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?