Wednesday, March 28, 2012

This shit will drive you crazy

I've bounced back and forth through so many ideas over the past couple of months I've lost count. I've asked friends about this, and a lot of them had similar experiences. Apparently this is completely normal.

Just to recap, after I got signed, I could not find the right spec to work on next. None of my ideas were right, and plenty of ideas I would have worked on had I been on my own were rejected because they weren't the ideal project to sell. I understand completely why these ideas were rejected, and I know that it's important to start with the right idea from the jump, but holy Christ, this is a frustrating process.

At first I was all "It's okay, I'll think of something!" Then I was all "Okay I'll really sit down and think of something and one of these will work." Then I was all "THIS IS THE IDEA! I KNOW IT IS!" Then I was all "Well fuck me with a fucking post hole digger, I don't know what the fuck I'm doing." Then I was all "Maybe I should just throw some shit on a piece of paper and smear it around with a fork." Then I just threw up my hands and danced around shouting out random words, hoping they'd form an idea.

After a while I realized I was trying too hard to write something that would be approved without paying attention to what I WANTED to write. The best ideas come to you on their own. I relaxed, let my brain go to casual observation mode, and wrote down the top tier ideas I've ever had, adding something as I went. I made two lists - Ideas I Just Had, and Ideas I've Been Thinking About for a While and Want to Write. If Idea I Just Had sticks around for a couple of days, it moves to the Ideas I Want to Write list.

I took the two stories most likely to be approved and am writing a treatment for both. Best case, Manager approves an idea and I can shoot him the treatment. Worst case, I got practice writing treatments for ideas I will write later.

Because I am an optimist.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Yay for the Hunger Games

This picture is not relevant to this post, but I got tired of waiting for a relevant post to slide it in there. So feel free to enjoy it as much as I do.


The kids are all abuzz about Hunger Games today. Several of them have asked me if I plan to see it, even more already saw it at midnight screenings, and most of the rest plan to see it over the weekend - especially the freshmen. I honestly think it was evenly split between girls and boys.

Lots of kids wanted to see Project X. Before that it was probably a horror movie. Sometimes they get all OMGTRANSFORMERS. But I don't know if I've ever seen this many kids just assume everyone is going to see a movie. They all keep asking each other WHEN they're going to see it, not if.

Some of them are excited because they read it, but many of the kids who have read it have spread their excitement to everyone else. Hopefully this will mean an uptick in library borrowing after they all fall in love with the movie and want to read the books. The kids who have seen it all loved it.

Side note, how are all these kids allowed to go to midnight movie screenings on school nights? My parents NEVER would have allowed that. You kids can't wait 15 hours and watch it after school? Kids these days.

Anyhow, I know it's already huge, but it's cool watching the kids get excited about a story that's actually good, ESPECIALLY when it's a story based on a meaty book. And it's just gravy that this action movie has a female protagonist. So go, Hunger Games, go!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I am trying to read

I'm doing things now that I can't talk about, which is pretty awesome. Not sure if it will go anywhere in the long run, but I'm doing stuff. Doing stuff is always good.

I'm reading more these days. You know when you were a kid, and you had like, a whole day to just read? You'd pick a book up and just keep rolling on through until dinner time? Well, I did, anyway. I probably read all the Little House books in a single weekend.

But then you grow up and there's landscaping and dog walking and work and car repair and grocery shopping and going out with friends (because by now, presumably, my friends are no longer my books) and then you just lose time for reading. Oh sure, I still dig into screenplays every so often, but I miss prose.

So now every weekend I try to hang out for an hour or two in the mornings just reading. Right now I'm reading Tales From Development Hell, a book about movies that were never made, or that took a million years to get to the screen. It's fascinating, and a good lesson to learn about this industry.  I love biographical stuff about this business, and this book is filled with interviews and info about how great ideas get fucked by development. My favorite examples so far is the exec who wanted a scene where the human in the Planet of the Apes reboot teaches the apes to play baseball, and his insistence on this one silly scene sabotaged the entire project. This is the version that eventually became the Tim Burton remake, but it started off as a really cool original idea.

Speaking of Development Hell....

I'm also reading more comic books. I realized today that as much as I love Wonder Woman, I've never read any of the actual comics. I read the script for the film and the pilot, I used to watch the show religiously, and I've seen many a Justice League, but I've never gone to the source material. This seemed a tragedy, so I went to House of Secrets in Burbank (a place I highly recommend because they have always been so nice to me even though I always pester them with a zillion questions because I don't know much about comics) and picked up a couple of The All New Wonder Woman issues. Now I want to go back and get more, but I didn't want to look like a massive dork going to the comic shop twice in one day, because, you know, I have a reputation of coolness to uphold, one I have really cemented by wearing this awesome Admiral-Akbar-caught-in-a-Chinese-finger-trap shirt.

I also got the third collection of Y The Last Man because that's my favorite graphic novel.

I'm also working on a post that's been a long time in coming about the various books people have sent me over the years. I feel pretty guilty because at least five people have sent me screenwriting books to read and review and I didn't finish any of them, so I'm trying to read them so I can post here about whether or not they were useful. Then I'll write about books I've read on my own that ended up being useful.

Then there's all those fiction books I keep meaning to read. I'm kind of a failure as an English teacher because all I ever read is nonfiction. Funny how much our lives change our reading habits. Maybe I'm just inundated with TV shows or something. Speaking of which, time for The Walking Dead. Because I love zombies. I was going to get an issue of the comic book today, but then I forgot.

Monday, March 12, 2012


The following is completely unrelated to screenwriting.

On Friday at school we found this Chihuahua / Jack Russel mix running around downstairs:

There was some Keystone Cops style scrambling, but eventually I grabbed him up and took him to my classroom. At first he wigged, but after "Laura," one of my students, calmed him down and got a makeshift leash on him, he calmed down. He spent the rest of the day under my desk. Laura clearly wanted to take him home. She's a great dog owner, already has a bunch of them, and her mom said it was okay. She decided to call him Chico.

At lunch I went across the street and bought him a can of food, which he gobbled up with glee. I talked on the phone during my planning period, pacing around the room. He followed me on my march. Everywhere I walked, he walked.

He wasn't skinny, but he was filthy, and his nails hadn't been clipped in some time. He was obviously someone's pet at one time, but that looked like it was a while ago.

At the end of the day, I told two of my students they could take him for a quick walk downstairs before his new mom came to pick him up.

They came back without him. They said some kid called him and he ran to the kid, so they sent him home with his real human. Laura was upset. This morning she told me he would already have his shots by now. But I was glad that the dog was returned to his real home, although the circumstances of how he ended up at our school seemed a little weird.

Then, during second period, several of my freshmen said they saw some girl walk him to the stoplight by the school, take his leash off, and release him into the street. He ran away down an alley and disappeared. A few of them saw him around the area over the weekend.

I am so pissed off right now I can't even see straight. I don't understand why someone would do that. Why would you take a street dog away from a home and send him back to the street? What the fuck is wrong with people?

Laura is really upset and I really regret not taking him for a walk myself.

The only way I'll feel better is if we find this dog and get him back to Laura. I offered my kids a cash reward plus some extra credit if they find Chico, catch him and bring him back to me. We'll see. Some of them seemed pretty confident. They really want that $20.

I just don't get people sometimes.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Thought on the film: John Carter

Saturday I decided to see John Carter out of curiosity. I left Hollywood after choosing my wedding invitations and drove to Burbank, where if you miss the showing it's okay because you can walk to two other theaters. I had to walk to all three because the last theater on the walk was the one showing it soonest.

This walk involved a trip through the mall where two dudes in bunny costumes were murdering people entertaining kids or something. I don't know how anyone enjoys that. Also, some woman in the mall was singing "America the Beautiful" but to a completely different melody. I know Whitney Houston made a splash when she did all those crazy things to the National Anthem way back when, but that does not mean you can just completely change a melody and keep the words to songs about America. Somebody worked really hard to come up with the best melody for the song and you, mall singer lady, do not get to overrule them just because you have an army of creepy bunny men behind you.

I digress.

Anyway, I ended up at a 3-D showing, and even thought I still hate 3-D it no longer gives me headaches since I got Lasik, and I figured the studio can use all the dollars it can get on this one, so in I went.

It was 2pm on a Saturday in a theater next to a mall and an Ikea. There were maybe two dozen people in there - and none of us under 25. That cannot be good.

They gave me a coupon for a dollar off a Coke float, and I considered it but knew I'd have to pee halfway through the movie. Then in front of me sat a dude so obese he had difficulty walking with his mountain of popcorn and his bucket of soda, and I was glad I had not ordered the float. When it takes you three whole minutes to sit down in a theater seat, you might want to consider switching to diet popcorn.

I digress again.

Anyway, there were previews. This is what I learned.

The Avengers: This movie has explosions!
Battleship: This movie has explosions!
Men in Black 3: This movie has jokes!

There were like 40 other previews, and then there was a movie.

John Carter was entertaining. There were some really great scenes. I especially loved all the intercutting between his past with his wife and kid and what he was going through in the present. I liked some of the relationships and the characters and the chemistry between the leads and whatnot. But I also felt like just when I started enjoying the story, it was podrace time.

I feel bad saying this, because it's not the movie's fault. Star Wars owes a lot to the novel this film was based on, so even though a lot of scenes in this movie reminded me of the prequels, that's hardly fair.

But remind me it did. The scene in the gladiator ring reminded me of Attack of the Clones. The flying bike thingee reminded me of a podrace. Pretty much every other action scene reminded me of how much the prequels sucked. I tried to shake it off, but I couldn't. And I'm sure it unfairly clouded my ability to properly appreciate what I was watching.

Also, James Purefoy was underused, but I think James Purefoy is ALWAYS underused.

I don't mean to imply that it's a bad movie. It's not. It's a solid film. I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with it. I just didn't think it blew my mind either. When the movie was over I marveled at the amount of names in the credits, watched the obese guy struggle out of his seat, then left, got in my car and drove home and didn't really spend a lot of time thinking about it.

So I dunno. What did you think? Did you see it?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Time to evolve

I have officially decided to quit my day job.

Well, not exactly "quit". More like modify.

Today was a good day, but I am circling toward burnout. The accumulation of kids who have set out to make my life hell over the years has finally gotten to me, and I no longer feel enthusiastic about going to work every day.

Funny thing is, today has been so good that I'm rethinking my position.

But I can't. I must steel myself and move forward. It doesn't matter how awesome their Great Gatsby projects are. In fact, The Great Gatsby projects are a sign. My first year teaching, I saw another teacher's projects. Her kids had made 3-D models of New York and Long Island with all of the locations on from the novel on it, and I just thought that was the coolest project. I promised that some day I would teach Gatsby and I would do that project. And now, I am. My dream has been realized.

Among others, I've taught Hamlet, Animal Farm, Siddhartha, and The Joy Luck Club, all books I just wanted to share with the kids. I've done screenwriting and poetry and essay writing and short stories. I've taught almost every thing I ever wanted to teach.

And like today, I still have really great days. I'd rather quit while I still remember really great days.

But it's not totally up to me. Our enrollment is shrinking, so again in June teachers will be displaced from this school. Every year since the economy crashed, teachers have been forced to find new jobs. I've always avoided the chopping block because I've been here long enough, and last year I was skipped because I do yearbook. Teachers who'd been here longer were displaced over me, for which I was grateful. But it caused such a fuss that the principal has already said he won't do that again. This year, seniority is the only factor, and I'm second from the bottom. I don't want another school. I've put too much into this one.

My boss is retiring. I love my boss. I hate all other bosses.

I don't have a screenwriting career yet, but I am taking meetings. Eventually I will have scripts passed around town. I am focusing more on writing, and there is a possibility I will be able to launch a career within the next year. If I start a new year at a new school, I can't leave in the middle of it, and I don't want to take a million days off, because then the kids would suffer.

So for all these reasons I've decided to become a substitute teacher. I can stay at my school, only working when requested by teachers who know me. I won't have papers to grade or lessons to plan, and if I need to walk away in the middle of the year I can. I can still teach lessons whenever a teacher leaves me nothing to do, and if I hate it, and somehow I sabotage my screenwriting chances, I can always go back into the classroom. In the meantime, I keep my benefits and a full time job. Even though I will take a pay cut, I can still pay the bills.

It's time for me to shift priorities. Writing will come first now.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Thought on the whole John Carter ad campaign debacle

Last night I watched The Killer Elite, which was not remotely the movie it was purported to be. It was not a bad movie, but it wasn't that movie in the previews, which was about Jason Statham and Robert DeNiro kicking ass together. Yeah they didn't kick that much ass together. Most of the movie was about Jason Statham kicking ass with Dominic Purcell in a very British kind of way. This film was much more British in style than American, so I guess the marketing department didn't really know how to market it to us.

And it bombed.

I hate when that happens. It happened with Bridge to Terabithia, and It's happening right now with John Carter.

This film is based on a novel called Princess of Mars. You can't have a movie called Princess of Mars if you want to attract boys, so out goes the princess. You can't have a movie about Mars if you want to attract girls, so out goes the Mars. And now we have a movie named after some frat guy I dated in college.

That's okay, because the trailer that features all the awesome special effects will reel them in. Look! We have gigantic monsters! We have cool battle scenes between vague enemies! A hot girl with interesting posture!

I asked my kids if they want to see it. They think it looks stupid, and these are kids who think Saw sequels and Transformers are the best films ever made.

If you haven't seen it, here's the original trailer:

What the hell is that movie about? Did he travel in time? Is he in some crazy fantasy land? Is he in Victorian England? What movie are we watching here? My first thought on seeing this trailer: "That looks expensive, whatever that is."

Unless you're Transformers, you can't just throw pretty pictures in a trailer and expect people to flock to it. As much as we bitch about modern audiences not having any taste, they still want to watch a good story unfold.

So take Project X. My students all want to see it. "But there's no plot!" you say. Ah, but they know exactly what that movie is. The trailer shows debauchery, and they'll go into the theater expecting exactly that. But John Carter looks like it wants to be about something. No kid wants to go see a movie that tries and fails at being a story.

And have you seen the billboard?

From the distance of my car it looks like a movie about two gorillas. I almost crashed trying to figure out what was that tiny thing in front of them. Oh, it's the protagonist.

What the hell is this movie about?

And then I saw the fan-made trailer. Have you seen it? Take a look:

Oh, this movie has a plot! And it looks kind of like Star Wars! I might like it!

I know I'm not alone in this, obviously, but it's really bugging me. If people don't know what movie they're going to watch, they will hate it. If you try to trick them, it will backfire. This film is getting high ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (77% as of this posting) and it's directed by the great Andrew Stanton. After seeing this fan trailer, I actually want to see it. But they're shooting themselves in the foot with the ad campaign. Instead of trying to hide bits that might alienate certain demographics, hence alienating ALL demographics, let the movie speak for itself. People are not as stupid as we make them out to be. If a movie looks good, they will flock to see it.

I'm not an ad person, but I am a person who will go to see movies based on an awesome trailer, and I do have my own little market research pod in my classroom. And my research in this capacity has proven time and time again that a good, solid trailer will bring the kids in every time, but only if they know what they're getting.