Saturday, March 31, 2007

School schmool

Know what's crazy? How much people spend on film school.

Every time I bring up my short to people - experienced people - they all tell me the same thing. You don't need to know what you're doing to know what you're doing.

Today I started making preliminary shot lists. I want a shot that comes down a guy's arm and lands on the other guy's face. So I call Partner, who paid for that film school education, and he tells me I want a focus pull. So I write "focus pull down Billy's arm to Eric's face" in the margin next to the scene. And I didn't have to sit in on any classes. I'm so glad I can benefit from his tuition payments.

(Mind you, I'm not at all saying that film school is a waste of time. I spent a good amount of money on learning to write stories and I use that education daily. I just don't think it's the only way to go.)

I don't have a DP yet, but when I get one I'm going to walk in with my notes and go, "Ok, buddy. I want a focus pull here, and a two-shot here..." and everybody will think I know what I'm doing. Because at that point, I will. That's what I'm learning. It's been said before by wiser heads than mine, but you don't have to ask permission to be a film maker. All you need is a great script and some talented people. I have a great script and so far, talented people who want in.

What's also been rewarding about the process so far is that it's lit a fire under Partner's ass. He's been sitting on that fancy NYU education for years sort of bouncing around not choosing a path and lamenting that he spent all that money for nothing. But helping me write and produce this, and eventually act in it, has reminded him of what he loves about making movies. He's started to apply for jobs in the industry again and he's brimming with excitement.

That's my special skill: infectious enthusiasm. Talk to me for five minutes and you'll decide that your wife cheating on you with your best friend and stealing all your money was a GOOD thing.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Icy Hot Emily

I'm too busy to do a real post today.

Instead, I bring you this:

Which inevitably lead to this:


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Updates and reading lists

Last night I boxed a man twice my size. Oh I kicked his ass. Not really. But I did hit him on the chin twice. Fortunately he did not hit me with his full force or I would still be stuck in the wall where I would have landed when I flew out of the ring.

People have been confused about the changes in our short script. Once we explain things they go "Oooh, that's cool!" but they don't get it until we explain it. So we idiot-proofed it and I'm pretty damn sure we have a final draft the people of the world will love. Or at least the Contact who may or may not wish to produce it.

The script requires Lead Actor to eat a large amount of carrots. Turns out, Lead Actor doesn't really like carrots so I'm gonna make sure that particular scene requires a lot of takes. Sometimes you gotta suffer for your art.

Revenge is a dish best served with carrots. He knows why.

I feel confident about our tagline. Game Night: Sex, drugs and a game of Taboo.

A friend of mine is back on speaking terms with his friend, which means we now have a free editor. I already had a free sound engineer and composer. So post is completely taken care of. Now I just need a DP.

Yesterday I found a book that includes step-by-step advice on how to organize your shoot. And forms. Lots of forms. Stuff like a list of duties for crew members, budget worksheets and cast breakdowns. The book comes with a CD ROM that includes all these forms for you to print out and use. It's called The Complete Guide to Making a Movie Low Budget and Beyond by Lorene M. Wales.

I'm also reading Robert Rodriguez' Rebel Without a Crew. My favorite part so far is how he's all worried because he's already 23 and hasn't made his big break film yet.

I love autobiographical books about film making. A lot of the time you can learn way more from just hearing people's stories than reading essays about how stuff is supposed to be done. I started writing screenplays because of Bruce Campbell's book, If Chins Could Kill. Until I read that book I was struggling to finish a bunch of short stories. After I read that book I launched into a crash course in screenplay that lead me to Battlestar Galactica parties and film shoots in my living room.

Hopefully we'll shoot over a weekend in a couple of months. Then I'll invite all you guys to the premiere in somebody's living room. There will be carrots.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

At last we meet

The first time we see a character on the paper is supposed to give the reader an immediate impression of who that person is.

This is something I've struggled with over the years. I'm a pretty terse writer and tend to leave character descriptions to a minimum. Writing Partner said I needed to do more. So recently I tried to jazz it up a little, be a little more clever. But Writing Partner said it was too much. So I punched him in the face.

Just kidding. Or am I?

Here's my usual way:

One of the kids, a pretty Latina, walks off the bus with her older brother. Her name is STAR, and his is JOSE.

Ok so that's definitely not enough. I get that. That was written over a year ago. This is how I did it in a short I wrote the other day:

A girl in her early twenties, GWEN, takes a Jello shot. She's pretty but not yet able to see that she's beautiful, charming but a little shy, wearing an outfit that doesn't quite show off her assets the way the other girls do.

A lot more information, obviously. But too much? Clearly it's not all physical details, but it's something the actor could portray.

Somewhere I need to find a balance I suppose.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

...Or he could touch the stars

Because of something Maggie posted I've been thinking about Cervantes lately.

Most people don't realize that Don Quixote was originally a story about how stupid knight-errant tales are and if you read them too much they'll rot your brain. It's basically a big insult to the other writers of his era.

Flash forward a century or so and we see it as a story of one man's dream to have an exciting life instead of succumbing to the boredom of typical old age, which, I suppose, is also what the story is about. It's certainly more meaningful than the "You suck" message Cervantes sends when he has Quixote's relatives name specific real world books and why they're stupid as they burn them.

If you watch a movie version of that it's always "Aww, they shouldn't burn those books" instead of the original, "This book is such crap it deserves to be destroyed."

I find that attitude ironic coming from a writer, but Cervantes was kind of a trouble maker.

I wonder how he'd feel about our modern interpretation of his work?

I know how he'd feel about high school textbooks. He'd most likely burn them with his supersarcasm.

I kept teacher's editions of books I wasn't supposed to so I have many resources available to me at home. The other day I wanted to look up a quote from Don Quixote and I found the section in two textbooks. It's right after the giants turn back into windmills and Quixote is all screwed up and Sancho Panza comes to his aide.

The line in one textbook is this:

"And Sancho Panza came to his aide as quickly as he could."

Oh blech. What a boring line. Way to drain all the fun out of that story, McDougall-Littel. The Glencoe textbook said this:

"Sancho Panza rushed to his assistance as fast as his ass could trot."

Much better, isn't it? He's on a donkey, see? I don't know what it is in Spanish but in English it's pretty amusing. It makes the kids laugh every time. And when the kids laugh, they like the story.

Take the beginning of Romeo and Juliet. Most teachers don't tell them about the dirty jokes because they think it's inappropriate. But as soon as you explain that the boys are making sex puns, the kids are immediately interested. My kids always love the play because I make sure they can relate to it. Other teachers' kids often say it's boring because all they see is an old language they don't understand.

That's why rule number one in my classroom for me and for the kids is "Don't be boring". Always go for the most interesting word or the most surprising observation.

Today's title is inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac (also the name of my cat), when De Guiche refers to Don Quixote and what happens when a man chases windmills and Cyrano responds with his own interpretation.

Monday, March 26, 2007

She eats the lens

Opportunity lightly tapped on my door last night and then ran down the hall and hid around the corner throwing toilet paper rolls at my face.

I wasn't sure I wanted Opportunity. The pay is considerably less, the hours are longer, and it's not exactly the job I always dreamed of, but it's very near the job I always dreamed of and it would shoot me down a very different path from the one I am currently on.

But I don't hate teaching. My boss is amazing, I make good enough money and have decent benefits, I love the kids and I usually get the classes I want. I just signed a lease on a new apartment, so taking a paycut would mean no TV, no kickboxing, and never being able to buy new jeans. And the debt would just keep on growing.

But Opportunity. How can you turn down Opportunity?

Alas, Opportunity is not a sure thing. She could be teasing. Or throwing toilet paper at my face.

And this all could be irrelevant because I'm not even that qualified for Opportunity.

After a day of agonizing and calling friends and getting advice from almost every person I know in LA who's even remotely connected to the industry, I decided I would take door number three.

Your cover letter is like a headshot. A headshot gets an actor in the door. If he doesn't look the part he can't even get into the audition - a topic of much chagrin to Lead Actor who frequently discusses his frustration with being judged on his appearance alone. But if that picture gets him in the room he still has to prove he has the chops to handle the part.

For us we have cover letters. My resume is unimpressive to an industry professional but I got spunk. I'm "feisty" according to delightful people I know. So I made my cover letter my writing sample. And if Opportunity goes to someone else, which it probably will, at the very least I have entertained someone I admire. Maybe he'll remember me down the road and call me in for an even better Opportunity. And if he's appalled at my audacity then he's not as cool as I thought.

As for the line in my title - that's from Up Close and Personal when Robert Redford's character realizes that Michelle Pfeifer's character makes a horrible weather forecaster but looks amazing on camera as something else. I thought it was apropos.

Let us not talk falsely now

So let's talk about pronouns. A pronoun is a replacement for a noun, which is a person, place, thing or idea. People often forget about the idea part, but "victory" is an idea and it's a noun.

Just kidding. Let's talk about Battlestar Galactica. For it is a thing, a place and an idea.


When I was in high school and college I was in a rock band and we played The Bob Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower." Personally I always prefered the Dave Matthews version, which starts off really slow and builds to an insane rocked-out finish. So I mimicked that more than any other rendition of the song. I starting out slow and sultry and building to a gruff, violent melody.

So when Colonel Tigh said in the courtroom, "There must be some kind of way out of here," I immediately mumbled "Said the joker to the thief" under my breath.

Oh you clever writers. I thought it was coincidence. I should have known better.

According to Michael Taylor, Ron Moore had that song in mind since the mini series. And according to Mark Verheiden, it was arranged and performed by Bear McCreary. I don't know about any of you guys watching that at home, but it kind of rocked on the big screen with the big stereo. People cheered. It was awesome.

This Battlestar party at the writer's house was not like the last party. I talked to people. Nice people. People with advice about how to make movies and passion for the film industry. People who could provide me with scary opportunities. People I very much enjoyed talking to.

Know what the difference was? Pigtails. Always wear pigtails to a party. Unless you're a boy.

Also M&Ms. Say yes when someone offers you some. Then say something funny.

We're not going to talk about the beer because I am a role model for the youth.

Tomorrow: Why opportunity scares the heebie jeebies out of me.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Saturday, March 24, 2007

16 blocks to the nearest plot point

I just tried to watch the film 16 Blocks. Normally this is exactly the kind of movie I like - a time limit and a destination and people shooting at you to stop you from getting there. A lost soul who used to be a hero must protect a loser who's trying to put his life back together. That's a script I could have written.

But not this script. The actors are trying so hard and they're so good. And there are some neat cinematographic moments. But the film is simply unwatchable. I turned it off a third of the way through and switched to True Romance.

I know exactly why the film is unwatchable. It's unbelievable. Every character - the dirty cops, the Bruce Willis reluctant hero guy, David "I'll make you think I'm a nice guy but I'm really a big old asshole" Morse - they all instinctively knew where everybody was all the time, but they still couldn't find anybody unless the plot needed it. Like, Mos Def decides to take the Subway. Bruce Willis finds him in the Subway. Then two random goons just happen to be in that very Subway car looking for him. Fortunately even though they were psychic enough to know he'd be on that Subway car at that moment, they weren't quick enough to get off the train when the protagonists did. Lucky break, there.

Then the goons called David "I talk really quietly so that I can earn your trust and betray you later" Morse from the Subway car because they have magic cell phones that work underground.

"They just missed him at the Canal Street Station," Morse says. He looks out the car window pensively. "Where is he?"

Ummm, just a guess but, somewhere near the Canal Street Station?

Plus, they knew where he was going. Why didn't they just station some guys around the courthouse and wait until he got there? They never addressed that, probably because they couldn't figure out an answer.

It's just silly. Lazy and silly. I couldn't keep watching it because it didn't make any sense. These people didn't have to earn anything; things just kept happening right when they needed to.

I'd rather watch Christian Slater shoot people. That I believe.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I would marry Veronica's Dad too.

I was watching this 2003 short film on IFC called "The Vest" that was really well directed by Paul Gutrecht and well edited and features Kellie Waymire who was amazingly beautiful and has worked all over the place on television.

And the protagonist, her daughter, goes into a room to talk to her father, this balding guy with thick glasses who we only saw from the side and I thought, ok. I'm out of this. In what world would that amazingly beautiful woman marry this guy?

And he leaned back and was Enrico Colantoni.

And I had to laugh at myself.

That'll teach me to prejudge people.

Throwing stones at helpless little birds

Stupid Act Two.

My characters have their mission and they now have to go commit burglary. The burglary will be fun. I know how it's going to go down and who's going to do what and the comedic dialogue. I don't know yet what's going to go wrong but I'll figure that out tonight as I sleep.

Unless I dream again about the pet spider I kept last night to help me work the magic invisible typewriter but who bit and poisoned me even though he swore he was my friend, but he was probably just upset because I kept him in a jar of boiling water.

But that's not relevant right now.

I have to get my characters to the burglary in a believable, not boring way and that's hard, mostly because there's no method that Alias hasn't already used. So I'm just going to copy Alias. But the dialogue is dragging and I keep going back and erasing what I had and writing a new scene that I'm not happy with so I go back and erase it and write again and get nowhere.

I got stalled. So before I ended up wasting my day in this crap-writing cycle I put a big yellow note that said, "THIS SCENE SUCKS. FIX IT." And went on to the next scene. And even thought that note is waving at me, daring me to approach it, I know that once I've completed the vomit draft the answer will probably show itself.

But then I was thinking, as the big yellow note continue to taunt me, about the dialogue I had just written and the scene I needed to show and I realized that the answer is right there. The most important rule for making your script tighter: Two birds, one stone.

Although why any asshole would feel joyous about knocking the crap out of two innocent birds with a big rock is beyond me. But that's not relevant right now.

If you can use one scene to accomplish two goals the script is always better off. Sometimes that thought is all it takes to jumpstart your brain. Now I have a nifty little scene that sets up my heist, provides some comedy and a little bit of action, as well as further developing the relationship between my main characters.

Good for you, Act Two.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Emily knows what secrets lurk in the hearts of men

Research. It's interesting. Like, I know how to pick locks now. In theory, anyway. But according to the various instruction manuals I now have on my computer, all you need is an appropriate tool and some practice. So now I know how to become a hitman and pick locks, although I suppose you should probably know how to pick locks anyway if you're going to be a hitman.

If I disappear it's because the FBI came and got me. My only thought will be how pissed I am that I never got to finish the script. I hope Partner will carry on the short film without me.

It's another Battlestar weekend which is very exciting. I have a sneaky suspicion that the few writers for the show who even know I exist think of me as Maggie's Nervous Friend. I have no name that I am aware of, even to the lovely woman who hugs me. I'll bet as soon as I walk away from her she turns to her husband the writer and says, "What the hell is Maggie's Nervous Friend's name?" And he shrugs.

Which lands me square in the position of Show Groupie. I don't want to be a show groupie. I saw Almost Famous. I know what groupies do. I am not down for that.

Know what's annoying? When you're the lead singer in a band but people who haven't seen you play yet keep asking you who's girlfriend you are.

But maybe Anonymity isn't such a bad thing. Right now I'm mysterious. I can sit quietly in the corner and sip on a drink and be anybody. Like The Shadow. As soon as I start talking they might find out that I have a subscription to Astonishing X-Men and two light sabers in my closet. Of course, at a Battlestar Galactica party that would probably get me surrounded Scarlet O'Hara style by the many boys that will appear from out of nowhere as soon as they hear a feminine voice utter the words "I just wanted Amidala and Anakin to joke more, like Han and Leia, you know?" I hope they bring me cake.

I should try that. Then I can go from being Maggie's Nervous Friend to being Maggie's Dorky Friend.

Or maybe I should just bring cards and talk to people about my short. Or teaching. People like to hear about teaching. I should just walk up to random writers and say "I'm Emily and I teach in South Central," like I did when I was four except not so much about teaching as about how old I was. What happened to me? I used to be that obnoxious kid who introduced myself to everybody in the restaurant.

I have this one plan that usually works, though. Stand alone in a really visible place and sip on a drink, looking pretty and like you're observing the people around you. It's kind of like waiting on the sidelines at a school dance. Eventually somebody will approach you. And if they don't you can just start doing cartwheels.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The pages must flow like water

Tuesday when I got done writing I felt a sense of delight because I wrote a funny sex scene. Yesterday I had to write a scene in which my sociopathic Hitman pins Protagonist down and threatens him with a knife as he makes an extremely creepy deal.

That left me kind of terrified. I creeped myself out with my own personal attack on myself in my head.

Isn't that the neatest thing about writing? You get to be all the parts in your brain, so when one character attacks another you get to be both the attacked and the attacker and that leaves a very turmoil-filled self. It doesn't help that I was envisioning this attack taking place in my own bedroom. Last night when I went to sleep I used the chain to make the door extra-locked in case a hitman came looking for me.

Well, I couldn't end things feeling like that so I wrote another scene. And that scene's dialogue was kind of flat so I made a note to come back and punch it up and wrote another scene. And before you know it I had ten more pages and felt pretty good because at this point my boys and I had come up with a plan for how to deal with Hitman. Today I have to break off writing to do some research, but I still hope to get a few pages in later.

300 Spartans walk into a mountain pass...

In reality 1,300 Greeks stood up against the Persians. Three hundred of them were Spartans, but there was a whole slew of guys backing them up.

But that's not as exciting as 300 ripply-muscled guys with no shirts on fighting Orcs at the edge of a cliff. And since there are ugly-ass hunchbacks and a king who might be possessed by a Gua'uld and an execution monster with swords for hands I'm not going to quibble about accuracy.

I do want to go live in ancient Persia, though. Aside from the constant whipping that place looks like a fairy tale land of freaky sex parties. I'd insist on riding around on the giant rhino, stabbing people who get in my way with his gold-plated horn.

So that movie was pretty awesome. Dominic West is an asshole, the king of Sparta is apparently a Scott, and Spartan women are pretty much as badass as their husbands. Or at least that one chick was. We didn't really meet any Spartan women who weren't the queen.

Speaking of that, apparently Sparta is cold because there were some very taught nipples on all the ladies in this film. I guess that makes sense since all the Spartan dudes had perfect abs. The girls were dressed to match.

The story is based on a real battle between Xerxes of Persia and warriors of Greece, when 300 Spartan warriors (and the 1,000 other Greeks we're going to pretend were big cowards and ran away, which I'm sure they appreciate as they watch this film down there in Hades) held a last stand against the huge waves of men that surrounded them on both sides. It's a great story and it's pretty well told here, especially with the neat graininess that captures the mystical feel of the story.

The story has its weak points. Melodrama for one. I think I really freaked out the Grove patrons when I came out of the theater narrating our journey to the car in my most manly and boisterous voice in immitation of the storyteller with on eye. I imagined that guy getting dinner from his wife: "Woman! I need a glorious sandwich made with bread and glorious cheeses and perhaps some meat from the cow I butchered most gloriously this glorious morning! Then I shall eat of the glorious flesh and it shall be remembered in all its glory!"

Stuff like that.

But violence - oh, the glorious violence. There was a lot of it. And sex. There wasn't much subtlety in this film. This is a film for manly men - or girls like me who have a lot of aggression. Or people who like violence in general. And Dominic West. I love Dominic West. I've never seen him be an asshole before.

I also think from now on I'll keep a CD player beside me when I teach so that when I give rousing speeches I can have inspiration music play in the background. Because everybody loves a little melodrama.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Emily has Issues: Part Two

Ok so I admit it. I've been having a pity party.

It's the vacation's fault. I haven't been off work in a year. In that year I also worked constantly on a heap of side projects, many of which did not come to fruition. In that year I broke off an engagement and moved and did some major soul searching and realized some things about myself I never knew before. And I spent my Christmas break hosting my parents, so that didn't really count as a vacation.

I got used to having eight million things to do and no time in which to do it. And now I have less to do and more time. And time to think. And wow, I went through a lot this year. And for the past two weeks it's been catching up with me until it culminated in this weekend.

And today I was all lying in the dark listening to the Cure and throwing my pity party with the cat and I looked at my laptop and said, "Write, Emily. Don't be a hypocrite."

And I looked at the laptop and I looked at the cat and the cat washed his foot and I started typing.

And you know? I love writing. It makes the whole world better. I wrote a sex scene and some comedy and had an all-around good time sitting in my apartment while the cat continued to bathe. And I upgraded the music to Jump, Little Children because it's just a little more fun.

You know what else I love? Trainer. He's a doll. I tell him everything, so he took my pity party ammunition and used it to yell at me so I'd kick harder. And I nearly kicked him across the room. You get to yell really loud when you kick Trainer and he just laughs with his uber-hot smile and his constant adorable need for hair-style approval.

Ahh, Trainer. You are the hottest guy I know.

So anyway, no more pity party here. Tomorrow I do work. I'm gong to write the crap out of that screenplay, dammit.

In the meantime I'm going to go see 300 tonight because Trainer said it was awesome as he acted out parts and yelled at me about Sparta.

Ahh, Trainer. Seriously. Your girlfriend had better be nice to you.

I saw Poseidon today, so I will use both films in some capacity to talk about what makes a good action flick. And this will, from now on, be a whine-free zone.

Emily has Issues: Part One

Something happened this weekend that I knew was coming and yet was completely unprepared for and still can't get my head around so I'm sapped of a lot of creative energy this week, and what little I have I need to save for my spec. Today I have to write a sex scene and introduce some more characters and that's going to be tough to do with the headspace I'm in.

I did this to myself, by the way. I have nobody to blame for my emotional state but me.

Still, I'm not going to let my self-imposed feeling of betrayal get in the way of making my script brilliant. Instead it's helping me. Last night I couldn't sleep because of all these torturous thoughts that have been rolling around in my brain, and then I switched to my spec. What happens after the guys beat the crap out of those other guys?

Because for those of you who haven't figured this out yet, ninety percent of my scripts open either with sex or a fight, which is why my scripts will do well commercially as soon as somebody notices them. And I like those kinds of scripts. If you've read my blog for any amount of time you've already figured this out, but I am not your average girl. In fact, I don't own a single romantic comedy on DVD, which really separates the wheat from the chaff when you're dating somebody, especially when they find out you kickbox and that you have life-sized Star Wars cutouts in your bedroom that frighten people when they walk into the apartment because Han Solo looks real for a minute and he's holding a gun.

Dudes either think it's cool or they run away. Or they pretend to think it's cool as they back their way to the door.

But I digress.

Anyway, imagining my next scene in my head makes it easier to fall asleep, and I'm fortunately one of those people with a good memory for story. I forget the directions somebody gave me two seconds ago, but I can remember the cool line I thought up right as I was on the cusp of my visit with Queen Mab the night before.

My point is that you have to be able to shake that nagging little bug in your brain that wants to distract you from your mission with all that psychological crap from the outside world. The stuff I came up with last night will launch today's writing session. And starting is really the hard part, isn't it? Once I begin a scene I'm usually in it until the end, an hour later when I look up and realize I'm still in my pajamas and I haven't eaten or brushed my teeth.

Oh. I'm still in my pajamas right now. And I haven't eaten or brushed my teeth. I should probably do something about that.

And then go work on my script.

Go work on your script.

Monday, March 19, 2007

This is not about subtext

In the original version of my short, Game Night, we had two couples sitting around playing Taboo and chatting about stuff. When we were told we needed to rewrite it to raise the stakes, Partner and I thought about our themes first. The couples are playing Taboo, so that gives us a great symbol to work with that shouldn't go to waste. What can we change about this story that reflects a taboo? So we decided there is something else going on that the couples aren't talking about, and we don't find out what it is until almost the end of the story.

That one change meant we had to alter very little of the story and a small amount of dialogue but were still able to change the conflicts dramatically. It's the same story, but now it's very much not the same story because of the silent elephant in the room. Best Friend pointed out that the new script gives the actors more to do. They have to play this game on one level, and on the other hand there's a relationship between the coupes that they have to deal with, and on top of that each person has their own personal issues to wrestle. All in this twelve minute piece. So even if Contact doesn't decide he likes the story enough to produce it, I sure as hell do. It used to be funny. Now it's funny and meaningful.

One of the things I learned at acting class was how an actor can change one little thing - a facial expression, a tone of voice - and change the whole character. One Actor read a monologue that was a really sad story. He started out sad and he stayed sad and he ended sad. This was an excellent Actor, but the choices he made with the character were too obvious. The teacher suggested he start off the story happy, like he was remembering something enjoyable until he got to the sad part. The Actor struggled because all he could think about was the sad part of the story and he couldn't see how anyone could find this happy. But most people act happy when they're not to cover their pain, and that's what Actor was missing.

But most people don't say what they're thinking. Most of us hide our true emotions and pretend everything's fine when it's not. How often in a given day do you really say what you think? The clues come in your facial expression, your action or the tone of your voice.

I was out once with a group of friends. I was looking at a Hot Friend of mine as he was away from our table doing something clever when Best Friend leaned over and said, "Oh my god, you are so smitten," and everybody at the table nodded as if they've known all along.

"I am not!" I said. But the look on my face read "smitten".

Did I go up to Hot Friend and say, "Dude I am so smitten with you"?

No. Nobody does that. I hardened my face and protested that no, I just think he's funny and leave me alone, assholes.

Because nobody really says how they feel. There is always an elephant in the room.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

St. Patrick is evil.

Last night I met a girl who went to my high school and graduated two years ahead of me. That was neat. We kept naming people we knew. My mom taught her brothers in middle school.

People from acting class were there and they remembered me and they were still nice.

Some tips for future party goers:

When you drink a car bomb, it is best NOT to pour the Bailey's directly into the Guinness as this results in a drink that looks like vomit.

Do not store your purse in a room where people will be having sex when you want to leave, particularly if person having sex has been kind of an asshole to you all night.

Do not grab a candle from the top as it is falling after some guy bumped it with his butt, for you will burn your hand on hot wax.

If you play pool after drinking a ridiculous amount of rum, you can often kick some ass.

Do have a friend who will drag you to his car and take you home even though you insist that the best course of action is to sit in your car until you can drive, even though that may be three hours away.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A shout-out to the homeland

On St. Patrick's Day people always ask me, "Are you Irish?"

What a silly question. Look at me. Of course I'm Irish. I'm blond and blue-eyed, I cuss like a sailor, I drink like a fish and I punch things for fun!

It's like the Irish stereotype is the only one we've all agreed is completely okay. And Jamaicans. They don't seem to mind their stereotype either.

But just like most Americans aren't just one thing, (I'm also Scottish and English and Welsh, so please have a little respect for my vast ethnic diversity.) characters shouldn't be all one thing either.

I forget who said it so it was probably Bill Martell, but you should try to make sure every character has an opposite trait from what you'd expect.

In the short that Partner and I wrote we have a crazy cokehead running around threatening everybody. Then he spots a bag of carrots in the fridge and is like, "Ooh! Carrots!" which makes for great comedy because nobody can be intimidating while eating carrots. Everybody else in the room isn't quite sure what to make of him at that point.

But speaking of the Irish, last night I watched a documentary on HBO produced by the Contact who's looking at my short and may want to put his hands on it. He managed to get a U2 song into the independently produced film, which was beautifully done, by the way. That's not easy. Man, I hope he likes my revisions.

This band is actually from Virginia but every song they play sounds like a modernized Irish jig: Carbon Leaf. They're really good.

Now I'm going to go get some dinner before the wild Irish party, oddly enough thrown by Lead Actor who will play carrot-eating cokehead, who is, of course, Irish.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.

This is what happens when you don't have to go to work for a while: you start posting twice a day because you have nobody around to talk to but the cat, and he'd rather dream about food.

I was a little worried (remember the worrying that I do?) about my new feature because it's about a hitman and a heisty thing and about a bunch of boys and I'm not a boy and I don't do B&Es and I've never worked as a contract killer.

But Ron Moore's never flown in a space ship.

I commenced with the research this morning. I wasn't sure how to go about researching contract killing. It's not exactly a topic a lot of professionals in the field like to discuss.

But what do you know? You can learn anything on Wikepedia. I found a PDF of a 74-page book on how to become a contract killer. Supposedly the book has been banned and all hard copies destroyed or whatever. But even if it's a hoax the stuff in it is perfectly logical so I'm gonna use it. Although I'm a little frightened that if I someday end up in the middle of a Law & Order style murder investigation the fact that I have on my hard drive a book on becoming a contract killer might look bad.

But then I was thinking, how do I make it different from other movies about assassins? We always see the guy get his dossier in the envelope the same way with that picture and stuff, and it has to be through an intermediary and there's all this secret identity stuff. And I don't want anybody thinking about how much better John Cusack was while they read my cliche-riddled script.

But then I thought, why bother showing it at all? Get in the scene late, leave early. The killer could just show up already informed about his target. Now only does that get me into the action without as much boring set-up and avoid some of those cliche moments, but it greatly reduces the amount of research I have to do.

If you don't know what you're talking about, fake it. I know who hired the killer. How the guy got his target is irrelevant to the character development. He got it, and now my protagonist has a problem. That's what matters. And when I realized that I discovered whole nifty ways I could connect this guy's internal conflict better to the actions I need him to take. It all makes perfect sense.

I guess my point is that if you think something's too hard, sometimes you just have to back off and simplify.

Of course, I say all this before I try to write about dudes with guns.

This is the title of my post

Yes, well, I wanted to save my creativity for my script and thinking up a clever title was making me work too hard.

Lead Actor took me to his acting class last night. Very cool. I got a hell of a lot out of it. First of all, I don't think I've ever met so many friendly people all in one place before; completely supportive of each other and unafraid to walk up to me to say hello and ask questions. I love to sit in the back of a room and watch all the dramatic people.

There was some real talent in that room, and there was some not-so-talent. But what was interesting was seeing how people took direction, and it gave me some excellent ideas on how to direct my actors when the time comes.

The main problem people were having was pretty universal. Whether they were emoting too much, holding tightly to one emotion or trudging around nervously on stage, it was all a question of being in the moment. The actors who performed the best were the ones who wanted to be there, the ones who really felt like they were the person they were trying to be, and not just reading lines. It's common sense, I suppose, but it's easier said than done and there is no way I'd feel comfortable doing it. Hell, I got fidgety when they made me introduce myself.

Have I ever mentioned how much I love actors?

Those guys have so much dedication. Some of the class bailed when it got late but most stayed until the end, even though the end was 1:30 a.m. on a weeknight. I'm glad to be on vacation right now.

It is really ballsey to do a Hamlet soliloquy when it's been done by Brannagh and Olivier and Jacobe and Gibson. Kudos to that dude for trying.

The best performance was a Mamet dialogue by this really nerdy looking guy. That was disturbing and hilarious at the same time.

I gave out one card to an actress who might be a good Shiela.

I mean Shiela, the character in my script not Shiela the lady kanagroo.

What made me especially hopeful was that during the first pass through each scene, I usually felt a lot of the same things the Teacher did, so clearly I have a good eye for what makes a good performance. And he was a good teacher. He had very cool dogs that just sat and chilled while people were emoting all over the place and he gave me a hug. Actors aren't afraid of personal space. I could take a lesson from that.

So now I just need some equipment and a crew and I'll be ready to roll. After I do about eight million other things.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

I love my shiny little box

Satellite guy is here. Television! I forgot about it for two whole weeks! What's up with Heroes? Or Lost? Did they get off the island yet? Did Jack Bauer torture somebody? How's Lee coping with the loss of Starbuck? I have no idea.

My landlord won't let the guy put the satellite on the roof, so I'm now seriously obscuring my neighbor's view of the Hollywood hills. They also won't let him drill holes in the balcony to let in the cord. That's what they think, anyway. I say as long as you can cover it up when you move out so nobody knows it was there, who cares if you put a tiny hole in the wall?

I feel I have learned a lesson from my hiatus from TV. I got a lot of work done. My index cards are finished but the story is so loose I clearly have a lot left to plot out. I have to figure out how people break into places and steal stuff. Fortunately I teach a bunch of experts on that subject.

Just kidding. Only one or two of my kids are master thieves.

I got too comfy working with Partner. I wanted to give him the hard parts, but he's too busy and doesn't know if he likes this particular project the way I do. So I'm going to be on my own to figure out how hitmen do things. That's right. It's that kind of screenplay - a hitman and a heist! Partner wants to work on some girlie thing where we all talk about our feelings.

Ooh! Satellite Guy is finished. I'll see you guys in like eight hours.

EDITED at 6:12 p.m.

Okay after watching the stuff that was saved on the DVR I tried to watch actual television and that's when I discovered that the only channel I get is USA. WTF?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Will Smith says I shouldn't worry

Other people don't usually bother me. Maybe it's that teacher thing; you kind of have to let a lot of stuff go when you spend all day around hormonal teenagers. So most things people do just sort of slide right off. And everybody thinks I'm so incredibly laid back.

But even some of my closest friends don't always realize what a worrier I am. I worry obsessively sometimes, in the dark listening to Snow Patrol and Imogen Heap, convinced that I have screwed everything up. Because although other people's actions don't bother me, my own frequently do.

I've been feeling it a lot over the past couple of days. I'm worried about the script and trying to direct and produce and get my next script done in time for the Nicholl. Fortunately I no longer worry about my writing talent. Now I have a whole new skill to stress over: directing. And sometimes I'm paranoid that I pissed off every friend I have by opening my big honest mouth and speaking before I think. But then I remember that these people have been my friends for some time and by now they've figured out that I have a fat mouth and they're completely okay with it.

Today I tried to write out my index cards for the new action feature I'm trying to put together but I couldn't focus because my worry quotient tumbled into overload. And when that happens, there's only one thing to do: watch The Legend of Bagger Vance.

So it's a bit heavy handed and Will Smith is the stereotypical magic black man and I kind of hate the sport of golf. I don't care. I love that movie. I watch it and I go, yeah, I do need to find my perfect swing. And then I feel really good about stuff and I can go back to mining my creativity. But only after I watch The Emperor's New Groove, which is Bagger Vance's chaser.

Yay for the movies.

What film do you watch to make you feel good?

My soul wants less meat

At some point in the past month I accidentally became a vegetarian. I don't know why, but I never feel like eating meat anymore. Like right now, I'm munching on hummus and pita bread. I went to a restaurant the other day and ordered a veggie burger and at Pink's last week I got a veggie hotdog. I have no idea why.

That's kind of dangerous since I work out so much so I'm going to have to start forcing myself to eat more meat or drink some protein shakes for breakfast. Maybe I should learn to make smoothies.

Fruit and vegetables are a good thing, but too much of one thing and not enough of the other is not good for the soul.

Speaking of "soul", a Friend and I were having a debate the other night about the use of the word. He writes songs and every single one of his songs includes at least one mention of how his soul is doing. I told him he'd used up his quota, like people who put exclamation points on the end of every sentence.

His songs are great and he's a good singer, but it's just the constant use of this one word that bothers me as a writer.

This did not make him happy, probably because I said it like an asshole when he was in a really good mood. "It's my trademark," he said. "I use that word for a very specific reason."

I guess it's a personal thing. There's only so many times you can talk about your heart and your soul before you run out of ways to describe it.

He has one song that includes a line in the chorus about things he's dying to say to a girl: "In my lungs, on my tongue". I think that's gorgeous. He could have said something like "There's so much I want to say to you" but chose an image instead. Much more effective and I haven't heard it before.

"Black" is a brilliant song. The whole song is told through metaphor. But my favorite line is this one: "I can feel their laughter, so why do I sear?" Wow. Sear? That's unexpected and vivid and sums up his emotional pain clearly. And Fiona Apple's "Never is a Promise". Hell even the title of that song is poetic. But that line "The shades and shadows undulate in my perception" is amazing. First of all, what 15 year old even knows what "undulate" means? But it's a perfect word to describe her emotional state, and something about the way that word sounds together with the alliteration of "shades and shadows" fits the tone of the song beautifully.

Maybe it's because as a screenwriter I'm constantly tweaking and changing my words and taking time to find the most interesting way to say something so the reader doesn't get bored and throw my script out, whereas a songwriter just wants to find something pretty that rhymes. But I guess I respect his music more than that. I expect Friend's songs to be really amazing because he has that potential. This is what I tried to tell him.

Alas, in true Emily style, I made a compliment sound like an insult.

Monday, March 12, 2007

It's a wonder I'm still alive

I've arrived. Somebody's finally tagged me for something, so even though I've already posted twice today I might as well make use of my solid Internet connection. Riddley wants me to list five things nobody knows about me and tag five other people. I'm not sure I have five things left I haven't told. I haven't really dished out much about my travels, so we'll make this Emily: The European Survival Tour.

1) I spent a month living in Angers, France in college. Breakfast was included in the tuition so every day I used to stock up on fruit and cheese and bread to eat for lunch, but I usually didn't eat it. So the night before I left to go back home a friend and I went to my window and pelted a car below with all my unused food. Don't worry, we didn't hurt the car. I have terrible aim. By the time we were done the car was completely encircled by random bits of orange and brie.

2) When I went to London two years later, I went alone but I really wanted to meet people so I went to a pub, bought a beer and stood around looking forlorn until a group of bricklayers called me over to join their table. When the pub closed we went to a dance club. When the dance club closed we went to some girl's house where people started doing coke. That's when I asked for a cab. It's a miracle I didn't wake up with one less kidney.

3) In Dublin a week later an Irishman attempted to mug me. I say "attempted" because according to the Irish folk I met I demonstrated my metaphorical balls of titanium when I refused to give him my money. But it was mostly my own naivete. He threatened me with an AIDS needle but I didn't realize what the needle was for so I just figured he was planning to jab me in the eye with it and that thought pissed me off so I told him to go away. And he went away. And after I started breathing again I wrote the only short creative nonfiction story I was ever truly proud of. Balls of titanium, people. Do not screw with me, for I will pelt you with fruit.

4) I spent a day in Paris just walking from one end of the city to the other. I did not carry a map. I got up at 7 am and began walking to things that looked interesting . The Eiffel Tower looked interesting. It was also like a zillion miles away, but I walked to that sucker and I walked back. I walked to the Louvre. I walked around the Louvre. I walked past the Musee d'Orsay because I honestly had no energy left in my legs and had to sit down every two minutes. Les Invalides was not worth walking to. There were paper signs put up with masking tape that supposedly pointed to Napoleon's grave but really led you outside to some little crap garden with a dead end. But I walked through it on the way to the Tower. After the Tower I ran the gauntlet of people selling key rings by pretending to speak neither English nor French and found myself in the middle of the World Cup festival. That's right. I was in Paris the year the French won in France, although I was back in America by the time they had their victory. That was freaking cool. I thought it really funny when a French man stopped me to ask directions and I gave him an accurate route to his destination after being in the city for less than seven hours. Why I didn't take the freaking Metro at some point still baffles me to this day.

5) While I stopped to rest my poor weary legs, two teenage boys came up and sat down next to me to "chat". One sat to my right where my purse was but didn't say anything. The other sat to my left to distract my attention from the one on my right who was attempting to rifle through my purse. Tired as I was, I still had the presence of mind to push my purse into my lap and put my elbow over it. The boy probably got two fingers in there, but he couldn't get anything out. The boy doing all the talking and I had a nice conversation and I enjoyed practicing my French some more, but what really tipped me off was when he asked if I was from Paris. I have an accent and I'm carrying a bag from The Louvre and I'm not wearing a trench coat and high heels. There's no way I'm from Paris. Still, it was a nice compliment to my French that he asked. When it was obvious his friend was getting nowhere, he stopped abruptly and nodded and they ran off across the street to find some poor American sap who isn't smart enough to put a lock on his backpack when he carries it around looking for Napoleon's elusive grave.

I tag

Full speed and both barrells loaded

Oh glorious day.

I have the internets. I've been stealing my connection from a blissfully ignorant neighbor, but it kept crapping out. Today I got my modem so now I can be in two places at once. I'm on Myspace at the same time I'm in the other room blogging because I now have my own firewalled wireless connection. Is it necessary to be online with two computers at once? No. But it's a miracle, is what it is.

Wednesday the sattelite guy is coming, although I haven't missed TV as much as I thought I would. I honestly haven't had any time to watch it.

Tomorrow's post: The ongoing debate I'm having with a friend of mine about cliches in song lyrics.

How did I get here?

You ever have one of those days where you go to Target for a paper towel holder and end up hang gliding over the Gulf of Mexico with a donkey and three Australian architects? That was yesterday. I left the apartment telling the kitty I'd be right back and woke up at 7am in a house that is not mine wearing clothes that are not mine and sporting brand new blisters on my toes. It's been a while since I was spontaneous. It was nice, although I do feel a little bad for missing every other thing I had to do yesterday. I have no food in my refrigerator again.

The revised script is in the hands of my contact so I'll know pretty soon if he likes this version enough to produce it. Know what's nice? When your Lead Actor says "I'm in regardless." Last night he told people about his character with a touch of joy and respect. Every time I start to forget why I love actors one of them will remind me. He described his character better than I can with a big smile on his face. I wanted to hug him.

We decided not to go method on the coke snorting scene.

Lead Actor is taking me with him to his acting class so I can observe the rapport between the actors and the way they take direction. If I'm lucky I'll find my girls there. Now I just wish I could sit in on a shoot and ask questions so I can learn what the hell I'm doing. I tried to learn as much as I could from the Bratz movie but I don't feel like I got enough. I should have asked more questions.

There's something incredibly nerve wracking about the idea of bossing around a room full of people who all have more experience than you. I'm all about a challenge. And waking up in a strange place surrounded by cool people you met the night before. Try it. But make sure they're not crazy people first.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Las Vegas: The Aftermath

Oh Vegas, you will destroy us all.

What happens in Vegas does not stay in Vegas. If it did, my pounding headache would have left me at the California border.

Boys, when you meet a girl at a bar and she gives you her number, do not call her as soon as she leaves the bar. Twice. And the next afternoon. Even if you are Israeli and put way too much starch in your collar. Especially if you put too much starch in your collar.

There are whole portions of last night I don't remember. Unfortunately one of them is not the time I fell down.

I met a kid who's just getting started with Teach for America. I gave him advice on maintaining classroom discipline while shaking my groove thing to Beyonce.

Crap. I just referred to a 22 year old as a "kid".

I'm off to watch my friend's band Rasa 9 play at Cinespace tonight at 10. There's a champagne bar and cheap cover and they're really good. If you live in LA, be there or be Uma Thurmon.

I'm weird.

Friday, March 09, 2007

If you don't like it, kiss this

Forget Generation X, we're Generation Multitask. I sit here typing on my laptop while I listen to my Ipod uploading pictures from my digital camera and talking on my cell phone while I transfer files with my flash drive as my friend watches The View (hence the need for my Ipod) on her satellite TV and fast forwards through commercials with her DVR remote.

Then I'm going to put it all away and read a book on film making. Printed on actual paper.

Isn't that kind of beautiful?

Last night I saw Spamalot. A disjointed script with some story problems, but funny. Oh so funny. But not funny enough to warrant a standing ovation. Unfortunately, in this day and age we see a French man playing a flute with his ass as cause for a standing cheer, so John O'Hurley running around with a coconut is considered a masterpiece worthy of hurrahs and bravos. Of course, many of those standing folk decided that a baseball cap and an ugly green ripped up T-Shirt with the John Deer logo on it was proper attire for a night at the theater.

After another pass at the script (thanks go to Scott, who inspired our latest changes) Partner and I feel like we're really ready now. It's time to get down to the nitty gritty. Before, Partner liked the script and was happy to give me advice on directing from his frigid perch in the Cold North Lands, but now he's so in love with his own words that he wants to fly back here to shoot it as one of the actors. He has loads of experience so it's a natural fit.

That actually makes me a bit nervous. He's directed short films before and I haven't, and he paid a bazillion film school dollars to learn what I have attempted to pick up from books and websites for considerably less. Yet I get to stand over him and make suggestions on which way to grab his movie girlfriend's breast as he sticks his tongue down her throat.

Actually, I'm beginning to think that may be why he wants the role. He gets me ordering him to make out with another girl. That has to be somebody's fantasy.

Once again, anyone with any suggestions on lessons you've learned from shooting your own films is completely welcome to give my green ass some advice.

I have a feeling I'm about to work said ass off. Good thing there's some photographic evidence of where it once was.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Free labor is the best

Now that the script has elevated to a better place, things are getting damn exciting. I feel like such a producer, which I guess I am. I spent a good portion of my morning with me feet propped up on a desk, leaning back in a computer chair networking on the old cell phone.

It's all about wheeling and dealing.

Partner said I need a still photographer for the distribution packaging. Just so happens, I'm friends with a professional photographer. Partner said I need hair and makeup. Just so happens, one of my friends considers it her mission in life to mold the eyebrows of every man on the planet. I think I may know someone who can help me with the marketing.

Music and sound mixing? Partner knows a guy. Main titles? There's a film class just starting at my school; this is a perfect assignment for them. Poster? Our art teachers are always looking for projects to assign their kids. I'll get our film teacher to nominate his most reliable student to work as a PA and order them to man the craft services table and turn my fridge on and off during the shoot in the interests of even sound mixing. It's a win-win situation for everybody.

Funny. I usually HATE calling people on the phone, particularly to ask them for favors. But this is a mission. I know my goal. I feel strongly enough about this script that I feel like everyone should want to be part of this even if they don't get paid because this sucker is going to be done right. Everybody's resume, every actor's reel, will benefit from this.

I'm going to go see Spamalot now with my friend. Maybe I'll meet some people there I can wheel and deal with. I have a feeling I'll be on my game this Sunday at Battlestar screening. Watch out, people.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

My script has transcended


There's good scripts. There's scripts where you can feel confident that you've created interesting characters and entertained small masses of people.

Then there's scripts that rock the freaking casbah.

I'm visiting a friend in Vegas for the next couple of days so I took the bus. I figured I'd rather pay the same as I would for gas to spend six hours reading and working than staring at the boring desert landscape. I spent the entire ride calling Writing Partner and discussing our latest set of changes and running my fingers over the keyboard to make said changes.

Said changes are brilliant. We needed to raise the stakes. So last night Partner and I discussed possible solutions and at the time I was blank, although he had a good idea about moving an argument and making it more intense. So I wrote down all our themes. We're discussing lack of communication between lovers, competition, games, boredom, fear. I stared at that list and went to sleep.

Then I woke up and had it. Partner's idea and my idea meshed. And it was a tiny detail that gave our script the boost it needed. And now it's not just a character sketch; it's some funny shit. The funny thing is, the impetus for the script, the moment that encouraged us to write it in the first place, is gone. Lines we debated over numerous phone calls over weeks, gone. The second location, gone. Instead we tightened everything.

Today on the bus on the way to Vegas I wrote the best line of dialogue I've ever put to keyboard:

"Take off your fucking clothes and fuck your girlfriend. Fuck my girlfriend. Either way, somebody's getting fucked and you're gonna fuck 'em."

Even though I spent six hours on a bus, today has been an excellent day.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Wear your sexy panties

I have a line on a crew for my short. My contact likes the writing, likes the characters and likes the idea, but feels like it's more of a character sketch than a story and needs more conflict. "Raise the stakes," he said. So writing partner and I are back to work because I really want to work with this guy and make this the best short film I can.

My Lead Actor is an old friend and a talented musician. His band, Rasa 9, is having their CD release party on Saturday at Cinespace in Hollywood. Come before 9:30 and cover and drinks are cheap, but the band will start wailing at 10 and people, this band is better than an Oscar dog from Pink's. Lead Actor's voice will melt your panties off. I will be there and may or may not throw my panties on the stage.

I will probably not throw my panties, but you never know.

Chris Rock finally gets one right

Last night I went to a screening of Chris Rock's new movie, cowritten by him and Louis C.K., called I Think I Love My Wife, adapted into a comedy from a French film called Cloe in the Afternoon. It stars Chris Rock, Kerry Washington and Gina Torres. Both writers stayed after the screening for what turned out to be a hilarious Q&A.

A nice, white collar businessman must face the conflict between responsibilities and desires when his sexless marriage is threatened when a seductive old girl friend comes back into the picture.

I'm not married, have never been married and don't have any kids and I'm not black. But this story about a middle class black man in a marital crisis totally resonated. This was a movie anyone who's ever been in a long term relationship can relate to, regardless of economic class or race or gender. And it was funny.

It's about a time a movie about a black man was more than a "black" movie. This is not an urban film; it's a story. The soundtrack includes Biz Markie and The Foo Fighters. The white people aren't all evil bumbling overlords and the black people aren't loud and high. It's a film about people, pure and simple, and all the characters are well developed with backstories and front stories and desires they keep hidden from each other just like normal people do.

It's quirky. There's a sort of dream sequence where Chris Rock's character imagines all the glorious sex he'd be having if it weren't for his wife. There's even a musical number that comes in at just the right moment to feel completely organic to the story.

And it's not easy. You really feel the man's dilemma. And you feel the wife's dilemma and you feel the other woman's dilemma and you honestly don't know what he's going to do, and you're not entirely sure you know what he should do.

This is not Head of State or Pootytang. Chris Rock has finally done something real and shown that he can actually do a film that means something and raises the bar on comedy at the same time. But he didn't do it on purpose. He only picked up Cloe in the Afternoon because he liked the naked girl on the cover.

Monday, March 05, 2007

It also helps if you clean the floor

My new apartment is like a beautiful haven of peace love and closet space. If I go out to my balcony and stand on my toes and tilt my head around a couple of power poles I can see this:

That's the Hollywood sign. And in the morning when I look out my window I can see the sun hitting the houses on the hills and reflecting light off their shiny clean windows.

It's important to have an inspiring creative space. In my old apartment, ruled by the evil asshole clan that is Wellman Properties, I was constantly stressed. My carpet was filthy and my space cluttered and I worried about parking and theft and noise and those two stupid dogs who barked at every insect that flew into their pen because the speak-easy running owners never let them go outside and play on the grass, not that there was grass anywhere within sight of that place. And now I have shiny hills and trees and the Hollywood sign.

It's just easier to write when your living space reflects your place in life. I've been reading a book about Feng Shui vs clutter and it's pretty insightful. I've been keeping a lot of old things around that I never use anymore, things that were keeping me grounded in the past. I threw them out during the move and it was such a release. Everything is new or necessary.

It also helps to have a walk-in closet.

New and pretty and organized breeds easier expression of ideas. I'm finding writing so much easier when I don't have to contend with the eight hundred pieces of unnecessary paper I'd allowed to build up in stacks around my desk. Although at the moment I am having to contend with an 18-pound cat in my lap who is drooling on my keyboard. But he's pretty, so he can stay.

So I have a mission for you. Look around your creative space. Is it comfortable? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Do you feel relaxed and open to new ideas when you sit there? How annoyed are you right now by all that clutter?

Sift through every piece of paper, every item that has been sitting around waiting for you to do something with it, and do something with it. Trash it or put it away or use it. Then you'll feel so clean and pretty you'll be ready to go on that next set of pages. Free your space of clutter and you'll free your brain of cobwebs.

And get an apartment with a walk-in closet. Seriously. The world is a better place when it comes with shelves.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

So say we all

Want to know what I did tonight? No? Too bad.

Battlestar Galactica party. At David Weddle's neighborhood clubhouse.

I refer you to Maggie.

I am an awesome driver, I admit. It's because I hit everything from school to my house when I was a teenager so I used up my accident quota early.

I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to David/Reid. So dude, drop me a line. I'll invite you guys to my housewarming party where we'll discuss the finer points of Ron Moore's coffee drinking habits.

I told Katee Sackhoff she made me cry and she said, "I was supposed to."

But she's so adorable and beautiful that I didn't feel stupid. Until right now.

I also told David Weddle I could really relate to Starbuck's childhood and demanding parents and that that's the part that made me cry and he said, "I think everybody does."

I don't think that's true. Some people have noodle salad.

I make it sound like I was hopping around the party schmoozing and pointing out obvious emotional reactions to crew members who had other crap on their minds, but really I was hiding against the wall, accidentally turning lights on and off. I thought my cleavage would get me some conversation, but you know what? Cleavage isn't as effective as you'd think. Apparently I'm going to have to use my brain and my winning conversational skills to meet people. Who'd have thought?

I made shiny new cards with a gradient and Albert font and my new address. I gave out approximately zero. Good thing I'm going back next week so I can spend another night thinking of ways to not say anything to anybody.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

You have to terrify them, see?

This is for Bill, who asked about kids and homework and why they're so annoying. Although, for the record, I think we were all that annoying at that age. We just remember it differently.

When I was a kid I was terrified of failure. Okay, I'm still terrified of failure. My parents held my aimless alcoholic aunt over my head like the sword of Damacles. Anything less than an A meant a lifetime of living in a trailer in Bellhaven with eight kids and a mangey half-breed Rottweiler. My parents weren't exactly gentle people.

The point is, I did my homework, largely out of fear, but also because the school I went to simply expected me to. I'm guessing most of the people who read this blog had similar experiences. Well, maybe not parents who cancelled your twelfth birthday party at Chuckie Cheese because you made a C on a diorama, but still. You did your homework too.

Kids simply don't do homework anymore. It was the case in North Carolina and it's the case here. It's scary, really. I used to give homework and nobody did it. NOBODY. They'd never had to. They have this theory that it will all be okay regardless, like they can do no work and still pass. And that's because they always have. I had a choice to either fail my entire class or stop giving homework, so I held my nose and caved.

Is that a mixed metaphor? I'm not sure what "caving" literally means. Can you hold your nose and cave? But I digress.

Now I ease the kids into homework. Start an assignment in class, finish it at home. Read half a chapter of a really good book and get them into it, then have them finish the last three pages at home. The next day give them more pages at home. Eventually maybe they'll write an essay, but I always give them a few days.

One assignment that worked was the interview. I had them choose a personal hero and interview them and write up a biography of the person. They pretty much all did that because it interested them.

That was a great semester, come to think of it. I did nothing but heroes. Joseph Campbell, Beowulf, Don Quixote. I miss that class.

But alas, they come in waves. You'll get a terrific class of hard working kids one period and the next period the entire population of Attica will unleash itself on your classroom.

I had this student once back in North Carolina who had no chance in hell of passing my class. He never did a single assignment. When it was time for the final I told him to stay home and continue to smoke pot and not waste his time on this silly little education - you know, pretty much what he'd already been doing - but he insisted he could still pass. I told him as keeper of his grade and his long line of zeroes that there was no way he could pass. He repeated that yes, he could if he passed the state exam. Apparently he was also failing math.

He showed up. The really sad part is that he actually did pass the state exam. The state exam is a joke. Eithe that or I am such an awesome teacher that my very presence is enough to make you smarter.

He showed up to check his grade the next day and was amazed to discover his big fat F. Oh, wait. It wasn't an F. At that school we gave Es.

It never ceases to blow my mind.

The Latino kids are far worse off grammar wise. Over the past year and a half I have learned to decipher some really strange sentence structure. I can read and understand sentences I never would have before. There's so much wrong with their writing that I often don't know where to begin, so I tell them to read more and read aloud what they write. They usually speak English just fine; somewhere between the brain and the paper it gets all screwy.

It's also worse in California. The state is disorganized as hell and has been operating under the social promotion philosophy for over a decade. I'm not the biggest fan of No Child Left Behind because it's actually dumbed down North Carolina curriculum, but here in California it has stopped teachers from just passing kids because they're breathing. The problem is, these kids are used to passing with no effort and it's really difficult to break them of that habit.

Every semester I tell them the only way they will fail is if they have zeroes. Every assignment I remind them that if they try, they will at least pass. And every semester I have students get down to the last day and try to negotiate with me on how they can make up eight weeks of missing work in two days.

And no matter how often I warn them about life in a Bellhaven trailer, they still don't listen.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Future Fiction Writers of America

The final project for my honors freshmen English class was to write a short story - a minimum of three pages long, that contained all the story elements we discussed in class. I'm grading them now.

Here is my semi-stream-of-consciousness as I read. Share my thoughts, everybody.

The first three I picked up were about people dying. They all included really melodromatic funerals. What the hell is a "sad burning candle" anyway?

If I have to read "She couldn't believe this was happening to her" one more time I'm going to start gauging teenage eyes out with white board markers.

The biggest problem I'm seeing is a complete lack of obstacles. Girl meets boy. Girl gets boy. Girl and boy live happily ever after at Six Flags eating churros every day for breakfast and dancing in a fountain of sangria. There's no conflict, despite the fact that I spent an enormous amount of time explaining the importance of conflict. They've all forgotten rule #1 in my classroom: Don't bore the teacher.

Oh good. A soccer story. This will be about triumph. No, wait, it's about a kid who breaks his ankle and has to sit out a few games and then goes back to playing again. No games, no discussion about life with limited mobility, just a few phone conversations with his coach and his doctor. Does anyone listen when I talk?

Apparently they were listening when I talked about description. Clearly I went overboard in my enthusiastic endorsement of vivid visuals because I now know what every character is wearing, what their hair color is and how many buttons are on the front of their sundresses, but I have no idea what their personalities are like.

At least they're all indenting when new people talk. That's something.

This should be good. Opening lines: "Dante's a child born out of love and hate, darkness and light. His father a demon from Hell, his mother half angel and human."

Oh hell yes. It's about time:
"Dante didn't like the shit the demon was talking to him. He just went to the point. Dante took out his two guns and shot the demon 40 times every bullet just pass through the body of the demon, blood was flying it was dripping to the floor. Dante didn't stop there. He took out his sword and killed the demon taking his head out and slicing him in half."

Unfortunately Dante says this as he's slicing bitches in twain: "My father is the Demon of Hell. He betrayed my mother and left me alone to hate everything in life! You're no different from my father! Die you pitiful demon and go back to Hell!"

I swear we talked about subtext.

One student wrote a biography of her life with a lot of emotional exploration and honesty and actual good grammar and spelling and real paragraphs. Unfortunately it's not a story.

They're improving. Or maybe my brain is so fried that I only think they're getting better. Here's a story about a boy who makes his brother crap his pants and then covers him with chicken feathers.

Oh good. Another story about death. Oh wait. It's about a dog.

And death.

"I have a goal. That goal is to be able to go to the prompt with a guy I like."

The guy she went to the prompt with is hit by a car.

Here's a story about a guy who's friend goes to El Salvador. He's shot and killed.

Here's a story about a guy who gets haunted after playing with a Ouija board. He kills himself.

Wow. This guy goes on a violent rampage and kills everybody in his immediate vicinity. Now he has to take over the neighborhood and get a high school diploma. Like Sydney Bristow. I'd watch that movie. Too bad the kid hasn't been introduced to punctuation.

Here's the girl who wrote a Charmed fanfic. Wow. This girl has real talent even though her story needs a lot of work. One day I'll hire her to write for the show I'll be running.

I'm so tired of writing the words "Show don't tell."

This kid wrote an after school special. She wrote about a boy who gets his girlfriend pregnant and goes to prison for life because he joined a gang. "This young boy didn't even get to finish school so stay in school and get a good career."

Oh my god this is the most boring story ever. It's basically a phone conversation between two giggly teenage girls.

And that's a wrap. I'm on vacation as of 1 p.m. today, so there won't be any more papers to grade until April. Expect those progress bars to grow by leaps and bounds.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Were you born on this side of the line?

I have some thoughts on my freshmen stories that I'll share tomorrow, but first I wanted to get something off my chest.

I never post on politics. I don't want endless wars about political issues here. But I just read something that really chaps my hide and I want to say this one thing this one time and move on.

I just read a metaphor that compared illegal immigrants to some guy who breaks into your house and cleans your carpets and then demands to stay.

Faulty metaphor.

I don't own America and I'm not the only one living here and new people come in legally every day.

It's more like some guy breaks into a hotel then pays the nightly rent and keeps the place clean but doesn't pay for the porno movies.

Most of my students are Americans. They were born here, they grew up here and they speak English just fine. They work hard, they have dreams of going to college and getting good jobs and living like the kids in Beverly Hills just like any other American kid. And most of their parents sneaked across the border illegally. Most of them pay taxes.

I've read the stories they tell about their parents. The amount of sacrifice they were willing to go through to give their kids a better life is insane. The place they come from is a mess. And if you were in their shoes you would have made the exact same decision they did. Watch Maria Full of Grace. Would you go back?

Some of my kids have parents from different countries. Some of them have never been to Mexico. Where are we planning on sending them if we decide to deport their parents? They are not Mexican. They're American. They love this country just like any other American kid. Sometimes more because they know about the alternatives.

They're not all perfect. The gang problem has grown, but the best way to fix that is not to write them off; it's to educate them. And the best way to prevent them from coming here is to give them something to live for on the other side of the line. You know, infrastructure? The kind we're supposed to be building in Iraq where they don't want us? Imagine how much we could impact our own illegal immigrant problem if we put half as much energy and funding into Mexican business and agriculture as we have into the Middle East.

We're all the children of immigrants. My grandmother came over here from England long ago. She had a piece of paper saying it's okay for her to be here; does that make her more deserving? Or is it because she's white? Or that English is her native language? Or that she had money?

This was supposed to be a country of hope. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free," remember? Or did that only apply to your ancestors?