Thursday, March 31, 2011

How not to write a query letter

As almost a part two of yesterday's post, I bring you a query letter so horrible I did not believe it was real even though the poster of said letter swears it is.

Gaze upon its glory and be amazed. I bring you the query letter for Violet Thunder.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

How to make yourself look like an ass on the Internet

Yearbook is slowly making me insane. Our deadline was Monday, then Wednesday, now it will be a miracle if we finish it this week. The kids are busting their little butts, but there's only so much time. Personally I'm really working on an ulcer. On the upside, I figured out how to do something new in Photoshop today. I cheered so much, you'd think I won the Nicholl.

So I will share with you this while I still have my higher brain functions intact.

You may have already seen it because it's gone viral, but in case you haven't, here's a perfect example of how not to take criticism. Read the comments on this woman's book review:

Big Al's review of The Greek Seaman

And if that's not enough schadenfreude for you, check out her Amazon page.

On the one hand, she's gotten a lot of publicity about this, which has probably translated into sales to the curious. On the other hand, damn lady.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Something about music and opposites and Kurosawa

When I was in high school I sang in a band. We were pretty awesome with our ukulele solos, but this one time we played a show with a band called Roshomon. Now I'm not sure how a bunch of high school students knew that word, but it was the only way I knew that word until I was in my late twenties when I kept hearing about this movie that apparently took its title from that band those kids played in at my high school.

So I finally saw the film, and it was pretty cool, but then I saw Seven Samurai, and that was some good shit. Then I saw Ikiru and I was done. DONE, I say. Who knew a movie with no gun or sword battles at all would be the one to win me over?

Anyway, I love Kurosawa. LOVE. I inhaled his autbiography. My favorite part was the beginning, where he talked about how his teachers thought he was so dumb he was nigh unteachable, and lo, he turned out to be Kurosawa. I got a lot of cool things out of that book because he is, in the end, a great writer before he is anything else, but I'm going to talk about one thing in particular that I liked.

He said he realized one day that he needed musical queues as opposites. That if a character has a fight scene, you play music that is really serious and sad. I don't know - I'm paraphrasing and there's a dog in my lap so I'm not getting up to get the book to quote from it, but I liked that bit about opposites in music.

That doesn't mean you always have to have opposites, but I like when that happens. I always wanted to have a kickass action scene play over some ABBA. That's why I was so thrilled when Community did it. Anyway, I don't know where I'm going with this but fuck it.

I love Kurosawa, is my point.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

This week

Wednesday the school yearbook is due, so I'm hellabusy. I'm neglecting all my other classes - we're just watching whatever movie I can loosely attach to the curriculum or reading silently, and I haven't graded papers in weeks.

Fortunately my script is done for now, so I don't have any pages to work on this weekend, but I do want to complete the treatment for the new project. As is the case with so many scripts, I have no idea what to do with Act 2, but it will come to me.

In the meantime, I'm probably going to just post links to things I think are cool for the next few days.

I'm going to start with this: Shit My Students Write, where a teacher posts shit her students write. It's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nice Girls is on its way

After rewrite after rewrite, it was good to finally get a handful of micro notes last night.

A friend who helped brainstorm my latest script in its original form read the best version yesterday, then we hopped on chat so he could give me notes. I love doing notes via chat. He can ask questions, I can ask questions, and I can have the script open at the same time and fix the issues as he tells me about them. It's my favorite way to do notes. It only works if you're on minor fixes, though. Not so much when there's major story problems.

But I finished it, submitted to Nicholl and sent it to a couple of people who know people.

So now it's out in the world, making a name for itself. And I get to start thinking about the next thing.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Annie and Sally - Being Human's two different ghosts

I've been watching both versions of Being Human - the BBC version and the Syfy version - and I enjoy them both. What I especially appreciate is the way the American version has taken the story in a new direction instead of cloning the original. In some ways, I like the choices the American version has made better.

I do love Nina, though. Spunky little Nina.

Anyway, all that said, I have an issue with the ghost.

In the British version, Annie the ghost was murdered by her fiance. He was an abusive asshole who pushed her down the stairs, where she cracked her head open on the landing. Annie is the kind of woman who has deep insecurities, the kind of woman who is so afraid of being alone that she'll allow a man to treat her like crap because she thinks she's lucky to have him around. She demonstrates this in everything she does. Before she realized he killed her, she tried to follow her fiance around, thinking it was now her job to protect him. She takes care of everybody even in death, and in the current plotline she dotes on Mitchell - a vampire with a nasty past - because he saved her from a terrible fate.

In the American version, Sally the ghost was murdered by her fiance. He was an abusive asshole who pushed her down the stairs, where she cracked her head open on the landing. Sally is the kind of woman who always dreamed of traveling, regularly gave rants in her college classes about the stupidity of the state of marriage, takes no time at all to fall for a new ghost she ran into, and immediately gets angry and revengy when she finds out how she died. She's about as insecure as a bear.

I understand the desire to make an American woman strong and independent, but the kind of woman she is in this story is not the kind of woman who lets a man abuse her for very long. The British version is about a woman learning to balance her own independence with her desire to feel needed and desired. The American version is about a girl who is actually pretty together except for the whole dead thing, and she's just pissed off at the guy who killed her, but seems to be almost over it already.

I'm all for strong women, but not when they make no sense.

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Q&A with Michael Mann, or, what not to ask at a Q&A

Saturday night the Beefcake and I headed down to the Egyptian to watch a 25th anniversary screening of Manhunter, followed by a Q&A with Michael Mann.

So first, interesting things he said:

-He worked on the script for Heat for quite a while before he realized the final image of a dying man holding the hand of the man who shot him. Then he reverse engineered the script to make that happen.

-If there was one world he'd go back to, it would be Last of the Mohicans. He would never go back to something as dark as Manhunter if he can help it.

-During the final shootout in Manhunter, they had no money and no time, so Michael Mann held the camera himself, shot a sequence of the gunfight, then cut, burned a hole into Tom Noonan's shirt, then called action again. And that's how he shot it - like a low budget indie with himself as camera operator.

-Tom Noonan is a weird dude. Michael Mann said this: "Well, you know, he's from North Carolina, so...." What the fuck, Michael Mann?

So now, the real point to this post.

I have been to a lot of Q&As in my time since moving to Los Angeles, and I have heard some stupid fucking questions, but I have never heard questions as idiotic as the ones I heard at this screening. They were so bad, the entire audience was groaning, and we even joked with some guys on the way down Hollywood Boulevard as we made up additional stupid questions people could have asked.

And yet, for every stupid question, Mann answered with class and honesty. Often he just answered whatever good question he could create out of the stupid shit he was asked.

So now I present to you, my paraphrase of stupid questions asked of Michael Mann at the screening:

-You worked with Gong Li on a movie. How come people don't work with her more often? She's great. Also, I heard lots of the actors were afraid of shooting in real locations on that movie. Why?

The movie she's talking about is Miami Vice, but she didn't seem to know that. Michael Mann said Gong Li speaks no English, and the actors weren't afraid of the location shooting.

-I didn't understand that whole part of the movie when he figures out the label on the film canister and matched it with the label on the other canister. Can you explain that, because I didn't understand it. How did he make that conclusion?

The interviewer explained the scene to the guy. You had one opportunity to ask Michael Mann a question, and you ask him a clarifying question about a scene that made perfect sense to every other person in the room? Really, old man?

-The ending of this movie I've always found to be so cheesy. And the freeze frame - ugh. It's just so cheesy and bad. Have you ever thought that?

Michael Mann responded that he's frequently retooled his films and rereleased them in different versions because he's never satisfied.

-Yesterday I overheard you talking once to Madeleine Stowe about a project. Was that a real conversation?

Yes it was a real conversation.

-Are you bitter about the success of Silence of the Lambs?


So here's what we can learn from this. When you go to a Q&A and you have a question, think about the following things: Are you the only person in the room who would have this question? Are you only talking so that you can let everybody in the room know something about you? Are you about to insult the person you're asking? Do you just have a bunch of statements that you are going to somehow remix into a question after you give a fucking speech about some bullshit? If you answered yes to any of the questions, shut the fuck up and let the grown ups talk.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

You should watch this trailer.

Possibly the most meta film ever, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, is coming soon. Morgan Spurlock is one cheeky bastard.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A scene from class about Anne d'Autriche

Every month I go to this workshop and we write stuff. Plus they give us breakfast.

Today the assignment was to become a character from history or literature who you know a lot about and do a bunch of assignments with that character. There were some pretty cool assignments, but the culminating task was to write either a eulogy or a scene from your character's life. Most people in the group write in prose, but since I do scripts I wrote mine as a script.

You may remember last month's bizarre scene. This one is taken from the life of one Anne of Austria, queen of France, on the night she and her husband finally knocked boots after years of awkwardly staring at each other from a distance.

Yes, my hero is Anne of Austria. Bet you didn't see that coming.

Anyway, here's the scene I wrote today:


In its most elegant hey day, filled with busy servants and elegant tapestries.


ANNE OF AUSTRIA, teenage queen of France, all blonde curls and smiles, laughs with her chief lady in waiting, MARIE DE ROHAN, in their bed clothes. Anne speaks her French with a thick Spanish accent, often forgetting words. Marie supplies those that are missing.


LOUIS XIII, teenage King of France, timid and pale, tries to read while his best friend and chief advisor, DUC DE LUYNES, paces back and forth through the room.


For God's sake, man, if she could climb into your lap and still maintain her considerable dignity she would. Her only job in this world is to make you a baby. Would you please go to the woman?

Louis throws down his book.


What do you have against literacy?


The woman is your wife. She beautiful, demure-




You don't need words to fuck the woman.


I don't... I can't...


Oh for God's sake.

He grabs Louis by the arm, yanks him out of his chair.

Duc De Luynes throws open the door, pulling Louis into the


Where servants start, not sure what they ought to offer the king in his bed clothes.

Luynes drags Louis down the hall.


I beg your pardon, sir! I am the king and I shan't-



A bodyguard moves to intervene. Duc De Luynes puts up a hand to stop him.


The king of France is off to make a baby! Do not stand in his way!

The guard backs off, amused.


Anne stares at herself in the mirror, pushing her breasts together.




Have you considered getting him drunk?


Is it my nose? Perhaps my nose is too round.


Your nose is beautiful. The man is an imbecile. My husband says-

The door flies open. Duc De Luynes SHOVES Louis into his wife's room.


Your Majesty, your husband the king would like to fuck you now. Ah, my dear wife, shall we?


What is "fuck"?


You'll find out, my lady.

She touches Anne on the cheek, then grabs Duc De Luyne's hand, bows and they exit together. He grabs her ass on the way out.

Louis and Anne stare at one another. Or rather, Louis stares at her breasts.


I am glad you have come.


I didn't... Luyne made me....




No, I mean... I find you very pretty, I just, I don't know if...

Anne stands up, glides toward him. A soft kiss on the cheek. He stands, frozen.



She pulls him to the bed. She puts her hand around his neck and pulls him in. A gentle kiss.

He backs up, stares at her. Eyes meeting for the first time since, maybe ever.

He grabs her, pulls her into him. He possesses her. Finally.


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The opening scene to Nice Girls

Yesterday Jabberwocky, who is apparently not named for my favorite poem, requested that I post the opening pages to Nice Girls Don't Kill. Never one to deny such a request, I have posted them.

. Like AT ALL. At this point the script is completed and being read around town, and I've already worked this scene a number of times. In fact, if you're on Done Deal you can find the thread where I workshopped this scene. Anyway, here's the final product:



It might as well be night, as evil as that sky is. The rain is POURING hard on the pavement in front of the library. Only one car in the parking lot.

A Jeep Cherokee pulls up.


Budget cuts have hit this place hard, but there's still a bank of five-year-old computers near the entrance.

YANCY, fifties, graying, well-worn bifocals, hums as he fiddles with a few cables at the back of one of the machines. Only one light is on in the empty room.

A fist BANGS on the door.

Yancy pops up. He can barely make out a small figure in the rain.

He motions to the sign posting the hours of operation.

The fist bangs again.

He stands up and walks to the door. He points to the sign.

The figure, now clearly identifiable as a GIRL wearing a backpack, makes a motion of pleading. She's drenched.

Yancy opens the door a crack.
I'm sorry, the library is closed on Mondays.
(Southern accent)
Please! Honey, can I just use the phone? Mine died, and my car...

He nods, waves her inside.

She shuffles inside where we get a good look at her.

LANA. A young 30 something, wet hair clinging to her face. Absurdly hot. You want to ask her out, but you're afraid she'll eat your head after she fucks you.

Yancy hands her his cell phone.
Here. If you-

Her phone rings. Warrant's "Cherry Pie." She ignores it.

She shoves his phone in her pocket.
This place is so quiet. I like it. Y'all still got that Dewey system?
Listen, miss, I don't have time to-
Oh I apologize, Yancy. How rude of me. I'm Lana.

She waves, bright smile.

He begins to hyperventillate.
You got that Child Called It? I heard that's a good book.
I didn't do it. Whatever it is, I swear. I'm not the one.
Joe thinks you got his money.
I don't! Oh God, that's not me! I told Carl!

He falls on the floor, grabs her leg and pleads. Lana tries to shake him off. This is uncomfortable.
Call Carl! Why would I tell him about missing money if I'm the one who stole it?
Please get off me, honey.

He clings even tighter.
Call Carl! Please!

She tries to shake him loose, to no avail.

She sighs, pulls a gun out and shoots him in the foot. He screams and lets go to nurse his injury.
Listen, honey. I'm a nice girl. I don't do that whole bamboo under the fingernail shit, but if you paw at me again I will shoot off your shriveled old Willy, put a knife in your gut and leave you to bleed to death. Are we clear?

He nods, weeping over his foot.
Ask Carl. I told Carl.
You tell anybody else?
I don't know... um.... I don't know!

Lana shoots him in the shin. He shouts. Her phone starts to ring again. "Cherry Pie."
NO! Only Carl! I don't have the money I swear!
I know, honey.

She shoots him in the head. Picks up the still ringing phone.
(into the phone)
Elliot how many fucking times have I told you not to call until the job's done?

She wipes Yancy's phone of fingerprints, tosses it on his body.
No, I didn't find the money. Idiot died first.

She searches his wallet. Pulls out a twenty.
I know. You think you know somebody, then they steal your shit. You gonna have my payday in the right box this time?
Don't get all huffy, honey, it's not my fault you're such a goddamn fuck-up.

She hangs up.

She dials a saved number.
(into the phone)
He's dead. You're in the clear.

She throws the phone down.

She looks at the body.
Let's rock and roll, honey.

She reaches into her backpack and pulls out a bottle of bleach.

She starts pouring it over the body.
(to the tune of "Cherry Pie")
She's my Cherry Pie. Motherfucker's dying and he don't know why.

Monday, March 14, 2011

What happened to my rep?

So some time ago I got repped. It was a glorious day. A day of Validation.

I don't suck! Somebody in an influential position thinks I can write! Yaaaay! And then I waited for success to roll in.

Manager was successful. If you've seen the Black List, you've heard of her clients. She read my zombie action script, liked me, started listing people she could get me in a room with. I was so excited I thought I'd pee my pants.

When we finally met in person, she said "What I like about you is that you write commercial scripts." I write things she can sell! They like it when you write things they can sell.

At the time I had a lot of garbage on my computer and this one good script. But Zombieland was coming down the pike so my script wasn't really as original as it was when I started working on it. It's also got a huge budget, so it's great for showing what I can do but not likely to sell outright.

Now, at the time, I had this good script, but not the most original idea, and now it seems like everybody and their mom has a zombie script in their collection. So I decided to write something truly original. I wrote a martial arts script that takes place during the Civil War and features a female Confederate sympathizer as the lead and includes an interracial sex scene. I was working on this script when I hooked up with Manager. I raced to get it done so I'd have something to show her.

So basically, the same day she told me how much she liked that I wrote commercial projects, I handed her the most impossible to sell project she's ever seen. NOBODY will buy this. And on top of that, it had weaknesses. In my rush to get the script to her, I didn't take the time I needed to perfect what was a VERY difficult script to pull off. Maybe if it had been genius it wouldn't have mattered that it was so risky, but it wasn't genius.

She got me a meeting that went well and landed me an unpaid project. At the time I was just glad to be in with a legitimate production company, so I didn't mind not getting paid. But the project fizzled and died over time.

I wrote another script, this time trying to make up for the unsellable scripts I had given her. I wrote a chase movie that never really worked. I sent it to her even though it wasn't ready. I was just in such a hurry to get some attention before my opportunity passed.

Mind you, Manager is at this point working for one of the major management firms in the city, managing careers of writers who make her money. And here I am, floundering, trying to impress her with subpar work. Because no matter how low I am on the totem pole, had I given her a brilliant script, she would have dropped everything and thrown me in front of every producer in town.

I realized at this point that I had jumped into the fray before I was ready. I realized that I'd kind of blown it, because now she had no motivation for reading my next script. I decided it was best to back off and start over with one brilliant project.

So I did. I told Manager that I appreciated everything, which I did, but I needed to work on my scripts for a while and seek out new representation when I'm ready.

That's why I've spent the last six months writing and rewriting and rewriting the project I've almost finished. I will not quit working on it until it's absolutely perfect. In the meantime, I made new friends and found myself in a position to hand my script to plenty of successful agents and managers. So in a few weeks when I have a perfect draft of Nice Girls Don't Kill, I will proudly pass it around, knowing that I now have the patience and skill to do what it takes to build a career.

So this is what I learned from that experience:
1) Do not do projects for free. Ever.
2) Do not send out a script you know isn't as good as it could possibly be.
3) Just having a manager is not enough. You have to make sure the projects you hand them are projects they can sell.
4) If you have a manager who doesn't call you, you do not have a manager.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I finished my scene finally

I have written and rewritten this current project so many times I'm starting to question every decision I make. I am now rewriting individual scenes dozens of times, trying to make everything absolutely perfect. I've never been a perfectionist before.

I should probably put the script away for a week or so and remember that I have a life, but I can't. I just can't. I am tinkering obsessively.

I moved up a scene where my male and female lead meet, so now they're not meeting at a post office where they can move around and interact with things around them; they're essentially meeting in a car. So I have to figure out a way to reveal necessary exposition while doing that whole - I kind of hate you but am also kind of attracted to you - thing, while also having my characters react appropriately to some serious shit that just went down, while also being funny in an absurd kind of way. It's a lot to ask out what is almost all dialogue.

In the end I spent about three days one what turned out to be a three page scene. I tried every permutation. At one point I had a gun go off, which made the driver swerve and crash the car.  I did this just to inject something interesting into what was becoming a really boring conversation and I hated it. In the end, I had to ramp up their reactions. They were way too calm about the whole thing, when one of my strengths in comedy is giving characters absurd situations and letting them react. Once again, I needed to stop thinking so much and let my brain do its thing.

In working that thought, I also realized that this guy would be afraid of her and would have his gun on her, and she'd be afraid of him and would have her gun on him. Before, he had his gun out but she was oddly calm because somehow she knew he wouldn't shoot her. She knew because I knew. Didn't work.

I had a scene where two people explained their exposition to each other. Now I have two people in a car who try to get information while each thinks the other one is trying to kill him/her.

That took three days but it was worth it.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Here I go again on this draft

Annnnnnd it looks like I have to rethink the whole thing again.

Got new notes. Notes said the script isn't working. Characters are interesting, voice is ever present, motivation is off. Why do these characters do these things?

I keep getting this same note and I keep sitting down, addressing the note, handing it back in and getting that note again. So clearly I need more than just a simple fix. Something at the core of the script is not working.

In years past I would have abandoned the script and tried again, and there are still scripts - one as recent as last year - that I abandoned for that reason. But I love these characters and think this story has tons of potential, so I'm going to do another round of massive changes to the first half of the script. I think the second half is working for the most part, but because my first half isn't strong enough people aren't buying how things turn out.

Michael Arndt said he wrote Little Miss Sunshine in three days, and spent a year rewriting it. I remember when I first heard that thinking that sounded ridiculous. I couldn't imagine spending that much time reworking one script.

I can now. It's annoying.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Get busy rewriting or get busy dying

I haven't abandoned this blog, I've just been so insanely busy with my day job I haven't had time to post every day.

There's also not that much going on with my writing other than writing. I've been spending my time working this script and working it and working it and working it. I'm waiting for notes on draft five at the moment. Then I'll do another draft, get another set of notes from a group of brutal note givers, do one more draft and be done. So altogether that's 7 drafts before I even hand it to anyone who can do anything with it.

This may seem excessive, but I've learned over the years that I may only get one chance to impress somebody, so I'm going to write the best damn script I possibly can.

I keep imagining Jennifer Garner reading my script to see if she wants to play my villain, so I'm also writing to impress her.

Of course I'd love it to be done and out and getting passed around town, and I'm tired of rewriting, but I'm more tired of not having a screenwriting career. This script is miles above anything I've done and the difficulty level is high. I know a few people who've come up with an idea like mine and abandoned it because they couldn't make it work. If I can pull this off I'll be in like Flynn.

So here we go. Draft 6.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Please vote for kids when the time comes

I don't talk politics often, but I can't let this one go without a word.

This is for California residents, but anybody else is free to read as they desire.

In a few months you will be asked to vote on our tax rate. This vote is a simple choice. If we vote to keep up our taxes, our school system will only be half as in the red as we will be if we decide to lower our taxes we will cripple our school system. It is that simple.

We have had an outbreak lately of kids getting high and dealing drugs on campus because we had to layoff half our security guards. If a computer breaks, we don't have anyone to fix it. I paid $100 a couple of weeks ago to repair a school computer. Some of my friends are sending me boxes of Post-its because I ran out and the school has no more to give me.

Don't get me wrong, I like my job. I love these kids and I will teach them what they need to know if I have to paint on the white board in ink made from my own blood. But every year since these layoffs started it's gotten more and more difficult to get by.

This time our losses will come mostly from elementary schools. Thirty-one kids per teacher, is what we will have. In ELEMENTARY school. Imagine how much less education they're getting. I cringe to think of how far behind those kids will be by the time they get to us.

We're not allowed to order new textbooks. Summer school has been canceled for anyone but seniors and juniors. We may have to close down our school library for most of the week. I have no idea what will happen to our arts programs, because thus far we've been lucky enough to still have music and art and drama, but electives are no doubt on the chopping block. We already lost all of our health classes.

I'm going to post this again when the time comes to vote, but I just want to give you guys a heads up. I know we all want more money these days. We don't want to pay any more taxes. But the truth is, if we don't agree to this tax increase our kids WILL suffer.

This isn't about my salary or my job. I'm not going to be laid off and I'm not losing money no matter what happens. This isn't about unions or politicians or NCLB or whatever red herring people want to throw out there. This is about our kids. Please do not let them down for a few extra bucks.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

GITS Interviews John Swetnam

GITS has a great interview with John Swetnam, writer of Evidence, today. It's good stuff. John is not lying about feedback - I have never known anybody who loved notes more than that dude, both giving and receiving. He works his ass off.

The part of the interview I think is most significant:

We think we're ready before we are. If you think you're ready to send out your script, you're not. If you think it's good enough, it's not. YOU ARE NOT READY. Spend less time worrying about agents, and gatekeepers, and all the other BS and just focus on the writing.

Check it out. It's good stuff.