Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Three blogs

I want to pass on a couple of new blogs by two very entertaining writers.

Pogue is old hat at this screenwriting thing and a regular over at Wordplay. He name drops as he waxes on his philosophy of writing, and often shares his reading and viewing habits. I give you, Pogue's Pages.

And Joshua Grove-Patterson uses his gobs of personality to entertain with his new blog But the Third One was Great. He focuses solely on horror film sequels. I don't really like horror movies, much less sequels of horror movies largely because of the gore factor, so I have thus far enjoyed his posts immensely because I get to learn all the fun stuff without having to watch anybody gauge out an eyeball and eat it or something. Josh is funny. If only I'd thought of a gimmick that good.

I'm also enjoying Carson Reeves' ScriptShadow, where he reads scripts and reviews them in an informative and educational way. Almost every time I read his blog I run off and search for a script he mentions liking. He's honest and clear and fun to read.

I've put all three blogs on the sidebar. I read several other blogs too, but I only link to blogs that post regularly and focus largely on writing. So if you write about your kid or politics as much as about writing, that's why I haven't linked to you. And if you haven't posted in a month you are automatically deleted because the first thing I do each day is go down my links, and if I keep seeing the same entry every day I get irritated. I say this because I've deleted a few blogs and I don't want those writers to think it was personal. I might still check out your blog, but the ones I link to are the ones I read every day.

At any rate, check out the new folks. They're a great new way to procrastinate while still feeling like you're working.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Things Iearned from watching a marathon of modern martial arts films

I spent pretty much all of yesterday watching Chinese movies with subtitles and listening to the commentaries and here is what I learned.

1) White people all look alike to Asian people, just like Asian all people look alike to us. Zhang Yimou knows this, so at the beginning of House of Flying Daggers he intentionally showed Takeshi Kaneshiro eating peanuts in every scene so the Western audience would know which one he was when he changed costumes.

2) Chow Yun Fat could easily play all the parts in any movie ever. If there was a martial arts movie where he did play all the parts, I would totally watch it.

3) Incest is bad and it will kill you, probably in a really violent way.

4) Chinese people are big on betrayal and dying for love, usually both at the same time.

5) You kill more effectively if you yell really loud while striking in slow motion and jumping to a lower position.

6) If some martial artist is sneaking around in the dark wearing an all black outfit that hides the face, it's probably a woman.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Studio sanitizer

This post has nothing to do with Seven, but I find this picture enormously entertaining and slightly relevant.

In keeping with yesterday's post about getting acquainted with the classics, last night, very late, I decided to watch the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

Okay so spoiler warnings, but I'm probably the only person in America who hadn't seen this yet so I'm not too concerned.

And I'm sure I'm not the first person to make the observation that follows, but it's my blog so I'm gonna observe.

In the little post film recap from the old movies expert guy, he mentioned that originally the film was supposed to end on Miles standing in the middle of the street, unable to get anyone to believe him. And the studio decided it was too gloomy and ambiguous so they added the frame of Miles talking to some people about what happened, complete with the last minute warning that may have saved the human race.

Way to go, studio.

First of all, opening with Miles alone after he escaped lets us all know right from the start that his girlfriend didn't make it, so when we spend this whole movie watching them run from the aliens, we already know what happens to her. It takes out a lot of the tension, like when the commercials for Lost are like "Somebody will die in this episode!"

God dammit. Don't tell me someone will die. Then I spend the whole episode sitting around waiting for somebody to kick the bucket, and I'd really just rather let the story unfold. So I didn't want to know that Miles ended up alone. I wanted to think his girlfriend might stand a chance.

And that scene of him in front of the cars is so haunting. He's so helpless. But by changing it so that yay! maybe people will be saved, kinda! It takes all the bite out of the ending. It deflates what was a powerful scene. Hell, the film analysis guy said that the scene with the cars is so iconic that Kevin McArthy was asked to repeat it all through his career. The most powerful moment of the film, and it was sanitized by the studio's underestimation of its audience.

I've been reading Down and Dirty Pictures and this morning I read about Reservoir Dogs. Apparently Harvey Weinstein was adamant about removing the ear cutting scene. He thought the ladies of the world would never tolerate that level of violence.

(Slight spoiler warnings but if you haven't seen it I'm not sure we can be friends.)

But Quentin Tarantino, to his great credit, held his ground. Can you imagine that film without that scene? Sure, it would be a slightly less violent film, maybe easier to watch without that extra moment of discomfort, but doesn't it just make you glad when the cop shoots Michael Madsen? Without that scene you don't get that extra glimpse of his evil. You kind of like his crazy quirkiness, but the second he does that he's gone too far. It's just powerful. And removing it could have been the difference between a good film and the fucking brilliant picture it is.

I guess the lesson there is that sometimes you have to fight the power.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Casual observation

I didn't grow in a household that embraced film much, and as a kid I wasn't allowed to watch TV at all, and since I didn't even know I wanted to make movies until I was an adult, there are some major gaps in my film education. When I did see a film I had the typical teenage mentality: if it's old, it sucks. I think The Longest Day was the only black and white movie I saw outside the classroom in all my years in school, which is strange because I LOVED The Longest Day. You'd think I'd have learned a lesson from that.

Anyway, I've tried to make up for lost time by watching as many movies as possible. I do a lot of it during vacation, when I try to watch at least one movie a day. I don't do this to be lazy and slobby on my couch, although that is an excellent side benefit. I do it so that when I go into pitch meetings or end up at industry parties and everybody starts going on about this film or that, I'm not left out of the conversation because the only film I can talk about with a critical eye is The Terminator.

I have lots of stuff in my queue that I want to see, but one thing I like to do is go through TCM and AMC and IFC, which are conveniently grouped together, and record all the movies I have heard of and not seen. Then I put them on while I do other things like post blog entries or study for a class I'm taking. If the movie is really good, I'll drop what I'm doing to watch it. But even if it's not the greatest movie, watching it casually allows me to become familiar with the film enough to fake it in conversation.

This plan works poorly with subtitled films, but I've tried it, although after attempting it with M I finally had to stop and pay attention, and that's when I discovered how incredible a film that is. I also tried it with Metropolis. I don't recommend this method for silent films.

But it's funny, because sometimes while I watch a film out of the corner of my eye I'll hear a famous line and go "Oooooooooooooooh! That's where that comes from!" Like today's film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, right in the beginning when the soldiers started whistling that famous tune I only knew from The Breakfast Club, I smiled when I realized that must be the source of that tune. So now when I'm at a party and somebody whistles or whatever I won't be all "Oh blahdeblah The Breakfast Club" and sound like a fucking jackass because everybody and their mom knows that was from The Bridge on the River Kwai.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Positive reinforcement

We talk a lot around these parts about having reliable people read your stuff and give you honest feedback. Don't let your mom give you notes and the like.

Last week I was really positive, but today I was kind of down because of some stuff you don't need to know about. And that had me thinking about the importance of positive reinforcement.

When we started out, we all sucked. That's true in anything, isn't it? The first time you got behind the wheel you probably sucked at driving, but you didn't think you did so you probably crashed a few times. Not that I know from experience or anything.

Anyway, your first screenplay was most likely garbage. And if you sent it out or showed it to anybody who knew anything about the industry, they rolled it out and took a big old crap all over it. And then you crawled back into your bed and wept.

Unless you have an unreasonably large ego like yours truly, you're going to lose faith in yourself. So you need somebody in your life who gives you nothing but positive feedback. Is this screenplay good? Absolutely. Am I gonna make a bazillion dollars one day as a screenwriter? Of course you will, dear. Do I look fat? Hell no.

Some of us have parents who don't get the whole screenwriting thing, but there are friends, lovers, teachers, homeless men we can get to throw some positive energy our way. So I say, as long as you have your gang telling you the truth, make sure somebody in your life picking out your Oscar dress no matter how horrible your screenplay is.

I've had some days where positive comments from you guys really made me feel like a non-failure, so thanks. And be excellent to each other and whatnot.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Thanks Bobby Wang, or how I learned to love the martial arts film

As step one in researching my new martial arts script, I have to watch a shitload of martial arts films. I mean it's really tough work, you guys. It takes concentration and shit because I have to read subtitles.

I started with Hard Boiled. I've seen Hard Boiled before, but it was a lifetime ago during high school when Bobby Wang made us all sit in his house when his parents were out of town and watch Hard Boiled and Half a Loaf of Kung Fu. At the time I had no idea why either film was so special, and then I got distracted when Jason Peterson passed out in the bathtub next to a pool of his own vomit. That was probably around the time when Bobby kept rewinding the scene where that dude rides in on his motorcycle and unleashes hell in the warehouse. I remember that scene really well, mostly because we watched it like eight times that night.

So now I'm watching Hard Boiled again with a greater appreciation for not only martial arts films, but films in general. At my house we didn't watch movies that much, and when we did they tended to be musicals or popular Hollywood pics. I didn't know Hong Kong action existed until I met Bobby Wang, and even then I didn't really get the hype.

I also didn't appreciate how hot Chow Yun Fat was in this movie. Hell he's still hot and I'd still nail him. But you know until a few years ago, I only knew him from Crouching Tiger and The Replacement Killers. I had no idea he had this career before he came to America.

I had the same experience with Jet Li. I thought he was awesome in Lethal Weapon 4, but when Ex Fiance showed me that first Once Upon a Time in China film, I was in love. It took me a while, but eventually Bobby Wang's effort to spread his love for the modern martial arts film caught up to me.

Next up in my queue I have The Curse of the Golden Flower, A Touch of Zen, Infernal Affairs, Wasabi, The Chinese Connection and The Emperor and the Assassin. I think later on I have some Kurosawa films coming up too.

I can't wait until I'm a full time screenwriter and I can take this shit off on my taxes.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Movies that surprise you

I watched Howl's Moving Castle today. I don't really know why because it's not my usual thing and I have like eighty million other movies waiting around to be seen, but something intrigued me about it. All I knew is that it was supposed to be good. And then it surprised me by being way better than I expected.

I love that. I loved Pitch Black for that reason - it was a film I expected to be just a straight cheesy horror sci fi thing but it turned out to be a film about real human emotions. Same with In Bruges - it was supposed to be an action comedy, but it turned into this really neat combination of comedy and drama that challenged my brain.

Those are my favorite movies - the ones that aren't supposed to be as good as they are. That's what I want to write. I want to write films that aren't supposed to be as good as they are, so that I can spend my entire career surprising people.

I think that's the best compliment when somebody tells me they were surprised by how much they liked the story. Maybe that's why I choose to write about things like zombies. Expectations for zombies are pretty low.

Friday, March 20, 2009

How do I sound as awesome as I am?

As I walked down a nearby street on my way home from getting some shit notarized, I began to think about my script and I realized I'm going to sell it. It was totally a Secret power of positive thinking kind of new wave enthusiasm moment, but I was pretty jazzed. I realized we could buy a $500,000 house instead of a $300,000 house and I could take some jujitsu lessons and quit my job and be a bazillionaire and finally land that adaptation I've been dying to work on since I read the book once in grad school. It was a pretty cool moment, realizing I was a winner.

Then I got home and wrote up my query letter to this one manager I know who reads all his query letters. I wanted to open it with "OMG you are so gonna make some money off this script because it's awesome," but that just made me sound like an idiot. Because even if it's true, bragging about how awesome you are just makes you look like a moron and everybody hates you.

So how do you get your shit to stand out? Obviously it has to have a great logline, but really a monkey could write a great logline and still produce a crappy script, and a great script might not have the world's greatest logline. I've worked on mine for a while and I feel pretty good about it, but since I have to mention the word "zombie" anyone reading it will immediately picture a B movie with some half naked, bloody bimbo lurching toward other less bloody bimbos. I made sure to mention the explosions and the flame thrower and the tidal wave, but I don't know if that's enough to get the interest going.

I did my whole "Emily Blake the blogger" persona thing where I say a lot of "anyway"s and "okay, so"s but that sounded amateur too.

End the end I said I thought zombies were the bee's knees and if you like zombies and explosions and exploding zombies at all you'll like my script.

What do you put in a query letter?

Thursday, March 19, 2009


Starting a new script means research. Unless you're writing an autobiographical number, which nobody should ever do EVER unless your name is Antoine Fisher, you're gonna need to look some stuff up.

I wrote a script once about these brothers who were all thieves and they had to pick locks and crack safes. I tried to find as much info as I could but it's some very technical stuff and I'm not so good at technical stuff. And then I wrote about three brothers but I don't actually have any brothers, so I really didn't know what the hell I was writing about. I tried to write another script about an assassin for the mob but I don't know anything about that and I tried to research but it's pretty hard to find anything accurate about being a hitman. I read this one book that claimed to be accurate but I'm not so sure, so most of what I know comes from other movies. And we all know what happens when you base a movie on other movies.

Not Dead Yet worked because I needed to research only one thing: the Great Lakes. I put most of my events in familiar settings, but the route my characters had to take to get from one place to another was not one I have taken. So I met with Ex Boyfriend at the now defunct Doughboys and we went carefully over how canal locks work and what cities are on the route my characters needed to take and whatnot.

And because I took the time to make certain I knew what I was writing about the story was easy. It was sort of an epiphany of common sense. Hey, there, if you know what the characters know you can probably write them better.

Lucky for me, my new script is on a subject in which my mother is an expert, so when she visited I plopped down on the couch with her and got out my notebook. I explained my story and she immediately jumped into action. A little too immediately. She practically wrote my whole story and now she's probably going to sue me for story credit.

Now I'm just going to read this book I got from Amazon and let the rest of the story jump out at me as I read. And as soon as I feel 100% confident with my level of knowledge on the subject, that's when I know it's time to crank that sucker out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Three options for script notes

If you live in LA you probably have friends in the entertainment industry who can read your material and know what to look for. You may have a writers group or just a random assortment of friends or a film school graduate friend who calls it like he sees it when he reads a script. I'm lucky in that I have a several such people who want to read my material and give me notes.

I imagine those outside this company town probably don't have such access. I know that when I lived in North Carolina I knew one person who'd ever written a screenplay, and it's pretty clear to me now that this person didn't know a damn thing about the business.

So who will read your screenplay and give you honest, informed notes? I've had a ton of people read my scripts over the years, and it's pretty clear that most people do not know how to give notes on a screenplay. So here are three who do:r

1) Scott the Reader. We all know Scott, right? Alligators in a Helicopter, long time scribospherian, $80 notes guy. Every now and then Scott will take a break from his cheap notes to make more money reading for studios, but he's still in the business and there are more than a few people who will vouch for his accuracy. Scott read a short film of mine once and gave me some pretty good suggestions, many of which I was too stubborn to take at the time but realized I needed to take later when it was more difficult to do because I was already in production. Anyway, he's on the up and up.

2) Introducing Script Doctor Eric, who offers notes and a 30 minute phone call for $99. He read Not Dead Yet and had several handy observations and suggestions. I wish I had been able to give Eric the script in its early stages because by the time he saw it the thing was pretty much finished, but he had some good ideas about choices I could have made and pointed out a few confusing scenes.


3) If you have some dollars burning a hole in your pocket, The Script Department is an expensive consultant company. A basic analysis of your script and suggestions for changes, plus a 30 minute phone call is $300. I've never used their services, and their reviews are mixed.

Eric and The Script Department both say they will pass your script onto industry contacts if they deem it worthy, but I wouldn't hire them for that purpose. I know a lot of people see that and think oooooh! I have an in! Don't think that way because chances are good that they will not pass your script on, and even if they do there is no guarantee it will come to anything. These people are here to help you make your script better, not to sell your script. But if you have nobody around who knows what they are doing, these are three options.

ADDED: I've never used his services, but I've heard good things about The Screenplay Mechanic. He posts regularly over at Done Deal.

The best thing you can do, though, is form a group of writers you trust who will give you notes for free.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My mom doesn't like movies

My mom's in town this week. We've been having a fabulous time driving up to Griffith Observatory and looking at the city, checking out the tar pits, shopping for lye, you know, the touristy stuff.

At night I keep trying to make her watch movies.

She's not a big movie and TV person. Sometimes she'll sit with me and Stepdad and check out the latest war movie, but she leaves if there's too much cussing, which I find odd because the lady has a mouth like a prospector in Deadwood.

Anyway, I know she's into musicals so I suggested Sweeny Todd. No, she likes movies with happy endings. You know, that's what's wrong with Batman. Those old Batman movies were upbeat and fun. This new Batman is depressing.

And the Spiderman movies. Those first two were fun, but that last one-

I cut her off there because NOBODY thinks that movie is any fun.

Did I just ruin my chance to work with Sam Raimi?

Anyway, Mom says nothing depressing. Check.

Little Miss Sunshine? Already saw it. Chicago? Already saw it. The Princess Bride? Okay seriously who hasn't seen that? The Darjeeling Limited? She glazed right over that one. I suspect she thinks Wes Anderson is too weird.

So then I was like okay. Nobody hates Galaxy Quest. No, she wanted to go to bed.

I love my mom. She's terrific. We're a lot alike in so many ways. But man, do we differ on our choices of entertainment. For one think, like 90% of the movies on my shelf have too much cussing and too much violence and a depressing ending. Hell, I needed her help to research the project I'm currently working on, but I know she'll never want to see it. She'll think it's too violent and weird.

It's difficult when you can't share your favorite thing in the world with the people you love. The first thing I do when people come to visit is make them dinner and put in a movie I think they'll like. It's like picking out the perfect Christmas present. Who is this person and what is the perfect film for them?

But Mom may be a lost cause. I still keep trying, though. Last night I made a last ditch effort to get her involved in 24. She fell asleep.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Contest scams

In case you haven't already heard, the Fade In screenwriting contest is officially a scam.

I met a guy once who wanted to start a screenwriting contest where he made a lot of money from suckers who sent in their scripts for a promise of $100 and a email blast to agencies. He knew this was a scam and he kept talking about how much money he'd make. It was disgusting.

The Nicholl is legitimate. Disney is legitimate. Austin is legitimate. A few others deliver what they promise - The Silver Screenwriting Contest, Scriptapalooza. I don't think I'd enter anything else. Has anybody had success with any other contests?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My new idea

I haven't been truly excited about a story idea in a long time. Several weeks ago I was running through my list of current story ideas, trying to pick which one I wanted to work most once I was completely finished with Not Dead Yet. They were all okay ideas as ideas go, but none of them was dying to be written.

I had decided on one idea, but I was having trouble putting it together. It was a whole daughter searches for her father while being chased by bad guys thing, but I just had too many holes. Every time I solved a story problem I created a cliche problem.

Then I went to a meeting at work where we practiced creative writing. Of course I was a big show-off who earned lots of praise with her story about all the times I have been brave and stupid. It was like Oh no don't make me have to earn $25 an hour writing short stories! Nooooooo!

Most teachers are more literature focused than writing. I was amazed at how many teachers thought good writing = a shitload of adjectives.

Anyway, this one teacher wrote about her love of martial arts. She had taken six years of an obscure martial art that has a really cool origin story. I had forgotten about that story, but had always planned to do something with it some day. It's on a index card on my bulletin board, so you know it's serious.

So I went up to her and asked some questions about it, and then I told her I'd been working on a story about the origin and she got all huffy and said "I'm working about a book with that story," and I said not to worry because I was planning to take so much poetic license they wouldn't be remotely the same. And even if I do steal her story, she's totally fat now so I can just run from her before she Karate chops my ass.

Anyway, I started thinking more and more about this idea, and the main problem is that no matter how I worked it, it always became a Karate Kid movie. So I just kept thinking and thinking and I thought about the movies I love the most, particularly martial arts movies, and I analyzed the elements in them that work. And then it hit me.

I can't really say exactly what hit me because when it did, oh man is it awesome. Not only is it something I will have an absolute blast writing, but it's something nobody has ever done. Ever. It's not a super commercial film, but it ain't no autistic grandma living in the basement movie either.

You know an idea's good when you don't have to work at it. The zombie story was the most fun thing to write ever because I didn't have to think too much. I had a group of people that needed to cross the country to get to another group of people. They're going to need to stop for gas - fight scene. They're going to need to go over some dangerous terrain - fight scene. I didn't have to stop and force a fight scene where it didn't belong.

That's what I used to do when I first started. I'd go along with my story and realized nobody had fought for a while, so I planted a fight scene in the middle of nothing. But a good fight scene, just like a good sex scene, comes out of and serves the story. Even in a martial arts film.

And that's when I knew I loved my new story. As soon as I figured out the basic plot, I immediately saw all the fight scenes because they were necessary. Well of course if my protagonist breaks into this place, the antagonist is going to have to fight her. And that will cause her to do this other thing the next day, which will lead to this next thing he'll have to do, etc. The story writes itself.

So for the first time since I started writing about zombies, I'm excited. Now comes research. First research assignment - watch all the Once Upon a Time in Chinas. Second research assignment - take a martial arts class.

Being a writer is so hard.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why I didn't send you my script

Here in the land of aspiring screenwriters we are so cynical. So many of us are terrible writers who think we're great, just like those American Idol wannabes who warble at the first round of auditions and then promise we'll see them again someday on a stage surrounded by lights of denial. You can't spit in this town without hitting some jackass with a screenplay that's going to revolutionize Hollywood and show us all how it's really done.

So yesterday when I said I had confidence in my screenplay, I can see why a lot of people hesitated to believe I had the goods to back it up.

I received a lot of requests, both publicly and privately, to send my screenplay to other writers so they could read it.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but I interpreted most of those requests as tests. Oh she has confidence, does she? We'll see about that. When I'm done with her, she'll be weeping in the shower and cutting herself.

Now granted, some of these people offered to read my script when I was having problems, but most of them only offered after I said I had a good script.

And that tells me that they aren't looking to help me. They're looking to see if I'm as good as I say I am.

Look, if you want to know if I can back it up, okay. Say so. Email me and say "I'm curious about your script. Can I read it?"

I'll send it. I like the script, I'm proud of it, and it's registered so you go right ahead and read all you like.

I've been working with someone who wishes to stay anonymous, someone who has helped me heaps and piles in improving this script. We have gone back and forth, argued and discussed, read and reread the script for months now. I also have a writers group that has read it and given me notes. I have agonized over all those notes and now I feel like my script is high and tight like Dolly's breasts.

So when people offered to give me notes yesterday I was a little surprised and my initial reaction to some of you was probably not the best one I could have had. I'm just not sure how to take it when I say "I'm finished with my script!" and everybody immediately says "Oh let me give you notes! You're not done until I say you're done!"

Or at least that's how I took it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


So after I forget how long of working on it - like a million years, I think - I'm calling Not Dead Yet officially ready for human consumption. The original version was okay, but now with the rewrite and the help of a mysterious friend, it's considerably better - better to the point where I feel confident sending it out.

I have two connections who are willing to read it and actually have the ability to get it sold or sent out as a work sample, so I sent it off to them. Of course I'm all confident and happy and love my script and - OH MY GOD I THINK THERE'S A TYPO ON PAGE 75!

It's this weird thing where no matter how much validation or confidence you have, the second you hit "send" on the email you start to freak out and wonder if you should have changed that one word on that one page to something more interesting. And what about the story? Should I have killed more people? Is the dialogue too on the nose? Is it not clear enough?

I started to go through the script again and worry that maybe I should have taken some of the advice I decided against, but then I remembered what a friend of mine read me yesterday. She read me this post from Billy Mernit's blog and I began to breathe.

He says that the most important thing in a script is for you to get the reader to identify with the main character. Even if the writing is not as crisp and clean as the gurus say, do you get involved emotionally? Do you care? Then it's a good script.

The same friend who read me that is a writer of Romcoms. I said I'd like her to read my script because if she likes my zombie script then I know it's a good script because she's not over the moon about zombies. And she said "What do you want me to look for as I read?"

And I said, "If you stop reading, tell me why."

Really that's all there is to it. A script is good if you like it. There are ways to work on your writing style and word choices and all that specific stuff they teach you in class, but in the end if a script keeps you awake and makes you want to read the next page, that's all that matters. That doesn't mean you shouldn't give a shit about grammar and form and the rest because those things are all part of making a script more readable - plus there's so much ambiguity in screenwriting already, why not do the one thing you know you can get right? But the key is always the story.

I know my story is good. And once in a writer's group meeting another group member told me that in my pharmacy scene he really thought my protagonist was going to die and he was worried.

Well that's all you really need, isn't it? If he actually thought I was about to kill my lead and he didn't want her to die? I'm satisfied with that.

So I'm just going to have to remember that when I hit "send" on the email to that William Morris agent the Beefcake knows.

[EDIT] I'm not actually trying to prove I have confidence by having someone read my script and tell me whether or not it's good. Having confidence means you don't need someone to tell you if it's good. You already know it is.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Game Night: The VO session

Yesterday I drove over to Editor's studio for a little voice over session. Since it was daylight savings time, the actors were not there at the agreed upon hour, which was cool because that meant Editor and I could make some notes on the existing film and discuss what we wanted out of the voice over session.

The biggest problem is still Former Writing Partner's tendency to look like a wussy face during his manliest moment. He has a gun to his head and he's supposed to push against the gun and tell the other guy aggressively to put the gun down. But in every shot, he's tilted back and the gun presses into his head while he cringes in fear. Even if his voice says "I'm a man now," his face says "please don't hurt me!"

But without that shot of him cringing we get only shots of Lead Actor's arm holding the gun and there's just no tension. And the music in the background is kind of happy, so you're completely certain that nobody is about to get shot.

We were talking about how to fix that, then I realized something. I have no idea if anyone watching thinks he's about to get shot anyway. I wrote this knowing he never gets shot and I directed it knowing that, and I've seen the footage so many times now that my perspective is completely off. At this point I have to take the advice of others on this because I have no idea how the film looks anymore.

So anyway, we did the VO. Lead Actor showed up and had some fun ad libbing a bunch of scenes about how much he wants to have sex and get money. It is really fucking hard not to crack up in the middle of a VO session with that guy.

Chinese Guy who was supposed to VO my Chinese actress' dad did not show up. I can't blame him for not showing because it's not the greatest acting gig ever, but I was kind of pissed that he didn't at least call to let me know he'd changed his mind. Editor said he knows an old Chinese man who can probably do it. We tried using Lead Actor, but it was horrible. Hilarious, but horrible. At one point I volunteered to try it, but Editor nixed it. Too feminine, apparently. Chinese Guy emailed me later and said he'd overslept, so maybe we'll try again.

We also needed one of the girls to do some VO oooohing and ahhhhing over her boyfriend's erection but the actress couldn't make it so I stepped in. Before I got in front of the mic I could imitate her voice perfectly. The second I stepped in front of the mic I suddenly became Candy the porn star with the high pitched voice. This is why I should not be an actress. Still, there were a few usable lines.

So now we're rounding home. Any day now I'll schedule a screening and we'll get this show on the road.

Saturday, March 07, 2009


The Nicholl application is up, everybody. Deadline is in May. I'll be submitting my rewrite of Not Dead Yet, because I am determined to prove that zombies are so Nicholl contenders.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Ode to Veronica Mars

A Friend and I have been watching a marathon of Veronica Mars season one on DVD this week. She has gone nuts over it.

It's been fun remembering those days when I was just like that. Dude, the end of season one when you don't know who's at the door? Remember? I spent all fucking summer randomly sitting around going "Who's at the door? WHO IS AT THE DOOR?" Every week I was waiting on bated breath to see what happened next. Who killed Lily Kane? Was Veronica going to finally let Logan love her? Who raped her at the party? Will she ever appreciate Wallace?

Logan is one of the best things about that show. Jason Dohring manages to take a guy who was only supposed to be around in the pilot and was a complete asshole, and turn him into the most adorable guy you just desperately want her to let go and love. Friend and I were observing how neat it was that she seems the be the one who doesn't want to admit the relationship. He is ready at a moment's notice to blaze their relationship, but she's afraid of what will happen because she trusts nobody on the planet besides Wallace and her dad. It's terrific subtext connected to character development.

Friend has been so excited to see each episode, each night she gets downright giddy about seeing what happens next. I used to feel that way about this show, and I felt that way about Buffy. And right now I can't think of any shows that make me feel that way. Sure, at the end of Lost I go "Holy crap what was that!" but then I forget by the next day. Buffy and Veronica Mars both kept occupying my mind all week until the next episode. There is no show on right now that has the same effect on me. Hell, I've barely watched TV in the past two weeks and I haven't been desperate to catch up.

I miss you, Veronica. Thank goodness for TV on DVD.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A brief examination of the Ibo language

It feels like I'm more busy on vacation than I was when I was working. There just isn't enough time in the day.

Anyway, I was thinking this morning about Ibo (also spelled "Igbo"). If you've ever read Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart then you've heard of Ibo, but otherwise you probably haven't.

The Ibo people are the largest tribe in Nigeria and they speak the most fascinating language. Other Nigerians have a similarly poetic language I believe, but the only one I know anything about is Ibo, although I don't know much. I've read Things Fall Apart like a million times because it used to be a staple of tenth grade English at my old school in North Carolina, and when I was in high school I worked at Boston Market with an Ibo man who told me all about his culture.

And what do you know, when I was an alternate juror on a rape trial last year, the victim's mother was Ibo. The defense attorney kept thinking he tripped her up. "When you first talked to the police, you told them you said 'Get away!' but now you're telling us you said 'Stop that!' Which is it?"

And she kept replying "It's the same thing," which baffled the attorney. Then again, this is the same attorney who seemed to think it was impossible for a nurse to see bruising inside a black girl's vagina because the skin is too dark. Yes, he really thought that.

Anyhow, the mom was right that those two phrases mean the same thing. Because she's Ibo.

Ibo is hands down the coolest language ever, and possibly the most difficult to learn to speak because nothing in the language is literal. They speak almost entirely in metaphor. For instance, the man I used to work with once told me "A woman cannot be raped if she takes her shoes off."

Naturally, I launched into a rant about what a disgusting and chauvinistic viewpoint that is. I was at the height of my angry feminism in those days.

My friend stopped me and laughed. He explained that what he meant by "takes her shoes off" was that she climbed into bed willingly. As in, she took her shoes off to get into bed. Because that's how his language translates into English.

I also had this hobby back then of learning how to say "I love you" in as many languages as possible. I guess I was trying to collect these phrases in case I decided to be a romantic some day, but so far they've really come into use in the classroom when I explain how different languages have different phonetic structure. My friend told me that when Ibo people say "I love you" they say "Ahurum ge nanya," which actually means "I see you with my eyes."

Think about that. They don't say "I love you," they say "I see you." They get at what love truly means. To know someone. To see them for who they really are.

I just think that's awfully cool. I thought you guys should know there is an entire language built around subtext.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Game Night: Things I wish I'd done differently

Yesterday I watched the rough cut of Game Night. So far, so good. There are some parts that really work and some parts that need help.

I've learned some things. First, we have to do some voice over. There's one section of voice over built into the script so I have to call in an actor to do it. He was recommended to me by one of my actors and she promised he'd be cool. He has to play her dad, shouting at her from outside the door. On a normal day I'd have been able to pick any one of my actor or even non actor friends and make them do it, but I had to be miss fancy pants and hire a Chinese girl to play Sheila so her dad has to be Chinese too, and picking someone who sounds like Mickey Rourke in Breakfast at Tiffany's is not an option. I just hope this guy's okay with doing an hour's work for no face time.

Without his voice over the story is completely confusing. Even with his voice over, it may be a bit confusing. So I decided to change one line. Lead Actor says at one point Nobody's leaving until we get what we came for," but it's not clear what they came for. So I'm going to have him come in and say "Nobody's leaving until we get our money." Problem solved. Just changing that little bit will fix the confusion completely, I think. I just hope we can get the audio to match. We're doing the VO at editor's studio where we have professional equipment, so that should help.

Watching the finished product makes me both happy and annoyed at myself for not seeing more problems while we were filming. Former Writing Partner never stops making a cringing face. Like, every single scene he's cringing. And in the end when he's supposed to be manly and take on the other guy by staring down the barrel of a gun, he's still cringing. On set I even mentioned that he needed to butch it up, but he said the other actor was pushing the gun too hard into his head. So ever shot, he's still cringing. Editor had to keep the shots on the other guy almost the entire time, which makes it difficult to get the intensity of the scene.

And the big reveal at the end, where we see - well, we see a big bulge in his pants because he is a man now - the reaction from the girl who's supposed to be impressed is not significant enough. I wish I'd lingered longer on that and let her ad lib some stuff.

But you live, you learn. I still think it will be a solid first film when all is said and done, and I'm proud of it and the people I worked with.

Monday, March 02, 2009

On the season premiere of "Emily's Vacation"...

This was a rough week, but it was terribly satisfying when my boss saw me at a seminar Saturday morning and hugged me because I got my grades in on time AND we finished the yearbook with time to spare. Go me. And go kids.

Now I have all the time in the world to get some stuff done. First order of business, get a haircut because man. There is a lot of hair on my head. My new hair stylist is excited about what she can do with all these pounds of hair, but I get the impression she gets excited when she finds a nickle in her pocket. No more caffeine for that lady.

After the haircut, though, I'm free to be a full time screenwriter for eight whole weeks. Editor has finished the rough cut of Game Night so now we're on the home stretch there, and I want to film a second short by the end of the vacation. It's called "Guthrie" and it stars Trainer as a lonely, depressed guy who is slowly losing his marbles. It would also make a fantastic Twilight Zone episode. The beauty of this short is that I can shoot it in Beefcake's apartment with only one cast member and props we already have, and I have friends with a camera and lights of their own, so this film will cost me only food and boom rental.

I'm on the home stretch with Not Dead Yet as well. First I'm getting together with Mel from PitchQ to hone my pitch and synopsis and logline so I can have a perfect package, then I've got a couple of agents to send it to - one of whom is a friend of a friend so I at least know it will be read, and at one of the major agencies, no less. Then it goes back to the Nicholl in its revised form, because dammit, I will prove that zombie stories can be Nicholl scripts too. I demand respect for zombie kind.

Then I'm brainstorming a new script. It's about a teenage girl who ends up in trouble when a search for her missing father brings out the people who want him dead.

Or something like that. That logline has some weaknesses, but it will do for now. I have to sleep on this story a little more because right now all I've got are some action scenes with no idea how I'm going to navigate between them.

If action movies were like porn, I'd be so rich by now. You know, instead of real plot each scene is just an excuse for more violence. I guess that's what it's like to make movies with Jason Statham.

So that's what I've got going for the vacation. First I should probably get out of bed.