Thursday, July 29, 2010

A slight delay

I promised an interview with a big Hollywood writer today and I lied. I ended up being entirely too busy today to do any writing, and tomorrow isn't much different. I may have to post the interview on Monday, but it will be there.

So I will leave you with this. While I awaited the arrival of said bigshot Hollywood screenwriter at the Bourgeois Pig on Franklin, a very trendy writery spot where Louis Lombardi once asked if he could drink my hot chocolate, two gay dudes walked in. How did I know they were gay? I don't know, one was blond and a little too good looking and his hair was gelled up and he just had that look, and a brunet guy came in with him.

The gay guys went to play pool. One of them came over and stood right next to me to ask the coffee chick if there was any chalk, and that's when I realized the blond gay guy was in fact Dominic Monaghan.

The lesson here is that sometimes celebrities look kind of gay.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Next on A&E's Obsessed: Keyboard Dusting

The cat and the dog in my house, while both short-haired animals, both shed like a motherfucker. The cat frequently tries to help me come up with ideas by hopping in my lap and blocking the keyboard, I guess so he can type what he thinks is the best line of dialogue. This is why I constantly find pet hair in my keyboard.

And that's where the obsession began. Pet hair in the keyboard.

But do you know lint also gets in there? And sometimes food particles? And every now and then unidentifiable debris?

To deal with this unacceptable phenomenon, I dust. Frequently. Obsessively. You know that canned duster stuff? I'd buy it in bulk, but I'm afraid the cashier at Target would think I am a drug addict.

At the beginning of every writing session I get out my can of duster and my tiny Swiss Army knife tweezers and I clear as much as I can of the pet hair and dander and shit out of my keyboard. Then, every time I'm stumped or I have to think or I'm just stalling, I bust back out the can of duster and blow out any remaining debris, or any debris that has accumulated or reared its ugly head since I started typing. Because sometimes the hairs are tricky. Sometimes they hide under a key and dig in until you blow the compressed air in just the right direction. Tricksey Hobbitses dust particles.

In a way, though, the constant dusting has served as a tool for writing. Instead of stepping away from the computer or getting distracted by the Internet when I should be writing, I stare at my keyboard and think while I dig out tiny hairs. I'm still working even though I'm not technically working.

So I've come to confess that my name is Emily and I have a problem. I am an obsessive keyboard duster. But I can quit any time I want, I swear.

Tomorrow, a promised interview with a big shot Hollywood screenwriter.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What Samurai Jack taught me

Know what was a good show? Samurai Jack. I miss Samurai Jack. If you've never seen it, Samurai Jack was a show on Cartoon Network back when it showed cartoons, about a martial arts genius who was sent into the future just before he was about to kill the evil Mako Aku, and now either has to kill Aku or find a portal back to his own time so he can kill Aku in the past.

I was watching season 4 the other day and thinking about how amazing it is they managed to tell so much story without a lot of dialogue. Genndy Tartakovsky, the show's creator and also the creator of Dexter's Laboratory and the only Star Wars Clone Wars to be actually good, said he liked action scenes so he wrote a show about action scenes. He didn't want to load the show up with lots of unnecessary dialogue. Action scenes are awesome, so let's have an entire show full of action scenes.

There's definitely something to that. A lot of times I read amateur scripts where people talk. And talk and talk and talk and talk. They talk about their feelings and their desires and their fears and all the things they're thinking. In reality they should just have their characters work out their angst with a sword fight.

Samurai Jack taught me that. Sword fights for everybody.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Thanks, Google Maps

I don't like writing about places I've never been, and that's where this all started.

I decided to set my current script, Salvage, in my hometown area. I was going along, following my treatment pretty carefully, having a grand old time putting forth pages on a regular basis, until I realized something I had not noticed when I wrote the treatment.

My characters end up ambushed at a meeting and make a run for it. In the treatment they race to the car and speed away to the next scene. But as I was writing the scene I realized that the place my people just came from was in walking distance of the place where they had their ill-fated meeting. So they don't need a car.

Foot chase.

I hadn't planned on a foot chase, so I had to stop for a minute and think. I could have tried some kind of parkoury type shit but that doesn't make any sense for my characters. My characters wouldn't want to drag this out. They'd want to get somewhere public and safe as soon as possible to escape the dudes chasing them.

I went to Google Maps. The location for my meeting is a pretty famous pub in my hometown, so I looked at it on the map and then I took a gander at the surrounding area and examined every possible place they could run to.

A supermarket, City Hall, a middle school, some shops. I considered each of these as a place to hide. We've seen chases end in supermarkets a zillion times. I briefly considered the middle school, but then I saw a museum that sort of glowed, the kind of museum that begs to be used as exactly this kind of location.

But I'd never been to this museum, so I had to Google it, and I saw pictures so I could figure out what kind of antics my characters could get up to during their stay. I have to rewrite some of the pages to make it funnier, but I got a really cool sequence out of it with almost endless potential.

I was supposed to make my characters run to the car and drive off, and instead I made them run to a museum and do stuff. It was a reminder that sometimes you have to stretch yourself a little to make things better.

Friday, July 23, 2010

See Salt. Or else.

Ever since I heard Salt had switched to a female protagonist I've been antsy for opening weekend. I keep hearing all the time "Don't write an action film with a female protagonist." Every time I tell someone about my latest project they sort of give me this tsk tsk response, like I've made a big mistake with my life and I should really learn to write about men or stick to romcoms.

So I prayed for Salt to be good. I was going to force all my friends to go see it if it sucked, just to give a minuscule push to the box office. I'm relieved that fans of action say it's good.

Because you know what they'll say if this movie fails: People just don't go see female action heroes.

It has nothing to do with whether or not it's a good movie, of course. I mean Alien, Terminator, Nikita, Run Lola Run, Resident Evil - those are all flukes, right? Nobody wants to see a woman kicking ass.

But if it does well.... oh if it does well, then we're back, baby. If this movie makes money in a season where nothing is guaranteed, the first thing studio heads will do is to look around for the next Salt.

I'm waving my hand hello.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Nicholl again

I'm hoping not to be eligible next year, so this may be my last time trying. Here's this year's rejection letter. Same results as last year with the lovely P.S.

Dear Emily,
If you have been following the comment lines posted on Facebook, you already know that many exceptional scripts were entered in this year’s Nicholl Fellowships competition. Now that scores have been tallied for all 6,304 entries, we have to inform too many writers of scripts featuring intriguing stories, engaging characters and strong craft that they have not advanced into the next round. Regrettably, Burnside was not one of the 326 entries selected as a Quarterfinalist in the 2010 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.
You should realize that while we strive to make the evaluation of screenplays as objective a process as possible, it is inherently both a personal and an extremely subjective matter. A lack of success here may not have any bearing on your reception in the marketplace where a sale is the ultimate measure of success. I’ll even venture a prediction: several non-advancing writers will become professional screenwriters in the near future.
To tell you a little about the process: each script was read once. After receiving an initial positive evaluation, nearly 2,900 scripts garnered a second read. Over 900 scripts were read a third time. Each read resulted in a numerical score being awarded. Scores for each entrant's script were totaled, and the Quarterfinalists were selected on the basis of highest scores.
Early next year, we'll send you a link to a 2011 application form, which will include a list of the recipients of the 2010 Fellowships. Results will be posted online at in November.
Best of luck with all your future endeavors.

Greg Beal
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting
PS: Your script was among the top 10% of all entries.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thoughts on Chris Nolan's current state of mind

I didn't post yesterday because I was moping. I learned that I will need hand surgery soon, surgery that is just as likely to do nothing as it is to fix the problem. Funsies.

I saw Inception Monday. I am definitely in the Holy Crap That Was Amazing camp. I was totally blown away by how well the exposition was handled, because I went in thinking I'd probably feel like I do when I see a David Lynch film - angry and confused. Instead, I followed every beat of the story perfectly well. And I loved that this pulled off being a heist film while feeling like a serious drama. I always say you can have explosions with subtext. Well, Inception had explosions with subtext.

What made me smile was thinking that Pete Postlethwaite and Michael Caine don't really need to be in this film since they have bit parts; Nolan could easily have used less recognizable actors for such small roles, but why bother? If this is your dream project you get your dream cast. After Dark Knight Nolan can have what he wants, and he wants Michael Caine and Pete Postlethwaite.

I wonder if while Nolan was screening the finished film for the first time, did he cringe at certain scenes and think about how he should have done them better? Or do you think he just sat there and went HELL YES.

Nolan has been working on this script since he was 16. Imagine that. Imagine that one project you've been dreaming of making for most of your life suddenly coming to life with a complete budget and a cast full of perfect actors and screening to great reviews and solid box office. Imagine how that must feel.

That must feel amazing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Mastermind at Comic Con - do it

Another reminder for those of you going to Comic Con, if you're looking for something super awesome to do on Thursday, there's a movie premiering based on my friend Michael Sullivan's very awesome play Mastermind.

Here's the link to the event:

And here's a trailer:

Friday, July 16, 2010

I write with music

Today I was having difficulty again with a section of my script that's supposed to be pretty funny and at the same time tense. One of those Hey put your gun down no YOU put your gun down no you first! kind of things. I was just staring at the screen, drawing a blank. I just wasn't in the mood for tense comedy.

Then the cat crawled into my lap so I had to pet him for like 15 minutes. You know how that is.

Then I realized I had my music set to "Romantic." I have three different music lists that I cycle through while I write: Romantic, Action, and Writing Music. Writing Music is my default setting, with music that's at a sort of natural pace and won't distract me. Action is lots of fast pace tunes that make me want to run and punch stuff. And romantic music is, well, romantic stuff.

I was listening the Romantic list today because I had just finished a scene where my hot male lead had a moment with my hot female lead, but forgot to switch it over. As soon as I switched back to Writing Music, it's like I pushed a button on my muse. Suddenly I was able to be all funny and whatever.

So another day where I started out sucking and ended up not sucking. Thanks to the ITunes this time.

I'm not sure I can write without music anymore. How about you? You write with music?

Thursday, July 15, 2010


I didn't write any pages today. Instead I went swimming.

A friend of mine has a feature film coming out based on his comedy script. It's his first produced credit and it's completely based on his script, but he hates the finished product. He's been lackluster about advertising the film to industry folk because he's nervous about having his name attached to something that he's not proud of.

I know a few people who've had a similar experience, so what do you think? Is it better to have a produced credit you're ashamed of or no credit at all?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Exposition Dump

The past few writing days I've started off kind of apathetic about my work. I have that five page goal, and that's what I'm aiming for. I know what's supposed to happen and sort of go through the motions to get there. And after about two pages I consider giving up.

Then something has happened every single day. The same thing. After I consider giving up, I remember my five page rule, and I decide that no matter how much it sucks I have to persevere. Somehow after I pass that moment I write some seriously golden shit. Every day.

Today I started a section where I have to reveal a whole lot of exposition. It's one of those scenes where the people on the run get a moment to rest, and that's when we find out why Character A is so fucked up as Character B tells Character C all about it. What's wrong with her? Well, son, let me tell you her backstory. Blech. How the hell do you make that anything other than an exposition dump?

I was so unenthusiastic about this line of dialogue that my character didn't want to talk about it. Then I realized that this was my way around it. She doesn't want to fucking talk about it, asshole, so stop asking. Character C has to wrestle the information out of her. And that's when I realized that Character B is in a whole lot of denial. When she talks about Character A's problems, she really should be talking about herself because she has all the same problems. Character C sees it, we see it, but Character B just continues to snap at everybody and tell them it's all Character A's fault.

What was even better was that I've been having trouble figuring out what Character B's flaw was. Up to that point she'd been in control with no real issues. This one greatest fear of writing an exposition dump ended up turning into a real opportunity for growth in the script.

So I was pretty damn happy with that. In fact, I was so moved by Character B's pain and denial that I started to tear up a little bit. I haven't done that in a long damn time.

Of course, on the rewrite I'll probably wonder why the hell I wrote this crap.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Yay! Tonight I get to play a dead or dying victim of something. One of our friends is helping his buddy put together some kind of thing, I honestly have no idea if it's a short or a web series or what, and has asked The Beefcake to play a large intimidating man. Naturally, he asked if I'd tag along as a woman who gets to lay on the ground and get fake blood on her clothes, which of course I would. Why would I not?

This will by my third acting job since I moved to LA. The first was Area Five, directed by my buddy Michael Sullivan. I actually had to memorize lines for that even though a certain someone who was supposed to be a real actor did not memorize his lines at all. I later invited myself along to a shoot when The Beefcake and I first started going out, and somehow wormed my way into a voice over job - I have a deep voice for a woman - AND a part hanging onto the leg of the protagonist as he attempts to look very manly. This film is not yet finished because the director lost interest in editing, but I nag him about it every chance I get.

As you know, I don't have a job in the film industry. The first set I ever visited was my own, and it was in my living room. I love being a minor part of a film production because it's my only chance to see how different directors put the pieces together.

Years ago before I'd ever seen a real set, an actor friend of mine was helping his buddy put together a short and I asked if I could help in come capacity - craft services, PA, whatever, and without consulting his buddy my actor friend said no right away. I got an audition for that same actor for a lead in an independent feature and he blew it off, so I guess I shouldn't be too offended. That guy and I aren't friends anymore. I'm pretty sure he's still bartending.

I never understood his mentality. Sure he was an extraordinary looking guy, but it's not like those are all that rare in Los Angeles. If you want to get somewhere in this town, you have to bust your ass and take every opportunity that comes your way.

So I eagerly play Dead Hooker #2 or whatever I'm supposed to be tonight, just so I can lie there in a pile of corn syrup and watch another director at work. I can't wait.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Predators and the only girl around

Saw Predators today. I have the same opinion that's been going around - fun flick, not an Oscar winning piece of brilliance, but exactly what a solid action film should be. I would probably have enjoyed it even more were it not for the old dude in the back who kept yelling "OH NO!" every time a new complication arose.

Anyhow, I like Isabelle.

We all know how generally unsuccessful female action heroes have been, and I think the main reason is the difficulty so many writers have separating strength from compassion. Even though this film doesn't pass the Blechdel test - there's only one woman, although I kind of want to see what a female Predator looks like - I still felt that Isabelle is a perfect example of how to write a female badass.

I think there's a feeling that a woman must be either compassionate or strong, and that if she's strong she's a bitch, but if she cares about people, she's weak. In reality, a woman in a man's world generally tends to be the one who reminds everybody that we don't have to kill each other. I've often maintained that if one of the Lord of the Flies had been a Lady of the Fly, they may not have destroyed each other. Everybody needs a mommy. That doesn't mean Mommy has to choose between being a harpie or a pushover.

Isabelle has a heart. She also has a gun, and she sees no reason she can't balance both. At one point in the story Walton Goggins character, the convict, stares at her ass and tells her it's awesome. In a lot of films, that's when Michelle Rodriguez would have pinned him in some kind of thumb lock and told him to shut his fucking mouth or she'd shove her sniper rifle up his ass.

Instead, in this version, Alice Braga lets it go and moves on to more important things. She might be able to kick his ass - we never find out - but what would that prove? She's not an angry butch lesbian, she's just a warrior with a vagina.

I don't necessarily agree with how she was handled at the end of the film, but overall I felt that she was handled with realism and respect. Action writers would do well to pay attention.

Friday, July 09, 2010

What do you want to know from a big time pro?

I have something cool coming up and I want to get your input. Most of you guys never post anything so I can only guess as to who the majority of readers are, and as I was making up a list of interview questions for my next victim, I tried to think of what you guys would want to know.

It was pretty easy to think of things I want to know, but I also want to make this useful to you guys.

So I'm going to pose a question and anybody is welcome to chime on in. If you could interview a successful screenwriter - think big budget studio projects - what would you ask? I'm not going to say who just yet because there's always a chance it will fall through or I'll say something stupid and end up on the wrong end of a restraining order, but just know that I am fucking stoked.

Let's assume the How you broke in and How you got an agent are already off the table for this interview. I'm big on doing my research before I conduct interviews so I actually already know the answer to those questions.

Anyway, what would you ask? I already have a good set of questions, but I don't want to forget something that everybody wants to know.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Staying on schedule

This new screenplay I'm working on - Salvage - is pretty goddamn awesome. It's that perfect blend of stuff we've seen before with stuff we haven't seen before, and more than anything else I've ever written, I can see this selling. If I do it right.

Manager really wants to see it - I think I jazzed her with the logline unless she's just saying that to make me stop emailing so much - so my objective now is to crank out a quality draft in one month. With that in mind, I set a goal for myself of 5 pages a day. Five pages a day for five days a week plus a few extra here and there means a solid first draft in four weeks.

So far I've stuck to that plan. No matter what I do in the morning, at 3 pm I sit at my computer and write. I turn on my special ITunes writing mix and start typing. The first day, five pages. The second day, four pages.

No worries. If I have a short day, it means I have to spend the next day making up the difference. So on day three, six pages. Monday and Tuesday is my weekend for reasons that will remain a mystery to you.

Anyway, today I didn't think I was going to do it. A lot of today's material was still set-up and exposition and build up to a car chase. I knew once I got to the chase I'd write like gangbusters because action sequences flow from my fingertips without me actually having to think about it, but in the meantime I was having trouble forcing my way through heavy dialogue and character setup which always causes me trouble.

I got to page 18 and thought about stopping for the day, but then I remembered my vow. If I stop at page 18 today, that means two extra pages tomorrow. So I kept going.

And then before I knew it, there I was at the car chase. I decided that there's no way I can come up with some crazy amazing car chase violence that hasn't already been done, so I concentrated on what was going on inside the car our protagonist is driving. And suddenly I looked up and I was on page 22.

These aren't bad pages either. On the rewrite I'm sure I'll change a lot of the dialogue, but all in all I'm pretty proud of what I've cranked out.

Now I only have to write 3 pages tomorrow, but fuck that. If I write 8 pages I can be a day ahead. I wish someone would pay me to do this because I am having a blast.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Character emotional extremes

I was watching season 2 of True Blood, just like I promised, and Eric the smart ass butthole vampire cried when his maker died. Eric is the last person you'd expect to cry, so it was an especially moving moment.

It made me think of something Joss Whedon said in the commentary for the Firefly pilot. Take the character who's afraid of nothing and make them afraid, and the audience will realize how dire the situation is. If Eric the vampire is sad, and he's not emotional about anything, then I should probably be sad too. If Jayne is afraid then I should definitely be afraid.

Had Firefly kept going, they probably would have found somebody for Kaylee to be really pissed off at. If Kaylee's pissed at somebody, you know they're a bastard.

It's just something I always try to remember.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The TV, it makes me feel things

I was supposed to go on a Tru Blood season 2 marathon, but accidentally put disk #2 in the mail before I watched it because I am retarded, so I had to wait for it to come back to me before I could continue. Since it was a long weekend I had to do something to bide the extra time. I substituted a Dexter marathon because I'd only ever seen two first season episodes. I watched all the way from the pilot to the season two finale in 4 days.

Last night I dreamed about a sexy serial killer, kind of like Jeremy Sisto in Hideaway only maybe not so loony toons.

Anyhow, I love the way that show plays with who the bad guy is. Good guys are bad guys, bad guys are even badder or sometimes not bad at all, and just when you think you know who the bad guy is you find yourself kind of liking that person. That's just brilliant.

What gets me is how I can really like a show like Dexter and find him completely understandable, yet I don't like Breaking Bad at all because I have no sympathy for the protagonist. The best reason I can find is that Dexter is actually doing something that he believes makes society better, not just something that benefits himself. Or maybe it's his nice guy personality, or the friendly voice over. I don't know.

That's why I like TV. I find it fascinating the power those stories have to twist and turn your emotions in whichever direction the writers choose.

Now my DVDs have arrived and I can get back to watching Tru Blood. By the end of the week I may actually crawl into the TV and live there.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Why isn't The Greatest American Hero a movie yet?

This weekend Syfy ran a marathon of The Greatest American Hero. I know I'm not the only person who flipped out, because that show was the shit in its day. I fucking loved this show as a kid. I mean, the theme song alone is worth the price of admission. My buddy and I almost wrecked his car once because we were speeding down a winding gravel road to get back to the cabin in time to see an old syndicated episode that was supposed to air that night.

In this time when studios are making movies out of board games and '80s TV shows, it upsets me that this deserving project gets no love, at least as far as I can tell. I haven't heard a peep about this in development.

So if I were an executive at a major studio I would make this my mission. And here's how I'd do it.

Nathan Fillion has said he would jump at the chance to play the lead, Ralph Hinkley, and of course he's perfect. He's terrific at playing a comedic character in straight fashion, which is just what this role would require.

Robert Culp's character, Bill Maxwell, is easy. Ever notice how much he looks and acts like Bruce Campbell? I mean it's eerie. So there you go. Nathan Fillion and Bruce Campbell.

For Connie Seleca's character, Pam Davidson, I think we need some ethnic diversity. This is the Greatest AMERICAN Hero, after all, and America ain't just about whitey. So I'd cast the hottest up-and-coming actress right now, Zoe Saldana. The character isn't a comedy role but she is smart and charming, so Saldana would fit it well.

I'd have Justin Timberlake remake the theme song to roll over the end credits.

Obviously you'd have to add some edge to this story because typical '80s camp wouldn't fly in 2010, but you could have tons of fun playing with this. You could really play with the idea how power doesn't have to change who you are at heart.

I would probably cut off my little toe for the opportunity to write this.

You hear me, Studio People? You get on this now please. Shoot me an email and we'll get this party started.

Friday, July 02, 2010

M. Night, still relevant

I'll say this for M. Night. Everybody's got an opinion about him, so he must have done something right.

The Last Airbender ranks a 9% on Rotten Tomatoes right now. Seven percent if you only look at the top critics. That's fucking awful.

What happened to that guy? I went through Boxoffice Mojo yesterday movie by movie to see how his films have bombed, and they actually haven't. Each film has made money, although each less than the one before, and mostly overseas.

I forgot to look up The Lady in the Water, though, because does anybody remember that movie?

Anyhow, I was in the grocery story just now at the checkout counter, and this was the conversation going when I got there.

BAGGER: Naw, I liked The Village.
CLERK: And Signs. Signs was good.
BAGGER: Signals?
CLERK: No SIGNS. Signs was good.
BAGGER: Yeah it was okay I guess.
CUSTOMER: I gotta disagree. I loved The Sixth Sense. That was the only good movie he ever did.
BAGGER: Yeah that was before he started putting himself in all his films. Sixth Sense was good, though.
ME: And Unbreakable. Unbreakable was an amazing film.
BAGGER: I heard they're making a sequel.
ME: To Unbreakable?
ME: That's a terrible idea. They need to leave good stuff good and not screw it up. He just seems to be getting worse.
BAGGER: For real. You want another bag?

He may be getting worse, but I'll say this for him: That's four people at a grocery store who were able to carry on a conversation in which we mentioned four of his films, and I think it's obvious the conversation began because he's got a new one out today. So I think as long as people still have opinions about the man, he'll still draw the curious into the theater.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Mastermind at Comic Con

I'm gonna kick it over to Michael Sullivan over at Red Right Hand today, since his fucking awesome play Mastermind has been turned into a short and will screen for the first time in public at Comic Con on July 22 followed by a Q&A. If you are going to that thing then you should go to this thing.

You've got to watch out for that guy. He's gunning for all of us.