Tuesday, February 28, 2012

It's complicated

Writing is hard.

I worked so hard over the last bazillion years I've been at this to get some good scripts written. I wrote stuff that was actiony, not really worrying about attracting talent. I figured if I just wrote an awesome character, the actors would come.

I have new respect for writers who get commercial scripts produced.

I just wrote an outline for my newest idea. I took a long time with it, really put a lot of thought into it, got a solid document written and sent it off to my rep. I finally got a story with a late twenties male white protag who is good looking and talented and put him with a hot love interest. The problem is, I have a small story, and I spend almost as much time with the antagonists as with the protag. Before, when I was writing for the reader, that wouldn't have been an issue. But now I'm not writing for the reader. My stuff is getting past the reader. I'm kind of writing for the producer, but really at this point, I'm writing for A-List Star. This outline I just did? Not good enough for A-List Star.

At first I was really frustrated. I need to do another outline? And for a minute I panicked. This is the second outline. Am I terrible? Is everyone going to abandon me now that I can't produce the right script? This is the end and now I have to kill myself.

I'm very melodramatic when I get notes. Then I shake my head and get back to work.

Anyway, the more I thought about it, the more I got it. I know actors. They love being the center of attention, and they love looking cool. If I want A-List Actor on board, I have to make him look cool a lot. And big and important.

So now I'm back to the drawing board, trying to figure out how to make a story about a late-twenties hot white male who is cool and also in almost every scene. Plus explosions and fight scenes and a love interest and somewhere in there, a motherfucking plot.

This shit is hard.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A day with Cinemagic and 007

Yesterday I took 13 kids on a field trip to visit Pepperdine University, where the Cinemagic folks put together a cool presentation for young filmmakers. Cinemagic is an Irish group that started as a film festival and has grown to be an educational powerhouse for young filmmakers in the UK. Now they make regular trips to the US to do presentations.

So naturally, when I heard about the opportunity, I jumped on. I will be assigning short film scripts later this year, and hopefully following that up with mini films, so I chose the kids who went by who wanted to be project leaders on the assignment.

We saw three short films - one from a Pepperdine film student and two from teenagers in the Cinemagic group. That was some really impressive filmmaking from high-school age kids. The college kid's film was fun, and he followed up with a Q&A, which I know did my kids some good. They learned a lot. I did chuckle a bit when the director talked about how this 10-minute film took him an incredibly long time to write - two weeks.

At one point the presenters asked how many of us want to make films. I raised my hand, as did most of the kids in the room. How many want to be writers? Of course I raised my hand. How many of you want to make comedies? I raised my hand. One of my students said "Put your hand down, Miss, you don't do comedy." So much they don't know.

We got to sit in the control room while a group of college kids put together a show called Buenos Noches, Pepperdine. That was cool. Never been in a control room before.

But then came the kicker. The one and only Pierce Motherfucking Brosnan showed up and sat right fucking in front of me to do a Q&A. They showed some clips from Manions of America, Mrs. Doubtfire, The Ghost Writer, and Goldeneye. During the scene from Mrs. Doubtfire, during which he stood in all his hottest glory, tight chest exposed on a diving board for all to see, the older Pierce called out: "I'm still the same!"

Here he is right in front of me, talking on the phone to Joe Sargent, getting permission to show Manions to the kiddies. I did not take this picture, but the student who did was kind enough to send it to me:

He's still so damn cool. 

He really pushed the kids to stay in school because he wishes he had, and he talked about the process of working with a great director. He said the best thing a director can do is leave him alone and let him do his thing.

So it was a nifty experience. The kids seem to have gotten a lot out of it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Thoughts on the film: This Means War

Lots of people have been asking me what I thought of This Means War, so I will post about it for all to see.

Overall, it was okay. There were some really cool action sequences - the opening scene and the paintball bit, specifically - and a neat one-shot that was cool to watch even if it was a ludicrous premise because it was like a little dance with the principles. In fact, there were a lot of really beautiful shots; McG knows how to do a good one shot for sure. There were some funny jokes and some great chemistry between the guys. And you can't ignore how damn pretty everybody is.

Fortunately  I read the reviews and knew to go in with lowered expectations, so I wasn't disappointed. The movie was exactly what I expected it to be - fun, but kinda fluffy.

There were two main things I would have changed.


First of all, there's this bad guy who's barely in the movie, and it turns out that he's been watching our guys date this girl for some time. Know what would have not only kept him more relevant in the film, but added a bit of extra absurd comedy? If we had seen him occasionally tracking down our guys. He would have been witness to these guys both violating  her privacy and competing for one woman. It would have been a great opportunity for some laughs as the bad guy says what we're all thinking.

Second, this is a MAJOR violation of this woman's privacy. She gets mad when she finds out they knew each other, but fuck that. She's not perfect; she was dating two guys at once and didn't tell either one, so she doesn't really get the right to be indignant about that. What she does have the right to get indignant about is the fact that these guys bugged her house and an entire surveillance team watched her have sex.

But it never comes up. She never finds out what they did. The one element of your story that would cause the most conflict, and it's completely ignored. Imagine what these guys would have had to do to win her back if she found out what they did. So I guess what I'm saying is, I would have focused more of the script on the privacy violation. I think it was the elephant in the theater for me. You could have kept the competition between the guys, but added another element that would have given the film more depth.

There's no reason pretty people can't fight and love and laugh and still be about something substantial. There were missed opportunities here.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Why I will see This Means War

Yeah, I read some of the reviews. I saw the Rotten Tomatoes score (25% as of this posting). My carpool buddy said it looks like the dumbest movie ever and seems to have lost respect for me as a human being.

I don't care. I'm seeing this movie. It's been a long time since simple previews have gotten me this excited about seeing something.

This Means War looks fun. So much fun! I watched those previews by God, I laughed. I smile every time I see the billboard. I watched that segment of Tom Hardy blasting his way through a paintball game and I was filled with joy. I want to have written that scene!

This is exactly the kind of story I want to be writing: fun stuff. So critics be damned, I will see this film. And then I will go eat pizza in Redondo Beach so the Beefcake and I can discuss how much joy it has brought into our world. And that will be the highlight of my weekend.

Ignore the critics, movie. Go ahead and bring me some goddamn joy.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Listen to this podcast

I've started listening to a lot of podcasts at lunch lately. Naturally I listen to Scriptcast and Scriptnotes, but over the past week I've really gotten into the Nerdist podcast.

Are you listening? I remember tuning into one of the earlier Nerdist podcasts and being a little underwhelmed. They mostly shoot the shit and talk about things I don't understand. I thought I was nerdy, and then I listened to these guys and realized how cool I must have always been.

But recently I was looking around for something new to listen to, and I picked out a few of these podcasts. I don't know if I've gotten better at listening or they've gotten better at focusing, but they're really good now.

Today I listened to the one with Conan O'Brien, and if you write comedy at all, you should listen too. He gives a really philosophical discourse on the emotional toll of comedy writing.

He asked this question: Would you rather be funny or happy?

I had to take a second. You'd think the answer would be easy. Happy, right? Except the idea of not being funny struck me as horrifying. How could I not be funny? Who would I be without jokes? Deep, deep stuff.

He talks about the Tonight Show debacle, why he doesn't do insult comedy, his regular battles with self-loathing, and how much of himself you see on stage (hint: all of it). It's one of the best discussions on comedy and this business I've heard in a long time.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Character Development

This week I was sick and grades were due, so I vacillated between sneezing half my brain out and reading some pretty depressing essays.

I took a sick day yesterday and spent all day in bed watching Game of Thrones. I could probably write a pretty cool paper on feminism in that show. But anyway....

In between the sneezing and the murder plots and the essays, I took some time to start plotting out my new spec.

Even if you've got a really fantastic, high concept plot, you MUST know your characters if you want your script to be any good. I used to get a lot of notes about how the characters didn't seem like real people, or how their decisions didn't really make sense. That was because I didn't spend the necessary time developing those characters.

Now I sit with my characters - not just for ten minutes while I crap out a brief bio and shove it in a file - but for days, weeks even, while I figure out what their life has been like to get them here.

So let's say my story is about a fast food employee who foils a robbery. I want him to be a marketable age, an age that's easily casted with a star. So he's 28. Why would a 28-year-old, good-looking (because he will have to be good looking if you expect an attachment) guy work in fast food?

-Maybe he's dumb and could never get through high school, which means he'll have some extra challenges to face when he goes up against bad guys who are clearly smarter than he is.

-Maybe he's a recovered drug addict and he's trying to get his life together. Maybe he's the inside man on the robbery, and he has second thoughts at the last minute because he really likes his boss.

-Maybe he's lazy. So now it's a slacker movie. He foils the robbery by accident, and now he's a hero to the whole restaurant. He doesn't want to be a hero. He just wants to eat burgers and pick up a paycheck.

Each of these choices about this guy's past leads to a whole different type of story. If I just said "I dunno, he's just some guy who works there" I'm missing a whole host of opportunities to make nifty choices with the story. Each of these 28-year-old guys is a different person and would do different things in the same situation. I have to know which person I am dealing with if I want to know where my story goes.

So that's what I'm doing now. Character building. I'm thinking about my two leads, figuring out who they are, imagining conversations they have together that they may not end up having in the script, but that help me figure out their natural dynamic.

Take the time to create the characters before you rush into the script. It will save you time and energy in the long run, and it will make your story that much better.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Meetings, part 2

I had a lull in meeting activity last week, but I'm back on. This is fun. These people made movies I love - some of them movies I've loved since I was a little sapling - and here I am going into their offices, surrounded by posters of these films, talking about myself and writing and awesome movies for an hour.

That's my favorite part of the meetings: when we start talking about why movies are great. There's a reason I became an English teacher. I get to talk about how awesome stories are all day long and children are forced to listen to me. At these meetings I get to do that with people who actually want to be there. It's terrific.

I've settled into my pre-meeting planning to help me relax a bit before I go into the office. I wear an outfit that makes me feel cool - usually a leather motorcycle jacket, jeans, boots or sandals with kitten heels, and some laid back style top (long sweater and a tank top, sheer shirt over a tank top, something else over a tank top). I put on the good makeup and usually put my hair in a ponytail because I look younger with my hair up, and my goal is to try to look as close to 18 as possible so everyone thinks I'm a prodigy.

Today my hair is down, though, because I'm having a great hair day and you don't want to blow one of those with a ponytail. They come along so rarely.

Usually in the car I listen to NPR, but on the way to the meeting I CRANK whatever song will give me the most joy. Today I'm going to blast the Meatloaf Bat Out of Hell album. That way, by the time I get where I'm going, I'm not mad about traffic or parking or politics, I'm just overjoyed at belting lyrics at the top of my lungs.

So far, that method has paid off. I feel happy and full of sparky energy when I go into the office. Because nobody wants to spend an hour talking to Debbie Downer, or that sweaty guy who wears a track suit every day.

On the walk to the office, I've been overwhelmed with nervous butterflies, but I use that walk to remind myself of how awesome I am. Because doggone it, these people are going to like me.

And that's how I walk into that office with perfect posture, a smile on my face and a wink in my eye.

Next time, I'll talk about parking, the receptionist, and how to find the bathroom.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Steam on my television

I was thinking yesterday about chemistry between actors and wondering how much of it is in the performance and how much of it is in the writing.

When I think back about scenes that scorched on screen for me, most of them were from TV, and I think that's because I've invested so much in this couple that I'm overjoyed when they finally get together.

Buffy and Spike are first in my mind. When they finally sexed that house to the ground in season 6, I was fanning myself from the heat coming off my television.

Spike wanted her SO much for so long that when she finally consented I knew how much he poured his desire into her.

I heard from someone who worked on Buffy that almost every time a female actress did a guest spot on the show, she wanted to have a love scene with Spike. Apparently James Marsters is just fucking hot.

So actor with good writing, coming together?

I was thinking this because I've been enchanted by the Canadian show that's now on Syfy, Lost Girl, and the incredible chemistry between the leads. I mean, Kris Holden-Ried is hot as hell, which probably helps, but in every scene he has with the lead (Anna Silk), they burn up the set together. Even dialogue-heavy scenes between them are hot.

Usually it takes an entire season, or six, to get to a point where you feel that energy, but I felt it from the very first kiss between them, which happened in the pilot.

Yet sometimes you'll have characters come together in a way that is supposed to get me all hot and bothered, but I got nothin. And I wonder if the relationship between them just wasn't set up very well or are the actors just not compatible. I dunno.

It's just a thing I was thinking about.