Friday, December 29, 2006

The year in music

Instead of completing the revisions I should be working on (I'll get to it in a minute, dammit!) I decided to make a new mixed CD. If you've ever watched High Fidelity, which is one of the awesomest movies ever, then you know. I'm like that guy. I don't just throw songs I like on a playlist and hit "burn" all willy-nilly. I've been at this CD for two hours. It's art.

I listen to CDs when I'm in the car. I can't stand silence when I'm stuck in traffic and the radio bores me, so I have a big case of CDs I switch between that all serve different purposes. I have a CD I listen to to get me jazzed about working out at the gym, one that makes me sad, one that makes me generally happy, one that's made up entirely of bands that have cute boys in them. Seriously. It's mostly Lifehouse and John Mayer. I worship at the altar of John Mayer, despite Writing Partner's assertion that he is a "pussyass bitch". Writing Partner can suck it.

My favorite so far is a CD that tells the story of a relationship from glorious excited beginning through all the screwed up things we do to each other to the eventual resignation that we'll be okay apart. Each song fits a piece of the story so they bleed into each other. So the songs start out happy, then ease into depression, then come out at bittersweet.

Today's CD was the story of the year I've had. When the year began I thought I was getting married in June. (I know. Go ahead and gasp audibly everybody. You know you want to.) Instead I jumped ship and launched myself down a windy path of self discovery that began with some wild times (Remember Halloween? I don't.) followed by a lot of worrying that the wild times were carrying me away to a very scary place. Then I sat down with myself and said, "Self?" And I replied, which is a little frightening since I was the only one in the room. Actually it probably would have been more frightening if I hadn't been the only one in the room.
"Self?" I said.
"Yes, Emily?" I replied.
"What the hell is wrong with you?"
And I've been working on that answer ever since.

So to comemorate my year of becoming a real grownup I have made my most carefully thought out CD to date. Because sometimes the songs tell the story.

I call it "Clarity"
Here's my playlist:

Just - Radiohead
Crucify - Tori Amos
Broken - Seether
Your Heart is an Empty Room - Death Cab for Cutie
Long Day - Matchbox 20
They - Jem
Your Misfortune - Mike Doughty
Speeding Cars - Imogen Heap
Fix You - Coldplay
Overkill (accoustic) - Colin Hay
Today's the Day - Aimee Mann
Drive - Incubus
Precious Things - Tori Amos
Don't Wait - Dashboard Confessional
Who Needs Shelter - Jason Mraz
Fighting in a Sack - The Shins
You've Got to Learn to Live with Yourself - Ben Folds
Good Enough - Lifehouse
Clarity - John Mayer

It's not procrastination, it's research!

Oh, man, this is funny.

Go make a horror movie logline. You'll laugh and laugh....

Here's mine:

Fifty years ago, Blublubollious, a 100 foot-tall scientific abomination, was created by a top secret government agency and then locked in an abandoned missile silo in the Sleepy Little Town of Crampton, Mississippi, never to see the light of day. But now, that missile silo is becoming a children's library, and Blublubollious' slumber has been disturbed. Now, head architect Luke Fallow (Kirk Alexander) must team up with traveling salesman Horace (Dooby Johnson) and Crampton's voluptuous head librarian Hannah Hump (Meryl Streep) to stop Blublubollious before it destroys the town, and eats every human being it can find! It's terror on a gigantic scale in Hankenfren Milkmannus' epic tale of horror, Dirty Laundry!

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Why did The Island suck so very much?

SPOILER WARNING! Like you care.

I didn't pay for it, fortunately, because I have HBO. My stepdad had it on so I thought, let me watch this piece of Bruckheimer and see if it's really as bad as they say. And it is.

I learned something from this film. I kept thinking to myself, why don't I believe this movie? How can I suspend my disbelief so much for other films when this one has me rolling my eyes every ten seconds? Is it the constant obvious product placement, like when the camera held for a couple of seconds on a close-up of a beer bottle so our dashing male lead could drink one swig and forget about it? That's annoying, but that's not it.

Is it the fact that our heroes keep experiencing the best luck in the world, like landing in a batch of netting while they fall a zillion feet inside a giant neon letter off the side of a building and end up with like, one scratch over an eye? No. I've seen that before and completely bought it in various Terminator films.

Is it the fact that our heroes, who boast the education of a 15 year old, keep outsmarting our borderline retarded professional hunters? We're getting warmer.

Maybe it's the fact that the head professional hunter suddenly decides to be a good guy at the end. Maybe it's the fact that all the clones who've been taught from conception to fear the supposedly contaminated world outside wander happily into the sunlight when given the first opportunity. Maybe it's because every plot twist or character quirk was visible miles ahead of itself. Maybe.

But I think it's because the seams were showing. The action scenes were action scenes. The love scenes were love scenes. The exposition was exposition. Even the one-line comedy bits were chucked in like missing puzzle pieces. Nothing was more than one thing. When Steve Buscemi's character tells our cloney heroes what they are, he's sitting in a house drinking booze and casually throwing out those Steve Buscemi-like sarcastic faces. I was bored. I thought about how much cooler it would have been if Ewan MacGregor, who's supposed to be very smart and curious, figured out the truth through clues Steve Buscemi didn't want to give away, all while they were trying to escape from the big bad meanies. Then we could have had some action, some exposition and maybe a little character development all at the same time. Instead, we just had exposition.

From now on, I'm not letting a scene of my script go until I've found a way to make it accomplish at least two things at once.

One of the themes of this film was that people will do anything to survive. I know it's the theme because they kept telling me that. But nobody actually had to do anything questionable to survive. They did exactly what anybody would do. When someone points a gun at you, you fight. No good guy had to sacrifice any innocent victims. Wouldn't you think in a movie about clones fighting for survival, the occasional moral conundrum would come up? Maybe you'd have to allow some decent person to die so that you could live? Nope. Bad guys are bad, good guys are good, and Sean Bean can always be relied upon to play the stuck up British guy who wants to have power over everybody.

Thank goodness this film tanked at the box office. I'd fear for the souls of us all if it did well. It's bad enough that Con Air made money.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

I can make anything violent

Here's a scene from my House spec, as promised. This should make Christopher happy. The husband, Jacob, has MS and is in a wheelchair. The wife, Amanda, is the patient and nobody knows what to do with her as usual. Foreman has been having constant problems with the husband's attitude.


Foreman checks Amanda's vitals as Jacob looks on. Amanda watches carefully everything Foreman does.

So what do you think I have?

We're honestly not sure. We've stopped the seizures, but we still don't know why they happened.

Or why I turn into a lunatic at regular intervals.

That too. What we really need is a biopsy.

A biopsy? You want to cut into her brain? Why?

This problem is very likely neurological-

Like what?

Well, there's a possibility that it could be brain cancer.


Amanda drops her eyes and stares at her hands.

No, she has MS. She needs a spinal tap. I want another opinion. Where is Dr. House?

Dr. House believes her disorder is centered in the brain. He's the one who ordered the biopsy.

Then I think-

I meant, what do you think I have, Dr. Foreman?

Foreman stops short and chuckles a little.

I think it has something to do with the headaches you've been getting lately.

Headaches? What headaches?

(to Foreman)
How did you know about that?

How long have you been having them?

You've been getting headaches? Why didn't you tell me? I could have taken care of you.

Amanda grabs Jacob's hand.

I was having trouble seeing. Like double vision or something. It was making my head hurt. I probably just need a new contact lens prescription.

Double vision is a sign of-

MS, I know. But it could also be a sign of a neurological disorder. Or it could be a result of an old prescription. Or it could be a coincidence.

Why won't you help my wife?


Only one person in this room has a medical degree.

Jacob rolls up close to Foreman. Amanda breathes heavily.

Dr. Foreman...

I am not going to watch her go through what I went through! I am not going to let some Affirmative Action hiring paralyze my wife!

Jacob stop.

Affirmative Action? If anybody here has been given special privileges, it's the cripple with the-

Jacob socks Foreman in the gut. As Foreman doubles over in surprise, Jacob reaches out and punches him in the jaw. Out of instinct, Foreman pulls back his fist and punches Jacob, knocking him over.

You son of a bitch!

Foreman pulls his fist back and stares at it in surprise. He leans over and offers his hand to Jacob.

Look, I didn't...

Get away from me! You are so getting sued.

Monday, December 25, 2006

You gotta get comfy

Thanks for the Christmas wishes and the links and the appreciation of my post. I'll put some pages up soon I think.

In the meantime, in honor of the digital camera I got for Christmas, here's where I do most of my writing:

Yes, that is Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing on the shelf, which I've been reading for the past two weeks for a few minutes each morning. It's an excellent book, full of practical advice. He doesn't harp too much on form because he assumes you know it. He spends his pages sharing his knowledge of how to operate in the room. Good stuff.

Here's where I do most of my research, although you can see I am currently playing with pictures:

Okay, so I have a lot of books. And clutter. Also, Wyle E. Coyote is kind of my hero. He never gives up.

Merry Holliday, everybody!

Friday, December 22, 2006

How to spec a House

Clearly, nobody knows what to do about my query situation.

But that's okay, because I got a question! Thanks, Cecil!

Okay, so Cecil wants to know how I researched my House spec. I heard an interview once on NPR with David Shore, who said that he has a really close friend who's an amazing doctor with lots of stories about crazy medical situations nobody knows what to do with. So they don't have to spend days, nay weeks, scouring the various internets for rare diseases to use on the show. They just call old Morty.

We don't have that luxury. Unless we have a brother who's an intern or something, but most of us don't. That's why Al Gore invented WebMD.

Whenever I watch an episode of anything, I think about things I want to see. For instance, on Firefly I always wonder why Jayne is so devoted to Mal. We never really see Mal do anything that shows why Jayne is so desperate for Mal's trust, and I don't count that one time when he tried to mutiny in "The Train Job." That happened before we established a throughline for the characters, and that episode was written over a manic weekend. Anyway, I always wanted to see more between Mal and Jayne. So if Firefly was still on the air I'd write that, because that's what I want to see.

So for House, I thought of something I want to see. I thought up a character dynamic I'd like to see and how I could turn that around to a lesson about one of the main characters. House always solves the mystery by thinking about something that's going on in his life and connecting it to the situation, just like Sherlock Holmes.

So I started with character first. How can I show elements of their personality that I want to see? What kind of characters can I create that will bring out those elements?

Once I had my characters I went to WebMD. I looked up a myriad of rare diseases until I found one that intrigued me. My main goal was to find one that looked like a lot of other diseases and had a ton of ambiguous, common symptoms so that I could give my characters lots of seizures and hives and stuff and perfectly intelligent experts in their fields would still not know what the patient has. After I chose a disease I looked up everything I could find about it, then sent away for more information from the organization that promotes research for it. Then I made a list of every disease that had similar symptoms. The whole process took about a week.

From that point on it was just plug and play. I developed a scene around the characters and plugged in a symptom. Then I went on for an act doing more character stuff and plugged in a more specific but misleading symptom. Then I just did that until one tiny clue everybody has previously dimsissed led House to make the personal connection that blew the case open, although for my spec I concentrated a lot more on Foreman. That was the A story.

Then there's the clinic story. For that I just lifted a woe-filled tale of a really disgusting and rare medical problem that happened to a charismatic friend of mine. I put him in the clinic exactly as he is and made him treated by the doctor that most contrasted his personality, in this case Chase. Then I figured out a way to keep the clinic story in line with the theme of the A story so the whole episode felt connected.

The medical stuff is just a means to an end. It's always about character first.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Query time!

It's almost time. You know, that time when you stop stockpiling scripts and start asking people to ask people to pay you for them. Of course I queried my very first script, just like everybody else, then realized after I'd embarassed myself that I'd poked my head out too early. That was four years ago.

But I don't know how to do it. There are a ton of posts and articles all over the internet about how to write query letters. The best one is probably this from Terry Rossio. But there's not much on how to pitch yourself as a TV writer.

Partner and I are revising a project we very much believe in. It's a spec pilot based on my teaching experiences. I've also written another spec pilot that needs one more revision pass and have two functional spec episodes, a House and a Supernatural. The House is really damn good. The only thing I've written with Partner is the one spec pilot, but we plan to continue our partnership with a feature. I'm also working on a feature by myself.

So how do I seek representation with this set of material? Should I even bother querying? Do I just talk about myself and mention the partner as a secondary thing? He has a nice, comlimentary set of skills, so maybe I should introduce us as a set and add that I have my own side projects. Should I concentrate just on the pilot and vaguely mention that I want to write features too?

I probably already know how to do this. I once had to write a letter to some dude to convince him to give me my teaching license even though the class I took wasn't exactly the one I was supposed to take. I got my license. But I wasn't competing with a zillion other people for the job; they kind of need teachers.

Maybe if I was a little less shy I wouldn't even need to write a query letter because I'd have wowed all the brilliant writers in LA with my winning smile and charming personality. Instead I'll just have to do this the hard way. Me and everybody else in America.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

I can't hide in the corner forever

Hung out with Maggie from Bootstrap Sunday. She feels bad about the mix-up over Battlestar. Don't feel bad, Maggie. I liked learning about St. Catherine and her exploding wheel at the Getty Center Icons exhibit. Maggie knows things.

I was at the Getty Center to meet a bunch of other writers but I couldn't find them. The two of us had fun anyway. Fun with turkey soup and brie sandwiches. Mmmmm brie.

One of the best things about writing a blog is the opportunity it gives you to connect with other writers. I sound all obnoxious and outgoing in my posts, but I'm actually kind of shy in an unfamiliar situation. If I have a mission - say, stamping people's hands at boxed lunch distribution at the Expo or directing a wild herd of meandering teenagers into their classrooms - I'm fine. I know the rules, I've got clear instructions. But a new room with new rules and new people throws me for a loop. When I finally land that staff writing job, I doubt I'll say anything at all the first time in the writer's room. The second time they won't be able to shut me up.

And don't get me started on how much I hate phone calls. I spent a whole miserable five months of my life a a small town news reporter before I realized how much I hate calling strangers on the phone.

But these are things every writer must be able to do. Pitching I'm not worried about. Pitching is teaching; you have a mission, an expectation and an act to play out that you can plan ahead of time. What worries me is the networking.

Every writer must be able to walk into a room filled with industry people and come out with a dozen business cards. You have to wow people with your storytelling ability and convince them that you're an up-and-comer. You have to cold call agents and their assistants and smooth talk them into agreeing to read your brilliant spec.

The thought of these things fills me with terror. I once stood right next to Paul Haggis for a full ten minutes. I avoided all eye contact. At the Battlestar Galactica showing I watched Jane Espenson walk right by me and didn't say anything, even though I knew she'd come there with Maggie and I had a legitimate reason to talk to her. The show's writers stopped to talk to the dorks in front of me over and over. Did I say anything? No. Then I blamed it on my looks.

That's why the Scribosphere is important. It's almost impossible to avoid meeting new people when you fall into the daily blog reading. Everybody's so nice. One of the reasons people tell you to move to LA is that everybody here is out to help each other. That's very true. People you've only just met are perfectly willing to go out on a limb to give you a leg up because somebody gave it to them once. It's a very pay-it-forward town. There are assholes, of course. There are people who only help you if you can help them. But they're few and far between. Most people in LA are very nice.

But you have to able to say hi to them first.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Hanging out with the fan club

Update: There was a brawl yesterday at lunch. Twelve students expelled, four arrested. One of them was Little Round Boy, who, it turns out, is in a gang. He was instigating the fight in which a student went to the hospital for a major cut over his eye. Good job, you little asshat. No more Little Round Boy.

Last night I went to a mall in Culver City to see tonight's episode of Battlestar Galactica on the big screen, followed by a Q&A with a few of the writers. The ep was good, full of mysteries and intense moments and a frustrating cliff hanger that made the whole audience groan with the pain of anticipation. If you are not watching Battlestar Galactica beat yourself in the head. It moves to Sunday nights in January, so you have no excuse.

I was supposed to meet Maggie there but Maggie doesn't answer her phone, people. I feel both hurt and betrayed.

Just kidding, Maggie. Oh, I understand how important it was for you to hang out with your fancy professional writer buddies who have lots of pull and can jump you in line while I wait for hours all by myself. No, seriously, it's cool. I was totally fine once I cried myself to sleep.

The line for this thing was very long. I missed the cutoff for the first showing by 9 people so I stayed an hour for the second, which ended up better because the Q&A went longer for that one. But I was in line behind the two dorkiest dudes in West LA. It taught me something about human nature.

I've never looked like the dork I am. On top of that, I project an aura of shyness in an unfamiliar situation. That combination made me invisible last night. Five different writers and producers went down the line at various intervals to thank people for coming and have brief conversations about the show. All five of them stopped to chat with the dorky dudes in front of me. None of them even glanced my way because I look like some random girl who stumbled on the screening by accident and has no idea what she's getting into. It was nice because it allowed me to listen to everybody else's conversation.

I make a big deal about my nerdiness, but I have nothing on the guy who showed up wearing an actual Galactica uniform and handed out flyers for the fan club made to look like Galactica memos, complete with cut off corners and the proper show font.

One of the beautiful things about Battlestar is that you don't have to be a dork to appreciate the excellent storytelling. You do have to be a dork to drive from San Francisco to Culver City to wait two hours in line to watch a 48 minute TV show at a mall. Those people were so adorably excited about the whole thing.

I've been in LA for over a year now and the only screenings I've been to are filled with industry people, mostly writers. This was not that kind of screening. The people here were fans, pure and simple, with limited knowledge of the business. They actually booed the WGA when the writers explained how contract negotiations put the BG webisodes on hold. Booing the WGA because they want to give the writers more money? Huh?

Then there was the guy beside me who seemed nice until he started talking about how "Some guy named Ronald Moore" was a bad writer and should stick to producing but should "never put pen to paper again." Doofus.

One of the writers polled the audience on how they watch the show. About half download it on ITunes. About half Tivo it. About five people actually watch the commercials.

The writers said they use actor input tons on the show. Many of the actors have opinions about the direction their characters should go, which makes sense since they spend all day being this one person. So a few of the upcoming episodes about Apollo and Starbuck will use several of the ideas the actors themselves suggested. It sounds like such a nice, collaborative place to work. The writers were really funny, especially Michael Rymer. That dude speaks only the language of sarcasm.

It's good to hear an audience of fans instead of just listening to the writer's perspective all the time. They were so excited and so eager, and had only nice things to say about the series. I guess they would, since they waited in line for two hours to see a show that comes on tonight. On SciFi. At 9.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sharing is Caring

I'm finally showing the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet in my senior English class. As Kate Winslet lay on the floor going bat shit crazy, one of my students blurted out, "I love Hamlet." My work here is done. Now I can get back to writing about writing.

With that in mind, this partner thing is working out. Writing Partner and I have written half the spec pilot we're working on in a week. I'm a pretty fast writer, but I've never matched that pace before on my own.

I write my 2-4 pages for the day and email them to Partner. He opens them, reads them and calls me to discuss. Then he gets to work on his 2-4 pages, emails them to me, then I read and call, then start over again. We do this every day. It turns out that if you put everything in RTF you don't have to change as much to convert it between Word and MovieMagic, so we're doing that until I can mail him my copy of MM.

This way is working for us for the moment and it's kind of interesting leaving off a script when you're not sure where to go and letting the next person figure it out. Partner called it a "choose your own adventure" style of screenwriting.

But I am curious about other ways to work the partner situation because there are so many different ways it could be done. If you've ever written with a partner, how do you work the process? Are you friends too? What's your method?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Get out a kleenex

Okay, Martha made me feel kind of bad for Little Round Boy.

But only for a minute; then I remembered what a jerk he is.

Still, after reviewing my past posts I realized I've sounded a little harsh on my kids a lot of the time. And if you can't say anything nice...

Actually, if you can't say anything nice you should just be honest because somebody else is probably thinking it and clearly, it needs to be said. But I digress.

Know what's the best thing about teaching? The kids. If you're good they adore you. They can tell when you care, so even if you put up a mean, ornery front like I do they see through it in a second and know that they can trust you to tell the truth. They'll skip other classes to hang out in your room and even when you're pushing them out the door telling them how much you can't stand the sight of them and go to class for god's sake, they know you're kidding because they know they can always make you laugh. Sometimes kids I've never met know my name and wave at me like we're old buddies.

And yes, South Central has many problems. Even my brightest kids have trouble with writing because they've been brought up speaking Spanish by parents who aren't well educated. But they try and they learn and they ask really good questions. They look up at you with those cute little faces and can't wait to watch me do the crazy Hamlet dance. I can't always get a laugh with adults, but I kill in a room of 16 year olds.

The other day I was standing on the balcony of my school watching them all as they listened respectfully to the drumline play at lunch under the clear LA sky. I couldn't stop thinking about how beautiful they are. There's so much for them to overcome, so much craziness they've already survived and so much stacked against them in the future. But they show up at school every day and start again, convinced that this is the way out of the ghetto, which for most of them is true. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen in my life.

That's why I'm a teacher.

Meet my nemesis

Let me tell you about Little Round Boy. Little Round Boy has been suspended multiple times, but here he is again at school, not going to class all day. He gets to school at 7:15 a.m. and spends the entire day wandering, sometimes with friends, sometimes by his own little round self.

Little Round Boy appeared on my radar when I saw him skipping one day and told him to go to class, at which point he made up a million conflicting lies about why he wasn't there already and proceeded to wander around campus some more, flaunting it in my face that I couldn't make him go.

I know Little Round Boy's real name now, but I find it so much more satisfying to refer to him as "Little Round Boy." My classes all know about him. My students call him the nickname I gave him and tell me when they see him around.

A haiku by one of my students:

The little round boy
Walking around campus
Ditching every class

Because he knows I've made it my mission to destroy him, he frequently wanders past my classroom as if to say, "What are you gonna do, bitch?"

At first I just got annoyed, then I realized how much power I have to really screw with this kid. I've told every security person on campus about him so they're all looking for him. If he's caught he'll be thrown out of school again. He knows this, so every time I see him I pull out my phone and act like I'm calling security then laugh as he runs away as fast as his chubby little legs can carry him.

Today I started actually calling him "Little Round Boy" to his face and it's really pissing him off. "Look everybody, it's Little Round Boy!" I said as he sauntered past on his way to skipping homeroom.

"Why you fucking call me that?" he said with his scrunched up face of irritation.

It is my goal to make that his permanent nickname. If he's fifty and people are still calling him "Little Round Boy" I will be filled with joy. Actually by that point I probably won't even remember him. Even better.

Petty, yes. But so much fun.

Sometimes embarrassment is your only weapon. Do not screw with me, kids.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The office supplies are organizing.

Thanks for the good advice on my slang issues.

Yesterday began with a coordinated attack by two seemingly independent staples on my thumbs. One sliced into my skin as I pulled it out of a stapled set of song lyrics I wanted to photocopy to use as contemporary poetry. The other poked me in the knuckle as I pulled out a stack of them to replenish the stapler. I have a snoopy bandaid on each thumb. So watch out for staples, people. They're out for vengeance. You know, when you go in for all those pedagogy classes they make you take to get your teaching license, they never warn you about staple injuries.

Then there's Hamlet. I wanted to show the Kenneth Branagh Hamlet yesterday in my Senior English class and the kids are all stoked and ready to watch, but the damn movie is not available on DVD. Why has Warner Brothers not released this movie yet? Seriously, what the hell is wrong over there? Anyway, trying to find a VHS copy would involve way more driving around LA than I care to do and I don't have time to wait for delivery. Then I discovered that Amazon offers movies for download. You buy it and download the player from their site and poof - there's the movie, ready to be hooked up to a projector, straight from your laptop.

I've had a few bad experiences with Amazon. I usually buy my stuff through, but I'm a little stuck in this situation so I clicked all the clicky buttons and cleared space on my laptop for the movie and waited for the download to start kicking in.

That was Wednesday. This morning I was still waiting. After an hour on the phone with Tech Support Guy yesterday I discovered the file is corrupted and would not be fixed in time for my class, but he was putting his "special team" of crack file repairmen on it. I bet those guys are hot.

I put emergency lesson plan into effect. Instead of a movie, the kids got a quiz and an essay assignment. They were understandably overjoyed.

It turns out, the file will download, just not to my laptop. Even though I cleared enough space on the hard drive to accomodate the 244 minute production, the file is not happy with bearing the responsibility of almost half my hard drive. So I downloaded it to a school computer and it appears to like that better. It is still taking like two days to download though, so it'll be Monday before I can show it. Thank goodness for group projects.

If that doesn't work, I've got a VHS copy of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Not the same, but at least it's Shakespeare.

So that's computer problem number one. Then there's computer problem number two.

I use MovieMagic. I love MovieMagic. But I loaned my copy of the disk to a friend to try it out. Friend has sort of faded into mild aquaintance and I never see him anymore, so I haven't been able to get my copy of the software back from him to upload to Writing Partner's computer.

I don't have Word at home. I have Wordperfect. I don't have anything on my laptop other than Wordpad. So here's what we have to do to write the script. I work on the pages in MovieMagic and save them on my desktop to convert them to Wordperfect. Partner opens them in Word and adjusts the margins, writes four pages or so and sends them back to me. I open them on my laptop in Wordpad and convert them back into MovieMagic. But when I do that the character names disappear and the dialogue reverts back to action. I'm working on the system, but it looks like until I get my software back I'll only be able to write at work. That's no good.

In the meantime, I'm going to ram more staples through my hand.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

To slang or not to slang

And I don't mean drugs. And it occurs to me that if you don't teach in South Central you may not know that "to slang" is slang for dealing drugs. I like homonyms. Or are they homophones? Does anybody care?

But here's the point. After reading my first ten pages Writing Partner is concerned that my writing is "too slangy". Okay that's not a direct quote because the word "slangy" is too slangy. He actually said my writing style is "a lot like a thirteen-year-old".

He loves my dialogue. Loves the plot points. But my voice is a teenage valley girl. Like, whatever, okay?

That prompted a long discussion over how much voice a person should use in a screenplay. Is slang a bad thing? My boy went to NYU film school so he knows a thing or two about screenplays. I've got a big fancy graduate English degree on my wall from one of the nation's premiere party schools, so I know a thing or two about going to class hung over. Oh, and classic literature.

Here are a few examples of what we discussed:
1) "His mom busts in the door." Partner believes "busts" is taking him out of the script.
2) "She wears way too much makeup." He feels the use of the word "way" is where my inner teenage girl takes over.
3) "She went through the spinny door." He prefers "revolving." The nerve on that guy.

We are shooting people in this script, after all. Lots of depressing bloody scenes. Flippant writing will not do.

I do find it odd that he dislikes my adjectives. I always considered myself a minimalist writer. Shows what I know.

But that has left me pondering a question. How do you know the difference between a healthy amount of writer's voice and too much editorializing? Half the books say to leave all personality in the dialogue and leave the prose to only the necessary bits. The other half of the books say to embrace your voice so that you stand out and give the script personality. What do you think? How do you balance your natural voice with the need to only write what you see? And is slang acceptable?

I would tell Writing Partner to suck it, but he'd probably just criticize the slanginess of the word "suck".

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Ode to The Wire

Houseguest left for Canada Saturday, which makes me very sad, but he has become long distance Writing Partner instead. So Writing Partner and I are hard at work on current project and we are stoked. I'm a little concerned that he doesn't have the time I do to dedicate to the project, but if it doesn't work I can always take over and finish the whole thing myself. I could do it myself right now if I wanted to, but I really like his ideas and think it will be fun to collaborate.

Writing Partner is very picky about what he watches. I could spend 24 hours straight watching television and still not clear everything in my DVR, but Partner would much rather practice his guitar than sit down to catch an ep of Prison Break. He considers that a waste of time.

There are four shows we agree on: Friday Night Lights, which he likes but dismisses as "guilty pleasure", Ali G which he's completely obsessed with, Family Guy and The Wire on HBO.

We've been watching a lot of The Wire. The show's just finishing up its fourth season and if you haven't seen it you are missing in a big way. It's about crime and education and politics and everything that is fucked up in Baltimore. But it's also about everything that's fucked up in America in general, and Baltimore is the microcosm. Nothing on TV is as real as this show because it's run by a former cop and former teacher who have experience working in the ghettos of the city. They don't pull any punches. Although my school isn't quite as bad as the one on the show, I frequently see my kids in the ones we follow. I see myself in the teachers. A lot of their problems are our problems.

It is definitely not escapist material. You won't watch The Wire and get a warm fuzzy feeling of hope. You will get a dark hole of despair in your soul that will fester and grow until it consumes you. But in a good way.

I would love to write for that show. As Maggy pointed out, I do have a ton of experience with Latino kids and I am a teacher, and that gives me a unique experience relevant to the show and where it's headed, but the staff of that show has an amazing track record of accolades. I was recently labeled "cool" by several of my students.

I'm fairly certain that if the project we're working on now got us any attention from David Simon, Writing Partner and I would both cream our respective pants.

Monday, December 04, 2006

There is no escape

Our principal has this theory that piping in music over the intercom will mellow out our kids enough to prevent them from shooting each other. He doesn't pipe it into the classrooms, just the hallways and the cafeteria. At first I didn't mind. It was benign jazz, not too noticeable, and it was drowned out anyway by the fact that my classroom is located directly ustairs from the band room.

Then they started playing more adult contemporary music. Our school population is mostly Latino teenagers. The adults are mostly in their 20s. But we were suddenly listening to songs that only appeal to 40-year-old white suburban housewives who drive unecessary SUVs to Wholefoods for pulp-free Florida orange juice. Seriously, aside from John C. McGinley, who listens to Michael Bolton?

This morning it got worse. They're now playing Christmas music all day. Nothing else. Is that legal? I mean, granted, aside from our one Muslim and one Seventh-Day Adventist, I'm pretty sure our kids are all Catholic. But some of our teachers are Jewish, and it's the principle of the thing. Church music at a public school?

I might not mind so much if they just played something by the Muppets.

Most of the songs have been of the "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" caliber. Is it wrong that these songs make me feel like shopping? What does that say about the meaning of Christmas?

They also remind me of my four years in school when I worked at Boston Market. I could never escape "Sleigh Ride". There are thirty thousand versions of that song and it seemed like the radio people would save them all up to play while I mopped the floor, just to give me extra incentive to get the hell out of there. I will always thank my friend Katie for the mixed tape she made to drown out the cheery holiday cheesiness. Maybe now as I'm forced to hear "Sleigh Ride" for the second time this morning, I can replace it in my head with "Joey" like I did when I was a teenager.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

A donkey, a mammoth and a Dane walk into a bar...



SNUFFLEUPAGUS, a brown mammoth, sits at the bar, sipping beer through his snout. EEYORE, the donkey with the pinned-on tail and lopsided bow in his mane, stumbles up to the bar stool. Snuffy pulls the stool out so Eeyore can climb up to sit down.

Hey, Snuff.

Hey, Eeyore.

Eeyore eyes the bartender. He nods, then pours out a rum and Coke and slides it across the bar to the donkey.

So Big Bird's letting you out of the fence again, I guess.

No. I drugged his birdseed.


Yeah. He was singing some stupid song about multiples of five, counted himself right off to sleep.

Think he'll be mad?

I don't care. I can take Big Bird.

You always say that but you never do it.

Yeah? Well I don't see you taking out Tigger any time soon, either.

I've got a plan.

Sure you do.

HAMLET, Prince of Denmark, walks up and sits next to them, signalling the bartender for a glass of wine.

Hey, Hamlet.

Hey, Eeyore.

Hey, Hamlet.

Hey, Snuffy. Bid Bird letting you out again?

Drugged his food.

Smart. Poison is smart.

I could probably poison Pooh Bear, but I don't think I could get Tigger to eat anything I make.

No, you'd probably have to push Tigger off a cliff.

I bet Rabbit would help you.

Yeah. Probably. There'd be a lot of fallout, though. Piglet would go off the deep end.

Piglet you could probably poison. Or stab.


Eeyore takes a swig of his drink. Snuffy snorts up the rest of his beer. Hamlet sips on his wine.

I want to die.

Don't we all?

Not me. I just want to kill.

I could go for some of that too.

Snuffy checks the clock above the bar.

So Bid Bird's probably waking up soon. I'd better get back.

I thought you didn't care?

I don't. But I don't want to blow my edge. Oscar and I are trying to work out our assasination plot. We need all the advantages we can get.

I'll do it.

Kill Bid Bird?

Yeah. I'll kill Bid Bird if somebody takes out my uncle.

I'll do it if somebody offs that damn Tiger. Ta ta forever, you annoying piece of crap.

Good. We have a plan. Meet back here tomorrow, hash out the details?

Sure. I'll be done with my duel by then. Gotta fight Ophelia's brother.

How come?

I killed his dad.

Oh. Bummer. Well good luck.

Watch out for poison.

Good advice. See ya.

Snuffy rolls off his stool and walks out of the bar. Hamlet looks around at the other patrons laughing, playing pool, flirting.

God, I hate these people.

Yeah. They should just die.

They both sip silently on their drinks.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Ds for everybody

Projects are due today. They're poetry projects. I gave the kids two weeks, most of it in class, including two trips to the library, to research an era of poetry - Renaissance, Classical, 19th Century, etc. - and present the major poets, a history of the period and an analysis of the poetry of the time. The idea is to explore how the poets are a product of their age.

That was the idea.

Instead I got a mumbly reading of something about Chaucer some boys downloaded and glued to a wrinkly green poster.

When I had to do a presentation on The Song of Roland, I made a puppet show out of socks. My project on Rosa Greenhow and the Civil War? A filmstrip with a soundtrack. For anatomy the only good grade I got was my hand-sewn spleen with clay tubes coming out of it. Geometry? A magic show, complete with a doll I sewed to look like our teacher as my assistant who got fake stabbed. I went through a sewing period in high school, which is funny since I have no idea how to sew now. I also really hate geometry.

I never in my life would have photocopied a print-out from Wikepedia and read it in a monotone and then asked if I got an A. Then again, I have always been fiercely competitive. If my project didn't wow everybody in the room and become the the pinacle of project awesomeness I got really irritated. My partners knew that if they worked with me they'd get an A for sure, but in the process they'd have to work their asses off because I would delegate.

I guess that's why I'm a teacher. Every day is one long presentation. God, I'm a nerd.

Monday, November 27, 2006


Holy frijoles.

Thanks, Odocoileus, for the recommendation over at Done Deal. I've never seen so many hits on a Sunday.

If you came here through the link from Done Deal or you're new here for any reason, welcome to my brain. Say hi.

I teach English in a South Central LA public high school. I'm a lot like Michelle Pfeifer in Dangerous Minds but with a lot less tragic drama and no history of being in the Marines. Want to know some Spanglish? I'm getting pretty proficient.

I minored in French. It is not much help in my largely Guatemalan/Salvi neighborhood.

During my planning period I write TV specs. I've been in LA a little over a year (I'm from NC) and have been slowly making contacts who can help me as soon as my portfolio is ready. I have written about three feature specs and five TV specs, not counting all the trainwrecks I abandoned halfway through.

I am sarcastic all the time.

Come back. Ask questions. Live vicariously and be glad you don't have my job. Although, for the record, I kind of love my job. But it ain't for everybody.

Two heads...

Houseguest pointed out that I should write more stuff I know and less stuff that explodes. He's right, of course. He's always right. God, that's irritating. I'm kicking him out.

So I threw out this one thing: "I've got this one idea..." I said hesitantly. And then it started. You know that thing where you start with a kernel of a thought and you bounce ideas back and forth until you have a script all written in your head and all you have to do is transcribe it? It's bloody brilliant and it's a topic in which I have a ton of knowledge and experience. No organized crime or explosions involved.

So for the first time ever I'm taking on a partner for a project. My ear for realistic dialogue and Houseguest's expertise in clean storytelling is going to equal awesome. I hope. We might end up killing each other. But probably not since we'll be many states apart when we get down to business.

Any advice on working with a partner? Especially one who lives very far away? If you've done it, what worked for you? What were your biggest problems? How can I avoid destroying both script and friendship?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Enjoy your tryptophan.

Last night my Houseguest and I hooked up a new stereo to the TV and to test it out he insisted we watch Star Wars. Last thing I remember Luke was bitching about the blast shield being down. How's he supposed to fight? That was almost 1am and now I am at work while Houseguest sleeps in a warm bed. Tonight I'm going to lance Houseguest in the eye with a real light saber.

Houseguest and I will be spending Thanksgiving together in my apartment in a traditional meal of meatballs and shrimp and chicken and potatoes dipped in things. They're turkey meatballs, so it's kind of relevant. The hell if I'm cooking a whole turkey, and I don't like cranberries or stuffing. We still haven't decided on dessert yet. I suggested Baskin Robbins down the street, but apparently that is "ghetto". So it's narrowed down to chocolate fondue or peanut butter pie. Houseguest has been a good sport about going nontraditional and helped me buy groceries yesterday, although that may be because I've somehow convinced him that I'm a phenomenal cook.

Good lord, don't go to the grocery store unless you have to. Last night Vons was like Wal-Mart on moving day in a college town, especially around the turkey bin. Anybody ever wonder if Thanksgiving was just an invention by the turkey industry, like Halmark and Valentine's Day? The whole story about Indians sharing stuff was all a big lie perpetrated by North Carolina turkey farmers. The real story was probably -

Oh, hold up. That was a brilliant idea for a screenplay. The hell if I'm sharing it with you people when I can make a zillion dollars next year when I present my Thanksgiving script to the world and they go bat shit crazy over it.

Happy Turkey Day.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Reading is fundamental or something.

I'm finally teaching Hamlet after six years of waiting for the opportunity. It's a frabjous day. Hamlet is by far my favorite Shakespeare play and hearing 28 beautiful seniors read those lines of poetry, even when they butcher them, is a pleasing experience.

On my own time I'm reading Seven Seasons of Buffy, having already gotten through Five Seasons of Angel and Finding Serenity. You know you're a nerd when you spend valuable down time reading essays about a cancelled TV show, but they're interesting, dammit.

I just finished The Mastery of Love by Miguel Ruiz. It looks like a self-help book and I suppose it is, but it came to me recommended by a friend and after the day I spent devouring it between classes I found a lot of really useful insight. It's about how to not let the stupid crap bother you and focus on loving yourself. Sounds cheesy, but it was helpful. I recommend it if you have issues, and let's face it: we all have issues.

I'm almost done with the Buffy book, so after that I'm diving into Alex Epstein's Crafty TV Writing. I read the first chapter and already got some ideas on the next spec pilot I write, although I won't get to that until after I finish my current one and then work on a feature project. I also picked up the shooting script to Sideways, which I haven't had time to get to yet.

Somehow, I'm also revising my spec pilot during the day and going to the gym and spending all my spare time with a friend of mine who's moving out of the country soon and leaving behind a depressed Emily in his wake.

Time is the problem. I've got too many books to read and too many scripts to write and too many friends to see and muscle groups to tone. How am I supposed to do my actual job? Stop sleeping, maybe. Or lots of group projects. Let the kids design power point presentations and posters while I concentrate on my hobbies. That's how I mold young minds - half-assedly.

So what are you reading? Anything good?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

We should all be more like Chuck.

It's kickboxing day! Because sometimes you just need to beat things.

Jane Espenson posted about where she likes to write and I though that was interesting. She doesn't sit at a desk because that makes it feel like work. I get that.

Now that I have a laptop I like to sit on my bed with one of those lap desks and type. Some people hand write their stuff, but isn't that a big old time waster? My hand hurts if I try to write on paper. Sometimes I write at work, but usually I only get one or two pages done that way because it's not as easy to get wrapped up in your story when teenagers are constantly banging on your door to see if they can borrow your scissors.

I like to listen to music. I put on whatever would fit on the soundtrack for that moment, so I have different playlists for different moods. I have songs for depression, for violence, and for sex scenes. When I wrote my first script a few years ago I killed off the love of my lead's life because that's what I do. That's still what I do four years later. I listened to Evanescence's "My Immortal" about fifteen times while I wrote that scene and ended up with blurred vision from all the tears. That was a good death scene. The rest of the script was mediocre at best of course, but I murder people like a champ.

But I digress. I write at work and at home but I always write, even if the conditions aren't ideal. People always ask me how I get so much work done while I have a real job, and this is how:

Even if you get one page a day in, that's five pages in a week and that's better than nothing. I see a lot of people post about how they've written one script and then stop like that's some great accomplishment. And it is, but it's not enough. When's the last time you wrote a page?

Everybody's got patterns of behavior. We all have ways we like to write, certain times we like to write, a certain order of operations. And so many people use that as an excuse. You'd write, but only if you have your favorite pillow or your proper music. I love to write with music, but if I don't have any I write anyway. I don't let a week go by without writing something, even if it's only one page.

I've played the flute since the fifth grade. I'm pretty good. I'd be better, though, if I practiced more. I used to stare at my flute in the case and whine about what a pain in the ass it was to practice, but once I got it out of the case and put it together it wasn't nearly as difficult as I'd made it sound in my head. Once you sit down at that computer (or put a pen to that notepad if you're a freak who writes longhand), the flow starts and before you know it you have a page. Then another page, then another until you have a working scene. But you have to get the instrument out of the case first.

Do you think Chuck Norris ever shirks his resistance training? He didn't get those muscles by staring at his freeweights and whining about how the conditions weren't ideal for a workout. He's Walker, Texas Ranger, bitches. He fought Bruce Lee.

I'm not going to tell you to stop reading blogs and posting and get to work. Personally I use both the posting and the reading as inspiration to get started. A lot of the time I'll read something that gives me an idea, then I'll open up Movie Magic and add a line of dialogue that turns into four pages. Hell, I just read one of Bill's posts about action scenes that revoutionized my way of thinking about the weakest scene in my current script. Now I can rewrite it properly thanks to a blog post.

There are no rules about how to write, and there are no excuses for not writing. So wherever you write and however you write, make sure that you do it. Stop arguing. It's just wasting time.

Monday, November 13, 2006

It helps if you listen to The Fray while you read.

Right now my life is either a romantic comedy or a tragic love story. I won't know until I get to the montage. I wonder what music will play while I look wistfully out the window? Probably something by Gavin Degraw or John Mayer, or maybe that creepy and depressing Imogen Heap song with the voice effects. That seems to be the montage song of choice these days.

Do you guys do that? Imagine your whole life as a movie? Sometimes I walk down the street listening to some ass-kicking song on my Ipod and imagine thugs attacking me and getting beat down by my cool kickboxing moves that are much better in my imagination than they are in real life. Sometimes when I stand in front of the kids and give some inspirational speech about why they have to work their way out of the ghetto through education I hear an inspirational ballad swell in my mind. If my life is a series of movie scenes, I'll cut out the one of me typing entries in a blog. Then again, I can probably jazz it up with intense music that shows how hard I'm working to achieve maximum blog awesomeness.

I really need my own soundtrack.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Back to work time

I've been in hybernation this week. Sometimes you just need to hide away and shirk all your responsibilities and rest, and that's what I was up to. Just another moment in the evolution of me.

I was supposed to host my table reading today. I had the actors all lined up and the scripts all copied, then I did a read-through on Friday night with a friend of mine who gave me some really solid criticism that made me extremely unsatisfied with my script. My problem is, the first half is a fantasy-style comedy with some unrealistic fight scenes and innappropriately funny dialogue. My second half is a dark drama with some scary violence and a real grasp of the theme. I have to find a way to reconcile the two.

I mentioned before that my main character wasn't fleshed out enough to compete with my second part. That's because he shouldn't have been the lead. I've turned it into an ensemble piece and that has totally changed the dynamic. It's allowed me to play to my strengths, because one of the things I excel at is juggling dialogue in a room full of people.

I've gone from being depressed at having to acknowledge that my script is not where it needs to be and that I thought it was and that means I kind of suck, to getting a little excited at the changes. Just by intercutting new scenes in my teaser and adding one scene to my first act I've already tightened the script and given my characters more consistent personality.

And that's why you have to have someone you trust read over your script. I didn't see my own problems. At first I felt bad about it, like I should be good enough to know what's wrong with the script without input from an outside source. But that's just the ego talking. I needed guidance. Who cares how I got it? In the end it will lead to a better story, and that's what we all strive for, isn't it? Fortunately all my actors were cool about putting off the reading because they're swell people. I just wish I hadn't already paid for all the script copies.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

It's okay to cuss on TV if it's in Spanish.

I've had a few people email me asking for more teenage language lessons, so here's another round of what the kids are saying these days. I'm long out of the loop on standard white kid speak, so this only applies to my Latino kids, although the black kids who live in the neighborhood have picked up a lot of the lingo as well.

Came out
- not a gay thing. To "come out" means to appear or act or exist. Someone comes out in a movie or a magazine. The kids sometimes add "barely", which I brought up last time, so a typical sentence would be, "Brad Pitt had barely came out in that Babel movie." (notice the tense is off - that's very common.) I regularly hear this question: "If I get my picture taken this weekend, will I come out in the yearbook?"

That's the only English phrase I've thought of lately. So now it's time for Spanglish. Yes, Spanglish, it's not just a boring Adam Sandler movie that made me fall asleep on the plane on the way back from North Carolina that one time. It's the name for the language that is creeping across the country and started right here in LA and surrounding areas. I tell the kids they can't use Spanish in their writing, but Spanglish is okay because it's an understandable dialect. It's essentially English with slang Spanish words thrown in with wild abandon. It's extremely cool to listen to. Every time I ask the kids to teach me vocabulary, it's Spanglish they give me, so I can't order anything at a restaraunt, but I can cuss you out pretty well. Here are some of the more popular words:

Chismosa - Gossip. Somebody who is all up in everybody's business. This is the feminine form, but it does come in a masculine too, as chismoso. This is my favorite Spanglish word and I use it all the time.

Pendejo/a - asshole. You've probably heard this one. Fernando Sucre uses it a lot on Prison Break.

Chinga - fuck, as in "Chinga tu madre" or "Fuck your mother". That's a very popular phrase around here.

(pronounced like "way" - fool, idiot, jackass. It's technically a cussword. For many of my kids this word pops out every other second. I have a student who says it so often my nickname for him is Heyhuey. A commonly heard phrase using this word is "Callate, huey!" when you want somebody to shut up.

There are many, many more words but I will save those for another day.

Friday, November 03, 2006

I will shoot a clown in the face if I have to.

I have a confession to make. I hate clowns. I don't dislike clowns or think they're creepy or get mildly uncomfortable when they're around. I HATE them. If I saw a clown walking across a foggy highway in the middle of a backroad in Eastern North Carolina at 2:30 in the morning I would run that son of a bitch over and not think twice about it. I'm not kidding.

It's called Coulrophobia and it's a real fear. Greg probably thinks it's funny. Greg can get bent.

Krusty does not frighten me. Pennywise makes me scream in terror. I will cross the street to avoid walking past a grate in the curb because that creepy bitch is not going to grab my leg and rip it off like he did that little boy's arm. No we do not all float down here, you fucking psycho.

I thank my lucky stars nobody at the party dressed as a clown Saturday night or I'd have had to hide in a corner and cry all night. Really, I'm not kidding. I think it's the idea of a fake smiley creature trying to seduce little children with candy and balloon animals. Screw that. Evil fuckers.

My students can't know this. You can never show them your weakness. So today when a student drew an evil clown on my board at the end of yearbook class I had to pretend it didn't bother me. I didn't look at it directly, just cheerfully told him to erase the board as soon as he drew it so that I wouldn't have to clean it later. Then I turned around to shut down the computers and one of them has now been evil clown wallpapered. I looked at the evil clown. He looked at me. I looked at the ceiling as I switched the screen to tulips. Ahh, tulips. Beautiful, nonevil tulips. You are all that is holy and good in this world.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Spare Parts

Planning a table reading has educated me in a big way. I'm hoping to have it next Sunday with about ten of my actor friends at my apartment for a couple of hours. I have to give them the script ahead of time and tell them what parts they're reading and then the all show up and I sit in the corner with my mouth shut while they do all the talking. In theory. I've never actually done one of these before.

But what's been interesting about it is the way I've started looking at my script once actors entered into the equation. They're my friends, but they're a lot less likely to want to read my material unless I give them something juicy to do with all those acting chops. As I've been informing them of their parts, I've realized that some of my characters are weak. I feel bad asking a friend to come over and spend time reading a part that has no real emotional involvement. Of course, not every character can be great. You don't want minor characters to take over the story. But just because they're minor doesn't mean they can't have personality. In Last Kiss there's a gay neighbor who has about three lines but those lines are brimming with character. One of them got the biggest laugh in the film. In fact, all the characters in that movie had a distinct personality no matter how much screen time they got. It's an actor-friendly film.

So I'm doing an actor-friendly rewrite. I'm going to think of my script in terms of what I'd be proud to have my friends read. When they come over, I want them to be satisfied with the job they're doing, even if it's not the lead. I've never thought about it that way before.

So next time you work on your script, try it. If you were an actor, would you want to play that part?

Monday, October 30, 2006

Later I'll pee in your coffee.

Today I had to pretend to like people. It's the first day of a new semester and I have a new senior English class. In it is a boy we'll call Jose because there's always a Jose. Jose used to date Mayra. They had a baby together, they were voted cutest couple in the school, they were never apart and always held hands in the hallway. Right after Jose lovingly supported the birth of his first child, he dumped Mayra for a little bottle blonde chippie. Mayra was in my class last semester, so I've grown to hate this boy.

Then today the boy and his chippie show up in my class and struggle to keep their hands off each other. And I have to pretend this doesn't bother me because I'm not supposed to take sides. Half of teaching is acting.

The teacher who was leaving my classroom wanted to take my books. I offered her a deal to trade one set of books for another and she didn't want to make that deal so I didn't let her have my books. We had to have this fight in front of two classes worth of students so it was a polite, smiley argument where we worded everything as if we were really just looking out for everybody's best interest when really we were punching each other in the face psychically.

I wonder how often in a given day people do that. Fake niceness. They don't do it enough in scripts. People say what they mean far too often in stories, when it's what we don't say that both tells the story and provides better conflict. The whole class knew that other teacher and I didn't like each other. I think they were disappointed that we didn't get into a fist fight, but that would have made it a different story. My day is usually a comedy, not an action pic.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Stay away from the Jello.

Raise your hand if you were hung over Sunday. Yep.

Every Halloween I'm the same thing: Buffy. I love Buffy. Being Buffy makes me feel badass. I even have a sharp wooden stake a shop teacher made me one year, which very nearly got me in trouble with the cops in Chapel Hill, but we don't need to go into that. The point is, this year I wanted something different but still heroic. I was gonna be the invincible cheerleader from Heroes.

I shouldn't have waited until Saturday to shop for the outfit. The costume place was packed with people but short on cheerleader costumes. I found something close to what I was looking for in a child's size.

So I wore this:

Not exactly heroic, but very comfortable, even when I puked in the bushes. Unfortunately I'll probably have a scar from where I backed into the outdoor heater with my exposed calf.

I'd like to publicly thank the rugby players who helped me to the car. I know I was proclaiming my ability to walk on my own, but I was lying. Thanks fellas. I wish I knew who you were or remembered what you looked like.

And thanks to my girl for magically getting me into my pajamas. It was nice to wake up with pants on.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Why I love actors

I love actors. I know that's not the popular theory because everybody thinks of actors as dramatic premadonnas who demand too much and give too little, but I love 'em. Most of my LA friends are actors. Maybe I still love them because none of them have blown up yet. A couple of them are about to, so I'll probably be able to start hating them when that happens.

Actors are passionate people. They have to be able to call up their emotions at the drop of a hat and I respect that. It's easy when I'm in my office staring at a computer screen with mood music playing and nobody else around, but surrounded by a camera crew and preparing to share your performance with the world? No way.

I can write the words all day long, but without someone talented to read them, nobody will ever know what I have to say. We should love them for that alone.

I don't know how they find me, but they do. And they all want me to write them the Oscar-winning part even though I keep explaining to them that I write TV and that nobody pays me yet. "Yeah, but when you do make it," they tell me, "I'll audition for that part I like." Actors are so optimistic. They have to be. There are thirty thousand of them competing for one part, but they have to be convinced they'll get it or they would give up and go home. Their optimism rubs off. Hell, all their emotions rub off. That's why they're actors.

The men all want Brad Pitt's career. They also want to have his body in Fight Club. I don't know what the women want, but I think I'll start asking. If you ask what kind of role they prefer, it's almost always the villain. Actors love playing villains because it's more of a stretch. It allows you to do things you'd never do in daily life because your conscience won't let you.

I should be a casting agency. You name it, I got it. Need a spunky Indian princess? Got one. Need a hot, tall, Germanic blond hero? An all-American boy next door? A dark, disturbed musician with the sexiest voice you've ever heard? A funky gay best friend? Got all those and more. And they're all fabulous.

Well, all except that one guy. I don't know what his problem is.

The best part about having a harem of actors as some of your best friends? In a few weeks I'm going to pay them pizza and beer to do a table read of my spec pilot. And that will be very cool.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How I spent my weekend, part three


Arrival at 7:15 during Volunteer Coordinator's big speech about how important that book for the room is and why we shouldn't lose it. As people dispersed to their various locations I grabbed a donut and a walkie-talkie and got to work.

Sunday was easier than Saturday. No Pixar, for one thing. Plus, classes ended a lot earlier in the day and we had enough volunteers to go around. I spent most of the day in a chair in command central, answering phones and solving problems as they filtered in while VC handled the big stuff.

Biggest problem of the day: Tim Minear's A/V stuff was not set up or working or something. All I know is there was a thing with a white board and a projector and the A/V guys were all over it for a long time. There was some frantic radio traffic for half an hour. Tim Minear was so cool about everything. His assistant was all over it so he could relax and teach his class. He even came back an hour before his second session so he could spend more time discussing story ideas. People followed him out of the room before lunch like little baby ducklings and he just trucked along, happily answering questions. A swell guy.

Ran a lunch room again. If you were up in the Meridian room I stamped your hand. A smiley face. We ended up with well over 100 boxed lunches left over, so a crew of us
broke down the boxes and pulled out apples, cookies and chips to feed to the hungry crowd at the closing ceremonies. We felt really bad throwing out the sandwiches, but nobody had enough energy to go find homeless people to feed.

Sat at the computer taking back the books and checking people out. We got every single book back. We did have a few speaker noshows, but one of those was a guy who showed up one minute after his students all left and two of them had cancelled a week earlier but it never made it down the pipeline.

The volunteers did a good job. I definitely made new friends, which was my main purpose in going to the Expo anyway.

Most of the volunteers went to help clean up the ballroom when all was over but I stayed in the volunteer room chatting up VC's cousin, who, as it turns out, grew up where I went to college.

As people filtered out one after the other, all that remained was A/V guy, VC and VC's cousin, three guys who have known each other for a while and were working this thing for four days. Then there was me, the new kid, the interloper. But they included me when making plans for next year, and I appreciated that. I am so down for doing it again. Probably because I enjoy the power. I had people under me.

It was like summer camp as we were all leaving. Hugs and business cards flying freely around the room. I had no business cards so I wrote all my info on leftover name tags. The Expo taught me that I need business cards.

I passed by the bar where the scribosphere meet-up was taking place but I was so worn out from two days of constant running around that I just wanted to go home and sleep. I wish I'd have at least stopped in to say hi, but I was afraid if I did that I wouldn't leave because I know how I am about conversations and meeting people. I had to be at work the next morning at 7:15.

As it turns out, they accidentally held over my sub so I didn't have to be at work at all yesterday. I wish I'd have known that before I showed up on time.

So that's the Expo. Look for me next year. I'm the little blond with the walkie-talkie and the loud Southern accent.

Monday, October 23, 2006

How I spent my weekend, part two

First off, let me establish that this post will teach you nothing about screenwriting. This is all about the visceral experience of running around next to the guy who's next to the guy who runs the show. If you want the vicarious Expo educational experience, check out Maggie's posts. Hers are far more filled with useful information. I am filled with something else entirely.

That said, I give you...


There weren't enough volunteers Saturday as some people neglected to show up. So while there were supposed to be two or three "break roamers", people who run around to give the volunteers the occasional bathroom break or to disseminate information, instead there was just me.

So I'm thinking, break roamer. Okay. I'll get to sit in on classes in snippets as I casually go from room to room all day.

Hell no.

So this is how I ended up with a walkie-talkie and an attitude, unintentionally making people think I worked for the magazine.

Let me tell you something about Volunteer Coordinator (VC). For some reason he doesn't want credit for anything so I'm not going to say his name, but I can't let his contribution go unnoticed. Without VC the building would have imploded. Chaos would have erupted, dogs and cats would be permanently cohabitating, there'd have been anarchy. There were complaints all day long about the crowded rooms, the temperature, the parking, the food, the building layout, the cost, a million other things that weren't under VC's control. Not once did I hear this man raise his voice to anyone. Even when he was confronted with thirty people shouting his name and tugging on his sleeve, he dealt with every single one of them fairly and honestly and without malice, and he did it all for a paltry sum. He's a truly decent human being and anybody who was there owes him more than you realize. I feel lucky to have been his sidekick.

The Pixar thing was packed to ridiculous proportions as the line of people overflowed out the door and around a piece of the building. Fortunately, the planners had called for overflow rooms all over the building. Unfortunately, the audio feed was absolute shit. That kept pretty busy the A/V guys and girl, who were very cool, hard-working people who never stopped going all day. I didn't hear much of the Pixar presentation, but I understand it went pretty well. I occasionally went by a room and heard the audio and they were doing a bunch of stuff about Toy Story. I have no idea what else they did because I was racing pell-mell from one place to the other bringing people water and information, answering questions and generally handling whatever minor irritations seemed to keep buzzing their way into the volunteer room.

Eventually I got a walkie-talkie. People look at you differently when you have a walkie-talkie. Ever want instant respect? Put one of those on your waist band. Ever want to be hated? Make sure you have the volume way up when you open the creaky door and walk into a postage stamp sized classroom to look around while the teacher is revealing the secrets of the universe.

There were three main areas where lunch boxes were distributed, so I was put in charge of one of them. If you bought a Gold Pass or a lunch ticket you got a box and permission to see the speaker. If you didn't pay ahead of time, you were on your own. No speaker for you.

There was no speaker in the room where I was, but it said there was on everybody's ticket. So I told the people in line that they could get their food but the speaker, Michael Arndt, would be in another room and simulcast just like the Pixar stuff. People grumbled but accomodated.

Then another volunteer came up and told me the speaker would in fact be in the room. I announced that to all the people in the line and they happily got their lunches and sat down.

Then VC came up and told me the speaker would be in another room and simulcast and there would be nothing going on in the room where I was. So I announced that to the room. For some reason, they didn't pelt me with their veggie sandwiches. Some even thanked me for being so quick with the information. I must have some kind of charming voodoo I didn't know about.

I believe this was about the time the people got stuck in the elevator. There were firemen. It was funny, though probably not for the people who were in there. Everybody was a little afraid to go to the 18th floor after that, especially when the A/V guys almost got stuck in it again.

After lunch is a blur to me. I don't remember it, just that I was really tired later and collapsed on the floor in a heap. Somewhere in cyberspace there is a picture of me laying in a chair, a thousand-yard-stare planted on my face, my mouth wide open and possibly drooling.

I ate three large cookies, a turkey sandwich with brussel sprouts and drank about fifty-seven Pepsis during the day. My stomach hates me.

Friday and Saturday we shared the Marriott with Concord Law School. That was a big pain in the ass and we wouldn't have had nearly as many problems or all those tiny rooms had we not had to give up rooms to the law school. But just before Pixar let out the 900 or so people watching the post-lunch presentation, a 50-year class reunion began in the hallway. Fortunately they moved into a ballroom just before the presentation ended, but for half an hour they blocked the only route of escape from the ballroom floor. Several of us were trying to figure out how we could steal some of their drinks from the bar. We did not succeed.

Then there was the networking party. You had to buy tickets to that, but the party started early and we were tired, so I'm sure we missed some people. If you got free artichoke pizza, bully for you. Drinks were still at least $5.50.

Some of the volunteers got together and played "two truths and a lie." That's how I learned that I suck at that game. I got every single one wrong. That's at least 20 times I fell for a lie. People were purposely guessing against me. Then I got one right just as the bar closed, and that was the signal that it was time to go. The bar closed at 11. Why did the bar close at 11? I don't know.

I had so much fun and met such cool people I volunteered to do it again Sunday. Or maybe I just hate myself.

By the way, a bunch of people have been asking why the Expo wasn't held at the Convention Center this year. The answer is simply that it was all booked-up in advance. According to the guy in charge of A/V, who busted his ass this weekend for minimal thank-yous, the Convention Center isn't that great a prize anyway. Perhaps if we hadn't been sharing the Marriott with a law school and the geriatric crew, people would be complaining a lot less.

Tomorrow, SUNDAY.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

How I spent my weekend, part one

Whew. I can breathe again.

Friday at the Expo I met Maggie, who is pretty damn delightful and somehow recognized me as I was meandering by at lunch. I saw David Ayer and learned a thing or two, sat in on Joel's informative and cheerful lecture and introduced myself, then watched Harlan Ellison interview Ron Moore in one of the more hilarious conversations ever to be set on a stage in front of hungry screenwriters. They mostly talked about Harlan's book and why we should all buy it. But it was informative too, not because Moore talked about how to break in, but because he talked about crafting a series and how he made the creative decisions he eventually had to live with. The reason? Exactly what you thought: Ron Moore has big brass balls.

Saturday I volunteered. Last year I worked the big room with the keynote speakers and I liked it, so I figured I'd do that again this year. Either way I didn't want to be stuck in a classroom all day. Those of you who were there know about the California rooms. For those of you who weren't, let me explain. Half the rooms at the Marriott that were reserved for the Expo were the size of the head (as in bathroom, for those nautically challenged) on a Russian nuclear submarine, and most of them filled up with people spilling out into the hallway as the air got thicker and thicker with the odor of screenwriter B.O. I did not want to get trapped in there all day, and when you volunteer that's what happens: You get stuck in one room all day. The upside is you get to sit in on all the classes and take notes, and all you have to do is take tickets whenever somebody comes in. The downside is, you get stuck in a classroom all day.

I don't sit still. I spend all day in my job on my feet talking. The truth is, teachers make the worst students. We're used to running things, not kicking back and watching.

So I had to have the Marquis room with the Pixar people. I set my alarm for 4:45 a.m. to make sure I had enough time to hit the snooze and be out of the apartment by 6:00 to get to the volunteer room as the first in line like last year. My alarm never went off because I forgot to switch it over to the weekend setting. So I woke up at 6:15, cursing.

I got in the car at 6:30 and raced down Western to hit the 10 West. Ramp closed. I took the 10 East to Normandy. Ramp closed. I guessed Vermont must be closed too so I trucked it south down Normandy, really hoping I could figure it out from there. I did, but I ended up as one of the last ones in the room. No Pixar for me.

This is where I begin to believe in fate. There were about five people left and only tiny, submarine bathroom rooms left and Volunteer Coordinator turned to me. "Do you need an errand runner?" I said.

Thus begins my weekend of adventure.

To be continued tomorrow.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Expo day one ramblings

I'm here. And I'm wondering how many of you have walked by me while I sit here during the long lunch break across from the bathroom, noodling around on my laptop. Some guy just walked by an applauded the fact that I'm actually writing. I'm not sure this counts.

That guy would be cute if he hadn't pinned his Expo catalogue to his chest with his backpack strap. Dude, that is so nerdy.

This is a nice location. It's a lot quieter than last year. If you don't come until Friday you may have trouble finding it; it's downstairs in the Marriott. It took me a while to find it, but at least I parked for free, and you'll have to torture me before I tell you where because you are not taking my spot.

I spent an hour in traffic on the 10. I had to pee the whole time. You know that Simpson's episode where Grandpa's bladder ruptured while they drove past several bathrooms and the world's largest toilet? That was almost me. Thank God for Burger King.

My feet stink. If you walked by me just now and smelled them I apologize. My shoes were in my gym bag for three days with little to no ventilation.

Lunch was lonely. I ate a Von's sandwich and grapes and I forgot my Ipod. So I sat and read Seven Seasons of Buffy.

Interesting talks so far. There's not much going on, but there are a few interesting speakers. I'm surprised by how many people are here today. The main speaker room is like three degrees, so bring a sweater, and I can't find a water fountain, so bring money.

The volunteer coordinator remembered me from last year. I must be more obnoxious than I thought. I just wish I could find the two friends I made. I keep thinking I see them, but I'm hallucinating.

If I had a digital camera I would take pictures. Man, we are a dorky looking people. There's a dude staring at me. Either he thinks I'm hot, thinks he knows me, or is disgusted by the odor of my feet. It's probably the feet. Jesus, they smell bad. Maybe I should put my shoes back on.