Friday, May 29, 2009

Don't be a sucker

I admit I have a snobby attitude about screenplays sometimes. If I could look at early Screenwriter Emily I'd smack her in the face for being such a silly girl. I was one of those people who jumped into screenwriting with all these ideas about selling and making money and being famous and whatnot, and reality is cold.

Some guy emailed me what I think is supposed to be a query letter the other day. I think he thinks I'm a producer because on my production company website and all my business cards it says "Producer" which is why I am one of those assholes who made a short film that's not even finished and now calls herself a producer. At the time I thought I would make a bunch of shorts and even one day make a feature. But that shit is HARD.

I still plan to make my boxing movie but it's taking way longer than I thought. If you donated I'm putting a thank you on my current film. And thank you.

Anyhow, this dude sent me a query but it wasn't properly formatted, and the fact that he sent me a letter says he's just blanket emailing anyone who claims to be a producer, and he's going to end up either scammed or dejected if he keeps on this way. I told him so, and offered to show him the ropes. I probably won't hear from him.

This one guy asked me to read his first script once. I only read the first ten pages, then told him I kept running into the same basic structure problems over and over, so he needed to fix his format issues and give it back to me so I can concentrate on the story and won't be distracted by thousands of little format notes. He thanked me very enthusiastically, and wrote me back a week later to say that he'd finished his screenplay and was submitting it to the Nicholl. I asked to read the newest version so I could give him a real critique. Never heard from him again.

Every day across America, dozens of people complete a screenplay and immediately email anyone anywhere to ask how they get an agent. And this irritates me, even though I used to be one of them. The people in a hurry.

I guess I believe that if you want to be a professional screenwriter you need to do some damn research and you need to be patient. God knows I'm all for using back routes and whatnot to get your career going - I've never PA'd in my life - but you need to at least understand what you're doing. I couldn't be a teacher without a degree and some training. You can't go be an electrician if you've never changed a lightbulb. You can't pilot an airplane just because you rode in one once. And you can't write a screenplay in 8 weeks or whatever and expect to have an immediate career as a professional screenwriter.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


It's open house night and I'm waiting. We do a lot of that waiting thing here at my school. On any given open house I may see 2-10 parents over a 2-hour period. I was going to wile away the time by watching The Secret Life of Bees, but when I opened the case I discovered a student had stolen the disk while I was at the door greeting kids on their way into class earlier today. It belonged to the school library.

One day, when I'm 80 maybe, I'll finally learn the lesson that you cannot trust teenagers, although I still have this theory that the kid just took the disk home and plans to watch it then return it tomorrow. I will leave the empty case on my desk just in case.

They'll probably go ahead and steal the case, but I still have hope that all will end well because even after everything I'm still convinced that the world is sunshine and rainbows.

Anyway, I'm waiting.

It's been a couple of months now since I sent Not Dead Yet to my manager acquaintance, and since Beefcake sent it to his friend at William Morris who is most likely laid off now and has bigger shit to worry about than what's up with my screenplay. Nicholl won't report back for another couple of months and Austin just got started. There are a couple of other people reading it who are clearly taking their time.

This waiting is annoying. This is exactly what I wanted, of course - a script in circulation. I want to be one of those people who gets a phone call from some studio guy I've never met who read my script and thinks it's FAB-U-LOUS! and wants to give me like eighty bazillion dollars to make it.

I hope people are passing it around to each other in some underground lair we're not allowed to know about because we're not cool Hollywood insiders - you know, the kind of place with no sign and a tiny black door in an alleyway. It could also be a crack den, so you have to be careful.

But that's me, Sunshine and Rainbows. It's far more likely the people who have it didn't read it, or did but went "meh" and deleted the file and the script will now disappear into oblivion. I'm optimistic, not retarded.

But still....

Maybe waiting with excited anticipation is better than the day the Nicholl rejection letter comes again. I wonder how many times you can submit the same script before Greg Beal will send you a cease and desist order?

"Dear Emily Blake, Your zombie movie is still crap. Please stop making us read it. Here is your $30 back. We felt it would be wrong to take it since we're just going to use your script to replenish our toilet paper supplies in the assistants' bathroom."

That would be just like that guy to say something that mean. What a jerk.*

So while I wait for nasty rejection letters from mean old men I spend my time working and researching future projects and trying to write more pages of my martial arts script, although I forgot to bring my laptop to Open House so I can't do any writing now while I have a crapload of time and no Secret Life of Bees to watch. But alas, no laptop means no MovieMagic.

So I wait.

I think I have Don Quixote on VHS somewhere, unless a kid already stole it. They do that, you know.

*Greg Beal is a pleasant man who would never, ever do this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Help Scott buy a car

Scott the Reader needs a new car so he has temporarily reduced his script reading prices to $60. Give him some money and he'll give you some notes. If you don't already know about him, he's the real deal and he's the cheapest thing going.

Geographical updates

Interesting weekend. Everybody survived.

Saturday The Beefcake's parents took us to a historical landmark. Not only had I been to this landmark before, but I used it as a backdrop for Not Dead Yet. When I first went there I wasn't thinking of turning it into a zombie lair - it was only later when I was planning my screenplay that it occurred to me that it made a terrific location for the story. I didn't take pictures or anything so I wrote it all from memory.

So Saturday since we were taking the same tour I had already taken, I looked around and figured out what I got wrong. And I got several things wrong.

I was pretty damn close on a few scenes, and nothing I wrote is disastrously off, but I saw about five things I need to change to make the story more accurate to its location. It's all a sentence here or two, fortunately, so it won't adjust page count, and a couple of changes will actually make the scene stronger.

It was neat to walk around and ignore the tour guide lady's rambling about art and shit while I tuned to the Beefcake and asked "Hey do you think you could shoot a zombie from that bell tower or is it too high?"

I wonder if anyone else on our tour heard my weird questions. I was wearing my "Zombies only want you for your brains" T-Shirt so they probably thought I was just some crazy zombie lady. Which I am.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Thoughts on the film: Terminator Salvation

I saw Terminator on Friday.

Le sigh.

It started with this great concept - a man doesn't even realize he is a machine. Cool idea, lots of potential. Potential that never got used.

First of all, thanks for all the previews that told us he was a machine, marketing people. That meant instead of spending the movie thinking ooooh hey what if he's a machine! as the clues unfold, I spent the movie waiting for him to figure out what I already knew through the previews.



I think I could have forgiven all the other major problems with this film - and they were plentiful - if it hadn't been for one major story problem. They have a guy who thinks he's human but he's really a machine. So you'd think he'd spend some time wondering who he is. You'd think he'd start to enjoy the power of being a machine, and ponder whether or not he should be human, or should he accept his situation and turn on them. Yeah there's none of that. Not once during the entire film does he really consider being anything other than human.

Here is what I would have written with the same material. Marcus Wright wakes up, finds he's human, makes his way to John Connor. Along the way he meets this guy named Kyle Reese, who leads him to John. He meets John. John finds out he's a machine. Holy crap, he's a machine. And now John Connor meets his dad and realizes how cool he really is without a contrived plot device that makes no sense.

I would have had this happen early in the movie not after an hour of empty explosions.

After the meeting, Marcus has to convince John to trust him. Kyle tries to convince John that Marcus is a good guy, and then right after meeting his idol, his father, John has a fight with him over this machine.

Marcus ends up offering to use his machine-ness to help John with a dangerous mission. They have no choice. They use him. He puts himself in harms way. He earns John's trust.

Kyle is in danger, kidnapped by Skynet during the dangerous mission.

Now John has to save a man he's learned to care about, not just some faceless man who is responsible for his birth. As it stands now, John's motives for saving Kyle are purely selfish.

John begs Marcus to help him get Kyle back. Marcus breaks into Skynet, and finds the central computer, then downloads a program that orders him to kill all humans. He was an experiment who escaped and they need him back to finish his programming. So he downloads a program and becomes a true machine.

Then he turns on John, who has become his friend. So now John has to save his dad and kill his friend. You cannot trust a machine, but you can trust your family.

I think that story would take more advantage of the opportunities given in this film. Too much money was thrown at special effects and not enough on a solid story. It makes me sad.

Friday, May 22, 2009


A respected colleague made a comment on another blog recently that made me realize how little we really know about each other. I super appreciated this person giving me a shoutout, especially since he only recommended me and John August which is a massive compliment, but still. I forget what people don't know.

I realized that unless you've been reading my shit for a while, you probably think I've only ever written one screenplay because I talk about the same one all the time.

And that in turn made me realize that it's not something I've ever really talked about on here. The "how many scripts do I have to write before I'm good" thing.

I kind of hate Diablo Cody. She wrote a screenplay and boop! Instant success at the highest level. Then her TV show got picked up. Then her second screenplay got bought. So I hate her so very much, for no other reason than I am enormously jealous - or should I say, "I am totally jello".

Sure, she did some work in her previous life. She wrote a blog, she wrote a book and whatnot, but so did I. I got a goddamn masters degree in creative writing and I wrote a thesis a million years ago, but you don't see me wearing my leopard print dress to the Oscars and being all whatever.

I really hate her. Stupid Diablo Cody and her stupid success.

Anyway, so she's one in a bazillion. Most of us plug away at it, year after year, trying desperately to write the next big thing. I started about eight years ago with the same idea as everybody else. I had this great sci-fi idea and I wrote a screenplay. Then I thought about TV and The Dead Zone supposedly had this program for new writers. I shit you not, after about five months of being an amateur screenwriter I was actually thinking about what would happen if I got a job working on The Dead Zone and had to move to Vancouver, because of course that's where the show was shot.

Oh, Emily. You were so very naive.

In the end I've probably written about 6 screenplays in various stages of completeness, 5 teleplays and about 5 short film scripts, one of which IS STILL IN GODDAMN POST PRODUCTION. But whatever. Anyway, so I've written a lot, but I never felt like anything I'd written was really, really good.

Then I wrote Not Dead Yet and there is was. They always say it takes about 6-10 shitty scripts to get to the one you love and I'd say that is 100% true for me. I didn't want it to take that long but it did. I got that one good script, the one people like so much they're actually working on my behalf. Hell I have people I've never met in person passing my shit around and trying to find me a buyer. How crazy is that? Totally crazy.

They always say this is a marathon, not a sprint, and they are right. It sucks ass when you hear it, but you get over it as soon as you see that one, beautiful script at the end of the rainbow. So that's why I keep talking about my one script: it's been eight years in the making for me.

On an unrelated note, today is my birthday, and as an added bonus I am meeting the Beefcake's parents for the first time this weekend. So if I am too hungover and/or murdered by my future mother-in-law to return, please remember me fondly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sex scenes

This week, Mystery Man posted a long, interesting article about sex on film, and it made me think about my own relationship with sex scenes.

Simply put, I don't have one.

I am all about gunfire and fist fights and explosions and whatnot, but I very rarely bother with a sex scene, and when I do it's usually just the foreplay.

My mom taught me about the birds and bees when I was 3, 6, 8, 12, and 15. Nudity was not something to be ashamed of in my house and I was always told the truth as far as my mother knew it. For that I am grateful. I'm really glad to be out of an abstinence only school system so I can honestly answer kids' questions too. It's appalling what they don't know.

Mistaken theories I have dispelled over the years:
-You cannot get an STD from oral sex
-Girls do not have orgasms
-You can get AIDS from a toilet seat
-There is no such thing as a morning after pill
-Condoms don't really do anything

And probably a lot more, but that's all I can remember off the top of my head. The point is, I'm not afraid of sex or talking about sex.

But too much sex on film makes me uncomfortable.

When I think of the great sex scenes I've seen over the years, they're almost always on TV - the scene where Buffy and Spike screw the house to the ground, the scene where Sidney and Vaughn finally bump and grind while she's making dinner, the scene where Chrichton and Aeryn Sun couldn't keep their hands off each others' leather-clad bodies when they were drugged by vapors. These are my favorite scenes because I wanted for so long for these people to get together. I feel that electricity when they finally hook up because I've been craving it the same way they have.

In most movies, a sex scene is there.... well, I don't know why. The sex scene in Desperado is ridiculous. It's all candles and sweat and crazy positions and basically a porn movie except they met like three days ago. And in Matrix Reloaded, there is an entire chapter that is nothing but orgy in Zion and sex between Trinity and Neo in their bedroom. An entire chapter. Nothing happens but sex for an entire chapter. It's just not necessary. In fact, it's freaking boring.

So in my own writing I often forget about sex. I wrote Not Dead Yet, which is largely a love story between a married couple in the middle of serious problems, and I didn't have any sex scenes. My awesome friend who gave me such excellent advice pointed this out, suggesting I have two zombies have sex with each other.

Although that is a super nifty idea, that wasn't the way I wanted to go here, but he was right that I should have a sex scene given how much violence I've put into this story.

I thought and thought and realized there are these two other characters who are also having marital problems but I haven't had a lot of scenes with them together until the end when we're supposed to get this big emotional reaction from the end of their relationship.

So I put in a sex scene. Tasteful, emotional, and showing character development. And in the end it actually made the final scene between the couple a ton better. I made sure to show some boobs so the boys would have something to look at, but I tried the make the most out of a tender moment gone wrong in the bedroom, a moment that would payoff later in the story. I felt pretty good about the results.

Now the story I'm writing is like 80% love story and this couple definitely has sex. In fact, the moment they have sex is a freaking huge deal, so I've got to figure out how to write it to take the most advantage of the physicality. I'm not sure how I'm going to do it yet. I'll probably need some help because although I know how to make people fight each other to the death beautifully, I'm not so sure how to make them love each other.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Mommy, where do ideas come from?

For the remainder of this week I shall steal other people's topics and claim them as my own.

Today I will write about where ideas come from. For most people ideas probably come from a "what if" scenario. Not Dead Yet certainly did. My then boyfriend and I were discussing our zombie contingency plan, and he said he'd want to get to a boat and sail away. That in itself is not that original, but then I started thinking, what would happen after that? What happens once you're free and clear and survive the zombie apocalypse? And a script was born.

I don't remember where most of my other ideas came from. Some came from working at a school, although I've decided I can't write about school. Every time I try I feel like I'm not doing the kids justice.

I have been making a list of ideas to pitch when Not Dead Yet finally gets me some goddamn meetings and every time I think of a new one I write it on an index card and tack it to the magic bulletin board.

One is based on something I saw on the History Channel. I like to think about the minor characters in a given historical event and think about where they may have gone after the event was over. This idea is one of those.

One idea I got from visiting a historical site on a trip a few months ago. A tourguide told us such a cool story I couldn't believe nobody had ever made it into a film. It turns out that they have, but it was a shitty made-for-tv '80s movie nobody saw. This one is currently my favorite pitch because it's the easiest to research.

Another idea I got when I decided to come up with something high concept. I sort of ran through ideas about the future of our planet and suddenly a freaking cool story idea came to me, a considerably more modern idea than the other two.

The current project I'm working on was all science and logic. I decided I wanted to write a martial arts film a la House of Flying Daggers or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon so I made a mental list of elements from those stories. I picked a location with which I am familiar where the story could take place. Then I thought it out. Those films are always about a doomed love. How can I have a doomed love in the place I have chosen to locate my story? I made a list.

I went on like that until I had a story, and oddly enough it has so far been pretty easy to put together. Everything in this story will happen for a reason and will be true to the style I am emulating except it won't be Chinese.

You never know where the stories will come from. Where do you get yours?

Friday, May 15, 2009

Terry Gilliam has balls

As you may know, several years ago Terry Gilliam teamed up with Johnny Depp to make a new, modern film about Don Quixote. The film was never finished because God hates Terry Gilliam. Seriously, if you've never seen Lost in La Mancha, go put it at the top of your Netflix queue right now. It is incontrovertible proof that there is a God and he thinks The Adventures of Baron Munchausen was a shit movie. It's the only logical explanation for the number of things that destroyed Gilliam's lifelong impossible dream.

Or perhaps this was an appropriate lesson God wanted us all to learn. When you dream the impossible dream, you often discover that it is, in fact, impossible.

We're talking floods, prostate issues, planes, sandstorms, whatever. One thing I love about the documentary is how Johnny Depp just seems to take it all in stride. He's like "Oh you want me to sit on the horse for three hours? Okay, cool. Oh you want me to go away and come back in two weeks? Okay, cool. Oh you want me to tattoo your face on my ass? If you think it's good for the movie...."

He strikes me as one very cool dude. Or at least before the Pirates movies. He's probably a real asshole now.

Anyway, despite God's obvious warning against making another Don Quixote film, Terry Gilliam will not go gentle into that good night, goddamit. He's trying again.

He has been working with screenwriter Tony Grisoni - wait, is that really that dude's name? Holy shit - and producer Jeremy Thomas to get The Man Who Killed Don Quixote into production again.

So I say you go, Terry Gilliam. You go and you fight and you win. And if that film doesn't get destroyed by a meteorite, I will buy myself a ticket no matter what the reviews, and I will watch your labor of love. Because any man who would suffer through that tragedy and then work through what must have been a series of difficult meetings to put his baby back into production is a man I respect. Really the comparisons to Don Quixote himself are pretty obvious so I'm not going to make any. I'm just gonna say, go Terry Gilliam. You kick ass.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Pushing on through

Well I'm over the hump.

In every screenplay there comes a time when I stop. I stop because I'm not sure about the realism. My biggest problem with writing is that if I don't know about something, I'm unsure as to how to go about writing it, so I tend to stop and ponder it for weeks before I pick it back up again, and sometimes I never do.

With Not Dead Yet it was a tidal wave in a place I've never seen and I was totally unsure as to how it would work or what would cause it so I sat there and sat there. Then after about a month of sitting I called my Ex and took him to the now tragically closed Doughboys to pick his brain. And I went home and continued my script.

This time the delay happened early. This is a historical piece, and 9 pages in I suddenly realized I did not live in this era and have no idea how someone would have talked besides the stereotypical way people do in movies about the era. So I sort of froze and thought and thought and thought.

And then I started thinking. One new trend in screenwriting is to write period characters using modern language, so I'm just going to follow the trend. I mean, if a Roman can speak with a British accent and people from Deadwood can use "fuck" and "cunt" like they're prepositions, then I can have my characters use more common language as long as I establish it early.

So then once I stopped worrying so much about the realism and started worrying about the story I was able to write the next page. And now I know exactly what I'm doing.

So yay, I'm over the hump. I hope.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Thoughts on the show: River Monsters

The Beefcake decided he wanted me to record River Monsters, an Animal planet show about "extreme angler" Jeremy Wade, who wanders around various rivery lands looking for giant fish he can catch. And about ten minutes in I was so over it. I told Beefcake "This is a fishing show. One of the reasons I like watching History Channel style shows is because they give me ideas for stories. There are no stories here."

Boy was I wrong. If you write horror movies, you should totally watch this show. It almost made me vomit up my stromboli.

When I went to take a shower, this was a show about some British dude trying to catch a big catfish. When I came back all clean on the outside, I was greeted with the most horrifying story I had really never wanted to know anything about.

You remember that story about the guy who was peeing in the Amazon and the fish swan up into his penis? Yeah, Jeremy found that guy, interviewed him, reenacted his penis fish swimming incident and found the fish in a jar. He also showed us exactly how the penis fish removal surgery worked, smiling the whole time.

What. The. Fuck.

Then he proceeded to talk about a guy who had been attacked by a school of fish who ate his organs and then swam out through tiny holes they made. He went into a lot of detail about how they do that on a regular basis to bigger fish.

So basically, grossest show ever. I'm giving River Monsters this new award I made up called The Fuck You I Just Ate Stromboli You Sick Fuck Award. I'm really not sure if that makes it a good show or the worst show ever.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Where can I send my screenplay?

The following post was made in 2009, which was quite some time ago. I'd rather not delete it, but I would encourage you to read the updated version of this advice before commenting here.

Anyway, here's the old post:

I get a lot of traffic here through the phrase "Where can I send my script."

So this one's for the new folks.

If you've just written your first screenplay, don't send it anywhere. Or if you really want to, send it to the Nicholl so you can see how you place. They have about 6,000 entries every year and it's the holy grail of screenwriting contests.

Then, start writing your next one.

Don't send your script anywhere else. Don't send queries to agents. This is not a game for people who have one idea and just want to see if they can make some money. This is a game for people who are dying to be screenwriters. It takes YEARS. Nobody wants it to take years, but it does. We all think we're the exception, but we're not. Any story you hear about a guy making a sale off his first script - the reason you hear about those stories is because of how rarely it happens, as in, next to never.

It sucks, I know. You worked hard on that thing. You took time - maybe a year - to put your best work into it. It was practice.

Maybe one day when you've written maybe 2, 5, 10 more and you really know what you're doing you'll be able to go back to your first idea and rewrite it, but for now, you used that story to learn.

So once you know what you're doing, go with the queries. Throw that sucker at the good contests. Give it to anyone and everyone you know. By then you'll know how.

In the meantime, read the message boards at Done Deal, read all the columns at Wordplay, read the trades, get educated.

And for the people who just have an idea and want someone else to write it:

Let's say I'm a writer you want to work with because I've written good stuff. You don't want to be my writing partner, you want to tell me your idea, have me write it, and split the profits. I see this kind of thing all the time on Craigslist.

Okay so I'm this hypothetical writer. I have a tons of ideas. I have yellow index cards all over my bulletin board with ideas on them. Every single time I watch a History Channel show I come up with a new story idea. I do not need your idea. If it's a truly incredible idea, I'm just going to steal it and make it my own, so you should write the screenplay yourself or pay me to write it. But chances are, unless you're planning on paying someone or cowriting it, finding someone who wants your idea will end badly for you. Actually, chances are good it will end badly for you either way. So just write your screenplay. And if you can't write a screenplay, go back to your day job. Because people keep saying Hollywood is out of ideas, but we're definitely not out of ideas. The studios are just not comfortable experimenting with our ideas. Either way, if you have an idea, write a screenplay. Then write another one.

And Here is a follow up to this discussion.

And Here is a follow up to the follow up to this discussion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Good lookin out

Thank you everyone for sending me the link to the Inktip posting about the company seeking a zombie movie. I appreciate all the people who made sure I knew about it and I wouldn't have had it not been for you. But you can stop sending it now.

Thoughts on the film: Star Trek

Just like so many other people, I saw Star Trek this weekend. A lot has been said already by various people all over the Internet, so I'm just going to make two specific points.

First, one of the trailers was for GI Joe. This trailer looked so phenomenally stupid I was amazed it was released to the public. When your trailer editor can't make your explosion-heavy film look good you have a serious problem. Oh look, they destroyed the Eiffel Tower again. Never seen that before. And look, every single character kind of looks the same. I didn't see the different personalities from the show. I saw like three characters I vaguely recognized and a bunch of other generic things I've seen before. And I'm not the only one. When the trailer ended, laughter ran throughout the theater. Not awe and comments about how people wanted to go see it - actual guffaws over the silliness. See for yourself:

GI Joe trailer

I'd post it directly but I can't get Youtube at work.

Okay so there's that.

Then we watched the movie, which was the opposite of that. Moving, fun, exactly what it was supposed to be. It had plenty of references for the average fan but it wasn't one long inside joke. The Beefcake, who is not a Star Trek fan and not really a fan of sci-fi at all, did not hate the movie. Believe me, that's high praise. If it's not Robocop, he hates it.

I knew like five minutes in when I was emotionally moved by the birth/death scene that I was gonna like this, but there was one particular moment where I realized just how well this was written.

Spoilers from an early scene:

At one point Kirk, Sulu and some guy in a red jumpsuit (Yep, red. Guess what happens to him?) are on their way down to the planet on their first away mission. Sulu volunteered because he claimed to have combat training. Kirk asks him what his combat training is, to which he replies "Fencing."

And you laugh. Oh dear, fencing. He'll be useful. Well Kirk, I guess it's all up to you because we know Red Shirt over there won't be around long.

Then they get down to their target and Kirk ends up in a fight to the death and here comes Sulu, and just when this Romulan comes at him and you think he is totally screwed, he reaches in his backpack and pulls out a retractable sword.

And you go "Oh. Fencing!"

Textbook screenwriting. You thought that was a throwaway line for laughs, but Sulu turns out to know exactly what he's doing, and it gives us a badass sword fight on big platform filled with firey things. I think that was my favorite moment in the movie.

End spoilers

The whole thing was fun, really. It was pretty tight. There was one chase-through-snow-by-alien-creatures sequence that brought up not-so-fond memories of the useless underwater chase from The Phantom Menace that could have been cut waaaaay down, and there was this thing in the water tubes that seemed sort of random, but other than that the story was very clean and moved along at a good clip.

In short, as my students would say, I likeded it.

Friday, May 08, 2009

WTF Bones?

Did you see last night's Bones? It was weird.


Booth kept seeing Stewie from Family Guy and Bones kept trying to make him give her sperm so they could make a test tube baby.

Funny, right? Except that it kept being played as serious. I was confused. Booth was having the really emotional conversation at several points with Stewie and it wasn't being played for laughs. What the fuck? The second you see Stewie you think "Oh this will be funny." And then it wasn't funny.

It turned out, Booth has a brain tumor. The music was serious and the cast looked deeply concerned like the world was ending.

But he was talking to Stewie.

You can't do that, Bones and Family Guy. You can't take a character who has great comedic timing and is known for being funny and then make him a central figure in a serious moment for one of your main characters. It destroyed the impact, because instead of being worried about Booth, I was wondering why it wasn't funny. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh or not.

If they were going to have Booth hallucinate with another Fox character it should have been House. He can play funny AND serious and he could have been diagnosing Booth's problems in the hallucinations. And then I might have bought it. But watching Booth talk to a comedic cartoon character and try to be serious about it just did not work.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Semi-annual get off your ass rant

I wrote this the other day in a seminar:

There is something you want to do. It’s this little kernel of an idea - a screenplay idea you’ve been harboring, a sport you want to learn, a fantastic new grilled cheese sandwich you’ve been dreaming about. Everybody sits on some amazing dream. Few of us ever do anything about it.

I hear you right now in your brain. “I’ll do it eventually.” How long have you been saying that? Don’t do it eventually. Do it now. Right now.

Still here? Why? Oh I know. “I don’t have time.” Yes you do. You ever watch Project Runway? There was this contestant on that show named Katherine who raised four well-adjusted kids with her husband in a loft in New York City, and she did it looking absolutely stylish. And in the meantime, she designed posh clothes that got her on the show and eventually her own clothing line. Ever seen Kelly Rippa? Of course that might not be fair, because it’s entirely possible that Kelly Rippa is a cyborg.

I know people who write a novel by writing one or two pages a day. The other day someone showed me a book written over Twitter. The guy tweeted his novel a few sentences at a time over a year. A publisher took him on and it sold. There is time in your day. Cut out half an hour of TV. Work while you’re waiting for the chicken to broil. Plan your next move while you’re driving to work, or better yet, take the train and you can work while someone else drives.

Haven’t left yet? Okay, I get it. “I might fail.” Yeah, that’s the one that gets everybody. What if you put your life savings and your down time and all your hopes and dreams into something and then you fail?

Guess what? You might. Kyle Maynard is an amputee. He was born with no arms below the elbow and no legs below the knee, yet on April 28th he fought in his first public UFC fight. He lost. Of course he lost. But by God, the man got in there and did his thing. Think about that. No arms, no legs, but he wasn’t afraid to lose because he was just happy to get in there and prove he could hang. Are you more afraid than a man with no arms and legs in a cage match? Are you? If you don’t try you will definitely fail. And if you fail, well,. At least you know you didn’t miss out on what might have been.

Because this is about happiness. You want to be happy, right? Isn’t that what we all strive for?

You’re still here. Oh I get it. “Where do you get off?“ Well, here’s an example. Ever since I was little I wanted to learn to fight. My parents put me in soccer and gymnastics and dance and eventually band, but really all I lusted after was that little white gi those kids wear in Tai Kwan Do. I wanted to punch and kick things. I practiced by punching and kicking other kids, which is why my parents never put me in martial arts. So I was 28 years old the first time I put on a pair of boxing gloves. I had thought all these years that if you weren’t a kid you were too old to learn. But you’re never too old to learn. And now, well let’s just say you don’t want to piss me off. Because now I can punch you without injuring my hand like I did that one time when I punched that girl in the auditorium. Want to know how much joy it brings me to spar with my trainer? Only the most joy ever.

You want to be filled with joy? Screw your fear and your excuses. Go get it done. Start right freaking now.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ode to my own blog

Yesterday afternoon I had to attend a writing seminar for teachers. This is a regular thing we have to go to and we get paid extra so I don't mind. I mean, spending all afternoon writing is not really something I bitch about, although I am terribly fond of bitching about meetings.

Anyway yesterday's lesson was about persuasive writing so we were asked to write a persuasive essay on any topic. I decided to work on a variation of my semi-annual "Get off your lazy ass and work on your goddamn screenplay" rant. I'll post the finished product tomorrow.

Our first task was to write our arguments on yellow post-its, then write the opposing arguments on blue post-its. So I did that quickly and then waited. And I looked around the room to see every other person just struggling. Then it came time to write and I yanked out my laptop and just tippity tappitied away like gangbusters. Occasionally I'd glance around the room and see others crumpling up paper and scratching things out and huffing and throwing their hands in the air. At one point a friend across the room texted me: "Are you actually doing the assignment?"

And that's when it hit me. I've taken this blog for granted. This task was so super easy for me because I do this five days a week. I post. Best Friend, who was sitting next to me, reminded me that I also write different things here. Sometimes it's a review, sometimes a narrative, sometimes and essay. Throw whatever writing task you want at me, I'll roll with it. The only thing I have trouble with is purely academic essays that leave no room for humor. I hate those.

A guy next to me read my essay and said "I'm jealous of your voice." What did he write, you may ask? Nothing. He just couldn't get inspired, he said. He's always like that. If he does write something, he always prefaces his reading with an excuse about how tired he is so we won't expect too much.

The essays people wrote were all decent, of course. We are all English teachers. But I just sort of had a moment there in that room where I realized that the blog has removed writer's block from my vocabulary.

I decided some time ago that I would post every single week day because when you post every day more people read your blog. That means every morning I have to think of something to write about. Sometimes I have trouble, but in the end I always come up with something, and I never realized before yesterday how damn useful that's been to me as a writer.

So I gotta say, if you have trouble with writers block, write something every day. It worked for me. I practice writing everything so that when I need that skill, there it is all ready to come out. And I didn't even mean for that to happen - I just wanted to say stuff.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Shut up about Shane Black, already

During the whole Medieval discussion Friday there was one name that got thrown around like crazy on all the blogs: Shane Black. "Only Shane Black can write like Shane Black," on person said. The script was a Shane Black impression. It includes "The world's worst (best) Shane Black-ism." "This is from the Shane Black school of writing." It would "make Shane Black himself blush".

You know what? Fuck Shane Black.

Oh wait, that's not what I meant. What I meant was, thanks, Shane Black. Now everybody shut up about Shane Black.

Here's why Shane Black is awesome. Before he came along, writing was terse. Every now and then you were allowed to write something clever, but you'd better keep that shit to a minimum because nobody wants to remember that somebody actually wrote this thing. It's a blue print, nothing more.

Then Lethal Weapon appeared, and with it Shane Black had the audacity to write like himself. He said hi to us. He told us a story like those prose writers do.

And then people said "Oh, you can do that?" and they started to do that. And thank God they did because I can't stand writing that dry, personalityless way. I can't do it. If Shane Black hadn't come along, I never would have been able to write a good script.

Or hell, maybe I'd have been the Shane Black of my time. I guess somebody had to do it first.

So I thank him very much for breaking that barrier, for allowing us to have a little more fun when we write.

Because that's what Shane Black did. He broke through that perception that you have to be boring and dry when you write screenplays. I know, I know. Writers weren't really boring. William Goldman talked about his exquisite kick to the balls and all that. But those lines are few and far between in most scripts, and rightly so - many people go overboard with them if they think they're okay, and a lot of people don't know how to do that anyway. But Shane Black made it okay to do it if you've got it.

The problem is, no matter how much of your writing is your own, people continue to act like it's always Shane Black pulling the strings.

If I put my personality in my screenplay, I'm just copying Shane Black. And nobody should copy Shane Black. There can be only one Shane Black, so you'd better not dare to try to be like him you hussy.

Why? How come he's the only one who gets to do it? I just said he broke the barrier and allowed us the freedom to be real people when we write, but then whenever we do it everybody's all huffy about our audacity.

No offense there, Shane, but I don't want to be you. I wouldn't mind having your career, but I like being me. I write like me. I can't help it. And when I write a screenplay I'm not trying to copy you. I'm just writing my own way because you opened that door.

So I have a request for everybody. Can we please stop acting like Shane Black is the only person allowed to have asides and fourth wall break downs? Can we thank him for giving us that option and then put our own spin on it without thinking it's automatically copying his style?

Because I'll tell you a secret right now. I know all about Shane Black and his asides because everybody likes to talk about it, and I've been told several times that I have a Shane Black style of writing, but until recently I had never actually read one of his scripts. I'm not copying Shane Black. Not everybody who writes with a wink and a nod is trying to be Shane Black.

Don't get me wrong. I'm flattered when anyone makes that comparison. But at the same time, I do harbor this great fear that everywhere I go people will think "Well she's trying hard to be the female Shane Black, but I dunno. He's a lot taller and he wears baseball caps."

Mike Finch and Alex Litvak, who wrote Medieval, were probably not copying Shane Black either. They were probably writing the way they feel most comfortable. And whether you like that style or not, you should judge it on its own merits, not constantly talk about some other guy who did the same thing as if he has the monopoly on clever writing.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Thoughts on the scipt: Medieval

You know when you read a screenplay or see a movie or something and you want to run out and tell everybody how much you loved it but everybody’s already talking about how terrible it was?

Yeah, well.

Carson Reeves at Script Shadow and Scott Myers from Go Into The Story decided to make today a challenge for readers. We were to read the screenplay for Medieval and post our reviews as a discussion in the comments based on their reviews. Not one to back down from such a challenge, I read the script this morning when I was supposed to be making photocopies and lesson plans, which is why my lesson plan for today is “Hey, fill out this thing and see what you know.”

So I read Medieval. And I fucking loved it. And apparently nobody else did.

is the story of seven different warriors - a Samurai, a Knight, a Gypsy, a Zulu, an Arab, a Viking (easily the most forgettable and unnecessary of the group), and a Monk - who are rescued from prison supposedly to steal the king’s crown, but soon find they were set up to take the fall for the king’s assassination,. Now the king’s brother, presumably the assassin’s boss, has sent his entire army of comic book warriors after our seven reluctant heroes. Also, there’s a girl.

Here are the problems:

They need to up their character development. A few characters are a tad anemic, but a pass or two will fix that problem, since all they really need is an extra moment here and there, a moment they could fold into the existing narrative.

This script has waaaaaay too many allusions. These guys obviously love movies and action movies in particular, so every couple of minutes they use a line from Star Wars or Cool Hand Luke or whatever, which is annoying because it takes me out of the script and makes me groan. I’d rather they just use their own words, because when they do it’s excellent.

Except that they use their own words just a tad too much. Now I love a good aside as much as anybody, but these guys are trying way too hard.

The story is reminiscent of many others. This is The Magnificent Seven and The Dirty Dozen and The Usual Suspects all over the place. I don’t think they were trying to hide it.

All that said, I don’t give a shit. I loved this script.

I loved it because it never stopped moving. This is the kind of momentum movies like Crank strive for, a constant rush from beginning to end, with just enough downtime to let you catch your breath. The action scenes, although at times a bit confusing, are straight up badass. Watching a Monk fight a Sumo wrestler and a Knight go to town on some Teutonics - cool. The set pieces here are amazing, and the writers make full use of their locations and the skills of their characters.

And the twist ending surprised me in a good way. I didn’t see it coming and I loved the way I’d been tricked. It kind of petered out after that, so on a rewrite they definitely need to finish on a stronger note, but all in all I was pleased as hell. It was a fast read and a strong story. There are some historical inaccuracies they need to clear up, but they left themselves a window when they put these characters in this time period and gave them modern language right from minute one - they established that this is a modern world inside an old world.

Anyway, I thought it was fucking fantastic overall. Nobody else did except the people who paid all the money to buy it. I’m not sure what that says about me.