Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hi ho again

Today is the first day back at school for the last semester of the year. In eight weeks my seniors will graduate, and then three days later I will be saddled with a freshmen homeroom. I'm sort of hoping my script sells for a bazillion dollars in the next month and then I immediately get another bazillion dollars to write a tentpole movie, maybe I won't have to deal with the 9th graders.

I think it's a solid plan.

I confess I didn't use my vacation the way I thought I would. I was supposed to go to the beach but I never made it, even though it's half an hour away. I was supposed to go see a movie in the middle of the day by myself, but the only one I really wanted to see was Tyson, and the only theater showing it is in a scary place and I ran out of courage. I was supposed to work on my new script, and I did that, but not as much as I had thought I would. I was supposed to start back to work as an essay grader for Pearson, but fuck them. Those people do not have their shit together so I told them to lose my number.

What I did do with my vacation was get my script out into the whirling gyre that is Hollywood. So we'll see. I also took this stupid class I'm required to take to keep my license, but the class is designed for elementary school teachers so it was pretty excruciating.

In a way, I'm glad to be back. I like the first day because you have plenty to do and lots of new ideas and you forgot about all the things that irritate you. And this semester I have kids I've known all year, so I can accurately design a seating chart that puts that one girl all by herself as far away from her best friend as possible.

I wrote a haiku about it.

Chance to start over
This time, everything's perfect
Until it isn't

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Jenna Jameson goes legit

A couple of weeks ago Spike TV aired Zombie Strippers, a film about... well about zombie strippers. Not exactly what you think of when you think high concept, but it so is. Jenna Jameson is the film's big star and she plays a stripper named Kat who's been around the block a few times and serves as the group's maternal yet whorey leader. When she turns into a zombie, she still talks. So basically she's more of a reborn cannibal who still wants to dance naked while covered in blood, and also to literally eat dude's penises.

She makes a fortune for the club from all the zombie fetish dudes who don't know what happens in the champagne room.

There is also a character in this film named Sassy Sue.

This script also makes full use of its ability to quote other movies.

Anyway, I knew about three minutes in how much I would love this movie. This one mercenary throws a knife at this other guy and it sticks into the wall, and when he goes to get his knife he holds it up to the other guy and goes "I like knives," at which point Jenna Jameson looks at the other guy and says "He likes knives."

Yeah, it was pretty sweet.

After that, though, the rest of the film stays pretty contained to the strip club, which is genius because the budget for this was like $5 but it's still the awesomest movie ever.

The owner of the strip club is gay. You know he's gay because every time a stripper comes at him he cringes in fear, even though it's pretty obvious the actor playing him is really into chicks.

Okay so basically this movie consist of three parts. Stripper pole dance, then somebody gets eaten, then they sit and talk about how things are going in the zombie strip club, often with heavy lesbian overtones. It's a lot like a soft core porn, but with less actual sex and more actual violence.

Then there's a whole subplot with a Christian girl who finally gets up the courage to take her top off on stage and then to become a zombie who takes her top off on stage, and another story about those mercenaries from the beginning who are trying to track and destroy the zombie stripper menace. Then there's the stripper who refuses to be a zombie and resents the success of the zombie bitches. There's a lot going on in this film.

Also, they're not really zombies at all. More like modified vampires. See, the women keep their wits about them when they turn, but the men become brainless monsters who just want to eat flesh and destroy. See the metaphor? DO YOU SEE? And you thought a zombie movie with subtext was a thing of the past.

And not to spoil anything because really, telling you it's going to happen doesn't spoil it in the slightest, but at one point Zombie Stripper Jenna Jameson uses her decaying vagina to shoot ping pong balls at another zombie stripper's face.

And I don't think I've laughed harder at a Mexican stereotyping scene in my life.

So, in conclusion, it's pretty much the best movie ever.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

See my pitch

Want to see me pitch?

Go to and click on my face. Search for Not Dead Yet. Then you have to type NDY09 into the place for the guest code.

I'm giving out pretty much the entire story here, but as I've said before, I'm not too worried with stealing. Nonetheless, be cool, yo. Come up with your own zombie story if you want to. Mine's original.

Also, today is my last day of vacation. I'm going to the beach.

Monday, April 27, 2009

San Quentin Film School

There is a show Friday nights on Discovery Channel called San Quentin Film School that I absolutely love. The show, as you might imagine, follows a group of inmates in San Quentin who have been chosen to attend an inclusive film school course. They make a series of shorts where they learn the basics of cinematography, writing, editing and sound. At the end of the class they create a six-minute final project that represents what they've learned.

Occasionally the director of the school brings in a film professional. They've had visits from writers, directors, and actors like David Arquette and Delroy Lindo. As if I needed another reason to adore Delroy Lindo, he was so cool in helping these guys.

This is by far one of my favorite shows on the air right now. It's almost over for the season, but hopefully there will be another season to follow.

What is so great about this show is not only how you get to watch these guys become filmmakers by learning the craft, but you get to see them grow as men. Several of them are now seriously considering careers in film when they get out.

One kid is so young and has a terrific eye. He's got the gift, but he's lazy. So every week you hope to God this is the week he figures it out and puts in the effort to back up his talent. That's sort of what my job is like some days.

It's just about the most beautiful thing on television. I've seen a lot of shows about prison and they're usually either sob stories or a look at how hard life is an how full of assholes a prison is. But this is downright heart warming. These guys don't sit around making excuses or professing their innocence. One has obvious meth lab explosion scars on his face. One beat the shit out of his wife. They all did something stupid, something they regret, something they take full responsibility for. Two of them are old-timers.

The other thing I like is how their stories aren't all about how sad prison life is. A couple of them are, but one is about the decline of salmon and how it's hurting the local Indian population. One is about creative cooking within the cells. One is about a student massacre in Mexico. They all have these really interesting angles on life.

I see it in my job. Encouraging a kid in a hobby he loves is the best way to keep him from heading down the wrong path. Most of the guys in this group have never been good at anything in their lives, and they have completely embraced film as a way out of the cycle.

I just thought you guys should know about this. If you haven't seen it, check it out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Almost as confusing as Mullholland Drive

Last night we watched Quantum of Solace and then when we turned off the DVD player Last Man Standing was on so I watched that until I got bored and started reading my latest nutrition book, because I am on a nutrition book kick.

I find it interesting that I had largely the same complaints about both films. World building.

First of all, watching Quantum of Solace was like watching a movie when you're drunk. I kept wondering what the fuck was going on, but then being excited by the explosions. And then being confused again.

Also, who builds an evil lair on top of fuel cells? Have villains always been that retarded?

Anyway, I have no idea what the fuck that movie was about. I felt like the important exposition was sort of mumbled and lots of unimportant exposition was all the characters were yammering on about. In the end I felt like three different movies were happening. One of them was an action movie. One of them was a '70s art film. One of them was a QVC commercial.

Then when I watched The Last Man Standing I had a bit of the same problem. I wasn't sure what was going on. I mean, I could follow the actual events, but I didn't understand why anybody was doing anything. You've got Bruce Willis over here with absolutely no personality fighting a bunch of dudes for no reason. Why is he here? I don't know and I don't care. And he's all up in arms against this one femme fatale and I have no idea why. I mean, she's pretty and all, but other than that I don't get why he likes her. She's kind of dreary.

It's really frustrating watching films like these because I spend the whole time feeling like I missed something, some scene that explained it all, and I'm just a big dummy who can't pay attention. I think the main problem with Quantum of Solace is that the important information was treated as unimportant and therefore difficult to decipher from the vital stuff. The problem wit Last Man standing is that they were trying to make a noir western by the numbers. They plopped some noir conventions and a noir time period into a western setting and didn't really massage the ends.

Tonight I'm supposed to go see an independent film some guy I know is in. I hope it's good.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This is the end

I am just super excited. I said to myself long ago when I first started Not Dead Yet that this was the script that finally got me started. I felt that way because of how much smoother the process was, and how much more fun. And now that things are happening - well, I'm pretty much jumping out of my skin every moment of the day. Every time I see I have a new email I'm wondering if it's one of the people in high places.

Yes I know many things could still go wrong, but I'm annoyingly optimistic. But don't worry. The Beefcake is like King Pessimism so he keeps me from floating off into the atmosphere. I keep him from going on a killing spree.

I've gotten a few notes from people - no major changes, but an occasional observation about a minor change that might help my chances. One of my favorite notes was that I don't NEED the changes. This thing can sell as is. But the changes might help get it done faster.

That's shit you want to hear.

The funny thing is, when I started this I never imagined it would sell. I mean, it would be great, don't get me wrong. Money and a movie and launching a career and all that. But this is an expensive film and most people think of zombies as cheap, so I never thought anyone would want to buy it. But a few people in the know have indicated that it could indeed sell.

I'd also like to give thanks to World War Z. It makes it easy for me to point to a zombie action film and prove that this is a viable concept. It's supposed to come out next year and if it does well I'm in like Flynn. If it tanks I am screwed.

But that's a year from now.

Anyhow, one note that resonated with me the most, and the one I immediately set out to correct, was my ending. More than one person has remarked that it's REALLY depressing. It's not supposed to be. It's supposed to be bittersweet, but that's evidently not coming across, and some readers feel a bit let down.

So I said "But in Dawn of the Dead they end up thinking they're safe until they're attacked by a horde of zombies. And in Night of the Living Dead everybody dies."

Except those are horror movies, and as I am so fond of telling people, this is not a horror film. It's an action film.

And before you get all "But it has zombies!" Yeah well Twilight has vampires. So shut up.

I can't be a hypocrite. I can't keep going on about how my story is an action film and then ignore one of the staples of the action genre - the stabilized ending. Action films don't always have a happy ending, but they're Shakespearean. They always end with a king on the throne. And my ending left things all out of balance and hopeless.

So I added four lines of dialogue in various places and that's all it took. Now when the producers who pick it up read it they won't be quite as depressed. I still don't do happy endings, but at least this one won't quite make you want to slit your wrists as you leave the theater.

The only annoying thing is that it made the script go from 112-113 pages. One hundred thirteen is a prime number. My OCD senses are aggravated, but it's worth it if my script sells or gets me a job just a little bit faster.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Idea theft

First, a public service announcement. If anyone is considering grading essays for Pearson it is definitely not worth the massive hassle they put you through. It took me a year and $35 to apply for the job. I made $300 for two weeks of work. Then when I failed to follow directions they never gave me, I was fired, but I'm free to do a million pages of paperwork again in six months and they'll hire me back. So in the end, not worth it.

I was counting on that extra money, so today I am subbing even though I hate subbing, and I applied to be an agent for that company that texts you answers to stuff that pays like $7 an hour. It will be so worth it when I buy a house. Today's sub job is actually pretty cushy. I only sub for teachers I know and like and who have their shit together because I can afford to be picky. But this morning my boss found out I was here and asked me to sub one period for that damn Journalism Teacher who never has her shit together. I can't say no and I don't get paid extra. Balls.

Okay so anyway, lately my script has been sent out into the world. I queried one agent and one manager, but more importantly it is actually in the hands of a manager and an agent who will actually be reading it at some point. And a producer, and this guy who knows another guy.

One of my friends told me to be careful. I think he's worried somebody will steal my idea, but that seems silly to me. How can you sell yourself or your script if nobody reads it? And even if some new writer thinks I've got a swell idea and wants to steal it, there's no way they'll write it like I do. And if they copy me completely, I have a registration number to protect me.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not all ladeda about it. It's been drilled into us to keep our ideas secret to the point where even telling one person makes me nervous. Even in a group of friends, we still all leave out important details. I feel like we all sit around a table with our drinks looking all shifty eyed at each other. But really, unless you've got the niftiest high concept idea to come around, you don't have a lot to fear. Not if you write well.

For instance, on Pitch Q you can post your pitch either for other writers to view as well as producers, or just for producers who log in all secret-like. I say, go ahead and let the writers see. If they want to steal my idea and try to make it work, good luck, sucker. I have a passion for my idea and I busted my ass writing it and there is no way yours will be as good as mine. Besides, it's not like I invented zombies. If Romero had posted a pitch about Night of the Living Dead - then I can see the potential for theft.

I guess I just can't imagine a writer actively stealing your idea and then making money from it. I know it happens, but every time you hear about it, it's always the studio that stole your idea.

So I guess I should just keep everything secret from the studio.

Wait. That doesn't work either.

I guess I'll just have to trust the universe.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pitching at Pitch Q

So first of all, I finally have a script in circulation. In the past, the only people who read my scripts were friends or other writers or contest people who rejected me. Now people who don't already know me and aren't being paid actually want to read Not Dead Yet.

So now I have officially passed from being a douchebag who sits on her couch and writes screenplays to a douchebag who sits on her couch and practices pitching.

Speaking of pitching, Sunday I had the good fortune to visit Mel Scott at Pitch Q headquarters in a prime spot on Hollywood Boulevard. Pitch Q is a site where you can upload a video of your pitch. If you're in town, Mel will record your pitch at his office. So I did that.

First, a disclaimer. Mel is a personal friend. Even if he wasn't I would still have considered this a worthwhile activity, and I speak the truth here because I'm pretty big on integrity. Still, I thought you should know.


Just like most writers, I hate being in front of the camera. I'm okay if I have a script and a part to play, but ad libbing while staring at the camera makes me nervous as hell. And this was a scenario where I couldn't screw up. The pitch is recorded in one long take, and if you screw up you have to start over. And I screwed up a few times.

I apologized, but Mel told me his record so far is like 89 takes, so I didn't feel that bad. And he let me take my shoes off. If I'm wearing shoes, I am not comfortable. I have a feeling I will one day be known as that girl who takes her shoes off during pitch meetings.

Anyway, I tried picturing a friend behind the camera but then I got distracted by my wandering brain, so I tried again and got distracted by worrying that I wasn't saying everything right, so Mel taped my logline to the chair in front of me. But I still screwed up.

Then I got all the way through it and didn't know how to end. My last words in the pitch were "So it's kind of depressing."

Mel gave me a few pointers.

I shook it out. I thought to myself, Self, you do this every day. You're a teacher. If you can tell a story to a class full of teenagers, you can tell your own story to a camera.

And that's what I did. I turned on teacher mode, imagined my class in front of me and just ran through the story like I was in front of my board. I used hand gestures and went "Boooom!" when the explosions happened and I did some asides and said "Yay!" when good things happened and at the end it was pretty awesome. Mel said I wouldn't get any better than that. He even seemed to be pretty moved emotionally by my story.

My zombie story.

You hear that, haters?

I felt pretty damn good after that, even if I did tell my story at like 80 miles an hour. I think I did something like 6 takes. And now that I've done it once in front of a friend, I think I'll be completely okay doing it in front of some strangers.

Now I have the option of putting it on the site for only producers, or allowing writers to see it. So we'll see what happens next.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I liked a play

This is a rare thing for me. This is a post that will lavish unabashed praise on a colleague.

In LA we get a lot of plays in tiny little corner theaters that barely fit 30 people. On any given night you can probably find some little project, a labor of love for a tiny crew of actors with a smattering of credits and their writer/director who just wants to see his or her work performed for an audience.

I've been to a few of these - usually to watch someone I know - and they're not always good. Sometimes you clap hard for your friend, then on your way out the door you turn to your boyfriend and say, "Thank God that's over." I once saw a theater in the park that made A Midsummer Night's Dream into a dreadful mess.

I knew that wouldn't happen Saturday night when I went to see Michael Sullivan's play in Santa Monica. Since the first time Michael ever let me read one of his short film scripts I've known he'd make it. Michael has what it takes to be a professional TV writer. You know how people always say "Talent will out" around this town? That eventually if you're any good, someone will find you? I always think of Michael when they say that.

By now he is really blushing as he reads this.

Usually when you go see a play starring your friend you have this nagging thought in the back of your head warning you to be nice even if it's garbage. But I wasn't worried.

And I was right. Michael's play, Mastermind, was the second of the evening. The first was a cliche-filled dragging piece about a Mafia family that was supposed to be some kind of feminist piece, but just ended up a hot mess thanks largely to the lead actor's inability to deliver lines with any kind of conviction, and her reliance on broad hand gestures to make up the difference.

That made Michael's piece stand out even more. It was essentially a half hour conversation between two people. One, a man with amnesia who thinks he may have been a supervillain before he lost his memories, and the other his girlfriend who tries to convince him to let it go and get out of town before a bomb that very supervillain planted a year ago goes off and kills everyone in the city.

In the process of discussing their next move and his possible latent memories, they each reveal some major truths about the state of their relationship. So the play is about love, personal identity and the nature of good and evil. It flowed smoothly thanks to good casting and the natural chemistry between the leads, who are a real life couple.

As someone who worked with a real life couple on her short film, I gotta tell you that makes things a whole lot easier.

The play was funny, tragic and beautiful. I didn't look at my watch at all. Actually I don't have a watch but if I did I wouldn't have looked at it.

It's just really nice to be able to tell your friend his play was awesome. I don't have to hem and haw and talk about the lighting. I can straight up say, Dude this was good. I think my exact words were "This is not a bad play. This is actually a good play."

Officially this was a one-time thing, but Michael is trying to find ways to get produce it elsewhere. I hope he succeeds.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My legs

One of my friends is getting a divorce, which is pretty sad but for the best, so yesterday I helped him move.

He lived on the second floor of an apartment building in the Valley. There were over 40 steps between his apartment and the Uhaul truck.

And today my calves are so burned I am walking like an old man. I can't limp because both legs hurt, so I'm kind of shuffling slowly, all bent over because my shoulders are sore from all the lifting.

So I have a new rule. If you want me to help you move, live in a place with fewer than 4 steps.

If anybody's looking for something to do tonight around 7, Michael Sullivan has a play on. It's one of two one-acts presented in a little theater on the East side of Santa Monica. He wrote, cast and directed it. As soon as I figure out how to walk again I'm headed over there.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I wrote this whole post just now about the reader and the pro vs amateur mentality but then I ended up sounding like a really egotistical jackass so I'll just keep pretending to be humble and not post that here.

I can't really settle on a particular topic so I'm just going to list random thoughts instead.

I have one email address I use only for screenwriting related stuff and it makes a little bedoop! noise every time I get new mail. I sent my script to a manager about a month ago now. Every goddamn time that thing bedoops I'm all MANAGER DUDE! and then it's just another email from Creative Screenwriting or John Truby, who evidently has some magical way of climbing out of the Bulk mail folder I keep throwing him into. I'm like Pavlov's dog with that damn noise now. Get hopes up! Oh nevermind. One time that noise was being used as some background bleeps in a sci-fi movie. That almost drove me nuts as I checked my email like every thirty seconds.

Nobody wants to watch Kung Fu movies with me.

My mother is very handy right now. She just retired and doesn't have shit to do, and my new screenplay is about a subject on which she's an expert. So every time I go to put a piece of the story together and am not sure how to handle it, I just call Mom up and ask her. I'm getting scared she's going to ask for a story credit. I guess she'll have to be my date to the Oscars.

I think I spend 3 hours a day cleaning cat hair out of my keyboard. And now I am out of compressed air.

I've become mildly obsessed with healthy eating. No more white bread, no more soda, lots more fish. And protein bars after a workout. Balance bars with cookie dough flavor are repulsive, but the peanut butter ones are okay. Since I started really focusing on my diet from a health perspective instead of a calorie perspective, I've lost 5 pounds. I got a lot of inspiration from Eat, Drink and be Healthy. That book is mind blowing.

Old martial arts films are a lot like Sergio Leone westerns.

I haven't left my apartment in three days except to check the mail and return The Wackness to Netflix. I quite enjoyed that film.

I also enjoyed where they left John Connor at the end of the Terminator TV show. And I hope they don't cancel Dollhouse, although I'm struggling with believability. I like the show, but where Buffy was a whole different world, this show takes place in our world so it's harder to buy into the fantasy. It kind of reminds me of La Femme Nikita (the show) in that way.

Now I am going to make baked chicken with avocado and a pear salad.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Sometimes I don't pay attention

Yesterday I decided to query a few places just for the fuck of it. A month ago I got a new copy of The Hollywood Representation Directory and I went through it, page by page, examining each entry and highlighting the ones with potential. I even examined the agent list in the major companies and picked the person whose name sounded like they got the least submissions. I'm guessing the least Jewish, most feminine sounding person probably gets fewer people begging to be her clients. I base this on no science whatsoever.

So yesterday I went through my notes and rewrote a query letter, then I did a few online submissions using a new and improved logline. My problem is, last time I queried this script, before I made all the great new changes, I kinda didn't write down which places I queried. I've got kind of a photographic memory so I''m hoping when I see the names and addresses and websites I remember that I wrote to them already. And this time I noted the ones I was querying on my post-it notes that were marking the pages with the viable agents and managers.

One time when I was first starting out I accidentally queried the same lady twice, and you would have thought I ate her cat and vomited him back up on her face. She had some anger issues to work out, I think.

Okay so here's the thing I did.

If you go to the Endeavor agency website they give you clear instructions on how to submit your material. It's a lot of work, but Endeavor is huge so it would totally be worth it. They want your resume, a three-page treatment, and the first ten pages of your screenplay mailed to an address they list elsewhere on the site.

I spent the next hour reading treatments and copying the format and telling my story in three pages. Should I include the minor characters? Should I layer in some dialogue? How much do I push the tension? Oh I left out the sex scene - maybe I should put that in?

I went through the whole thing and then got a draft that satisfied me. Then I wrote a resume. I've had the same job for 5 years now so I haven't written a resume in ages, but it's not like it's hard. I like listing "flute" right next to "kickboxing" in the Special Skills category.

So I had everything together and clicked on the "Contact Us" link so I could get the address to send my materials. And the address was in Toronto.

I looked at my Hollywood Representation Directory, which clearly listed a 90210 address. I looked back at this Canadian thing. I was perplexed. Why would they make you send your material to Canada? And does that cost extra in postage?

I thought about sending it to Beverly Hills anyway, but the website angrily states that they will not consider anything that doesn't follow these specific directions and I don't want to get yelled at again by some pissed of assistant with nothing better to do. So I slowly began to copy the address onto my query letter.

Then I noticed the website I was on.


I am retarded. I was trying to apply for an agency in Canada.

The American website offers no such demands on your queries. They don't even give any information about querying, so I guess they just want the old fashioned kind. Actually they probably don't want any kind.

So I hope somebody somewhere wants a treatment for Not Dead Yet some day. Otherwise I could have spent that hour of my life playing Mariokart.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Speedy Gonzalez

Last night I enjoyed some drinks with a handful of writers in various career stages. I love when I get that opportunity because just sitting and chatting with no real agenda is a great opportunity to learn and ponder your own choices.

One of the things we discussed was the speed of writing. One of us, who I will not out unless said person wishes to out said person's self, writes what must amount to like 90 pages a day. I asked "How fast do you write?" and he said "When's my deadline?" and then told us about a script he wrote in three weeks that was shot. I'm jealous because he does this for a living and he does it well.

TV writers have to be able to do that. Michael Sullivan (Red Right Hand) is good at that. The boy's got like eighty pilots in the works and like a million spec episodes and somewhere in there he found time to write a play that's heading to the stage on Saturday. And his stuff is largely solid.

I can't do that. I used to think I could do that. The first day I ever started a screenplay I banged out 20 pages. I thought you had to write the script in a month or you weren't writing enough. I gave myself a month to plan, a month to write, and a month to revise, which sounds great but doesn't really take into account a day job.

I wrote a lot of scripts that way and that's how I ended up with a lot of weak scripts. I was more interested in having a lot of material than in having one quality piece.

Not Dead Yet ended up taking almost two years to get into shape. I wasn't working on it solid for two years - I took a few months off and wrote something else in the meantime that I'm probably going to abandon for good but that's another post - but then I went back to the script to make it stronger. And even though it took a lot more time, I have one solid script instead of another piece of crap that goes nowhere.

It's easy to be in a hurry in the beginning because you just want to quit that dayjob and write full time and the only way to do that is to get a script done. And if only I can get this done and in somebody's hands it will all be perfect. But it's far more important to make sure that script that lands in that somebody's hands is perfect, even if it takes extra time.

On my new project I have this urge to work faster, like I'm not accomplishing enough unless I'm cranking through 5 pages a day. But since I don't have a deadline and nobody's paying me, it's completely okay to slow down and concentrate and make sure I get it right. Then I'll have two whole good scripts instead of a bigger shitload of crap.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Thoughts on the film: Every Which Way But Loose

Last night I couldn't finish Every Which Way But Loose. In fact I think I have encountered a film that sucks more than Spy Kids.

I would give you a spoiler warning, but there's nothing to spoil.

Beefcake brought it over because he enjoys Clint Eastwood. And I must say old Clint was looking pretty damn good in this film. He's a dude who rides around town in his pickup with an orangutan while picking fights with local inept bikers and trying to get in the pants of his real-life girlfriend, Sandra Locke.

And that's pretty much it.

There's this one scene where some bikers make a crack about his orangutan, so he chases them down all over town and even lets the ape drive a street sweeper to its destruction while he tries to run and jump on a train the bikers use to escape. And I think this was the inciting incident because like three hours later he fought with some other bikers in the same gang, but then those bikers and the other bikers all got together to swear vengeance.

And then more random antics ensue. There's a story about his old mom feeling old. There's a story about his brother/friend/cousin/whatever trying to pick up chicks. There's a story about his new girlfriend's ex-boyfriend being a raging asshole which is convenient since the only real mission for Clint seems to be to pick as many fights with assholes as possible.

This film really feels like the writer sat down with a gallon of tequila and some index cards and just started writing random scenes, then shifted them around and wrote what he saw before him.

I kept imagining Clint Eastwood saying "You know as soon as I read this script, I just knew I had to make this film."

And then, somehow, even though this film had no discernible plot, there was a sequel.

I mean I know it was the seventies, but how did they pitch this? "Okay let's make Clint hit a lot of people, and then let's have him drive around some. Oh and you know what's funny? Monkeys. Let's give him a monkey, but like a monkey that he really loves so we'll see that he has a soft side."

And why was there a sequel? Did they decide they had just too damn much story to tell?

Anyway, I have decided that the Beefcake is not allowed to choose movies for a while.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Burt Reynolds and the perils of editing

Yesterday the Beefcake and I went to the Wild Animal Park in Escondido. They had a baby cheetah. I love looking at cute little baby animals who will grow up and want to eat my head.

Anyway, that's where I was, in case anybody was frantically checking to see if I posted. Because I know everybody totally does.

Anyway, the other night we watched White Lightening, a 1973 Burt Reynolds classic about a moonshine runner who uses his special skills to take down Ned Beatty's asshole of a Sheriff. The movie was pretty good, but what was remarkably disconcerting was the presentation of the DVD.

Here's the listed synopsis on Netflix: One of the best Burt Reynolds "rednecks and cars" movies, White Lightning serves up some great auto chases through a sweaty, dirt-poor Southern atmosphere. Reynolds is a good ol' boy who runs moonshine and squares off against his nemesis, a sheriff (Ned Beatty) who has as little regard for the law as Burt does. A must-see for 1970s film buffs or action fans.

Notice how it stresses the car chases and the action and sort of never reveals the plot at all? This film starts out with a terrific scene of the sheriff drowning two boys in a lake by tying them to a concrete brick and shooting holes in their canoe. It's a really terrific way to start a film because right off the bat you get how big an asshole this guy is, and it's the inciting incident for the film so we waste no time.

Then we get to Burt Reynolds as Gator, a convict who learns that one of these boys was his brother, and he swears revenge on the Sheriff. The federal government gives him the opportunity to go after him through the moonshine trade, but Gator soon learns that the only way to bring this piece of shit down is by making him dead.

Great setup. There's a lot of emotion there, and the scenes where Gator talks about his brother are terrific. Unfortunately there aren't enough of them. They are sandwiched in between some pretty terrific car chases.

Steven Spielberg was offered this film and he turned it down because he said this would be a Burt Reynolds movie and he didn't want to become a director for hire. He was right. Here's the tagline: If You Haven't Seen "White Lightning" You Haven't Seen Burt Reynolds.

Here's my problem with it. The music that plays over the car chases is this twangy Jew's harp thing that makes everything look like a comedy moment. So this film with it's heart and dark message and whatnot is made into a dilly Smoky and the Bandit before Smoky and the Bandit existed. And with the synopsis written the way it is, I know other people would be thinking the same thing I did - woohoo, another Burt Reynolds movie about car chases and silly sheriffs! It feels like they shot the film, then tried to figure out how to lighten it up.

When this film came out it was PG. So was Raiders of the Lost Ark. Know that scene where that guy's face melts off? PG. Times have changed.

The DVD version of White Lightening, released in pan n scan, no less, is edited all to pieces to keep it within modern day PG expectations. Cuss words are dubbed. "Shit" became "Shoot." It's pretty obvious.

Then there's the ending. SPOILER ALERT. Gator watches the sheriff go over a ridge and into the water in his car, drowning him. Sort of an inactive ending for the protagonist, no? In the theater version, once the sheriff was trapped in the car, Gator shot him.

That's a completely different ending. That's like saying Han didn't shoot first. You cannot edit out an entire character development point, dammit.

But now we have a movie more friendly to the Smokey and the Bandit audience, I guess.

There really are a million ways a studio can screw a good script.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Teacher movies

Yesterday Teacher Movies came up. There are a lot of teacher movies out there - heaven knows why - and 90% of them are so full of bullshit and sunshine it makes me want to yak.

You have no idea how many times someone has said to me "Oh you're just like Michelle Pfeifer in that movie!" It's the second-most annoying thing people say to me. The first most annoying thing is something new kids always say to me and I'm not going to give you that kind of ammunition.

Dangerous Minds
is ridiculous. Ask any teacher. The book may have been okay; it was written by a teacher, but the movie is the glossiest piece of unrealistic garbage this side of a dumpster on Melrose. It takes her like one day to figure how to reach all the kids and once she magically knows what to say to them, they all worship her. Even these two poor black kids who can barely tie their shoes without the white lady's help, all they want to do is go to school but she just can't save them from their ignorant Negro parents.

It's insulting to both teachers and the black community.

Freedom Writers
is a little better. The kids are more realistic and it does show how devoting yourself too much to the job can destroy your personal life. I do not go to my children's homes. I do not schedule controversial field trips. I will not bail them out of jail. I will call Social Services if someone is abusing them. I will listen to their problems and give them advice. But I ain't going bankrupt over construction paper and notebooks.

Most teachers don't kill themselves for their classes. But I guess if she was most teachers, it wouldn't be much of a movie.

People always seem to think my job is SO HARD. It is some days, but I do it, I enjoy it, then I go home to enjoy the rest of my day. I admire that Freedom Writers lady. I also think she's nuts.

There are tons of other teacher movies out there - some good, some not so good, but the best I've ever seen is James Clavell's 1967 classic To Sir, With Love. Sydney Poitier plays a first year teacher with an extensive formal education despite his childhood on the streets. He comes to work in a British school filled with societal rejects as he waits for a better job in engineering.

He doesn't walk in the second day of school and suddenly know what to do. He doesn't go to the kids' homes and explain why their parents need to be better. He doesn't do all those cliche things we supposedly do if we're good teachers. He simply tries. He tells the truth. He loves the kids. And in the end, they love him back, not because he did some big dramatic gesture, but because he made sure they learned what they needed to learn. And at no point was that job easy.

He does take them on a field trip and he does have to argue with administration, but those are minor parts of the film and at that point in film history they had yet to become cliche.

When I was a kid I used to love Lulu's theme song from that film, although I had no idea what it was about. Ever since I saw To Sir, With Love I can't even sing one line of that song without bursting into tears. That's how good that Goddamn movie is.

So really, from now on, if you want to compare me to a teacher you saw in the movies, compare me to Sydney Poitier please.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Little movies

The Beefcake and I are both on vacation at the same time right now, so this morning I thought we should go to a movie in the middle of a weekday.

These are things I get a ridiculous amount of joy from - drinking a beer on the porch at noon, going to the movie theater on a weekday, driving to the beach just to watch the ocean for an hour.

So I started looking for movies we could go see but there ain't shit out there in the big theaters. Fast and Furious, although a bazillion dollar victory for the studio, looks pretty terrible. Neither one of us is into physical or stoner comedies and that's all that's getting even okay reviews right now.

Basically, the only movies that look any good right now are indies from other countries. I don't know if we'll see a movie this week, but if we do it will probably be The Class, a French teacher film starring a real teacher. There are a few other indies I wouldn't mind seeing, but the problem with indies is you never know which ones are really good, and which ones are just self-indulgent talkies.

Last night I watched Rabbit-Proof Fence and that was terrific. A quiet film with very little dialogue that nonetheless was engaging right from the getgo. It wasn't all in your face the way so many smaller films are, it was just a story about some girls who wanted to go home. I wish more smaller films did that and stopped trying so hard to be important.

Anyway, I'm still thinking about going to see The Class, but at the very least I'll stick it in my queue.

Seen any good indies or foreign films lately?

Monday, April 06, 2009

Buyer be ware

I don't know how many of my readers are new writers. I don't entirely know how many readers I have, but I was informed this weekend that many of them reside in Oregon.


Anyway, I woke up this morning thinking about scams. I know two people who are trying to perpetrate a scam on new screenwriters, although they really don't realize that what they're offering is a scam, and it bugs me. These aren't close friends so I'm mostly keeping my mouth shut, although I have expressed my concerns just once before I let it go. What followed was a load of indignant huffing, so I've just sat back and watched, shaking my head.

But I can post about it.

I know one guy who wants to start a screenwriting contest because "They make a ton of money." That's the reason. Now this guy has never even worked as a reader, never even worked for a studio. His experience is the same as anybody in town - PA on a couple of TV shows, wrote a few unproduced screenplays, knows a few people in the industry, got a film school degree.

See, he figures if he charges people $30, then only reads the first 15 pages for the first round of judging and does it all with himself and his friends, he can make a fortune. He can offer a prize of a few $100 and sending your script to producers, who are most likely guys who made some crappy independent horror films that made no money and went straight to video.

Always read the details of the contest carefully. And don't assume that because Creative Screenwriting mentioned it that it's legit. Go to the website, read the fine print, read up on the experience of previous winners.

I also know a woman who's planning to start a film class. She'll do a lot of her work online, with a monthly meeting in person for those who live in town. People will send her pages, she will give them notes and guidance, and they will build their screenplays over time. She will basically makes herself a professor of film. What's her experience? She made a documentary a few years ago that she screened and made no money from, and she made a bunch of short films and completed her thesis project in film school.

You should see how she lists the credentials in her bio. It's all about how many films she's made in her career and how her documentary was an overwhelming success in independent theaters.

She's also planning to charge $1,000 for a 3 week course, and she's implying that her course in on par with a UCLA film school degree.

Why is she doing this? Officially, she wants to share her knowledge of film with students who can't afford film school and need guidance. Unofficially, money. She has to spend no money to make a ton.

Just because someone is on IMDB does not mean they have the foggiest idea of how to teach. It doesn't even mean they have the foggiest idea how to make a movie, just that they've played in a festival or been mentioned in a trade publication.

Research, research, research. Does this person have testimonials about their success from more than one person? Have their films actually made any money? Did they write a book or do they have a website - some source where you can learn about their general attitude and philosophy of film? Ask questions. But if somebody says they can guarantee your film will be this and that after you go through their program, they're most likely full of shit.

Don't fork over your money unless you know it's worth your time.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Doubt - the feeling, not the movie

Dave Shepherd posted a stream of consciousness thing about doubt over at Wordplay and I was pretty pleased with my response so I'm gonna do a twofer and post that shit right here.

Three years ago I met this guy at the Expo, right after I'd move to LA and knew next to nothing about anything. He agreed to look at my latest work and was cool enough to pass it around his management firm to three different readers. He passed me the coverage, which was polite but overwhelmingly negative. I thanked him and then went away to become a better writer.

So now that I have a script I'm proud of, I emailed the guy and asked if he'd like to take another chance on me. I felt very confident that this time, he would be impressed with my genius.

But then the other night it suddenly occurred to me that he might send me back three pieces of coverage universally panning my script and he might tell me I'm obviously a horrible writer and please never contact him again, because in three years I didn't get any better so clearly I never would. Go back to North Carolina, Emily, and prepare to spend the rest of your life teaching literary terms to small town kids who see no problem with praising Jesus at an assembly to commemorate 9/11.

And then I ate a chocolate bar and washed it down with chocolate milk and then because I felt guilty I lifted all my weights and did cardio until I collapsed in a river of failure tears.

Okay not really, but I did have a moment of intense panic.

Then I realized that was silly because I do not suck. And if this guy thinks I still suck, well, so be it. I'm not giving up.

Anyway, that's not what I posted on Wordplay. This is what I posted on Wordplay:

It's a completely arbitrary field. What one person thinks is genius other people might think is garbage. The gurus all disagree on style and structure and one person says there are really strict rules you absolutely must follow but working screenwriters always say screw the rules! Except some rules! Unless you feel like you don't need the rules!

It's confusing.

Then, even if you write the best screenplay ever and you sell it for a bazillion dollars, you still might be fired for doing everything right.

And even if you're not fired, the director might hire the wrong actor or Harvey Scissorhands will chop your film into an unrecognizable mass.

And even if the movie comes out, hey even if you win an Oscar, there's no guarantee you won't be homeless and begging for a job waiting tables three years from now.

So yeah, I think if you're not filled with at least the occasional doubt you're an idiot.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Crappy people on TV

This morning as I ate my Bojangles biscuit I defrosted from when my mom brought me a bunch of biscuits because for some insane reason there is no Bojangles in California, I flipped through channels to watch some mindless piece of crap TV. Usually I start off the day reading for an hour, then I eat something and watch stupid TV, then I get to work.

I've already seen all the Bridezillas and Real Housewives of New York City, so I landed on I Love Money.

For people who are borderline retarded and have names like "It" and "The Entertainer" this is a damn complicated game. They do challenges or something, then they vote to put people in the box, then one dude sends some box person home. I really don't know what the fuck is going on except that nobody in the house understands the vocabulary words they are using while they strategerize.

These shows all feature really horrible people. Just horrible. Like on Bridezillas, why the fuck do these people get married? Why would you marry some woman who just called you a lazy fuck in front of your entire bridal party and beat you over the head with the planning book or something? I don't get it.

All I know after watching this much television about horrible real life people is that I'm gonna go watch some Merchant Ivory feel-good movie now. I need to believe in humanity again. I think from now on in the morning while I eat my remaining Bojangles biscuits I am going to start watching How Clean is Your House or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. You know, stuff that features an improvement on the human race.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Conquering the index cards

This is my bulletin board. The first thing I see when I wake up is my calendar so I can remember the tasks I had to do that day. The second thing I see is this bulletin board, with index cards from my current project and the logline for Not Dead Yet so I have easy access in the event of a phone call from a producer or an agent or in case my mom finally wants to hear it. And below that, my Nicholl rejection letter from last year just so my head doesn't get too big.

I post this because after about a month of simmering in my story concept, yesterday I finally sat down and outlined my next script. I've been thinking and thinking and I had Act 1 and Act 3, and of course I was having trouble with the elusive Act 2.

Oh, Act 2. You are such an asshole.

I've thought about it in the shower. I've thought about it at night in bed. I've thought about it in the morning. I've thought about it in the car. And I knew Act 2 is where I need my lovers to actually fall in love and have sex and have their big discussion about the fact that they can never be together. You know, pretty much the most important stuff in the script and I have no idea how to do it.

So today I said fuck it. I started writing out my index cards like I always do when I remembered that Movie Magic has an index card feature that I've never used. Although I am a very nontraditional person in most situations, but I love my index cards. I don't even shift them around, which is the point of index cards I think. I just like putting my story in neat little pretty colored squares I can look at for inspiration.

So I opened up Movie Magic and I did my index cards. I wrote up Act 1, no problem.

Then I sat there and stared at the next empty index card slot.

And I stared.

And I watched The Real Housewives of New York City. I think of all the Real Housewives anywhere, Betheny is the only one who's not an atrocious person.

Anyway, After I became sufficiently disgusted by the overload of bitchiness, I said to myself, okay self, you need to solve this problem. My protagonist has just come back to her house from a fight scene with some dudes and I need her to go back out and do another fight scene with my male lead that will turn into a sex scene, but if she just up and leaves it seems too contrived, like she sat down and hopped back up again.

So I thought, what would make her want to leave. Well, she has some real differences of opinion with her family members that drive he need to fight, so I had the idea that her family would try to talk her into doing something she doesn't want to do. Then she runs out of the house, not because it's time for her to have another fight scene, but because she needs to prove to herself that she's still in control of her life. She runs into my male lead while doing something that directly opposes his mission, and the rest of the scene falls into place.

And there it was. The bridge that connected Act 1 to Act 3. And this time, I remembered the B story which is usually what I forget on the first pass. And I have some terrific ideas about subtext - I mean good shit about feminism and racism and cultural expectations and shit.

This is why I love screenwriting. The fun part, when it's all ideas and figuring things out and nobody has had a chance to tell you how horrible your idea is. Today I start on page one and see how far I can get.

For now I will refer to the script as Burn Side because that's what I keep saving it as, but that will probably change as I write.