and grammar so when they copy it jumps right out at you, especially when they use textbook vocabulary. And since most of the kids didn't cite sources, I assumed if one thing was copied, it all was.

By the time I got to the sixth paper in a row to do this, I was pretty pissed. My notes were getting meaner.

And that's how I ended up with poor Erin in tears.

Apparently she did not copy and paste her whole paper and in fact spent a lot of time on it, and that's why it was so well written. But she had failed to cite her sources so I assumed she copied the whole thing.

She ripped her paper up. She ripped up her friend's paper who also got a fail for copying.

I told them all they could rewrite their paper and I would change the grade. In some cases, they just needed to cite where they got their info. Unfortunately for Erin, since she ripped up her paper, she can't just write it in the margin. I hope she saved that thing on a computer somewhere.

Another student who wrote a shitload of information about her country but neglected to devote a single word to literature left her paper on the table and stormed out when the bell rang.

Both Erin, the girl who stormed out, and three other girls I accused of copying are girls who are very close to me. They eat lunch in my room every other day.

So now I feel very very bad. I should have explained this better. I should have done more than one lesson on citation and given them better examples. I should have had them turn their papers in earlier, and I should have stopped grading when I realized I was angry.

Never grade papers while you're angry. It makes children sad.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

How Unk works

The Unknown Screenwriter has a new post up about his process. It's very, very useful stuff from a man who knows his business. Go read.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Find

Last night the Beefcake took me out to a sit down dinner. Very fancy except I was wearing yoga pants and he was in shorts. We headed for the Larchmont Grill but then decided it looked too fancy for yoga pants and shorts, so we walked across the street to a brand new seafood restaurant called The Village on Melrose (it's on Melrose) and looked over the menu. Standard city seafood prices - $15-$25 entrees - but the customers were mostly well dressed older folk so we started to walk down to Astroburger and go with our standard meal of veggie burger for me and belgian waffle for the Beefcake.

Just as we began heading down the street, a bald European man chased us down. The Village was a brand new restaurant he said, just open a month with two five star chefs, and if we came in he'd hook us up with a major deal on dinner.

Why the hell not?

This dude was so enthusiastic and nice and worked his ass off hopping from table to table. This is his best friend's place, he told us, and I'm assuming his best friend was the short guy who occasionally came out to stare at the progress before returning to the kitchen.

We ordered paella and lobster and shared it all between us. The European guy, whose name I forget even though he kissed my hand and told me his name about thirty times, forgot to get us bread but who gives a shit; we had paella and lobster and both were good and both were reasonably priced.

Here's the reason I'm writing about this because on a regular day a good meal at a new restaurant isn't blogworthy. The reason I'm writing about this is what started to happen as we waited for our meal. The Old People came.

When we arrived, an ancient lady was playing the shit out of a piano. She had a book of sheet music in front of her, but in the two hours or so we were there she never cracked it open and tore through song after song from memory. After we'd been there a little while, another old lady hopped up and grabbed a mic set up through a little amplifier and started singing opera. Then another old guy grabbed a guitar and he and the old singing lady wandered around from table to table performing.

These people weren't paid to be there. They just came to sing old songs together. Then they handed the mic over to anyone with interest in belting it out. The owner came out and serenaded us. Our excellent waiter did that one French opera song everybody knows but nobody knows the words to. Except he seemed to know the words.

We clapped, we laughed, we sang along. Old People just kept rolling in and it became clear that this had already become a regular hang out for the cast of a Cocoon remake. And to think, if that foreign man hadn't chased us down the block we would have eaten our usual veggie burger and waffle and gone home to watch TV. Instead we ate lobster and paella and cheered on the old folks in their little opera house. A customer sang "Mona Lisa Smile". Another customer got up and caterwauled some song nobody else but the piano player knew and everybody cheered her on. I seriously considered performing "I Don't Know How to Love Him" but wasn't sure I knew every word. I think we'll go back and when I do I'll go for it. Apparently they're up there every Friday and Saturday night.

One old lady said "You don't have to be good, just brave."

This is the kind of place where romantic comedies happen. Imagine if that had been our first date - what a great opportunity for a couple to fall in love over seafood. Or it could even be a story about old people falling in love for the first time over showtunes. These are the kinds of places you only find by accident, and they give you the best ideas.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


I've had a busy day and I'm super tired, so I'll introduce some of you to the Billy Mays dub:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thoughts on the show: Bollywood Hero

I watched the pilot for Bollywood Hero this afternoon on IFC. I held onto it for a couple of days because I wasn't sure I wanted to watch Chris Kattan bumble around India.

Yeah that's not what this is. I was pleasantly surprised.

This show stars Chris Kattan as himself in search of a leading man role - the kind Keanu Reeves gets - but all he can land is a role as an alien on a shitty cable sitcom.

One day he meets an Indian guy named Monty Kapur who simply must have Chris as his leading man in his latest film. So in the face of his agent's sneers and Maya Rudolph's disdain, he high tails it to India to become a Bollywood actor.

I like the idea of Chris Kattan desperately trying to get out of the rut Mr. Peepers put him into, but at first I wasn't sure. It starts sloooooow. We all know Chris will go to India, but for some reason the episode drags his decision out for a really long time while we twiddle our thumbs until he figures out what we already know.

I did enjoy the hell out of Keanu Reeves playing himself. I already kind of loved Keanu Reeves. Now I just want to sit and watch him talk for like three hours. That must be one of the most laid back, easy to love people in this town.

Anyway, once Chris gets to India you can see the potential. The Indians can't get Keanu Reeves so they settle for Chris, who thinks they genuinely see him as leading man potential. Chris plays it straight - no goofy bumbling. He does everything he can to avoid the goofy bumbling by just being his own amiable self, but everyone else he meets wants to keep him in that box of Corky Romano. Any comedy is tempered by the fact that he's not trying to be funny.

I find that a really interesting way to go about the story. Our comedian is trying desperately not to be funny but everybody wants him to be funny. In fact, the scenes where the show tries to be funny are the least enjoyable because they seem contrived. I feel too sorry for Chris' situation to laugh when his credit card is canceled. I did laugh when the surly old grandma teaches him to dance in Hindi because she's cute.

It's kind of like the anti-Entourage. This is a place with a huge film industry that most of us know nothing about, and every now and then people break into song and dance, which is super awesome (It's a show about Bollywood - of course they dance and sing). It's pretty clear Chris isn't the one singing, but he's definitely dancing, and doing an unexpectedly good job of it. He'll never be Rico Suave, but he rocked it out.

In other words, I really liked it. I didn't think I would. I started out bored. But once the show kicked into gear I was sold. I'm setting my DVR to record the other episodes right now.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Characters with an agenda

I have immersed myself in story since I don't know when. I used to run around my house with a toy gun, pretending to be an FBI agent. I had a real mashup of toys growing up so The Purple Pie Man married my beat-up, The Dog Ate My Feet Barbie and regularly put together schemes to destroy my other Barbie who lived in the My Little Pony stable and raised ponies with her adopted children, Huckleberry Pie and Lime Chiffon, of Strawberry Shortcake fame.

I didn't really ever play house.

The characters never changed. The bad guys stayed bad and the good guys stayed good. Occasionally Dog Ate My Feet Barbie would have a guilty conscience and secretly save her sisters behind The Purple Pie Man's back, then he'd get all pissed and she'd come running back to him, begging forgiveness.

I had this whole convoluted thing, and eventually these characters I made up became somewhat real to me. I think I tried to make the Purple Pie Man a good guy once since I didn't have any Ken dolls, but eventually he went bad again, without my really having to work at it.

I think this is what we mean when when we say that our characters tell us what to do. You can try to control them, but The Purple Pie Man can no more be a hero than Skeletor. It's how he's made. When you're that ugly and your girlfriend has no feet, you just don't have compassion in you. Although you'd think all those pies would make him happy, but maybe he's just sick from the sugar rush.

I love it when you give your characters a back story and set them on a path, and along the way you find yourself writing dialogue you don't really understand, and then suddenly you learn something. A week or so ago I was writing up an action scene and my character ended up killing a man in a far more brutal way than I anticipated. And I had to say, why did she just bash that dude's head in with a tree branch?

And I said, well, this guy represents how helpless she feels most of the time. The only time she feels in control of her own life is when she's fighting, and this guy is a lot of the reason why. Of course she bashed his head in. What else could she have done? I had developed her so much in my head I had to reverse engineer her reasoning to figure out why she behaved that way, just like real people.

It's kind of weird when you think about it. We make these people up, but we don't always control their movements. It's one of the great joys we get as writers.

Monday, August 17, 2009


Well we bid on a house today. Now we wait.

I was just thinking yesterday, buying a short sale is like being an aspiring screenwriter. You spend a shitload of time doing paperwork and when you submit it for approval, which you may never even get, they will most likely tell you to come back with something better. And they might just tell you that you're no good.

We send those queries off and wait. Then, if we're lucky, somebody asks you for your script. Then we wait. And wait. And maybe three months later somebody might tell you very politely to fuck off. It's good training for other tasks that require patience.

I really don't know how I'm going to make it through the next couple of months without going nuts. If there weren't 4 other couples interested in this house I probably wouldn't be so impatient, but we could end up waiting all this time and then find that somebody else got the house.

I'm about to embark on an 8 week vacation, during which I would like to pack and move. That's probably not going to happen, so instead I'll have to keep myself busy by finishing my screenplay.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

District Fucking 9, y'all

Just saw District 9. Nathan Fillion was sitting right in front of me the whole time. He seemed to enjoy the film, and either he is really looking forward to The Final Destination, or he just enjoys watching the trailer a little too much. Also, he's taller than I expected and wears his sunglasses both at night and inside.


Dear Michael Bay, Paul W.S. Anderson, Stephen Sommers, Uwe Boll and anyone else who makes shitty action movies: THIS is how you make a fucking action film. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves. ASHAMED. Know how big GI Joe's budget was? 175 mill. Know how big Transformers 2's budget was? 200 mill. Know how big District 9's budget was? 30 mill.

In two weeks Gi Joe still hasn't made back its budget, but by now District 9 has. Know why? Because Neill Blomkamp was more interested in telling a story with great characters than he was in blowing shit up or landing an A-list star. Throwing money or Shia LeBeouf at a story does not make it better.

Thank the maker, this movie is making money. Go see it if you haven't already.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Stuff and plans

I wish I could say all the research I've been doing for the past two days could be applied to screenwriting, but I'm just not sure the world is ready for a film about short sales.

We're putting our first offer out on Monday. It's a long shot, but you never know.

In the meantime, to take my mind off the fact that it's going to be like 90 days until we're rejected, I'm gonna go see District 9 tomorrow. Who's go two thumbs and is excited about going to see a movie? This guy.

I also am curious to see The Goods, but that's a Netflix movie. I am not really that interested in seeing The Time Traveler's Wife. That will probably be an I'm Bored At Work So Let Me See What's On Instant Viewing Movie.

Now I must compile documents. So many documents. And also I might or might not be making plans to beat up some other couples who have larger downpayments and take their money. That's my house, punks. My house.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Thoughts on the script: Fantastic Mr. Fox

Last night I read Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach's script for Fantastic Mr. Fox, a Roald Dahl book I absolutely adored as a child. I've been meaning to read it for a while, but the recent appearance of trailers around the web have rekindled my interest, so last night I got all nostalgic and cracked the thing open. What I read surprised me. Now the draft I read was dated 2007 and it's obvious from the trailers that things have been changed, and I get why.

As I watched the trailer the first time I wondered why this hadn't been made in a Pixar style. Why the stop motion? I get it after reading this draft. This is not a kids movie.

Kids movies these days have adult content sort of snuck in under all the silliness so that parents have some inside jokes waiting for them in the theater. Might as well entertain them while they're there. This film works in the opposite way. This script has jokes for kids snuck in under the radar of a story for their parents. Might as well entertain them while they're in there with their folks.

Mr. Fox drinks booze. In fact, one of the things he's so keen on stealing is very alcoholic cider. Was that in the book? I mean, I know he stole cider, but I don't remember him talking about how drunk it got him.

The content is pretty adult too. There are a lot of sophisticated jokes and a few serious adult problems the Foxes have to work out. And the most surprising is a character who's never really explained but apparently evil. He dies in a somewhat brutal way at the hands of our hero.

It's obvious from the preview that they turned that character into a goofy ally, most likely to lighten this thing up for the kiddies. The character needed fleshing out anyway, but it's interesting to see that they took him in a whole different direction.

On the one hand, I'm a little dissapointed to think they took some of the bite out of the story by making it more family-friendly, but then I remember being a kid. I loved this story. I would not have loved this version of the movie because I wouldn't have understood a lot of it.

Besides, my favorite line in the trailer was not in the script, a line that definitely appeals to kids. "I can fit through there. Want to know why? Because I'm small."

I like that kind of hyberbolic overenthusiastic humor. I like when people get excited about stuff they shouldn't get excited about, and conversely I like it when one person is completely unfazed while everybody else is freaking out. And that's the kind of humor in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Mr. Fox is a sane fox in a crazy world, or maybe sometimes he's a crazy fox in a mundane world. Either way he's a terrific character. I guess that's why he's so fantastic.

The draft I read definitely needed work, but the framework was there and the characters were engaging. I even stayed up an extra half hour to finish it before bed. It kind of reminded me of Chicken Run, and that's a good thing. And George Clooney is perfect casting. I'll be seeing this one, even if there are kids there.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I managed to get my hands on an old copy of the Open Assignments list and look it over today. Even though it was an out-of-date list - like 6 months out of date - and many of the assignments have been filled, I still enjoy looking over what kind of projects are available at any given time and the notes that accompany each one.

This time, every time I came across a project I thought I could handle, I copied it into a list. I plan to watch these projects as they progress through the system. I even took a few notes on production companies and executives associated with the scripts I especially want in on. I might query some of those companies.

I noticed a large amount of action comedies, especially high concept action comedies. A lot of remakes, of course, most of which are totally unnecessary. Overboard is just fine the way it is. Leave it the fuck alone.

Many of the films were sequels to movies that don't need sequels, but I guess if we can do a sequel to Wall Street we can do a sequel to Death Race.

And if we can make a movie about Legos, I guess Jem and the Holograms should be no sweat.

I tell you what needs to be fast tracked. The Mariah Carey shopgirl Christmas movie.

There's one remake on there that probably shouldn't be made, but I still want it so bad I could spit. My current project is a perfect example of why I should do this particular film, and as soon as I finish it I'm querying the company in charge. It's a long shot, but fuck it. Why not?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Paramount wins

Whew. Houses, y'all. This shit is complicated.

Anyhow, as you all know, GI Joe: Rise of the Silly Explosion was number one at the old box office this weekend.

Le Sigh.

Now, I'm not saying the reviews did this because Transformers 2 had some shit reviews and they still took in a hell of a lot of money. But still. You've got to hand it to the studio. They did a fantastic job hiding the turd from the public.

At first Paramount said they wouldn't screen GI Joe because they felt that negative reviews hurt Transformers' take. I agree. Imagine how much money that movie could have made if it had been GOOD.

Anyhow, yeah. So they refused to let anybody see it because it's totally not fair that people won't go see a movie if it sucks ass. If they don't know it sucks ass, they'll give us their money before they figure out we sold them a shitty product.

Except that people have started figuring this out. My students were talking about seeing GI Joe and I told them "But it opens next week and no critics have seen it." All my students nodded. Oh yes, they said. It will suck.

So people are getting wise to the old "If critics haven't seen it, it's because it blows" routine. So Paramount found a way around that too.

If you checked Rotten Tomatoes within the week of GI Joe's opening, you would have seen a 90% rating. NINETY PERCENT. I said to myself, this can't be. Surely this movie is not that good. I saw that preview. There's no fucking way this movie is that good.

I think we all know now, it's not. Here it is, only a few days after opening, and Rotten Tomatoes has it at 42%. So of course Paramount did indeed screen the movie, but only for critics they knew would love it.

I usually check reviews before I fork over $12 for a movie, so I'm sure there were people who went to see that film on the basis of fake reviews. And the only reason it's at 42% now is the false average created by those bought reviews.

I just wanted to point out the brilliance in that.

And also that they didn't get my money because you can just tell that movie sucks ass, no matter what the early reviews said.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Let my Cameron go

You guys probably think Ferris Bueller's Day Off is a comedy. Most people also think it's about Ferris.

I know I'm not the first person to say this, but it's become something of a facination to me whenever I catch Ferris on TV some afternoon.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off
is about Cameron.

Ferris starts out a loveable scamp who magnficently avoids getting in trouble. He ends up a loveable scamp who magnificently avoids getting in trouble.

Cameron starts out a tight-ass boy, too old for his body, desperately wanting to relax but unable to shake his fear of upsetting his cold-hearted father. He ends the movie destroying his father's car and planning to tell him to fuck off. That's a hell of a character arc.

Yes, I said arc. This movie has a beautiful arc, one that moves me every single time I watch it.

I love my parents. They're great people. But I spent my childhood absolutely paranoid that I did something wrong. I was a lot like Cameron. I was afraid of my stepdad.

I don't think I realized this until just a few days ago when I suddenly started crying during the scene when Cameron finally decides to stand up for himself. I kept shaking my head when Ferris said he'd take the heat. No, Ferris. This is Cameron's task. He has to man up now.

"My old man pushes me around," he says, tears welling up in his eyes. They well up in mine too. I remember being a helpless teenager wanting to escape.

I love my stepdad now. He's a changed man, a good man, and I'm grateful for everything he's done for me in my life. But he'll tell you that back then, he was a messed up dude. And I still remember the day I did the equivalent of what Cameron did and freed myself from the fear.

This post is a little late in coming. I started writing it the night John Hughes died and kept putting off finishing it. I love The Breakfast Club. I love Uncle Buck. I don't love Sixteen Candles so much because of the Asian stereotyping and the fact that Anthony Michael Hall essentially rapes that one dude's girlfriend and she's totally okay with it. I love Pretty in Pink even though her dress is hideous and the whole movie ended up having absolutely nothing to do with the lyrics of the song.

But there is only one John Hughes moment that hits me where I live. When Cameron finally smiles at the thought of how much he's about to piss off his dad, I smile too because I'm proud of him, and I'm proud of me.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Game Night - the home stretch

Well this has been the most stressful week ever.

One of my students has threatened me so hopefully I won't be shot any time soon. He's probably full of shit, but it's scary enough to keep me awake at night so I haven't been getting much sleep. I've alerted my boss. I hope she'll do something about it on Monday.

Game Night is finally done. We shot our first frame in September of 2007 and I should have final cut in a couple of weeks. I should be excited, but I'm just exhausted. I'm not sure I ever want to do this again, but maybe after I screen the film I'll feel differently. I still wish I could have shot The Corner, but all the people who donated to the project have gotten thanked in the credits of Game Night. And I thank you now. And I'm sorry, I just don't have the money or the energy to make that project right now. I need to remove it from my sidebar.

There's another project I may do because it can be done for $100 in one afternoon with minimal effort, but I'm just so damn tired. I mean I feel tired all the time now. I get a vacation in three weeks. I think I'll spend my first week off just sleeping.

In the meantime, I owe a lot of thank yous to people. My DP did a terrific job, although his advice not to use slates on set was wrong as hell and I shake my fist at him over that. But his shots were great and he was very supportive. My AD did a great job guiding me and making sure I knew when to say things. Both the DP and AD were very respectful on set even though I had no idea what I was doing.

I thank my cast, most of whom were awesome and have been terribly patient. I thank my sound guy, who traipsed up on the roof in the pouring rain to cover the stovepipe with a dirty blanket. I thank my lighting guy, who saved me a shitton of money by bringing so much equipment and worked so hard to make everybody look as beautiful as they are. And I thank my set coordinator who manned that air conditioner like the pro that she is. All of these people made shooting fun and made me less nervous.

And of course, my editor. Oh, Editor. The drama.

Editor is talented. Enormously talented. He has a good eye and sees what needs to be changed and has very good advice on how to change things for the better. I've always thought that. I haven't always agreed with his methods or his way of putting things, and I often resisted his ideas, but in the end he made my footage look terrific, even if it took him a year and a half. It got a lot easier about March of this year when I just said Fuck It and decided he'd get to it when he got to it. But when he got to it, it looked great.

I said some things on this blog that upset him. Understandable. From my perspective, I waited for months for him to finish the edit, and then when I finally heard from him he told me a bunch of people I'd never met had seen the footage I hadn't and they thought my story sucked and I should reshoot scenes. So I was pissed. From his perspective he worked on my film and got some feedback and then gave me advice and I got angry.

Here's what I learned: I am not a good producer because I don't like having to be an asshole. I also don't like having to juggle everybody's ego. Producers have to lie to people a lot and be really mean. Like, really mean. Lots of people kept telling me to be meaner. But then when I was meaner I hated it. This whole thing has put my shoulders up around my forehead. And I'm not talking necessarily about Editor either. He's actually a really amiable guy.

I did this whole thing because I wanted to feel like I'd accomplished something. Initially I was just going to do a little something with some friends just for fun, but then it became this whole huge deal. I'm glad I did this. I'm glad I now know what this whole process is about, but I have now learned that I need to stick to telling stories on paper.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Thoughts on the documentary: Tales From The Script

Last night I attended a screening of a new documentary called Tales from the Script, about the screenwriting industry. It was essentially two hours of talking heads mixed with scenes from movies about movies.

Not that it's necessarily a bad thing, but after two hours of talking heads followed by and hour Q and A of talking heads, I was longing for a fist fight. Zack Penn seemed pretty combative, but he never got out of his chair and punched anybody, so I nearly fell asleep.

I wish the director, Peter Hanson, had set some of these interviews outside or at a coffee shop or SOMETHING. They were almost all upper torsos of writers at their desks.

Despite that, I recommend - nay, INSIST - that every new writer watch this film. It will be out sometime, someday, and then I'll tell everybody to go get it. If you are just now considering writing a screenplay or you just wrote your first and want to know how to make money off it, you MUST watch this film. It will answer many of your questions and erode your delusions about what you're getting into.

The movie was funny as hell in places. I don't think people outside the Industry will really get it, but for those of us in the trenches, jokes abound, and some sobering stories too.

I learned a few things. First, ALWAYS send in your best work. I don't care if it's a first draft, it should be as good a story as you can make it. Guenevere Turner sent her first draft of Bloodrayne to Uwe Boll, prepared for endless notes and rewrites, and he decided to shoot the draft she sent him. Granted, he's Uwe Boll, so he sucks, but still. Every draft should be a shooting draft.

Second, writers are a whiny people. Yes, the studio craps on you, but Jesus, it's all anybody talked about for half the movie. Guenevere, who is one of my new favorite people despite having written Bloodrayne, finally observed toward the end of the film that she gets to wake up at 10, spend all day writing, party every night, and gets paid a substantial amount to do so.

Yes, thank you. Those of us with day jobs would like the full time paid professional writers out there to kindly shut the fuck up about how hard your job is. You can complain some - we all complain some, and you certainly have your fair share of shit to deal with - but then please remember how lucky you are that somebody pays you to do what you love all day. Larry Cohen actually made a good point about that in the Q and A. He reminded us all to write because we like writing, not to please anyone else. If you do that, he said, you'll be happy.

Seeing this film also made me think for a second about how tiny I am. I was sitting there with my writer friends in a theater packed with writers, most of whom have never sold a screenplay, all of whom made the jaunt to Los Angeles because they think they have what it takes. Larry Cohen also told us that most people can learn to write a screenplay, but few people have the natural talent to write a good one.

And I thought Yeah, all these people think he's not talking about them. And then I thought, I don't think he's talking about me either.

Then I thought, oh man, each person here is just like me. They think they're good. They think they'll make it. Most of them are wrong. What the fuck makes me so special?

Then I shrugged and thought, fuck it. I am special.

Because here's the big lesson to come out of Tales from the Script. You have to be convinced that there is nothing else in your life you were meant to do. Screenwriting is frustrating and disappointing as hell - William Goldman is the most miserable writer in this thing - but it's fun if it's your calling. Only the most determined will make it. So you do it for the love.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I didn't know Blake Snyder

I vowed some time ago that I would never ever read Save the Cat. It's nothing personal, it's just that so many of the people I know have become little Save the Cat automatons, refusing to write anything unless it was Blake Snyder approved. That's not really his fault. He became kind of an accidental cult leader, but one who is really nice and right about a lot of stuff.

I just got so sick of hearing about what Save the Cat thinks that I never ever wanted to hear it again.

And that's why his death has dismayed so many. The man had an impact. He changed the way people write. He gave new writers a method that they swear by, to the point where if you give them five minutes of your time they will do their level best to convert you, like the Jehovah's Witnesses of screenwriting.

That's why even though I didn't follow the man's method, or actually know what his method was, I'm still bummed by his early departure. Everybody says he was really nice. And he wrote Stop! or My Mom Will Shoot! and we've all heard of that movie even if we didn't see it. Most writers would take their success and run. He took it back to the ton of baby writers trying to work it all out. I'm still not reading his book, but he was a good dude and he will be missed.

Now we'll see how long it takes for people to turn his writings into a religion.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Fuck taxes

It turns out my tax preparer neglected to tell me I was supposed to send in a check. Thanks, buddy! Now go fuck yourself with a rusty spoon!

Last night I was so stressed over this - I am a worrier, people. I worry. A lot - that I didn't want to think about my screenplay. My script is so serious and sad, it was just compounding my worry.

So as I fell asleep I tried to think of a way to turn taxes into a movie. I ended up coming up with this surreal artsy thing with mystical elements - a story about a woman waiting in line to pay her taxes in a big white room with a huuuge green desk and some ugly old lady behind it but really high up. Then the woman goes through a portal to another world where she gets lost in a sea of paperwork.

Then, because I'm me, some dude showed up with a shitload of guns and started blasting the place.

It's the gunfire that lulled me to sleep.

Monday, August 03, 2009


Yay it's Panic Attack Monday!

On today's episode, Emily receives a notice that she owes North Carolina $280 in taxes she didn't pay even though she paid an accountant almost that much to handle her taxes last March. If she does not pay this money immediately, the government will shoot her in the face. Emily is about to apply for an FHA loan to buy her first house. Nobody at the accountant's office is answering the phone.

I was going to try to write something about writing today but instead I am looking for a paper bag to breathe in before I vomit.