Wednesday, October 31, 2007

James Cameron has more money than you

I was watching The Directors on Reelz channel recently and they were featuring James Cameron. And he told a story I keep thinking about as a lesson for us all.

When he was filming Titanic the budget began to spiral out of control. The studio told Cameron he'd have to cut some of the things he wanted in order to save money. He said he'd rather give up his salary than compromise on his film. They took his salary.

The budget kept spiraling so the studio told him he'd have to give up some of the things he wanted to make the film cheaper. Cameron said he'd rather make no money at all from the film than compromise and back a bad movie so they could have his entire back end profit. They agreed-

Except they didn't think this big-budget period piece love drama would make any money, so they never bothered to put the new deal in writing.

James Cameron made a few dollars there, I think.

He had such faith in his film that he was willing to give up all his financial gain. He was making Titanic out of love, and whether you like it or not, he was right about its appeal to the masses. Cameron could have compromised and kept his paycheck and made a mediocre film the world forgot. But he stuck to his guns.

Of course, he already had some money. He wasn't you or me with our paltry paychecks and hopeful daydreams. He'd made Aliens.

Still, that really says something when the director is willing to put his money where his mouth is. He must have felt so vindicated, especially when he realized the studio never signed that contract taking away all his profit.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Oh, the Tom Cruisanity!

I don't remember last year's Halloween very much on account of the Jello shots, but this year I stayed aware of my surroundings enough to not puke all over Venice. Jello shots were continually handed to me but I put them in my pocket and handed them to others, and just stuck to my Solo cup of red wine.

Many people balked at my cup of wine and were convinced I'd be a mess by the end of the night. Dusty the punk rocker who was so skinny his pants were falling off told me he'd look like Brad Pitt by the end of the night if I drank the whole cup. I told him I couldn't wait.

What people didn't seem to realize is that I can take out a whole bottle on my own and still be completely aware of my surroundings.

I was a boxer, as you can see. And yes I realize I keep my hands too low. I pay Trainer to tell me that so you lay the hell off. Also, this picture is post-party so keep that in mind as you examine the frizzy hair and odd chin behavior.

The Friend who went with me was punk rock riding hood, possibly one of the most well clothed girls at the party, except maybe for the girl dressed as a rubix cube. But Color of Money Tom Cruise was enamored.

These six guys all went together as Tom Cruise - Color of Money, Collateral, Mission Impossible, Top Gun, The Outsiders, and Risky Business. Color of Money Tom Cruise was all about my friend, so Collateral Tom Cruise served wing man duty on me. I knew there would be trouble when I commented on the fake gunshot wound on his stomach and he said, "It's not real. It's a Halloween costume."

"Really?" I said with my biggest dose of sarcasm. Great. I'm blond and I'm a boxer with a southern accent so I must also be an idiot. I decided at that point that he was kind of douchey.

Collateral Tom Cruise convinced us to go dancing. Despite his doucheyness he was quite attractive albeit a bit too tall for me - the Tom Cruises were all over six foot - so I allowed a wee bit of the grind to go on. I'll take one for the team. Friend and Color of Money Tom Cruise were getting along swimmingly until Collateral Tom Cruise leaned over and told me how worried he is about his friend because he has a thing for Persian girls.

"She's Pakistani," I said.

"A Persian girl broke his heart. He needs to stay away from Persian girls."

"But she's Pakistani," I said. "She's not Persian."

"I just worry about my friend. I mean, I always do okay but he has problems with girls. Especially Persian girls."

"But Pakistan is not Persia. And really she's from Jersey anyway."

He chose to react by grinding.

He asked me if I was a real boxer. I said yes, I love boxing and take kickboxing lessons. That's when he dropped his hands off my waist like I was a radioactive leper. Figures. He's a banker.

Then Friend and Color of Money Tom Cruise left to get in the bathroom line and I turned around to get my boxing gloves, which I'd left on the ground. When I turned back Collateral Tom Cruise was escaping from the dance floor. That's when I decided he was not only douchey, he was a douchey ass face.

I was way more interested in the Cop I met in the bathroom line. He was in character the whole time and refused to take off his mirrored sunglasses. But after he left the bathroom I never saw him again.

But I was happy that Color of Money Tom Cruise and Friend really hit it off, so when we told him we were leaving I fully expected him to ask for her number. He hugged her and said she was great and then nothing. What is that about? Why do men do that? You invest all this time and all these cool dance moves in a person and then they disappear forever because they're too scared to ask for a number.

On the way out we caught up with Outsiders Tom Cruise struggling not to puke all over himself on account of the Jello shots and Mission Impossible Tom Cruise scoring a chick way out of his league. Top Gun Tom Cruise was completely surrounded by women at all times, as well he should have been.

I wish I'd danced with Risky Business Tom Cruise. He was not a douchey ass face and he had very nice legs.

Monday, October 29, 2007

How I spent my weekend - year two

Suggestion number one for the Expo organizers for next year: don't schedule the Expo on the same weekend as the Halloween parties and preceding my first day back at work after an eight-week vacation.

Good gracious, I am tired.

I was recognized Saturday by a blog reader. Hi, Jane! I feel so loved.

Saturday and Sunday I went to Expo to practice my psychofance (psychofancy? psychofaniness? psychofantasia?) by spending almost all my time sitting in on Bill Martell's classes. I sold his CDs - he nearly sold out. That man is filled with wisdom, but by Sunday afternoon I kind of gleaned every ounce of it from him so I went to listen to Bill Goldman's wisdom instead for a while. His motto: "I don't know what I'm doing."

Lots of stuff was better than last year. The volunteer situation was a disaster. I feel vindicated.

I was going to take Tim Minear's class finally after missing it for two years, then he canceled. What the hell, Tim Minear?

I also tried the Open for the first time. For those unfamiliar with it, the Open is a contest where you sit in a room with a pencil and paper and eight million other writers and you have an hour and a half to come up with a scene that fits a given prompt. Unfortunately I didn't make it past round one, not because my story wasn't good, but because I ignored part of the prompt. Yep. The teacher who constantly nags kids about following directions missed out on round two because she failed to follow directions. I'm such a hypocrite.

It's a shame, too, because I honestly think I could have done an awesome job with the final prompt. Alas. No $5,000 prize for me.

I was going to post my entry, but it contains the coolest idea for a chase scene ever, so I'm going to keep it to myself and use it in my eventual Pushing Daisies spec.

Saturday night I was at the Halloween party until 4 am, of course. I'll tell that story tomorrow. It involves several Tom Cruises, Amy Winehouse and a cop.

Apparently Terry Rossio mentioned the dramatic irony debate in his interview and it got a big laugh from the crowd. I wish I'd been there.

Last night I hung out in the bar for Joel's annual post-Expo drinkathon, where I mined Bill for more advice and met some very excellent new people. I met many bloggers and when a laptop appeared we briefly considered passing around the world's fastest meme, but then opted to just drink instead. I only intended to stay an hour, but ended up being one of the last to leave because I was enjoying the company so much. I met Red Right Hand, The Rouge Wave and Shouting into the Wind among others, and it turns out those are their real names. Who'd have thought?

Red Right Hand did not realize when he met me that I would drag him all over the Expo as my partner in crime. Do not underestimate Emily's ability to persuade you to do things you didn't know you wanted to do.

So after everything I was in bed around midnight and had to be up 6 hours later. My body is not prepared for this. Trainer wants me to run today. I will not run today.

Fortunately I know my students already so they sort of shrugged off my exhaustion. I've got some very cool ideas this semester that I will share at a later date and I managed to gather just enough energy to explain them to the kids before the bell saved my poor, worn-out frame.

It's my planning period now. I think I'll go down to the car and take a nap.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Halloween pregame

Last night I went to a friend's house and hung out with eight actors. I'm exhausted from all the damn drama. Can't you people ever calm the hell down?

I love actors, but eight of them in a living room pretty much performing Anchorman from beginning to end is a bit much for me to take.

Today I'm back at work. The new principal makes everything better. I mean it's like some happy fairyland in that school. Very weird. You ask for things now, you get them. I'll be teaching SAT prep next semester because I asked. It's like an alternate universe.

At one point today while I was frantically copying dollar bills for a thing I'm doing the first day, one of my new coworkers explained to another one how he was trying to make a music CD to accompany the screenplay he just finished. I'm 99% sure it was his first script.

You should be proud of me. I kept my know-it-all mouth shut. I'll wait until I get to know him before I tell him what a massive waste of time that is.

I'm excited about Halloween. This is my favorite holiday because you get to wear in public things people aren't supposed to wear in public and the parties are always plentiful and massive. Earlier this week I had no party to go to. Now I've been invited to three. Yay!

This year, however, I am forbidden from touching the Jello shots. I'm prepared for any surprises though because I'm going as a boxer. It's a great costume. It's comfortable and has pockets, and I can keep my camera inside my glove where it will be padded in case I drop it. Plus, I defy some dude to grab my ass when I'm dressed to kick his.

I'm tying my gloves together with a shoe lace so I can hang them around my neck. I'm also taping up my hands, but I've never done that before because I usually use Mexican wraps so the tape job could look sloppy. I'm also a little concerned that people will simply think I'm Sporty Spice.

I'll probably spend most of my night at the same party as last year, but this time there will be no vomiting in the bushes, hay bales, the side of the road or Friend's toilet. There might be a bar brawl, but I'm prepared for that.

Also, don't forget to come see Bill Martell at the Expo and say hi to me if you like. I'll be there tomorrow and Sunday.

I will most likely be hungover on Sunday, so don't get mad if I seem disgusted with the world.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Namesake

I didn't write anything yesterday because I spent the whole day trying to figure out why Firefox keeps eating all my CPUs. Still no satisfactory answer. In the meantime I'll just keep rebooting the computer every time I use it. It's remarkably annoying.

Anyway, last night a Friend and I went to see the Creative Screenwriting screening of The Namesake followed by a Q&A with the director, screenwriter and two of the stars.

I was really excited to see this film when I saw the previews, then somehow when it came out I completely missed it. It came and went and even though I wanted to see it I didn't even realize it was out. So good job, studio publicity machine. You really botched it.

Here's how else they botched it. The previews had me convinced this was a film about an Indian-American who discovers some secret about how he got his name so he goes on a trip to India to figure out the story behind it, some secret from his dad's past that helps the boy understand his culture.

That's not what this film is at all.

It took me a little while to accept that. It's like when you order Sprite and get water. For a second your tongue rebels against the unexpected taste, but then you get used to it and remember how good water is. I kept waiting for the boy in search of his identity story to start and then I had to accept that this is not that film. Once I did that, it was a pretty good movie. I laughed, I cried, I asked my Friend, who is Pakistani-American, to explain some of the more subtle cultural references.

The film is about family. First it follows a newly married couple as they emigrate to the US. Then it's about their son and his bizarre name and how he copes with being different in a majority white American culture.

Even if your parents aren't immigrants - and mine aren't - the teenage rebellion and annoyance at doing what your parents want you to is relatable to everybody. But if your parents are immigrants, this is your film. Friend teared up several times as events reminded her of her own experiences with her family. During the movie her mom texted her and Friend rolled her eyes. At the end of the film she was all remorseful and ready to call her mom first thing in the morning.

The director, Mira Nair, is exactly the kind of director I aspire to be. She's fast, efficient and considerate. She had 11 days to get all the footage in India and she did it by being organized as hell. In one day of shooting she had 13 set-ups and it sounds like she did it all without pissing anybody off. Amazing. And what a crew she must have had to get that done.

All in all it was a quiet film, not at all what the studios promised in the trailers, but a good film all the same, and it made Friend and me have a long, philosophical discussion while she drove me around searching for my car in the parking deck. It also makes me glad I'm going home for Christmas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Blond girl seeks Jensen Ackles lookalike to vacuum my apartment naked

Ex-Fiance and I had a Sunday ritual, back when we weren't boring the crap out of each other, of going to a bagel place for lunch and grabbing the local indie paper to peruse the personal ads while we ate. We especially liked "variations," the section dedicated to finding people into the kinkiest shit you can do with your body. We often discussed what kind of people they must be in real life.

These days I like to read the personal ads on Craigslist. When you think about it, it's an interesting test in writing ability. You have to come up with a title that will make someone click on your posting over literally hundreds of others each day. Then you have to write a convincing list of reasons why a girl in a city filled with beautiful people would want to meet you in a dark coffee shop or your seedy apartment for a conversation or an all-night S&M fest, depending on what you're into.

Here's a tip, fellas. Stop writing your ads in all caps. And stop talking about how much you suck. Also stop talking about how much women suck.

I love how you'll read one ad where a sad, lonely guy just wants to talk, then a massive 38-year-old white boy seeks a tiny Asian girl to marry him and love him forever while also giving him massages and cooking his meals in exchange for paying her bills, then a tattooed "former model" describes all the nasty names he'd like to call you while he holds you down by the neck and violates you in the rear with a vibrator imprinted with a skull and crossbones.

I saw one posting that simply said this: "It works! Craigslist got me laid!"

Good for you, buddy. Good for you.

I can't wait to see what kind of weirdos Google will bring me tomorrow. Go away, this is not a porn site you freaks.

Anyway, I went over to the girls' side, curious to see what kinds of things girls write in a city where they could easily get laid by putting on a halter top and walking up and down Hollywood in front of Geisha House at midnight on a Saturday.

That's when I came upon the 18-year-old who's "sick of the games" and just wants to settle down and get married and can't find a man who wants the same. Oh, honey, not only is that just a bad idea in general, but do you really think Craigslist is the place to seek your future teen suburban dad?

Can you imagine having to explain to your kids that you met on a site that often connects prostitutes with their clients and beat-up sofas with the college students who will further stain them with beer?

Admittedly, though, not all of these guys sound so horrible. I'd probably send one or two of them a picture if they didn't live so far away. If God had meant for us to be together, Fun Outgoing Guy Looking For His Partner In Crime, he wouldn't have let you move to the fucking Valley.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Bible tells me so

I've always had a complete fascination with religion. People get so worked up over it and kill each other and have long, ridiculous debates and not a single person has any proof they're right. And each option is so interesting and so filled with history and logic and then anti-logic, I love them all.

In college I took a couple of Bible as philosophy classes with one Calvin Mercer, pretty much the best professor ever because he would never tell us what his religion was and we could never figure it out. That's a good religion teacher. I learned a lot about the Bible that year, made doubly interesting by the fact that my roommate was obsessed with being Christian but had never actually read anything other than Revelation. That taught me quite a bit about people who believe something just because it's what they're told to believe. I've never been that kind of person.

Right now I'm working on this zombie script and I have a character who only speaks in quotes from the Bible. It's been a while since I've been thoroughly through this book, although I do reference it a lot in class since much of English literature is based on its teachings. Last night I was going through Leviticus because if you know your Bible you know Leviticus is where the party's at, and I discovered the following things I didn't know.

I am unclean. Because of my vitiligo I am considered to have an infectious (it is not actually infectious, ancient biblical dudes) skin disease and as a result I must do the following:

"The person with such and infectious disease must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, 'Unclean! Unclean!' as long as the infection remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp."

Well, crap.

I also learned that you are not to have sex with the following people:
a close relative
your mother
your father's wife
your son's daughter
your daughter's daughter
the daughter of your father's wife
your father's sister
your mother's sister
your father's brother's wife
your daughter-in-law
your brother's wife
both a woman and her daughter
both a woman and her granddaughter
your wife's sister, but only while your wife is alive
any woman while she's on her period
your neighbor's wife
a man, if you're a man

It doesn't say anything about sleeping with your brother-in-law, so I'm in the clear on that one.

Just kidding. My former brother-in-law is revolting.

Have you heard about that new book by AJ Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically? The guy spends an entire year living by the rules of the Bible, most of which can be found in Leviticus. So he couldn't touch pig skin and he couldn't sit where his wife sat when she was on her period or sleep in the sheets where she slept while she was on her period until they'd been washed. He said that bit pissed her off so much she sat in every single chair in the house just so he'd have to stand up all week. I'm definitely getting that book.

That Bible. I tell you, it's some interesting stuff.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

True independent film

Last night Maggie invited me to go see a movie at the Arclight. It was a friend of a friend thing, so we got free passes.

Somehow it was part of the Hollywood Film Festival. Did you know there was a Hollywood Film Festival? I did not but suddenly I found myself at it.

The film we went to see was a documentary called Do It For Johnny. I had never heard of this film and Maggie had never heard of this film and all we knew was that it had something to do with Johnny Depp. He was not there.

In the pre-film drinking at the bar time I met the film's director, Haylor Garcia. At some point someone said they couldn't wait to see his excellent film and he said, "Whoa. I don't think I can take that kind of pressure. Now you'll be let down."

So I said, "You want people to expect it to suck so then you can only go up from there."

He liked this idea, so I promised to expect only suckitude from his film.

Well, as it turns out, it didn't suck. It even went beyond barely tolerable. This film was downright good.

Don't you love it when movies surprise you?

Here's the story: Haylor wrote a screenplay called Narcophonic (which is a terrible title but appears to be an excellent script) about a musician and guitar maker named Scott Baxindale. He wanted to direct the film using the best actor for the part and after passing around many names came to rest on Johnny Depp because he's both an excellent actor with a record for supporting independent film and a talented guitarist. So how to get Depp the script?

They decided to make Depp a $4,000 custom guitar with the script inside a compartment in the back. It sounds crazy, but it's hard to say no to a free hand-made guitar when you're as dedicated a musician as Depp. That's what they thought, anyway.

So the film chronicles their journey to find a way to get this guitar into Johnny's hands. They were willing to hand it over to one of four people who could get it to its destination - Depp himself, Robert Rodriguez, Johnny's agent at UTA, or Johnny's sister at the Infinitum production company.

It becomes clear over the course of the film that even though Johnny himself is a very nice guy, the people who surround him are arrogant pricks, although nobody is quite as big a douche-nozzle as the woman who represents Robert Rodriguez. I hope he sees this film and fires her ass because something tells me he wouldn't approve of her patronizing behavior toward this independent film crew.

But that goes with the theme of the picture. Johnny supports independent film, Rodriguez supports independent film, but the people who shield them from the little people do everything within their power to crush the independent spirit. Some do it politely, but nevertheless they stand between the lowly filmmaker and the million dollar star.

I won't tell you if they succeed because the journey is what makes this film so charming. With every little victory you cheer and cross your fingers. With every let down you cry a little with Haylor and his team. This film is funny and sad and entertaining and so poignant to those of us on the outside looking in.

Am I gushing? Okay maybe I'm gushing. I'm just so excited to find a gem of a documentary at a random film festival I didn't even know existed and sort of lucked into thanks to Maggie.

If you have a chance please go see this film. You'll thank me later.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Jesus loves the zombies too

I know, it's not a cat but it's so very appropriate.

Bill Martell's script tip for today is a new one about ways to make your vampire movie original in an industry saturated with vampire movies. Naturally I read this column carefully since I'm currently working on a zombie movie, which falls into many of the same problems as vampire films.

I examined my concept to see how it stacks up.

I'm always interested in the small story. So even though zombies are the central antagonists, most of the conflict in this script is internal. My humans conflict over the state of their marriage or religion or the proper way to destroy the living dead. My secondary antagonists are pretty much the protagonists.

Is it enough? Is the fact that my characters fight their own insecurities while also fighting zombies enough to make the story engaging? I don't want to crowd my story with more story and characters if it's not needed. I already have about 13 major characters, and none of them exists just to be killed, which I think is very important. No character should EVER exist for the sole purpose of dying. If killing them doesn't change anything in the other characters, they never should have existed in the first place.

So while I was thinking about all this in terms of the script I started researching Bible quotes. I have sort of this underlying religious tone in the story because one of the characters is obsessed with Jesus and quotes from the Bible all the time.

Then last night as I was reading sections, looking for quotes she might used, I realized she ONLY speaks in Bible quotes. A lot more work, but a much more interesting character. But then I realized if I had a character who only speaks in Bible quotes I'd need someone to interpret what she means. I already had some conflict with her husband that originally existed only to serve as a foil to another couple, but I suddenly realized her husband could interpret her Bible quotes. Why would he know how? Because he was a minister before the zombies attacked and now he's lost faith while his wife has become obsessed with God.


That's the sound I made when I came to this conclusion.

I took two minor characters and made them way more important. I took an issue that was sort of a background idea - religion - and made it a major theme of the script. And I made these two people infinitely more interesting and developed than they were before.

Now I can go through each of my characters and see how I can incorporate the theme of Christian faith into their experiences.

I don't know if it's enough to make my script stand out above all the other zombie films, but if I just keep having epiphanies like those it might be.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Emily goes all sad and pensive on your ass

If I've sounded a little cranky lately it's because things haven't been going well. No need to go into detail, but something happened recently that kind of confirmed all my worst fears. Okay maybe more insecurities than fears; the sadistic clown I occasionally see in my dreams has yet to try to knife me in the clavicle so technically my worst fears are still safely tucked away. But in the meantime my personal life is kind of shamblesque and I can't stop feeling sad.

Ever get like that? Where you can't stop feeling sad? And it hurts to wake up and you try to act happy around everybody so they won't tell you the same optimistic cliches you'd tell them in the reversed position? And all you want to do is curl up in the closet under a pile of clothes and sleep until it goes away?

Yeah, me neither. That's crazy talk.

This is about when I knew I wanted to be a writer. I always wrote since I can remember knowing how. I once tried to sell a series of books at my elementary school and started writing a biography of my life when I was 9. It was mostly about my parakeets. In seventh grade I won a state contest with a choppy story about how much my real dad sucks. I was on the newspaper staff. I jotted down poems on the phone ordering pads at the Boston Market where I worked.

I went to college to study writing. But I didn't know it, feel it in my core until I wrote a short story about my childhood.

One morning during my college years I woke up in my dorm room and suddenly remembered a traumatic event I'd repressed since early childhood. My roommate was fast asleep, as was everybody else on campus. Even the drunk guys who used to slam the stop sign below my window and cuss up at the girls who'd tell them to shut up because people were sleeping - those guys were gone. And I saw this image that used to scare the piss out of me just hanging there over my head. I got up and went to my computer - a fabulous Apple IIC with spellcheck and everything - and began to type up a memory I'd only just then found in my head, but one that had plagued me my entire life in the subconscious.

I wrote it that night, I shared it next week in my creative nonfiction class, and the fear just evaporated like water on a tanning bed. It's that feeling all plagued writers know, that something swims around in your head, tying desperately to articulate itself and escape, because if the pain becomes words on a page it's malleable. You can change the story, make the good guys win. Make the bad guys pay. At the very least you can make somebody care.

That's probably why so many stories end with little girls beating up their daddies. I remember the Rouge Wave said that she saw a ton of scripts like that, therapeutic pieces where girls were using the script to fantasize about how they'd really like an encounter with Crappy Daddy to go.

The day she posted that I put away the script where the lead character punched her dad right before learning that he was miserable without her. Therapy, yes, but sellable, no. Thanks, Wavinatrix, for pointing that out.

But not all stories are meant to be sold. Some are the conduit for your emotions. That story I wrote in the middle of the night was the first good thing I'd ever written. I've lost the story since then, but I have a picture of me reading it at a coffee house to a small, smokey but sympathetic audience and I keep that picture on the fridge to remind me that no matter what pains you, it will always be okay in the end.

But only if you write it down.

What do you do to feel better when you're sad?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Irony will be the death of us all

The irony debate over at Wordplayer has gotten a bit out of hand.

Here's the scenario, which I first referenced a few days ago. Terry Rossio posted an inspiring article about how to play with expectations of both audience and character within a script.

Great article. Nobody here is arguing anything else.

However, Terry make the mistake of calling these references "dramatic irony."

"Dramatic irony" is when the audience knows something a character does not know. That's the definition, the universally accepted definition. I even looked it up in several places just to make absolutely sure I didn't have it wrong all these years, and the general literary world seems to agree with me.

The real mistake I made was in trying to describe irony. Just basic irony, when expectations conflict with reality.

Stupid Emily.

The problem is, irony is such a complex concept and I was trying to boil it down to its simplest roots, without realizing that everybody who's ever taken an English class has their own interpretation of what irony is and will stick to that interpretation even in the midst of battling a pack of wild dingos.

The audacity of me, disagreeing with people. I mean, really.

The real IRONY here - suckers! - is that the very people who were accusing me of forcing them to accept some societal definition advocated by cookie-cutter English teachers (and isn't that kind of what a definition is?), were also the very people who were demanding that I be burned at the stake for disagreeing with the majority.

But whatever. I gave up on that discussion. Irony is just too complex and I didn't take that into account when I tried to explain it. And some people who haven't been calling for my execution made some very good points that I've been turning over in my head for the past couple of days.

Still, Terry hasn't changed the references in his post to correct his mistake. So I thought I'd go back to the beginning and help to clarify the original problem, one that is much easier to solve.

"Dramatic Irony". It's not the same thing as "irony in drama". Terry's problem in this article is that he refers to every example as dramatic irony when in fact most of them are intended to represent simple irony.

I really hate the person who named these devices.

What's really driving me insane is that even that is causing a ruckus. Even though dramatic irony has one meaning, a meaning I've been teaching for ages, a meaning you can find in almost all literature books across the land, people are still disagreeing with me, and for some reasons so silly I just tried to type up five different sentences trying to explain why and none of them made any sense.

And then the truth came out. Terry doesn't like the definitions of dramatic irony so he came up with a better definition. Well no wonder. If this whole argument is over how to define dramatic irony and Terry makes up his own definition, we're never going to stop arguing because he's never going to acknowledge the real definition and I'm never going to acknowledge his fake one.

I met this guy once who hated Pulp Fiction because he claimed that nobody changed throughout the film - there were no character arcs. So I brought up Marcellus Wallace. Nope, he said, Marcellus didn't change at all. I knew at that point there was no point in continuing the discussion because if this guy wasn't going to agree on what I believe to be a pretty obvious plot point, then we were never going to be on the same level in the discussion.

That's kind of what I feel like now. If I tell you that your feet are on the ground and you keep telling me that you float, we can't really have a logical conversation.

So great. I may have made the writer of Shrek and the Pirates movies my enemy for life. Yeah that's a typical Emily maneuver.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Expo 6 recommendations

It appears I will be attending the Expo after all as Bill Martell's assistant. So if anybody wants to drop by and say hi (or slap me in the face if you've been part of the Great Irony debate over at Wordplayer), I'll be where he is during the Saturday and Sunday sessions. And you want to sit in on Bill's seminars anyway because they're worth the $5.

If it's your first time at Expo let me give you a hand deciding what's worth your money.

I don't recommend bothering with the pitch fest unless you just want to hone your skill in pitching. Out of the insane amount of people pitching, maybe one will end in a sale. Most of the execs there don't want to talk to you and aren't being very well compensated. Listening to other people pitch at this thing, however, is a valuable education. If you can, take some time and just listen and cringe. Or you can watch this educational video.

If you're good at writing on the fly, try the Open contest. It's only $8 and is a great test of skill. This will be the first year I'm going to try it.

Most of the guests of honor are worth sitting in on, especially since you don't have to pay extra to see them speak. You learn a great deal from just listening to the experiences from successful writers. My favorite interview ever was last year's conversation between Harlan Ellison and Ron Moore, which was more like an informative comedy routine than boring interview. You should also make sure you sit in on William Goldman and listen to his great wisdom and crankiness. He's fantastic and has enough clout to tell it exactly like it is.

As for the classes, most of them are a waste of your time. The speakers spend all their time dealing in common sense. But there are a few gems that are very much worth the time and money:

Bill Martell
Two years ago I sat in on about 5 classes and felt like I actually learned something from one of them. Bill was that one. He's sold screenplays that have been produced and he runs the Script Secrets website with a daily tip that never fails to make me think of my script in new ways. He's great, and I'm not just saying that because I'll be selling his CDs after each seminar for a low price that you can easily afford because I'm saving you money right now by telling you what not to waste your dollars on.

Joel Haber
Joel's a personal friend, but also the most enthusiastic human being I think I've ever met. He brings that enthusiasm to the classroom where he waxes excited about what makes scripts work. It's basically a literary criticism course from the perspective of the studio reader, which is a job Joel has held for many years. He knows what will get past the reader because he was one, and now he is also a professional writer working on his first feature film.

Tim Minear
This one's a big favorite for anyone interested in television. In case you haven't heard, Tim Minear has written for and created some great TV shows including Firefly and The Inside. Tim treats the class like a writer's room and uses a white board to take story ideas from the group. He goes through what works and what doesn't, and breaks down what it takes to get from idea to episode. If you want to write for television you absolutely must sit in on his seminar. He's also a super swell guy. Last year he went to lunch surrounded by writers asking questions which he patiently answered, then he came back from lunch early to work a little extra time with the class.

Fran Harris
Last year one of my many jobs was to sit in a room and keep things going while that room's volunteer ran off to the bathroom. I sat in on about a dozen different classes and hers was the only one I didn't want to leave. She was amazing. In this particular case she was having people stand up and pitch their films, then the class would critique the pitch. Sometimes it was pretty harsh so bring a thick skin, but it was excellent advice and the woman is definitely not boring. I saw her later when I was overseeing lunch distribution and I told her how fantastic I thought her class was. She was very modest and pleasant and kinda sparkley. She's an empowerment coach and she empowered everybody in that room, including me.

These are the people I recommend because I've had personal experience with them. But there are other speakers I've heard good things about even though I haven't seen them speak myself.

Maggie highly recommends Bill Marsili. I've also heard good things about Jeff Kitchen and Karl Iglesias, and this year Syd Field himself will be there. I also noticed Chris Soth is on the list. I will be checking him out for sure.

Anybody got any other recommendations? Feel free to discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Monday, October 15, 2007

My zombies are action zombies

It's been an interesting adventure, this zombie script.

See, I don't actually like horror movies. Last night I watched 28 Weeks Later which ran at a very fast pace and I thought was pretty awesome until about the last fifteen minutes which didn't work for me at all. But anyway , I had to cover my face during the gross zombie-eats-his-wife scene because it was too gory. And as time goes by and special effects get better those kinds of scenes get more and more realistic and harder for Emily to watch.

So here I am, writing a zombie movie. The thing is, I don't think of it as a horror movie. Every time I tell that to somebody I get a triple take and a shake of the head. Oh, Emily, you fool. A zombie movie without horror is just silly.

Well, I defy your rules, judgmental people.

This is no horror story. This is an action story.

I am blowing things up. I am staging kick-ass fight scenes. I am placing romantic couples in situations where they will bicker constantly until they realize they're meant to be together, shooting things into the sunset.

And yes, somewhere in there zombies try to eat people. But really this is about our heroes trying to prevent zombies from eating people, so most of the gruesome deaths happen to the zombies, not to the people.

That doesn't mean everybody lives happily ever after. I've got a few people dying here, one in pretty brutal fashion, but I just don't want a movie where every minute is about shockingly disgusting deaths. This is about character. If a death is gross it should be because it's advantageous to character development to have it be gross. Not because I'm trying to push the envelope on disgusting my audience. At least, that's how I see it because I don't see those torture porn movies.

And maybe if I get this script to a studio they'll say, what? You have to have gross deaths for this to be a zombie movie. Why are people getting shot in the head so much? This ain't The Departed, sweetie. We need more intestines pulled out and eaten.

And I'll sigh and watch as they destroy my vision for an action zombie movie that's not gross.

But right now today at this minute, I love my script. I just got done writing for an hour, immersed in the story, putting people in peril and making them kick ass and I felt for a little while like it was me kicking ass. Writing is fun.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go blow up a gas pump.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I can has boring cheezburger

A few years ago a friend gave me a copy of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and I didn't eat at a fast food restaurant for two years. It's an important book, one I think everyone should read, sort of a modern rendition of The Jungle.

Then Richard Linklater turned it into a film with a fantastic cast that includes Greg Kinnear, Bruce Willis, Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Luis Guzman among others. It came out and it disappeared into box office oblivion even though it got some decent reviews. It's a shame because this could have been a very important movie that changed the way we eat the way Supersize Me help affect fast food menus around the nation.

But it didn't, and I think I know why. The film is boring.

Remember that "show, don't tell" thing we all learned early in our writing lessons? Somebody forgot that rule here.

Here's the story: Some college kids did some independent tests on burgers from Mickey's fast food chain and found large levels of poop. So Greg Kinnear goes to the plant where the burgers are made and investigates the situation. In the meantime we watch Paul Dano bitch about working as a teenager in a Mickey's restaurant that could easily be robbed and a handful of illegal immigrants who work at the dangerous plant.

That's it. Rumor has it our food is dangerous but nobody dies from it. Rumor has it our plant is dangerous but nobody dies from working there, although one character does finally get injured about 75 minutes into the movie in a scene that should have been the beginning of the film.

All the things people talk about happening are more interesting than anything that actually happens.

Case in point: The "quirky" ranch owner. A fast food manager described a crazy ranch hand as quite a character, a real crazy guy, a nutjob - you'll see what I mean when you meet him. But the ranch owner, played by Kris Kristofferson, acted just like you'd expect an old ranch owner to act. I kept waiting for him to do something nutty but he never did.

That's the problem with the whole film. They talk about the killing floor where cows get butchered and you walk in pools of blood but they don't show it until almost the last frame. They talk about people losing limbs on the job but never show it. They talk about the Mickey's getting robbed but never show it. So there's no sense of real urgency ever, especially since Greg Kinnear's character works for the company so he's not really driven to find out the truth since it would negatively affect his corporate profits. Then, when he doesn't find anything out, he disappears completely from the film.

Fast Food Nation would be much improved if it started with something more important. What if we opened on a worker getting killed by accident in the plant but the supervisors cover it up and mix the body into the meat. Maybe the worker's girlfriend decides to investigate what happened. Maybe somebody finds a finger in the food and they have to investigate where it comes from.

Maybe someone in the Health Department tries to investigate but the fast food lobby tries to stop him. Or perhaps a child gets sick from E. Coli. Or a Mickey's gets robbed and an angry employee decides to get revenge on the company by telling the world how disgusting the burgers are. All of these things are based on events described in the book, and all of them would be more interesting than what is actually presented in this exposition-happy film.

There's a scene toward the end of the film where a self-righteous teenager says "Action speaks louder. I'm tired of nice people sitting around and complaining..."

Yeah, me too, man. It's too bad we didn't have this discussion at the beginning of the film.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

No, Alanis, it's not ironic

Sooooo here's the thing. Terry Rossio is fantastic and has written many fine screenplays and is a very pleasant man who is filled with knowledge.

But he's also wrong.

Recently he posted three new columns up at Wordplayer (yay! new columns!) and one of them was entitled "Dramatic Irony". And I'm sorry Terry, you know tons about writing a screenplay and making movies but you don't know jack diddly squat about how to explain dramatic irony. In fact, you're not actually defining dramatic irony at all.

It's okay. A lot of people don't get what irony is. In fact that cat up there is also incorrect, but that's to be expected since we all know cats can't even get basic grammar straightened out.

Irony is complicated and every year I spend a whole day just explaining the concept. I will share with you a summary of my lesson so we can all finally share a common vocabulary.

First of all, "dramatic irony" and just plain vanilla irony are two completely different things. There's a reason it's called dramatic irony but it's so very complex it would only confuse everybody more, so I usually just tell my students to memorize the difference and not worry about the dumbass who decided to create such a similar name for two different literary terms.

Dramatic irony happens when you know something a character doesn't know. It's as simple as that. When you see Michael Myers in that sheet with the glasses on looking at that dumb slutty girl on the bed you know she's going to die. You tell her to get away, but she doesn't have a clue because she thinks he's her boyfriend.

Oh, but he's not your boyfriend! Run, bitch! But she never runs because she's a dumb blond slut who drinks beer and has sex with boys and that's what she gets.

(That kills in the classroom when I act that whole scene out. I have them in stitches every single time.)

Anyway, we know it's Michael Myers. She doesn't. That's dramatic irony. It's good stuff for building suspense.

"Irony," however, is something completely different.

It's impossible to clearly define irony, hence the problem people have understanding it, but I do have a couple of functional examples I use in my classroom every semester.

I always define irony as an occurrence that is the opposite of what is expected.

So let's take one of Alanis Morrisette's many completely wrong examples.

A man is afraid to fly so he never takes a plane anywhere. Then one day he finally takes a plane and it crashes. Isn't it ironic?

No. It's really not. That's exactly what he expected to happen.

Here's ironic:

A man is afraid to fly and never takes a plane. In his complete and total paralyzing fear of flying he's convinced his flight to Arizona will crash so he takes a bus. His would-be plane lands safely but he wouldn't know because he was decapitated in a horrifying bus accident.


Oedipus Rex ran away from home so he wouldn't kill his father and marry his mother. But running away from home is what made him run into his real father and kill him, then find his real mother and marry her. If he hadn't run away from his fate he would not have made it happen.


The opposite of what you expect. Oedipus thought he'd be safe if he ran. Fear of flying guy thought he'd be safe on the bus. Oh, no, bucko. You got bitchslapped by irony.

Here endeth the lesson.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Call me Flykiller

I am a mass murderer.

It's not like I wanted to be a murderer. I kept telling them to go, escape, leave before I crushed and dismembered them and threw them in the toilet. But they wouldn't listen.

Three days ago I was suddenly attacked by a swarm of flies. It was like The Birds, but with flies. But not like Jeff Goldblum flies, more like fruit flies. Lots and lots of fruit flies.

I guess it all began when I failed to take out the trash. I live alone with Cyrano the cat (pictured above) so I don't fill up a trash can very quickly. Sometimes I throw old food into the trash and forget about it until a mass of gnats finds its way in my apartment through my always open balcony door and then I'm attacked every time I turn on the faucet.

This was the case a week ago. So I threw out the trash and washed my hands of the whole affair.

Only it appears the gnats never left. They hid, waiting, growing, surviving off the tiny food particles too small for the human eye to see, making midnight raids in the kitchen while I slept, oblivious.

Then one day they were flies, swarming my five-headed lamp and buzzing around my head as I tried to watch Pushing Daisies (isn't that show just the bee's knees?). At first I thought there were a dozen of them. Oh, no, my friend, this was no mere dozen. This was an entire army of flies, amassed to steal my light and attack my kitty.

At first I thought I'd just leave the door open. Maybe they'd disappear on their own when they discovered the world outside. After all, they grew up in this apartment, perhaps they'd like to fly free into Hollywood and make their way into movies.

But they were too comfortable and afraid of the sounds of moving traffic. So I tried turning off all the lights in the apartment and turning on the balcony light. Go into the light! I shouted in the darkness, my face lit only by the yellow glow outside.

A few small bodies whizzed out and landed on the light. Success.

I closed the door and turned on the light. Five hundred twenty-two thousand and a half flies still clung to my lamp.

The cat, my 17 pound muscular professional wrestler of a feline, would not come out from under the desk in my bedroom. Sometimes, just to taunt him, they would do barrel rolls right by his face. He made food raids, running into the kitchen, munching on whatever was in his bowl, then racing back as soon as a fly brushed past his fur.

Something had to be done. I had to improvise as I had no fly swatter on hand. I grabbed a large unopened envelope containing many useless papers and a fake credit card and began swatting.

Oh, it was brutal! They break so easily, those fruit flies! One would land on the wall and I would barely tap it with the envelope and it would flutter to the floor as its terrified kin took off in a myriad of directions looking for a nonexistent safe haven.

I chased them down, foam draining from my lips, shouting obscenities that kept my neighbors locked in their apartments from fear. I knocked a fly right out of the air and while he wobbled around stunned on the hardwood floor I crushed him with my bare palm. It was gross.

I thought I'd gotten them all so I called Cyrano out and put him in my lap to show him it was safe. He was afraid but he trusted me until another gang of flies whizzed by his head and mocked me in the lamplight. He ran for it. What a pussy.

One fly in particular refused to make things easy. He would land on the ceiling or inside the lampshade or on a curved surface. But I got him eventually. I got them all eventually.

And I went to bed, believing my world to be safe from flies. The cat slept with me, just in case.

The next morning I awoke to find five hundred sixty seven and one third flies waiting by the balcony door, praying to escape the carnage that destroyed their brothers and sisters. So I opened the door and shooed them out with my Envelope of Death. Any uncooperative little bastards I crushed.

I think there's still one left. I will wipe him off the earth eventually. Little fucker.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why I may not go to Expo this year

For the past two years I volunteered at the Expo. I liked volunteering. When I went I didn't know very many people in this town and the Expo was an excellent opportunity to meet them, particularly last year when I ended up on the inside of things.

So this year I contacted the new group running the Expo and asked if they needed some help. A woman called me and we talked and she was very interested in hiring me to help run the program this year. I even had a personal recommendation from last year's volunteer coordinator, the fantastic John Wolff. I was excited. I would now get paid to run around like a maniac fixing things for four days.

First off, I should have been concerned when she cheerfully ignored my first suggestion. I told the woman about the rooms in the basement and how much everybody hated them and that we really should make sure they weren't in use this year and she said, "Oh well we have to use all our available space." Which means those rooms might be back. She never did ask me for any more suggestions.

But I thought, they will. They promised me a job.

But then they didn't call back. I finally emailed the woman who had been so friendly before and asked what the situation was. I received a very curt response simply stating that they weren't looking at volunteers yet. No acknowledgement that we had ever spoken before.

Whatever. I still want to volunteer. I had so much fun last year.

But then I learned that my first day back from vacation will be Friday of the Expo. It's a day filled with stupid meetings, but it's tough to get out of. And then I realized that with Halloween the following week the parties will probably all be that Saturday night of the Expo.

Then I discovered that while in previous years you were asked to volunteer one day of the week to get credit, this time they're asking for two days.

Screw that.

I already know a ton of people in LA, including several who will be at the Expo. I'm not missing Halloween so I can spend my night cleaning up for people who promised me a job then completely forgot who I was. I do support the Expo, and I might still go as a paying attendee, but I won't be volunteering this year.

This does not bode well for the event to come. And I had so much faith in these people when they were nice to me.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

You don't know you like I know you

One of my favorite books in the history of literature is Nabokov's Lolita. It's so filled with subtext, it's brilliant. The story is told from the perspective of a pedophile (Humbert) who basically stalks then repeatedly rapes his girlfriend's 12-year-old daughter. What's so amazing about the novel is how it's told from an unreliable narrator's point of view, so many people completely misunderstand the story and think it's about a young seductress who ruins a man's life.

So I finally got around to watching the 1962 film version of the novel tonight and hated it immediately. The opening scene gives away what was to me one of the great mysteries that kept me turning pages - who did Humbert murder to end up in prison? The girl playing Lolita is about 15 when she's supposed to be 10 at the beginning of the story, and any scenes establishing Humbert's lifelong desire for little girls are completely absent from the picture. And everybody keeps calling her Lolita, when the only person who ever calls her that in the novel is Humbert, because he's trying to take away her identity and make her his possession. And the girl in the film is a total spoiled brat, not the innocent little girl with a childhood crush from the novel.

I thought to myself, man this must have pissed Nabokov off. This film is toothless.

So I IMDB'd it to find out what idiot ruined this fantastic story.

It was Nabokov. He adapted his own novel and Stanley Kubrick directed it.

My brain is imploding.

Did I just completely misunderstand the novel? Did the studio force him to do this? Did Kubrick do away with his balls for the duration of filming?

I don't get it. How does a man destroy his greatest work?

The 1997 version is a little closer to the original text, but still sides with Humbert. Film has yet to do justice to my third favorite novel.

So that's it. I'm going to remake this film one day, the right way, the way Nabokov and Kubrick should have done it. Silly men, not knowing how to tell their own stories.

My people

Over the past two days I've been making a lot of phone calls across the country dealing with various paperwork issues I've been putting off and I've noticed something about where people are from.

Foreigners are generally annoyed by your existence, probably because they can't understand you and you can't understand them and they just want to do the paperwork and don't really like being on the phone.

Northerners really want you to get to the point. They don't care why you've been putting this off, they don't care what kind of day you're having, they just want your account number and a brief summary of what you need them to accomplish.

I imagine if you're from the North that suits you just fine. You probably want to get down to business too and don't have lots of time to waste on the phone in chit-chat.

But me? I like the Southerners. They talk slow and don't mind taking a little time to be genuinely pleasant. If they're having trouble with the stupid tech people not getting their jobs done, Southerners aren't afraid to tell you on the phone - you, somebody they've never met and will never speak to again. And in return I like to tell them why I took so freaking long to make this phone call and how I surely do appreciate all their help and I'm a teacher, see, and sometimes those kids give me a real hard time but you know they also make you laugh a bit and it's all worth it in the end, dontcha know, honey?

And instead of feeling like I bothered people by calling them at work to do their job, I feel like I just sat down for a glass of iced tea with some pleasant neighbor on her front porch and when we were done talking she mailed me some forms.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The verdict is in

There is one less pedophile on the streets of Los Angeles tonight.

The past week and a half I served as first alternate on a jury in an aggravated sexual assault case. The dude is guilty as hell.

A 47 year old man cornered his 13 year old neighbor in the garage of their apartment building as she took out the trash one afternoon. He grabbed her by the wrists, pulled down her pants, pulled down his pants and pushed her up against a car. Just as he was beginning to penetrate the girl's mom came down the stairs looking for her and discovered them together. She immediately called the cops, which is why we got lots and lots of undeniable DNA evidence.

All 14 of us unanimously agreed he was guilty so as the other alternate and I sat in the hall waiting for an hour and a half the real jury made their decision very quickly. I wasn't surprised because I'd been listening. We weren't allowed to discuss the case, but that didn't stop us from posing hypotheticals and discussing law in general and it sounded like we were all pretty much headed to the same conclusion.

You can't argue with the DNA. Unless you're Johnny Cochran.

One of the other jurors asked me to let her know if I use the case in a script. I think I might just do that next time I work on something legal like Bones or something. Unfortunately child rape is not a good topic for a show like Psych because that's the show I'd really like to spec.

I'm glad I got to be a part of the process. In this case the system very much worked because there is no way that man didn't rape that girl and we - okay, they - put him away because of it. Plus, I made a new friend.

I also learned a lot about female genitalia and how sperm is transmitted. So that's kind of cool. Not so much for the guy who's in prison tonight, but he probably should have kept his dick out of that little girl. I feel bad for his wife.

Monday, October 08, 2007

And now, a word from my writing partner

I am stepping aside today to allow Writing Partner to speak his piece. I figure he's due, since I'm constantly going on about him on here with questionable accuracy. He's always emailing me going, hey! I never said that! And I'm like whatever dude. My blog. You said it if I say you said it.

So today he gets to have the floor. Please hold your applause until the end. Thank you.

Writing with Emily

She works her ass off. Do YOU know how rare that is? Do you? DO YOU?

Well, in less than a year a pilot, short, feature, and completely finished, in the can, final scene of the feature is finished…shot, made, crafts services, everything, DONE…well-done. Like a burger. Or steak.

That is why I work with Emily. She does shit. Shit gets does’d, I mean done. Is she easy to work with? Not really, but did you hear me earlier…SHIT GETS DONE! How many of you are actually getting it done? That’s what I thought.

But I digress, because sometimes it IS easy to work with her. It all melts together like a grilled ham and swiss in the toaster sandwich maker that cost $9.99 at Target. And that is a beautiful thing. On the set of Game Night when I saw all of what came out of our brains being brought to life like Frankenstein’s Monster it was exhilarating. And that is because Emily gets shit done. She helped me to curse more. Yep, she did that. I curse like I did when I was 13. But only in the right company of people. You people. The viewers in Blogdom. Readers, whateva’.

To get to the nitty gritty of it all, working with someone who equals or surpasses your passion is the steam that vomits creativity from the barf train. I am telling you these seeds get watered after you get a one sentence plotline racing through your head. You bounce ideas off your partner, she says, “No” and in your mind silently you say “Fuck You” but then by the end of the conversation 100 or more better ideas were not only conceived but slid out the slippery tube of the land of Fallopia. It is that madness, that inner anger, that turmoil of the insecurity of wanting to be an artist, of being a wannabe because you can’t call yourself an artist until you make art, James Joyce, all of those ego bruising phone calls at ALL hours of the day in different time zones, different countries, different universes, those phone calls made some damn good art.

Subject your opinions on our beloved short, object your opinions, I don’t care, because all effort ends in something good, something learned, and if the writing isn’t good enough for some egghead BS quarterfinal of some crap ass writing competition. WHO CARES….cuz I guarantee you most of those 25 cent-finalists will never have any part of their feature made into a beautifully crafted short, nevermind the feature it was intended to be. Okay?

Me and Emily-----We get shit done!

Getting ready

I've been meeting a lot of new people lately. They keep asking what brought me to LA so I tell them, then they always ask, "Any luck?"

And I have to launch into my explanation.

I've been here two years. I have connections. When I'm ready I have a way to get my material to more than one established literary agent. I have connections to producers and TV writers and directors and film executives.

But I'm not ready.

I've written four teleplays, two pilots, six feature length scripts and five shorts but I'm still not ready.

Bamboo Killers is good. It's a strong script, although we need another pass at it for it to be a superior script. But the problem with Bamboo Killers is that I wrote it with a partner and it's also more of an indie film. It's not exactly a blockbuster.

It's also the only feature script I feel comfortable showing anyone. My House episode was good, but it's now way outdated by the recent changes on the show, and I've rewritten my Supernatural episode like fifty times and still can't get it right. So I don't have any good TV to put out there.

One of my problems is that I've tried to hard to write things I know nothing about. I like action, but I've never shot a gun and I've never really been in a situation where I've had to take on the mob. I wouldn't even recognize a mobster if one was eating pizza right in front of me.

As a result, my action scripts have come out a little ludicrous because I don't know what I'm talking about.

So that's what I've been working on. Not the mobster thing - the violence awareness thing. I've been taking the kickboxing partly because it's fun, but also because this way I can learn how to choreograph fight scenes. And it's paid off because an experienced fighter read my boxing story and was surprised by how accurate it was.

And as for guns, I have a close friend who's an expert on the subject so when I need a scene with weapons I call him and ask. Problem solved.

The new script is about zombies. I watched all the major zombie films, all the George Romero movies and Shaun of the Dead and the Dawn remake and 28 Days Later and now I know how most zombie movies work.

I still haven't experienced a real zombie attack, but I know enough about fighting and the locations I'm using that I finally feel like I know what I'm talking about. It's made a huge difference.

I used to skip over the research a bit. I used to make up some interesting characters and hope nobody noticed I was completely faking any knowledge of the subject matter.

Here's what I learned. When you fake it, people can tell.

So no more faking. I have been researching and asking questions and only writing things I know. Originally I had half my script set in Santa Barbara, a place I've never been. Then I went to Monterey on vacation and decided to reset it there. It's a place I've been so I know how to describe it accurately.

The script has been much easier to write this time around. It probably helps that zombies don't actually exist so I can make stuff up.

Hopefully by Christmas I'll finally have that perfect script that will make all these connections jump at the chance to hire me. Then I can start working on my TV specs.

Because I don't want to get out there until I'm truly ready, but I really would like to be ready now.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

I have chloroform

If you've been paying attention to me for a while you know about my coulrophobia. It's the fear of clowns. No matter how many times I tell myself they're just a guy in makeup, I still get swept with a paralyzing terror just by seeing a picture of one.

So last night I did the most logical thing possible. I went with a Friend to Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights.

I tried to tell one of the evil clowns who jumped at me that I have coulrophobia so could he please go away. He chased me and said, "You have chloroform?" which actually helped because it was disarming and comical.

The whole thing was a blast. Costumed dudes run around the grounds jumping up and scaring you and there are a bunch of mazes where Jason, Freddy and Leatherface jump out and try to grab you around every corner. I kept yelling, then laughing hysterically while Friend grabbed my hood to make sure we didn't end up alone. At one point a girl she'd never met before started grabbing her for the same reason. Another girl stopped in the middle of the Texas Chainsaw maze and refused to go on because she was so freaked out.

All this was fun to me until we went on the Terror Tram, which was an outdoor maze created to honor Jack the Clown.

Yes, so Emily who is terrified of clowns went on the Terror Tram.

And it was okay.

I didn't really look at all the evil clowns who ran up to me, I kind of skated past them mumbling "okay, okay, a guy in makeup..." And imagining that if they came too close I could try out my new spin kick. And then we were back on the tram and I was still alive.

So I went and I saw the clowns and I conquered. Halloween Horror Nights: the cure for coulrophobia. They should put that on the brochure.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Unfortunate Adaptations

I know I sad Writing Partner would tell his side of the story today, but he says he needs more time. Apparently starring in pizza commercials is taking up too much of his time.

In the meantime I wanted to talk about the new film opening this weekend, The Dark is Rising: The Seeker.

Remember when Bridge to Terabithia came out and everybody thought it was just a silly Narnia clone? Remember how people were surprised at how good it was? I did hope that's what was going on here.

Bridge to Terabithia was one of my favorite books as a kid.

The Dark is Rising series was more addictive to me than Narnia and Little House on the Prairie combined. And if you actually knew how often I read through those series you understand how intense my love for Susan Cooper's masterpieces is.

I should also mention that the only neighbors my age growing up were fundamentalist Christians and I wasn't allowed to watch TV, which is why I read obsessively and played alone with my dog and my imagination, all things that make me a better writer, but kind of a lonely kid. I want to see my favorite books done justice. Some weeks these characters were my best friends.

Anyway, as soon as I saw the ads for this film I was concerned. I feel like they're making it look like a Harry Potter clone, when the series is much older and darker and more adult than Harry Potter.

It's about a boy who discovers he's one of a handful of people born to stop evil from taking over the world. He does this through collecting talismans and traveling back and forth all over Europe and in and out of time. Good and evil and responsibility and sacrifice and betrayal and all kinds of good stuff.

It's very much in line with the hero's journey as you might expect, but oddly enough it also teaches some cultural and historical awareness along the way. For instance, The Grey King, one of the books in this series, taught me how to pronounce Welsh words properly. The name Lloyd, for instance? In Welsh it's pronounced "yo-ud". I bet you didn't know that.

Unfortunately, Rotten Tomatoes is not giving this film much hope, which is a damn shame. Maybe it's because John Hodge isn't used to writing for a younger audience. Maybe it's because most of David Cunninghams' work had been in television. Maybe the studio asked for stupid changes. I don't know. All I know is I wish I'd had a crack at it, not that I'd do any better than an academy award winning writer, but I do have a love for these books he may not share.

Every time a book I love gets butchered in film form I get so frustrated. And worried. There is one book that keeps flying around Hollywood that nobody seems to be able to get a clear idea about how to adapt. It's my very favorite book in the whole wide world and I want it so bad it's driving me batty. If they fuck it up I am going to be pissed, so I just hope they wait for me. Somebody gimme my book. I know how to adapt it. I could have adapted this one too, dammit.

That should be a rule in this town. If it's a classic story let the adaptation be done by someone who truly loved it. They'll know how to keep its essence pure.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

My Partner and Me

So the quarterfinal results of the Expo screenplay contest were announced today and Bamboo Killers is nowhere to be seen.

My very first screenplay did better than that four years ago. Then again, there were twice as many entries this time around and Writing Partner and I both agree we need another pass at the script.

What annoys the crap out of me is why the hell I didn't enter my favorite short. I have no idea, but it would have kicked the shit out of the competition. This isn't the one I shot, this is the one I want to shoot next. It's about boxing and everybody who reads it loves it. I love it too. But somehow I forgot to submit it to the Expo.

Alas. Onward and upward.

Yesterday David posed a question about writing with a partner so I will now address what I know about the issue. It was only about a year ago I was asking the question. What a difference a year makes.

First of all, I know so very little compared to Terry and Ted of Pirates of the Caribbean fame. Read this article about how they work together first. That will probably answer all your questions because they've actually made money doing this and I haven't made the quarter finals.

But in case you still want my humble experience I'll give that too. If anybody's still listening.

I've got a bunch of posts that have dealt with specific issues that have come up between me and Partner that you can peruse here. I also may have posted on this topic before, but not in as much detail as I will here.

Partner was actually a friend staying at my apartment for a month when he had some domestic troubles last year. He went to film school and directed a few shorts, but most of his direct film experience was in acting. I don't believe he'd ever written a feature length script, which of course I had.

Partner, although I give him much grief, is actually a fabulous person. He drives me bat-shit crazy, but he's also one of my best friends.

I digress.

So we were sitting around one night and I started talking about this idea I had for a TV show about events that follow a school shooting. It was a little bit like The Wire meets Boston Public. Partner loved the concept so we started working out the story beats. Then he moved away to a cold land in the north and we wrote the script over email. It was a giant pain in the ass because I was using Movie Magic and Partner had to use Word. Thank God he now has Movie Magic as well so that nightmare is over.

Anyway, once we had a loose outline of how the story would go one of us - me, I think - started the first few pages. I got about 10 pages in then ran out of steam, so I sent what I had to him. He took a look at what I had, called me, we discussed the next move, then he added some more pages then sent it back to me. Then I called him, we discussed, I added pages and it kept on like that until we had a first draft.

Then that guy shot all those people at Virginia Tech. Thanks, ass face.

So we dropped that script for a while and mulled over where to go next. Then one day we were joking about a night when he was staying with me when we played a game of Taboo with a couple of friends. Then we started building a story out of the events. And using the same back and forth method as before we pumped out 12 pages pretty quickly. Like over a weekend.

It was okay. The characters were fantastic but the story was boring. Then we brainstormed until we came up with the idea that ended up driving this whole thing and making our story go from mediocre to freaking awesome. After that we discussed what else needed to be fixed. We divvied up the tasks. I would take one character and give her a stronger arc and he would take another. Then we were done with the short and I commenced plans to film it.

But we kept talking about these characters and where they could go. And we kept talking about what we would do next. And one morning I woke up with an idea about how to combine both and write a Pulp Fictionlike film we could shoot one story at a time.

Then it was easy. I took two characters and Partner took two characters and we each wrote a short to reveal an interesting look into their character that pushed the larger story at the same time. We tied it all together with a short I'd written a few weeks before that we realized we could revise to serve our new feature.

At first each short was way too much in our individual styles. He's more comedy, I'm more drama. So I did a pass where I changed anything that sounded 100% him and he did the same on my material until it all sounded more even.

We still have a little work to do on our feature since it didn't clear the quarter finals and all, mostly on one of the chapters that's a tad too slapstick comedy to match the rest, but all in all I feel prouder of this script than anything that came before it.

I don't know if we'll write together again; this may be the only thing we complete together. Everything I've started since has been my own personal project and he's gotten pretty heavily back into acting, but I learned a great deal from the experience. I can now show that I work well with others, but I also have scripts of my own that prove he wasn't the one with all the talent.

I guess if you want me to sum up what I learned I'd say two things.

1) Communication. Partner and I were on the phone for as much as six hours a day, sometimes all at once, sometimes in increments. On occasion I would not like something but I wouldn't say anything because I thought Partner loved it. And every single time this happened it turned out that he hated it too but thought I loved it. So you have to be honest and open and communicate.

2) Be open minded. We fought constantly during the writing process. Then again, we'd fight even if we lived in the land of milk and honey and everything was perfect because that's just how we are. So when we disagreed and I'd hang up on him - which I did, frequently - we'd both go to neutral corners and ponder. Then he'd come up with an idea and I'd come up with an idea and we'd meet somewhere in the middle. But if one of us couldn't convince the other it was a good idea to leave in the part in contention, it was out. I believe I got that from Ted and Terry.

Tomorrow: Writing Partner finally tells his side of the story.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Jury Duty

I have jury duty for an unknown amount of time. I'm first alternate on a case downtown. Obviously I can't talk about it until it's over, but it's an interesting learning experience I can share with the kids and use for future writing projects.

It is not Phil Spector's trial, but I did see the massive media circus assembled outside the courthouse this afternoon as I drove home. I'm glad I didn't land on that jury.

There is a picture of Edward James Olmos with his jury badge on the wall in the jury lounge. Now I have a conversation piece for the next time I run into him at a Battlestar Galactica event. He's the only celebrity in his picture who's not smiling.

A talent agent and a former sitcom writer were both rejected from the jury. Alas.

As you might expect, court is a lot more boring than Law and Order. The juror next to me started drawing pictures of flowers in her notebook, then later pulled out her cell and began texting people. If the bailiff saw that he'd have chopped off her pinky. That dude does not play around with the cell phone rule.

Of course, I'm one to talk. During the selection process we got numbers and I was number 50, so naturally I drew all over my number because I don't enjoy being so impersonal. The eventual conversation went something like this:

Prosecutor: Juror 50, did you draw that on your card?
Me (sheepishly): Yes, it was before we were told we had to give them back.
Prosecutor: What is that, a peace sign inside the zero?
Me: Yes.
Judge: What else did you draw there?
Me: Some pictures.
Judge: Of what?
Me: Flowers and hearts and a cent sign.
Judge: A what?
Me: So I could be Fifty Cent.
Prosecutor: Like the singer?
Me: Yes.
Everybody: Hahahaha.

That's me, bringing levity to the courtroom.

The trial won't be over until next week probably, so when that happens I'll give lots of details. In the meantime I'm enjoying my $15 a day and 34 cents a mile one way. Woohoo.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Comedy that's sort of okay but not awesome either

Against my better judgment I watched the pilot for Cavemen.

First of all, there's absolutely no reason they should be cavemen. Honestly they're just guys with lots of matted hair, but there's no other inherent difference so the gimmick lies a little flat.

It does feature Nick Kroll, a staple on Best Week Ever. So there's that.

Here's the thing: I shocked myself by actually laughing several times during the show. Cavemen is actually a little funny. Not Arrested Development funny and not Friends funny, but maybe King of Queens funny. Not funny enough to see you rolling on the floor unable to breathe, but funny enough to give you and occasional unexpected chuckle. But the handful of laughs just wasn't enough to get me through the fact that the story was pretty generic once you take away all the facial hair. Just like we all suspected.

Then, since I'd already spent some time on that, I didn't stop myself from watching Carpoolers. First of all, why didn't anybody ever tell me Jerry O'Connell was going to be on this show? I guess first someone would have had to tell me this show existed. I actually did laugh out loud at the parking rage and a few other lines. It would appear that the issues they discuss in the car serve as the fodder for the entire episode. I'm just not sure it's enough to support a whole sitcom.

The absurdity level is pretty high. Not Arrested Development absurd or Scrubs absurd, but more like King of Queens absurd. It is better than Cavemen, but it's still not going on my regular schedule.

So neither show sucked as much as I thought they would, but I admit my expectations were pretty low. They're just good enough to meet the Kevin James bar. Just what every show should aspire to.

Now for some excellent comedic absurdity, don't forget about Pushing Daisies. It's on Wednesday night on ABC and it's neither sucky nor mediocre, but instead is awesome.

How do I get an agent?

This post is for the Noobs who've been lurking and never comment, the ones who just wrote their first screenplay and don't know what to do with it.

All over Wordplayer like once a week somebody new comes in to ask "How do I get an agent?"

They've written one screenplay and don't want their effort to go to waste. Now it's time to make some money, and they've heard that the only way to get your script sold is to get an agent. So, how do you get an agent?

Beats me. I don't got one.

But I've been through the newbie process. First you finish your script. Then, even though everybody says you shouldn't because your script probably sucks, you try to get it out there. You're an exception. Your script is awesome. So you buy a copy of The Hollywood Representation Directory and you query every agent in it. And shock of shocks, nothing happens.

Stupid Hollywood. Nobody knows talent when they see it.

Your script may be awesome but it's probably not good enough to pass all the other, more awesome scripts hundreds of people just like you are trying to put out there.

So you submit to a contest. Some contests are legit - Austin, Nicholl, a handful of others - but most don't get you very far. They take your fees and give you some software and send you on your way.

So you move to LA. Eventually you have to. People break in without it, but it's like eight million times harder, so you really should move here. Join us. We're all in this together.

Then you meet people. It's easy to meet people. As long as you're not a social pariah you'll be attending screenings and bumping into influential people in no time. Personally, I almost never turn down an invitation, which is why I have friends all over this freaking city who are involved in the Industry in various ways. It also means people keep inviting me because they know I'll always say yes and bring the fun when I do. When I first got here I was a bit intimidated, but when I realized that even successful filmmakers are also human beings I stopped being a wallflower and started entertaining. Don't be a shrinking violet.

Let's see how many more flower cliches I can think of.

Anyway, that doesn't mean you get to meet them at a party and immediately pitch your script. That's not very classy and turns most people off. You have to make friends in the industry, then, when you've written three or four or more scripts and you totally understand what you're in for, start asking politely if your friends can help you.

But DO NOT under any circumstances send out a script that isn't ready. You shouldn't need to gild the lily to sell it. Have trusted friends who know something about scripts read it and give you advice. Join a writers' group and let them rip it apart. Because if you hand a mediocre script to your best contact you have just blown that opportunity. That's what I did. I had a very cool guy offer to pass my script to his management firm and I was in such a hurry to use his offer that I sent him a weak script. He was very nice about the rejection, but doesn't really want to waste any more time on my scripts. I wish I'd waited to give him something I was truly happy with.

You can also try getting a job in the Industry. PAs are all over LA; I know at least eight of them. Today they're assistants, tomorrow they're something more. It's shit pay and a slave's hours, but it's the first step to getting where you want to go.

Personally I can't handle the paycut. Instead of being a PA I made a solid short film. Now, when I go to parties, I have something tangible to offer when people ask me what I've done.

But this all takes years. Sometimes a decade. Sometimes more. Don't try writing a movie because you want to get rich quick. Ain't gonna happen.

And even when you think you have great scripts and plenty of contacts and a job in the Industry and you don't understand why you still can't get an agent to look your way, go back and read about Bill Martell's trials and tribulations with the great agent hunt. He's made movies and they still won't give him the time of day.

Don't wait for an agent to find you. Go out and make your career happen on your own. It's gonna be hard work.