Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ode to Los Angeles

I love LA.

When I got here a little over a year ago I knew one person who lived in this town. I was a schoolteacher with a few simple specs and no idea how to proceed.

I started the preproduction work for my short film this week. I have two actors who are perfect for the male leads. I don't have my female leads yet, but I can easily advertise and audition those roles. I don't have a DP, but one of my actors knows a couple of guys, and I'm sure they know sound guys and editors. Writing Partner knows a musician who wants to score films and needs a resume builder. These are all connections I've made since I moved here.

The beauty is that I didn't have to sell myself. These are people I met through parties, old friends, coworkers - people I have something in common with. These are all people I like regardless of what they can do for me. It just so happens they can help me by being a part of my film and I can help them by padding their resumes and adding to their reels. I know a guy who's an amazing editor but he's also an ass. Since I live in LA I don't have to work with that guy because there are a dozen more where he came from.

People who don't live here ask all the time if it's really necessary. No, it's not. You can make connections and sell yourself from a distance, but it's eight million times more difficult. I never would have tried to make a film without the support system I've developed here. I never even would have had the inspiration.

Plus, it's really warm and sunny. And you can get a delicious burrito for $3.50 from a truck on the street.

Monday, January 29, 2007

So now I'm a producer.

That was a hell of a weekend.

My dream is to one day write an independent film, have Partner direct it and cast all my friends who can act. I mentioned this fantasy to Trainer during a session last week and he, ever the practical dreamer, said I could easily do that if I started with shorts.

A tangible dream? An actual practical way to see my writing come to life? It seems a little crazy.

I've never been one to sit on an idea for long. Except that French royalty script I keep researching when I'm bored. I've been on that one for like eleventy million years.

Friday afternoon Partner and I started batting around an idea for a comedy short. Today I have a finished 10-page draft and two actors signed on to be in it. I didn't even have time to put it on my progress bar before it was finished. It can be shot for almost zero dollars since all I need is an apartment, which I have, and a street, which I can get.

As the owner of my own unofficial broke-ass production company - We'll Talk Productions - I say this sucker is greenlighted.

I don't have crew or equipment or a director yet, but I have a few leads. I have awesome friends who know lots of talented people who might be interested if they like the script. And they're gonna like this script. It's fucking funny.

I always thought I couldn't write comedy. Silly me. I can write comedy, it just has to be rooted in sarcastic delusional people. I'm not a one-liner kind of gal.

On the one hand I should probably direct this. It's a short, the people in it are my friends, I'm the one with the vision. But I've never directed anything before. I've never even seen anything directed before. And I don't want my entire cast to have to carry the weight of my inexperience. My entire cast is four people, but still. I wish Partner could direct this since he has a big fancy film school education, but he's off in a cold land far away.

Several of you who read my blog for whatever reason have vast amounts of experience doing just this kind of thing. What do you think?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Who wants to help me move?

And the winner is....


I can take an hour to decide between two pairs of shoes. I will wander all over the mall, nay - all over the city - for the perfect pair of pants. I will stand in front of a shelf at Barnes and Noble and agonize over which book I want to buy.

I applied to one college, I test drove one car, and I looked at one apartment.

Now the question is, will my current landlord be a dick about letting me move out?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Has this ever happened at your job?

My classroom is kind of on the outskirts of the school. It's outside on a big balcony, away from administrators and with plenty of nooks and crannies around the stairwell for kids to use as hiding places. I spend a good portion of my day shooing kids away from the area since the teacher to my right is pregnant and tired and the teacher to my left is terrified. I go to sleep at night mumbling "Go to class. Just go to class..."

I love my room. For my first four years of teaching I couldn't see the sky all day and now I'm in an outside room. I'm also away from the politics of the hallways. But as a result of its isolated location I end up being smack in the middle of a lot of fights. And our kids love to fight.

Today there was a fight right downstairs. I saw it coming but hesitated. There were about four teachers in the vicinity who could have stopped it and did nothing because we're just too afraid of getting hit. Usually I stand around and wait for security too, but this time I ran for the battle.

I don't know if it's the boxing or a general sense of outrage brought on by my recent theft, but I was unafraid.

As I ran down the stairs toward the two boys embroiled in a physical dispute on the concrete, I thought to myself, what the hell do I plan to do once I get there? I made a mental note to have Trainer show me some fight breaking moves.

Fortunately they disbanded right as I arrived. With any luck that will earn me the reputation of fight breaker. Many of my students already know about my violent hobby.

One boy had a cut on his cheek. Apparently there was a knife involved. Oh joy.

I yelled at kids to go to class in my instinctive "go to class" voice as an administrator showed up and carted our two soldiers off to Opportunity Tranfer, where some other school's teachers can cower in fear at their street brawls.

This is my job, people. Social worker, surrogate parent, referee.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Factoids galore

I don't know if this counts as a meme, but Alligators in a Helicopter and Borderline Inappropriate just did this whole "50 things you don't know about me" thing. Even though I have eight million things to do today, I'm gonna squeeze in my own list.

50 Things You Don't Know About Me:

1) Blake is my middle name, not my last name.
2) I have never cheated on anybody in my life.
3) My cat weighs 18 pounds because he's ridiculously tall and muscular. Like a wrestler.
4) He's also a big old wussy.
5) I once played flute and sang in a rock band called "One Strange Thing".
6) I was fired from my job as head copy editor at the college paper because I cussed out my editor.
7) I was rehired the next year as arts and entertainment editor when one of my friends took over.
8) I was a strawberry seller in my middle school's production of Oliver.
9) I tried out for cheerleading once.
10) I'm almost fluent in French.
11) Ham and pineapple is my favorite pizza.
12) I don't like coffee, tea, diet soda or milk.
13) I wore the same dress to both my proms.
14) I've been to Venezuela, Granada, Curacao, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Lichtenstein.
15) I've never been to Mexico or Canada.
16) I've seen the 1996 Romeo and Juliet well over two dozen times.
17) I think Peter Sarsgaard is the bee's knees.
18) My first boyfriend and I never actually kissed.
19) I'm a Duke basketball fan.
20) I can catch but not throw.
21) I can spell "onomatopoeia" without having to look it up.
22) I cried at the end of Liar Liar.
23) 80% of my wardrobe is from The Gap.
24) I fell asleep during Apocalypse Now and never finished it.
25) I will stand in line at midnight when the new Harry Potter book comes out.
26) I have big feet.
27) I don't like horror movies.
28) My niece is 8 years old.
29) I give nicknames to all the trainers at the gym. My trainer's nickname: Hotness.
30) Joseph Conrad makes me nauseous.
31) I cook really good pasta.
32) My grandmother is British. And hysterical.
33) I hardly ever wear makeup.
34) The only show my parents let me watch as a child was Twin Peaks. I have no idea what was wrong with them.
35) My favorite song is "Emmaline" by Ben Folds Five.
36) I think Friends was a much funnier show than Seinfeld.
37) I bought my couch at Ikea.
38) I wore a pair of Jams obsessively in high school. In the '90s.
39) My first year of college I wore my hair in two ponytails every day.
40) I've seen Pearl Jam in concert three times.
41) I don't eat enough toasted brie and tomato baguettes.
42) I wrote my first short story in the first grade. It was choppy.
43) I broke my middle finger in Kindergarten. I got in trouble for showing people.
44) I have yet to take down my Christmas decorations.
45) I've never owned a car that wasn't a Jeep.
46) I hate shoes.
47) I own an unused $1,400 wedding dress.
48) Dr. Pepper and a turkey sandwich is my cure for a hangover.
49) I can fully function on three hours of sleep, but I prefer not to.
50) I have two tattoos and a navel piercing.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Who needs sleep?

First of all, someone broke into my car again. This time all they took was the garage door opener. I had my doors locked so they had to crawl in through my back windows. Who's such a jerk that they climb into your car just to take your only means of getting in and out of your building? After they've already robbed you of everything else?

I wasn't sure before, but now there's no doubt I'm moving out of Koreatown.

In the meantime, I'm a busy bee.

I'm still in the process of revisions for the spec pilot I'm working on with Writing Partner and that's going slowly but steadily. I just started work on a new feature which I teased yesterday, and while I was at lunch with a friend we got to discussing the story. She got really excited and had some good ideas about what to do with some of the characters and now she wants to write it with me. So now I have Second Writing Partner.

Then at the gym Personal Trainer, who is an actor since all personal trainers in Hollywood are actors, came up with an idea for a Sunday shorts group. I write a couple of cheap shorts and we get together on occasional Sundays and shoot them with a hand camera and practice our craft and have a little fun artistically. And maybe after we've done that a while we can graduate to something on a professional level. I'm completely in.

And three people have asked me to read their scripts and I have like eight books to read and on top of that I have to somehow find time to grade papers and watch Heroes. Oh, and post blog entries. And move out of my apartment.

Apparently I'll have to develop an addiction to mini thins. Or coke.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Scene one, draft one

As promised, here's page one of my new romantic dramedy feature that has no name. It's the very first draft, straight from my brain to the page with minimal editing.

Here goes draft one:


A WOMAN'S VOICE, moaning. A MAN'S VOICE, panting. The slap of bodies knocking against a bed frame.

Oh... Oh god.

Oh, fuck yeah! Fuck yes!


A WOMAN, bent naked on her stomach over a bed with her feet on the floor, her body lit up by the moonlight that reaches in through the open blinds. Behind her stands a MAN - tall, brutally hot and also naked, pushing her body forward in quick jolts as he cries out each time he slams into her.



Moaning and yelling get louder. The bed squeaks.


CHASTITY FAULKNER, 28, teeth clenched and eyebrows furrowed with hair that falls with wild abandon around her face, she's a beautiful girl now that her makeup has rubbed and sweated off.

Her face glows in the reflected light while MAN cries out with his finishing push.


A small apartment kitchen, well used but poorly cleaned. Dishes piled up by the sink. A kitchen gnome covered in dust watches over the filth. Attempts have been made to clean in the past - it's not a complete pigsty, but clearly cleaning is not Chastity's priority.

Chastity, now clothed in cotton panties and a tank top, fills a glass with water from the filtered tap. MAN shuffles up, jeans already on, pulling his arms through the sleeves on his T-shirt.

Want some water?

He looks at the dishes. A banana rots on top of the microwave.

Nah. I've got to get going.


That was fun, though.

Yeah. Let me give you my number.

Oh, yeah. Sure, um..

He hands her his cell phone.


Mirrors on the closet doors, clothes scattered on the floor, and no decorations on the walls. Beside her platform bed sit a trash can and a bedside table that holds a lamp - currently on - and a copy of The House of Mirth.

Chastity climbs into bed sipping on her water. She grabs her book and opens to a marked page. She begins to read.

She looks up and spots a condom wrapper opened and empty at the foot of the bed. She leans over and picks it up. She examines it, then throws it in the trash can.

She lies back against her pillow and looks at her book. She puts it away and curls up with the pillow in her arms, hugging it tightly. She reaches over and turns out the light.

Monday, January 22, 2007

She has a plan...

I was gonna do this long post about the fact that last night I went to the house of one of the writers on Battlestar Galactica and hung out with very cool special effects people and music person and various other industry types while eating tasty chili and drinking Corona, but Maggie pretty much summed it up. She's awesome. Read her blog. She posts like forty times a day in between studying ancient relics and knitting Jayne Cobb hats.

Suffice it to say it was awesome and with any luck I'll do it again. You can be jealous. Go ahead.

Did you know you can see actual stars in Malibu? I forgot about stars. They're still up there, apparently. And Tricia Helfer is in Playboy this month. Good for Six. It's about time somebody recognized her as a sex symbol.

But I'm not going to write about last night. I'm just going to savor it.

Instead I'm going to tease tomorrow's post.

I've been writing TV eps so long now I don't feel satisfied with any of my features anymore, so I decided to start on this idea that's been stirring around in my brain for a few months. I'm not quite finished with the character bios or the index cards, but I have the general plot laid out and the first five pages are solidly implanted in my brain. It's a romantic drama, like a Zach Braff movie. In fact, Zach Braff might be perfect for it. He IS my friend on Myspace.

After I did a little work on my spec pilot today I got inspired to start the new feature, currently titled "Untitled". That's so catchy, don't you think? I wrote the first three pages in a fit of furious typery, so much so that one of my students was amazed at the speed with which I can work three fingers on a keyboard.

Normally when I'm satisfied with a change I just save over it, but this time I'm curious as to how all my changes will mold the script, so what I'd like to do is post a scene now and then and watch what happens when I change something. From vomit draft to finished product, I can share it as it grows.

So tomorrow I'll post the first few scenes of my new spec. In case anybody wants to see it.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

We see what we see

There's a discussion going on over at Alligators in a Helicopter about various things that annoy the hell out of Scott the Reader.

He's dead on about apostrophes. I have a whole other blog on that, and on this view that English teachers are "ass-puckered" as one of Scott's fine readers asserted, but I will save that tirade for another time.

What interests me is the mild debate people have been having about the old "We see" business.

I don't particularly care for "We see." There's usually a better way to say whatever you're trying to get across. We see pretty much everything you describe, so you don't have to remind us that we see whatever it is you're reminding us that we see. It usually takes you out of the script and reminds you that you're reading one.

But like everything else, there are exceptions. I used a version of "We see" exactly once ever, and Partner made me take it out. But the brain acrobatics involved in getting rid of it were extensive and involved an unnecessarily long debate and I don't feel like the revision carries the point as well.

This script is still in rewrite mode, so this is not the finished scene. We're changing our Carter description for sure, but the rest is pretty close.

The original scene


Carter sits at his desk, a file open in front of him as he watches the kids march through the front gate. Carter is in his mid-thirties but looks fifty with white hair slicked back, horn-rimmed glasses and a stuffy suit encouraging an old man image. A trench coat hangs from a coat rack in the corner.

The desk in front of him is meticulous, as are the filing cabinets and letter trays around the room.

The file in front of him reads "Julio Rios". Beside it is another file, unopened, that reads "Amador Trefolla".

Julio's file contains a report card with all As and Bs and very little else. Amador's file is thick. Discipline reports spill out of it onto the desk. Our glimpse of these files is brief.

The revised scene:


Blah blah blah...

Julio's file contains a report card with all As and Bs and very little else. Amador's file is thick. Discipline reports spill out of it onto the desk. But Carter isn't looking at them.

The placement of these files will be important later on so it matters that they're in the scene, but we don't want anyone to know they're important yet.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Dreams, dreams...

Ever since they raised my rent I've been looking for a new place to stay, especially after my car got broken into. So it makes sense that last night I had a dream where I found the perfect house - not an apartment - that had three floors and a fully-stocked boxing gym and a pool that started indoors and went outside and had a horseshoe area even though I don't play horseshoes, and a tennis court for Writing Partner and really fancy bathrooms. And it was $1295 a month with an $800 deposit and no charge for pets and I found it on Craigslist.

Then I went into one of the bedrooms and found Ben Browder lying shirtless in my bed, feeling really guilty about the fact that he was about to cheat on his wife.

Then I woke up and sighed.

Last night I also dreamed that I was hiding out in a cave with a bunch of people including Eddie Vedder and Keith Richards. They sang a song about what they'd want to have if they were stuck on a desert island. All I got out of Keith Richards was something about a girl with an earring. Eddie's song was kind of catchy and I woke up with lyrics I'm going to pass on to my songwriter friend.

I remember my dreams a lot. Rumor has it that's where Mary Shelley got the idea for Frankenstein, so you can never discount the old dreamscape.

My neighbor had a book that supposedly interprets dreams. Dreaming of a dream house means you have come into a sense of self or something really vague. I tried to find out what Ben Browder naked means, but the book didn't include that.

Which got me thinking. I know the old psychiatric people have probably researched dreams and the people who have them, but how the hell do they really know what dreams symbolize? Writers use dreams all the time to explain what a character is really thinking - I did it myself in my Supernatural episode - but that doesn't really happen that often, does it? It's only happened to me once.

My first year of teaching I taught a boy we'll call "Marcus". Marcus was abandoned by his mother and ignored by his father and had a genuine case of ADHD but nobody caught it in time to do anything about it and was in serious danger of flunking all his classes. But Marcus was smart and sweet when he was alone with you. In front of people, however, he was a holy terror. I tried everything I could think of to help this boy since I was still a naive little thing and believed all kids were salvageable. The boy would have none of it.

One night I dreamed that Marcus was in a car that went over an embankment and drove right into a rushing river. I was the only one around, and as Marcus held onto a tree branch while his car sank and the water threatened to carry him away, I reached my hand out to help him back to dry land. He swatted my hand away and let go, drowning while the water carried him away.

I really had that dream.

The fact that it sounds like a fake movie dream should tell us something about the tendency writers have to use dreams in unrealistic ways.

The boy did pass my class and he did mature some, but when I left that school four years later he had not yet graduated. I don't know if he ever did. And that's the truth about teaching. The happy little white lady who comes in to save the world usually doesn't. Because life isn't a dream. I don't see Ben Browder anywhere in my crappy apartment.

Friday, January 19, 2007

More Spanglish for everybody

I've made a few changes recently to my links bar. If I took your blog off the list it's because you haven't posted in a millennium.

One of my students has never heard of Adolf Hitler.

Speaking of my students, there's a really good Spanglish dictionary online. It's called Mr. Gabe and it includes all the slang you could possibly want. It's even broken down by region of origin and some etymology.

My favorite term: desgrasar la chuleta. The definition is too graphic to post on this family-friendly blog. I also like this one: perreo noun, masc.
• Used to describe dancing reggaeton. Perrear literally means to do it doggy style. Dancing closely grinding.(Puerto Rico)

The Latino population of America is growing and they all go to the movies and watch TV, so don't forget these kids when you write. And don't forget that they have their own language.

I've gone over some words my kids use in the past, but I haven't really discussed how they use them. If you've never spent time around Latino kids you may not know how they flip back and forth between languages. For instance, the word pero, which means "but". The kids will frequently say something like "I wanted to go, pero, mi madre no me dejaría." Or simply "I wanted to go, pero, mi madre wouldn't let me." That's Spanglish, the back and forth with no real distinction between languages. It is one of the coolest things I've ever heard.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Happy belated birthday, Cassius Clay.

Muhammad Ali turned 65 this week. ESPN celebrated it for a while by showing old fights and episodes of Ringside and a special on his poetic skills. I watched most of it.

I haven't seen the Will Smith movie, although I did have a dream last night that Will Smith and I were hitting the campaign trail with my mom and some random white politician but when we left the hotel Will Smith asked how much it would cost to buy a yearbook and I looked down to get out my receipt book to discover I still had my pajamas on and it was really cold. Then I woke up to discover that I had my pajamas on and it was really cold.

I haven't seen Ali yet, is my point.

But you can see what makes this such a perfect story to tell. It's the same thing that makes boxing stories so good anyway. People who box for a living are all a little crazy. They do it because they don't see any other way to support their families.

I box for fun. But when Trainer puts on his gloves and we glide around the ring he's not trying to hurt me and I know I can't really hurt him. I have a high threshold for pain - one Writing Partner randomly tested while he was staying with me because he refused to believe I wasn't just being macho - but that doesn't mean I have a desire to get hit in the face repeatedly for the pleasure of some rich folk who've never seen uncontrolled violence in their lives. It takes a special kind of crazy to get up every day and do that.

And Ali was - nay, is - a special kind of crazy. But he's also smart. He comdemned Vietnam before it was trendy and he put his body where his mouth was, giving up the three most valuable athletic years of his life to protest a government that considered him a second-class citizen. He was a jack ass, but he could back it up with his fists. No matter how beat and tired he looked in the ring, when the fight got too intense he'd pull the energy seemingly out of nowhere and pound the other guy to the mat with the grace of a gazelle. And he'd still have energy to taunt.

Ali was that obnoxious kid who never does his homework but you consider passing him just because he's so charming and he understands the material better than any kid in the room. There's always that understanding between you as the teacher and that one kid. "You love me and you know it and that's why you let me get away with anything." And he's right.

We love Ali because he worked his ass off, because he was playful, because he knew how to build suspense and when he said a thing he was 100 percent truthful. He went to prison for his beliefs, which is more than most of us are prepared to do. Isn't that what all good triumphant sports stories are about anyway? People doing things we can't but really wish we could?

I know I wish I could move my feet like that, even if I don't plan to actually get hit. I'm just not that crazy.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Do my lesson plan for me, please?

Yesterday while I was attempting to read The Declaration of Independence with my 11th graders I discovered that not only do they not know what the three branches of government are, but they don't care that they don't know.

So last night in the shower I had an epiphanous moment. Yes it's a word. I looked it up during lunch.

I decided to give the kids a research paper. They will read a novel or play from a list that I give them and write a paper on what impact that novel had on America socially or historically. Then they can see how much power words truly have.

So far I've got a few books:
The Jungle
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Inherit the Wind
Uncle Tom's Cabin
Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
The Awakening
The Grapes of Wrath
Silent Spring
Fast Food Nation

And a few more I'm debating as to whether or not they really had an impact:
The Bell Jar
The Great Gatsby
Huck Finn
The Catcher in the Rye
Invisible Man
Native Son
The Color Purple
The Outsiders
West Side Story
Death of a Salesman
A Raisin in the Sun

What do you think? What would you add to this list? What's an American book that had a real and lasting impact on our society?

Monday, January 15, 2007

Other countries are sad

In honor of the contributions of Martin Luther King, I spent my day off watching foreign films at the Grove.

I saw Pan's Labrynth first. Do Not believe the previews. Why they are billing this as a fantasy-filled child-friendly romp in English is beyond me. It's in Spanish and it's extremely violent.

It's also amazing. Ofelia has come with her pregnant mother to live with her psychopathic military captain stepfather at some kind of army retreat in the forest during the Spanish Civil War. To cope with the horrors around her, the girl invents a world where she's a princess being tested by a faun to see if she deserves to return to her original fairyland home. The story is full of suspense and action and beauty and horror and graphic violence. And it made me cry because after it slapped me in the face with depression it backhanded me with hope. Damn that movie, because it made it impossible for me to put full concentration into Letters from Iwo Jima.

For the first time in my life I sneaked into a movie. After Pan's Labrynth I sneaked across the hall just in time for the start of Letters. I guess "sneaked" isn't really the word. I just walked. And I took up three seats with my purse and my feet and my body. And I hid Cheese Nips and Orangina in my purse so I wouldn't get hungry between movies.

Letters was also a great film. What's with American directors suddenly doing all these movies in foreign languages? Huh? English not good enough for you anymore?

Then again, the top two movies in English this weekend were Stomp the Yard and Night at the Museum. So nevermind. I'm only watching things with subtitles from now on.

And look, Japanese people, what the hell is with all the suicide?

If reading All Quiet on the Western Front didn't convince you that war was phenomenally stupid, watching this film certainly will. Needless, idiotic death all around on both sides. We die because we can. Because somebody tells us to. Because we've been brought up thinking that's the only option.

The captain in Pan's Labrynth would have fit in well with the Japanese military, come to think of it.

Both were fantastic films and will receive well deserved Oscar nominations this year, I'm sure. But if pressed I'd have to say that Pan's Labrynth was the better film.

So after watching bloody and vicious death all day I went out to my car and realized I forgot to get my parking validated. Karma's a dirty whore. I may not have paid for that second movie or any popcorn, but I paid $12 for parking. Now I'm really depressed.

Fortunately I can spend my evening watching Jack Bauer inflict more bloody and vicious death on Los Angeles. Yay.

Sunday Bloody Sunday

Last night was the season premiere of both Rome and 24. Holy Crap.

Can you imagine what Jack Bauer would be like in bed?

Jack: Get on your back, woman! Now!

Me: Okay! Jesus. It's not like the world's gonna end if I get a sip of water first.

Jack: I need condoms! Where are the condoms! If you don't find them in ten minutes it will be too late! Tell me where they are now!

Me: They're in the drawer. You know, where they always are.

Jack: Oh. Well okay then. Let's do this.

And the TV cameos! Dr. Bashir! And Jesse who died in the pilot of Buffy! And Principal Wood! And that dude who was on all those episodes of La Femme Nikita! And Roger Cross is still alive and he was in like every sci-fi show ever, but especially First Wave! Why isn't John Billingsley on 24 yet?

Then you get Rome, which was incredible. I think that was the fastest hour of my life. Okay, maybe not as fast as that time I had to disarm a bomb before it exploded and released an anthrax-like substance into the ventilation system of a shopping mall. That was a pretty fast hour.

But this is Marc Antony in bed:

"I'm not getting up from this bed until I've fucked someone."

So he did, and then he got up.

There was so much violence in both of these shows and it was awesome. How can you beat two dudes covered in blood, one carrying a severed head around like a shopping bag through town?

And yet I still managed to fall asleep between hours of 24 and had to finish watching it this morning. How? I don't know. Apparently I'm so desensitized to violence it now makes me sleepy. Or maybe I was just tired from chopping my protege's hand off to save him from the bomb that was about to blow up a school building after evacuating all the people inside. That was pretty exhausting.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Me vs John Billingsley

I'm watching tennnis. I don't really care about tennis. I can't play tennis. But somehow Partner convinced me to watch tennis. He says it will help me with my footwork. He used to be a trainer.

I spent the better part of 2006 slowly becoming an athelete over at Bally's in Hollywood. Why didn't my parents make me box as a child? I used to get in fights at school all the time, but it took them years of soccer teams and gymnastics classes and various other attempts at hobbies to finally force a flute into my hands. I love the flute and I'm pretty good at it, but it wasn't the hobby I chose. Why didn't they let me hit people? I would have been so awesome.

Hillary Swank proved that you're never too old to start hitting people, so I'm throwing myself into it now. I watch boxing obsessively and spend every evening in the week running on the track and working the machines and punching a bag.

What I love best about the whole boxing thing is something I've seen over and over in my kids at work. Playing a sport makes you better at other things. I've mentioned my incredible shyness in new places (a condition a lot of you share, I have learned), but last week I finally had the guts to talk to John Billingsley.

John Billingsley has been at my gym almost as long as I have. He works out the same time and the same days I do, looking every bit the guy he always plays on TV. I've been in a position to say something to him many times but always chickened out. For a while I thought I'd missed my chance. When The Nine got picked up he disappeared. But it got cancelled and he started showing up again, dejected and still out of shape.

He's pretty freaking awesome. He's been on every show I like including Stargate and Law and Order and The Closer and he was Dr. Phlox on Enterprise. He was turned into a werewolf and eaten on Angel. Well, it was implied that he was eaten. We never actually saw it.

For some reason I felt no fear on Wednesday. He was waiting for one of the ab machines and I walked up and said, "Hi. You've been coming here a while and I've never said anything before and I didn't want to bother you..."

At which point I got a look of curiosity, like one's grandmother might give when you run up to tell her you've learned a new way to put your finger up your nose. I continued, undaunted.

"But I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your work," I said.

His face lit up like a solar flare.

"Well thank you! Thank you very much!" He said, and ran off to crunch his abs ineffectively.

I have no idea if he'll acknowledge me next time he sees me at the gym, but it's nice to know I didn't make an ass of myself and I appear to have made an actor happy. And I didn't have to punch anybody.

Now evidently I have to go watch tennis so I can learn how to kickbox.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The attack could come from anywhere

Are you watching The Office? You should be watching The Office. The British one was hilarious. The American one is its own brand of funny. It's not just comedy, though. It's about something.

Minor spoilers for the last episode!

What was interesting about this week's episode is that you were rooting for the people who normally are the most annoying in the office by throwing in an even more annoying character.

Dwight Schroot is annoying. His secret girlfriend Angela is annoying. But they love the hell out of each other and this week you couldn't help but smile and feel so happy for them. Michael Scott is annoying, but this week he played the straight man while Andy embraced his inner asshole. Michael Scott, Dwight Schroot and Angela may be irritating, but they don't ever intentionally hurt people. Okay that's not true. Angela does. But this week you just felt so happy for her because she's so in love.

The concept of stepping outside of yourself and seeing the world from a new perspective was echoed in the sales calls the team went on. Everybody had a different method of seducing clients to Dunder-Mifflin in ways you didn't expect. That's one thing The Office does well.

In fact, I think you can pretty much sum that up as the overall theme of the series. We all have our own views on things and when it comes down to it, you should probably cut everybody some slack because they're trying to get through this crazy world the same way you are.

Plus, it's funny.

YouTube was forced to remove the scene I originally posted, even though it was the same scene they showed during commercials, but whatever.

Jim slaps Dwight in the middle of Dwight's diatribe about how awesome he is about blocking attacks from all sides. That's all you need to know.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

How to build a story

This semester my freshmen are learning how stories work. They're reading them and then writing one of their own, so I'm taking them through the process. Every day my lesson has developed more into a screenwriting course. I'm not sure if I'm teaching things I've learned or learning things as I teach them. Here are my lesson plans:

1) The definition of story. A story is a character with a goal and obstacles in the way of that goal. The plot is the methods our character uses to deal with those obstacles so he can (or can't) achieve his goal. I use this diagram:

See how you can go around your obstacles or push through them?

I know you are all jealous of both my handwriting and my artistic ability. It's okay. We can't all be as talented as me.

2) The details of character. Students name their favorite characters from films they've seen. This week they named Rocky, Alonso from Training Day, Smokey from Friday, Wolverine, and Captain Jack Sparrow. We discussed what makes these good characters even though they're all so different.

Then I imagined a movie with all of them together and proceeded to act out all the parts. That got a good guffaw from my otherwise comatose 9th graders.

3) Develop your character. I modified the character sheet I got from somebody's blog. Who was it? Raise your hand if it was you because I forgot. Anyway, it lists a ton of different character traits you should examine as you design your characters. Not just age and appearance, but stuff like political beliefs and fears and hobbies. I made a list of traits and had my students fill it out for their protagonist. We also talked about the importance of thinking about these same concepts for antagonists.

4) Plot thingee. I dunno what they call it, but I give them a copy of the plot diagram and have them fill it out. Whenever I make them fill this out for a story we read, the first part I have them find is the climax. I define climax as the moment when the central question is answered. Will they or won't they? Can Rocky hold out for 12 rounds with Apollo Creed? Will Craig finally take charge of his life and be a man? Once they figure this out, the rest is easy. So I had them fill out the plot thingee and start with climax. The rest of the story kind of falls into place.

5) Theme. I have the kids read a poem, a short story and listen to a song with the same theme - something like "unrequited love". Then we discuss. I have them write down a few themes they want to explore in their story and how they can do that.

6) Tone. I have the kids tell the same story or poem or song lyrics as different stereotypes to talk about how different people use different tones. I also have them read a couple of short stories and we discuss not only tone, but plot, character and theme and anything else we've talked about in the course of story development. We also go over the rules of dialogue.

Now I have them write a first draft of their story. At this point they've prepared so much it's just easy. Of course, I say that now. I haven't actually read these stories yet.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I hope they enjoy Strong Bad Sings.

Last night while I innocently slept in my cozy warm bed, some little douchewad broke into the parking garage downstairs and ransacked my car.

I've driven a Jeep since I was sixteen. I've never locked my doors. I've parked on street corners and in parking decks and open lots all over North Carolina and Los Angeles, and this is the first time anyone has ever stolen anything out of my car and it happened in what I thought was the safest place I could park. At first, as I looked at the pile of papers the fucktards pulled out of my glove box and threw around on the seats I just laughed. Because I don't lock my doors, I don't keep a lot of valuables in the car.

Then I noticed the CDs. They weren't there. And the coat that I'd left in the front seat was gone. And my fake Gucci sunglasses that look so awesome on my little face. And my loose change for parking meters. All gone.

Fortunately they left my Bally's parking tokens. And my Serenity hat.

So I sadly got into the car, running over the list of CDs I was going to have to replace, when I realized I couldn't get out. They took the garage door clicker too.

I was an hour late to work because I had to wait for a neighbor to wake up and open the gate for me. They dock your pay when you're late on short notice.

They raised the rent this month on my apartment, so between that and the new security development I'm getting the hell out of there. My only hesitation so far has been that I love my next door neighbors and don't want to leave them. But they'll just have to come visit.

Any suggestions? I want to stay close enough to Hollywood that I can stay at my gym, but I work in northern South Central. I kind of like Larchmont but I can't afford that, I'm afraid.

On a more fun note, Query Letters I Love is back! Nobody told me! If you never read the original QLIL, it's an excellent resource for examining how NOT to write a query letter. Plus, hilarious.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Stop, collaborate and listen.

Whoa. Maybe Eeyore wouldn't hate Tigger so much if he read this. I guess we don't always recognize the point of view of others.

Sometimes we all need to look at the world from a new angle. Take Vanilla Ice. Not really him, so much as his song. There's a faculty talent show coming up, but there's already a group doing a rap song so my dream of rapping on stage is dead. So I got a new dream - to revive "Ice Ice Baby" as a country song. This is not unlike the country version of Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice" or Ben Folds' stirring rendition of "Bitches Ain't Shit". It's all about reinventing the wheel while still following some basic rules. Our instrumentation? A guitar, a bongo drum and two bottles. And, of course, me and my street skills. That's how I roll.

Writing Partner and I have been struggling with some scenes in our pilot. There's a particular line of dialogue that he wrote and I have never understood. He explained it to me and I tried adding a few lines but it still didn't make a whole lot of sense. As we examined the notes we got from Partner's friend we started to see that the character who speaks the line, one Commander Graft, is the problem. We don't know who he is or why he's saying it. We fumbled around about how to change the line or rewrite the scene - can we give this line to somebody else? What if we move this to a different location?

But the problem wasn't the dialogue or even the scene. I was eating a sandwich and watching Friday Night Fights on ESPN2 when Partner called, very excited, to tell me that we should take Commander Graft out completely. We should take Lieutenant Alvarez out completely. We should take Beryl the secretary out completely. Then we can concentrate on the school in our story, which is the focus of the show, without getting caught up in another crime drama.

"Brilliant!" I said, and continued to eat my sandwich. And as I digested things immediately started to clear up. Ideas flowed through my brain and begot newer ideas and the script opened up like a porn star's legs. It's like those photopuzzle thingees. You know, where there's a picture there but you have to squint and roll your eyes back in your head or something to see it? Like in Mallrats? If you step back and look at it from a distance, sometimes the picture becomes obvious. So I'm told, anyway. I never see the damn things.

Monday, January 08, 2007

New Odds and Ends

After I saw Freedom Writers at the Grove I got in line for the parking validation thingee and ended up behind a really old foreign man. The parking validation is next to the ladies room, which explains this exchange:

Me: Excuse me, are you in line?
Old Man: I am a man. Do I look like a lady? I am a man.
Me: No, this is for parking.
Old Man: I am a man.
Me: Does that mean you can't park a car?

Went out for karaoke Saturday night and sang "Born To Run" with a Friend of mine. Next time you go to karaoke, sing that. Don't sing "Hurt" like long-haired intense guy who can't actually sing. Karaoke is not a place to bring everybody down. I got hit on by a producer for The Apprentice. He kept telling me about his apartment which is apparently "really close by". Friend keeps telling me to stop being nice to strange men because it makes them think I'm interested enough to care that they live close by. But I'm a Southern girl. I like meeting people. How much ego do you have to assume that every girl who talks to you wants to go home to your crappy little Culver City apartment and take off her clothes? If you produced Friday Night Lights, maybe, but The Apprentice?

That was a joke. Please do not proposition me, Peter Berg. Unless you want to hire me as a staff writer, then we'll see about making arrangements. You were pretty hot in that cabin scene from Alias.

That was a joke too. I'm holding out for Ron Moore.

This could just keep on going, so I'm going to stop now.

I'm starting a section on the civil rights movement with my class, so today's lesson plan was to write down all the racial stereotypes we could think of and discuss why we think that. This is the verdict according to my class: Latinos mow lawns, whites are slutty, black people are loud, and Asians smell like onions.

A writer friend of Partner's read our script and gave us amazing notes, so it's back to work on the spec. The girl who read our script asked two important questions: 1) Why would anyone watch this? and 2) What does your story offer that hasn't been done before?

We had an okay time with the first question. The second was more difficult. Partner and I knocked around ideas like a mental pinball until we activated our Wonder Twin powers and set off the miraculous lightbulb of thought.

That's a hell of a mixed metaphor. I like it. It made a very odd image in my head, like Wonder Twins playing pinball with lightbulbs or something.

But Partner and I came up with a solution to turn the script totally on its head and find direction where we were previously lacking. We were up until 1 a.m. talking about it so now I am remarkably sleepy. Perhaps my peanut butter and jelly sandwich will revive me.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A pitch to aspire to

This film has just been sold to MTV.

Title: Kanan Rhodes: Unkillable Servant of Justice
Logline: A man serves subpoenas with the suaveness, intensity and conviction of James Bond, though that is where the similarity ends.
Writers: Bob Odenkirk, B.J. Porter and Scott Akurman
Type-O's Naomi & Bob Odenkirk will direct. Rainn Wilson will star.

If I were an executive, this is all I would need to know to greenlight the script. The logline and the title combine to let me know this is reminiscent of The Man Who Knew Too Little, which was hysterical. But instead of being an unknowing participant in the events of his life, this guy is clearly someone who takes his job too seriously. And when you tell me the star is Rainn Wilson, I know exactly what this film will be and I'm already chuckling at the scenes that are playing out in my head.

That's how you sell a movie.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

I wear jeans, though

I saw Freedom Writers today. I had to. It was sort of required.

And boy am I glad I did. What a damn good movie.

Minor spoilers ahead!

Yes, the plot has been done before. Naive beginning teacher comes into ghetto classroom where nobody believes in the kids and they give her a hard time and she pushes back and bam! Kids are saved.

So it's not an original story. Why'd I like it so much?

Because it rings true. When people find out what I do for a living, they always compare me to Michelle Pfeifer in Dangerous Minds. That never felt right to me because things happen too easily in that movie. The class starts out too out of control, so the teacher goes home and thinks a minute and suddenly comes back with the answer. But teaching doesn't work that way.

Hilary Swank's character, Erin Gruwell, a business-suit wearing first-time teacher, slowly learns about the ins and outs of both teaching and dealing with the beurocracy. Teaching is not about cutesy lesson plans and stern discipline. Teaching is giving a rat's ass about the kids you teach, and that's one thing this movie points out very well. Gruwell makes everyone around her feel guilty about what they do for a living because they don't make enough of a difference compared to her, and that includes her husband. But instead of acting on it and making more of an effort, they all try to defend themselves by attacking her.

I'm a pretty good teacher. I care about my kids and I do creative activities with them all the time. Gruwell even stole one of my lesson plans. But this movie still made me realize that I don't do enough. I'm taking the weekend to work on new lessons to incorporate more of what I saw.

My only complaint about the film is that she doesn't have to deal with any kids who flat out reject her help. I've no doubt she got to most of those kids and changed a ton of lives, but there is no way in hell she didn't have a single kid who was too far gone. That's one thing even Dangerous Minds acknowledged.

But for the most part, if you have any desire to know what it's like to teach kids in the ghetto or to see the crap teachers have to face every day they go to work, watch this movie. Or if you just want to feel a little hope and awareness of the world around you, see this movie. Oh, hell, just see this movie.

Eight Heads in a Cancer Ward

J.J. Abrams will executive produce a new show for HBO about cancer victims.

Is everybody thinking what I'm thinking?

It's HBO, so of course it will be edgy, but the idea of watching a show about people dying of cancer doesn't fill me with a desire to rush home Sunday night and turn on the TV. I'm all for realism. Hell, I love The Wire and that's the most depressing, realistic show on the air right now. But cancer?

The stuff that happens on The Wire is our fault. We can do something about it. There are ways to change society, to change the education system. It's all people. But you can't reason with cancer. You can fight it, but you can't talk it into leaving you alone. So much of what happens to people with cancer is totally out of their control. A show with a cast member who has cancer I'll watch. But a show entirely about a disease that slowly destroys your body? For an hour a week? I'm not so sure.

And from J.J. Abrams, the master of the brilliant, action-driven pilot. I'm pretty sure this won't be like Lost or Alias. I don't watch What About Brian. The title reminds me of What About Bob? And that was an awesome movie and I'd rather just go watch that.

I guess we don't know enough yet to really judge the show, but I do know that one of the guys involved was also responsible for Eight Heads in a Duffle Bag. So that means we have action premise guy going in with silly Joe Pesci comedy guy and some other dudes for a show about the most depressing topic ever. I guess HBO misses Six Feet Under.

I'll still watch the pilot. J.J. Abrams is really good at pilots.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Emily hearts fragment sentences.

Now that the script is floating around, being read by various trusted friends, Writing Partner has returned to pondering why the hell I write the way I do. Lots of fragments, combined with unecessary commas.

"That's my style," I said. "Suck it!"

He thinks, like so many people, that just because I'm an English teacher I'm sitting around at my Victorian writing desk with my quill pen studying Latin and knitting between scenes. He thinks I am the worst English teacher in the world because I don't know proper grammer. But I do know proper grammar. I obsess over proper grammar. Misused apostrophe's make my brain explode.

I choose to break the rules, like e.e. cummings or Faulkner. It has a purpose. I write the way things sound in my head.

Bill Martell's script tip for today includes this tidbit:
"Treat your dialogue exactly like you treat your scenes - start when the sentence gets good and finish when there's no more information. That means you'll probably end up with what my third grade teacher Mrs. Klauser called 'sentence fragments', but we aren't trying to get an A in English, here, we're trying to create realistic sounding dialogue. Remember that the root word of conversation is converse, and that dialogue is going to be a verbal battle between two people - they are bound to cut each other off before they finish their sentences."

Thanks, Bill. This English teacher agrees with you.

So in honor of my writing style and this arbitrary number of posts (143) I would like to take a look back at the history of this blog.

Times I've told people to "suck it" or "get bent": 4
Scenes posted: 3
Unecessary commas used: 4,762
Fragment sentences used: 328,989.4
Times I have referenced Bill Martell: 5
Times I have referenced Bill Marsili: 0
Times I have actually mentioned white board markers: 2
Times people have come here looking for information about white board markers: 7
Times I've said the words "totally" or "seriously": 16
Posts written while I was supposed to be doing something more important: 143

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

They pay you to picket, right?

Strike rumblings are going around. We want bigger salaries, so we just stop coming to work until we get them. How weird is that?

It's not that I don't support the union. I come from a non-union state where salaries are pathetically low and I didn't have vision or dental insurance. I appreciate what the union has done for teachers in LA Unified. But sometimes I think people complain too much.

What happens to the kids? They're already so far behind. What if this strike drags on for weeks? Sometimes I think people forget why we're here.

Then I look around. My first period freshman English class has 41 students. Forty-one. I have 31 seats.

I found out what I was teaching this semester about an hour before the kids walked in the room.

We have no art supplies and most of us have to pack up every eight weeks and move to another classroom. Some days we stay in lock down for hours because rumor has it some gang kid plans to ambush another at lunch. One fight always begets another.

Plus, Little Round Boy is back. With a vengeance.

But my salary increase won't change that. I guess it makes it easier to deal with. Rent did just go up all over the city and I do have my debt to pay down, so of course I could use the money. I guess it could pay for a vacation that allows me to stay sane enough to keep going to work every day.

But it doesn't matter what I think. I'll strike if there's a strike because it's required. I think your union rep comes to your house and beats you with sticks if you don't obey the strike. It's like I pay a protection fee to the mafia.

A friend of mine is a substitute. If we don't work, she doesn't work, but she's not on salary.

"Doesn't that mean you get more work?" I asked. Apparently when you scab you get paid a ton. But she's not crossing that picket line.

In the end, though, it's not the union's fault. It's rich people's fault. Pay your freaking taxes, Richard Hatch. Imagine how much better our education system would be if all the people who got unnecessary plastic surgery this year bought a school some textbooks instead.

Monday, January 01, 2007

If I can clean my dishes you can write your script.

Are you working on your script yet?

I know what you resolved around midnight. You resolved to get an agent or to finish that romantic comedy you've been working on for two decades or to start that new episode of House that's been rattling around in your brain. Why haven't you started working on it yet?

Trainer at the gym says he always gets a lot of business in January. By February most of those people are gone and he'll be back to training his long term clients. Everybody makes promises they fully intend to keep on New Year's Eve, but so few of us actually do it. So right this second is an opportunity for you to prove whether or not you'll keep your promises to yourself.

My kitchen used to be a disaster area. I didn't do my dishes for a really long time and they built up to the point where I couldn't catch up to the growing pile. Every time I washed some, more would build up right in their place and the gnats were living the high life while I cooked in this tiny space I carved out between dirty pans and dirty plates. I usually had to wash a plate to eat on because I had no clean ones in the cabinet. Then Houseguest came to stay with me and was quite unsatisfied with the squalor I'd created. It's not that I wanted to be disgusting, but I just looked at that pile of dishes and couldn't get up the energy to do anything about it. So Houseguest dragged me in the kitchen one day and started washing. I dried. Then he handed me a sponge and ordered me to clean the counter. So I did.

My kitchen hasn't been disgusting since because every night before I go to bed I wash the dishes. I don't let them sit like I used to, so they don't get a chance to be unmanageable.

That may sound like common sense to a lot of people. Most people probably wash their dishes at the end of the day, but I was always making excuses and as a result was unhappy with the way I lived.

Every day that goes by that you're not working on your script is a wasted day. Write one page every night before you go to sleep or plot out one scene in your head while you're in the car on the way to work. Sitting in a cubicle all day? Email some dialogue to yourself. Your boss will think you're working. He doesn't need to know how much fun you're having.

Because it is fun, right?

After I made some changes and sent the latest version of the spec pilot back to Writing Partner in a very timely fashion he texted me, "You have a strong work ethic."

"It's not work," I responded. "It's fun."

I'd much rather write pages than, say, wash dishes.

Why aren't you writing? Why do you keep making excuses? Maybe it's because you don't want to. Maybe you just don't have the ambition to get into the game. Maybe you don't actually like to write. If you aren't dying to get to your computer every day so you can make those changes that have been rattling around in your head, maybe it's because you don't actually want to be a writer.

So in 2007 make a decision. Either finish your freaking script already or admit that you never will.

Unless of course you already have. In that case, carry on.