Friday, August 31, 2007

This is art

The Game Night shoot will be on September 22 and 23. Partner's buying his plane ticket, Lead Actor is going to come over to workshop, I'm reading a friend for one of the parts and putting out a casting notice tomorrow. And today I'm storyboarding. I've written up 60 possible storyboards but I don't think I'll actually draw out that many. I think the DP might actually like to choose his shots.

I can't draw. I mean, not even a little. You should see the attempt I made to replicate the Trojan war on the board one time. It looked like a giant duck took over a potato with mold on it, all floating a bowl of tea.

So here, for your viewing pleasure, are two of the story boards I drew up this morning as I watched Snakes on a Plane for inspiration. That movie should come packaged together with United 93. They're practically the same film.

This is Valerie on the Ikea couch, chillaxing.

And here's Lead Actor in my bathroom doing drugs.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I've been out

I teach at a year-round school, which kind of sucks. But the good thing about it is the extra long vacations. I worked through the summer but I went off track on Wednesday and get eight weeks off. So I treated the last two days like a weekend where you go over to somebody's house for a few hours and sort of forget to come back. The cat was waiting for me when I got home, butcher knife in paw, ready to slit my throat if I didn't throw some food in his bowl and pet him immediately.

Long time readers may remember my last vacation. Specifically St. Patrick's Day, Las Vegas, or the Kickin' it Old Skool party. Then there was Halloween, although that wasn't a vacation event. That was just the biggest amount of vomiting I've ever done in one night.

The point is, when I vacation, I party hard. I have Boyfriend this time around, but as crazy as Boyfriend is I don't think that will put a damper on my social activities. Expect reports of debauchery to come over the next two months.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How I bullied small children while watching a mediocre play for free in Hollywood

Last week I went with Best Friend to see A Midsummer Night's Dream for free in Barnsdall Park.

Yeah. There's a reason it's free.

It's a nice thing, really. There's a little patch of grass where people can set up picnics and lay down while they watch the play and there are some chairs at the back for the people who are afraid of getting their pants dirty. Best Friend and I had intentions of going with a bunch of girls and doing a potluck, but as usual everybody bailed but us. I can't tell you how many times we've had groups of eight or nine reduced to the two of us.

So we got Subway, complete with chips and cookies purchased from the dumbest teenage cashier I've ever handed money.

Her: Which kind of cookie?

Me: Chocolate chip.

She grabs the chocolate macadamia. Chocolate macadamia is a black cookie with white chips.

Me: No, chocolate chip.

She grabs what appears to be chocolate chip and holds it up like she's not sure.

Me: Chocolate chip.

It was M&M. I discovered this while laying on the lawn at the theater.

But I digress.

Most of the cast was good. The girl playing Helen was pretty fantastic, and although he missed a few comic opportunities I thought Nick Bottom did a good reading. The fairies were delightful and Puck was so brutally hot I thought my eyeballs were going to sear off.

The problem with this play was mostly Hermia. It was one of the worst performances I've ever seen. You know that scene in Hamlet where Hamlet goes on and on about what not to do on stage when you're performing? She did all of it. And in A Midsummer Night's Dream of all plays, where Nick Bottom represents the stereotypical bad actor as a symbol of mockery.

Hermia had a Russian accent, which is not her fault, really, but when you're screaming every line and flailing your arms wildly about the accent certainly isn't helping matters. I didn't understand why two hot dudes would be in love with this whiny, loud girl with eyes bugged out and too much blush on when they could have had the prettier girl who was a lot nicer and could actually act. It brought the entire performance down. Every time she was on stage I was trying to remember how many lines she had so I'd know how soon she'd go away.

It also didn't help that the play within the play, the performance of Pyramus and Thisbe, didn't go as it was supposed to. At the end of the play the actor performing the part of Thisbe is supposed to go from comic to serious. You're supposed to laugh, then suddenly get somber. The problem is people kept laughing when they weren't supposed to. The actor didn't give the right performance to relay the change in tone. I've been told Macbeth is better.

Then there were the children. Behind us were sitting a dozen 10-12 year olds who had read the play in class. Although I was impressed with their academic abilities and more than a little envious of whatever teacher was able to read essays that actually say things, I was greatly annoyed by their need to constantly repeat every joke said on stage while the scene was still in progress.

Boy: She's wearing her purse on her head.
Girl: Who?
Boy: Her purse. She's wearing it on her head.
Girl: Whose purse?
Boy: Hers. It's on her head.
Girl: Haha. It's on her head. Hey, her purse is on her head.
Second Boy: That's her purse?
Girl: Yeah.
Boy: See? It's on her head.
Second Boy: Haha! Her purse is on her head. That's funny.
Boy: I know.
Second Boy: Her purse is on her head.
Girl: It's on her head. Haha.


So after intermission, just as the performance was about to resume, I turned around and squatted in front of the group whose chaperon was apparently comatose.

Me: Children. Do not talk through this play or I will start stabbing people.

Then the play resumed. There was no immediate talking, then a timid whisper.

Me: Stabbing.....

Then there was no sound for a while then one brave androgynous child in a hoodie started to whisper loudly about something funny the fairy did. Apparently, she put a purse on her head.

I turned around and gave three full seconds of Evil Glare. There was nary a peep out of any children ever again until they expressed universal confusion over a penis joke.

Let me tell you about Evil Glare. Teachers know. Think of the most horrifyingly sinister thing you have ever witnessed, then imagine it radiating from a small white face with blond hair. That's Evil Glare, every teacher's best friend. It strikes fear in the heart of small children. The small children were indeed afraid.

I resumed watching Hermia scream in peace.

And that is how I bullied a set of 12 year olds while watching a mediocre play for free in Hollywood.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Things you didn't know about Hamlet

"In Hamlet, death is as common as the mail or stupid people in the world.... Hamlet looks at death as the place where all people wind up. The most likely the phrase that might go through Hamlet's mind is probably, 'FEED THE WORMS!'"

"When [Ophelia] was drowning she was calling for help but noone heard her. She die the way his dad did because he called for help but noone heard him. Today innocent's kids been dieing in pool accidents because they call for help but noone helps them."

"however the king was kill with a poisen sward and stave him into the throat with the source. then accedenthly they change source and hamlet stab laertes and he die hamlet decline the drink and the Queen drinked and she died."

"During the death of hamlet's father, it was hard to hamlet to asumit the new life of his mother 'The Queen', He didn't want to recognize the ratation between his mother the 'queen' and the 'King.' The man that his mother married was his father's brothers."

"The most tragic moment in this story is when Hamlet killed his best friend Polonius by mistake."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Gone daddy gone

The principal is cleaning out his office today and will not return ever again.

We win.

Friday, August 24, 2007

And sometimes, I have bad days

I have a million things to post about right now, but I want to clear my head first before I smack somebody. I almost beat the crap out of a jackass I already can't stand when he tried to walk in on me in the bathroom without knocking.

This morning I gave my final exam. For the past two days I've been showing The Outsiders to my first period, Contemporary Composition. Their final exam was to write an essay explaining what Johnny means when he tells Pony Boy to "stay gold". That's it. Easiest. Assignment. Ever. I didn't even make them read anything.

I had three students decide not to turn anything in. They've been passing the class but they decided to read the paper instead of writing this essay because they don't feel like writing today.

Let me back up.

I have 27 students on my roster. School starts at 7:25. I get here at 7 a.m. On any given morning I have between two to five students in my room. By 8 a.m. I usually have 10 students who filter in one at a time, causing me to have to repeat myself every single time another one appears until my brain explodes and I start punching the white board with my forehead. About 8:30 I might have 15 kids.

I have tried every conceivable trick in the book to get them to come to class on time. Pop quizzes, lectures, extra writing assignments, stabbing, the works.

When they do arrive they stare at me and wait for me to tell them what to think like teenage zombies. That's why I haven't been able to do anything creative all semester. It's been one boring assignment after the other as I've had to focus on essays only because the kids don't care enough to think for themselves and that makes teaching anything take twice as long.

They always want to know why they can't do fun stuff like second period. I tell them, get to class on time and do some work like second period and you will do fun stuff. But that takes work and work is for losers, evidently. Losers who will be getting high school diplomas.

Tuesday is the last day of class. I would it were tomorrow.

On the upside, today is the senior luau. I expect to get thrown in the pool at some point this evening. It's tradition.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Presenting: The Rebel Alliance

For those interested in the juicy political manouevers going on at my school, here's a summary of events as they stand. Our big issue is actually about books and class changes, something I haven't gone into detail about here. My classes were changed and then changed back once the shit hit the fan. Fortunately I had never stopped teaching the lessons I'd planned because I'm insanely stubborn and resistant to authority.

The LA Times did a fairly responsible piece. They say we're in negotiations with some kind of mediator - that's not true - but the rest is accurate.

LA Weekly did a piece that is very clearly on our side. I like what they say here, but my inner journalist cringes at the lack of objectivity. Still, they really understood what we are upset about, much more than the other media outlets.

Education Week wrote a pretty good article a few days ago.

Channel 7 thinks we're fighting for bathrooms and snack breaks. This is why I roll my eyes at the TV news people. Print journalists almost always do a better job. And two teachers did not resign at the rally. They quit two weeks ago and came to explain why at the rally.

Who needs plot when you have explosions?

Shoot 'Em Up comes out on September 7. It stars Paul Giamatti, Clive Owen and Monica Belucci in a film about a guy with almost no backstory who shoots a shitpile of people to protect a baby for no reason.

Again, it's called Shoot 'Em Up. It kind of has to be either an homage or a spoof. I was curious because I do love action films so and Clive Owen is the king of awesome right now, so I looked around the internets to see what I could learn about this film.

Apparently it's pretty much violence from one end of the story to the other without all those pesky story elements. The film constantly tries to top itself but I'm assuming it's at least fun as hell because Clive Owen is already talking sequel. Talk about counting your chickens.

As I read a review from a kid at Comic Con I found this in the comments:

I can't freakin' wait for this one. You have to respect a movie for doing ONE thing and doing it well. I respect them for not wasting our time with obligatory and cliched attempts at story elements that neither they nor we will care about. In fact, I wish more movies would take this cue and not half-heartedly cram in material that even the filmmakers obviously don't care about enough to do well. They just do it because they think they're supposed to.

But let's face it, not every movie NEEDS a love story, not every movie NEEDS a complicated plot, not every movie NEEDS an emotional catharsis ... etc., etc....

....Sometimes all you want is 90 minutes of well-choreographed mayhem! That's what I enjoyed most about movies like Transporter 1, The Protector and 300. They wanted to give us 90 minutes of sweet, sweet ***-kickery. But even those movies, while delightfully mayhem-rich, back-pedaled somewhat. They tried to awkwardly wedge in some unnecessary, underwritten and undercooked "emotional content." But instead, I found myself wanting more kicking, punching, chopping and chest-thumping bombast....

....But THIS movie looks like exactly what I ordered! Steak. Rare. Hold the salad.

Really? Really? I guess this is why so many bad films do well. There are people out there who want to see explosions with no plot necessary. Hell, if you just want to see explosions you should just watch a DVD montage of greatest explosions ever. Why bother making a film at all?

For that matter, you could just watch footage from the war in Iraq. It's got explosions, gun battles, witty banter and no discernible plot that I can find. Who needs movies?

It's the story that makes all those explosions worth watching. Granted, if emotional content is "wedged in" like this guy says, that is not helping the film any. But reinforced themes are often the difference between a crummy Dolph Lundgren
movie and a blockbuster with Bruce Willis.

Why not demand a story from your action movie? If the story is well laid out you don't even realize it's there until you've already taken it in. I guess that's the real problem. It's not emotional content this guy's afraid of. It's plot that's obvious and cheesy. So just stay away from that and you should be okay.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Victory is ours!

Best Friend was rehired today. It turns out the technicality she was fired over doesn't actually exist. Score one for the rebel alliance.

My boss is going down.

When zombies attack

Five days until vacation and I am so tired and cranky. I just gave up in the middle of a discussion with a student because I was tired of thinking.

Sure. Bring your gun to class. Whatever.

Please get here, vacation.

There is another teacher in my classroom during my planning period so I usually go to the library to eat lunch with Best Friend and giggle for two hours. But Best Friend is gone now, although the whole school is in an uproar at her departure, so I have nowhere to go while I'm kicked out of my classroom.

Behind my room is a failed darkroom. It was built with a big revolving door (you don't want to try to teach a class with a big revolving door in it, every kid thinks it is the coolest thing they're ever seen and wants to play in it) and red ceiling lights and lots of space and black walls and electrical sockets. And no internet access, shelves, cabinets or sinks. Or equipment.

The art department has a pottery wheel but no kiln. The gym floor is being torn up because it was built uneven. We opened with not enough classrooms. We have no computer lab.

This is the school where I teach.

But I digress.

I put a table and chair in this fake darkroom, which was built in 2004 even though the rest of the world has gone digital, and I went in there yesterday with my laptop. There's only one thing to do in an empty darkroom with a laptop for your only companion and no internet.

Okay, maybe there's two things.

You know how they say the first ten pages of your screenplay had better hook the reader? Oh I just wrote the best first ten pages ever. I have a three-way zombie battle, a race against time, a grandma getting shot in the head, and two humans emotionally scarring each other as one puts the other in a chokehold, all in those first ten pages. Woohoo violence.

I love action movies. I've been trying to write action scripts ever since I discovered the screenplay form five years ago. But every time I've attempted it I've stumbled over logic and realism and have never been able to make the damn thing work. So I've redirected my efforts to television episodes or dramas or short films. I like what I've written, but they always felt like interesting side projects on the way to the perfect action film.

That's why I was so excited to write a boxing story as part of Bamboo Killers. I also had a character bite a guy's ear off.

It was one step closer and tons of fun and I love the script, but it's still not the action pic I was craving.

Then yesterday I just saw the whole zombie script, clear as day, laid out before me, and it was cool. I'll post a scene tomorrow.

This screenplay is just fun as hell. I like writing about zombies.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sound advice

First of all, this is like the busiest week ever. If I was supposed to email or call you for any reason I'm sorry. I haven't even had time to buy groceries. Fortunately I have enough left over lasagna and some soup in my kitchen. I am almost out of soap.

I'm trying to box, teach, rebel against my boss and prepare to shoot my short film this week. And next week I go on vacation so I'm grading papers like a madman. But next Wednesday my time becomes my own again, then it becomes all about the writing. Zombie movie. Expo. Short film.

My current conundrum with Game Night is the sound issue. I have people coming at me from all sides with advice on how to handle sound and they all have different suggestions. Almost all of the film shoots in my living room with my actors gathered around a coffee table.

There's Writing Partner, who wants to load up with crew but use one lav on the coffee table and a boom. Then there's Boyfriend, who's willing to handle sound on his own, Robert Rodriguez style with a boom and a pair of headphones and not much else. I could get the equipment for cheap over at Indierentals and he'll handle the rest.

He thinks we might also need a lav on all four actors because of the echo factor on my hardwood floors. But there is some yelling in the script. Maybe I should get a rug instead.

Boyfriend also said a refrigerator isn't as much noise as you think. Partner says refrigerators are really loud and the one POV shot in the refrigerator is going to totally fuck up my sound. But I want that shot.

Then there's a bunch of people who say I should pay whatever it takes to get a professional sound guy to come in and handle everything. But I don't have a lot of extra cash.

And everybody says I shouldn't skimp on sound because if the sound sucks, the movie sucks. And now my brain hurts from all the anxiety.

What kind of experiences have you guys had with sound? Disasters? Achievements? What worked? What didn't? Add to my confusion by giving me more opinions.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Emily joins Agent V's army

I was away from the computer most of this weekend because I was off starting a revolution. And also because Boyfriend has a pool.

After the incident with the firing of teachers, new events threw our school into revolt last week.

First of all, those two teachers quit, leaving their students with a substitute for the last three weeks of school and pissing off those of us who went to bat for them. It didn't really surprise me.

Then last week my Best Friend got fired.

I work in a year-round school. Our school's Librarian goes off track every sixteen weeks just like everybody else, and when she does Best Friend works as her substitute. That's been just peachy for me because it means I can sit in the library during my planning period and eat lunch with Best Friend and take Cosmo Girl quizzes to find out whether or not I want a boyfriend while she helps me plan research paper assignments. She also works her ass off at that job, and the kids know her just as well as they know the regular librarian. She is a fully-credentialed teacher with a degree in English and taught at another high school for five years. This is the third semester she has done this job and Principal has always seemed pleased with the arrangement.

Then two weeks ago she showed up at the rally and suddenly the office can't pay her as a long-term substitute. Then on Tuesday she wore her union T-shirt and before you can say the words "abuse of power" she was fired.

Supposedly it is because she doesn't have a library credential. State policy says that she must have a library credential in order to work long term in the library. She was never told this or she would have gone and gotten the credential. This has also never been a problem before in the two semesters she already did this job.

So I wrote an email to every teacher in the school explaining why we have no librarian for the last two weeks of school. Suddenly I'm in the inner circle of the revolution.

We have plans. I won't say what they are in this public forum, but if you catch a school on the news with a pissed off faculty protesting the tyranny of their power-hungry Principal, that would most likely be us. You might catch a glimpse of me in the crowd. I made fliers.

So to recap: In two weeks I went from being a neutral, silent party to being a leader of the Revolution.

My mom was funny about the whole thing when I told her. She was all worried about me losing my job and told me to be careful and maybe I shouldn't speak up so loudly. Then I reminded her about all the times she started her own school revolutions and how she refused to do anything she felt would hurt her students, often getting her in major trouble with the administration.

"You all right! I learned by watching you!" I told her in a fit of giggles. She had to admit, this is all her fault.

Besides, if I get fired I know enough people in the entertainment industry it would take me about two seconds to get a PA job.

I'm unafraid, Principal Tyrant. Bring it.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Death and pies for everybody

So I'm in the shower conditioning my hair and debating whether or not this is a shave-the-legs night when I get a phone call from Maggie telling me to get my butt down the street to the Hollywood Cemetery to watch the premier of Pushing Daisies on the big screen. She has pizza.

I'm literally a two minute drive from there so I hop in my car and drive down to the cemetery.

Only I get dressed first because I don't want to distract from the screening by showing up wet and soapy and naked. Also I wash the conditioner out of my hair. I do not shave my legs on account of there is no time and I'm wearing jeans.

I get there and there's a spot on the blanket and half a Little Caesar's pizza and Maggie all pigtailey.

And as soon as I sit down she says, "Lookit! Ryan Phillipe!" And I'm all mooney eyed because I adore Ryan Phillipe and I can't figure out which one he is then the guy she's pointing at turns around and it is not Ryan Phillipe.

It turns out that Ryan Phillipe is actually Bryan Fuller. I need a hearing aide.

Then we start talking about Wonderfalls. I confess for the first time that I don't love Wonderfalls. I also don't love Desperate Housewives or Ugly Betty or anything else with creepy cheeriness like Edward Scissorhands. But I like Edward Scissorhands.

So Maggie says, uh oh, you might not like Pushing Daisies.

And with that the show begins.

What do you know, I love it! The last pilot I watched was Flash Gordon. Watching the pilot for this show makes me loathe Flash Gordon even more because of how infinitely superior this show is.

It's about a man who can bring people back to life but only for a minute, then he has to kill them again permanently or someone else dies.

The actors are fantastic. The chemistry, the realistic interaction, the subtle comedic timing - all good. Chi McBryde is spectacular. That's right, I said it. Spec-fucking-tacular.

The show is quirky and cute and clever and genuinely funny and the themes are firmly established. Death is something to laugh at, not something to fear. Get out of the house and start living. Touch people. Eat pie.

The show airs October 3 at 8 on ABC. Watch.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

In high school, nobody dies

My teenagers hate how Hamlet ends. I'm grading their study guides and one of the questions is "How do you feel about the way the play ended? How would you end the play?"

And universally they all want Hamlet to ride off into the sunset married to Ophelia and ruling over Denmark.

Even the boys.

I had the students draw a Myspace page for a Hamlet character of their choosing. Most of the girls made Hamlet and Ophelia all pink and happy with flowers and stars friendly comments from Dane Cook. Evidently Hamlet is really into reggaeton. They don't want Hamlet to be emo. They want him to get the hell over it.

When I was in ninth grade my teacher made us read Lord of the Flies. I hated Lord of the Flies and harbored a great resentment toward William Golding for writing such a miserable story. I hated it because it ended in such a hopeless state. The boys destroy each other, just like we as a society destroy each other during war, and that was a depressing commentary I wasn't prepared for at the hopeful age of 14.

Years later after I graduated from college I read the book again and loved it. I felt really bad about all those nasty things I said about Golding's mom.

When you're a teenager, even though everything sucks and you hate the world, you still want life to be all sunshine and puppies. So teen movies better have a happy ending.

It doesn't mean they can't handle depressing topics. My students love Romeo and Juliet and agree that the story wouldn't be as good if it had a happy ending, but that's kind of an exception. Sad endings make them angry. You should see them when I remind them they're going to die one day; they freak out, like nobody's ever told them that before. I guess it's why they drive like idiots; nobody ever explained to them that they might die if they crash.

I don't really do the teen movie thing but if I do I'll make sure the hero triumphs. If he doesn't, my high school audience might start throwing Cheetos at the screen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Casting phobia

It's getting closer and closer to my filming weekend. I have most of the crew in. I still need a good sound guy who's willing to work for free, which, I'm told, is a bit of a tall order. It's not so much that I mind paying the guy, it's that I mind paying that guy and not anybody else.

I also still need two actresses and I must confess that casting frightens me more than directing.

I think that's probably because I don't like telling people bad news. I know I don't have to tell them right then, but still. I like people. I want to make them happy. So I'm a little afraid that I'm going to be overwhelmed by all these girls and their different abilities and want to hire them all. And what if they turn out to be bitchy?

I want to hire my friends. The two male parts will be played by my friends and they're fantastic. But what if my girl friends turn out to be wrong for the part? I'll feel so bad.

I'm not worried about this on the set. I manage a classroom just fine. A set will be no problem. But choosing the people to be on the set - that's a problem.

I went through a brief period where I played a lot of X-Box role playing games - Morrowind, Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, Fable - and I was never, ever the bad guy. Ever. I feel bad for the animated characters. God only knows how I'm going to say no to dozens of real people. But if I don't I'll end up with a crappy short and that is the last thing I want.

Oh God, what if they get on set and suck and THEN I have to fire them? Sweet Jesus, what a nightmare. Donald Trump and that guy from Hell's Kitchen I am not.

It might not be so bad if Partner were here. He used to work for a casting director and he's playing one of the two male roles in Game Night, but he's away in a land of a midwestern no-budget horror film.

He's not here to help so I have to do this all myself.

I'm going to start with friends and recommendations from friends. Then Partner is going to send me resumes and headshots of girls his agent represents. Then if I still don't have my girls I'll put out a casting notice or two.

But I really just hope the first girl to read is dynamite. Then I don't have to disappoint anybody.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

False advertising

I have about eight million movies saved to my DVR that I've been meaning to watch. Last night there was nothing new on so I decided to go through my saved movies and watch one. But while I watched it I was planning to do my ab workout and cook chicken quesadillas, so it had to be something light, preferably funny so I could understand and appreciate what was going on even if I wasn't watching the screen.

Most of my stuff is dead serious. Mystic River. United 93. Not exactly happy-go-lucky entertainment.

So I see The Life and Death of Peter Sellers. That guy from the Pink Panther movies? Funny. The previews made it look funny. Sellers was a comedian, after all. And the intro was all Tom Waitsey with cute little animated figures, so I thought I'd be in for a fun little romp through a crazy little funny man's brain.

Have you seen that movie? Not funny. Good, quirky, really nifty in its structure. Geoffrey Rush is incredible. But it's not a comedy. Sure, it's got some comic relief. Rush's impression of Seller's hilarious Inspector Clouseau made me laugh out loud.

But it's not funny.

According to the film that man was kind of an asshole and sabotaged every relationship he ever had. So the film was a little depressing.

I had to pay more attention than I meant to.

Next time you make a movie about a comedian, HBO, warn me if you're going to make me sad. I was having trouble concentrating on broiling my chicken.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Wanna fight about it?

The History Channel has finally started looking at eras other than World War II. Did you know there were whole periods of history that didn't involve Hitler at all?

There's a show on Friday nights called Human Weapon. You may have seen a billboard or two here and there and thought, oh, another boring History Channel show, probably about how people tried to use their bodies to kill Hitler.

Oh, no, bucko. It's the best show to come along since Enrique Iglesias got his mole removed.

Jason Chambers, a mixed martial arts champion, actor and all around hottie, travels from country to country with Bill Duff, former pro football player and wrestler, as they learn about each country's native fighting style and the culture that created it. During the course of each show they demonstrate three or four individual moves and how they're done. And at the end of each episode, one of the guys goes into the ring in front of spectators to fight a master in the sport using only the techniques of that fighting style.

What's brilliant about the show is that you not only learn about the fighting style, but the history of the people who invented it. The guys also study the art in some of the more traditional training forms. To study the Filipino art of Eskrima they fought a buffalo in the mud. To learn the French martial art of Savate they kicked stuff on a boat in the Marseille harbor while trying to maintain their balance.

I've studied French language and culture since the seventh grade. I'd never heard of Savate before. It seems like a major gap in my education that has now been remedied thanks to these boys.

These guys are the best in their sports, but they still get beat up all the time during these contests. And at each step they improve their skills. I would not recommend trying to fight them.

Even if you have no background in martial arts the show is really easy to follow and the boys narrate it clearly. For each major move they learn they include an electronic recreation that goes through it step by step and makes it easy to learn.

They're practical moves. I've used them in training. During the Karate episode I learned a kick to the inner thigh. Last week when I was sparring with Trainer I kicked his inner thigh at one point and cheered, "I learned that from Human Weapon!"

Soon I will be a certified badass. Thank you, History Channel.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

King of the impossible dialogue

I just watched SciFi's new take on Flash Gordon.

Wow. That was an hour of my life I'll never get back.

Either the dialogue was just badly written or the casting director made decisions with a dartboard. Or both.

I never watched the film or read the comic so I'm coming into this with no preconceived notions.

I like to give writers the benefit of the doubt because we all know what happens between script and screen, and Peter Hume did write for the brilliant little underappreciated The Invisible Man. But he also wrote for Charmed, a show with some of the least believable storylines ever created.

Maybe it is the casting. Flash's Black Best Friend is supposed to be throwing around slang-filled jargon like Black Best Friends always do, but unlike Dark Angel's Original Cindy, his speech sounds completely unnatural. Maybe that's why Black Best Friend disappears after act one. There's supposed to be some Latino truck driver who comes and goes as really stereotypical comic relief, but it looks more like they found the only white guy in Vancouver who speaks Spanish and slapped some fake tanner on him. Fake Latinos: the new blackface.

So if they can smooth out some of the casting mistakes this thing might improve. There is one glorious casting decision: Steve Bacic, the only watchable part of the last two seasons of Andromeda.

But then I heard some really cliche lines like this exchange:

FLASH: Everything will be okay. Just keep smiling.

Trouble happens. Flash and his ex, Dale, end up in a tight spot.

DALE: What do we do now?

FLASH: Now? Now we stop smiling.

EMILY: Groan.

I suppose I could cut the show a little slack. The story's kind of interesting. It should probably be handled with camp, though, and it's taken very seriously here. There needs to be way more humor.

Evidently the story revolves around a bunch of aliens who chase a marathon runner through a wormhole in search of a nice Earth movie theater where they can watch Harry Potter in 3D. OR they could be looking for a set of Apple computers, I'm not sure.

But it's just a pilot. Ever seen the pilot episode for Star Trek: Next Generation? Worst. Pilot. Ever. Pilots are notoriously bad examples of what a show can be, so maybe Flash Gordon will get better.

But then you get Friday Night Lights, Alias or Lost - all pilots that not only rocked my television but set a consistent tone for the series. So clearly it can be done.

I guess I expected more from the network that introduced me to Farscape and Battlestar Galactica.

I'll watch episode two just to see if it improves. God I hope so. I've come to have higher expectations of SciFi's shows, but this show's pilot was more like one of their films.

I hope Tin Man is better. It looks kind of awesome.

Friday, August 10, 2007

It's not really about bamboo

I watched Galaxy Quest again last night. I've been thinking a lot lately about ensemble films and what makes them work because recently Fun Joel had a conversation on his blog about that and Bamboo Killers is an ensemble film. The zombie picture I'm working on is also an ensemble film. Come to think of it, I haven't written very many hero-centric scripts in my history as a writer.

What I've noticed is something many smarter people have noticed before, and that's that ensemble films have to stick very closely to the theme. It's easy to give each character an arc that fits only them, but for an ensemble film to be truly good each character must have an arc that echoes the larger arc of the piece.

In Reservoir Dogs every character is dealing with a betrayal. In Galaxy Quest every character must accept who they are and live up to their potential despite their own doubts. And the film at large is about making something fake into something real.

I looked at Bamboo Killers. Although each character has his or her own arc, they don't necessarily reflect the larger theme of the piece, which is fear of being yourself.

I looked at Game Night as a short. Although each character has an arc, they aren't necessarily related to each other. But they're close. So I realized that all the characters are wrestling with societal expectations of themselves as women or men. That's like a subset of the major theme for the feature.

Then I looked at all the other chapters and tried to figure out what the theme of each is as it relates to identity. It's not difficult, really. It's a few lines here and there to reinforce what we already have.

I did a pass on Game Night already and sent it to Partner with an explanation of the new mission. I sure hope he agrees with me because I already did it.

In the meantime I'm casting for Game Night, which we'll hopefully film the third weekend in September. So things are progressing one way or another.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Those who can't teach, suck

One of my favorite moments in teaching happens when the kids discover something you've never thought about or explain something in a new way. Like the time an otherwise uninterested student who failed every English class ever suddenly perked up long enough to describe Juliet as "a dime," meaning she's a perfect ten.

Today as the class was reading and analyzing Emily Dickinson poems I asked what her style was and what were her major themes. We talked about her obsession with death and her tendency to be alone and proud of it.

"She's emo," one of my kids said.

Yes. Perfect. Emily Dickinson is emo. I was so pleased the whole rest of the class period. I told them they could write a paper comparing Emily Dickinson poems to Dashboard Confessional lyrics.

That's when lightbulbs start blinking on around the room, when you make connections to things the kids can relate to. Emily Dickinson is just like the emo kids. Hamlet is a typical boy, telling a girl he loves her to get her into bed then ordering her to get to a nunnery. The bastard.

But there are teachers at this school who will never figure it out. They continue to insist that even if all the students in the room write terrible papers it's because they're terrible students.

I got a set of papers recently that were supposed to be well-researched analyses of various American poets. Instead I got a bunch of reasonably well-written biographies.

So clearly I've been doing something wrong. If they don't understand what I'm trying to tell them then I have to tell them differently. So I scrapped my plans and started over, which may take some extra time but I'd rather make sure the kids are learning than make sure I've hit every stop on the list of California standards without them understanding any of it.

I almost punched another teacher the other day as he asserted that his kids can't write opinion papers because they're too stupid to understand the issues and they don't care about anything except their Ipods. Another teacher recently asserted at a meeting that none of her kids are college-bound, so why do we bother teaching them to write essays?

I don't know how those teachers have kids so vastly different from mine. My kids are reading Hamlet in the original Shakespearean language, and for the most part they get it.

I'm not a perfect teacher. I go on tangents, I let the kids play around a little too much, and I'm completely disorganized. But I would never, ever assume they couldn't learn. If they come into my room with weak writing skills it's my job to make them better. If they don't want to put in the effort that's not my problem, but as long as they're willing to learn I must teach them. I want to teach them. This school is like a challenge every day.

Your mission as a teacher: figure out how to get kids who don't do homework and have a weak background in written English to understand complex literary concepts.

They don't come into the room knowing everything. They honestly come in with major gaps in their education. But that's what makes my job fun. I get to puzzle out how to reach them and keep them interested at the same time, and in the process I learn a lot about them and their culture, and sometimes a few new things about the literature I teach.

All in all it's not a bad job. I wish the people who hate it would go away.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Emily joins the club

My kids are learning valuable lessons about advocacy these days. Today after school a large group of the more socially conscious students gathered with teachers, parents and a couple of major teachers' union reps to protest our Principal's tyrannical policies and demand his firing. Two newspapers and Fox news were there.

I went even though I forgot my T-shirt because I'm not going to be scared. I've never been the kind of person who was afraid of expressing my opinion if I thought injustice was being done, and the more we've discussed Principal's complete disrespect for his employees and his students, the more I've realized I need to add my voice to the people speaking out. Because the more of us who speak out, the more power we take from him.

The coolest thing is how this is really energizing the kids. They are seeing how when you speak out you can accomplish great things, and they're learning about the power of the press, and what the word "fascism" means. I'm going to offer a free A in the class to any student who gets a letter published on any subject in the LA Times. I went from being ambivalent to thinking this is all kind of exciting.

So if you watch the news tonight you might catch a glimpse of me standing in the crowd smiling as I protest the existence of a man who authorizes my paychecks.

Tomorrow I'll be writing a tirade about the teachers at our school who suck.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Back in the saddle

I've been a bit of a hypocrite lately.

When Partner and I finished Bamboo Killers I was pretty excited, but wasn't sure what to work on next. I took a week off from writing to relax, then planned to start my Heroes spec. But I could never really finish working out the beats, so I decided to start working on my French biopic. But the research for that is a bit overwhelming, so I was using it as an excuse to do no writing. But the truth is, I wasn't really researching either.

Then I scrapped French biopic when I came up with Zombie story. Zombie story excites me in many ways and is exactly the kind of film I've always wanted to write except I hadn't really anticipated zombies so much as evil henchmen. But either way, here's a story I finally have some major enthusiasm for that won't take years to research, is high concept, and if done right will sell for a zillion dollars.

This is me, the champion of no excuses writing, the nagger of lazy people, the ambitious, busy girl who never turns down an invitation and writes at least a couple of pages a day over lunch time.

Except I didn't. I kept talking about outlining but didn't really get around to outlining at all. And I didn't write anything either.

For a month and a half I haven't written a single page of screenplay. That's unheard of for me.

So today I pulled out my laptop and refused to get up from the computer until I had something on screen. Sometimes just writing a page or two jump starts the rest of the creative process, and I always see my opening scenes very clearly in my head.

So there it is. I wrote two pages. Now I'm not a hypocrite anymore.

Unless I let those two pages sit for another month undeveloped. Then I give everybody permission to berate and beat me over the head.

Watch that progress bar. Don't let me slack off again.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mutiny on the campus

There's a mutiny afoot at my school.

Our Principal has no people skills. Everybody hates him. EVERYBODY. He's angry all the time, he loves to hear himself talk over the intercom, and he constantly brags about all the amazing things he's done in his 38 years of life. Never before have I met a man who was both a Navy Seal and a midwife who graduated from college while he was still in high school.

He'd be a great cartoon if he didn't intimidate the crap out of everyone he meets.

To his credit, the school is a safer place with Principal in charge because everybody is scared of him. But that's the only thing to his credit.

He constantly tells us how horrible we are, how little we care about the kids, how much we should try to be more like him and have as little fun as possible while we work every day. And he's doing his best to make that happen.

Remember my friends, the married couple? Well, Roger is also something of an abrasive personality. He comes to meetings with a permanent scowl on his face and does not know how to pick his battles. His wife sits behind him, nodding in agreement and also scowling.

Recently the three of us were called separately into the office where Principal reprimanded us for not paying enough attention at a recent meeting. I explained that I did all the assignments and was then bored so I played on the internet. He told me to be more attentive next time and sent me on my way. It was annoying, but hardly worth fighting over.

When Roger and Catherine got the same reprimand, they yelled and screamed an sent around a memo to everybody about how horrible Principal is.

They don't pick their battles.

That's why when they really had a problem, I was not really inclined to support them. Principal recently walked into a staff meeting and berated Roger in front of everybody for discouraging lower level students from taking his AP English class. Some of these kids failed his English class last semester. Principal's response? "They didn't fail you, you failed them."

Then on Friday Roger used his loyal students to make a point. He walked them into his wife's classroom where Principal was observing and had them demand books and equipment from Principal. Principal was embarrassed and ordered Roger to stop disrupting Catherine's class. Roger refused. Principal called the cops and had Roger removed from campus.

This weekend was a flurry of phone calls and emails as the staff discussed these developments and their combined hatred of Principal. I keep my mouth shut, not because I'm trying to save my skin or anything nefarious, but because I honestly think people bitch too much around here. I come from a non-union state where you just have to suck some things up and deal, and most of the problems with this school are caused not by Principal but by the bureaucrats at the District.

I would also probably be a lot more willing to help if Roger hadn't turned into a massive douchebag the day he got married.

Roger has now whipped his kids and their parents into a frenzy and they are currently protesting Principal's behavior outside the school. They're suggesting that he's trying to take AP out of the school, which is a big stretch on the truth.

Nonetheless, Principal is a pretty tyrannical overlord and it is good to see the kids riled up about something other than Myspace.

The kids asked why I wasn't protesting. I explained that I have to be here teaching and don't have time to stand on a picket line.

But I'm not sure if I'd protest even if I didn't have to work today. I think a lot of this is a personal grievance that has been blown out of proportion. Then again, Principal has done everything he can to secure an iron grip on the school, only freeing up money for his pet projects and leaving everybody else to fend for themselves. And he plants his face in front of the TV cameras as often as possible when he has something to brag about.

He's not exactly planting his face in front of the cameras today, though. He hasn't even come near the protesters, probably because he's concerned the vein on his forehead will explode all over them.

Today is the day I really wish I ran a school newspaper. Unfortunately, Principal would never free up to money to start one and he probably wouldn't allow me to print this story.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lookit, my school

You know you want to watch this movie.

I wish I'd been there when they shot the food fight scene.

My heroes

People love to make lists. I love to make lists too. And I've made a few lists of things I like in the past, but I've neglected the all-important list of people I want to grow up to be. Screenwriters.

So here are my top five screenwriters. I'm not counting television writers, so I'll save my love for Joss Whedon for another day. We're also talking simply about body of work here, not writing style. Feel free to comment at will or post your own list on your own blog.

5) Shane Black
Come on, he's Shane Black. Lethal Weapon pretty much originated the modern buddy cop movie. That scene in the beginning where Riggs contemplates killing himself as he looks at his wife's picture? Amazing. All the character information you need to get this guy in a tiny little dialogue-free glimpse into his private life. The Last Boy Scout was pretty awesome and people may disagree with me but I really like The Long Kiss Goodnight and The Last Action Hero. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is fun and clever and you really root for these guys to make it through the night. Then there's Monster Squad. But we don't have to talk about that. Still, the man wrote some great action scripts on his own. He's nobody's bitch in this town. You've got to respect that.

4) David Koepp
He worked on Spiderman, Mission Impossible, and Jurassic Park. In each case, he had nothing to do with any less than stellar sequels that followed, although he is working on Spiderman 4 which hopefully means it will kick ass. He also wrote The Shadow, Carlito's Way and one of my personal favorites, The Paper. The man knows how to weave action into story, and The Paper proves he knows how to write the funny.

3) Brian Helgeland
Man on Fire was a decent movie, but it had an awesome title, didn't it? And people may disagree with me about A Knight's Tale, but for years I had a poster in my bedroom of Heath Ledger's giant head and a tagline that said "He will rock you." I love that damn movie. Then there's Payback, a movie that was just pure fun. But the kicker is LA Confidential. I went the other night to the Formosa Cafe where a couple of scenes from the film were shot and I kept excitedly repeating "A hooker cut to look like Lana Turner is still a hooker, even if she looks like Lana Turner. -She IS Lana Turner. -What? -She IS Lana Turner." That makes me laugh every time.

2) William Goldman
Naturally. The other day I went over to a friend's house where we were supposed to leave from to go sing karaoke and she happened to have The Princess Bride playing on her TV. We all sat down and watched it. It sucked us in, even though everyone in the room had seen the movie about a dozen times, and we all started reciting lines as the film progressed. There aren't many films that are that universally loved and remembered. On top of that Goldman has written Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, A Bridge Too Far, Misery, Maverick, The Ghost and the Darkness and like eight million other memorable films. Plus, he's a cantankerous old man with a fascinating ire toward Tom Cruise, Nicholas Cage and Robert Altman. He's excellent fun to watch speak because he says exactly what he thinks about everybody. He can afford to. He's William Goldman. Get off his lawn.

1) Paul Haggis
Million Dollar Baby made me cringe and weep and cheer, Crash continues to make me think about the nature of racial relationships in Los Angeles and everywhere else. The Last Kiss is one of my all-time favorites and Letters From Iwo Jima is a beautiful film. Casino Royal was a much less absurd Bond film than the usual. Flags of Our Fathers moved everybody who saw it. The man hits a home run every time. I want his career. Unfortunately he also worked on Walker, Texas Ranger, but he redeemed himself through his time on Due South. But I'm not counting television anyway. The man's a freaking genius. I wish I knew who he was when I stood next to him for ten minutes at the Expo a few years ago just after Million Dollar Baby picked up all those awards. Next time I'll say something clever.

Yes, they're all white men. As soon as everybody else starts developing the body of work these guys have, maybe we'll get some minorities or chicks in there. Maybe one of them will be me.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Blah blah blah Clever Title

I have a post in the works that's taking me some time to put together. I hope to have it done tomorrow.

In the meantime, here's a picture I like:

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

You have to know your pawns

Bill Martell has an excellent tip for today about backstory. Your characters need well developed backstory or they won't have a well-developed frontstory.

That's probably my greatest writing weakness. I make my characters spring into life as full-grown adults with a tiny amount of thought into where they were before. The only reason for that is that I'm simply lazy.

I'm not lazy about much. I work my ass off most of the time. I keep three or four projects going at the time and I write almost every day. But for some reason the idea of planning out a person's entire life that's never going to appear onscreen bores the crap out of me so I skip it. I want to hurry up and get to the story.

And my stories suffer for it. I know they suffer. That ends up being the source of most of the criticism I receive in my scripts.

Writing Partner insisted on doing this character traits chart for the first project we worked on together and it improved things quite a bit. But when it came time to write my pair of shorts for Bamboo Killers I went back to my old ways. Bamboo Killers turned out to be very good, but that's probably because it's an ensemble piece told in chapters, and the chapters themselves developed a lot of the backstory as we went.

So now I have zombie story in the works. During the staff meeting yesterday I drew up a loose backstory for my five major characters, but they were three or four sentences a piece. That's not good enough.

I have to go back and figure these people out. I should know everything about them. They should be real. Because if they're not real to me, how are they going to be real to someone they just met?

I know Mystery Man and Unk were running some nicely developed character analysis articles in the past, but does anybody have a good chart you use when you design your characters? I didn't like the one Partner and I used. I'd like a new one.

I have to get to know these people before I put them through hell.