Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Line Ride

Dammit all to hell.

You know that scene in Reservoir Dogs where Mr. Pink beats the shit out of stuff in the bathroom because he's so pissed and then he's cool? That's how I felt last night after the Beefcake and I rode the Line Ride.

I have been looking forward to Zombieland for months. MONTHS. I adore the screenplay, I watched each trailer with enthusiasm, I told everybody to go see it. When Creative Screenwriting announced the free screening for Tuesday night I signed up immediately. We showed up and hour early to get a good spot in line.

There were 336 people in front of us. They let in 332 people.

I had a really shitty day yesterday and this was the one thing I was looking forward to. So instead of a review of the best movie ever, all I can tell you is how much fun it was to stand in line for an hour and watch people in front of me go into the theater while we turned around and went home.

On the upside, we got ice cream.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


I tried to write today but it turned out pretty shitty. I've got a lot on my mind. The biggest thing that sucks about being across the country from your family is that you can't jaunt over to the hospital when somebody's sick so you just get to worry from afar and hover over the phone anticipating updates.

It makes it tough to concentrate on writing, but I haven't written in over a week so I sat down and forced myself to puke out two crappy pages of rotten dialogue. I noted in yellow under the scene "This dialogue sucks ass" so that I will remember to fix it later. I'm on the home stretch with the vomit draft and I really want to finish by the end of October a draft worth passing along to the people who have offered to read the script and give notes. Then I can go back to work and feel accomplished.

Right now life is making that very difficult. I also have some work to do on Game Night, which is pretty much finished except for a couple of things I need to take care of. I also found out I have to take this shitty class over again because I missed the test when nobody returned my phone call to answer my questions a few months ago.

But I don't feel like doing any of it. I just feel like sitting by the phone and worrying.

Still, that will not stop me from attending the CS screening of Zombieland. Come Hell or high water, I am seeing that movie tonight.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Stuff and other stuff

I'm back in America, everybody. Back to booze and television and lots of noise and one very angry cat.

The wife-beating guy decided he'd rather keep sleeping on a mattress on the floor in his dining room than sell his house for a reasonable price, so we continue to search for a place to live. This week I believe we are expanding the search to Pasadena.

In the meantime, if you haven't heard from Creative Screenwriting yet about your Open entry, you're not alone. On their website it still says if you haven't heard by yesterday to check this website. I haven't heard by yesterday but the website still says to check the website. I turned my scene in Sunday evening, but I forgot to include a title page so maybe that's the problem. I know others have also not received their scores yet.

I sort of feel like I ordered a salad but I'm sitting here at the table watching everybody else eat their salads. When that salad finally gets here it better have enough dressing on it.

Montana and house hunting got me stalled out on the script, but I will resume writing immediately, and by the end of the week I should have a first draft.

In the meantime, Zombieland everybody. Zombieland.

Friday, September 25, 2009

People in Montana like to watch movies that don't suck

Two days in and I'm already bored. I will not be moving to Montana any time soon. I haven't watched TV since Monday. Is it still there? Did Sam and Dean kill the Devil yet? Has Los Angeles sunken into the sea?

It has been nice hanging out in the quiet and seeing the stars at night. Did you know there are places where you can see the moon during the day? I totally forgot that was even possible.

But after the novelty of that wears off you're still sitting in a house in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do but walk the dogs, shoot shit and beat on a tire.

My hosts have been intrigued by the process of writing films. They didn't know a screenplay had the story in it. They thought you wrote down a summary of the story and let the actors come up with the dialogue. I'm glad I came out here because when you're locked in Los Angeles you think movies are the center of the universe. You forget that most people don't give a shit about camera angles and color filters. They want to be entertained.

One of my hosts doesn't go see movies much, and when she does she rarely enjoys it. She liked Harry Potter. Other than that I'm not sure what she likes. She said she doesn't like movies with lots of CGI and explosions because she feels like they'll give her seizures. Her husband said much the same thing. "All those Michael Bay movies," he said, are not worth his money and time.

The wife said she doesn't care about camera angles. She just wants to be entertained. I said ideally if the movie is done well, you don't have to know why you're uncomfortable in a scene - you just see the extreme close-up and your brain interprets it the right way. It's kind of like trying to figure out why chocolate tastes so good. Somebody knows the answer but that doesn't mean the rest of us need to know.

But these two people have to drive for many miles to see a film, so they don't go regularly. They don't watch TV much either, and even to get their Netflix videos they have to drive 10 miles to the post office. So seeing a film is a rare occasion. What makes them go, I asked? The trailer. A good story. For the husband it was the stars, but the wife said she didn't care who was in it if the trailer looked good.

These people are both over 30 and live in the middle of No-Fucking-Place, Montana, and they like good stories that entertain them. They don't need random explosions, but they also don't need some weepy drama that shoves a lesson down their throats. They see movies that look enjoyable. The husband saw Star Trek. He did not see Transformers 2. He saw the first Transformers, he said, and it was shitty. He said he'll probably Netflix the movie though, because "it's out there."

This is most of America to some degree, I think. I know my mom's the same way. She only sees a movie on a rare occasion, so if she sees it, there is something special about it.

Which also makes me think - with all the money we spend on films in Hollywood, we should really try harder to make films that are worth the time and effort of regular people. I think sometimes because we go see movies so often and spend so much time obsessing over them, we forget how special they're supposed to be. We forget about all the people who don't live in cities and watch a movie once a week and have tons of kids. But they're out there and they don't like to watch crap.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Montana has people in it.

It's good to get out of your comfort zone every now and then. Here in Montana I was supposed to relax and read and enjoy the quiet, but everybody's helping our hosts renovate their house so I feel bad just sitting around. Plus I obviously cannot stay away from my computer. In the 28 hours I went without Internet I broke into a cold sweat and developed the shakes.

I don't really want to apply primer, so I opted to help by fixing the hosts' computer. It's six years old and it has NEVER been defragged. I know, right? You should have seen that before and after picture. It was a thing of beauty. And since nobody else in the house knows how to do this, I feel proud that I have contributed without having to get paint on my shirt.

But that's not what I meant about getting out of your comfort zone. You see, here in Montana there ain't a whole lot going on. There are about five neighbors within as many miles. There are no trees. There is a strip club a few miles away and a small casino and you have to drive ten miles to get the mail. It's over an hour to the nearest real grocery store. As a result, I think Montana people tend to have some strange hobbies.

At a gas station in Butte, a man had parked his gigantic pickup truck right in front of the door, left his keys, and apparently wandered off to run some errands, leaving a fat man to watch his beautifully washed megatruck. Fat Man stood in front of this truck and talked about it with a dude in a red shirt for ten minutes. Then he talked about it with an old lady for ten minutes. Then he went inside, talked about it with some people in there, came back outside with a cashier and they looked at it. Then he went back inside and came back out with the same cashier and they looked at it some more. He was still at it when we left.

"What are you doing today, Buck?"
"I'm going to the AM/PM to stare at Jim Bob's truck."

Later that evening I met a man with a strange hobby. This hobby is so foreign to me I am completely fucking baffled by it. He's a nice man and I liked him very much, but he could have easily said to me, "Hey, you know what's fun? Standing on one leg and reciting the Lord's Prayer in Portuguese! Do you recite the Lord's Prayer one-legged in any languages?"

To which I of course said no, and created an awkward hole in the conversation. I think it was as foreign to him that I wouldn't enjoy his hobby as it was to me that anyone would enjoy it. He spends massive amounts of money on it each year and I am just completely flummoxed as to why.

There's only so many times I can write about high school students. It's good to go visiting and meet people I would otherwise never encounter. Someday I will throw this man in a script. Perhaps I will make him the driver of a giant truck.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Silence is freaking me out

We made it to Montana.

I have spent the last five years living just off Beverly, which is a major street in Los Angeles. For those five years there was not a minute traffic did not pass by my window, and on several occasions a midnight ride by an obnoxious motorcyclist would jolt me from my bed in fear. To drown the sound out I ran two fans in the room.

Right now all I can hear is a fly buzzing around and the ringing from my decompressing ear drums.

Even growing up in North Carolina I could always hear birds chirping and crickets and frogs and dogs barking in the distance. This is without a doubt the quietest place I have ever been. The nearest neighbors are almost a mile away and there is no wildlife to speak of in the land immediately around us. I'm annoyed by the loudness of these goddamn keys clacking on this keyboard. Shut up, keys.

I want to use the peace to do some writing. Everybody else is helping with house renovations so I should probably help do something like paint drywall or whatever. I don't want to, though. I just want to sit here and listen to the quiet. I've never heard anything like it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

I would like to see Montana

The Beefcake and I may or may not be traveling to Montana today. We were supposed to leave Sunday but we wanted to make an offer on a house and at the time had not decided which house. We were debating two.

Then Sunday morning we decided on one - we went with logic over emotion so yay us and our low mortgage payment! - and called our agent. And then she called the seller's agent. And we're still waiting.

In the meantime I looked up the house's current owner and learned that he lost his wife, his kids and his job and is living on a mattress on the floor of the house with no other furniture in the entire dwelling and nothing but Bud Light in the fridge and a BB gun in the backyard. Why is he living like this, you may ask? Because two years ago he beat the shit out of his wife.

So our house comes with a very exciting white trash history. Fortunately there are no fist size holes in the drywall.

The point is, I may not have Internet for the next few days. It's Montana, so we may be communicating with empty bean cans and a string.

Actually part of me wants to leave the computer behind, but you never know when the peace and quiet of middle-of-nowhere living will inspire some scenes. Plus I want to be able to check email in case we need to sign and fax some documents to our agent.

And that's why I may disappear for a few days. If I'm not back by Sunday, call the cops because a bear ate me.

Open script: People on a raft

At first I spent like all Friday night and all day Saturday and then all Sunday morning trying to figure out what to write. Since we decided to put an offer on a house we saw Saturday, Beefcake and I decided to delay our trip to Montana by a day and that gave me Sunday to work. I sat down and spent like an hour writing and rewriting the idea I'd spent two days working on.

And not only was it 9 pages, but I hated it.

So I sat down and watched the first ten minutes of Jedi and didn't really think of anything, then suddenly I thought "People on a raft! Of course!"

Somehow Jaba made me think of people on a raft. I dunno. Then I said to myself, "Take advantage of this location." What can happen on a raft? 1 - you can fall off. 2 - it can have a hole in it. 3 - you can be stranded.

And for the really vigilant readers, yes I did use a phrase here that I used in the latest John August contest. It got laughs all around so fuck if I'm not going to use it as often as I can until it no longer works.

So here's what I turned in for round one. I thought it up in one minute, wrote it in about five, and edited it for about five. It ended up naturally coming in at 5 pages, which is always a good sign. And I feel ever so much better about it. Even if it doesn't get me a good enough score, I enjoyed writing it. My only regret is that I forgot to change their ages because I made them too old for their dialogue. Anyway, here's my "people on a raft" story:



She has a gun to her temple.

She is PENNY, 23, tiny and birdlike and sunburned in her bikini, which could be why she shakes. It could also be the gun.

The finger hovering over the trigger belongs to MILES, 25, scruffy and unshaven and a little sunken in. He also looks more than a little pissed.

They bounce with the waves that roll under their day-glo orange life raft. Land is nowhere in sight.

Leaning out of the raft next to them is GAVIN, 30, hairy and portly. Gavin uses some sort of odd device constructed from his belt and a T-shirt to try to catch fish.

In the raft with them are a neoprene thermos, a beat-up towel with a picture of a bear on it, a broken paddle and a water-logged digital camera.

I didn't do it, baby! He's full of shit!

Then where are they?

Shoot her, Miles. If you shoot her we can eat her.

Oh come on. Even you aren't a cannibal.

Out here in the wilderness you never know what will turn you mad. I ate a grasshopper once. Hey maybe if we throw her overboard the fish will eat her and then get fat and slow and then we can catch them and eat them. More omega threes.

For fuck's sake, Gavin, I didn't eat the granola bars!

Then how do you explain this?

Miles lifts up an empty granola bar wrapper.

Gavin did it. I mean, he's the one deflecting all the blame to me. He looks fat.

I do not!

Gavin sucks in his stomach.

Penny. Listen, just tell me the truth because I love you and this gun is really heavy. Did you take the granola bars? I won't be mad. As much. Only a little.

You have a gun to my head, Miles.

Miles looks at the gun.

Yes I do.

Why did you even bring the gun?

I thought we could shoot stuff.

Okay, look. Do I even look like I ate anything? Come on. I have a very high metabolism so I'm starving over here.

That's why I gave you my pesto chicken sandwich.

I appreciate that sacrifice, baby. I would have died. That's why I haven't eaten anything else since. That's why I'm hungry now and if we get fish I need some fish.

Oh what a load of shit! You were lying then and you're lying now!

Shut it, fatso!

Gavin shouts.

Oh my god you guys! Hold up! I got something!

He pulls up a teeny tiny little nothing of a fish, trapped in his bizarre t-shirt web.

Gavin throws the shirt with the fish inside into the raft.

Look what I did!

He's so little.

No need to go there.

At least he's contributing.

I didn't take the granola bars. Can I have some fish? I'm HUNGRY!


Fuck you guys. I haven't eaten anything the whole time we've been here!

You ate my sandwich.

Oh yeah. Thanks. It saved my life.

Gavin tries to cut the fish with a plastic knife but it's no good as it hops and flops all over the raft. Miles shrugs, grabs it and bites its head off.

Oh gross!

That's balls out, dude.

They watch him for a second as he chews. And chews.

Well how is it?


Can you taste the omega threes?

Nobody can taste omega threes.

Shut up, granola thief.

She lunges for him and grabs the plastic knife. She tries to use it as a projectile, which doesn't work because of physics.

Gavin pushes her and she pushes back. Gavin grabs her hair. She screams and grips his goatee.

Stop it!

I didn't eat the granola!

Stop it! I have a gun!

Fuck you Penny! I wanted the oatmeal raisin!

It tasted like shit anyway.

You DID eat it! I knew it!

They pound at each other again and almost rock Miles off the boat with their grappling.

Seriously, stop it guys!

Yes! I ate the oatmeal raisin! I was hungry!


Gavin slaps Penny in the face.


It had fruit and fiber in it you bitch! I need fruit and fiber!

You can't have all the fruit and fiber and omega threes, you greedy dickbag!

She kicks him, knocking him fully out of the raft.

He splashes around frantically.

Help! Shit! Fuck, there's sharks!

He grabs at the raft and attempts to yank himself back in.

Penny kicks him again.


Cut it out, bitch!

Penny leans back and crosses her arms and Gavin climbs back in and immediately lunges for her. They roll around on the raft some more, grabbing at each other's throats.


Gavin and Penny sit up and stare at Miles, a smoky gun in his hands.

Miles, honey, you shot a hole in the raft.

Indeed he did.

Fuck, dude.


He pulls his shirt off and shoves it into the hole. He shoves the still wriggling fish body in the hole.

Gavin grabs the towel and starts to bail. As the end of the towel flips up in a graceful dance with the sky, two granola bars fly through the air and land in the water beyond.

Well shit.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

CS Open - round one

CS Open is underway. I like this whole weekend thing. I may end up writing the thing in the car on the way to Montana. I think the people we're staying with have electricity and rumor has it they even have internet. Who knew?

I have a difficult time following directions. Two years ago I missed the first round because I didn't really follow the prompt. Last year I barely met the criteria of the prompt. The reader spent the first three pages commenting on how I didn't properly address the prompt, then crossed all that out and went "Oh" when they got to the last two pages where I finally did what I was supposed to do.

I almost made the same mistake on this one. I read the prompt:

"Your PROTAGONIST is in a jam. He (or she) had been relying on deception in order to further his objective, but his ENEMY has figured out the ruse. Write the scene in which your protagonist’s LOVE INTEREST confronts him with this information acquired from the enemy – while in staging it in a tricky or dangerous situation."

And started working on a story about a character who had already used the deception years ago but wasn't at the moment and was being confronted by the enemy, not the love interest. Typical me. I skim the instructions and then ignore them.

But because we have extra time I didn't screw up. I think I can use the same story and change a few elements to comply with the prompt.

One thing that surprised me was how this ended up being more difficult than I first thought. That prompt lends itself to an action plot so at first I thought - AWESOME! An action story will be easy! But it actually ended up making it more difficult to be creative. It's so action-oriented that the first five or six ideas I thought of have already been done to death.

The idea I ended up going with isn't the most creative story idea, but I think the execution is pretty clever so I hope that will get me past round one. I'm playing on my strengths - strong female protagonists with major insecurities, fight scenes, and really depressing confrontations.

I just hope typing in the car doesn't make me sick the way reading does.

In the comments, please refrain from posting your own story ideas if they're action stories. If they're comedy or romantic that's okay, but I don't want to be influenced by anybody else's take on this prompt. Until Monday, anyway. I'm sending my scene in Sunday night so Monday morning, post whatever you want.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I love a good challenge

Tomorrow at 5pm Creative Screenwriting will send out the prompt for this year's CS Open. It's too late to register if you haven't already, but if you have, they give you from 5pm Friday to 9am Monday. All times are Pacific.

This is great. I love challenges. I just don't love the extra challenge I have created for myself.

Beefcake and I were supposed to go house hunting tomorrow. There is one house in particular that - unless we see something horribly wrong with it - I already know I want. Since the prompt doesn't come in until 5 I figured this would be okay. We'd spend the afternoon looking at houses, then I could get the prompt and spend the night thinking about it, then have two days to write.

Then the Beefcake got vacation approved and suggested we drive to Montana to visit relatives. I've never been to Montana. I'm down. But we'd have to leave Sunday and we may not have Internet there. We may not have indoor plumbing there. I'm bracing myself for a middle-of-nowhere type experience unlike any I have known before.

Anyhow, that leaves me Friday night to plan my scene and Saturday to write it. Saturday mornings I join the Beefcake at his park workout and Saturday night we have an event to attend, so I've got about 6 hours to write the scene.

Except a few minutes ago my realtor texted that something came up and can we move the house hunt to Saturday?

Of all the fucking weekends.

Anyway, I'll have about 3 hours total to actually sit down and write my scene.

Of course, if we decide to make an offer on a house we may have to wait until Monday to leave for Montana, so that might end up buying me some time. But as of right now, while everybody else gets a weekend I've given myself hours.

Fuck it. Mama needs a new pair of window treatments.

Let's do this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The trials of Diablo Cody

Diablo Cody's wild ride continues. I find this whole thing terribly interesting.

She came out of nowhere, wrote a solid script that made a successful film, won an academy award, then....

Then she was too famous too fast. I think the last time we saw this happen it was Shane Black and he turned out okay.

I wasn't around the Industry during all that, so somebody tell me, was Shane Black as polarizing after Lethal Weapon as Cody has become?

Jennifer's body is not getting good reviews at all. In fact, some of the reviews have been downright nasty. My favorite was the one that compared Jennifer's Body to a bunch of people covering up cat poop in the litter box.

What interests me most is how often her name is mentioned. Diablo Cody is mentioned as often in the reviews as Megan Fox or Karyn Kusama. How often does that happen?

We complain a lot that the writer doesn't get enough credit when a film is good and to much blame when it's bad, or that the writer's name is never mentioned at all. I think in this case, enough of us have read that script that the responsibility is landing exactly where it belongs. I suppose that's a good thing, but man. I can't help but think it's all so very fascinating to watch her go from media darling to media punching bag. I wonder if this is what she had in mind.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I ran, and then I fought, and then I had sex... on paper

Today I wrote a page-long chase scene followed by a page-long fight scene followed by a page-long sex scene.

Hm. In retrospect that seems short to go from chase to fight to sex in three minutes. I'll have to draw that out some more. What do you think, more chase, more fight or more sex?

Anyway, it was one of those situations where your male and female protagonist kick the crap out of each other until finally they can't take the sexual tension anymore and hitting turns to tonguing and ripping each other's clothes off. Yes, I confess I borrowed heavily from the Buffy/Spike episode "Smashed" where they fucked a house to the ground. Except there was more love and less hate and it was on a boat so there were no chandeliers.

Luckily I have a whole plan for that kind of thing. For the chase scene I put on "I'm Not Okay" by My Chemical Romance. And then for the fight scene I put on Lo Fidelity Allstars' "Battleflag" and then for the sex scene it was "If It Kills Me" by Jason Mraz followed by Gavin Rossdale's "Love Remains the Same." Because getting in the right mood is important.

This does make for a strange transition. You don't often follow "Battleflag" with anything by Jason Mraz.

After this whole thing I was spent. It's weird how sitting on your couch can be so emotionally exhausting you feel like you did in fact just run through some trees and jump over boats and then have crazy sex with your sworn enemy on a fishing vessel.

That was fun.

Monday, September 14, 2009

RIP Swayze

I didn't cry when Kurt Cobain died and I didn't cry when Heath Leger died and I didn't cry any time in between. I didn't know these people so though I was sad, I didn't cry.

But this evening I cried.

I still remember the first time I saw Dirty Dancing. I convinced my parents to rent it. I think I was about 10 or so, and I watched it three times in a row. As soon as it ended, I rewound the tape and watched it over again. That movie made me want to pretend I could dance.

Patrick Swayze acted with his whole body. He was aware of every muscle and how it affected his performance. And have you ever seen anything more awesome than that Saturday Night Live episode when he and Chris Farley did that Chippendales dance off?

Then there's Road House. Who doesn't love Road House? And Ghost?

Hell, as I sit here I keep thinking about more roles I forgot about. Point Break, The Outsiders, Red Dawn.

I suspect he never had quite the career he wanted, and it probably didn't help how striking his resemblance was to Kurt Russell, but you could just tell Swayze was a good guy with a real talent.

Hell, he got more than most actors get. He got to recite a line all of us know instantly: "Nobody puts Baby in a corner." Do you think when he said that line, he knew how popular it would be? Do you think he knew how many times his performance during that final dance number would be copied, lampooned, or admired?

And even after the cancer diagnosis, he still worked his ass off to do one more project on A&E as a morally ambiguous cop. I watched the pilot. Not great, but okay, and bloody amazing for a man fighting cancer in his leisure hours. Most of us would spend our days weeping or traveling or pondering. He just wanted to work.

I guess now that I'm in my 30s I can look forward to this happening more and more - the death of someone who helped shape my childhood. I'll miss him in that weird way you miss someone you never met but smiled every time you saw.

Bye, Patrick Swayze.

Thoughts on the show: Glee

I am in love with Glee.

I usually check out the shows about high school out of professional curiosity. Boston Public was okay but a bit overdramatized, and the teachers could order a set of books and then have them delivered the same day without having to discuss it with the department chair or fill out any purchase orders, and the guy who both had an affair with a student and shot a gun in class got to keep his job, but there were some poignant if unrealistic moments on the show. Freaks and Geeks was, of course, the best show about high school because the show explored the life of most of us who were on the fringes. We weren't overly picked on but we weren't popular either. We had our own group of friends and our own drama.

My So-Called Life did an excellent job of showing how a teenage girl just wants to fit in and get with the cute boy but a lot of the issues were a little off. Dawson's Creek was what high school would be life if it was populated with Harvard grads. And there have been a few others here and there that have attempted to identify high school, but none have fully succeeded.

Until now.

Holy crap I laughed my ass off at the second episode of Glee. I enjoyed the pilot, but the first actual series episode knocked it straight out of the park, at least as far as what it's like to be a teacher.

Okay minor spoilers ahead.

First, I have to commend the writers on the unexpected jokes. They do a phenomenal job of landing a joke you didn't see coming, kind of the way the Simpsons does. There is a scene where the cheerleading coach talks to the glee club adviser and throws him a bottle of iron pills. She tells him they're great if you're menstruating.

Now here's the moment where you think she's going to make a joke calling him a woman or a girly man. Nope.

Glee Club Guy: I don't menstruate.
Cheerleading Coach: Neither do I.

I chortled. That's not the joke I expected.

But here's where they completely won me over. At a later scene, we see our male and female leads in the office with the principal and the afore-mentioned Cheerleading Coach and Glee Club Adviser. The kids did something bad, something the cheerleading coach caught them doing.

At this point you know it wasn't something sexual. That's too obvious. So I was sort of trying to guess what they did, and that's when the reveal came that they were using the cheerleaders' copy machine.

I laughed for like ten minutes. Ahh, schoolteacher humor.

There are two things they did right besides the unexpected joke. 1) EVERYBODY in a school is possessive as hell over the copy machines. They break constantly just like they do everywhere, except at my job you have 100 people using one machine to print 80 10-page copies each like three times a day. Our machines sometimes break daily.

I'm telling you, if you want to have true job security, become a school copy machine repairman.

Anyway, because of the constant breakage of copy machines there are always a zillion signs up in every copy room explaining how the machine is to be used and how many pages you are allowed to copy. And God forbid someone catch you changing out an ink cartridge if you don't have permission, or taking more paper than your allotment. We narc on each other in a fucking heartbeat. So the fact that the cheerleading coach got all bent out of shape over 17 illegal copies is not only completely believable, but I confess it's something I would totally do, as would many of my colleagues.

The second thing I love is the club sponsor possessiveness. As a yearbook adviser, I can tell you that I will fight you over my club and my club members. Since I have a unique opportunity to work with every other club, I know that every single sponsor of every club thinks whatever they're doing is the most important thing since the Hindenberg exploded. The other day the student council sponsor told me I needed to devote 4 pages to her club. We only have 148 pages total in the book and we have over 3,000 students, but god dammit student council is the most important thing ever, even though every picture would just be some kids standing around discussing shit nobody else cares about.

So in short, I am in love with Glee. So far they have nailed it. A lot of doctors say that Scrubs is far more accurate than ER. I feel the same way about this show compared to a show like Boston Public. Our jobs are far more comedic than they are serious.

The funny thing is, I didn't want to watch this show. I thought it looked silly so I put it off for a long time, and only when people started talking about how great it was did I finally check in. I'm not alone in that, which worries me now that I'm a fan. I want this show to stay.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thoughts on the show, The Vampire Diaries

I took one for the team, everybody. I watched the pilot for The Vampire Diaries. I'm not entirely sure how I survived.

There's probably like eight million vampire puns I could use here - something about draining the life out of one hour of my existence, something about wishing someone would gauge out my eyes so I could bleed blood or whatever - I don't know. I suck at puns because I hate them. Much like I hate this show.

I miss Buffy.

Hey, CW, yeah. We really fucking needed another teen angst show where kids are far more intense and flick their perfectly shiny hair dramatically as they brood about which hot Jordan Catalano wannabe they can sex up while they try to fit in at their clique - infested high school. And have a black friend.

Come on, we all know the hot broody white dude is going to end up with the hot broody white girl and not the spunky advice giving best black friend who also thinks he's hot. She is also quite possibly the only person of color in this entire small town. Anybody remember Pete from Smallville? Just once I'd like the broody hot white guy to say to her "Sorry, I'm not into black chicks." Then we'd have one honest moment in the story.

I mean really. I don't think it's fair that Supernatural has to share a network with all these silly high school shows.

Oh I guess I should say something about this Vampire Diaries show or something.

Why do good guy ancient vampires keep going back to high school? Seriously, if you spend a lot of time around real high school girls, they spend like 85% of their time either giggling or putting on eye liner. The rest of their time is for gossip and sleeping. They do not eat unless somebody offers them free cookies.

But on this show, everybody in high school is butthurt and bloodthirsty and wears flawless makeup. And keeps an incredibly grammatically correct diary that reads absolutely nothing like the actual journals I've read by actual teenagers.

TV journal:

"I just don't know how to get through all of this. Sometimes I feel like my soul is ripping away from my chi and drifting away on a cloud of essence."

Actual journal:

"OMG I am so fukin pissed off right now! Shit is fucked up! I saw Bryan in the hall just now and he didn't even say hi or nothin!"

In related news, Ian Somerhalder is still fucking hot as hell and I would do him like a high school girl on cocaine.

So in short, this show sucks ass but it has pretty people in it. Pretty white people. And one light-skinned black girl with shiny, straight hair who dispenses advice and goes out with the guy nobody else wants.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A night at the Paley Center

Last night a Friend and I jaunted over to the Paley Center and watched TV Guide's NBC screenings. Three new shows premiered with a Q&A, appetizers and drinks, and a chance to hug it out with Joel McHale and Chevy Chase and some other people on TV, all for free.

We had tickets but nobody ever checked them. If you had passed by the Paley Center at the right time you could have just walked in and gotten some free shit and met Chevy Chase.

Friend and I meandered around drinking free beer and attempting desperately to get some snacks which were passed around like three at a time on a little tray that was consumed immediately like a living victim in a zombie horde. At one point I grabbed a pretzel stick wrapped with prosciutto at the same time some bitch grabbed the same pretzel stick and literally tried to tug it out of my hands. I hope she didn't have germy hands because I won. At that point it was 7:30 and I hadn't eaten since 11. I was hungry enough I would have stabbed the bitch with the pretzel stick and licked her blood off before cramming it in my mouth.

You know those backdrops celebrities stand against while they get interviewed by lots of people with microphones and retarded questions? We watched that. Just fascinating. Joel McHale is tall and he walked that press line like he'd been doing it since he was three. Chevy Chase is also tall. It looked like he really enjoyed being back out in the limelight. The little Asian dude from Community was pretty awesome. He was the first one in line and the last one to leave.

As McHale and the others finished their walk of glory some lady came on the intercom and told us all to get our asses in seats because the show was about to start. We walked up to some VIP guard and asked where we were supposed to go, because if you've ever been in the Paley Center you know the architecture doesn't exactly lend itself to any kind of logic.

So the guard guy was all "Oh the best spots are on the roof. It's lovely up there."

So we were all "Oooh cool let's go there."

Yeah. The roof was overflow seating. But props to the guard for making us feel like we were special for like three seconds.

Still, I was able to get a beer in the middle of the Q&A, which the people in the auditorium were unable to do.

There wasn't really much seating up there, so for a while I balanced myself on the railing, constantly paranoid that I was going to slip and crash through the skylight into the confusing architecture below. But I did not.

Okay so Community. It's a sitcom about a group of people who for various reasons are attending community college and have landed in the same Spanish class. Joel McHale is a lovable asshole, and I am 99% convinced he is the ONLY working actor who could have pulled that shit off. No matter how big a dick he is, it's completely impossible not to love that guy. The show also gives us the brilliance of Chevy Chase and one of the most ethnically diverse casts working today. Two black characters, one Asian (who doesn't appear until episode 2), one Middle Easterner, three women (one of them black), and only two white guys among the series regulars. Yet it didn't feel forced.

You know, normally a Mexican in a sitcom becomes a silly stereotype, but in this case I think a Mexican American who sucked at Spanish would be a good addition as a recurring character. I mean, why not? They've got everybody else.

Anyway, the laughs were plentiful. I already added this show to my queue, which was convenient since it's on after The Office. I'm telling you guys, it sounds like absurd gushing, but I really enjoyed this pilot. My Friend agreed.

Then we watched the first act and a half of the new drama? Mercy. I say drama? Because I'm not really sure what it is. It's a medical show about a nurse who used to serve in Iraq and then some other people who work with her, including Buffy's Michelle Trachtenberg whose green nurse is an even more annoying character than Dawn in season 6.

There were parts of the pilot where I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh or be serious. Michelle jumped at one point with her hands around a bed pan so pee splashed all over her. I think that was supposed to be funny, but it just looked gross and disturbing. Our lead didn't really act like she was traumatized by the war; she just seemed like a bitch. Halfway through Act 2 Friend hinted that wanted to roll.

"I'm not invested in this," he said. We rolled.

Downstairs TV Guide had set up a photobooth where you could get your picture put on a fake TV Guide cover. Friend and I did a whole CSI thing which looked pretty cool because he was wearing sunglasses.

Then we left. When I got home I realized I had no food and was still starving, so about 40 minutes later I gorged on Papa Johns.

It was a pretty sweet night.

Throw out the shrink

When you have a character with serious emotional needs it's often tempting to throw him in the room with a shrink so he can talk freely about his feelings and get advice form a professional. Don't do it.

On The Sopranos, the shrink was interesting because the idea of a mobster seeking therapy started out as the key premise of the show, and eventually became a real plot element as his therapy mixed with his mob life.

In The Wackness, a kid's therapy life mixes with his real life when he deals drugs to his therapist and takes him on a tour of the kid's seedy underworld.

In both cases, the therapist was part of the story. If your therapist's only purpose is to let the character vent, take that therapist out. Replace them with an existing character and find some less on-the-nose dialogue choices.

All a therapist is most of the time is a chance for your character to say some on-the-nose stuff about his feelings while two people sit in a room and stare at each other. It's not the most exciting way to go about things. Instead, have your character try to say those things to someone he's already close to.

Let's say he has mother issues. He really resents his mother for making him feel like he's not good enough. One scene with him trying to impress his mother will tell us all of that without him having to say it directly and without him having to sit in a room staring at a therapist. You can instead have him doing something, and in that scene we learn about him and his mother - two characters at once.

I've done this before. I had a project once where a character had a therapist scene. Then I thought, who else could she tell this to? And where could she do it? And the scene not only got more interesting, but I discovered a plot twist I didn't know I had.

I know a lot of people throw that shrink's visit in there because it's your first instinct when you're thinking about character emotions. I think everyone should resist that temptation and figure out a better way. I think it will always end up better if you do.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Historical accuracy

Yesterday I came to a stopping point where I had to consult the historian, my mother. My protagonist must rescue her brother from prison. I didn't know she needed to rescue her brother until just a couple of days ago, so this is a completely unexpected turn of events for us all.

This morning I sat down with my water and my music and with pants on, I began to stare at my computer. And that's when I realized that I have no idea what a prison in this era would look like.

So I call my mom, who is a history teacher with a specialization in this particular historical era. She also does not watch movies very often. So here is an excerpt from our conversation:

ME: How would you break someone out of that kind of prison?
MOM: It's not very well guarded. He could just attack some guards. Or dig a tunnel.
ME: No, I need someone else to break him out.
MOM: But he could easily just dig a tunnel. Or attack some of the guards.
ME: But he doesn't. He gets rescued.
MOM: I suppose someone could pretend to be bringing him food and then sneak him out. It would be pretty easy.
ME: No I need my protagonist to kick ass breaking him out.
MOM: He wouldn't really need to. The guards would be old. He'd really just be able to dig a tunnel or attack some of the guards.

She's adorable.

Anyhow, she gave me some great information too. It turns out that my male protagonist that I made up in my head is exactly like a real person who lived in this place at this time, and the real person did cooler stuff than what I was going to make him do. So I just used that handy name change feature on Movie Magic and bam! Historical accuracy here we come.

When it comes to historical fiction I prefer my stories realistic. I don't like it when a story just doesn't fit the facts, so as long as a story is plausible I'm okay, but I hate it when a story is impossible. I want to get as much right here as I can and still have a story about an ass-kicking lady ninja. Kind of like those old stories where the author opened with OMG this is so fucking true you'll be like no way! but way!

The story is completely not true, but for a second you think it is because the author was so adamant about it.

So I spent yesterday going back through my pages so far changing things to fit my new information, which unfortunately ended me with the exact same page count even though I did lots of work. I still have a few more pages to adjust before I can move forward, too, so it will be another day maybe before I can get to page 60.

That means I'll probably have to wait until Thursday to see 9, since that was my reward for getting to page 60. But I've been able to flesh out my story with many more historical details. That had been bothering me for a while, that it felt like only eight people lived in this town. After talking to my mom, I was able to add in a whole cast of extras.

Thanks, Mom.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Politics in education

As a teacher, I can't really ignore this one.

It is absolutely disgusting the amount of backlash the president's speech about valuing education is getting.

Education in America is in a deplorable state and the answer is not some feel good new program or more testing or even higher teacher salaries. Hell it's not even more money. Money is nice, but money is not the best way to make your kids learn. Parent involvement is.

When parents get involved, specifically when they insist their kids make good grades and study, the difference is obvious. Kids whose parents care about their education will almost always be the kids with the best grades, and usually they're also the kids with the best behavior. But our national history has recently involved a lot of excuse making and low standards. Kids don't do homework anymore, and when they screw up in class often their parents make excuse after excuse.

So when the president of the United States, a man whose mother sacrificed for his education, a man who busted his ass to get where he is, comes on TV and tells our kids the answer to success is in hard work and setting high standards, we should all be nodding our heads and throwing text books in our kids' faces.

Isn't that why we all quote former presidents? "Ask not what your country can do for you" "There is nothing to fear but fear itself". Aren't these things we love to teach our kids? Are there not certain principles that transcend political and personal bullshit?

The president's speech amounted to "Work hard and don't allow yourself to fail". How the hell is that a political issue? At this point I think if the man commented on how blue the sky is today there would be a chorus of angry people screaming about how he's ignoring rainy cities with his blue-sky elitism.

Instead of bitching about some manufactured drama, parents everywhere should be cheering him on. They should be pointing to their kids and saying "See? If you want to be successful you have to work."

If George Bush had given this same speech I would have said "You know, the man's kind of an idiot, but for once he has a point."

But nope. We're going to just cheer on our descent into stupidity.

Monday, September 07, 2009

How I make myself work

I had a good writing day today already and it's only noon. I've had some trouble with this script but I've made some vast improvements over the past few weeks and I think on a solid rewrite this will turn out to be a good script. Once again, I am attempting to defy expectations. I'm writing a female lead period piece that kicks ass.

Maybe I'd have better luck if I actually wrote something people expected to be good, instead of trying to surprise them with the goodness.

Anyhow, I thought I'd post today on something I know I'm good at: motivation. To be honest I think the best person for this is Michael Sullivan from Red Right Hand, because I've never met anybody who cranks out pages faster than he does, but that's probably why he's born for TV writing.

But I do pretty well on getting motivated. At the moment I only have one script actually worth showing, but it certainly isn't my first. For a girl with a day job, I get a lot of work done, and when I'm on vacation I get a ton of work done.

I really want to go to the beach. I feel weird that I live so close and almost never go, especially when I get all this time off. Right now the water is warmer than usual so I'm determined to go play in the ocean. I also like to take a magazine and read in front of the waves. Sometimes I watch the people and get story ideas or snippets of good dialogue.

But I can't go to the beach until I finish the first draft.

Nobody would know but me, of course, so the only person holding me to this promise is me, but I don't want to feel like I cheated when I go. I want to feel rewarded, like I earned it. I'm not taking a break until I finish.

On top of that, I have little rewards on occasion. This morning when I started writing I had 49 pages finished. I decided that if I get to page 60 by Wednesday I can go see 9. If I finish page 65 by Wednesday, I can go see 9 AND stop by Cold Stone on the way home.

Keep going
It's easy to stop sometimes when you get to the end of a scene and complete a full thought, so sometimes I will stop intending to pick it up later, but often when I do that I'll never feel like going back until the next day. On days I get more done I still stop at those moments, but then I take a deep breath, get something to drink or eat, then dive back in.

Get the project out
It's like when I played the flute back in the day. I was really into music for a while and I probably could have gone further with it, but I chose to write instead. It's a choice I'm happy with. But for a while there, I thought maybe I was the next Ian Anderson. My problem was I didn't like practicing.

It's not practicing per se that's the problem, it's getting the flute out of its case. You're sitting there reading or watching TV or staring into space or what have you, and it's just laying there in the floor, mocking you with its proximity. All you have to do is open the case, get out the pieces and put them together. It takes less than a minute, yet most of the time when I refused to practice, it was getting it out of the case that stopped me.

So when I go to write, I have to get past that stage. I have to get past the urge to just chill and watch TV some more or read or stare into space or check some more websites. I have to turn off all distractions and put on the right music and stare at that page until I figure out what comes next.

Writers block is a lie
Usually if I don't know what comes next, I go to the index cards and check my notes. If I'm ever completely uninspired, I make a note of what goes there, highlight it in yellow, and skip to the next scene. And if I'm still stumped, I write whatever crap I can come up with until I ease into something that's less crappy. You can always fix it on the rewrite, but you can't fix anything that doesn't exist.

And that is how I'll have the first draft of this screenplay written by the end of next week.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Gamer - really?

So the new trailer for Gamer carries the line "The last time Gerard Butler kicked this much ass, it was 300 years ago."

Um what? Hey marketing guys, did you even see that movie? Or read a history book ever? Oh no I get it, you were like "Let's remind everybody he was in a movie they liked and maybe they'll think this is like that movie!"

Why does it look so much like that movie sucks? I mean without reading a single review - because even though it opens this weekend there have been no reviews - I just know it blows goat balls. How do I know this? I mean other than the fact there have been no reviews. Or the fact that it's a 95-minute action film.

I'm serious. Why is it so obvious this will be garbage? Because until I looked it up I didn't know it was 95 minutes or that it was not screened for critics or that it had two directors and like thirty thousand producers. But you can just tell from the trailer and the poster, which is everywhere around town. This is not a good film.

And who will go see it? And how did it get a Labor Day weekend opening when it's so obviously horrible? Why throw Labor Day weekend away on a film you're not even confident enough to screen for critics?

Your thoughts, please.

Dialogue and Seven Samurai

I really hate dialogue scenes. Actors really love those heavy speeches because then they get all emotional and try to win Oscars, so you've got to have a scene or two of real deep emotional conflict through words. On days when I write action scenes I crank them out and feel good doing it but dialogue days are like torture. It's hard to make your characters say poignant shit when you just want them to shut the fuck up and hit things.

Yesterday was one of those days. My female lead has spent her whole life doing what men told her to do, and in yesterday's installment she suddenly decided to do something on her own, which largely involved leaping out a window dressed all in black in the rain. Unfortunately to get to the leap out the window I had to make her have a conversation filled with emotional realizations and exposition. Blech.

I wrote a couple of crappy pages, thinking I'd go back on the rewrite and come up with something better once I have the bones of the screenplay installed. I usually write an action scene one time and maybe tweak it a little. A dialogue scene I can write like fifty thousand times.

I know exactly how people talk, by the way. The voice isn't the problem most of the time. Figuring out what they say is. There's a thin line between a great emotional speech and being too preachy.

Yesterday after forcing my way through two pages I rewarded myself by watching Seven Samurai because I adore Kurosawa.

There's this terrific scene in the middle of the film where our silly fool who falsely claims to be a Samurai - Kikuchiyo, played by the always incredible Toshirô Mifune - begins an emotional rant about the greediness of farmers and the cruelty of Samurai. He blames everyone in the room for the state of affairs in the village. Farmers are greedy, he says, because the Samurai steal their women and destroy their villages. Then he breaks down in tears. The old wise Samurai in charge tears up a little. "You are a farmer's son, aren't you?"

And you get right then that something horrible happened to this man when he was a child. The Samurai gets it, we all get it.

The rant was not a story about his childhood. It was a projection of his childhood trauma onto the current situation and it was way more powerful than if Kikuchiyo had sat around telling us his sob story.

This is always advice you hear, of course. People rarely say what they mean, we all know that. But seeing it on screen in such a beautiful moment from a character who's been playing the fool the entire film, that inspired me. If you have a character who never takes anything seriously, at some point he needs to break down and cry. If you have a character who's always tough, he needs to show a weakness. If you have a character who's weak, they have to have a moment of bravery. But either way, they can't know what they're doing.

So I went back to my script as soon as that scene was over and rewrote my dialogue so that my character doesn't know what she's doing. She makes a decision without realizing why. I'll still probably rewrite it a thousand times, but it's a start.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Moving forward

Yesterday househunting got in the way of writing. Disappointing house hunting, at that. Apparently "Well maintained" means a crumbling awning and holes in windows that have been repaired by boarding them over with plywood. And "Great neighborhood" means the homeless guy sleeps at least 100 yards from the house and the gunshots can only be heard on Saturdays.

Anyway, it was good that I didn't have time to write yesterday because I needed some time to think. Every step of this script has been a challenge. I've had to think seriously over every step, but I refuse to abandon it because I believe in the story and I think it could really add to my resume. Not Dead Yet is an expensive action story and zombies are everywhere right now that my work doesn't stand out enough, but Burn Side is a much lower budget story and if anyone else comes up with something similar I'll eat my hat. It's also exactly the kind of film I love to watch.

But it's been harder to write. Much harder. I'm dealing with racial issues and gender issues and historical facts, and all of these things are making me worry that when this thing is done people will point and laugh at me.

Then again, that's always my problem. With zombies you can kind of make up rules, but with real history involved you risk mockery if you get things wrong. Fortunately my mom will look it over when I'm done and she's an expert on this particular era of history, but she doesn't know much about screenplays and she doesn't watch action movies so I'm a little nervous that a lot of her notes will be stuff like "A lady in waiting would never kick the king in the face." That's not really the historical accuracy I'm worried about.

The other problem I've had is the ending. Usually I know exactly how the story ends before I even type the first line of the script, but this time I've been a little unsure. I'm using the whole Crouching Tiger / House of Flying Daggers style to influence me, so one of my lovers has to die. The problem is, I could never figure out which one. It needs to be caused by the events of the story, not thrown in just to fit the mold, so what are my characters going to do that leads one to kill the other?

I had already assumed one of them had to kill the other, but a few weeks ago as I drifted off to sleep I had an epiphany. One of the characters I had thrown into an earlier scene and then meant to forget about would come back, angry at one of my lovers, and kill him in front of the other one. Same tragic consequences, but caused by events I already set in motion without meaning to.

I like that tremendously, since it makes my story more like one of my other favorites, In Bruges, where everything that happens in the beginning comes back around in the end. No loose ends in that film.

The thing is, I'd totally forgotten that I solved the problem until last night when I was thinking of a completely different problem, but as soon as I put both problems together I had a total eureka moment. And now this thing is clear. I can see all the way down the hallway that is this script. I think that progress bar on the left ought to zoom ahead starting today.

I still have a ways to go, but every time I sit and think and really work these problems out, the script gets stronger. One thing is for sure, when all is said and done this will be one very well thought out action script.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

It's hard out there for a zombie

Dear Emily,

Thank you for entering Not Dead Yet into the 16th Annual Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition. I want to thank you for sharing your work with us. I know there are a myriad competitions out there and I value your decision to submit to ours.

The competition received nearly 4,000 entries this year. The quality of the entries was remarkable. Every year we strive to maintain a level playing field which is why we make sure each and every script is read more than once. However, judging art at this level is a very difficult process and one that is, by nature, subjective.

Regretfully, I must inform you that your screenplay did not advance to the Second Round in the Drama category. Don't let this discourage you. Your writing talent and the viability of your script in the marketplace are not subject to the outcome of a competition. I encourage you to continue working to get your script recognized. Competitions are a good start, but don't stop there. This is an industry that demands persistence.

The Austin Film Festival and I wish you all the best in your continued efforts, and we hope that we can continue to be a resource for you in the future.

Thank you,
Alex McPhail
Screenplay and Teleplay Competition Director
Austin Film Festival