Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bye again, Nicholl

Rejected from the Nicholl again. This time I didn't even get a PS, which I did the past two years. I'll take some solace in the fact that this script has been revised a good bit since I submitted it, and that it's being read by a handful of people around town.

I figure you can deal with the rejection in a few ways: Do something to distract yourself from the sadness, drink yourself into oblivion and sob, or get on your computer and start typing up some kickass pages.

No more fucking around. For the last week I've petered along on Wedding Dress, one page here, a few edits there, like plinking on piano keys. I haven't had the energy to do much else.

Nothing like rejection to light a fire under your ass, I suppose. Fuck being a failure - I have the power to turn it into a win. You guys with me?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Great movie weekend

You hear all the time about how much Hollywood sucks, movies are all derivative, there's nothing worth seeing, it's the worst year ever, blah blah blah.

This weekend I am flummoxed because there are so many things I want to see, but I don't have time to spend all day in the theater.

Forget about the fact that I still haven't seen Harry Potter. I'm not fond of small children, and I'm even less fond of them in large groups in movie theaters with parents who prefer to eat their smelly nachos and let the kid run up and down the aisle, cry, or my personal favorite, discuss the finer points of book to film translation very loudly as each scene goes by. So I will wait for DVD.

That leaves me with Cowboys and Aliens, which I will see for sure. It's made of all the things I like - Cowboys, Aliens, laser guns - and though reviews have been mixed, I can't imagine not enjoying it. We'll see, I suppose.

It's also an amazing weekend for limited releases:

1) The Devil's Double, a film about Uday Hussein's body double. It looks like fun.

2) The Guard, Brendan Gleeson's Irish cop has to help Don Cheadle's FBI agent track down a bad guy. The trailer had me in stitches, and guess who wrote it? John Michael McDonagh. Guess who's brother he is? Count me 100% in.

3) Attack the Block, which is one of the cooler titles I've heard in a while. Aliens invade London and some kids and Nick Frost have to take up the city's defense.

So up yours, naysayers. You can complain about the state of movies; I'm having trouble deciding what I want to see. Probably The Guard. Probably.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The ladies are coming

I'm excited about all the female protagonist action movies we've got going on theses days. It seems like Salt may have opened the flood gates a bit. There was Hanna, and soon there will be Clombiana, and Haywire, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Okay so maybe not floodgates, but still. That's some good, substantial badass chick love right there. I hope it continues.

I hear ALL THE TIME that nobody wants to make an action movie with a female lead, and yet here we are. I've been told I should start writing only male protagonists, that I'm dreaming if I think anyone will ever finance what I love to write.

I firmly believe that whatever anyone says "will never sell" just hasn't seen the script that could sell it yet. People DO want to see an action movie with a female protagonist, it's just that the offerings in the past have been so poor. Was Catwoman a bomb because it starred a woman? I think not. The story had issues.

I think maybe it's the super hero aspect that's not working, or that a lot of writers are creating women who are TOO invincible, too angry, not feminine except for sex appeal. But a woman is more than sex, she's a mom, a sister, an innocent to some degree. She's softer than a man. It's hard for anyone to root for a woman who's completely cold. So a good female action hero has to have some major vulnerability, more than a man does, if you want her to work.

That's why I'm excited about Colombiana the most. I ADORE Zoe Saldana, and I've been convinced for a while that she would be our next badass chick to break through, but I also see from the trailer that her character seems to have that vulnerability that female action heroes need. She's not just angry, she's HURT, and I think that's an important distinction. A man's revenge story can be about rage because he was humiliated, emasculated, and that matters to men. They can hurt too, of course, but their primary emotion in a revenge tale is rage. Look at Payback or Death Wish or a million Westerns.

I just don't think a woman's story can work that way. People won't buy it. But they will buy a woman who's unable to get over the pain, and wants to inflict the same amount of pain on someone else. And the pain has to feel real.

Plus, she can't be invincible. It's ridiculous to think a woman can take a large, well-trained man in a fight without some kind of edge. I'm pretty tough, but I know my limits.

So I've never believed a single person who told me the industry would never make another action movie starring a woman. I'm very glad to have been right.

Now, let's all go see these movies so they'll keep making them. Assuming they're good, of course. I really really want Colombiana to be good.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I love you, movies

The first day of my first college writing workshop class, the professor made us all fill out an index card - your name, your major, your favorite writer - and this one guy named Elton asked if he could list himself. He just didn't read other writers' work, he said.

As you may imagine, his work was dreadful, and he refused to take criticism like an adult. He argued every single note until the professor refused to critique any more of his stories.

When you don't study other writers, of course you'll think you're the best. You have no comparison.

I remembered this the other day when I overheard an aspiring screenwriter say to her companion, "Oh I haven't seen a movie in the theater in four years." Apparently she also didn't have a Netflix account.

I hear that every now and then, people who brag about how no film made after 1972 is good enough for their impossibly specific taste. They're such amazing writers, so very gifted, they just don't reduce their standards. So they think.

Our primary job is to write great screenplays, but part of that is knowing what else is out there, what the trends of the day are, and to learn from the great ones who went before us.

The first time I saw In Bruges I immediately drove home, turned on my computer and started working on my screenplay, because I realized that what I had written was not even in the same hemisphere as that film. I write movies for the same reason I teach English - I am in AWE of a great story. I could go on for hours about the underrated genius that is Pitch Black or the way Donnie Darko made me feel. Sometimes a movie is so good I want to hug it.

Sometimes a movie is so terrible I want to cut off its face. And that, too, I could talk about for hours. I LOVE MOVIES. That's why I write them - I want to be like those people who make the movies so I can live inside the thing I love.

I am chomping at the bit to see Cowboys and Aliens. I'm so excited I might pass out on the floor before I get to my seat. I promised to wait until Monday because Beefcake will be out of town this weekend, so I will try to distract myself from my impatience with a cocktail of writing and LA Noir, which I am horrible at but quite enjoy.

Anyway, I can't imagine why someone would want to put themselves through all the trouble of cranking out script after script, dealing with rejection and rudeness and feeling like you wasted your life unless you love movies. And if you love movies, don't you want to see them?

I just don't get it.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Eye surgery and epiphanies

They* put valium drops in my eyes but did not give me, the person, any actual valium. I could have used it. They did, however, give me a stuffed moose doll to hold. I squeezed the non-life out of that thing.

The hard part was when the doctor cut away the flap over my iris. Your eye goes completely black for 9 seconds, during which time you can hear him cutting into your flesh and smell it burning. I strangled that moose and panicked internally.

After that, no problem. It was actually really easy. No pain, just a red light and a green light to stare at until they were done, which was in 3 minutes. Literally. Whole thing took about 3 minutes per eye.

So now I can see stuff. It's pretty cool. I got my first pair of glasses in the 8th grade, so being able to actually see things without help is fucking amazing. I woke up in the middle of the night and just stared out the window at all the stuff I could see.

On the way to my check-up visit (20/15 in one eye, 20/20 in the other), I suddenly realized what's wrong with Burnside. Burnside is my Civil War script, my labor of love, my non-commercial beauty that nobody will ever make ever because it involves all the things executives hate taking a chance on - female protag, period piece, interracial sex scenes, ambiguous good guys, heroic bad guys, etc..... But it's my greatest challenge to make it sort of like Killing on Carnival Row - a script nobody can make, but everyone has read and loved. If it takes me 50 years, I will make this happen.

And today I suddenly realized that I have the wrong protagonist. As soon as I realized that, most of my biggest problems just fell by the wayside. I realized that I can keep almost exactly the same story, but if I tell it from someone else's perspective, things that felt wrong start to make sense. My protagonist becomes the antagonist and a lot of those non-commercial things I mentioned a minute ago disappear. Suddenly, as I realized this, I also started to realize that my script might not be as unfilmable as I thought.

I have four projects circulating in my mind right now, including the wedding script I'm currently typing, but someday, somehow, I will return to Burnside and I will fix it.

*LA Sight is the name of the place. My only negative comment is that the bathroom key did not work so I had to go to the third floor to pee. Other than that, stellar chaps over there. I trusted them with my eyeballs and they delivered.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


I have to take another short break from posting and writing, but it's for a good cause.

I've worn eye glasses or contact lenses for 20 years, and today they're out of my life until I get old and need reading glasses. I've wanted Lasik forever - even did a project on it in anatomy class in high school back when it was brand new and still experimental. Today is the day my dream comes true. Soon I will be able to swim in the ocean and find my towel when I come out of the water.

I can't type or read for at least a day or so. I'm very excited. I've never been so stoked about someone poking around in my eyeballs.

I'll be in and out in half an hour, and by next week I should be back to writing. I'm going to try to crank out a couple of pages today to make up for the time I won't be writing over the next couple of days.

Tomorrow I plan to tell everyone I know: "Now let me look upon you with my own eyes."

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Back in the saddle

I've been off writing for two weeks, and not like the usual break where I don't actually type but I still think about my story. This time I didn't write, didn't think, didn't do NOTHIN' writing related.

So by the time I got back to my story yesterday, I was pretty out of practice. I eeked out one terrible page.

This is the time when giving myself permission to suck is most important. That page yesterday was indeed terrible, but I know that I'll get my groove back, and on my first rewrite I'll see how to fix that problem. So I just wrote it, knowing I could fix it eventually. That's tough to do - leave the garbage on the page - but it must be done.

Today I started to suck again with the scene I was working, but I felt pretty confident about the next scene. Tonally, what I was writing just didn't match the rest of the script, so I just made a note about what goes there - running through woods  - and moved on to the scene I DID know - my characters climbing up a tree. This restored my confidence a bit.

I think the scenes I don't feel good about are a problem because I don't yet have a feeling for the chemistry between my leads. I need to take the scenes that are all about the plot and build the chemistry there so I can go back and inject into the "filler scenes" that involve characters moving from one place to the next. That moment when they're running is going to rely on that chemistry. It doesn't work until I figure it out. So I put in a placeholder until I do.

Sometimes it's best just to skip over the stuff that sucks so you can feel good about yourself.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Sorry I missed you: I'll return tomorrow

I've had guests at my house for two weeks, but today is the last day. First it was my niece, then my parents, then Beefcake's parents.

We did lots of touristy things, then we fixed the house and spruced up the yard. Because that's what parents do - they come to your house and then take you to Home Depot SEVEN TIMES in four days. The lady in the paint aisle now knows my name and my mom's name and my mother-in-law's name and much information about our lives and household chore needs.

Tomorrow I plan to watch two weeks worth of TV. I will take a two-hour break in the middle of the day to get back to writing and I will try to work out, but my day is primarily devoted to vegging out, because I am emotionally drained.

It's been so long since I saw my screenplay, I don't even know what it's about anymore. Something about a wedding dress, I guess.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What I learned from having a kid

Having a teenager around has taught me some things.

Time is harder to come by. Now, she's on vacation, so much of our time has been spent driving her around and showing her stuff.  I'm sure if she was here all the time I'd do a lot more of what I'm doing today and letting the TV babysit her.

She loves Firefly now, by the way. I have done that, at least. We watched the entire series and then the movie.

But I saw just how much of your time kids can sap. She, at least, can take of herself. I can only imagine how time consuming a younger kid can be. So those of you with kids who still find time to write, kudos.

But the big thing I have observed was Friday night when we went to the movie theater. These were the films playing:

Super 8 - she already saw it.
Horrible Bosses - she wanted to see it, but it's rated R, and for a reason.
Cars 2 - none of us wanted to see it
Monte Carlo - thank God she had no desire to see this either.
Bad Teacher - even if we hadn't already seen it, there was no way we were taking her to this
Bridesmaids - no way.
Zookeeper - we all thought this was silly

So basically, every movie is one we either saw, didn't want to see, or was not appropriate for children. That left us with two choices:

X Men First Class

Beefcake and I didn't really want to see Transformers, but given the limited choices I figured we could tolerate it, as long as she agreed to go 2D so I didn't end up with a headache. But really if we're all going to be happy, that left us with one choice: X Men. All those movies available and only one - a film that was released a week earlier - suited the whole group.

I never really thought about it before because I never had to worry about what was appropriate for a kid before. The whole need for PG-13 films over R isn't just about the kids. It's about the parents. I can't imagine how distraught I would have been if she had wanted to see Zookeeper or Monte Carlo. At least I know with Cars 2 there would have been something for me in there, but either way, taking a kid to the movies means some sacrifice on the part of the parents.

It's given me some thought over the past few days.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Aborted plans and X Men

Took my niece to Camarillo Outlet Mall yesterday. I planned to spend all kinds of money on her, because isn't that what aunts are for? But she didn't want much until we hit Forever 21. Good thing she didn't buy anything else all day except a Glee button, because she nearly cleaned out my bank account in that place.

Anyhow, we ended up spending quite a bit of time there, and of course we had to introduce the girl to In and Out because she thinks McDonald's is good food, so we found ourselves racing to get home. We had tickets to see Clueless followed by a Q&A at the Aero in Santa Monica.

It took me a while to find the Clueless screening. I knew I wanted to take her to see something she couldn't get back home, something that would give her real exposure to the movie industry, and Clueless was the perfect PG-13 film. It was to be followed by Fast Times, but we weren't staying for that. I can just see myself trying to explain to my sister why her daughter watched Judge Reinholdt masturbate in a bathroom. We kind of hoped she'd fall asleep after the Q&A so we could stay and watch guilt free, but the girl does not sleep. It's ridiculous.

So I bought the tickets ahead of time because these things usually sell out. There we were, racing to get home in time to let the dogs out, change into our about-town clothes we just bought, and hop back in the car.

I live in the Valley, and as I said, the Aero is in Santa Monica. Know what that means? The 405. Know what time it was? 6:50pm. Movie started at 7:30. So if you live in LA, you see my problem.

We were just merging from the 101 to the 405 and it was 7:28. We finally had to admit it was not going to happen. We could make the Q&A, maybe the last half of the movie, but that was it. So I sighed away $30 in tickets and we took the next exit, which happened to bring us past the Sherman Oaks Arclight.

So it wasn't exactly a Q&A, but at least we introduced the girl to a quality theater. We looked at what was showing, and even though she really wanted to see Horrible Bosses and swore up and down that her mom lets her see R rated movies all the time, we gave her a choice between Transformers 2D or X Men First Class. Thank God she chose X Men.

In the end we spent $73 to see one movie. You're welcome, Hollywood.

By the by, they had Bridesmaids showing there. They also have Bridesmaids showing down the street from me at the $3 theater. Just thought people should know. Arclight is expensive.

If you don't know the Arclight theaters, they don't have commercials, just previews, and they have assigned seating so you don't have to do the mad rush to claim and save seats.

So we get in there and take our proper seats, and this dude comes in with his lady. He sits down right in front of my niece, but there's no empty seat next to him. The girl plops down in his lap and whips out her cell phone, texting away as the lights go down. There are empty seats in the theater, even two together, just not good ones.

So I say to her "Do you have a seat?" She insists she does. I say "And you're going to sit there texting?"

She put the phone away, and to her credit, we didn't hear a peep out of her or see her phone at all. I guess I scared her. The men on either side of that seat were too polite to complain about her all up in their personal space as she sat and watched the entire film in that dude's lap.

I really enjoyed the film overall. I had a few slightly spoilerish logistical issues - how did Mystique know Kevin Bacon had a helmet on? and why didn't Magneto make that Azreal or whatever dude take Charles to the hospital before he zapped away? I mean if they really are friends and all - but by and large I thought it was solid as hell. Loved all the cameos. It was like the movie gave us a game to play as we watched.

A whole bunch of people stayed to the end to watch the extra scene that didn't exist. There was a lot of grumbling when it did not appear.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

My niece is coming

My 12-year-old niece is coming to town this week to stay for a while, so I get to do touristy things like stroll down the Walk of Fame and scope for celebrities. Fortunately she is really interested in how movies are made, so I've got us tickets to a screening with a Q&A. Universal Studios, a drive down the PCH, a visit to the Farmer's Market.

The challenge will be finding time to write. I know my writing will fall off a bit, so I'm lowering my expectations for the next couple of weeks, but I'm still going to try to write most days. I'm hoping to use the dogs in this capacity. Kids love dogs. I figure if I give her a dog and some toys and an hour to go entertain herself, she'll probably give me time to write. And if that doesn't work, we have an XBox.

I'm just hoping she understands why I have to shut myself off for an hour or so and doesn't feel slighted or something. I'm not that good with younger kids.

The 14-18 demographic I get, but any kid younger than that is kind of a mystery. She's too old for kid's stuff and too young for adult stuff.

Then again, this may be my chance to shape her appreciation of film for years to come. We may have to introduce her to The Terminator. And Star Wars. And Buffy. Time to turn that girl into a film nerd.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

How I write a Fight Scene

The Podcast is up! Last week I sat in on Scriptcast, a weekly radio show with Script Doctor Eric and his buddy Matt.

Check it out on ITunes under "Scriptcast."

One of the questions Matt asked was how I write fight scenes. I talked about using the terminology and order of the fight to push the story, and I thought it would be helpful to show an example of how I do it.

So here's a scene from Nice Girls Don't Kill where my protagonist has to kill an evil Korean physical therapist while her partner in crime waits in the lobby. The don't realize a hooker is smoking meth down the hall.



Park lounges comfortably naked.

Mary Beth puts her gun up against his head.

Park opens his eyes, sees the gun.

At first, his eyes open wide in panic. Then, a smile.

He stands up, dripping whirlpool/sperm water.


You are here to kill me?



He gets out of the whirlpool and dries off.

He shakes his head as he puts on a pair of speedos.


You have already failed.

In a quick Hapkido move, Park twirls Mary Beth around and SLAMS her against the wall, forcing the gun out of her hand.

She gasps.


You didn't shoot.


Elliot stands up. He inches toward the whirlpool room. He peeks around the corner to see Mary Beth FLY into the hallway between rooms.

Hooker pokes her head out of the bathroom, a meth pipe in her hands. She's high.

She drops the pipe.


The fuck?

Park and Mary Beth fight in the hallway - Mary Beth with her Muay Thai and Park with his Hapkido, both tight between hall walls.

Mary Beth kicks Park in the chest. He catches it and starts to twist her foot.

Mary Beth pushes with her foot, pinning him to the wall while he tries to get a lock in. Balancing on one leg, she hits him with a right hook, follows with a left.

Hooker screams and runs at Mary Beth, arms flailing.

Elliot rushes in and grabs Hooker around the waist, pulls her into the


And slams her to the floor.


Park yanks Mary Beth's foot and pulls her in, flipping her onto the floor face down.

He drops to his knees on top of her.

Mary Beth pulls her hand up to her chin just in time to block Park's arm as it wraps around her neck.


Elliot pins Hooker into a chair, but she squirms and screams in his ear.

Then she BITES his ear.

Elliot yells.


I do not want to hit a woman but I fucking will if you don't chill the fuck out!

She spits in his face.



She kicks at him. One shot hits his kidney. OW.

He sighs, then punches her in the face.


Mary Beth tries to squirm her way out but she's stuck. The only thing preventing her from being choked out is her hand between Park's arm and her neck.

He digs a knee into her back.


Tell me, why are you here?

She reaches down into his Speedos with her other hand and WRENCHES the holy hell out of his nuts.

Park yelps and loosens his grip. That's all she needs.

Mary Beth squirms out of his grip and runs for the gun back into the


But Park recovers fast. He sends her a flying kick right into her chest.

Mary Beth crashes back into the cabinetry, spilling little therapy aids everywhere.


Hooker grabs the lamp on the table next to her and CRASHES it into Elliot's head.

Elliot crumples to the floor.

Hooker runs down the


Where she passes the room where Park strolls up to Mary Beth.

She stops.


That bitch ain't no mermaid!

She throws open the door to the bathroom.


Park strolls toward Mary Beth.

Mary Beth grabs a five pound dumbbell, and with all her might POUNDS it into Park's face.

He stops. Blood seeps from the side of his mouth.

Mary Beth's face is bruised.

He smiles.

In the Hall behind him, Hooker shuffles by with her bag.

She's leaving.


Who sent you?


Who do you think? The father of the girl you raped, jerk.


Hooker steps over Elliot's unconscious body and leaves.


Park chuckles.


Aw. It's not rape if you enjoy it, and they all enjoy it. I'll show you before I cut your throat.

Mary Beth grabs him by the arm and trips him with a Judo takedown.

He falls into the whirlpool. SPLASH.

She races to the corner, grabs the gun.

Park begins to pull himself out of the whirlpool.

Mary Beth takes a deep breath.

I'm a big fan of mini slugs in action scenes, especially when switching between two fights or moving from room to room. It makes the pacing faster and the read simpler. I also always try to find interesting locations for the fights. So in this case, I thought at first about an office building, but that's been done to death. So I started to think of other locations.I had been seeing a physical therapist for a wrist injury, so I thought his office woul actually make a pretty good fight location. I almost never go for my first instinct - I always think about how I can up the ante.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Fine. I'll get HBO.

HBO finally got me. They gave out a week and a half of free programming, just in time to catch the season premiere of True Blood. And it just so happens, True Blood's last season was up next in my DVD queue, and I just watched the first disk. I do not want to wait for the next disk. There is something horribly addictive about that show.

And then they showed that usual montage of all the shows they have. And you know I really love Eastbound and Down and Entourage, and I did enjoy the pilot to Game of Thrones....

Damn you, HBO. I resisted you last time, but you got me. You finally got me.