Friday, July 31, 2009

Yay! Sentences!

I just wrote an awesome sentence that I thought I'd share just because I'm happy.

Mackenzie takes one look at Lonnie, still locked in his struggle with Opie, and hauls ass after Dick.

And now I'm writing like gangbusters

Well, maybe not gangbusters, but I'm averaging two pages a day during the week.

I can always tell how well I'm doing by what I'm thinking about when I go to sleep at night. I do most of my plotting at night while I'm waiting to sleep, but it's not always the script I'm working on unless I feel really good about that script.

When I was working on Not Dead Yet I thought about it before I started, during the writing, and after. For a long time after, which is why I kept making so many damned revisions. It's also why I kept having so many damned nightmares about zombies. Seriously, for a while there I jolted awake at least once a week in fear that a zombie was about to eat me. But I kept thinking about it every night because I felt so good about the story.

For the next year, I thought about anything other than the script I was working on. I wrote it, but my heart wasn't in it. And now I have a first draft of a script I don't love. First draft is all it will ever be.

So then I came up with the plot for Burn Side and started developing it at night, and at first I felt excitement over my story. A few weeks into writing the first draft, I started to distract myself. I thought of anything but my current script. At night I thought up the plot to a low-budget sci-fi character based story, a prison escape movie, a story about William Randolph Hearst, and a kidnapping story. I spent most of my time on the sci-fi thing, so I guess I already know what my next project will be.

But that wasn't the point. The point was, I was supposed to be working on my Chinese-style martial arts movie but I wasn't. And that's because the movie wasn't working in my head.

I was doing the same thing I'd done in college, something my thesis director warned me about. I was trying to hang on to a story too tightly. Instead of scrapping something that didn't work, I was trying to twist a story element into a place where it wouldn't go. And then one night when I began to think about my sci-fi story I ordered my brain to refocus and fix this problem.

And I did. I realized I needed to scrap my whole plan and think of some other way for my characters to get together. Ever since I did that, I've been plotting like gangbusters. All I want to think about all night is my new script.

In short, I'm having fun again. And that's how I know this will be a good one. I wasn't so sure of that a few weeks ago.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Reflections on my Nicholl not-win

Okay a little info since I'm still getting a lot of searches.

Best I can figure it, there were three basic PS additions to the Nicholl letter:

1) PS: Your script was among the top 10% of all entries - one of the top HOWEVER MANY scripts.

2) PS: Your script received two positive reads in the first round but finished outside the top 1,000 entries.

3) PS: You just missed. Your script finished among the next REALLY CLOSE NUMBER HERE entries after the Quarterfinalists.

And then, of course, there were those with no PS at all.

And the list of quarterfinalists will not be published until the finalists are chosen.

Last year I submitted Not Dead Yet and got no PS. I also didn't place in any of the other contests I entered. So I took a step back and said "why"? Why didn't I even hit anybody's radar? A lot of people reminded me that it's all subjective and not to worry about it, keep plugging away. But dammit to hell I fucking loved this script and I was not giving up until it got the credit it deserves. I've written a lot of scripts, but I never loved one until now.

So I emailed a certain someone and said "Hey what did I do wrong?"

And that person and I worked on that thing until it was more than just a good story. It gives me joy.

So now, a year later, the same script gets a PS. And yes, Unk, you're right. It's a zombie script. The PS is a hell of a thing for a zombie script.

Still, more than one person told me there's no way a zombie script could ever advance in the Nicholl. I just thought it would be so fucking cool to show them up. I wanted to prove that an action zombie script could elevate the current state of the genre. Then again, Zombieland beat me to it.

And I have a couple of managers reading my script who've had it for way too long, so I was just waiting until the day my quarterfinalist notice came and I could light a fire under their asses with that knowledge.

Okay I guess I have to admit I was just absolutely certain that I'd make it this time. I didn't think I'd win, but I thought I'd get top 25%. I really really did.

Okay and while I'm admitting things, I have to admit that I am ridiculously hard on myself. Even though I'm writing something new that I'm really falling in love with, I'm still going to resubmit Not Dead Yet next year along with Burn Side.

Unless of course I'm out of contention because I sold Not Dead Yet for a gazillion dollars. I have just enough of an ego that I think that is entirely possible.

And in case you were wondering, no I do not ever give up. Ever.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Nicholl Fellowship again, or, Oh Goddamit.

July 28, 2009

Dear Emily,

With a record number of entries and a readily apparent increase in quality, this year’s Nicholl Fellowships was more competitive than in any previous year. Now that scores have been tallied for all 6,380 entries, we have to inform too many writers of scripts featuring compelling stories, intriguing characters and excellent craft that they have not advanced into the next round. Regrettably, Not Dead Yet was not one of the 321 entries selected as a Quarterfinalist in the 2009 Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting.

You should realize that while we strive to make the evaluation of screenplays as objective a process as possible, it is inherently both a personal and an extremely subjective matter. A lack of success here may not have any bearing on your reception in the marketplace where a sale is the ultimate measure of success. I’ll even venture a prediction: several non-advancing writers will become professional screenwriters in the near future.

To tell you a little about the process: each script was read once. After receiving an initial positive evaluation, over 2,700 scripts garnered a second read. Just under 800 scripts were read a third time. Each read resulted in a numerical score being awarded. Scores for each entrant's script were totaled, and the Quarterfinalists were selected on the basis of highest scores.

Early next year, we'll send you a link to a 2010 application form, which will include a list of the recipients of the 2009 Fellowships. Results will be posted online at in November.

Best of luck with all your future endeavors.


Greg Beal
Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting

PS: Your script received two positive reads in the first round but finished outside of the top 1000 entries.

Well Goddamit.

You and I shall meet again, Nicholl. And next time, you won't be so lucky.

ADDED: I've noticed that in the past couple of hours a lot of people have come here searching for info about the Nicholl Fellowship, mainly who the quarterfinalists are. The list is not revealed until the finalists have been chosen. Any other questions, feel free to post them in the comments and I will find you the answer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Why I don't fetch coffee

As you know, I am a schoolteacher. I don't work on big fancy sets. I don't have access to backlots. I don't fetch coffee for anybody important. Actually I don't fetch coffee for anybody because I don't drink coffee and if the Beefcake wants coffee he makes it himself.

Anyway, the point is, I don't work in the business.

I say this because I've noticed a lot of people who plan to come to Hollywood think they have to work in the business in order to break in. I haven't broken in yet so you may think I'm totally full of shit, but I will. Of that I have no doubt. And in the meantime I pay my bills and work a job I mostly like and have 4 months off a year to write.

I've had a few people tell me I should take a job as someone's PA or a writers assistant job or something equally low on the totem pole to get my foot in the door. And it's true, if I was 21 when I came out here and fresh out of grad school I would have gladly taken a job running around in the sun fetching this and that just to get on a set. But I wasn't 21. I was 26 and I had spent the years after grad school managing a classroom and answering only to a man who never left his office or yelled at anybody, except that one time when I told my students that Catholics think Pentecostals are "weird" without realizing one of my students was the child of Pentecostal missionaries with no sense of humor. I was forbidden from talking about religion in class anymore ever. We were reading Siddhartha at the time.

But I digress.

I always knew I wanted to be a writer, but I was in my 20s before I knew it wasn't novels I liked to write. Sometimes even when we know where we're going, we're not sure how to get there.

As soon as I knew what I wanted, I came here. I had a degree and a skill so I traded on that to pay the bills, and working as someone's errand girl never appealed to me. I admire the people who do it. They work their asses off for very little pay and I have several friends who have spent years of their lives making shows run, some of whom have moved on to better things.

And there's the rub. I've been here four years and I'm just now starting to get somewhere. I have an MA in creative writing and I wrote my first book at the age of 9 (it was about how girls can get boys to like them and an ugly girl bought it for 5 cents) so it's not like I suddenly looked up one day and decided I would be a writer. I've been practicing.

Still, four years and I'm still gleefully hoping these two managers read my script soon. If I had been somebody's PA, more than one industry professional would have already sent my script on to his boss by now.


But it hasn't stopped me from making connections; I just make them slower. I still meet people because of this blog and parties and friends of friends. I rarely miss an opportunity to hang out with people I like because you never know when something you say starts a conversation that leads to someone handing you a card and asking you to email them your script. It's probably a million times harder if you're shy.

My point in writing all this is to say, you don't have to take an industry job. If you can, do it, but it's okay if you can't. The thing that finally convinced me to move out here after months of pondering was this comment from some random person over at Wordplay: "In LA you can't spit without hitting someone in the industry." They went on to say that if you move here, you will make contacts. And it's completely true.

You just have to be willing to go to a lot of parties.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Thoughts on the old film: Deja Vu

I finally caught Deja Vu on some channel or other yesterday. Good grief. What a good idea taken in completely the wrong direction.


Usually I'm big on explosions and action sequences, but for once I was wishing they'd taken that move down a notch. It would have made a terrific low budget indie.

Hear me out here.

Okay so the story is, there's an explosion on a boat and an investigator uses a time travel video thing to see what happened 4 days ago. He knows the bomber is connected to a girl so he uses the device to spy on her past and figure out who the bomber is. Then he goes back in time himself to save the girl he's fallen in love with by watching her in the shower. And somewhere in there his partner dies, but it seems to be thrown into the story for the fuck of it. Like Laura, but with more explosions and not as good.

The investigators spend the first half hour of the movie mostly locked in a room watching a video. That could have been the entire movie. The investigator in charge, Denzel, becomes obsessed with this girl to the point where his fellow investigators are concerned. In the meantime, another investigator works to solve the crime the old fashioned way.

Also, if you're going to set a movie in New Orleans, can you actually make it set in New Orleans? There was like ONE Southern accent in the entire movie, and we really could have been living in pretty much any city with a boat. There's this one scene with some alligators where it was kind of like Hey look! Alligators! See, we are so in New Orleans!

And for heaven's sake, if you're writing a movie with time travel, you have two choices. Either you go with the Terminator model or the Back to the Future model. So either you go back and change things and the future changes, or you go back and can't change things because everything you did you will do again. But YOU CAN'T HAVE BOTH. This movie had both. When the investigator goes back in time to save the girl, he discovers that some of the clues he picked up on are only there because he went back in time - a bunch of bloody clothes he found in her apartment were actually his clothes. That would indicate that this is Terminator logic, where nothing changes because you already did it. But then later on he changes the future using Back to the Future logic. You can't simultaneously change the future and have already not changed the future. I have the same problem with Primeval, even though I love Primeval.

And that leaves an interesting dilemma that was completely ignored: the blood on the clothes in the murder victim's apartment belongs to the investigator on the case, a man who didn't meet her until she died. That's pretty damned interesting, but it went unnoticed.

But my main issue is the hastily put together small story element. Every story, no matter how loaded with special effects, is best when it is a small story. The Hurt Locker is about the Iraq war. Scratch that. The Hurt Locker is about three soldiers in the Iraq war. Titanic is about the sinking of a - oh wait, no it wasn't. Titanic is about two people falling in love on a sinking ship.

Had all those people involved made Deja Vu concentrated more on the investigator's development and relationship with the girl he's obsessing over, instead of blowing up random cars and playing with shiny objects, this would have been a much cheaper movie to make. And it might have been good.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Credit where it's due


Holy cow. What a terrific opportunity for a mindfuck. Here's the scenario: Scary-ass alien creatures demand we give them ten percent of our children for them to keep in an ambiguous state of existence for some kind of nefarious purpose. If we don't give them ten percent of the Earth's children, they wipe out life on the planet. They've been here before. They blackmailed us for children then. They can destroy us. You have 24 hours to deliver.

What do you do?

One of the politicians responsible for making the decision proposed they take the lowest performing children at the lowest performing schools and load them on buses for delivery to the aliens. The other politicians agreed this was indeed the best course of action.

That's like one of those moral dilemmas they give you in school. It hurts your brain to think about it.

Good job, Torchwood. Terrific setup. My brain still hurts.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What I'm up to

For once in a very long time, I don't have any major plans for this weekend. I have drinks with people on Sunday evening, but Friday-Saturday my only plan is to work out in the park at 8am, same as every Saturday morning.

If you ever want a free workout that will kick your ass and you live anywhere around Commerce, email me and I'll tell you where to go. The Beefcake will show you just how out of shape you truly are.

Anyway, I'm glad I don't have plans because it leaves time for my newest obsession: House Hunting. So far we found the perfect house except it's beat to shit and in a neighborhood where I'm more likely to be murdered walking to my front door than to be able to find a parking spot on the street.

It's fun looking for houses though. There are so many out there right now, and so many of them stuck in the middle of renovations. You can see what happened - somebody had this great idea to remodel the kitchen so they took out a second mortgage to buy the appliances, then all hell broke loose and suddenly they're homeless. It sucks for them, but somebody's got to take that house and I don't mind finishing their kitchen if it means I get a house for $300,000 less than it used to cost.

So I will be driving all over Echo Park this weekend, scoping out property. What I like to do is go into the back yard of vacant houses we're considering and steal limes. The beat up house in the bad neighborhood has a lime tree, a lemon tree and a fucking avocado tree already planted in the back yard. Plus an aloe plant. I'm still debating whether or not it's worth the murder risk to have access to free guacamole from my property.

This doesn't have anything to do with screenwriting of course. I tried to think of a way to connect it, but I got nothing other than the fact that this obsessive house hunting is what's taken my brain away from my story, except it hasn't because I've still been writing slowly. Like half a page a day.

I don't know if I'm going to have this kind of time when I begin refinishing kitchens, so I guess I should write a little faster.

I've also been reading a lot more. Carson of Script Shadow fame posts a script review every single day and it makes me want to read almost every script so I've been reading about two or three a week thanks to his diligence.

Anyway, I don't know where I'm going with this. I'm reading, I'm writing, I'm staring at granite countertops. Occasionally I squeeze in some cardio or my actual job. That's how I roll.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Torchwood is so gay

I got so caught up in doing stuff today that I forgot to post something.

Lately I have become all into BBC America. A lot of people don't get Torchwood, and I just don't get them. I love Torchwood and this new Children of Earth thing has got me totally enthralled. I also enjoy Primeval tremendously and am looking forward to Being Human.

I am not prepared for a new Dr Who, however. My heart belongs to David Tennant's Doctor and I don't think any silly man in a bowtie has the power to change that.

Anyway, back to Torchwood. I was just thinking a minute ago that I don't think American networks would allow Jack Harkness. Well maybe HBO, but only if he was weirder or killed more people.

Jack is sexually ambiguous. He doesn't care if you're a boy or a girl, he'll do all hot people equally. It's a pretty cool viewpoint, especially since lately he's been shagging boys way more than girls.

I like it. Why not? On one of the recent mini series episodes the character he's been shagging, Ianto, goes to visit his sister, who asks him if he's gone a little fruity and he says "No. It's just him."

Ianto's not "gay" necessarily. He's just in love with someone who happens to be a man. And an alien. And immortal. But whatever.

Anyway, I think it's interesting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

John August scene challenge

John August is sponsoring a scene challenge again. Action this time, so this one was easier for me than the usual. Here are the requirements:

The only required element is the villain: BRICKHOUSE. He’s big and he’s strong. It’s up to you to decide whether that means he can throw cars or entire skyscrapers.

As the scene opens, Brickhouse has just grabbed an ancient staff from The City Museum of Ubiquities. You can decide whether the staff is merely valuable or has some other attribute. It’s also your choice whether the action takes place in the museum, outside, or some other locale.

I noticed that the thread so far is loaded with testosterone. I injected a little estrogen into the room. Here's my entry, reposted. I changed one word I meant to change before I posted it to the contest and forgot because I'm a dummy.


Serene and cold in its emptiness, the room holds many of Town's most interesting artifacts. Plus one giant angry man, and one irritated woman.

BRICKHOUSE, 30, rages in the center of the room, waving around a really tacky but gigantic staff that probably cost about a thousand times what any reasonable human being would pay for it. Brickhouse is the kind of guy you automatically assume is a douche. He's 6'4" and about 300 lbs, most of it muscle that he's currently using to annoy the piss out of his girlfriend.

LILA, considerably smaller and cuter, stands far from the swinging staff with her arms crossed and her brow furrowed.

An OLD WOMAN pokes her head in, sees the rage, and flees.

Brick, put it down.

Stop telling me what to do!

You're being childish.

Brickhouse slams the staff into the wall.

Great. Now you've cause property damage.

That's what I do! I'm a madman!

Yes. Woohoo. Can we go now?

What? You bitched and moaned for like three weeks about coming to the museum. What's the matter? Museum's not boring enough for you anymore?

You're going to end up in- AHH!

A skylight smashes, raining down shards of pointy glass. Brickhouse flings the staff to deflect the glass, which doesn't work because of physics.

STRAIGHT ARROW shoots into the room and slams into the floor like a graceful aardvark. He leaps to his feet, puffs out his muscular chest and shakes his well-conditioned mane.

Unhand this lady, Brickhouse!

Actually I'm okay. We're just having an argument.

No worries, my dear, I'll deal with this monster!

Totally not necessary.

Brickhouse smirks and whips his staff around at Straight Arrow's head. Straight Arrow catches it and kicks out right into Brickhouse's chest, which knocks him back a millimeter.

HAH! You suck!

Shut up asshole!

He uses a bench to leap into the air, landing a roundhouse in Brickhouse's face. This causes the big man to stumble back and drop the staff, which rolls a turn or two toward Lila.

Really, guys. This is just silly.

The two men grab at each other and tumble to the floor, rolling and grabbing at each other's clothes.


Stop grabbing my hair!

Lila picks up the staff and WHACKS them both on the backside.


Lila drops the staff.

Stop it, both of you. Brick. I'm hungry. I want a taco.

I don't have any cash.

Then we'll go by an ATM.

Brickhouse shrugs and they head toward the door. Straight Arrow stands, breathing heavy, hair an absolute mess.

Halt, fiend!

Dude, let it go.

They walk out of the gallery. Straight Arrow picks up the staff.

This thing is tacky.


Monday, July 20, 2009

Mastermind 2: The Revenge

I've been pretty damn tired lately and Fridays are usually my stay home and watch TV and drink a beer night, but this Friday I promised I would check out Michael Sullivan's latest version of Mastermind which played as part of a series up in Valley Village. I saw the play once before when Michael cast and directed it, so this was an interesting opportunity to see what another director and actors could do with the same material.

I learned a few things, first being that a good script is a good script. People laughed in all the right places and it was still a sobering story and I still felt a little heat coming off the leads. I also learned just how much an actor can alter the perception of character by reading the same lines in a different way.

The play is about a guy with amnesia who thinks he may have been an evil villain before he woke up in the hospital as a John Doe.

In Michael's version, the lead played Mastermind as a genius with a point, if not an overabundance of ego, but he's level-headed enough that when he hovers over the hot female reporter, the audience can just feel the chemistry on stage, of course that might be because the actors were a couple in real life.

In this version, which was still good, the actor chose to play Mastermind as a real whack job, and kind of gay, so the chemistry the other two actors had was not nearly as strong here. I like some of his choices, though. As he gets closer to the memory, this guy starts acting more and more like his old self. I approve of this choice. And the girl in this version was terrific.

I'm a big fan of Michael, and not just because he's my friend. The boy is a born TV writer and I'm so excited that this play has gotten him some attention. That's why I keep writing about it.

Now here's what I didn't appreciate. The play that followed Mastermind was like a bad Renaissance fair act. Like someone who watched way too much Monty Python but had no idea why it was funny. I don't remember the name of the play, but the premise was that this girl leaves her home and wanders around to different towns where people act all crazy and then she discovers that if she just pretends none of the weird shit happened then somehow her life will be better. I don't know, it was weird.

The thing that perplexed the hell out of me was why people were laughing uproariously at this play. I chuckled twice, but the rest of the audience was in freaking hysterics. I leaned over to the Beefcake and whispered in my Homer Simpson voice, "Why are people laughing?" and he whispered "I don't know."

I was so bored we left before the third play. I'm really glad Michael's was first, and I really hope that next time it's performed, the producers pair it with something that doesn't suck.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Letting characters dictate action

Sometimes when I get stuck I just pretend I'm my character and imagine what I would do and that tends to solve my problem. For example, my biggest problem in Burn Side has been this huge chunk at the beginning where I have to build up relationships but nothing really happens but people talking.

I kept reworking it and reworking it, but for a while everything I did felt so contrived. Like, I need a fight here, so maybe some soldiers should accidentally discover her in the wrong place at the wrong time!

No, Emily. That's the shit I used to pull back when I started writing. You can't just input a fight scene all willy-nilly because you think your script is boring. The conflict MUST come from the story, not be added to it.

So then I thought and thought and I said, okay. Here's this girl who has these martial arts skills. But I've been neglecting her brother, who has his own set of issues. So far I've made him a grumbly disapproving guy and given him little to do beyond that. So I asked myself, why is the brother so angry? He's on the losing side of a battle, and now he's forced to encounter the winners on a daily basis. That would make you angry, don't you think?

My protagonist has to hide her martial arts skills in public.

The brother gets in a fight with his enemy in public, but his sister has to watch and can't help because she can't reveal what she can do. Conflict! And if I throw my male protag into the mix, a man who also cannot interfere, you have two people watching a fight they are capable of breaking up but can't.

So now instead of a scene of two people walking down the street talking so we can learn that they like each other, I have a scene where two people have to fight their own urges, and when they drag the beaten brother back to his house, we feel their chemistry as they lecture the brother on fighting.

What I'm trying to say is, one of the most useful things I do is just sit and ponder my character for a while sometimes. Why do they do things? What would I do if I were them? And then I know I'm not manufacturing conflict, I'm just letting it happen.

I admit I'm having to think way more about this script than I usually do. Thinking is hard.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

I need a pillow

Every other day I have planning in the afternoon. I go through my classes 1-2-3 then planning. Then every other day I have planning in the morning, so it's 1-planning-3-4.

Don't try to make sense of it.

So anyway, I want to use my 4th period planning for screenwriting because I only have to plan for one class before I have planning again, and in today's case my planning consists of walking over to the dollar store and buying markers and construction paper.

I want to write, but I'm too drained. I have 30 sophomores in my third period, all of whom feel the need to comment on every. single. sentence. I. utter. Thirty people all trying to be funny at the same time is a lot like being at a party full of actors. I talk for two minutes, then wait five minutes for another opening.

But that wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have 38 seniors in my second period. They're more respectful when I'm talking, but any time you get 38 people in a room, there's only so long you can keep them focused before you lose them altogether.

And even that wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have 33 seniors in my homeroom. They all have questions they need answering now now now.

And that wouldn't be so bad if I didn't have 33 sophomores in my first period. They're the best class of the day because they're sleepy, so I guess I don't mind them really. And the teacher who taught them last year is dynamite with discipline so they are actually prepared, unlike my third period, who came from a teacher who's idea of discipline was shouting and then giving up.

When I woke up this morning I actually wanted to go for a run and was sad that I didn't have time. Right now walking to the dollar store sounds too far. I only hope they have index cards because third period is getting the dreaded Seating Chart tomorrow. I really hope The Seating Chart makes it easier to teach them so I can feel less drained. Then I can write more.

And how awesome is it that Los Angeles is a world class city that can pay $4 million for Michael Jackson's funeral but raises class sizes to 40-1! Awesome!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Movies I am excited about

District 9
, August 14
An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology.

Except it looks way awesomer than that logline would indicate.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs
, September 18
The most delicious event since macaroni met cheese. Inspired by the beloved children's book, the film focuses on a town where food falls from the sky like rain.

Not Pixar, but it looks like loads of fun. I don't like children much so I won't see it in theaters unless I can hit a late showing where the kids are all asleep or high.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
, out this week
Voldemort is tightening his grip on both the Muggle and wizarding worlds and Hogwarts is no longer the safe haven it once was. Harry suspects that dangers may even lie within the castle, but Dumbledore is more intent upon preparing him for the final battle that he knows is fast approaching.

I devoured these books. Goblet of Fire was my favorite, but Half-Blood Prince is a close second, and reviews are good. I'll probably catch it alone either today or tomorrow after work. I'm even willing to deal with a smattering of children for this one.

The Informant, September
In THE INFORMANT, a high-ranking executive at Archer Daniels Midland joins forces with the FBI to bring down both his company and the entire food industry.

This looks like Soderbergh having fun. Hopefully it's Oceans 11 fun and not Oceans 12 fun.

And of course Zombieland, which I linked to yesterday. Zombieland is probably the one I'm most excited about.

Movies I'll see if the reviews are good:
Shutter Island - DiCapprio and Scorsese again.
Inglorious Bastards - Until I have a good reason why this title is misspelled I am going to keep spelling it correctly.
2012 - Explosion porn!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Why I worry about Zombieland

If you haven't yet seen the trailer for Zombieland, watch it. It's both funny and explodey, just like the screenplay. It looks like they've changed a few things but for once it looks like most of the greatest bits of the screenplay made it to the screen.

I'll be there opening night because this is right up my alley. A little too much up my alley, unfortunately.

The more I think about this movie, the more nervous I get. One of the reasons I switched from TV to film was because I was tired of constantly having to create new material when two weeks after I wrote a spec it became outdated. A film script never goes out of style, right?

Yeah. Well when I first wrote Not Dead Yet nobody had really embraced action over horror in a zombie flick. Even Resident Evil and 28 Days Later are still by and large horror films. Well maybe not that last Resident Evil movie. I'm not sure exactly what that's supposed to be.

But even though zombies are obviously nothing new, I was at least taking it to a place nobody had really thoroughly explored. It was about a post apocalyptic zombie world where people had to learn to survive because this is how it is, not more humans anywhere. And then one group of humans finds another group of humans in California.

I thought I was going to have to worry about being a copy cat of World War Z, but that appears to be mired in preproduction.

Instead, it was Zombieland that may render me impotent. A story about a couple of guys in a post-apocalyptic zombie world who find another pair of survivors as hijinks ensue. And more importantly, it's straight action, barely any horror at all.

This one's a comedy. Nobody would ever call mine a comedy, but no matter what I do it will look like I'm a shadow of Zombieland. If I had a lower budget, I could sell my script as a knockoff to one of those companies that likes riding the trends. That is, if Zombieland is successful. If it's not successful, nobody will want to touch my screenplay because clearly zombie action flicks are a bad investment.

But I have a huge budget so I can't even sell my script as a cheap copy. I could try to offer it as a sequel, but it's not nearly funny enough so I'd have to rewrite it big time, and that's unlikely to matter anyway because that's dependent on a ton of factors out of my control.

In other words, I have until October. When Zombieland hits, I think I may be out of opportunities with Not Dead Yet. It's still a good work sample, which was its original purpose anyway, but with all the zombie scripts on the market these days, I'm worried about getting thrown aside by a zombie-fatigued reader.

The Beefcake says I worry too much. About everything, not just this, which I find interesting since I am a consummate optimist. I am an oxymoron.

Anyhow, it's just another reminder of why I need to get off my ass and finish my next project. I wrote a screenplay since Not Dead Yet but I don't like it, so I need this one to be good.

I guess I should stop writing here and go write over there.

Monday, July 13, 2009

My teacher movie will star some fists

I have been trying for years to find a teacher story to tell. My second screenplay was about a Mafia hitman turned teacher who has to lead her students out of town as they're chased by mobsters, cops and gang bangers. It was terrible.

Then a few years ago a douchebag and I wrote a pilot about a school shooting. It never really worked.

Then last year I finished the first draft of a screenplay about a Mexican teenager who makes friends with this white chick. It wasn't about teaching per say, but it was heavily influenced by my teaching experiences. I printed out the draft and threw it in a chair, where it still sits untouched because it sucks. It's entirely too contrived.

When I tell people what I do for a living they usually say "Oh that must be filled with stories!"

Yep. Stories I am apparently incapable of telling. I want to write a movie about teaching, but I don't want to write a "teacher movie" because "teacher movies" all have the same plot: Dough-eyed new teacher enters classroom where black and Mexican students, and that one white kid, all sit on desks and listen to their boom box while throwing spit balls at each other. Teacher struggles to get through, then makes some miraculous discovery that changes the game. The kids change their minds and decide they love the teacher, but the principal is an asshole and just doesn't understand this newfangled method that works so very well. Cue inspirational music.

That's not the kind of story I write. I like explosions and flame throwers and gun fights. And despite the fact that I teach in South Central, there's really not much of that going on here. When I told my colleagues back in North Carolina where I was moving, they said I should wear a bullet-proof vest to school. Yeah that's just laughable. I feel safer at this school than I did back in rural NC where the kids fought daily and all had shotguns in their pickups.

But it's sort of been my goal to find a new way to tell the teacher story, a fantasy that I'd like to see, with explosions and fist fights and crazy action scenes, but still giving some kind of glimpse into the world of education. Sounds impossible.

And then the other night in the shower I began to put some pieces together. I told the Beefcake my idea. He shook his head because it was a straight to DVD idea - a Steven Seagal type deal.

So I thought and thought some more and kept changing details and thinking about what I really want to do and what I'm good at. I'm good at action stories, and quite frankly I don't think I should try to write anything else.

Anyway after all that thinking, this morning I started to realize what I have here. And I think I've got it. Of course, I always think I've got it until I don't, so this may be another exciting idea that crashes and burns when I try to put it on paper.

With Not Dead Yet in circulation and a new script humming along slowly but steadily - at the moment I'm rewriting scenes but I should be caught up and start adding new pages this week now that I've solved a major problem - I need to prepare for pitches. If somebody does read NDY and really likes it, I've got to be able to present ideas for what else I've got in my noggin.

So this morning I got out my yellow index cards that I use for new story ideas and I wrote this teacher thing down and stuck it on the board next to the other ideas, all screenplay ideas I am prepared to pitch and start writing today if I have to. Idea # 8 - Teacher is a badass.

As soon as I finish writing Burn Side and then the low budget scifi thing I have really enjoyed thinking about and the treatment of a novel adaptation I'm working on, well by then I'll probably know my teacher story cold. So one day, by the time I'm 45, I should get around to writing this thing.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Emily learns her lesson

Backstory can be so damn boring to work on. It's all stuff that never makes it into the script and it's so mundane. What would your character have for breakfast? What are they most afraid of? Why are they all sad and stuff? It's work and it sucks. I just want to make explosions in my head; I don't want to ponder whether my protagonist prefers pen or pencil.

I keep pretending just sort of skimming over those details is enough. It's not enough.

Some time ago, a friend looked over my zombie script and asked me to write a crapload of character backstory to figure out what to do next. I immediately got a new understanding of my character and made the script stronger because I understood the motivation behind each action.

So flash forward to a few months ago when I began working on the script I am calling Burn Side. What do I do? I sort of skim over the character bio and focus strictly on plot.

Oh, Emily. When will you learn?

I've been spending too much time getting angry at stupid people on a couple of message boards lately and have been avoiding the screenplay so I quit posting to message boards, both for my sanity and for my productivity. So at the first sign of boredom I no longer went to a message board, I went to my script.

Only problem is, I didn't want to work on my script. I still don't feel happy about what's going on with that thing right now, and all the pep talks in the world have not made the plot work any better.

So to avoid having to work on the script I said, okay, why don't I use this time to write character bio? But instead of getting out some list of characteristics (it's haaaaaaaard!) I just sort of started rambling about this girl's childhood and why she acts the way she does and whatnot.

And then I was like Oh.

My character feels all angry and stuff because she was brought up to think women are weak and the only way to be strong is to be more like a man. And what's more manly than being a soldier? Her older brother is a soldier. And then I was all hey that's got all kinds of potential. My male lead also always wanted to be something society wouldn't let him be. So that's why they like each other.

And then it all came together and now I know what I have to do.

So note to Future Self, stop being a dumbass. All this plotting and index carding is super, but if you don't take the time to build your backstory it will take you longer to write your script.

I know this, and yet I keep thinking I can get away without it. Because I am a dummy.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Who are you guys?

Instead of posting the rant on Internet Assholeness I kept writing and rewriting for the past half-hour, I'm going to work on lowering my blood pressure by staying out of situations that piss me off. I just hope I've never come off as that big an asshole.

And since I'm practicing some Buddhist style ego abandonment today, I'd like to hear from you guys. All of you. Who are you? What are you writing? Some of you post all the time, but I still know so little about you.

Every now and then I look at my stats and it occurs to me that the random shit I write while sitting in my pajamas is being read be a lot of people. Weird. It's kind of like when I was in a rock band and I saw people singing my own lyrics back to me. Just weird. Awesome and weird. Someone actually gives a shit about what I have to-

Oh wait. Ego abandonment. Damn this is hard.

Okay enough about me. Let's talk about you. What do you think of- I mean, what's up?

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Thoughts on the pilot: Warehouse 13

The measure I use to determine whether or not I like a TV show on Sci Fi The Syphilis Channel is usually pretty simple. Do I want to watch it?

When I saw the pilot for Eureka I not only sat riveted through the whole thing, but I eagerly awaited the next episode, but I could even finish the pilot for Sanctuary. I always watch all the Syfy pilots, though.

Do we really have to start calling that? SYFY? It looks and sounds retarded and to be honest I'm not saying "Sigh-Fi" I am saying "Siffy" whenever I see it. Plus it's just silly. Changing the name is not going to suddenly change the demographic. Perhaps they could try Cartoon Network's new strategy of replacing cartoons with reality TV. It's MTV model: once you establish a name for yourself, completely change what you are so that you can alienate your existing fan base in favor of a hipper, richer fan base.

But whatever.

Warehouse 13 wasn't too bad a pilot, but it wasn't spectacular either. It past the test where I keep watching because I made it all the way to the end of the 2-hour pilot, but it didn't exactly impress me. And I think the main reason I stayed was Saul Rubinek. I love that he is a chubby nerdy man who gets plenty of opportunity for physical comedy, yet he plays every seen straight. He comes across as serious and knowledgeable instead of silly and dumb, which would be very easy for a man with his appearance to pull off. I enjoyed his scenes in this show the most.

The biggest problem with the pilot is it has embraced cliches that didn't used to be cliches. The story is about two Secret Service agents who are pulled from presidential protection detail to search the world for weird shit and lock it up in a warehouse until somebody figures out what to do with it. Sort of like a campy Friday the 13th - the TV show, not the movie. Remember that show? I loooved that show as a kid. So creepy.

I imagine the idea for this probably came from watching Raiders. At the end they shove the Ark of the Covenant in a box and stick in a warehouse. What would it be like to work in that warehouse? The answer is this show. Kind of.

Anyhow, the male Secret Service agent, Pete, is the goofy one who just wants to have a good time. The female Secret Service agent, Myka, is the serious nonbeliever who just wants to get back to protecting the president. That was original once, that idea of the girl being the serious one while the man is the goofy one. Then the X-Files came along. Then shows like Bones. Now I think having the girl be the goofy one and the man be the serious one is the new original way to play it.

Spoiler warning for the pilot.

Plus the plot of the episode was kind of silly. In the end the bad guy was a hair comb that took over older women and made them use the comb to make frat boys into mindless drones that do her bidding. As if it takes a magic comb to make that happen. And when it's time to take the old lady out, Pete shoots his partner with the electric shock gun instead of taking out the old lady who's using comb-mind control on all the people.

Oh and when the two professional Secret Service agents sit in a room questioning a suspect and he goes batshit crazy and attacks them, they cower together in the corner until the local Sheriff rescues them. These are two people who used to protect the President. I think I know why they were transferred to South Dakota.

The show is not lacking in potential but it's got a long way to go before it will actually be good.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A pep talk to myself

Now that classes have settled and the school year is underway I can get back to the business of screenwriting. I'm twiddling my thumbs a bit with Not Dead Yet. I'm waiting for the Nicholl results before I follow up on people who are reading my script because I think it's a big plus if I can say, "Hey have you read it yet? In case you're interested, the script just advanced to the quarterfinals in the Nicholl Fellowship."

And if I don't advance, I'll just pretend there's no such thing. But I figure if I can tell them that a script they already have may be a Nicholl finalist, they might get around to reading it faster. One of those guys has had it for 5 months, and this is a guy who has always gotten back to me in the past so I'm thinking it's still in a pile somewhere, not that he just didn't like it.

I'm having some trouble with the current script. That usual doubt is creeping up. The A story is perfectly fine and I feel confident about my love story and my fight scenes, but this one plot element has been bugging me. I've changed it three times and I'm still not happy. What's bothering me is the reason for the main couple to spend time with each other. Partly because this is a historical fiction story about a time I didn't live through so I feel scared I'm going to write an impossible scenario.

Yeah, I know. I need to relax about it. I had no trouble whatsoever inventing ways for zombies to die, but I lose sleep over whether or not my couple should open a school together or just go around together to talk to parents. Both of those things sound horribly boring given this is a martial arts film.

It doesn't help that Next Idea has almost fully formed in my head. I got this idea for a low budget Sci Fi thing a la Primer but faster paced and with more gunfire and it's all I can think about at night. But back when, this Burn Side script was the only thing I could think about. So if I abandon it because I'm too paranoid of fucking up historical accuracy, I'm just going to move on to a movie I'll end up abandoning because I'm afraid of fucking up scientific accuracy. At some point I have to draw a line.

I will finish this script. Then I will give it to my mom to read because she is an expert in the period I have chosen and I will say to her, Mom is this accurate? And if she says no then she can help me fix it. And if she says yes then I will shut my brain off and go with it.

But I have to get moving. I'm serious this time.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Thoughts on the film: The Hurt Locker

I always liked Kathryn Bigelow. Point Break is of course a classic action film, although most of her other films I never really got into. But it's terrific to see a woman making movies with balls.

The Hurt Locker is without doubt her best film. Of course she owes a lot of that to screenwriter Mark Boal, who created a beautiful little story based on his experience as an embedded reporter in Iraq. This is real life stuff, not the imaginings of someone on the outside, but it's directed by a woman who knows how to blow stuff up with subtext.

I just find it fascinating that she manages to create so much masculinity in her films. There is a scene in The Hurt Locker where these three guys are in a room beating the crap out of each other for fun, which is something only men ever do, and yet it felt completely real.

But some of the best work in this film is right up front. The film opens as three bomb techs attempt to disarm a bomb in the middle of and Iraqi street. The whole scene you just know something's going to explode and someone's going to die and you spend the whole time waiting for it to happen. So from the opening scene you are already tense and concerned for these guys, and you never really lose that.

The opening scene also concludes with a surprising event that makes you realize this is not a normal Hollywood film, which ups the stakes because you just never know who's going to die or whether or not the heroes will save the day.

Technically, this film breaks a lot of rules we're all told never to break. There's a point-of-view shift - in fact, you're not entirely sure who the protagonist is through some parts of this film. The unknown actors get all the big parts. There isn't a set goal other than survival, which is really difficult to use to propel a film. They overcame that problem with the ticking clock - every so often on the screen you will see how many days the boys have left in country, so you're constantly reminded that they just need to live through the day. That's the goal.

Despite this, the film is just plain terrific. Three of us entered the theater. Three of us came out in solid agreement that this was a poignant and entertaining movie. One of my friends even said "Until I saw the credit at the end I would have sworn one hundred percent that a man directed this movie."

I was tense the entire film. Sometimes bombs go off, sometimes they don't. It's a recipe for constant edge-of-your-seat moments. And the characters, oh they are glorious. They are established quickly and clearly with little moments that take seconds but say volumes. I honestly can't think of anything in this movie to complain about.

So Kathryn Bigelow, if by any chance you ever want to direct a zombie action film with some cool explosions in it, you go ahead and you call me. You can be my director any time.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Guys and Girls

This one time in my teenage years I went to see a movie in the theater and right before the previews there was a commercial for Navy Seals. And I was like Oh My God I want to do that. Fucking Navy Seals, man! Holy shit! Yeah! I'm gonna join the Navy Seals!

And then I remembered.

You know what I'm talking about. Come on.

I'm a girl.

It sort of hit me right then. There is something I'm not allowed to do. No matter how hard I work or how much I want it, I could not ever be a Navy Seal.

I don't actually want to be a Navy Seal. As cool as Charlie Sheen looks, that is not the job for me, but that doesn't change the moment of absolute shock to my system I felt when I realized that my lack of penis prevented me from doing something.

It's not anybody's fault, really. This is a man vs nature issue. Demi Moore aside, no woman has ever been a Seal and most likely no woman ever will. It doesn't matter how strong and aggressive and bald we are, we cannot physically handle the cold water. That's it. Capillaries.

Now I'm not a throw-your-bra-in-the-fire-and-stop-shaving feminist, but I do get pretty indignant when I feel like I'm not allowed to do something because I'm a woman. But in screenwriting, it feels like we're so far at the back of the bus we can't even see the driver.

Remember Shannon Faulkner? She made that fuss about getting into VMI and then refused to shave her head. That bitch pissed me the fuck off. "Oh I just want to be equal! Just treat me like everybody else except OMG my hair!"

And then she quit because she was too fat to do the cardio workouts.

Thanks, bitch. Now every sexist asshole who likes to call woman raggy weaklings just got more proof that he's right.

This has made me rethink Diablo Cody. I'm mixed up on that. How many other female screenwriters can you name? Susanna Grant?

Okay now how many female screenwriters can the average person name?

Just one.

Then again, most people can't name a male screenwriter either.

So in a way, Diablo Cody did something awesome for us. She got some attention. She made people remember that somebody writes this shit. But she did it by gaining attention as stripper. And yet, if I have to use my cleavage to get attention at a party, I'll do it in a heartbeat. So am I so much better than her?

I'm conflicted.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm overreacting, but then I think about when I go in for a pitch meeting, is the fact that I'm a girl going to hurt me? If I go in there and start talking about explosions, are the studio execs going to assume that dude with the penis can write better explosions than I can? Is this gonna be the goddamn Navy Seals all over again?

I always thought being a girl was an advantage. It sets me apart, after all. But then that may just be my naive self talking, the one that thinks everybody likes girls who like explosions, the one that doesn't really see a big difference in capability between a guy and a girl.

I dunno. What do you think?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Why I don't do horror

The other day when I was winding down the school year and showing movies a kid asked why I never bring scary movies. I pointed her to Shaun of the Dead and she gave me a disappointed look. "That's not scary," she said.

And okay, she has a point. Besides my undying love for zombies, I really don't enjoy horror movies at all. I'm too empathetic.

I think with horror movies if you have empathy, you enjoy the scares. If you can shut your empathy off, you enjoy the gore. When I watch a gory movie I am entirely too grossed out to enjoy it and it gives me bad dreams. I probably saw Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night Two like 15 years ago, but I still remember this one scene where this girl went to hide in a locker and Mary Lou squeezed the locker until it crushed the girl and flesh colored ooze came out. Despite the completely illogical appearance of the ooze, I still have icky feelings about that scene.

And torture porn REALLY grosses me out. All that Eli Roth stuff, I can't watch it. I'm too busy thinking about how painful it is to enjoy it. I'm not entirely sure what exactly you're supposed to enjoy there. Are you supposed to be scared for the person getting tortured? Because I am the first person to feel for the protagonist, but I'm too grossed out to even be scared.

I do like movies that use suspense instead of gore. I watched Jeepers Creepers the other night for the first time, and although the ending became sort of silly and the story could have used some work, there were moments when I was clutching my pillow yelling "Just drive the goddamn car, you fucking retard! GOOOOOOOOO!" because I was trying to get away from the scary flying man.

And then when they explained what he was I was like oh.

The point is, I can watch a movie that's actually scary. I cannot watch a movie that's disgusting.

The exception is most zombie movies.

Okay, so I still can't really watch Resident Evil because there's a definite gross-out factor there, and because any kind of laser cutting people into bits really disturbs me. My ex made me close my eyes for the first five minutes of Ghost Ship because everybody gets sliced in half with a thing. And Cube can go suck a dick. I have never gotten over that stupid fucking asshole of a movie. And I will never forgive it for the hurt it has caused me. But the point is, with most zombie movies it's the zombies getting the grossest hits and they're not human anymore, and also the blood usually looks really fake.

This one time a friend of mine asked me to read his screenplay and it was basically Hostel, only in his movie somebody slid down a slide of razor blades into a pool of alcohol. Why the fuck would anyone enjoy watching that? I almost retched while reading it. I like my scares without vomit, please.