Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Thoughts on the film: Colombiana

Tomorrow we have a guy coming over to start some renovating at the house, so for the next few days I have to hang out and observe the proceedings. Then school starts again. So today was my last day of real vacation freedom where I can drive around town on a week day and do stuff.

Every vacation I like to take myself on a daytime date. I dress nice and go see a movie alone, then apparently I take myself grocery shopping because I am a practical date. I almost got through the whole summer without seeing a movie alone, so I rectified that this morning.

There's a theater in North Hollywood - Century 8 - where there is plenty of parking, it never sells out, and tickets are cheap. The line is rarely longer than 4 people and the first showing of the day is $5.25.

This morning I got dressed in nice clothes and went to the 11am screening of Colombiana. There were 3 men scattered throughout the theater, so I sat in the prime spot in the middle.

The up side of seeing a movie at 11 on a Tuesday morning - you sit wherever you want. The down side - the other people in the theater may be crazy. Then again, they may think I'm crazy since I switched seats like eight times. I feel that if you've got the entire theater to choose from, you have every right to demand perfection in your seats. You also have every right to take off your high heels and put your feet on the seat in front of you.

Anyhow, there was a movie.

This was pretty obviously a Luc Besson film. He cowrote and produced it, and even though he didn't direct it, his stamp was all over it. Great action scenes - particularly the big bathroom fight at the end, although I wish there were fewer cuts - some great character moments from the protagonist, a fun story. BUT there are ridiculous plot holes.


Young Zoe Saldana's dad gives her a Maguffin chip that the bad guys want.  This chip is supposed to be her passport to America, and when the Americans see what's on it they flip out. We don't know what it is, but clearly it means the bad guys are fucked. They almost killed lil Zoe for it, and they did kill her dad for it, and it's cool enough to get her into America and lots of cash on the US government, so man, it must be really heavy.

Except when we see the bad guys again the chip seems to have affected them not at all. In fact, their lives are better since they chased that kid out of Colombia. So what the fuck was all that fuss over the goddamn chip?

And when Michael Vartan finds out his sex buddy is actually a badass assassin, he's like "You're super!" How about "What the fuck, you kill people? That's pretty fucked up!" You were fucking a professional assassin, Michael Vartan! You should be pissed she didn't tell you! She could have gotten your white ass killed! I'd be pissed, anyway. I'd get a really good security system installed in my house. And a dragon.


Overall I did enjoy the film. One of its best features is that her actions as a warrior made complete sense. She's a slim woman, and she used that to her advantage. She didn't run around getting in a bunch of fistfights with large men and win. And when she did finally fight a guy hand to hand, it made complete sense.

Past revenge movies about women have seemed ridiculous; I don't really identify with the lead or believe her actions, but Zoe Saldana pulled it off perfectly. She pulled off some beautiful moments here where I really felt sympathy for her, and that ain't easy. I'm telling you guys, she is the next big thing.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Looking for reading suggestions

Unfortunately my vacation nears its end this week. Next week I have to go back to school. That means today, instead of writing, I worked on a pacing plan for the school year. It's actually shaping into a beautiful pacing plan.

As I went through our American lit book to determine which stories I want to cover this year, I noticed we are seriously lacking in two things: Civil War and Slavery. I checked our novel list - same thing. It's like we're intentionally ignoring stuff that makes us uncomfortable. How can you read about American lit and ignore the Civil War?

Yet last year I'm pretty sure I did exactly that. I usually don't do chronological order when planning, but this year we're linking English classes to science and history classes. In other words, I will have the same set of 11th graders as a specific history teacher and a specific science teacher. It's called a Cohort, and I am soooo happy we are doing this.

But history teachers usually work in chronological order, so I decided to plan my readings the same way this year.

So long story short, I need some recommendations. I can't teach Roots - way too long. I have a selection from Frederick Douglass and one brief and somewhat boring slave narrative in the book, but that's it. I'm looking for some good slave stories. The kids need to learn about this and they never really do. A lot of you guys are really well read. Anybody got any good suggestions?

And then there's the Civil War. I may anger some people with this confession, but I am not a fan of Stephen Crane. I'm already reading The Things They Carried for a war novel, so I'm looking more for short stories and poems and non-boring essays about The Civil War. Any suggestions for that?

This all needs to be 11th grade appropriate, so nothing as complex as something like a Lolita or a Catch 22.

I figured it can't hurt to get some input from the group.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Win tickets to Psycho at the cemetery!

UPDATE: Congratulations Captain Wow for winning these tickets by entering the contest! Captain Wow, please check your email! If you have no email from me, please email me and I will send you the tickets! Have fun! Thanks for playing!

Hey Los Angeles residents:

Ever been to the Cinespia movie screenings at the Hollywood Cemetery? Want to?

I have two tickets and a parking pass for Saturday night's cemetery screening of Psycho. Right after I bought them, I remembered a prior obligation. I can't go.

I don't want them to go to waste, so I'll make it a contest.

If you'd like two tickets to see Psycho at the cemetery and one parking permit, post a logline for your script in the comments. If only one person posts a logline, congrats! You win! If several people post, I'll give the tickets to the person with the logline I like best.

You have until 3pm Saturday.

Make sure you leave a way for me to  find your email or check back to see if you've won so you can send me your email address.

Do your research

Every now and then I'll get a query letter. Doesn't happen often - maybe three times a year - but it tells me something about the writer.

I have a website that lists me as a producer. At the time when I set the site up, I really intended to produce short films, starting with my own. I produced one film, did very little with it, then decided producing was not for me. I have plans to work on the website and retool it, but have been super lazy about it.

So the website sits there, mostly abandoned, but every now and then someone sees it and emails me their logline to see if I want to produce their screenplay.

This tells me something about the person who sent the query. I'm sure they're very excited and worked hard on their script, but they didn't do shit for research.

If you look me up on IMDB you'll see that my only credit thus far is as a zombie victim in a terrible web series. I had no lines. I walked down an alley, I got bit, I died. My other uncredited work includes voice over on an unfinished comedy short about colonoscopies, a murder suspect in a short film about an interrogation, and of course directing, writing and producing my own short film, Game Night. I don't look that great on paper.

This reminds me, I need to put Game Night up on Vimeo. I'm adding that to the list of things to do next week.

The point is, anybody can call themselves a producer. I'm a producer. I don't actually produce anything, but I'm a producer. But if I were producing things, they'd be my own projects, and maybe the projects of my friends. I'm a writer first and foremost. I don't even want to direct. So I definitely don't have the clout or the interest to develop something that comes to me through queries.

It wouldn't take much to find this out. A quick check on IMDB, a glance at the Tracking Board, a Google search. That's why I always assume the logline I get in these queries is probably a first script. You write your first script, you get super excited, you send it to EVERYONE, then you start learning the ropes. Then you discover how ridiculously ignorant you were in the beginning. We've all been there.

Everyone in this town exaggerates their accomplishments, and they all blow smoke up your ass. You have to learn to discern between the truth and the fluff.

So when you send your script to every producer ever in the history of producing, you run the risk of being scammed, or at least used. There are a ton of "agencies" and "production companies" that LOVE your work, but they need a little cash up front just to get this thing of the ground. Those are ALL scams, particularly the reps. Any agent or manager who asks for money up front is a fraud. They feed on the kind of desperate writers who don't do any research.

And there are producers who will give you a $1 option then tuck your script away, never to be seen again.

So please, everybody, look up the people you want to query. Find out everything you can about them. And if she, say, rewrites your logline and gives you a couple of good websites to check out so you can learn how the business works, don't take it personally. I'm only trying to help.

Thursday, August 25, 2011


When I came out to California I knew one person. It didn't take me long to make new friends, though, and eventually I went to every event I could get my hands on. I met new people all the time, industry people even.

One night a talent agent I'd talked to earlier tried to approach me at a party right at the moment I picked up a phone call from a then-friend who I now hate. Knowing he prevented me from connecting to a talent agent makes me hate him even more.

Anyway, I wasn't ready then. I had a couple of scripts under my belt, but they weren't good enough. I didn't know that. I don't regret moving here when I did, but I do wish I met people now the way I did then. I feel like I wasted a few opportunities on some not-ready scripts.

So last week I was invited to an alumni thing for my college. I miss home a bit, particularly the Southern accents, so I went. In the back of my mind I thought maybe there might be a producer or something.

There were no producers, but I had a grand old time. And toward the end one of the guests mentioned a successful producer who graduated from our school and lives out here. She knows him well.

Now I knew about this guy when I moved here but I never made contact. I was never sure what to say and didn't want to sound like a douchebag. "Hey, we went to the same school, what can you do for me?" No way. At least, not then. I did recently query Rough House pictures (all guys from North Carolina) with what basically amounted to "Hey I'm from North Carolina too. Read my shit."

The shame just sort of fades the longer you're out here.

Anyway, my mom went to the same school and was briefly in the theater department, so I mentioned this guy to her. Turns out he knew my dad really well. Why didn't she tell me that before? So now I'm going to email this guy and say hi. No expectations (I'm still trying not to be a douchebag), but it would be cool if he cold give me some professional advice, at least.

What's the worst thing he could say? "Your dad is an asshole. Never call me again." And I would sigh and go back to work.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Thoughts for the weekend

I'm going on a brief vacation out of town. You gotta get out of town at least once a year, I say.

I got to page 60 in my script, which was my goal. I didn't want to leave town until I had at least 60 pages. I also enjoyed these last few pages more than the rest, which hopefully means I can go back to the beginning and rewrite those pages to make them even stronger now that I have a clearer sense of the script's identity.

Things that have annoyed me on television lately:

I hate that Hughes Net commercial. I don't know if you guys get it where you are, but it comes on ALL THE TIME on my TV. Hughes Net is some kind of internet service provider, and their whole schtick is this idea that you may be in the middle of nowhere, but that doesn't mean you have to settle for dial-up internet! But I'm not in the middle of nowhere. I'm in the greater Los Angeles area. Nobody here is getting back to nature. Where do they think they're advertising? Drives me an unreasonable amount of bonkers.

Dear Colby on Top Shot, please stop smiling like the Joker. It creeps me out. You don't actually have to talk through your teeth.

I wish high school kids were played by people who look remotely like high school kids. When your high school junior has forehead wrinkles he is not believable as a teenager. I'm looking at you, tough slutty guy on Glee.

A thing that made me happy recently:

Fright Night was fun. The lead had forehead wrinkles and the high school scenes were a bit silly, but once things got going it was quite enjoyable. But by far the most joy to be had in that film was.....


...When David Tennant showed up. I was looking at this magic guy thinking, this dude is basically Russel Brand, so why didn't they just hire Russel Brand? Why hire this random actor guy? Who is this guy anyway? Seems familiar. And then he pulls off his wig and his facial hair and I squealed. I ADORE David Tennant in all forms. And he wasn't just a cameo, either. He was a liquored up leather-clad badass with a filthy mouth. He made that film way better than I expected it to be. I just wish I hadn't been tricked into watching it in 3D because the 3D was completely unecessary.

Have a good weekend, everybody.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Making your script stand out

My former manager told me once that she generally gets 10 queries a day. I know reps who get way more than that, and as you can imagine, most of them are terrible. It's not enough to have a good script, you have to let the person reading your query WANT to read that script. She could be reading 30 queries in a row at the end of a very long day - what makes yours jump out at her?

I have a lot of problems when I write, but this has not been one of them for a very long time. I'm good at getting read. Whether I live up to the read - that's a different issue.

I'm not above providing my own examples, so here's the logline for Nice Girls Don't Kill:  

When a meek and universally abused copy editor is mistaken for the professional killer she accidentally bumped off, she decides to take on this violent new identity until the killer turns out to be not so dead, and very pissed off.

This logline has served me very well. I wish they were all this easy to write, by the way. Usually it takes me ages to figure out the right logline, but this one just poured out. When I'm done sending out queries, I'll post my whole thing.

If you've never read this article by Christopher Lockhart on constructing the perfect logline, read it now. He says it better than I ever could.

Mainly, though, I was thinking about concept. Just yesterday a few writing colleagues were discussing the "hook" in your concept. One of the writers was expressing his frustration with figuring out what a hook is.

A hook is the thing that makes your script sound new - like something I'm going to enjoy as a reader.

One of the writers mentioned the Bourne series. There's been a million assassination movies, but here's one about an assassin with amnesia. And there's your hook.

Of course, you may remind everyone about The Long Kiss Goodnight, which had the same premise, except she also had a husband and kid so it was a slightly different hook.

So here's an example of a generic logline you see over and over:

When a former CIA agent is framed for murder, he must find the killer before he's the next one to end up dead.

I made that logline up, but it's based on a multitude of similar loglines I've seen over the years. We've seen this story. It's old news, and it's the same story half the screenwriters in town are telling.

When you see that logline, who do you picture as the protagonist? A white male, right? Maybe 30s, early 40s? In good health? Well educated? Trained in tactics?

Change some of that.

Three Days of the Condor was about a white man in his 30s in good health, educated, all that, except he was not remotely trained in tactics. The guy reads books for a living. There's your hook.

North by Northwest was about a guy who not only wasn't trained in tactics, but he wasn't trained in anything. He was an advertising exec, for heaven's sake.

Enemy of the State was about a black guy who wasn't trained in anything.

La Femme Nikita was about a female street criminal.

What if your protagonist was deaf? Gay? Fifteen? Ninety? An illegal immigrant? A dog?

Suddenly your story changes and bends and starts to develop a hook. What if your story takes place in an unusual location or during a major event? What if your antagonist is deaf or gay or fifteen or ninety?

You can take a generic idea and fiddle around with the details until what was a boring old idea turns into something any reader would like to see.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sometimes the characters know best

I had an interesting writing day. I have these two groomsmen at this wedding. Early in the script, the groom disappears. So today I had them walk out of the room to look for him, when it suddenly occurred to me, Hey, they're looking for him.

What I mean is, in the treatment and the outline and all my other notes, I kind of dismissed these guys. I said they were off looking for the groom and figured that got them out of the way so I could go on with my plot. But while I was writing their dialogue, I realized that they need a place to look, and that place had to be logical. They'd start with the groom's house. I know where this guy is, but they don't. Maybe they think he got cold feet and went home? That would be anyone's first assumption.

But somebody else is at his house right now, so if these guys go to the house they'll interact with the bad guys and OH MY GOD OF COURSE THEY GO TO THE HOUSE!

And then it all came together. I realized that by letting the characters decide what to do and following their logical behavior, they solved one of my other story problems. In fact, they gave me the perfect ending to my story, the ending that was right in front of my face the whole time.

That happens a lot when I'm writing. I just let a character decide where they're going to go and they fix a problem. I love when that happens.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Revising as I go

I know a lot of writers who all write in completely different ways, so any time I write a new project I try a new method I've heard somebody else uses. I figure it can't hurt to toy around with process and see what sticks.

Normally I tear through a first draft without stopping, then go back and revise in complete passes over the whole script. That's not working this time.

Action scenes are my thing, so when I write a script heavy on action I just race through those scenes, rarely doing any serious revisions after the initial burst of energy onto the page. This script, however, is light on action and much heavier on dialogue than anything I've ever written before. So my technique has had to adjust.

Dialogue's tough for me. I don't like to watch people standing around talking and I hate blatant exposition, so I'm never satisfied with my big dialogue scenes. I know a handful of writers who edit as they go, so I decided to try this. I've been writing, then revising, then writing, then revising. The bad news is that it's taking me longer than usual to get through the first draft, but the good news is that the first draft will be closer to something complete than it usually is.

I'm still deciding whether I like this method or not. I guess we'll see how it turns out.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Over the hump

Thank goodness I've finally passed the slump.

Whenever I start writing something, no matter how detailed the outline, I still feel like it's a piece of crap for a while. I usually know the opening scene cold, but after that I start fumbling around until things start to lock into place. In this case that came with some character work. I did my bios, but I also posted my first 3 pages on Done Deal and got some feedback that made me realize a couple of things.

Sometimes, stopping and examining everything in a new light really helps.

And now I'm over that annoying hump. For the first couple of weeks, I had to force myself to write, and I was lucky to eek out three pages in a day. Now I'll sit at the computer to check email, and I'll accidentally end up writing a page or two.

To get here, I just have to trust myself and my concept. I had a slump like this with Nice Girls too, and I love that script. And now I've gotten over the slump with the Wedding Dress script.

I feel pretty good. I think this thing's gonna kick ass.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

A note about posting

Obviously, I love to have anybody comment here on the blog. I like hearing different perspectives and discussion. But I do ask a couple of things.

Don't be a dick. You can disagree with people, me included, without making personal attacks.

And please choose an identity and stick with it. It's become pretty obvious that at least one person has made several comments under different names and thinks nobody will notice. I appreciate your opinion, but when you come back and post the same stuff over and over under a different name, it becomes spam, and spam gets deleted.

And people who just lurk and never say anything, never feel like you can't join the conversation. I'm just a girl blabbing on about her experiences and theories. No reason you can't join me.

For those who contribute regularly and always have cool stuff to say, I love you guys.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Time for bios

I totally believe in writing backstory and substantial character bios, but I can't seem to write them until I've delved into the story a bit. I write the plot ahead of time, but I like to discover the characters as I go. Eventually I'll hit a wall, and I need to stop everything and establish who the people are.

That was today. One of my characters learns that another character is not who she claims to be, so he asks the antagonist, "Who is she really?" and the antagonist says "She's my sister."

And I sat back in my chair and kind of went Huh. I had no idea they were related until it came out of his mouth, and once I knew that, their whole relationship brought on a new significance. It fit completely with everything they'd said to each other so far, but it was much cooler.

So the next scene I tried to have two characters talk but it didn't feel real. That's when I know I have to stop and do bios. I've had this breakthrough - that lets me develop something more fully, but I need to stop writing for a day or so and establish who these people are. Then I will go back through the 33 pages I've written and rewrite them to accommodate these new developments.

For some reason, this is the way that works best for me. Since I started doing these bios, I already realized some things that will make writing the rest of this story much easier, but these are things I never would have realized had I not started writing first. I don't think I would have realized the brother sister thing if I had planned it out first.

Writing is weird.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Cowboys and Aliens and all the plants

I finally got out to see Cowboys and Aliens this weekend. I enjoyed it. It wasn't great, but it was fun and action-packed and had all the major tropes of a good Western.

I had one major issue that jumped out as to why this was not a great movie: PLANTS.

A plant, in case any of you don't know the term, is when someone introduces an idea or object that will return in a later scene at an important moment. For example, if a character looks at an orange and take the time to put it in his pocket, that's a plant. Later in the, let's say, television episode, it will most likely come back into play.

Cowboys vs Aliens is loaded with plants. Way too many.


Although, one could say that all of these examples are spoiled the minute they're planted.

Plant #1: Doc shoots his gun
Sam Rockwell, the local doctor/bar owner, has never shot a gun. A preacher suggests he learn. He gets a hold of a rifle and shoots at some bottles but hits nary a one. In a later scene he tries to shoot some bottles again and still hits nary a one. Guess what happens in the final battle scene? Did you guess? Correct! He shoots an alien right on the button in a lovely moment of deus ex machina. It's so predictable, I just sort of shrugged when it happened.

Here's how that could be fixed. Let's say he's got this gun and he shoots the bottles, doesn't hit them. Okay, we've been introduced to the idea that he can't shoot, and now we expect him to learn. Instead of showing him shoot at bottles again to remind us of the plant, let's show him shooting at a person in a battle, maybe that final battle. Maybe he misses and misses, and finally he sets up that perfect shot and he just knows this one will hit and the music swells and - he misses. Aw, hell. then, he flips around and BAM! He hits! hooray! It's his big moment, but it's not so damn contrived.

Plant #2: The kid with the knife
Early on, Harrison Ford's character, Dolarhyde, sits around with this kid and makes a HUGE deal of giving the kid his knife. Then, in a later scene, Dolarhyde takes the knife back, explains its significance, then hands it back to the kid. So during the big battle scene, an alien chases the kid, backs him into a corner, and we're sitting there waiting.... and waiting.... and waiting for the kid to remember that he has the knife. We know he has the knife because we were reminded of it, and because we keep seeing it poke out from his belt. So it's a boring scene because we're just sitting around twirling our thumbs while we wait for the kid to figure out what we already know.

Remember that example with the orange I mentioned up top? Well, in David Tennant's first full episode as The Doctor, he woke up in a bathrobe and found an orange in his pocket. He made an offhand comment about it and shoved it back in his pocket. Then he did some stuff. At the end of the episode, an Alien came at him. He had no weapon, and his back was turned to the alien. He reached into his pocket, pulled out the orange, and threw it at a switch that made the alien fall off a cliff. THAT is how you do a plant. You mention it, let us forget about it, then pull it out just in time, so we go "Oh hell yeah I forgot about that!"

If Dolarhyde had loaned the kid the knife in a casual way, or the kid had stolen it, or found it, or we at least weren't reminded of its existence, we might have had a chance to forget about it.

Plant #3: Resolved arcs
Every single character in Cowboys and Aliens gets a resolved arc. They all have something to learn, and without exception, every single character learns it. Not everybody needs to have closure, and after a while it feels too contrived when each person gets their learning moment.

In the end, I felt like a lot worked in this film. Like I said, I enjoyed it, but I also felt like it was a little too neat, particularly for a Western.