Monday, March 31, 2008

When actors slack off

Well I acted.

I must say I'm pretty please with myself. I was so worried I would be paired up with a real actor and I'd look like a dildo that I practiced every night for a week leading up to the shoot. I took my script to the gym to memorize my lines like two dozen other actors on the treadmill and I tried different interpretations of lines in front of the mirror. I created a backstory. I starved myself to not look fat.

That didn't really work, though. Know that potbelly that French chick talks about in Pulp Fiction? I've got one. It's not a fat thing because I had it even when I weighed nothing in high school, but it came across on camera. Alas.

Anyway, I prepared the way I saw my actors prepare for Game Night because I didn't want to embarrass myself in front of my scene partner.

I don't care if it is a Youtube video shot in a storage facility with one little handcam and a lone lightbulb in the ceiling. It's a film and I'm going to treat it as a film.

So here's the irony in that: my scene partner did not prepare at all.

I'm pretty sure he read the script once. He didn't have his lines memorized, he didn't even know how to pronounce many of the words, and it was pretty obvious he wasn't really thinking about the meaning of what he was saying because he was too busy reading to concentrate on actually acting.

I'm not saying I was the world's greatest actor either but damn.

I skipped a party the night before to make sure I was rested and able to get up early to run through my lines one more time and do some crunches. He stayed up late and got three hours of sleep even though he was sick. So on top of not knowing his lines he was also coughing and sluggish and tired.

The shoot took twice as long as it should have because we kept having to stop so he could learn the lines. I have a feeling a large portion of the edit will be on my side of the table because he spent so much of the shoot staring down at the sheet of paper in front of him.

The thing is, when he was forced to memorize something so he could stand up and move, he did a good job. He would have been a decent actor if he'd just prepared. And when we went off the script and stayed in character and he improv'd after the scene was done he was okay. But if I said anything other than what was on the page while we were shooting he stopped, completely paralyzed by the unexpected lines.

Now I'm even more appreciative of the cast I had on Game Night. I've seen what happens when an actor doesn't give a crap about your film.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

My acting career gets a boost

I have my acting debut today.

Actually it's not really my acting debut. That happened the year I was born when I played the Baby Jesus in the Christmas pageant at the Catholic school where my mom taught. Somewhere there's a photograph of me held up in the air, raising my arms to bless the congregation. I'm pretty sure what I meant by raising my arms was more along the lines of "Put me down, you fucknoodle! It's fucking high up here and I'm a baby!" but the congregation thought it would be cooler if I was blessing them.

I was in some plays with my cousins at Grandpa's house every Christmas, but the older cousins never gave me much to do. I'd play roles like Sleeping Child and Magician's Assistant and Fight Starter. Okay the Fight Starter may have me acting like a jackass.

In middle school I was in a real play. We did Oliver and I played a lot of extra parts, but I had one speaking line because I was the kid who got to arrest the Artful Dodger. I also got to sing "Ripe! Strawberries ripe!" during "Who Will Buy" but my parents said they couldn't hear me because the director had me walking away from the audience during my solo.

And that's my experience in the world of acting.

Yet somehow I got roped into putting myself in front of the camera today for a short film. As an added bonus, I get the anxiety of playing a character who changes shirts on camera so I also had to spend all week agonizing over how fat I'm going to look when the camera adds its requisite ten pounds.

I keep thinking of Amber Benson, who is a tiny birdlike creature in person but always came across a little wide on Buffy. I weigh a lot more than she does and have great big birthing hips. How fat am I gonna look?

In related news, I am hungry.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Thoughts on the film: Drillbit Taylor

Last night I went to a screening of Drillbit Taylor followed by a Q&A with co-writer Kristofor "Why the hell did your parents do that to your name" Brown.

There is no doubt this movie is funny. I laughed quite a bit at lines and physical comedy and everything. But part of the reason I laughed so much is because this film just keeps throwing joke after joke at the screen until something hits. There were many jokes that were so incredibly on the nose that they drew a complete blank stare from the audience.

Minor Spoilers

For example, Owen Wilson walks in to meet the boys for the first time looking like a tough, world weary veteran.

"They say it's an army of one," he says. "But they don't really mean it."

That's a funny joke. I laughed. You get the idea that he's trying to set himself up as a hero.

But he doesn't stop there. Instead he proceeds to kill the joke by explaining it further. I don't remember the line, but I remember being slightly offended that the film decided I was too slow to get the joke so they felt the need to keep it going past its lifespan.

And there are some really obvious jokes here too. In fact there's not much in this movie that's unexpected, which is why it drags.

There's a good story here. Drillbit is a homeless guy who needs money to go to Canada. These boys need protection from a bully at school so they hire him to do it, but he sucks at the job and it's just a scam to get their money.

The problem is he isn't a bad guy really because he's Owen Wilson and it's kind of impossible not to love Owen Wilson. Brown said initially they had a couple of scenes that showed him doing a few nastier things but took them out, I guess to make sure the audience didn't hate him.

The problem with that is it gave his character very small room to grow. The central question for this character is, will Drillbit learn to love these boys and stop scamming them? But the thing is, you kind of know from the second he meets them that he will so you're just waiting for it to happen.

And that's why it drags. The story is stretched too long.

Brown said it was because he and Seth Rogan who co-wrote this with him were trying to pay homage to John Hughes and the eighties high school movie, not trying to invent the wheel. In fact, they sat down with My Bodyguard (this film even had an Adam Baldwin cameo) and analyzed it scene by scene as part of their research.

There were a few scenes that benefited from the copycat syndrome. The most notable being a Ferris Bueller move that took an unexpected twist and got a big laugh. But overall if your movie feels too much like a mishmash of similar films, why am I watching it? I'd rather watch the original.

Overall it was a decent film. Like I said, it made me laugh quite a bit, so as a comedy it was a success. But it's a film that will likely be forgotten in very short order, and that's a shame because it could have been more.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

In Medias Conversation

I never start a conversation at the beginning.

Even in real life I tend to skip the hellos because they're kind of understood. I'll walk up to the plant manager at work and say, "I need a 59 key."

And he'll say, "Good morning, Emily. How are you today?"

And I'll say, "Oh I'm sorry. Hey, I'm good how are you?"


"Okay, I need a 59 key."

Because really does either one care how the other is? We're wasting time here. I need a key, dammit. Then I remember I'm being rude and have to back it up.

Anyway, all that stuff is extraneous in a script. Nobody wants to see the hellos and goodbyes and how are yous because nobody cares, including the people saying it. We only say it because we're being polite, most of the time.

So how do you incorporate that into your script? How do you make sure to bring your reader into a scene in the middle of a conversation without making them lost, and without making them feel too entrenched in boring exposition?

I'm certainly not a pro yet, but I do think this is something I do well. At the very least, it's something I do often.

I'll give you an example. In this script I have a woman and her husband, Kate and Chris, who are having marital problems. Kate talks over the radio to another man, Bennet, at night. One night Chris hides in the dark and listens in on their conversation. I open the scene with him showing up right before this scene, so we only hear what he does.


Kate is on the radio, cleaning a gun while she talks.

Bennet's voice comes through the radio.

Seriously? John Tesh?

Seriously. I think he was trying to get me in the mood or something.

Bennet's voice comes through the radio.

And this is after you told him to put his clothes on.

Yep. It turns out an old boyfriend of mine had decided to get revenge on me by telling this guy I was a hooker.

Classy. You must have really broken his heart.

I don't think he was heartbroken, just disappointed.

No, I mean your ex. I'll bet you broke a lot of hearts back then.

Me? No. I tended to get hit on by a lot of guys who thought it would be really cool to date a girl who could do wheelies on a motorcycle. In reality that gets old pretty quickly.

I like a girl who can do wheelies on a motorcycle. I'd have hit on you....

And that leads into more flirting. The story she's telling is actually the tail end of something that happened to me one time, but all I left in is the end. It's not necessarily relevant to the plot of my script but I needed to show these two people growing closer together at the same time she and her husband are drifting apart. You can't have two people just talk about problems all the time; if they really like each other they have to be friends, not just confidants.

Besides, it's better to show these people flirting than to hear her talk about her problems. This guy makes her happy. Her husband makes her angry.

So she tells him a story that sets up her superior position in relationships with men, and then moves into a discussion about her disappointment with her husband. And while she's at it she's cleaning a gun.

Her husband overhears this, which of course ads to the stakes on his end, and because of that I think if this scene were taken out the script would be weaker for it.

I should also mention that this came from Not Dead Yet. Because zombie hunters have marital problems too.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Character growth for the masses

There's this whole debate-turned-slapfight over at Wordplayer about character arcs, and recently Mystery Man wrote his own post about the subject, so I was inspired to contemplate my own view of the situation.

First of all, I have a real resistance to anything that qualifies as a hard and fast rule. I don't particularly like authority so when it tells me there is only one way to do something and I must do it or else, I immediately try to find a way to prove authority wrong. And contrary to Mellicamp belief, authority does not alway win.

But that doesn't mean authority is always wrong either, because that would be equally short sighted. So I say, if your script calls for character arcs, knock yourself out. And if it doesn't, knock yourself out with that too.

Just to clarify for the purpose of this discussion and for the noobs out there, a character arc is when a character undergoes a significant change over the course of the story. Neo comes to find that he is THE ONE. Peter comes to realize that he wants to be a construction worker. Luke Skywalker has to realize that he can use the force.

A lot of great stories have character arcs. And personally I use them. Too much, it would seem. Zombie script has an ensemble cast so to build up the story I gave every character a specific motivation.

But then Ex-Boyfriend read my script and suggested that maybe EVERY character didn't need an arc. So I went back in and untied some ends because he was right. Shit was far too tidy. I even had one of those call back lines that are so cheesy, like when a character tells another character to have faith early on in the script and then in the last couple of minutes the character who used to not have faith tells the other one with a big smile, "You just gotta have faith," and I'm barfing all over my script.

But for the most part I like character arcs. I like stories where people change because I find the most interesting times in life the times when people go through big old crazy evolutions.

But that doesn't mean they always have to change. Look at Cyrano de Bergerac (SPOILERS) He starts out the story being a big old cranky badass poet with a big nose who's in love with his cousin but can't ever tell her. He ends up a big old cranky badass poet with a big nose who's in love with his cousin but can't ever tell her.

It happens in a lot of movies. But it's okay, because that's not what makes a story.

What makes a story is a character with a goal. And sometimes he makes his goal, and sometimes he doesn't. Cyrano wanted Roxanne. He didn't get her. So there's still a story there because sometimes the character's failure to get his goal IS the story. Not everybody has to learn something to have a plot work.

But sometimes it's better if they do.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Patterns of behavior

You know how you can teach your body things through repetition? Well I've taught my brain to think in bed.

I can write where and whenever I need to if I have a deadline, but I prefer to write in the weekends or during vacation when I don't have anything else to worry about.

Usually on Saturdays or vacation days I wake up and grab my laptop on its little lapdesk and sit up in bed. I start checking websites until I get in the mood to write. Then I start writing while I'm in bed.

At night while I'm trying to fall asleep I think about my latest story. I usually solve all sove my major problems while I'm lying in bed.

The combination of sleeping to the thought of screenplays and lying in bed all day working on them has made my brain associate the bed with writing time. I'm on vacation right now so each day I get up around 11 and read blogs and email and other stuff, then start writing. Today I ended up working a lot so I was still in my pajamas in bed at 3 in the afternoon.

In my defense I go to sleep at about 3 am most nights.

This is how I've conditioned my brain. As soon as I hit the pillow or wake up my brain concentrates on nothing but story, so it's the first thing I think of in the morning and the last thing I think of at night.

I've been writing all my blog entries on the couch in an effort to steer my creative brain to a new location, except I guess writing on the couch isn't that different beyond the psychological issue of my being a lazy slob who sits in her bed in pajamas all afternoon. I live alone for now so that's not a problem but one day I hope to have relationships with live actual people who may not find my lie-in-bed-all-day policy appealing.

But I think the most significant thing about this is that you can train your brain to think creatively if you set patterns for yourself. So I guess if you're having trouble getting inspired, choose a location where you so nothing but think about story. It works for me, maybe a little too well.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Expensive zombies might not sell

One of my friends was recently surprised when I said that I don't think I'll sell Not Dead Yet.

It's not because I don't want to. Believe me, if somebody stuck a contract in my face and wanted to make my movie I'd be all over it. I certainly think it would be a terrific film or I wouldn't be so excited to work on it, and I feel confident about the writing job I've done.

But the truth is I'm unlikely to sell it.

Zombie movies are designed to be cheap. That's why they're so popular. You can dress a bunch of extras up in red paint and make them stumble around without having to pay them a lot and all you really need is some corn syrup and a few plastic arms for the victims. And a house or a mall or something for the location. Cheap.

My script has a tidal wave. And a castle set on fire. And all kinds of locations all over the country.

Not cheap.

I know this, and I knew it going in. I loved the story and the story was fun, so I decided to damn the financial issue and write the script I wanted to write.

It's just not a script I'm likely to sell.

Land of the Dead didn't exactly rake in the cash and 28 Weeks Later disappointed, but the Resident Evil films made a few bucks and there's something to be said for the I Am Legend vampire zombies that made a fortune for the studio. So big budget zombie films have a mixed heritage.

I'm waiting for World War Z. That's a big budget zombie pic that could do very well with all the anticipation and a damn fine script and all. If that movie takes in the bucks I might be just in time with my own script. But I can't count on that.

I'd love to sell the script but in the meantime I plan to use it as a perfect example of what I can do. I'd be proud to send it to any contest or studio or agent and see how far it can get me.

So it's not that I don't want the movie made. I can't imagine how incredible it would be to sit in a theater and watch my zombie tidal wave and my zombie castle fire on the big screen, but at this point in my career I'd also be ecstatic if it got me a job writing the next Hellboy sequel.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Next time I'll just dance around my apartment

I have never needed a shower so bad after a night of clubbing as I do right this minute.

My Friend and I decided to go dancing tonight. First we tried Orchid, this awesome little new place in Koreatown, but for some odd reason there were only about four Koreans there even though I hear really good things about the place.

Even though they had those seat warmer toilets with the bidet function, we left to go to Hollywood. Around midnight we put down 20 bones a piece to head into Vanguard, this overly guarded trendy place in Hollywood where everybody thinks they're more important than they are.

First we had to get in line to get tickets. There was a rope between us and the tickets and no guy guarding it, so I moved the rope and Friend and I stepped to the other side.

A dude came rushing up. "There's a rope there for a reason, girls," he said.

I did not stop walking toward the ticket booth.

"Nobody was here," I said.

"True, but still..." he said as we walked on by and ignored him completely.

I really hate trendy places. HATE THEM. I hate the idea that some asshole stands at the door and looks at people and judges them based solely on appearance, especially when your club holds like eight billion people and is across the street from a Toyota dealership.

But we were looking for a dance floor and we'd already parked and it was past midnight, so we paid and went in past the snooty bouncers.

The club is enormous. There's this one big techno room where you can't really see anybody except these two bored looking half-naked chicks up by the stage who were forced to rock back and forth and look slutty for about 5 hours.

At first we thought, this is good. There are so many people here and so many girls who look like that Hollywood stereotype we should be able to sneak by.

No. Not remotely.

Within seconds we were both accosted. My guy wasn't so bad but he was like 12 years old and not so great at leading. He kept trying to spin me around but didn't really know how. And I could tell he's spent too much time in the tanning booth just by the glimpses the seizure-inducing light gave me every few seconds.

I thanked the boy and went to find Friend who had disappeared. Then we went to the second room in the club, a place with better music and visuals.

A guy in there was promoting his clothing line all over the club. He danced with me and tried to get his shy friend to dance with me, but Shy Guy chickened out, which is a real shame because both of our nights might have been vastly different if he hadn't.

Instead I got groped by Spikey Hair Guy while friend got molested by 4'5" 8000% Whiter Than Normal Teeth Guy. Then while she was grabbed by Some Dude, this Nice Looking Man hopped up and said, "You're friend left you alone. Want to dance?"

And since Nice Looking Man looked nice, I nodded. Then he grabbed me and yanked me onto his penis-filled jeans.

God dammit.

I grabbed my friend and asked if she needed to go to the bathroom.

The bathroom of that place was 80% filled with girls who didn't actually need to use the bathroom, including one lesbian couple. One other girl seemed mystified by the lesbian thing and wanted to know all about it, so Less Butch Lesbian grabbed her by the hand and said, "Come over to our side."

I thought that was interesting.

Friend and I went back to the techno room. Two dudes danced with us immediately. Both were gross.

I kept pretending to be really drugged out so mine wouldn't touch me. I imagined I was on X and I kept waving my hands in front of my face and staring at the floor like a shirtless gay man with a laser pointer.

It worked. Both dudes scrammed when Friend and I made it obvious we weren't interested.

At this point Friend and I are learning what the signal for "Hey please grab me and pull me away from this jackass" is.

The thing is, almost every single one of these dudes came up to us from behind. When will men learn, unless a girl is drunk as hell or really slutty, she does not enjoy the surprise grab bag of a handsy dude with a penis shoved in her back without her awareness.

Anyway, a couple of gay dudes danced with us after that. I liked those dudes. I wish they'd stayed.

But they ran off to be more gay and left us at the mercy of the three lunatics. One ran up to Friend and waved his hands in her face. The other slid his leg under my leg and almost knocked me over. I'm not sure what that was supposed to accomplish. The third friend came over and did a funky dance for a while and I tolerated him since by that point my will was worn down. Okay I admit I thought he was funny. He was also like 12 years old.

We finally escaped the Lunatic Bin to return to the well-lighted room, except we stopped on the way to talk about the event so far. We had half an hour left to attempt grope-free dancing.

Alas, it was not to be. Right in the middle of a conversation about what had just taken place, some big 25-year-old Iraq War veteran decided we were responsible for all the ills committed by women folk since the Boston Fucking Tea Party.

He was pissed about being 25. I told him to shut up and get over it. He was pissed about going to Iraq. I told him I'd never experienced that but I suspect he can either learn to live with it or curl up and die. He whined about his last girlfriend. Friend reminded him that neither of us was that girl and he really needed to calm down.

Then his buddy came along. At first he seemed cool and funny. When his friend kept getting more and more uptight and we kept telling him to chill, the friend - in an obvious wing man situation - asked where we were from.

Now my friend is from Pennsylvania originally but her family is from Pakistan and she moved to LA when she was 15. I'm from North Carolina. None of this is crap I feel like explaining to some random dude at 2:3o in the morning at Vanguard. So I just said, "Los Angeles."

He wanted to know where in Los Angeles. We don't live in the same damn part of town and I don't really want to get into a geographical discussion with this dude so I just said, "Los Angeles."

He got really pissed off at that. "You keep telling my friend to chill the fuck out but it sounds like you need to chill the fuck out," he said.

"Okay," I said.

"You have problems. Why are you so pissed off? I'm just trying to conversate-" yes he said conversate - "I'm not asking for your number. I don't want your fucking number."

"Okay," I said. I find it infuriates crazy people when you're zen.

It was at this point that the Vanguard bouncer committee swept the club to drive out the remaining patrons, and we waved goodbye to the weird dudes. The angry Marine kept trying to force me to smile.

Why do people do that? Do you really think you ordering me to smile at 2:30 in the morning after you've interrupted my conversation with Friend to talk about how much women suck and should fuck off and die is going to make me all cheery and happy-faced?

I'm not frowning. I'm not smiling. I simply am. And I don't make facial expressions on command, tight-ass.

Anyway, even on our way out some dude walked up right behind us and interjected a comment into our conversation. It's like that place is a haven for dudes who figure every girl is there to have sex with the next skinny, spikey-haired 12-year-old boy she can get her hands on. I feel icky. And I'm never going there again.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

I'm thinking something in a navy blue

So you may remember when my mother made me take my wedding dress to the consignment shop to sell it.

I didn't want to sell it. At all.

My stepfather saw that I was sad and he said, "It will be okay. You'll get married some day."

"It's not about that," I said. Like I'm really heartbroken about THAT near miss. "They only want to sell it for $500."

The dress cost my grandmother $1400, you see. This would be just one more way Ex-Fiance would rip me off and I was not happy about it.

So time has gone by and the shop has been unable to sell it because I refuse to lower the price any further. Now my mom has to go pick it up at the shop and send it to me so I can try Ebay.

But then my grandmother called me the other day and said she doesn't think I should sell it. She offered to send it to me, then pay for me to have the bustle removed and the dressed dyed a color of my choosing. Then she made me promise to wear it to my first major awards ceremony.

So when I go to the Oscars for the first time, I'll be wearing my wedding dress.

My mother does not think this is a good idea but my grandma gets it. The dress is a symbol and I take symbolism seriously. When I got it I was comfortable and pretty, but I was not happy. The dress was a symbol of a life I felt myself being dragged into against my will. I could dress up and put flowers in my hair, but that would only cover me up in pretty wrapping when I was crumbling inside.

But now the same beautiful garment can become a symbol of my triumph. Because I like symbols in my real life.

So if this were a movie it might open with me trying on the dress in the shop, kind of sad but looking pretty. The film would end with me wearing it proudly, dyed a pretty color that compliments my glowing skin on the red carpet as I celebrate my success.

So now I just have to get invited to the Oscars.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Make me a syllabus

Today I went in to sub for another teacher and found a new offer in my mailbox. LA Trade Tech wants to use our campus and our teachers to offer college level courses to our students and members of the community.

You have to have a Masters or a PhD in the subject you want to teach, but you can teach any subject as long as the class fills and it's offered in the course catalog. It's also good money for six hours a week after school. I'd still be getting out of work at 5:30.

So I went - hey! I have an MA in creative writing! Rock!

And I put my name down. There are two courses I'd love to teach - Creative Writing and Literature in Film. Both sound Awesome.

Creative Writing would be easy. I pretty much teach that already.

But I was on the way home thinking about how cool it would be to teach a film analysis class. According to the course description "Literature in Film" just means the study of film as a storytelling medium, not just a study in adaptations. And in my head I was thinking of really cool stuff I could show and screenplays we could study.

Then I got home and looked at my collection. And I panicked.

I don't own all the classics. Hell I only own three films that were shot before 1992. I own three comedies, 13 dramas, one horror, one horror comedy, two musicals, 24 action films and The Princess Bride.

I could make an entire course out of superhero movies, but I'm pretty sure that's not what I'm supposed to be doing.

I do not own Citizen Cane or Casablanca or The Godfather or any of those classic films we're all supposed to know and love.

So if I get this job I'm gonna need to run to Best Buy for a shopping spree. Then I'm going to have to figure out what to teach.

So far I have the three movies I just mentioned above and Rope. And Birth of a Nation. And maybe Glenngarry Glenn Ross. And probably Memento and Hero and Rocky and Brick.

Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


So I've gone three column. In the process of converting I accidentally deleted a lot of things including my entire links list, so I will be rebuilding that slowly. If you were taken off, no worries. I'll put you back on eventually unless you are one of those people who never post.

More changes will come when I migrate the blog over to my website in a week or so.

Can't film this

Hi, my name is Emily Blake and I write unfilmables.

You know those little moments in your script when you put down information that can't be seen on screen? Yeah I do that. And I'm not going to stop any time soon.

It's not something I could have done when I first started writing. In the beginning I was just learning format and story structure and all those clever little ways to make something come alive on the page. But as the years have gone by my writing has gotten more and more stylistic.

I'll give you an example:

Transvestite Zombie appears in the smashed doorway at the front of the store. Her tattered dress flows behind her as she stumbles in barefoot, no doubt having lost her fantastic spikey heels.

Or this one:

They all line up and shoot together like any good family should.

Those are obviously not something you'll see on screen. All the books say not to do it, ever. And for the most part, they're right. You shouldn't play around with unfilmables until you have a clear sense of your own style. But I like 'em and I don't feel right unless I flirt with them a little. I don't care if that's not what McKee says.

But I can't help it. This is my style. The unfilmables are part of the tone of a story. I toss them in here and there to give the script some personality and a sense of the playfulness I feel when I'm writing. And no, you can't film it, but that doesn't mean I should bore my reader. If they laugh at the idea that my Transvestite lost her fabulous shoes then they'll keep reading. And the family line is intentional. This is a world where the ability to shoot things is a value you pass on to your children.

Tone. Just because it's a screenplay doesn't mean it can't have tone.

It's taken me a while to really settle into mine and find the right balance of those unfilmable lines. They're not on every page, just a few here and there to keep the voice clear. I like a screenplay that sounds like it's mine.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

There will be no zombie flashbacks

I meant to do a lot of things today - go to the gym, deal with some short film business, pay some bills, do some laundry - but right after I woke up I decided to start working on my rewrite of Not Dead Yet instead. So I ended up doing that pretty much all day because it was one of those situations where you get started and then you can't stop.

Like cleaning. You know how you decide to do the dishes, then you realize the floor is dirty, then you realize the bathroom is dirty, then you realize you hate the way the furniture is arranged?

No? Just me? Okay then.

It all started with the flashback. There are two characters who talk to each other via radio for a good three pages. It's an extremely important scene for exposition. I need these two characters, who have never met in person, to become close over this conversation. I also need to bring up the problems they're having in their respective relationships and explain how they got where they are now. So like I said, a really important scene.

For the first draft I did this through flashbacks. Yes, flashbacks, often the mark of a lazy writer. The characters tell each other stories of how they got there, and I was concerned that all that dialogue with no visual would get really boring so I popped in a flashback to give everybody something to look at.

Except you can't just have one flashback. So I had to go through the script and toss in a couple of other flashbacks. It wasn't hard and I actually felt a place where the flashback fit nicely.

But they still felt forced, and the best I could do was stick them in a couple of places. They didn't seem necessary.

Group agreed. They were not too terrible, but they didn't seem to add anything either. Take them out, they said.

So I yanked them. But then I had to figure out how to make my characters more interesting in their conversation over the radio.

I sat down and deleted the flashbacks then stared at my screen. And I let them talk. And I dropped the past. The story one of them tells in the flashback? I dropped it entirely from the script and considered it backstory. Instead I had one of them tell a joke that made the other one laugh, and that set off a series of jokes where instead of serious discussion about their problems, they told jokes that brought them together through humor. I managed to lighten the mood while bringing them together.

So when they finally meet in person they're happy to see each other and have an inside joke or several to share that nobody else understands.

You know that old lesson about flashbacks? How you shouldn't use them unless they're absolutely necessary? How telling your story without them makes it stronger?


Saturday, March 15, 2008

15 Quotes I like

It's finally my turn for the 15 quotes thing that's been going around. Chris over at Deep Structure tagged me. So here's 15 movie quotes I like. See how many you can get.

1) A clipboard and a confident wave will get you into any building in the world! The Paper - Matt

2) Don't open that! It's an alien planet! Is there air? You don't know! Galaxy Quest - Maggie

3) I am a meat popsicle. The Fifth Element - Tavis

4) Buckle up, Dorothy, 'cuz Kansas is going bye-bye. The Matrix - James Moen

5) I am going to get my nut on this trip. And you are not going to fuck it up with all your depression and anxiety and neg-head downer shit. Sideways - Mr. Peel

6) You're not my family! I don't want to be your family! I hate you fucking people! I hate you! Divorce, bankrupt, suicide! You're losers! You're fucking losers! Little Miss Sunshine - Matt

7) Don't you love it when you go to the bathroom and you come back to find your food waiting for you? Pulp Fiction - Tavis

8) If I had known I was gonna meet the president I would've worn a tie. Look at me, I look like a schliemiel. Independence Day - Amy

9) Your baby is having my baby! Your baby, whoa baby! Lethal Weapon Four - James Moenish.

10) Caviar should be round and hard and burst in you mouth at exactly the right moment. Overboard - Mr. Peel

11) You are a warwickshire shithouse. Shakespeare in Love - Laura Reyna

12) Who died and made you king of the fucking zombies? Shaun of the Dead - Mr. Peel

13) All you people are so scared of me. Most days I'd take that as a compliment. But it ain't me you gotta worry about now. Pitch Black - James Moen

14) Hey, I've been turned into a cow. Can I go home? The Emperor's New Groove - Amy

15) It's a jump-to-conclusions mat. It has conclusions on it that you can jump to. Office Space - R.A. Porter

's like the only person I know who hasn't gotten this yet so I tag her. It's okay to use TV quotes.


All Spec TV writers need to read the new post at Kung Fu Monkey about what he looks for in submissions from potential staff writers.

Really good stuff.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thoughts on the script and the movie: Gone Baby Gone

I really liked Gone Baby Gone - both the script and the film. The script was adapted by Ben Affleck and Aaron Stockard, whose only previous credits include assisting Affleck and Matt Damon on previous films.


The script is pretty powerful, but there are some significant differences from the film. For one thing, the entire first five minutes or so is completely different. The script opens with Patrick (Casey Affleck) tracking down a deadbeat dad. The film trades that entire sequence for a voice over from Patrick while we see shots of his Boston neighborhood.

Normally I'd be wary of a film that traded a scene full of action for a scene full of talking, but in this film it was a wise decision, as are all the other decisions Affleck made to change from the script to the screen.

I'm guessing all the changes were made for the same reason. At the end of the film Patrick must choose between leaving a little girl with the man who kidnapped her and will probably raise her with love and compassion or returning the girl to her coke-head drug mule mother. And I think the majority of us feel like he made the wrong decision. Certainly his girlfriend does.

In the script it's very clearly the wrong decision. It's almost an absurd decision. The mom is so clearly a horrible parent who will never change, but for some reason Patrick feels obligated to bring her back the child, who is named Amanda. It doesn't make sense to any sane person.

So to understand why Patrick makes that decision, you have to give Patrick a reason for making it and you have to understand Patrick. He's already kind of a little guy who gets picked on a lot throughout the story so we need a better reason to love him besides his clever dialogue.

To that end, the voice over was added. Instead of watching Patrick ride around chasing some dude down - which he does kind of easily and without any really heroic behavior - we hear his voice explaining his philosophy of life. So we start the film understanding a bit of Patrick's motivation, the motivation that will affect his decision later.

For the same reason Helene, Amanda's mother, is softened. In the script she's pretty much a selfish bitch the entire time and nobody in their right mind would give her a child to care for, but in the film she goes to Patrick in one scene, telling him she'll change, making it clear that despite her failings as a mother, she really does love her child. It's not until the last few minutes that we realize how temporary her love was when it's clear she didn't even know the name of her daughter's favorite doll.

There's also a great deal of dialogue added to the end where Patrick explains his motivation. In the script, Patrick says he must bring the girl back simply because Helene is her mother. He never gives a more detailed answer than that for taking her away from a man who will love her.

In the film, however, he and Doyle (Morgan Freeman) have a battle of words over what Patrick plans to do with his knowledge of where Amanda is.

Doyle tells Patrick he doesn't want to explain to the Amanda's future children why their mother is so screwed up. And Patrick responds that he'd rather do that than explain to grown-up Amanda that he knew where she was living with her kidnappers and did nothing to bring her home.

From that perspective, the decision he makes goes from being an obvious mistake to being a genuine moral quandary. It's a stronger film as a result.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Heading into draft two

I'm trying something new this time with the editing process. When I take notes they're a bit chaotic. I write things with dashes and underlines and circles and it's all kind of random so it can be a bit daunting when I go to make the changes.

And don't try to give me advice on taking Cornell notes or something; I've been taking notes this way since the seventh grade. It's my way.

But it ends up making me have to change stuff a little randomly and with not enough efficiency.

So I grabbed some index cards and I separated my notes into five basic categories. I have characters in two locations and then some scenes after those people meet each other. So I did one card for the changes I need to make to group A, one card for changes to group B, and one card for changes to be made after the two stories merge.

I did have some flashbacks, but I've never been comfortable with their existence, so in Group we discussed ways to remove them entirely from the script and alter it for the better. Removing them means I have to change a few things here and there throughout the script. So I made one card dealing with that.

The last card is for all my transmogrifying people and silly typos and physical descriptions that need to be clarified.

So what I plan to do tomorrow and Friday is go through the script one card at a time. So I'll go all the way through the script clarifying things, then all the way through the script removing the flashbacks, then back through on the remaining three cards one at a time until I've changed everything.

That's the plan, anyway. So now instead of looking at a long list of random changes I need to make all over the script, I basically only have five changes to make. So we'll see how that goes.

What's your editing process?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Zombies are approved for general enjoyment

Thanks for all the great supportive comments about Ex-Writing Partner, everybody. I feel pretty good about the way things have turned out.

I just got back from Writers Group, where we read Not Dead Yet. The prognosis is good. Overall everybody said my style is fun to read and the opening is terrific, but I edit like a blind man on acid because there were so many places where I suddenly switched genders and ages and locations and stuff. That's because when I write I change things on the spur of the moment, intending to go back and fix the changes to match the earlier stuff. But then when I go back I often forget what I meant to change. As a result, girls become boys, three-year-olds become six-year-olds, dogs become cows, it's a crazy zombie land.

My biggest problem was the third act. I built up a love triangle then let it fizzle without really using it. And I set up a character to be really heroic and interesting, then turned him into a whiney bastard out of nowhere. And I should have taken more advantage of the flame thrower.

This I was surprised and pleased to hear. They wanted more violence with the flame thrower. More flames! More throwing of flames! More shouting and zombies on fire!

This I can do.

Last time Group read my feature I felt dejected, like I just had too much to overhaul, and I didn't feel up to the monumental task. But this time I feel pretty good about it. I understood most of the criticism and I know how to fix it. And most of it is pretty simple.

So all in all my story works. Way to go zombies!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Writing Partner broke up with me

There's something I've been meaning to talk about for some time but didn't want hurt someone's feelings. As of this afternoon that's no longer an issue so I'm finally free to discuss it without repercussions.

This will be long.

When I met Writing Partner I was in turmoil. I was right in the middle of my chaotic period, when I felt like I couldn't get a grip on who I was or what I was supposed to do or how to handle my relationships with men.

Then I met WP and he said he was completely happy with himself. He said he'd figured out how to love himself and he could teach me. He had all the answers to life.

So I started letting him tell me how to live my life. And when I forgot to pay a bill he nagged me over and over and made me feel like a loser. So when I accidentally forgot to pay a bill I didn't tell him about it because I didn't want to get yelled at. When he found out he called me a liar and told me he couldn't trust me anymore. I told him it wasn't his business. He reminded me that he was just trying to help me be a better person and I was ungrateful.

Things like that were supposed to make me a happier person.

And sometimes I enjoyed spending time with him. Sometimes he was nice to me. He'd say these amazingly sweet things right after he made me feel like a worm. I already felt bad about myself so it was easy for me to believe that he was right, that I was a loser and a liar and a weak person. He even used that word.

"I'm a strong person," he told me once. "You're not. You're weak. I'm sorry, but you are."

He stayed with me a while, then moved away. We still talked on the phone. Then we started writing.

Writing sessions were shouting matches first. He would tell me I did something wrong and I would get defensive and finally after half an hour of psychologically damaging each other we'd finally put down some really good pages.

I was a wreck every time I talked to him because I was waiting for him to tell me what horrible thing I'd done now. He'd tell me my writing style was just no good and any producer would never hire me, then just when I was getting pissed off he'd apologize and tell me how good the story turned out in the end.

Then when I decided to film Game Night I turned to him for advice. He constantly talked about what he learned in film school. He constantly reminded me that I did not go to film school. I took a few of his suggestions, I decided against a few others. Any time I decided not to take his advice he told me he didn't understand why I disrespected him so much.

He asked me to play Eric. He told me all the time what a great actor he is. On his last film the producer and director constantly turned to him for advice. He was the only thing that saved the project. They were lucky to have him.

So I told him he could play Eric.

I gave him one request about being on set - please don't call me out in front of the cast and crew. If he didn't like something I was doing, he could pull me aside and tell me privately and I'd heed his advice or not, but I didn't want him questioning my authority in front of everyone else since this was my first time directing. I knew how much he liked to give me advice, whether I'd asked for it or not.

The first thing he did on set? He started questioning my decisions out loud, in front of everyone. I tried to ignore it, although I'm sure my irritation showed. It made me defensive, as usual when dealing with WP. I'm sure I started disagreeing with him to intentionally show everyone I was still in command.

He said I picked on him. At lunch I asked him to talk to the PA, who was already at Subway, and tell her what he wanted. He grabbed my wrist.

"No," he said. "Not until you tell me why you're being so hard on me."

"I'm not being hard on you. Please just tell her what you want for lunch."

He was pulling my wrist tight. It hurt. I tried to push the phone into his hand instead. "No," he said. "You're being mean to me. Why?"

"Just tell her what you want for lunch."

"Not until you tell me why you're picking on me!"

I started yelling. "I'm not picking on you, goddammit, I'm directing! Now tell her what the fuck you want on your sandwich and shut the fuck up!"

He came back later and apologized.

Then he went back home to a land far away. We kept working on Bamboo Killers. He decided to change one of his chapters - called "Seed of Power" - and emailed the new version to me and asked me to read it. At the moment there's not much we can do with the script and it's close to finished so I've been in no massive hurry to make the last few changes anyway.

So I admit, I didn't do it right away. If something is on a deadline I do it on time. If there's a place I'm supposed to be at a certain time, I'm there. But if there's no time limit - well I'm not quite as reliable because I usually have a dozen things going at once. Most people who know me know this about me. You just have to remind me like three times and I'll eventually get around to it. Just nudge me. Say, "Hey, Emily, did you do the thing? Do the thing."

And I'll go "OH! I forgot to do the thing. I'm sorry. I'll do the thing."

But when I didn't read WP's short right away he sent me an email asking me why I wasn't his friend anymore. He'd always thought I was such a good person, but now he was disappointed in how I'd put everything else before this script.

I ignored the passive aggression and told him I'm sorry I'm really busy, I'll get around to it when I can.

Then I got so busy I could barely breathe and I forgot completely about my promise to read his script. I read a draft a few months ago, so I honestly forgot he'd sent me a new one. I could have read it right away when I was distracted, but I wanted to wait until I had time to dedicate to paying careful attention to it, and by that time I'd forgotten all about it. That was my fault and I'm sorry for it. But it's not the end of the world.

So yesterday he sent me this:

I am a little surprised you haven't read my final draft of Seed after taking your notes after all of this time. Kind of upsetting considering every time you sent me something to read, I read right away and gave you extensive feedback and read all of your drafts asap. I noticed on your blog you took off Bamboo Killers as one of your projects. Should I assume you lost interest in BK...? I've had some writers read my final Seed of Power and really loved it. These people are very harsh so I am happy with the work I put into it. You have told me the last few times I ask that you don't have time, but that is not true because you work on your blog everyday, and you work on you Zombies script. And it takes about 10 minutes to read. It's pretty much a slap in my face for the help I immediately and have always given you.

So I told him if he emailed me again without the passive aggression I'd get right to it. But as long as he continued to make it our friendship every single time I did something he didn't like I wasn't really up for responding to that kind of manipulation. If he'd said, "Hey Emily why haven't you read 'Seed of Power' yet?" I'd have apologized and done it immediately.

Instead he responded in an email so scathing and nasty it's obvious he was trying to think of the most painful thing he could say to me. It might have worked when he first met me, but I'm no longer the confused, insecure girl I was then. WP then told me never to contact him ever again.

So I will not be dealing with him anymore. And I'm glad.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Where to go next

I have a weird dilemma now. I'm done with the major work on the zombie script so now I have to start thinking of my next project and I'm torn about what I should begin working on.

Most of the scripts I've written I have no desire to show the world. But this zombie script is pretty solid so I finally feel like I have something worth putting out there that I wrote myself. I have Bamboo Killers, but I think it's stronger as a short story collection than it is as a feature film, and I wrote it with a partner. So I need a follow-up script to the zombies.

I have like three good ideas, one in particular that I've been working on, but I just can't seem to find the story. I have a theme, a character, a title and a vague idea of something I need to happen. But I don't yet have a story. I keep trying to force it but it's not coming. The other ideas will require a vast amount of research, some of it expensive to obtain because I need to experience a few things to be able to write about them. These are ideas I'd like to pitch so the studio can pay for the research.

So I have no feature idea ready to go, but I do have a pilot. My Ex-Fiance used to live really far from me so I only saw him on the weekends, but sometimes he had to work on weekends, which left me books and the X-Box for company while I waited for him to come home. That got pretty boring. I began to spend my downtime writing a story in the space traveler genre. Every weekend I would add to the story until I have a whole series in my head.

But I never wrote it because I was always busy working on something else until I forgot all about it. Then the other day I remembered it and now it's all I can think about.

The problem is, it's a pilot. I see it only as a pilot. It doesn't work as a feature because it has too many pieces to get through in two hours. But I don't want to be writing a pilot right now, I need to be writing a feature.

So my choice is to sit around and think until I come up with a solid plot for my feature or work on the pilot and hope it's enough to fill out my portfolio.

Maybe I'll start the pilot until I figure out my feature idea. That way I can keep building on what I have without wasting any time.

Friday, March 07, 2008

My celebrity fit club

Ron Glass works out at my gym.

Ron Glass played Shepherd Book on Firefly. I love Firefly. I have seen it on DVD many many times. I have a poster of the follow-up film Serenity framed on the wall in my bedroom. I know all the words to "The Hero of Canton" and have participated in a group singalong at the commencement of a promotional event for Serenity at Universal before the film came out. I have two T-Shirts.

So you see, I'm kind of awesome for not shrieking with delight every time I see Ron Glass. Kind of like the two times I met Amber Benson and had a full conversation with her and then met and Adam Busch and the one time I met Danny Strong but I did not scream OMG I love Buffy! at the top of my lungs. It's the reason my dates can't figure out whether or not I like them. I'm very good at pretending I'm not into you.

Oh, and just in case there's ever any doubt, unless you can beat people up and fix things, I'm probably not into you.

Anyway, I don't see Ron Glass at the gym much, especially now that I live in a neighborhood where I can run around in the beautiful weather and not be cooped up in a smelly old gym full of long-haired, greasy dudes who stare at you and drool a little while flexing their muscles in the mirror.

Anyway, Ron Glass is tall. And in excellent shape. And kind of hot for an old man.

When I spotted him I smiled because Hey! It's Shepherd Book! and I think he took that to mean I was hot for his bones because after that he kept checking me out.

That always makes me freak out a little so every time after that when he looked at me I'm pretty sure I put up my usual Go away glare.

Because that's how I handle that kind of situation.

So Ron Glass, if you occasionally Google your own name just to see who's blogging about you these days, know that I wasn't staring at you because I was hot for your body, although your body is looking pretty hot these days. I was staring at you because I'm hot for your talent. And I wasn't glaring at you because I was annoyed that you were checking me out, it was just a defensive gym reflex.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The undead will save me from obscurity

After I finished the first draft of Not Dead Yet I set it aside for about two weeks while I did other things. But the writers group meeting is on Tuesday and I promised my draft would be done in time so a couple of days ago I picked it back up and did my first edit.

I was honestly surprised. Usually when I read back over something I get depressed at how many repairs I need to make. But in this script not only did I not have tons of plot holes to fix, but I ended up deleting entire spaces I had deliberately left myself to fill with extra scenes. I didn't need them.

Since I began writing this about six months ago and never reread what I wrote, I forgot a lot of the stuff from the beginning. But it was a clean read, filled with more jokes than I remembered making. I actually laughed in surprise at some of the funny stuff.

So I feel really good this time around - better than I ever have about a script. Of course there will be a ton of work to do once the group has finished ripping it to shreds, but I feel pretty confident that I'll be able to fix everything pretty quickly once they shove me in the right direction.

I really never would have though zombies would bring me my breakthrough script, but there you have it. Way to go, Zombies.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Sometimes I have trouble taking a shower

The Rouge Wave recently sponsored a 500 word essay on overcoming difficulty. I entered. Again I didn't win. The winning essay was all poignant and shit. Mine was a bit less important.

Here's mine. And once again, apologies to Ex-B. When you date a writer, your life becomes fodder for her musings.

How to fix your broken showerhead

When a boy rips your heart out of your chest and shreds it to make his own pulled-heart-muscle barbecue sandwich (figuratively of course, this is not a horror story), there is one rule you have to follow if you want to keep any kind of dignity you still have floating around in your chest cavity - you can’t call him.

You may see the world’s most awesome zombie short on You Tube and you know this would just make him cream his pants a little, but you can’t send it to him. Otherwise he’ll know he can still ring you whenever he wants and use you for sex and you’ll end up laying on the floor next to the toilet too depressed to pull your face out of the puddle of salty tears you have created. All this will happen if you send him the zombie You Tube link or make a phone call.

I know this. Yet when I stood in my shower, staring up at the shower head as it eeked out a single broken stream of water onto the tub floor all I wanted was to call the man to come fix it. A week ago I could have called him and he would have rushed over with his manly man utility knife, hopped in and made me a rushing flood of water so powerful it could wash my skin off. Then of course would have come the argument about why I’m not allowed to make fun of Jean Claude Van Damme movies and he would call me stupid and I would call him an asshole and then we’d end up sitting all night pouting in our respective corners, which is kind of why he’s not interested in loving me anymore anyway. But at least he would have fixed the showerhead.

But not this week. I can’t call him this week. If I call him he’ll be nice to me and I’ll take that kindness as a sure sign that he wants me back and then I’ll sit around and wait for him to change his mind until it finally dawns on me that he’s never coming back and I’ll find myself on the bathroom floor too depressed to pull my face out of the puddle of salty tears I have created.

So I unscrewed the showerhead. A storm of brownish water burbled its way out of the pipe, splashing all over my face. I looked up into the source. There was one of those little filter thingees, a little screen that sits under the showerhead and accomplishes some mysterious vital purpose. It was turned sideways.

So I turned it back and adjusted the rubber ring underneath it and screwed the shower head back on.

And the water flowed. It flowed gracefully, like a gazelle on an empty African plain. And I leapt under the stream in all its powerful glory and cheered and clapped and realized that I never needed to call him again.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Robbed again

My car got broken into again.

I drive a Jeep Wrangler with a soft top and two of the window zippers are broken so I just leave the back windows out at all times. I don't keep much in the car - a hat, some rubber bands, a pair of scissors, coins for parking at the gym, a stuffed dog, my CDs, loose change, the garage door clicker, a Thomas Guide.

Last time my car got broken into
the thieves took everything. They also got a coat I loved very much and a pair of awesome sunglasses. And all my favorite CDs.

The last time I lived in K Town, a ghetto apartment run by ghetto landlords who didn't seem to give a rat's ass that I'd been robbed. Even when I told them I'd been robbed again. They made no effort whatsoever to fix the latch on the gate or change the code to the garage.

So I moved to this beautiful building in this beautiful neighborhood where there are cameras everywhere, including two on my car, and I live on the third floor behind a secure gate and my landlords are just down the street and so very nice to me and the manager is a sweetheart.

In case anybody plans to move here, they're R&E Investments and they're fantastic. I've never had a better time dealing with real estate management than I have with them.

Anyway, so even though I live in this high security building on a street with mostly houses, this morning when I went to get in my car and go to the gym I found my door not completely shut. The glove compartment had been busted open, the center console had been busted open and my stuff had been thrown all over the car.

They took loose change and the garage door clicker. They apparently didn't notice the CD case or the hat I hid in my secret spot.

That means they took the time to pick individual dimes, pennies and nickles out of the random places they had been dropped, but neglected to take the 24 CDs I had in the car.

I guess they didn't notice the cameras either.

It's not easy to get into the garage so my guess is they know somebody who lives here. I have a feeling once we look through the footage we'll figure out who it was. They didn't take anything that can't be easily replaced, but it will be nice to get them before they do. This is the first time I've been robbed where I feel like I can do something about it.

In the meantime I can't drive anywhere because my car is trapped in the garage until the manager calls me back.

I'd like to stop being robbed now, okay? Seriously, scumbags in LA, please stop stealing my shit.

The manager thinks it was probably a homeless guy who slipped in behind somebody's car when they were coming in. He broke into another car too but didn't really take anything of value. That makes sense. The cameras wouldn't bother him and he can't really use my CDs. He probably took my clicker so he could get back out of the garage. Now I have to go to the main office to get another one, except first I have to figure out how to get my car out of the garage tomorrow and hope they don't charge me a fee.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Placeholder post

I totally forgot to post today.

I will think of something awesome tomorrow to make up for it. In the meantime, I give you this. Watch as Ex-Boyfriend shocks himself in the eyeball. He's looking for stuntwork if you need him. I'm not kidding.

I hope that was okay with you, Ex-B. I thought it was too awesome not to post.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Thoughts on the script: The Darjeeling Limited

First, a disclaimer. I love Wes Anderson's work. I loved The Royal Tannenbaums and I loved The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and I am very excited to see what Fantastic Mr. Fox looks like since it was one of my favorite books as a child.

It's no secret that I love action movies. I love stories that start with a bang and move with incredible speed from one place to another, bullets whizzing by as the stakes continue to rise until you can't breathe over the sense of urgency.

This is not like that at all of course, although there are a few funny fights. But there are no bullets of crazy martial arts moves in The Darjeeling Limited. But the dialogue is so quick and the emotional urgency is so thick the film feels just as urgent as any martial arts fest.

But quieter.

Anderson didn't write it himself, of course. Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman share the credit for this script. And I love them for it.


The Darjeeling Limited is a little comedy about three brothers on a spiritual journey across India to find their mother after their father's funeral. Each brother has his own issues they try to deal with in between dealing with the issues they have with each other.

There's not much of a plot and there doesn't need to be. It's only 107 pages and it's chock full of dialogue because this is a story about bizarre family dyanmics, about how we deal with grief in different ways and what it means to need each other. The story itself is the relationships. Just like all Anderson's other films.

What this script does with amazing skill is something so many new screenwriters have difficulty with: making each character a distinct person.

The older brother, Francis, is frantic to control the itinerary, the divvying up of his father's belongings, even what his brothers eat on the train. Peter resents his brother's urge to control and continually tries to assert his independence. And the third brother, Jack, find himself caught in the middle and escapes by nailing an Indian stewardess in the bathroom.

The brothers speak differently. They act differently. They have completely different motivations in every scene, and since the plot is so thin that's a necessity in a story like this. I think any writer who has difficulty making their characters individuals would do well to read this script.

By far my favorite scene in the script and a good example of the way the writers differentiate between the boys is this scene right after Francis gets pissed at Peter for using his dad's razor, which sets of a series of insults as the boys use their father's memory as a weapon against each other. Peter throws a belt at Francis who was already injured in a motorcycle accident and is covered in bandages. This sets off a clumsy fight in the middle of the train cabin:

Francis holds his cane around Peter's neck in a strict headlock, squeezing vigorously while Peter's face turns bright red. Peter digs his fingers under the bandages on Francis' head. The two brothers buck fitfully on the floor, banging into things, shouting, grunting.

You don't love me!

Yes I do!

I love you too but I'm going to mace you in the face!

Francis and Peter ignore Jack and continue fighting. Jack takes a deep breath and holds it. He fires the pepper spray at his brothers. It makes a pop and hiss.

Silence. Francis and Peter erupt into crazed screaming, pawing at their eyes and gasping for breath. Jack looks pained and scared. Francis grabs at Jack's ankles. Jack throws open the compartment door and retreats into the corridor. He watches as Francis and Peter slowly stagger to their feet, coughing and wheezing. Francis looks at Jack, squinting:

I had to do it.

Francis lunges at Jack. Jack kicks him. He runs to the end of the car, throws open the door, and heads into the next coach.

Jack turns around to face the door. He takes a step backwards. He inserts a fresh capsule into his can of pepper spray. He raises the cannister and waits. The door opens, and Jack maces Francis and Peter again. Francis and Peter scream and choke, clawing at their eyes. Jack shouts:

Stop including me!

Absurd and hilarious, particularly that line Jack says as he's about to mace his brothers, which made me have to stop reading because I was laughing so hard. But this scene is also significant for character development. Jack is tired of always being caught in the middle of Francis' constant need to be in control and Peter's constant need to rebel. And here he finally asserts himself.

But just like every other time the members of this family hurt each other, it's meant with love. The boys need each other. If Jack wasn't there to stop them with immediate pain Francis and Peter would have kept fighting until one of them really got hurt. They don't want to need each other, but they do.

It's just about the sweetest story I've read in a long time. I don't have brothers and I haven't lost anyone close to me but I still felt a deep connection to these boys simply because of their need to cling to each other through hardship. Anyone can relate to that I think.

As soon as I finished the script I jogged up to Blockbuster and rented the film. I hope it's as good on screen as it was on the page.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Closer to the itty bitty stage

I'm officially on vacation but I still have lots of work to do on the yearbook so I'm not really done yet.

Still, I have eight weeks ahead of me with no major obligations so I'll be finishing Not Dead Yet then trying to crank out another script before I have to go back in May.

Last night I went to see Lead Actor perform as Larry in Closer. I really appreciate Lead Actor doing a gig in a theater within walking distance of my house. That was nice of him because it allowed me to drink copious amounts of champagne at the opening night party without fear of consequences.

I found the play to be much better than the film because I felt like the film was trying to justify the camera in a story that really only needs four people and some props. Then again, what do I know. I prefer films where people get shot.

Sometimes in LA you go to a play in a tiny little theater and pray for the end. This was not one of those times. First of all, Lead Actor is the Fucking Shit on stage. At one point the friend sitting next to me said, "Wow. I've never seen him yell before. He's usually so quiet."

"Then you've got to come to the premiere of Game Night. He yells and throws things and threatens people with tiny knives."

He's really good at measuring his emotional swells. During his big emotional eruption scene I was actually craning my neck to try to get closer to the stage. It didn't work very well.

The other actors I'd never seen before, but they were also very good overall. And the director chose to play them a little less sad at the end, a little more hopeful about the future, which I thought was an interesting and effective choice. One of my problems with this story has always been how much you just kind of feel disgusted with these people and their self loathing, but I kind of got a vibe of desperation coming off them last night too. And I mean that in a good way. They're desperate to be loved, desperate to figure out how to live in this world and figure out how to calm their raging emotions.

So if you're looking to see a show over the next month I recommend it. Tickets are available here. Don't watch the trailer though. It makes it look like a melodramatic crying fest, which it is not.

But if you go please don't whine. One lady whined because there was no biography of the playwright in the program. Another lady whined because there were people smoking in the outdoor grotto where they were selling snacks. Suck it up, it's a itty bitty theater in Hollywood. Quit your bitching.

Also, don't steal people's seats. These French people got up during intermission and went outside and two people who came in late and had to stand because the theater was sold out took the French people's seats. When the French people got back there was almost a fight. We were disappointed to see the situation resolve itself peacefully. Dammit, French people, in America you have to start a fight when somebody steals your seat at the theater!

These seats are pretty tightly arranged so if someone needs to sit on the inside please stand up and let them pass. The French lady refused to get up so she made me climb over her, which in turn made me almost faceplant when my boot caught on my coat as I was trying to step over her knobbly knees. Not cool, French lady. Not cool.

Incidentally the French lady was the one who complained about the playwright biography. Maybe the solution here is to just not invite French people to plays.

Anyway, go see this play if you get a chance and tell Lead Actor I sent you. But don't bring any French people.