Thursday, April 28, 2011

Don't take our soap

A brief political interlude as I link you to a well-said rant about school budgets.

The legislature in this state has a choice to make about how much we want to invest in our education. Right now they are dead set on the wrong path.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The future of television

There's a new show on Spike TV called Repo Games. Your car is about to be repossessed, so the repo guy shows up and asks you a bunch of trivia questions, and if you get them right you get to keep your car. If you get them wrong you lose your car. It turns out, a lot of people who get to this point in their lives don't know a lot of trivia.

This is the first stage of events that will lead to The Running Man. I mean, how big a step is it from making people answer questions about literature to keep their cars from making people run as a guy covered in Christmas tree lights tries to cut them in half with a chain saw?

Then there's the duo of Tosh.0 and Web Soup, shows that play ridiculous web videos. Web Soup especially is one nut shot video from being Ow My Balls!

If you don't know what The Running Man is, watch more '80s movies starring Arnold. If you don't know what Ow My Balls! is, watch Idiocracy. Because every time I think about the friends I have who don't want to have kids and people like Octomom I get scared.

But then I watch Ow My Balls! and The Repo Man and I feel better. Sometimes you just have to wait for the future to get here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Top Shot and the evolution of George

You guys watch Top Shot? Beefcake's big into guns so we've been watching that for the past two seasons. It's this show on History where military guys, rednecks and the occasional golf pro compete to see who's the best marksman.

I don't really care about the guns - I'm more interested in the political dynamics between the competitors. This season there was this golf pro who had the stupidest stance every single time he went up to shoot something, but won over and over again, much to the chagrin of every other shooter in the competition. He was really annoying but damn if he wasn't a fucking savant with a weapon.

The host is annoying as fuck. He never shuts up and his teeth are like creepy white goblins that threaten to leap out between his tiny lips and chomp their way across my living room. But anyway.

What really interested me this season was George. George is a sniper instructor and a douche. He uses words like "failboat" with wild abandon and constantly talks about how awesome he is at everything. Beefcake and I regularly groaned at the television when he went on one of his bragging tirades. He was a great villain after the golf guy started proving that he knew how to shoot and everybody started picking on him. George is a great shooter and he knows it. You'll rarely find a better reality competition show villain than a guy who's really good at the talent at hand and knows it and won't shut up about it. You really want that guy to get his comeuppance.


Then in the final episode, we learned what everybody wanted to do with the money. One guy wanted to pay for his kid's final year in private school and the other guy wanted to send his kids to college. George wanted to buy $100,000 worth of guns. What a douche.

The guys started shooting. They got to pick the weapon and the target and the distance, and the guy who wanted to send his kids to college missed every shot. So up goes George. If George hits this shot, he goes to the final round and knocks the other guy out of competition. If George misses this shot, the other guy gets another chance at that $100 grand.

So George chooses a gun he knows the other guy can shoot, a HUGE target, and a short distance. And he misses.

George threw the competition.

And I thought, holy shit. I hated this guy. He was a selfish, egotistical prick. All he cared about was winning, and then suddenly after weeks of living with these honorable guys and becoming their friends, George learned that his ego could take a back seat to someone who needed the money more. George easily could have won the competition had he not thrown himself on the grenade.

It's one of the things I tell kids all the time when we talk about character development. Contrasts. All people have surprising elements about themselves that nobody would expect. Everyone is the opposite of himself, even if it's only in this one little area. Life proves that to be true all the time. Here's surprisingly honorable George.

It's like they wrote it that way. It's reality TV, so there's always the chance that they did, but I don't think so.  I think George grew a little bit that day. Sometimes reality shows try to force a story arc with music and editing. This story just unfolded all by itself. I thought that was cool.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Thoughts on the film: Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Saturday afternoon the Beefcake and I headed off to the Arclight Hollywood, one of the few theaters in the country that screened Morgan Spurlock's new Film, Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.

We got swag. As we handed the guy our tickets and he handed us two coupons ("The Greatest Coupon Ever Printed"), a sample packet of Seventh Generation laundry detergent and a full stick of Ban deodorant. Sweet. Now we don't have to go to the drug store after the movie.

I do love the Arclight when it's not packed, because you don't have to do the mad rush to get a good seat and you don't have to watch commercials, which is a bit ironic given the nature of the film we are about to watch.

If you haven't heard about this film yet, it's about Spurlock trying to get product placement in his movie about product placement. There are scenes in the movie where he talks about how those scenes will be in the movie.

The film itself is pretty funny. Morgan Spurlock's greatest gift is turning the camera on absurdity and laughing at it. The man had more fun with the idea of Main and Tail shampoo than I've ever seen anyone have with hair care products, and it made what could have been really dry material a blast to watch.

We all knew McDonald's wasn't healthy, but when we saw just how much damage an all-McDonald's diet did to Spurlock's body, I think we were all kind of amazed. That's a bit of what's missing here. We all know product placement exists, and we all know advertising is all around us. I didn't come out of this film feeling blown away by a new experience.

That's not to say there was nothing to learn here. Spurlock goes through the process from beginning to end - how you get those products in your film, the kind of sacrifices you have to make, the kind of ridiculous requests corporations make of the filmmakers. And it was horrifying to hear the story of the guy who bullied a director into product placement by threatening to cripple his production. There was a lot of really good stuff here, and again, it was fun to watch. Spurlock is nothing if not fun.

In the end, I'm not sure what we were supposed to learn, and maybe that's the point. Some documentaries are more about asking questions than drawing conclusions. This could be one of them. Beefcake and I came out debating what the point was. Everyone's a sell-out? Product placement is just a part of life that we should get used to? Horse shampoo is hilarious?

I don't know. Maybe I'm not supposed to.

So if Spurlock's goal was to make me have fun, laugh, and ponder product placement in the films I see, he has succeeded.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Writing in front of the TV

I have this friend - yeah you know who you are, buddy - who writes with the TV on. I thought that was pretty crazy - how can you not be completely distracted? But the last two days I've felt too sick to sit at a desk so I lounged on the sofa with the TV on and the computer in my lap.

Like a lot of writers, I like to watch films similar in tone to get in the right frame of mine, and sometimes I get inspired by a scene and stop what I'm doing to go write. This time I didn't stop watching, I just started writing.

First I watched Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? which was a big mistake because I got all serious and angsty in what was supposed to be a romantic action comedy.

Then I watched Romancing the Stone, and suddenly in the middle of it I got inspired to work on my opening scene some more, and right about the time Michael Douglas jumped into the water after the crocodile I cranked out my fifth page, this time in the correct tone.

Today I tried it again. I watched True Lies while I typed out six pages this time. It helps that I knew my opening shots really well, but it was interesting to try a new method of setup for my writing experience. I'm not saying I'll do it all the time, because I still like to focus and use music to inspire and I'd worry about being a little too inspired by whatever I'm watching, but every now and then it's good to make sure I can still write in the middle of - or in spite of - a big distraction.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My trip to the ER

I put my hand through a window last night. Stupid old 1947 windows - did you know that if you smash on them with your hand they break? Who designed this weak shit?

So I smash my hand through the glass and I yell "Oh my god!" and then I think maybe it's okay. I mean it really feels like I didn't hurt myself. Then I pull my hand back into the house and see the enormous gash on the inside of my wrist.

My neighbor yells out "Are you okay?"

And I reply with "No!" even though at first I wanted to say I was fine but realized that a normal person would not think this was fine. I grab a paper towel because those commercials always tell me paper towels are really strong and would probably soak up lots of blood.

My neighbor shows up and thank god she did because otherwise I would have been found a day later being eaten by my dogs after I passed out from blood loss over my computer as I googled emergency rooms. A year and a half I've been living here and I still have no idea where the hospitals are.

So my neighbor tries to call 911 and I'm like "Hell no. That's expensive!"

So she grabs her sweater, hands me a dish towel my future in-laws gave me as part of their big Christmas package - sorry, Rita - and we drive to the emergency room. I haven't been to an emergency room since my first year in college when I rode in the ambulance while my best friend struggled against alcohol poisoning in the back. That was the night I discovered ham and pineapple pizza, so maybe tonight will also have some kind of positive outcome.

There's a lady passed out over a couple of chairs and when they call her name she doesn't budge. At this point my hand finally starts to hurt. My neighbor fills out my forms and I try to sign them. The intake nurse vaguely glances at my wound - a giant gash right next to my vein and going in the correct direction for suicide, but she just tells me it will be a few hours. I wonder if I pass out will I be seen sooner? Everybody else in the ER is there for a stomach ache except the passed-out lady. I wonder if any of them have a surprise pregnancy and are in labor.

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is on the TV. Why am I not recording this on the DVR?

A security guard comes out and wakes up the passed-out lady. Her face is soaking wet and she can't walk. She barely knows her own name. Somebody had apparently dropped her off along with an empty pill bottle and then left.

The bleeding has stopped as long as I don't move my hand. The wound is really gross. I think I see nerves. I know what those look like because I saw 127 Hours in the theater.

A woman comes out of the ER shaking, miserable, like death. Everybody feels bad for her and my hand doesn't hurt so much. While her husband runs and gets the car we wonder what she must have been like before, because they're releasing her but she looks awful. Her husband picks her up and carries her to the car because she can't walk.

After about two and a half hours I finally see the doctor. The nurse asks me how I am and I say "I'm an idiot."

"How many times have you been in for stitches?"

"This is the first."

"I've had them twelve times. I'm an idiot."

Some nurse in the hallway is on the phone. "His mom dropped him off. She says he's hearing voices. I believe he is a danger to himself and others."

Then I start feeling pukey. I've been looking at this nasty gash for a while so I think it's the hospital smells that are getting to me. But I don't puke. I pull out my Nook and read Roots, which gives me the opportunity to tell the nurse how much I love my Nook.

I know it's one of the most basic things they do, but I am always impressed with doctors' ability to stitch with pliers. I can't even sew buttons with my hands.

My hand's all wrapped up and I go home and decide not to worry about all the blood or the busted window and just watch Tron Legacy. It's better than I expected it to be.

I also have a cold.

EDITED TO ADD: My neighbor just sent me the picture she took with her phone. Yes, I am in my pajamas.

Monday, April 18, 2011

John and the Terminator with Arnold's head

HBO is some shiesty little tricksters. They gave me HBO for free long enough to watch the pilot for Game of Thrones, which was really good, and reminded me that they also have True Blood and Entourage. So now I have HBO.

So I'm waiting until it's time to take my new puppy to meet the doctor for the first time and I turn on HBO, and they're showing Terminator Salvation. Now I posted about this movie when I saw it in the theater, but I neglected to mention one scene that to me epitomizes the flaws in this film.

At the end of the movie, when they're running around in the Terminator factory, John Connor gets knocked back by a door flying open, and behind that door stands Arnold (or a facsimile thereof), the original Terminator, the machine who once tried to kill John's mom. But all John ever knew of him was as a friend. The Arnold Terminator saved his life countless times and sacrificed himself for the greater good. If you pretend number 3 didn't exist, which is my preferred way of thinking, then the last time John saw his buddy he was giving the thumbs up on the way to his death. All for John.

So it's years later and John's in the middle of this big battle and he's very stressed out trying to find his dad who's not his dad yet, and suddenly there he is, the only father figure John ever knew. Hey, there would have been a cool theme to pursue given the whole John's about to be a dad and he's looking for his dad and then his dad is kind of fostering a little girl, but somehow that didn't seem like a theme.

Anyway, so John sees, for the first time in a decade or more, his best childhood friend. And John doesn't even take a fucking second to react. He just starts fighting.

What an opportunity that was. You've got this Terminator who hasn't even experienced all these things that John has, he doesn't know his fate, doesn't know this man he will save in the past, and here's someone who does know all the good and bad things he will do, all this history and yet not history between them, and not even a tiny fraction of it is explored.

Why'd they go through the trouble and expense of putting Arnold on that dude's body? Because it was cool. Because in his big moment, audiences would go Ooooooh cool! Not because it matter to the story AT ALL.

It could have mattered to the story. John would have known it wasn't his friend of course, but that doesn't mean he wouldn't need a second to process it, or have doubts, or think he should run instead of fight, because what if he kills the Terminator? The past will never happen. He will never be born, or maybe they'll send a different one that succeed in killing his mother. Maybe some part of this Terminator IS the hero he knew. After all, he never met the bad guy version. Maybe he thinks he can talk the Terminator into doing the right thing. Maybe....

But nope. All they do is fight. Then we move on.

Squandered potential.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Clockbusters movie game

Play this game. You look at three pictures and figure out what movie they remind you of.

I got 45 out of 50 and could not for the life of me figure out the other five movies.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Nice Girls Don't Kill Queries - round 1

Spring Break starts in a few hours and I am already there. I told the kids not to ask me any questions today because I'm too tired to answer.

While I wait for Nice Girls Don't Kill to work its way slowly up the small chain of connected people I know, I'm querying. I'm very picky with my queries and am thoroughly researching each name on my list. I'm only sending the script to people I'd like to work with, people who have both a positive personal reputation and a track record of producing results.

The fact that I was once repped is irrelevant.

Over the past two weeks I have emailed 19 reps. I don't like this number because I hate prime numbers, but I can't find a 20th person I like. I queried both the big guys and a few boutiques. Not WME though because that's just pointless.

So far I have been rejected flat out at Paradigm because they don't even read unsolicited material so don't waste your time.

About 15 minutes after I sent the email, I got a request from someone who recognized my name from brief and distant online encounters. That name recognition thing really matters. He didn't read my script, though. He sent it to an assistant, so we'll see if assistant sends it up the line.

Nothing yet from anybody else, but I didn't expect to hear back so soon anyway.

I will update my progress as results come in.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Turn in your best work

I keep seeing this same terrible advice pop up in various forms on the old web: You don't have to make your screenplay that great because producers and reps and actors will just change everything anyway.

That has got to be one of the dumbest attitudes you can have, yet plenty of people have it.

Let's say you're an agent at one of the big three. You're in your office, about to leave for the weekend and you're checking your email.

Come to think of it, agents don't really check their own email, do they?

Let's say you're an assistant to an agent at one of the big three. You're in your cubicle, about to leave for the weekend and you're checking your boss' email. There's like eight hundred thousand queries in there.

You see about a dozen that sound promising, so you say what the hell, let's read these little fuckers. Some of those will be high concept, but some will just have a neat voice or a clean writing style. You send away for the scripts. You read them over the weekend, praying to find one you want to send to your boss. Your boss' day is insanely busy and you know that if you send him a piece of crap he'll smash your head in with a hammer.

I've seen Swimming With Sharks so I feel like I'm an expert on how all this works.

Anyhow, you read a dozen scripts. You choose ONE to take to your boss, one writer you think will score jobs or spec sales for the company. Which one is it? The high concept script with poor execution? Maybe, if the idea is amazing and the writing is at least competent. The generic idea executed to perfection? Or the generic idea that's practically a first draft, thrown together in a few weeks and barely proofread?

Which writer would you want to work with? The one with the good ideas? The one who busts their ass to perfect every draft? Or the one who pumps out a shoddy draft and figures it's somebody else's job to make it good?

Use your brain.

So if you like, you can crank out shitty draft after shitty draft and keep throwing them at the wall, but you'll be competing with my best work. Good luck.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Query time

When I was first looking for a rep I was just excited when anybody wanted to read my material. I didn't care who they were - I'd have run after whatever rep came along. And lo and behold, the rep who came along was actually pretty well established.

But now I'm a little pickier. I ask more questions, do more research. I'm not blanketing the town with queries. I'm picking the dozen or so agents and managers I'd most like to work with, both in the majors and in boutiques.

Being with the majors would be great, but you end up a little forgotten. When your rep only has a handful of steadily working clients you're way more important than you are if your rep works for huge stars. So at this stage, I'm less about a flashy name and more about a track record of getting clients work.

Fortunately this time around I have friends who can pass my work on, but that still takes time, so in the meantime I'm sending out those good old fashioned queries. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


Okay I'm back. I had to finish the yearbook. We were a week and a half late, and we misspelled a shitload of names, but we turned the damn pages in. They look pretty good if you don't know how to spell.

Now I have to get caught up on the 30,000 papers that found their way into my grading pile while I put all my attention on the book, but then I can get back to writing. Spring Break is coming up and I plan to write during the day and grade at night. And some day, some distant magical day, I will take an actual break.

So my writing goal for the next week is to iron out all the kinks in my treatment until I know every major beat of the story. Then I can jump in and hopefully have a first draft ready to go by the time Summer vacation gets here, so I can spend the summer rewriting.

That's the plan.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Your own favorite lines

I'm on the hunt for a new rep, so to build my confidence today I'm thinking about awesome things I've written, things that made me giggle as soon as they came out of my brain, because even though I'm terribly insecure about my writing at times, I crack myself up during the first draft.

These are my two favorite lines of dialogue I've ever written:

1) "Nobody's leaving until we get what we came for, so take off your pants and fuck your girlfriend. Or fuck my girlfriend. Either way, somebody's getting fucked and you're going to fuck 'em."

2) "Hey I met like four new people yesterday and only killed one of them.  Percentagewise I'm in the black."

What's your favorite line you've ever written? Share time.