Thursday, December 30, 2010

Stuff I did in 2010

Well, here we are again.

The best thing that happened to me in 2010 was I got a dog.

The worst thing that happened to me in 2010 was my house got broken into.

I got a rep, then I learned that getting a rep is not quite the answer I thought it would be. I also learned that I'm really good in meetings and would enjoy taking more of them.

My favorite movie of 2010 was The Good, The Bad, The Weird even though it technically came out in 2008.

The best movie I saw in theaters was 127 Hours. The most disappointing movie I saw in theaters was The Losers The Expendables Predators The Losers. I didn't see any really terrible movies in the theaters, but I wished some were better.

The move that gave me the most pleasant surprise was The Crazies.

I finished a script I started in 2009, wrote a free treatment for a project that went nowhere, wrote a spec script, and wrote two drafts of another script.

I joined a writers group.

I tried to watch GI Joe and Legion. I finished neither. Actually that's not true. I think I fell asleep watching GI Joe and didn't care enough to try to watch it again. I also fell asleep watching Inglorious Basterds, The Informant!, and The Men Who Stare at Goats.

Futurama came back. Yay!

I discovered that you can buy new designer clothes on Ebay for way less than at the store. I also discovered that I like designer clothes.

I laughed, I cried, I danced around my kitchen. I made sarcastic comments. I went to a couple of parties. I had a party.

My favorite screenplay I read all year was Gravity. I also loved The Kitchen Sink and My Mother's Curse.

Syfy network had the most consistently awesome shows this year, with BBC America coming in a close second, only because I think Top Gear blows.

I fell more in love with Joel McHale.

I killed two avocado trees.

I finished Goldeneye on the Wii on the Operative level with automatic targeting.

And that's some stuff I did this year.

Next year I'm going to finish Goldeneye on Agent level with intermediate level targeting. I like to keep my goals attainable.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

This is my workspace

On occasion I'll get the urge to write some pages while I'm sitting on my couch or at my desk at work, but most of my writing time I spend here.

I'm a big believer in using habits to encourage productivity. I tell my students who have trouble reading that they should try finding a particular chair at a particular time of day and always read for a specific amount of time, and eventually their brains will come to associate that chair with reading. I see my desk as such a place. Pretty much the only thing I do at this desk is write, so when I sit down there my brain instantly goes into creative mode.

The desk is a little cluttery at the moment. This is the one room in the house where we still haven't found a place for everything, and some of the loose stuff landed on my desk and just stayed. One of my goals for the new year is to get this desk cleaned off.

If you look closely, you may notice I have three bottles of keyboard duster. I am not an addict, I am just obsessed with cleaning my keyboard. It's how I buy time when I'm stumped on a scene.

I painted the room slate gray because it is a soothing color and will not distract me from the task at hand. Plus, pretty. It's the first thing I did before I even unpacked boxes when we moved in.

To the right is my board where I put index cards of all my loglines, story ideas and rejection letters. I used to post up index cards outlining my story, but the last two stories have been written out in treatment form. That's what's on the paper holder to the right on the desk - page two of my second outline for Nice Girls.

When I write I get a full glass of water, pull my hair back in a loose ponytail, put on sugar plum lip gloss, clean off my keyboard with duster, then hook the computer up to my speakers.

I click on ITunes, Firefox and Movie Magic. I have three primary music playlists - Action, Romance, and Writing Music. I always start with Writing Music and adjust depending on whether or not the music feels appropriate.

I check my email. I check the blogs. I check Done Deal. After that I start writing. Sometimes I leave Firefox open because inevitably I will need to look something up, and I don't really get that distracted by it because I've already checked all my stuff before I start writing.

I set myself a goal for each day, usually a choice between page count, scene completion and time. Usually it's either two solid hours of writing, complete a specific sequence, or write five pages - whichever comes first. I do not stop until I have met one of those goals. Sometimes even after I've met a goal I'll decide I can keep going. And if I didn't complete five pages the day before I make sure to push out extra pages so I can meet a long term goal on schedule.

Once I decided to develop this pattern of writing behavior it's been easy to maintain a steady writing schedule.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Thoughts on the film: Monsters

I spent five whole days with no Internet save one daily email check. That was weird, yet somehow freeing. I did not go through the amount of withdrawal I expected, probably because I was distracted by snow.

And Monsters. Stepdad got Monsters on Demand Sunday night.

Monsters is an independent film about a man and woman who must cross an infected zone on the Mexico/USA border filled with giant alien creatures in order to get home.

This film was listed as a horror movie, which it 100% is NOT. If anything it's a drama with suspense elements, which makes it a bit of a challenge. It doesn't fit any particular category. The closest thing I could think of was a low budget Close Encounters, but even that doesn't seem right.

I'd seen enough articles about this film that I wasn't really surprised when it wasn't scary, but Stepdad was disappointed. He liked the film, but it wasn't what he intended to watch. He thought he was going to see a horror film, when in fact it was...


...a quiet metaphor for the illegal immigration issue symbolized by peaceful, misunderstood invading aliens who are attacked by military forces.


It was a terrific film. Only the two leads were played by actors - everybody else was a local Mexican, allowed to ad lib the dialogue. And according to Boxoffice Mojo it cost $500,000 to make.

Let me repeat that. $500,000. With big giant beautiful aliens.

So I find this film fascinating. It's called Monsters, and Monsters is the perfect title from an artistic perspective, but if you consider the marketing it's a terrible title. Monsters implies a scary movie, and it's listed under Horror, but someone who loves a movie like Hostel would throw spitballs at the screen if they picked this up thinking those two films belonged anywhere near each other.

It's a film that could only be made outside the studio system because it does not fit neatly into a box. Good thing it was so cheap to make or it would have disappeared into oblivion. As it is, it had trouble in the states finding an audience, and that's a shame. Apparently it got a lot of love in Russia.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas Vacay

I spent all day using last year's Christmas present of a gift certificate to Burke Williams. All year I kept meaning to go in for a massage, but every time I thought about it I'd then think, if I go get a massage and hang out at the spa all day I won't get any writing done. Plus I have to grade papers and do research and clean the house and - well, that's kind of why I needed a massage.

Today I finally did it, mostly because I had to give somebody a ride over there anyway. I got my money's worth for sure. I drank every beverage they offer, ate both kinds of cookies they had on plates, and used almost every room in the spa.

And now I'm heading back home to the family for the vacation and I'm NOT bringing my computer. It will either be really relaxing or I will have a panic attack.

I'm still bringing a notebook and a pen, though, just in case I get any epiphanies.

Since I won't bring my computer, I won't post anything until I get back.

Have a good Christmas, everybody! See you Tuesday!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The right question

A lot of newer writers ask the wrong questions: How do I get an agent? What kind of producers read 150 page horror films? How do you get around the studio reader? Why won't anyone read my script?

Or they make the wrong conclusions: Hollywood doesn't know what good stories are. My writing is too sophisticated for the studio system. Someone will just rewrite my work anyway, so I don't have to make it perfect.

This is the only question you need to ask yourself: How can I make my work better?

Find people who can help you do that, and the rest will follow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lessons from the writers group

I love Sundays because that's the day the writers group meets. We're small, and we get together in a little office where we destroy each other. When you walk into that room, you will come out with the need for a page one rewrite. Last night I ended up shredding my notes because by the time we got done with the guy's script the notes had become completely useless.

It's a great and horrible room.

Every week the notes generally boil down to a few key points.

1) Know thy protagonist. Ask yourself, what does she want in this scene? What is he afraid of? What secrets does she have? Your protagonist needs a line here and there in the beginning that distinguish them as a person. This seems common sense, but every week it seems to be a primary note for all of us.

2) Take advantage of opportunities you've created. Imagine if you wrote a story about a black belt in jujitsu but never actually had your character fight anybody? If you have a story in the Arctic, you need to take advantage of the cold. If you write a story about a dog trainer, make use of the dogs. I read a lot of scripts where someone creates this situation rife with opportunity but never uses what they've got. Think to yourself, what are all of the awesome things I can do with this scenario?

3) Know your audience. I'm lucky - in my group I'm the only one who is not also a director/producer. The cool thing about that is that I am constantly reminded of the importance of economic considerations in writing a script. If you write a story about a werewolf, your audience will skew young and expect violence and gore and sex and a lesson in duality. If your script is about a 40-year-old spinster who talks a lot but doesn't kill anybody when she wolfs out, you may love the hell out of your story but you will not sell it. You must study what works about similar films and remember why people love them.

I learned that last lesson with my script when I wrote an edgy, violent comedy and tried to keep it PG-13. The audience that loves edgy comedy is over 18, and if I want them to see my film I have to cater to their expectations. It's a good lesson to learn.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Those crazy Thais

I was just watching the Thai film Chocolate. Just the other day someone else told me women couldn't star in action films, so after seeing this movie I've decided to move to Thailand where women are equal and respected by all.

I liked that the film went old school Asian martial arts method. It front loaded the plot so the second half of the movie just jumped from one action sequence to the next. No slow moments to fix stupid plot shit - the exposition was done on the run, my favorite kind of exposition.

But I'll tell you what I liked the most. The girl didn't fight like a dude. She fought like a girl, a badass girl. That's the trick with female action leads - let them be women while they kick ass. Stop trying to make them tiny dudes.

One day the American film industry will figure this out. I'm doing my best to make it happen.

As the movie ended, the really baffling part took over. At the end of the film they did that whole Jackie Chan look at all our injuries on set bit, but this this makes Jackie Chan look like a pussy. Those fucking Thai stunt guys, man. They are crazy. You know, when the stunt goes exactly like it's supposed to and people still end up bleeding profusely from the skull, you may need to rethink your safety precautions. There's a point at which dudes are supposed to fall from a three story height and land on concrete, and they do exactly that. No mats. No movie magic. Naturally, they sustained some serious injuries.

I used to know a guy who liked to jump off buildings for fun and stun gun himself in the eye because it made people laugh, but now I'm thinking maybe he's not so hard core. He needs to move to Thailand and get some street cred.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Making a point

Thursday night on The Daily Show Jon Stewart interviewed a group of 9/11 first responders to find out how they feel about the fact that our political leaders would rather filibuster over a tax bill for millionaires than pass a bill providing better health care for the people who risked their lives and contracted life threatening diseases from working at Ground Zero.

It's sad to see our leadership so out of touch with what's important, but what's great about what we do as entertainers is encapsulated in that Thursday night episode. We have a pulpit from which to explore the issues that matter. Jon Stewart makes no bones about leaning liberal - he doesn't claim to be unbiased - but he has always embraced his opportunity to point out madness in our society.

I'm glad there's still at least someone out there who is using television to make us aware of the crazy. That's what we get to do when we tell stories.

Personally I like to make people aware of big guns and explosions. But sometimes I make a point or two about women being all badass or something.

Anyway, thanks Jon. Thanks The Daily Show. You did a good thing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favorite films of the year

I was just thinking today about what my favorite movies of the year are, and I'm surprised at how there are no straight manly action films on my list. Maybe I'm growing as a person.

127 Hours
Social Network

The Other Guys
The Crazies
The Book of Eli
The Town

The Losers, The Expendables, Predators - all disappointed. I didn't see RED because I was afraid it would be like those other three, and I just couldn't handle the heartache.  Kick Ass and Salt were pretty good, but not good enough for me to rank it as a best of type thing. The Good, The Bad, The Weird was probably my favorite movie I saw this year, but that came out in Korea in 2008.

I still have high hopes for True Grit.

The award for worst movie of the year is a tie between Legion and Cop Out.

What's your choice? What did you love and hate in 2010?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A bit of stream of consciousness

I just finished putting together a literary terms test and I am pooped. I'm still very excited about The Black List. I have to put grades in on Thursday but I can't stop reading. Today I read The Kitchen Sink - holy crap that shit was hilarious - and then started to read Everly, which is way more serious and kind of jolted me back into frowny land. I didn't finish because I had to run a department meeting.

Oh yeah, someone let me run a department meeting. I felt very important for a whole hour.

Anyway, I came up with a new story idea today. I've tried three times to write a script inspired by my job and never been able to crack it, mostly because I tried too hard. I set out to write a script about teaching, so the story wasn't organic. Today I kind of accidentally stumbled into a story that just so happened to use my knowledge. So hopefully this idea will stick. I'm not sure if I'll do it next, or the historical piece I've been researching. Either way the next piece will not be a comedy.

I'll kind of miss that. I've really enjoyed embracing comedy. For a long time I resisted it because I was afraid I'd suck, but it turns out I'm not so bad at it.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to finishing Everly. Then I'm going to dive into Die in a Gunfight, What Happened to Monday?, Gangster Squad, The Escort, Murder of a Cat, and Looper.

For the record, I do not have any of these scripts because Fox would sue me if I did. I am reading them through the power of my psychic mind. If you would like to read these scripts, I cannot help you. Especially if you're someone I've never even spoken to before. I am not being sarcastic. If we have never exchanged words, do not email me asking for scripts. How would you like it if I showed up at your house and threw a mug in your face demanding coffee?

Anyway, I've got three weeks of vacation, but I also have to research material for my historical story, rewrite Nice Girls, do homework our boss just assigned us, prep for a big project I have to teach in February, and at some point get a massage so I can get these shoulders off my earlobes.

Some people vacation. I get shit done.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Black List 2010

The day has finally come.  The Black List is out.

I've only read a few of these, but The Kitchen Sink was already next on my list. Looks like we all have a lot of reading to do over the vacation.

I think this is a really encouraging list. A lot of these scripts are creative ideas or genre mix-ups, no real Sorkins or Tarantinos. We're headed in a good direction here.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


This Thursday I have one of my favorite work related activities. I go to a school sponsored workshop where there's free breakfast and we write all day.

We have to bring a favorite quote or poem or paragraph or whatever to give to another member of the workshop, who will then share that quote with the class. I thought about it for a while - Romeo and Juliet? "The Jabberwocky"? A little Edith Wharton?

To hell with it. I love all of those, but I love something else more.

This shit is poignant. People need to listen. There is one line in all of literature that fully expresses the seriousness of the situation, and that one line is what I will share with the class this week. The rest of the class will no doubt bring in super important messages, but none will be as vital to the survival of the human race as mine.

My quote:

"Listen, and understand. That terminator is out there. It can't be bargained with. It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear. And it absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead."  -Kyle Reese

Thursday, December 09, 2010

A Cartoon

Tonight was parent conference night so I started my rewrite instead of grading papers while I waited for parents and wept over the disintegration of our political system.

In the meantime, a friend of mine sent me this because it reminded her of me. She nailed it. This is totally me. All the time.

This is also the process by which I come up with a lot of story ideas.

Sometimes on hikes with my friends I figure out the order in which we'd die if this was a horror movie, and who would turn out to be the killer.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Rewriting on faith

I'm writing a second outline for my script. I need to keep the first act mostly the same, but completely rewrite the second and third act. It's actually taken me longer to put this together than the first version.

The first version was pretty broad. Not a lot of killing - a lot of almost killing. Now that I'm turning this R rated I'm killing bitches left and right, which is tons of fun, but a completely different direction from what I had. What I had before was also a series of physical comedy moments - pratfalls, people just missing each other, goofy stuff. Now I have to turn that into absurdist humor. It's causing a few problems.

I'm having trouble keeping a scene I really like because a character who needs to be in a particular place at a particular time is now somewhere else. I've spent like two days trying to reconfigure scenes to make it work.I'm about to bust out the index cards.

Right now I have most of the script outlined, then a gap, then more outline. Part of me wants to just start writing and hope the problem solves itself when I get there, but I'd rather solve the problem now.

This whole process involves a lot of faith. I keep thinking about it every night, going over the possibilities, playing with ideas. Imagining what would happen if I totally changed everything. Every night so far I've thought up a new scene I like, so I just have to believe that eventually I'll figure this out too.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, rewriting takes a lot of faith. Faith that you'll figure it out eventually if you just keep playing with it.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Franklin Leonard on The Black List

There are two events an aspiring screenwriter looks forward to all year: Nicholl quarterfinals, and the publication of The Black List.

Since this year's Black List is nigh upon us, I'm reposting this video that Scott at Go Into The Story posted, and that a few people on Done Deal have been talking about. It's Franklin Leonard, founder of the Black List, talking about its inception. It gives a nice look at how things work on the inside.

All executives want is something good to read.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Round Two

I swear my lawyer friend is doing a guest post on copyright for me. Things keep getting in the way.

Last night at writers group we did notes on Nice Girls Don't Kill. I got some amazing suggestions. When I wrote the first draft I dialed it back a bit, trying to keep it PG 13 and keep my protagonist likable. The main note last night was to stop it. This is can be a lot like Grosse Pointe Blank if I let myself go.

I really enjoy cussing, I really enjoy quirky people doing ridiculous things as if they were perfectly normal things, and I really enjoy humorous violence. Last night the group pointed out to me that I muted all that in this script and the best thing I could do for this thing is to let myself loose. Unchain. Go nuts.

I'm keeping most of act one with a few adjustments, but after that I have to rewrite the entire thing. I don't care. I spent a few days working on a comedy of errors that made me terribly proud, and this new version will wipe all that. I have some awesome lines of dialogue I'll have to lose now. I don't care, because I have faith that what I will replace it with will be even better. I'm turning off my filter.

I can't think of a note I'd rather hear than to have more fun being more me. It will be a lot of work, but it will be awesome work.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


I like the research part of writing. I'm currently working on a historical project again, but this time the story totally writes itself. As I'm reading a biography I'm highlighting like gangbusters because the character I've chosen to write about just happens to be naturally PERFECT for the story I want to tell.

I'm going to have to devote a lot of time to reading over the next few weeks because aside from reading two biographies of this person, I also now have given myself job-related homework.

I just assigned my 11th graders to choose a novel from a list of American authors, and by the time they were done selecting they had all convinced me to do the assignment with them, and somehow they convinced me to do a different book in the two classes, and of course I had to choose books I haven't read before, since I'm making them do the same.

So now I will be reading Their Eyes Were Watching God AND Gone With the Wind and doing presentations on both authors in January.

I tried to be all "But that's two books" and they all held up their copies of A Tale of Two Cities they've been assigned in history class and said they also have to read two books.

It's hard to argue with that logic.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Writers Group

I've asked a friend of mine who's a corporate attorney in NY to weigh in on the PJ situation, but she didn't get a chance to look over the case yet so that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Today I'll talk about writers groups.

I've been in writers groups before. Once I was in a group with a guy who thought it would be a good idea for him to start a contest where he didn't have to do much work or offer a good prize but could use it to make lots of money. Everyone in the group nodded as if this was a brilliant idea and dismissed my concern about how maybe it's just a tad dishonest and scammy. That was my last meeting with that group.

In one group, a girl who'd made one independent feature - a film she financed and paid to screen - decided to form her own consulting firm charging lots of money to help people work on their craft. Thing is, this girl only skimmed scripts. She'd ask questions that were answered clearly in the script, and gave some of the worst notes I've ever heard. And in the year I worked with this group, she never brought a single script to us to read. All she ever did was talk about how she was going to make her career happen, but since she'd made a movie once the other members of the group seemed to think she was the shit. I waited too long to leave that group.

I remember one time I gave another girl a note about her character introductions - a suggestion about how to make them more interesting - and she turned to another member of the group and specifically asked him if that note was a good one or if she should ignore it.

That's not to say that every member of every writers group I've known is an idiot. Some of the people I've worked with were knowledgeable and gave pretty good notes, but in order to get to their notes I had to sit through some serious bullshit.

One time a guy's only note was "This script is just terrible. I don't know what you want me to say." So that was helpful. I think sometimes people use writers groups as a way to enhance their own egos.

Since then, I've just rotated between a few friends for notes, but the process can take a while. Still, better than getting crappy notes fast.

So it was with great trepidation that I decided to join another one. Two weeks ago I met with a few people over in Wilshire and we discussed a romantic comedy, and it was minutes before I knew I was in the right place. These people knew their shit. We didn't waste time talking about how we were going to sell ourselves or gouge screenwriters out of cash or tear each other down. We got right into it, how do we make this script better? Everybody read the script, everybody had useful notes, and when it was obvious that one note went the wrong way we all tried to figure out together how else to approach the problem.

Before I met these people I was slowly eeking out pages, but once I realized I needed to produce something for the next meeting I busted my ass to get it done. I finished the first draft of Nice Girls Don't Kill last night and sent it around to the group. Eighty-one pages is normal for me with a first draft. Usually I get a lot of notes on scenes I need to add.

I'm jazzed about the notes I'm going to get because I know they will be delivered with respect and thought. It's been a while since I trusted a group of people to give notes. I'm glad I decided to give it a shot.

Of course, I say that now. Let's see how I feel after they've shredded my latest comic masterpiece.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

We interrupt this screenwriting blog to bitch about our job

In order to keep my job I had to take a series of classes that cost me $2400. After that I had to do lots of paperwork and fax things to people, so I did that.

Then I found out that I had to send some more paperwork and pay a fee before that paperwork that I already did could be processed. I very nearly lost my job because nobody told me this until after the deadline had passed and they all got their chance to yell at me.

I yelled back, for the record. I think people now run when they see me coming in that office.

Today I got a message saying that they can't process this new paperwork until I do some more paperwork that I was supposed to have done between the first set of paperwork and the last set of paperwork, only nobody ever told me I had to do that paperwork until now, when the deadline has passed. This is paperwork to get a certificate that says I completed the courses, a certificate I already have but is apparently only one of two certificates I need that say the same thing. I also have a transcript that says the same thing. Not good enough.

So to recap, in order to keep my job I have to spend $2,510, take three classes, do paperwork that gave me access to more paperwork that gave me access to more paperwork, and none of this was told to me until it was already supposed to have happened.

And at each stage of this process I am made to feel like a worthless human being. This has been going on since April.

I have already been teaching in this district for five years.

Hey, State of California, go fuck yourself.

Tomorrow, a look at this Fox suing PJ thing from a lawyer's perspective.