Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We are women of action

I have trouble these days figuring out what I should write about here. There's a lot of stuff I'd like to talk about but can't, and then sometimes I start writing about something and realize that nobody is going to give a rat's ass. So I turned to Twitter, and asked for suggestions. I got this excellent response from Monique:

Are women credible action/scifi writers? Action is the bread&butter of spec market. Why aren't there more women writing in this genre? Or are there? I honestly don't know.

Women are supposed to write romantic comedies, obviously. Because we are pretty and gentle and we don't poop.

Clearly I'm going to say that yes, women can be credible action writers because I am one. In fact, I'm willing to bet I know more about guns and fighting techniques than most of my male counterparts. Some of that I can credit to my in-house technical adviser, The Beefcake, but I knew how to throw a punch long before I met him. I taught him how to pull off a successful roundhouse. He taught me how to combat load a Sig Sauer. And that's how our marriage works.

I love writing fight scenes. To me, those are not just the most fun thing in the world, but the easiest. My fight scenes are the only part of the script that remain largely intact from draft one to the end.

But I'm not alone. As time goes by, more and more women work their way into the spec market with action scripts. It seems like once a month I get an email from a woman who's working on an action script and is glad to know she's not the only one. Ashleigh Powell sold the excellent Somacell last year. Jane Goldman co-wrote Kickass. And if you go back through the history of action films, you'll find female names popping up every now and then. We're not overly common, but we're there.

So why aren't there more women in the action field? I'm no sociologist - in fact I slept through most of that horrid sociology class I took from that sexist asshole of a teacher in college - but I'd wager there's a cultural element at play. Girls aren't supposed to fight, or if they do, they're supposed to pull hair and scratch, not beat the tar out of somebody with their fists and feet.

Hell, look at the women who are considered badass in film. Linda Hamilton and Gina Carano aside, how many female action stars have any muscle tone at all? They're usually waifs who can somehow carry huge guns and beat up guys twice their size by flipping around and being sexy. Because girls can only be tough as long as they're still demure. Many of these are actresses I love so much, but I spend the whole movie wishing they'd do some pushups once in a while.

But that's a whole other rant.

The script that got me noticed is a romantic action comedy, so most of the time when I meet someone who's read it, they assume I'm a comedy writer. I get pitched romantic comedies. To their credit, whenever I clarify that I'm more into Seven Psychopaths than 27 Dresses, they almost happily shift gears. Usually they light up, excited to see a woman who can hold a conversation about the brilliance of Pitch Black or quote lines from Grosse Pointe Blank. I had sort of assumed I'd be stereotyped and pushed into some kind of romantic comedy corner, but it's been the opposite. I've received nothing but respect for what I do. Even the male producers think it's cool.

So why don't more women write in the action genre? A few reasons, I'd wager. For one thing, they just don't like action movies as much, for whatever reason. I forget what it was I dragged The Beefcake to see a while ago - Expendables 2 maybe? Either way, it was some glorious celebration of testosterone, and it was a matinee, and I think there were maybe two other girls in the theater? But the girls that were there were really enthusiastic, much like the only straight guy on Project Runway likes to make sure we all know how much he loves vagina.

So women are rare in this field, but not invisible. I honestly thought when I broke in that I'd be all alone - I'd the the only woman who knew how to write a quality action film. So imagine my surprise when I saw that announcement about Somacell. I was so excited. We are legion. We are.... at least two, anyway. And if there are two, there are others out there working their way here. We should all go out together and have girl nights that end in bar fights.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

In defense of Logan Echolls

This post is chock full of spoilers for Veronica Mars, so if you haven't seen the show, know that it is a mystery show, and that I am about to ruin a few major things for you. And go watch the show because it was awesome.

As you know by now, Veronica Mars creator Rob Thomas has started a Kickstarter campaign to fund a Veronica Mars movie. I am not here to talk about the morality of that issue. I donated because I want to see a movie. That's as complicated as it gets for me. I'll let everybody else sort out whether or not the world is going to end now.

But - and I imagine many others did the same - when I saw that video of the actors together again, I went back to my DVDs and rewatched the first two seasons.

I loved that show when it was on the air. I hung onto every clue to figure out who killed Lily Kane. I rewound and rewatched that first kiss with Logan a hundred times and swooned. When Veronica opened the door at the last frame of season 1 and we didn't see who was at the door, I was so mad. I spent all summer hoping against hope that it was Logan. Of course, in all that thinking, I failed to ponder the fact that everyone would now know that Logan's dad killed his girlfriend, so he probably wasn't feeling too lovey-dovey at this point.

Logan has many haters, although all the ones I have thus encountered are male. I've yet to find a female fan of the show who doesn't think he's dreamy. I'm sure they exist, I just haven't encountered them.

Logan is a type of character we often see in television - The Reformed Bad Boy. Angel and Spike are both reformed bad boys. The only difference with those two is that Angel had already reformed by the time we met him. The reformed bad boy starts off as a complete asshole, and through getting to know him and the love of a good badass chick who sees through his bullshit and is completely amazing, he changes into a sexy protective lover who learns to be a better man.

He's not a fantasy. Guys like this do exist. The thing is, not every girl can be the one to reform the guy, even though most girls want to be.

So let's go back to Logan and see how we develop the reformed bad boy.

Logan was a spoiled rich boy who blamed Veronica and her dad for the way Lily's death was handled. He took it out on our girl every day at school, bullying her and being generally unpleasant all the time. But just as we decided he was as shitty as he could get, we discovered that his father, adored by millions as a hot successful movie star, beat him. So now we know there's a reason he lashes out at someone like Veronica. He's deflecting his own pain.

Don't forget that on top of this, the love of his life cheated on him throughout their relationship and then wound up murdered. That'll affect you one way or the other.

Then his mom kills herself. So now he's lost his girlfriend and his mother, and all he has is a father who plays her death for sympathy and a sister who doesn't really give a shit about anyone but herself.

So now we sympathize with Logan. Or at least, we should. Assholes are rarely just assholes. Most of the time, something makes them that way, and Logan has plenty of reasons. It would be a bit of a miracle if he didn't turn out damaged in some way. Some people turn to drugs. Some people turn to sarcasm and bum fights.

Then, of course, Logan finds out who killed his girlfriend. Then he's arrested for a murder he didn't commit - again - on the same night. Then he spends the summer getting shot at. It's understandable that a guy like Logan doesn't know how to direct his angst. He's had a shitty year.

Veronica is the kind of chick who could spar with Logan. She gets him, and her wit is just as quick, but she also helps him even though he's been horrible to her. And when Logan sees that, it changes him ever so slightly. Veronica is the kind of girl who could change a man.  He now has a reason to be violent - he must protect Veronica because he loves her. And although he respects her moxie, he also knows that she does indeed need protecting from all the bad guys she pisses off. A girl like Veronica is crack to a guy like him.

Not every girl can do it. In season 2, Logan dates a girl named Hannah. Hannah is very sweet and a complete sucker. She falls for Logan's act hook line and sinker. Even after he admits he was using her to get to her dad, she still wants to sleep with him just because he gives her THAT LOOK. Her dad - asshole that he may have been - did the right thing in getting her the hell away from Logan.

Unless you are a little bit asshole yourself, you'll never be able to keep up with that guy enough to fix him. Don't even try it, Hannah.

Logan used Hannah to get to her dad. Veronica used Officer Leo several times to get access to police information. Veronica really liked Leo. Logan really liked Hannah. But make no mistake - they were both doing the same thing. The only difference is, one is our perky blond heroine. One is our spoiled little rich boy.

I'm always going to have a soft spot for the Reformed Bad Boy. On the Firefly cast, I always found Jayne the hottest, so I went out and I found Jayne and I married him. There's a reason I call my husband The Beefcake.

The reason girls love that Reformed Bad Boy is pretty simple. If he's willing to hurt people, but he'll never hurt you - that's the best kind of guy to have around. Imagine an apocalyptic scenario, where it's every person for him or herself, and you may have to mug some jerk and take his canned food to survive. Is the nice guy gonna do that? No. Probably not. While he's pondering the ethical dilemma, the Reformed Bay Boy is hitting him in the head with a crowbar and handing the supplies to his own girlfriend.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I have the Blu Rays now

I had been saving up credit card points to buy a new laptop, and was still a long way away from having enough when a wonderful thing happened and I was handed a check for the exact amount I needed to pay for this laptop and all its accessories.

Yay! I can use a Z key again!

So suddenly, I had years worth of credit card points amassed and no need to hoard them for a new computer. I thought for a long time, looked over all the offerings, examined my few needs or wants, and opted to use them in the purchase of a Blu Ray player and home theater system.

I never really thought I needed a Blu Ray player until I noticed that individual DVDs are getting more and more sparse. The last two I bought had no extras - no commentary, no deleted scenes, no nuthin. I like the damn commentary. I think all movies should have commentary. I am super excited about the concept of doing my own commentary some day. So when the DVD I just bought has no commentary, especially when it's a movie that plays every five minutes on HBO so I really didn't need to own it to watch it - I'm looking at you, X Men First Class - I'm all sad panda.

 It's gotten to the point where if you want any special features at all, you've got to get the Blu Ray. Those assholes. It's just like when you had to replace all your VHS tapes with laserdiscs and then replace your laserdiscs with DVDs. Not that I am old enough to know what those things are. I heard some rumors, that's all.

I got the Blu Ray player because it was almost free, but then I spent just as much money starting a new collection of Blu Ray disks. I got Star Trek, and that had the BEST special features. It's like a film school class on a disk. So then, even though I wasn't planning on building a collection right away, I went a little bananas.

Criterion had a sale, so I bought M and Yojimbo/Sanjuro because they are the awesomest old shit ever. Then I went to Ebay and found the Alien boxed set slightly used, which I am currently working through. After asking for suggestions on Twitter I bought Terminator 2 (the only reason I didn't already buy it is because we own the DVD. Now we own both! Huzzah!), Out of Sight, the Batman trilogy, and Expendables. Everybody seemed to agree that those had the best special features or commentary tracks of the movies I have enjoyed.

I also picked up Robocop because Beefcake is totally into that movie and how can you not have a copy of your favorite movie around?

Okay so mini rant. This has bothered me. He loaned his DVD copy to someone years ago who never returned it, and he thinks it's not a big deal because he can just watch it on Netflix streaming any time, but I'm like WHAT? It's you favorite movie? How can you not own a copy? How can you feel whole as a person without being able to smile knowingly at your favorite film on the shelf? HOW?

But that's a whole other thing and I could be a complete lunatic. Anyway, I took care of the need he did not know he had and now we have Robocop. This is a great relief to me.

I am so excited about all these special features. And speakers. It's nice to have speakers that don't blow out every time Al Sharpton is on MSNBC.

I have so much stuff to watch, I am in film nerd heaven right now.

Monday, March 04, 2013

The Unlikable Protagonist

Recently, I was working on a thing with a protagonist who's kind of an asshole. It's a story about a man who becomes a better person by the time it ends, so I had to start him off with a real chip on his shoulder. Someone fucks him over in the first scene, and he takes it out on the rest of the world.

The problem, as you might imagine, is that when you have an unlikeable protagonist, sometimes people don't actually like them. And when people don't like them, they don't root for them. And that's what happened. No matter how sympathetic I made my guy while he was being fucked over, it didn't make anyone feel sorry for him enough to hope he got what he wanted. I kept going back and making him more and more pathetic in that scene, and I kept getting the same note.

And then I saw The Americans. Have you seen this show? SEE THIS SHOW. I am now obsessed with it, and with Matthew Rhys, who plays Phillip and is a goddamn acting genius. I want to cast him and his curls in everything ever now.

So The Americans is a show about Russian spies living in the United States in the '80s. Unless you are a young thing, you were brought up to think of Russians as the enemy, and here they are, during our youth, being all enemy like on our soil. We should hate them but we don't. Instead, we root for them. Why?


In the pilot, we got introduced to Phillip as a bit of a coward. His wife is the one with whom we sympathize, which is understandable since she's the one we recognize. She's Keri Russel. We know her. We don't know this other guy.

Phillip cares more about his friend than the mission. Then, when they end up stuck with this Russian asshole in their garage, he cares more about saving their own asses than the mission. He really does not care about the mission nearly as much as she does. We're starting to question this guy's backbone.

Until he finds out that his wife was raped long ago by the guy in their garage. Without a second of hesitation, Phillip kills him. In that moment, we learned that there is one thing Phillip cares about more than his own safety, more than the mission, more than anything else - his wife.

And I immediately developed a theory. If you want to make your unlikable protagonist likable, you have to do two things: have him hurt a worse person, and have someone love him.

The minute Phillip kills the rapist, he attacked someone we wanted to see die. So we support him for that. But that alone is not enough, because it's easy for an asshole to beat somebody up. We need to see him fondly through someone else's eyes. When Phillip kills the rapist, his wife falls in love with him right there. We see it on her face. She had no idea that he cared about her that much, and now she knows what he's willing to do for her. We love him not just because he'll get the bad guy, but because she loves him. Since that moment, I now completely trust him, love him, and kind of want to marry him.

I thought about it from the perspective of my very favorite ant-hero. In Pitch Black, not only does Riddick fight Johns and scary aliens, but there's a kid who thinks he's the bee's knees. We see him not only as a protector, but as a role model of sorts for a young girl who wants to be tougher. and he's nice to her too even when he's intimidating everyone else.

So I went back to my script and applied it. Not long after my protag gets fucked over, he runs into a group of people and is a jerk to them. I added a female character who is picked on by the others. So now by guy is a jerk to them, and thus maintaining his anti-hero status, but has a moment of sympathy for the woman. He beats up one of the guys who's meanest to her. I think that was the piece I needed to make my guy work. He's still a dick, but we get to see a tiny glimpse of sympathy to win us over.

My point is, I learned everything I needed to know about writing from watching The Americans. I was nothing but a hack before.