Friday, December 06, 2013

My DVD Collection

All you see before you is Lilly's.
A few years ago, Beefcake and I went to visit his brother in Montana. Beefcake's brother is married to a collector of many items - Halloween buckets, plastic Christmas trees, Cookie Monster mugs, salt and pepper shakers, etc. Her mother is also a collector of Things. They were both there at the time, and I the only other woman in the house. At one point they were talking about their collections and one of them looked at me and asked "So what do you collect?"

I sort of shook my head. "Not anything that I can think of."

You'd think I just sprouted three heads. How could I not collect things? They were polite to me after that, but I could tell they knew they'd never be able to understand me.

But recently I came to realize that I lied a bit that day. I didn't know it at the time, but I am totally collector. I choose to keep my obsession simple, though. I collect movies.

Beefcake's favorite movie is Robocop. So one day he loaned Robocop out to someone, and then he no longer had a copy of Robocop. Months went by, and it was clear he would never get it back. So I asked him, "Don't you want another copy?"

He shrugged. Anytime he wanted to watch it, he could probably find it on TV or the Internet somewhere. Besides, he's seen it a million times.

This boggled my mind. How can you not want a copy of your favorite movie around all the time? So when I finally gave in and bought a Blu Ray player, Robocop was the first new purchase I made. He was pretty ambivalent about it. I guess that was more for my peace of mind than for his.

Since I became a professional dog walker, I've visited the living rooms of a lot of movie professionals and seen a lot of DVD collections, and though some of them make mine look puny, I still think I have a pretty strong showing.

I feel like if I love a movie, I need to possess it. What happens if I want to watch something for reference? What happens if it's 3am and I suddenly wake up with an overwhelming desire to watch an episode of Buffy? I need to have these things available, not in an unreliable streaming form, but in my grubby little hands.
Sometimes I think "There. That's it. That's the last one. I don't need anymore for a while." Then ten seconds later it's like "OOOOOOH Goonies is five dollars!" And the special features. Do not get me started on the special features. When I get a new disk, I go through everything in order until I have gleaned every second of information out of it. That's probably why I still have almost a dozen new disks I haven't even opened yet. By the time I finish one, especially if it's a TV season, I've already bought three more.

(While I was typing that last paragraph, I looked up Run Lola Run to see how much it would cost.)

I recently had to upgrade my storage system. For the longest time I was using an old Wal-Mart purchase I made when I was 19, alongside a more recent Ikea purchase. Like so:
Wibbly wobbly pain-in-the-assey.
As you can see here and in the picture up top, Lilly the dog has a bit of an empire built up in this location. Every time I wanted to get a DVD below the second shelf, I had to move her bed and the door to her crate in order to get to it. In this version, I also had the movies arranged in a very peculiar order.

I matched movies up by common features. So if you look closely, you can see that Blu Rays, boxed sets and foreign films are on the Ikea tower. I left that as it is because it was easier. But the rest of the DVDs are arranged like so:

Terminator is next to Commando is next to Total Recall is next to Conan is next to Predator. Obviously, those are all Arnold movies. And who do you think of next when you think of Arnold? Stallone, which is why Rambo is next. Then Rocky. Rocky is a movie about fighting, so Fight Club is next. And so on.

That shit got hellacomplicated after a while. Where do I put The Muppet Family Christmas? It's the only movie I have with Muppets in it. Farscape has puppets, but that's a TV series and a Blu Ray boxed set, so that will never work. These are the agonizing choices my organizational system forced upon me.

One thing I always found fascinating about doing it this way is that because it ended up mostly by genre, the action movies at the top are all dark colors. Can you tell where the comedies are?

Anyway, now it's alphabetical by TV or film.

Neatly organized into alphabetical piles by this stylish puppy.

But that doesn't solve the problem of display and storage. Our living room is a funny shape with huge windows, so there's not a lot of space for a DVD tower. I either needed something to mount in a limited space on the wall or something that would go under a window. After a long search that brought me nothing I liked, I decided to make shelves.

I have never done any woodworking before, but to hell with it. I made some measurements and went to Home Depot and bought some boards and then remembered that I drive a Mini. (I call it the Mini Tardis now.) So I took the top town and drove home with boards sticking out of my car.

Beefcake and Friendly Neighbor sawed the wood according to my marks. I drilled screws into it. After repeated assurances that I would not break the drill bit if I put all my weight on it, I broke the drill bit. I googled how to remove a broken drill bit. I removed the broken drill bit. I continued drilling. I made four acceptable shelves - three big ones and one small one.

I spray painted.

Then on Thanksgiving Day, while Mother-In-Law and I wrangled the kitchen, the Beefcake and his dad put my shelves on the wall. There was much cursing and throwing things.

Anyway, I'm pretty goddamn proud of myself. Once they were up, there was much high fiving. This is the end result:

Look upon us and be impressed!
The Beefcake was like "Now you have to stop buying DVDs because there's no more room." But I counted. There's room for at least six more.

Monday, October 21, 2013


In today's Screenwriter Carnival, I'm challenging my cohorts to think of one screenwriting myth they would love to correct.

My pick: Flashbacks.

New writers hear it all the time: Don't use your screenplay. It's the death knell. NEVER EVER DO IT OR YOU WILL BE DESTROYED.

Balderdash, I say.

As an action writer, I love to start things in medias res, which is a literary term for starting right in the middle of the action. I don't usually do that "Three weeks earlier" thing made popular by Alias, but I do like to skip the boring shit and start with guns ablazin. The downside of that is that at some point I'm going to have to fill in the story I skipped over in order to start here. Flashbacks are excellent in that capacity.

I didn't set out to use flashback in every screenplay, but it has happened. My last three specs have all used them because I had to.

And there's the trick, really. Use them if you have to. Use them if they give us something we can't get from the linear storyline. It takes skill and practice to use them right, and that's why new writers are told not to use them. If you don't know what you're doing, just don't do it.

So how do you use flashbacks correctly? Let's go to my favorite example, In Bruges.


The film starts off as a comedy. We don't know why Ray is in Bruges, but we know he did something stupid and now he's hiding out until the shit blows over. Ray is hilarious because he's an asshole, an asshole we can kind of relate to, but an asshole nonetheless.

Then, halfway through the film, we flash back to what Ray did. We learn that in the middle of completing a job he was paid to do, he also killed a little boy. And when we come out of that flashback, we're in a different film. Suddenly we realize that all this time, what we thought was funny asshole behavior was really Ray coping with what he did. And from this point on, the story is much more serious. We take his suicidal behavior not as a joke, but as a real possibility. We feel sad for him now, where before we felt humor.

That one flashback added information to our story. It told us something that completely changed our view of this world and our character. It changed the tone and the meaning of everything that had come before. Without that flashback, we'd be missing information.

So if you want to use flashbacks in your story, make them mean something. Make them more than just a cute little expositiony scene with information we could have gotten some other way. Make your flashback count for something. Make it necessary.

But don't go around your elbow to get to your thumb just because some guru somewhere said not to use flashbacks. Flashbacks can be awesome if you use them with care.

Participating blogs:
Red Right Hand

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where can I send my screenplay? Part three: The Revenge

I wrote this post in 2009 as a response to the many people who kept finding me through this search topic: "Where can I send my screenplay?"

A bit full of myself, yes, but also not wrong. And every so often someone still finds that post and makes a new comment about how I'm an asshole just trying to stop my competition from putting out their brilliant first screenplays.

In 2010, because of all the people who reacted angrily to my advice, I posted a follow-up here. Very few people seem to have read it. I'm now posting my follow-up to the follow-up, and if things go according to pattern, I will be the only person who ever reads this, and for years to come people will still be finding my old post and telling me what an idiot I am.

Here's the thing. If you just wrote your very first screenplay, do whatever the fuck you want. Want to query every agent in town? Knock yourself out. Want to take out an ad in Daily Variety or post your shit on Ebay for a minimum bid of a million dollars? Rock on, man. You do you.

That's my new, updated advice. Do whatever the hell you want. Results may vary and be incredibly demoralizing.

It's quite possible that your very first script you ever wrote is every bit as good as the scripts of people who have been studying the craft for years. Maybe you're a genius. Maybe your idea is something nobody on Earth has ever thought of, and as soon as agents read your script they will drop everything and call you up and fly you out to Hollywood and hold parties in your honor. Could happen.

It probably won't, but it could.

So here's what you waste when you query everyone about your brand new script: Time, mostly yours. In my original post I lamented the fact that I wasted a perfectly good read from an interested agent by sending her a script that wasn't ready, but in hindsight, it didn't really matter that much. When I had a script that WAS ready, there were agents who would read it. I don't even remember that original agent's name, and I very much doubt she remembers mine. So despite my frustration then, in the long term, the only thing sending out my first screenplay cost me was time.

It is an awesome feeling to finish your first screenplay. It's a big decision to go through with one, and a great achievement to have completed it, but no matter how hard you worked, odds are that it is not ready. Odds are that it will never be ready. It's not impossible, but if you want to become a great writer sooner rather than later, one of the skills you need to develop is the ability to assess your own talent level. That only comes with time and exposure to lots and lots of screenplays, plus a certain level of maturity.

I think back on all the time I spent querying my screenplay and googling how to send it out and looking up email addresses of agents and agonizing over why I didn't hear anything back - and I'm annoyed that I didn't spend that time working on my next script. Think how much faster I could have learned to write a great script if I'd spent more time practicing and less time auditioning before I was ready.

Things are already different from the way they were when I wrote my first screenplay. If I were a new writer today, I'd put my script up on the Black List site and use it to gauge where I am as a writer. If the script truly is an outlier, the Black List will tell you.

But I wouldn't query my first script. I probably wouldn't query my second script.

Speaking of my second script, I blew a chance with that one, too. I met an assistant at a successful management boutique, and he asked me to send him my script. This was a terrible script. I still cringe when I think of some of the mistakes I made. The first mistake was in shoving action sequences into the story where I thought I should have an action sequence instead of letting the story dictate the action. But anyway, I sent my script to this guy thinking it was really great, because in the beginning it's tough to gauge your abilities, and of course it got me nowhere. The guy was nice enough to send it to three different readers and forward me the feedback, which was unbelievably helpful, since back then it was very difficult to find anyone to give you genuinely useful feedback.

So that experience wasn't a total waste for me; it taught me a lot about what I was doing wrong. Still, if I had waited and sent that assistant a truly great script...

But in the end, my opportunity came.

Before you send your first screenplay out into the world, sit down and seriously analyze where you are as a writer.Think about your favorite screenplay. (If you have not read any screenplays, I can pretty much guarantee that your script sucks.) But think about that one great script. Try to imagine you are a film executive who doesn't know this new writer and has to judge him or her only by what is on the page. Is your script as good as that one?

When I saw the film In Bruges, I nearly cried from rage. That movie was so goddamn good that what had seemed like a good screenplay about zombies mere hours before I saw In Bruges now seemed like a stack of crap. I knew I was not as good as Martin McDonagh. I went home and sat down and refused to get off the computer until I was.

I've been sitting here quite a long time now. I may have become one with the chair.

Anyway, I guess my advice for new writers is to really think before sending their work into the world. Are you okay with wasting a little time? If someone does request your screenplay, do you feel like you're really ready to become a professional screenwriter? Do you think you're as good as your hero?

Actually that's a stupid fucking question. You're never going to think you're as good as your hero even if you are.

If you want to send your screenplay out, be prepared for disappointment. Know that the odds of success are extremely low. They're low anyway for any script. They're even lower for a first-timer. They're so low they're like the size of amoebas on fleas on rats.* So if you can accept those odds and want to send your script out anyway...

Post it to the Black List website.
Join IMDB Pro to find emails of agents and producers.
Join an online community like Done Deal Pro and make friends with people who can give you information about agents and managers.
Enter your script in the top tier contests like The Nicholl, TrackingB, or Austin.

And as always, NEVER EVER EVER pay anyone to represent you. Any manager or agent who charges you a fee or a deposit or any kind of up front cost is scamming you.

No matter what you choose to do with your first script, once you've made that decision, go get to work on your second. Then your third. Then keep going until one day, one of them is good enough to get to the right person at the right time.

Good luck. Please don't yell at me.

*I stole this line from the classic film Grease.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013


This week's Scribosphere Carnival post topic, brought to us by Red Right Hand:

How we each take criticism, or how we don't, who do we seek out to provide it, and what do we do with it once we have it, how we give it, or, you know...whatever.

When I get notes I have two possible responses. 

Response number 1: If there's a lot of notes and a whole lot of structural stuff to do, I'm like NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO FUCK YOUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU! This is impossible! I quit! I can't do this anymore! I'm never gonna be a writer ever! The world is ending! I want to just lie in bed all day and watch Doctor Who and eat cookies! There is no meaning to anything anymooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooore!

Pitching this fit is all part of my process. Beefcake is really good at quietly listening to me bitch and moan about the ridiculousness of life, the universe and everything, then go just as quietly back to his video game when I stop mid-sentence and run out of the room because I've figured out how to fix the problem I was bemoaning.

About three hours later you'll find me manic at my computer going "OH MY GOD THIS IS AMAZING!"

I'll probably have a draft two days later. Sometimes I hold onto it for a few days so everybody thinks I took longer. For some reason, when you work quickly, people don't think you've taken your work seriously. But I digress.

Response number 2: I only get a handful of notes with no major structural changes and only a few little adjustments to make. In that case I go right to my computer as soon as I can, put on my rewrite music and go to town.

Most of these notes come from my rep, who is amazing with notes. I often also send a draft to one person I trust, one of a few other screenwriters who are about at the same place in their careers as I am. I don't like multiple reads because of the way I like to leap into action immediately. But I don't use very many readers, and I never give it to someone I don't know. I get asked a lot, and a lot of times really well meaning people will offer to give me a read, but I just keep it to my tight circle because there's really no reason to step outside of it. I work in a very specific way: I get the notes, I make the changes.

After I've screamed and thrown things.

Other Participating blogs:
Shouting into the Wind
Jonathan Hardesty

Monday, September 30, 2013


Time for Scribosphere Carnival #2. A bunch of us have decided to post once a week on the same topic. This week's topic is brought to us by Jon, and it is about workflow. Jon gives us the following prompt:

WORKFLOW – Everybody has one, and none are the same. Inspired by a post from John August, you should explain where and when you write, what hardware you use, what software you use, and what you would change about how you write. Have at it!

I write at my desk, facing the wall. If I faced the window I'd spend hours just staring out at the bougainvillea. As it is, I already have difficulty not staring at the Gollum figurine on my book shelf. Here's a picture. I've added a couple of things since I took it, but not too much has changed:

The very first thing I did when we moved into the house was paint the walls in this room that awesome color. I wanted something soothing and pleasant while I wrote. Just be glad I didn't turn the camera around and show you Beefcake's side of the room. His desk looks like a hoarder's storage unit.

When I write, I put a Do Not Disturb tag on the door. It features Bon Jovi, mostly naked. The dogs do not respect this sign.

I prefer to write first thing in the morning. Most of my jobs take place in the afternoon, so when I'm writing I like to get up and eat breakfast while watching the news. Then I water the yard. Then I sit in front of the computer and get to work. I'm pretty regimented that way. I write until lunch, then I go walk some dogs.

That's my old computer in the picture. I had it for a very very long time, and eventually keys stopped working and I ran out of memory and I decided a new computer was in order, so now I have an HP laptop that works great and has a huge memory for all the crap I throw on it. I am swimming in software. For screenwriting, I use Movie Magic. Back when I was a school teacher, they offered a good education discount. They also have free tech support, unlike some other programs. There are a few things it doesn't do as well - side-by-side dialogue, for one - but overall, it's a solid program and I've always been happy with it.

For me, it's more important to have an inspirational writing space than anything. There's not much wall space in here, so I don't have room for all the posters I'd love to put up, but I do tape up quotes I like and reminders of good writing technique. When I'm working on a new script, I tape the character bios to the shelf in front of me so that I always remember what everyone wants in every scene. That's probably the most useful technique I've discovered in the last year or so.

So what would I change? Whatever I need to in order to write a better script. It's tough to say until I discover it. I'd love my own space on a shed on our property where I could go and feel like I have a real office to myself, but that's not feasible at the moment. In the meantime I just have to hide in here and throw Bon Jovi on the door handle and get to work after breakfast - and try not to spend too much time staring at Gollum.

Other participating blogs:
Red Right Hand

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Time Capsule

 Shawna Benson of Geekerati and Shouting into the Wind fame has started a thing. Ye olde scribosphere is going to participate in a weekly "carnival" of writing, starting this week. Somebody picks a topic and we all write our responses. I love nothing more than a group project, so of course I'm in. She may or may not have also bribed us with cookies.

So here's this week's topic:

TIME CAPSULE — This topic is actually a 3-parter. First, recount your journey in screenwriting up to this point in time.  Second, tell us where you are on your journey now.  Finally, for the really fun, creative part — blog as if it is one year from today.  What has the past year of your journey been like? What has changed? Be as realistic or not as you like — it’s your time capsule! One year from now, we will revisit our time capsules to see how we did with our predictions… Your post can be as long or as short as you like — the most important thing is to have fun with it!

I started writing stories in the womb to keep myself busy while I waited for Mom to shoot me out of her vagina. I was going to be a reporter who wrote novels on the side, but despite lots of school geared toward that purpose, I never did finish a novel, and I hated being a reporter. So I became a teacher. Then one day I read Bruce Campbell's If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor and I was like "Whoa. You mean people can just WRITE MOVIES? I'm fucking in."

Everybody said I had to move to Hollywood, so I moved to Hollywood and cranked out terrible scripts. I taught in a high school in South Central by day and wrote on the weekend. Then one day I wrote a script that was not terrible and I became a finalist in TrackingB. I got a manager at Circle of Confusion. I got agents at APA. I went wide. I wrote some more. I drank many bottles of meeting water.

I quit teaching, not because I had reps because that would be stupid, but because... well, I wrote about this already in part one and part two if you must know. I now walk dogs. Less money, but way less stress, and more time to write and hobnob with fancy Hollywood producers (call my agents!).

I've got more material about to go out soon and I am super excited because I love writing and meeting people and talking about movies. And I really want a house with a pool.

As for where I will be a year from now? Roll it:

Sept. 25, 2014

Dear Diary,

My huge studio assignment has just started production! I'm so excited. Today is the first day of shooting, and so far it looks like everything will be fantastic. It's amazing how great this experience has been and that everyone has listened to me and agreed with all my decisions. I am on set and ready for when they need new pages on the fly. Between this and the million dollar sale of my spec, the last year has been very good to me. After production wraps for the day, I'm heading up to Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner's house for a huge fancy party. I hope I still have time to go for a swim in my pool before I change into my BCBG dress. Also the web series I worked on is hugely successful. Also Emma Stone is my best friend. Also, cookies.

Gotta go! They need me on set! Thanks, Diary!

Love Always,

Emily Blake

Other Participating Blogs:
TV Calling
Red Right Hand
Jonathan Hardesty

Friday, September 20, 2013

Female characters are not just pieces of sushi

My fundraising drive is over, and although I still have a few scripts in my queue, I'm almost done giving notes for charity. Thanks to the contributions from so many writers, I was able to raise $2,570 for Angel City Pit Bulls, for which I am extremely grateful. I will do this again next year for sure.

I have given notes on a total of 31 scripts so far for 29 writers, and I think I have five left. If you are one of those five, fear not. I'm behind, but I should finish up next week.

Of those 29 writers, 26 of them were great about receiving their notes, which were from 4-6 pages in paragraph form and a bit blunt. I let everybody know I was going to be harsh because I am NOT a professional script reader and this is for charity, not my livelihood.

Writing really nice, polite notes takes time. It's much easier to just write down all the issues that jump out as I see them, and occasionally comment if something is really working and I want to see more of it. I always found something good to comment on, but I tended to get a little impatient and sarcastic whenever I saw the same problem crop up over and over. I thought people were gonna be all mad about that.

Instead, most writers laughed at my pointing out their consistent issues. Many of them said thank you and that I gave them lots to think about. Some followed up with questions, which I answered as best I could. Two writers enjoyed my notes so much they came back for more, which pleased me greatly.

One felt disappointed. I don't think I gave her exactly what she was looking for, which I regret, but what can you do? Two did not take kindly to my tone and argued the notes almost line by line.

So it was an interesting experience, and I learned a few things. Some of these scripts were quite good. One was so well written that I resorted to pointing out typos just so the writer would get something out of me. Some were terrible. Like, really really terrible. But not a single one was without promise.

There was one thing I noticed over and over that started as a mild annoyance, but was so common that I now consider it a full blown pet peeve:


 What does that mean, you may ask? Well, I am here to help, so I will demonstrate.

[scrippet]BOB ANDREWS, 42, is an old soul. His facial hair is peppered with white, and he stopped grooming it long ago. His cowboy boots never come off in public, and he only pulls a cigarette out of his mouth when he needs to make a point. Right now, he's making a good one.[/scrippet]

So the above is an example of the kind of description I commonly see for male characters. Vivid, detailed - maybe a bit TOO detailed - but interesting and filled with character.

In the same script, this is the kind of description I would frequently see for the female lead:

[scrippet]VIVIAN JAMES, 22, is stunningly beautiful.[/scrippet]

In other words, the male character gets all kinds of nifty details. The female character gets some version of good looking. Sometimes writers will say "gorgeous" or "pretty" and sometimes they'll even mention her hair color. They very rarely mention anything else about her.

This didn't happen one or two or three times. If I had to guess, out of 31 scripts I think I saw this happen about 20 times. And it wasn't just restricted to male writers; female writers did it too.

I'm not saying you can't describe your female lead as attractive. But look at the description of Bob Andrews again. You're picturing Josh Brolin, aren't you? Now look at Vivian's description. Who do you picture?  Victoria's Secret model? Megan Fox? Mila Kunis? Zoe Saldana? A fairy princess? Your little sister?

She's empty. With Bob up there - I never even mentioned how good he looks. If he's the lead and he fits the description, the casting agent will find you a good looking dude. And Vivian - if she's the female lead, the casting director will find you a good looking woman. So what else do we need to know? Is she all business? Is she a fashion plate? Is she wide-eyed and innocent? Does she have bad posture? Scary muscles? Is she lactating? Wobbling on her high heels? There are so many more interesting things you can do to give us a picture of this girl other than to tell us she looks good.

I know most of these writers did not do this on purpose, but it drives me batty nonetheless.

So I want everyone to go to your current script and check. How often do your female characters get introduced by nothing more than their looks? Remove the words "gorgeous" "pretty" "beautiful" and "stunning" from your intros unless her looks are actually plot relevant. Like, if your lead is a super model or a sex robot, or if she uses her looks to get what she wants, then it's okay. But if not, try to yank out that word. Instead, think of what else you can say about her. How can we picture her in our minds as more than just a pretty face?

Do it, or I will come after you with my angry sarcasm.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What is so interesting about Wonder Woman?

This image currently graces the wall of my home gym.

In case you missed it, this morning there was a pretty epic Twitter discussion about the validity of a Wonder Woman film. I would link to it, but there's not really anything to link to. I wish we had developed a hash tag. You should see my mentions feed, though. It's bananas. Shit got twittercrazy.

It began with a question that has been asked before in various ways by various people:

What is so interesting about Wonder Woman? Why does anyone want a Wonder Woman movie? Is it just because she's a woman?

So I'm going to give you my answer. I can't speak for everyone else who loves Wonder Woman; I can only speak for myself. Anyone with an opinion is welcome to chime in with a comment as long as you're not a dick about it.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I want the Wonder Woman job. I'm sure I'm not alone; I know of at least one other wonderful bitter writer who would probably shoot me and step over my corpse for the opportunity. I like to imagine that one day we will be meeting back to back with DC to give our pitches, and by the time the producer comes to collect us, he will open the door to find us beaten and bloody and exhausted on the floor, seconds from death, like in the War of the Roses. Winner take Wonder Woman.

But back to the question, which is "Why does anyone care about Wonder Woman?"

Well the obvious answer is: Why does anyone care about Batman or Superman or Iron Man or Green Lantern or Thor or Captain America or The Punisher or Jason Bourne or James Bond or Marty McFly or Sarah Connor or any character ever?

But I get the point. The point is, why her, specifically? Why do some people seem to need her so desperately in film form? Is it just because she's a woman?

Well, yes and no.

First of all, I'm going to talk about her as a character in general, not in any specific version. There have been too many reboots, too many different takes on her character to pick one on which to hang her entire story. I think a large part of that is because as the nature of feminism has changed, she has changed with it. Things that seemed really ahead of their time when she debuted seem completely outdated now. But there are aspects of her that have always been pretty consistent, and that's what I want to embrace.

First of all, the fact that she is a woman is absolutely relevant.

You remember the Power Puff Girls? I loved The Power Puff Girls. Bubbles was my favorite. My favorite episode was Equal Fights , about a female bank robber named Femme Fatale who only stole Susan B. Anthony dollars. The episode poked a little fun at feminism while at the same time embracing it. In one scene, as the girls are chasing Femme Fatale across the sky, she tries to convince them that girls should stick together. As proof that men have run the world for too long, she asks the girls to name a major female comic book superhero who is not just a male superhero's opposite or sidekick. They immediately name Wonder Woman. Then she asks them to name someone else. They hem and haw and in the end, they got nothin.

There is nobody else, not like her.

She brings something to the comic book table that none of the other big stars have - she is a woman. But she hasn't been taught that she's a woman; she's been taught that she's a person. She didn't grow up being told she was nothing but a sex object, or that her mission was to get married and make babies, or that she had to pretend to be stupid so boys would like her, or that there were jobs she'd never be able to do. For that alone, she's kind of a hero to the rest of us who did grow up with those ideas being thrown at us day after day. It is so awesome to see a strong woman who treats herself as a person just like a man would. She's a role model, because every woman should be so confident. When you've been beaten down and your confidence completely eroded by some sexist prick you were forced to deal with on the Metro or at work or at home or at the store or just about anywhere - you can look at a photo of Wonder Woman being a compete badass and pretend for just a second that you are her.

Isn't that what super heroes are about? Wish fulfillment?

But is the fact that Wonder Woman is a woman all that makes her interesting? Absolutely not.

Unlike Superman, Diana was an adult when she crossed the threshold into the unknown. She already knew who she was and what she believed in, so she had to adapt to a world completely unknown to her. I can't think of many other heroes who had that experience. Most of them were born here and turned into superheroes, and as I mentioned, Clark Kent came here as a child, so he was raised in the American way. But Diana has always been a little foreign to our culture.

She became an ambassador for her island so that she could use diplomacy to solve problems because the Amazons believe first and foremost in peace. Sure, they can kick your ass if they need to, but they'd really prefer it if you'd just be cool. They live on an island away from men so they don't have to deal with the bullshit the violent world offers.

But Diana rejects the isolation that island provides, instead choosing to help the violent world get its shit together. This isn't her world. She has no obligation to save it. She CHOOSES to stay because she wants to help bring peace to the world.

And she brings peace by beating the shit out of people who cause trouble. She is righteous, but that doesn't mean she can't be wrong. Because how hypocritical is that? She fights to maintain peace? That's a problem in her very mission, and one she must come to terms with if she wants to make the most out of her gifts.

I don't care about the lasso of truth or the invisible ship or the bustier (although seriously something has got to be done about that bathing suit. I don't care if you are an immortal goddess, you can't expect to fight anybody successfully in that thing.) or the tiara. She's got a great body. Of course she has a great body. She's genetically perfect. Plus she works out a lot.

But the body, the outfit, the props - those are just trappings. Wonder Woman is much more than that. And she means so much to so many women. I LOVED the Linda Carter show as a girl. She was cool, and she didn't take no crap from nobody. I needed that. We all needed that.

And we need Wonder Woman. It's okay if you're not interested in her story. I don't expect everyone to love Diana the way I do. I don't love (insert thing you love here) as much as you do, and that's okay too. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't exist.

I'm actually glad the studio hasn't thrown together some piece of crap Wonder Woman movie just to get it out of the way. I'd much rather they take their time, find the right writer (Me) and create the best possible story for her. But we do need that story. There is a great one in all that convoluted history. Even if I'm not the one to tell it, I hope someone great gets the chance to. Because I want to see her on that screen, just as important and ass kicking as all those boys.

It would be the ultimate chick flick.

Monday, August 12, 2013


A couple of years ago, I was in a fantastic writers group for a little while. It was 4-5 people at each meeting, and I learned more from that group than I can accurately express. We were all on the cusp of something, and luckily for me I was the least experienced member, which meant I got the most benefit. It was may favorite thing about Sundays.

But then one member of our group got a big break, and suddenly he was off meeting and working so much that he had no more time for the group. Then another member started preproduction on a film he was directing. Then we just sort of... stopped. We always meant to start up again, but half our group got incredibly busy.

Because that's what happens when you start to do well. You get busy.

That's what's happened to this blog. Over the last month I had a novel to read and develop a pitch for, three rewrites to complete, notes to do for people who donated to my fundraiser, A web series to develop with friends, Comic Con to attend, dog walking jobs to do, and a social life to maintain. I only had two meetings, but I still ended up with no extra time in my day. Naturally, the blog comes in last place on my list of priorities.

That's a good thing. Not only does being busy mean your career is headed in the right direction, but it also makes me happy on a personal level. I love being busy. Last Christmas I wrote an adaptation for a novel I do not own the rights to because I had nothing to work on and I got bored. Yes, I wrote an entire screenplay out of boredom. It was my love project, and I'm super proud of it, but it's also an example of how much I hate not having something to work on.

I didn't really get it back when I was in that writers group. When one member suddenly took off and started seeing success, I couldn't figure out why he didn't still have an hour on Sundays to work with us. The truth is, every minute becomes necessary. These past few weeks, I had to schedule my days around writing time. I planned out exactly which days I'd be working on which rewrite.

I'm lucky in that time management is a skill I've learned from my time as a yearbook adviser, where I had to pay extra money from our account if we went past our due date. Now, if I say something will take me three days, it will probably take me two and a half. I leave that extra half there in case an emergency crops up. Then again, I was born the day I was due, so it's possible that I am genetically predisposed to being on time.

Juggling multiple projects and managing your time wisely is something you will have to learn to do as a screenwriter. Stuff falls through all the time, and even projects that succeed take forever to get where they're going, so you should always be working on the next thing. I think that may be one reason I like keeping busy so much: as long as I'm working on the next thing, I don't have time to be impatient about the last thing.

The short of it is, I don't know what will happen with this blog. I will keep it, and I will contribute to it on occasion. But I fervently hope that in the days to come, I'm too busy to post to it. Maybe when I finally get something greenlit I will be able to share some of the process with you. We'll have to see. In the meantime, I'll keep writing. You keep writing. Let's all stay busy.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Stop trying to be so fancy

Lilly consults on all my notes.
 In order to encourage donations to my Strut Your Mutt campaign, I have offered to do screenplay notes. I don't do notes very often but I get asked a lot, so I figured that was worth something. I was blown away by the response. Originally I was just hoping to raise $300, but when I got a few donations I thought I'd be really ambitious and raise my goal to $800. As of this posting I have raised $1,420 for Angel City Pit Bulls. This will help save homeless dogs in Los Angeles and prevent more pitties from being euthanized in local shelters, something that is very near to my heart.

The offer is posted on Done Deal Pro, but the basics are, if you donate $25 I will read your first 10 pages and give you notes. If you donate $50 I will do the entire script. I will not sugar coat the notes - just read honestly and tell you what I think. I always provide suggestions for ways to approach the problem. So far people tell me the notes have been helpful, which pleases me.

Anyway, on days I haven't been immersed in a rewrite, I've started my morning by opening one of these donation scripts and going to town. There are a few things I've found myself writing over and over that I don't always see listed as common problems with newer writers, so I thought it might be helpful to post a few of them here.

I'll start with one common issue I've been seeing - too much love of words.

I have a saying: "Clarity Over Cleverness" or COC, if you will.

We all love words. As writers, it's sort of our job to be in love with our own voices, and we thrill when we put clever lines together. We're constantly told that we need to have a clear voice and style and a way to stand out in the reader's mind.

And some people take that a little too far.

Look, I'm the last person to tell you not to embrace your own voice. I can't shut mine the fuck up. But you have to remember that your personal style - all that poetic shit you love so much rolling around in your brain - is not as important as being understood.

Here's an example I made up as sort of a combination of the stuff I've been seeing:

Rebecca runs for the door, hoping to escape unscathed. Bullets fly like darts, searching for Rebecca as she steps into the sun. She catches the light against her hands - covered in red, flowing rivulets down her arm.

So, she was shot, right? Was she shot? She was shot, and then she touched the bullet wound, and now she's got blood on her hands? Or was she shot in the hand? Or did she touch someone else and now she has their blood on her hands? Or did she stumble on a pile of melting red crayons? Is she just standing next to a stained glass window? WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO REBECCA?

It's nice that you want to be poetic, but we ain't got that kind of time. This is not a novel, where you can weave beautiful words in and out at your leisure, and it's not a poem, where the words are the point. It's a screenplay, and a screenplay's FIRST job is to tell a story in a way that everyone who reads it understands what they're seeing. Because everyone who reads it is going to then have to go off and do their job to make it happen. If they don't understand what they're reading, they're not going to appreciate your beautiful words.

Tell the story in a way that makes sense. Be poetic if there's room. Use clever words if they come naturally into  play. Talk about Rebecca's flowing blood rivulets after you've explained that she was shot. You can do that poetically too, if you want:

A bullet SLAMS into Rebecca's chest. She grabs the wound with her hands - looks at them. Blood, flowing rivulets down her arms.

Let people be impressed with your story first, words second. Clarity Over Cleverness.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Four ways to be a polite screenwriter

It occurred to me recently that a lot of new writers don't know yet all the faux-pas they're liable to commit in this technological age, so I figured I ought to post some. I asked for tips on Twitter and got quite a few from the screenwriting community. So if you're new to screenwriting and you're about to take your script out for a test drive, here's a few things you should NOT do. These behaviors are considered rude.

1) Do not send a read request with your screenplay attached to someone you don't know. ANYONE you don't know. If you want someone in the industry - a writer, a reader, a producer, an agent, whatever - ask first. Ask politely. I'm not talking about queries specifically, but favors too. On a regular basis I get emails asking me if I have time to read someone's script and give notes. Sometimes the request will say things like "Hey I love your blog! I wrote this screenplay about suicidal monkeys and I think you'll love it! I'd love to hear what you think!" And the screenplay is attached. The person is polite enough. I almost never get a truly rude request of this nature. But it's still rude.

Why is it rude? Because you're asking me to take a large chunk of my time to do you a favor. Would you call up a lawyer you've never met and ask her to look over your contract for free? Would you call up a contractor you've never met and ask him to come to your house and fix your plumbing for free? Would you email a graphic designer you don't know and give them the link to your website so they can make it better for free?  No, you would not, not if you have any social skills at all. You understand that this person's skill and time are valuable, and that if you want them, you have to pay for them. Unless you know the person. Do I know you? No? Then no, I'm not going to read your screenplay, especially not if you attach it. There's just something so presumptuous about that. Plus, it might be a virus since as I mentioned, I don't know you. If I do know you, I'll read and give notes and maybe even pass it on to someone. But I do that for friends or even talented acquaintances, not complete strangers.

2) Do not ask a writer to send your script to his or her agent. It can be frustrating to toil away for a long time and get nowhere. Then you make friends with someone who's well repped and think - here's my chance! And you hand your script over and ask if he'll pass it along to his super star agent.

Why is it rude? If I want to read your script, I'll ask. Fee free to drop hints. If you and I are hanging out and you mention this great script you're excited about that you just can't seem to get into the right hands, I hear you. I'm not a dummy. If I don't ask to read your script, then I either don't think it's an interesting concept, or I don't think I'm at a place where I can recommend things to my reps, or any number of other reasons. But if you ask, you'll put me in a position where I have to tell you no. Or, if I'm really polite and begrudgingly agree, you've now made me dread reading your script. I will always read it before I decide whether or not to pass it on, and if I don't like it, I'm not going to give it to anyone. But I have asked for scripts in the past, and if I read one that blows me away, you bet your ass I'll pass it onto one or more of a few reps I know. I will make that decision on my own. Don't try to force me into it.

3) Don't query on the weekend. You're really excited because you just finished your polish and you are ready to send your script out. You want to get it into as many hands as possible as quickly as time will allow. But it's Sunday. What the hell, people can choose to open emails any time they like, right? Wrong.

Why is it rude? We have smart phones now. Back in the day, you had to actively choose to sit at your computer to check email, so you were at work when you did it. But now we take our email with us everywhere we go. That means when you email Agent Phil on a Sunday morning at 6am, he gets a notification right away. It puts him in a bad mood. He's trying to change his baby's poopey diaper - he doesn't have time for your query. Not only does he delete it, but now he kind of hates you. Is it fair? Probably not. He can choose to ignore his emails. But too bad - that's life. Reps hate getting queries on the weekend. It doesn't hurt you to just wait an extra day or two. If it's the difference between getting your query read and getting it deleted, just put your outrage aside and wait until Monday.

4) Don't argue with the notes. You poured your heart into this script. It's amazing and high concept and perfect and everyone's going to love it. You send it away for a read, and when the notes come back, they bash the hell out of your carefully crafted work of genius. Your instinct is to shout back, to argue, to let this person know how wrong they are and explain that they just don't understand your brilliant vision. Don't do it. Say thank you, ask clarifying questions if you need to, but don't argue.

Why is it rude? Notes take a lot of time - I usually take about two hours to do one set of notes on a full-length script. Nobody goes into doing notes - especially for free - unless they are genuinely hoping to find a great script, or to help this script become better. Nobody takes the time to read your script just to tell you how much you suck. If someone reads your script and gives you notes, he is doing you a favor. What did your mom teach you to do when someone does you a favor? That's right. She taught you to say thank you. She's a smart lady. So say thank you. If you don't like the notes, that's okay, but say thank you anyway and ignore the stuff you don't like. Ask questions about the stuff you don't understand. Keep the stuff that works. Sometimes notes can be a bit harsh, so if that happens, just look at the true intention behind the note. You're still a good person. The screenplay does not define you. It does not mean you're less of a man or some kind of pushover if you don't protest the stuff you don't like. And if you say thank you and look objectively at your notes, the person who did them for you is more likely to do them again. I cannot tell you how many pages of posters on Done Deal Pro I now completely ignore because of the way they've handled criticism in the past. Sometimes I'll think of a note I believe would be really useful, then I'll stop halfway through typing when I realize it's not worth the abuse that will probably be heaped on me for daring to say this person's pages were anything other than perfect. Nobody wants to volunteer to read your script if you're a dick.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Screw the odds

When I first started sending pages around, people told me over and over that nobody would make an action movie with a female lead. It was pointless, they said. Write about men. Forget women.

But I've never been one to listen to odds of failure. I'm pretty convinced that I can do any goddamn thing I want to. Except calculus. Because fuck limits and shit.

Anyway, I wrote action scripts with female leads. And after Salt came out, a lot of people started talking about how they were going to try an action movie with a female lead. I bet some of those same people who told me not to bother were now trying it out.

Salt didn't exactly blast the market open, though. Other attempts barely made back their money. So the lesson became, only write a female-lead action movie if it stars Angelina.

Piffle, I say.

The day will come. So I keep writing. I get meetings. Eventually I'll get a deal. A movie will be made. It will fail or succeed or break even. I will keep writing. A movie will get made.

And one day, either from my work or that of someone else, a film will break through that will silence every asshole who ever said women couldn't be action stars. I'm looking at you, Chloe Moretz. Oh yes, I've got plans for you.

There will always be a thousand reasons you could fail, and there will always be plenty of people ready to tell you how. They'll shout it at you from the rooftops. They'll whisper doubt in your ear in quiet corners. They'll gleefully plant the evidence in front of you, happy to "just be realistic" in your face.

You can listen to them and doubt everything. You can quit, or you can change your ways, or you can analyze your odds or you can figure out how to game the system.

Or you can nod and smile and get back to work. Write your best screenplay. Be the one who proves everybody wrong.

Don't get me wrong, I write scripts with male leads too. The majority of action scripts are written with men in the lead; I'd be doing myself a disservice to stick to one gender, and I am certainly capable of writing great parts for men. But I still write the movie I want to see - the type of film that will take advantage of the Gina Caranos of the world.

Breaking into the movie industry is tough. People come out here every year armed with a script or two, convinced that all they need is a year to become Diablo Cody, and that's just not how it works. Most likely, it will take a lot of work and a lot of time.

So accept that. It will be tough. It will take years. It will take several scripts. You will have a few false starts. Once you just accept that as part of the cost, it's not that big a deal. If you expect it to be immediate, you're going to spend a lot of time languishing in disappointment.

So once you know what you're in for, push that aside and write. Just fucking write. Write what you want to see, write the best material you possibly can.

I never listen to the odds. I tune them out, put on my writing playlist and get back to work imagining how Emma Stone is going to kick ass in my next script.

Because there is only one thing stronger than the odds - hard fucking work.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Thoughts on the film: Now You See Me

Last night I attended a screening with a live Q&A of Now You See Me. I was jazzed about this, because who is not excited about the concept? Come on. The first time I heard about this movie I was all DAMMIT! because why didn't I think of that? Magicians pulling a heist? Dude.

The panel consisted of the composer (Brian Tyler), The director (Louis LeTerrier), producers Alex Kurtzman and Bobby Cohen, and Jesse Eisenberg and Isla Fisher. They raved about how great the script was - made several mentions to its brilliance, even told us that it barely changed from the day LeTerrier first read it to the day it was locked - and yet not once in the entire panel did anyone mention the names of the writers: Boaz Yakin and Edward Ricourt.

At the very least, Kurtzman should have known better.

But on to the film. This will be spoiler free, so soldier on with no fear.

The movie is about magic, so it opens with a magic trick on the audience. Jesse Eisenberg's character, Michael Atlas, asks a girl to pick a card. As he does, he aims the deck at the camera, and we as audience members instinctively also pick a card. Despite being shown the whole deck, most of the audience picks the same card the girl does, although most of us don't know why. So when he reveals it, we're in on the trick. Right from the jump, we're part of the game.

The four magicians are brought together to form their own show as a group - The Four Horsemen, and during these shows they steal money using magic. But the movie is less about them than it is Mark Ruffalo's Dylan Rhodes, an FBI agent who is determined to bring these guys down after Atlas makes him feel like an idiot. Throughout the entire film, Rhodes is always one step behind, so he turns to professional magic debunker Thaddeus Bradley, played by Morgan Freeman, to help him predict the gang's next move.

This brings me to something that was so fascinating about this film - the structure. The story is Rhodes. He's the protagonist, and for all intents and purposes, The Four Horsemen are the antagonists. But we like them and we want to see them succeed. The whole way through the film, though you really like Rhodes, you kind of hope he doesn't catch these guys. And it works. I found myself rooting for both sides at the same time.

When's the last time you saw that happen?

But the most masterful thing about this film was the way it roped you into the game. Like The Prestige, there is a mystery in front of us. We know that somebody is not who they claim to be, but we don't know who. We spend the whole movie guessing.

I figured it out about halfway through the film, but I was never 100% sure. I constantly decided I was wrong, then right again, then completely wrong again, then probably right... Then I tried to give up guessing, but I just couldn't stop. I had to figure it out.

And the fight scene - oh, the glorious fight scene. Remember when I posted an essay on how to write a fight scene?  I mentioned that each fight scene has to have its own identity. Well here, they do something absolutely brilliant to make that happen. The magician in question fights using magic tricks. I've never seen that before in my life, and it is very, very cool. It's a combination of brains and quickness and physical skill all on display, and I was all giggly over it.

This film worked for me on all levels. My only complaint is Morgan Freeman. He's great, as he always is, but the problem is that we've seen him be the kind old man too many times. He's a bit of an asshole in this movie, but it's tough to feel anything but warm affection for him. I had a hard time not trusting him the way I was supposed to.

Overall, this was really fun. I found myself smiling throughout the movie, despite the annoying bitch next to me who showed up half an hour late, sat on my foot, texted, talked, took like five thousand pictures of Jesse Eisenberg as he told funny jokes to his entourage in the wings before the interview, and said things like "This is better than the Chelsea Handler Show" and "Hey they must have straightened Jesse Eisenberg's hair for the movie" during the Q&A.

I would gladly go see this again, knowing what I know now, just so I can look for clues. But it's well worth seeing at least once. I'm kind of glad I didn't come up with this idea now, because I don't think I would have done such a great job with it. The film truly lives up to its concept.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Help me strut my mutt

I haven't posted in a couple of weeks because I haven't really known what to post about. I've been staying busy, working on a few projects at once, hoping something lands. As soon as it does, I'll have a little bit to say about it.

In the meantime, I was hoping some of you could help me out. This year I'm participating in Strut Your Mutt, a fundraiser for homeless pets. I'm supporting Angel City Pit Bulls because my own beautiful pit, Lilly, was a shelter dog. The day we brought her home we looked at four other pit bulls who we had to leave behind, quite possibly to be euthanized. If we hadn't decided to go to the shelter that day, our own wonderful dog might no longer be alive.

So if you love dogs even a little bit as much as I love dogs, consider helping us out. Pit bull breeds are the most common dogs in most shelters, largely because of backyard breeders and an unjustified reputation. If you ever met any pit bulls, you would know that the vast majority of them are very friendly dogs. They love to lick your face.

If you have any questions about pit bulls feel free to ask me, because it is a favorite topic of mine. Much of what you hear is wrong, and I love correcting misinformation. This chart is an excellent source of factual information if you'd like to know the basics.

If you'd like to give a dollar or two to help save homeless pets, you can visit my fundraising page. And feel free to come out to Woodley Park on September 15 for a parade of happy dogs.

Friday, April 26, 2013

How to write a fight scene


Fight scenes. People ask all the time, how does one write them? My advice to them is usually, "Read The Matrix." The Matrix does a phenomenal job of it. Lookit:

[scrippet] INT. SUBWAY STATION Neo whip-draws his gun with the flashpoint speed of lightning as!-- Smith OPENS FIRE. GUN REPORT THUNDERS through the underground, both men BLASTING, moving at impossible speed. For a blinking moment we enter BULLET-TIME. Gun flash tongues curl from Neo's gun, bullets float forward like a plane moving across the sky, cartridges cartwheel into space. An instant later they are nearly on top of each other, rolling up out of a move that is almost a mirrored reflection of the other -- Each jamming their gun tight to the other's head. They freeze in a kind of embrace; Neo sweating, panting, Agent Smith machine-calm. Agent Smith smiles. AGENT SMITH You're empty. Neo pulls the TRIGGER. CLICK. NEO So are you. The smile falls. Agent Smith yanks his TRIGGER. CLICK. Agent Smith's face warps with rage and he attacks, fists flying at furious speed, blows and counters, Neo retreating as -- A knife-hand opens his forearm, and a kick sends him slamming back against a steel column. Stunned, he ducks just under a punch that CRUNCHES into the BEAM, STEEL CHUNKS EXPLODING like shrapnel. Behind him, Neo leaps into the air, delivering a necksnapping reverse round-house. Agent Smith's glasses fly off and he glares at Neo; his eyes ice blue. AGENT SMITH I'm going to enjoy watching you die, Mr. Anderson. Agent Smith attacks with unrelenting fury, fists pounding Neo like jackhammers. [/scrippet]

 So what can we learn? Before we begin, let's get something straight: never ever - never never never ever ever, like ever - write "They fight." Ever.


Each fight scene has to have its own identity.
Look at the scene above. This is the first time Neo and Agent Smith will face off against each other without interference. This is the first time we've seen two dudes go at each other, so it's different from every other fight we've seen. The rest of the film was an agent chasing down a free man who was just trying to survive the battle. So already we have something new. That's important. Every fight scene has to offer something new, something we haven't seen already seen even in this very screenplay. A different location, a different goal, a different style of fighting. But if you find yourself writing the same fight in the same spot over and over, your script sucks.

Each fight scene must have its own plot.
Just like every other scene in your script, the fight has to have a beginning, middle and end. Your fighters have to have their own goals. What do they want out of this fight? What are they doing to get it? If one wants something the other one has, he needs to be pushing to get it while the other is pulling away. If one wants to destroy the other for revenge, the other one needs to be defending himself. And as these characters fight for what they want, a story emerges. Look at the above example. Agent Smith starts off calm and cool, thinking this will be just like every fight he's ever had: quick, easy, ending in certain death for his opponent. Neo starts a little nervous, panting, struggling to keep up, but then something happens. He gets one up on Agent Smith. Smith is PISSED. Neo is confident. There's a switch that happens. Agent Smith turns on the rage because he's never had to work so hard, and suddenly he brings the pain.

Which leads me to....

Fight scenes need reversals.
Your hero is winning, then losing, then winning. He gets backed into a corner. How's he going to get out. Oh yay! He's winning! Oh wait, not he's not. Oh no! He's going to lose! Oh yay! He did it! He won! - That's how a great fight scene should feel. Look at the above example. Neo starts out at a disadvantage. Then he gets the upper hand, but his victory is short lived because Agent Smith comes back with a vengeance. But just as you think Neo is toast, he flips the script. A fight scene where the good guy is always winning is a really boring fight scene. We need to worry in order to get any real joy out of it. So a fight should be equal parts badass moves and worrisome moments. There should always be a moment where we're cheering the victory and a moment where we're genuinely wondering if we're about to watch our hero die.

And one more thing....

Learn the terminology.
Fights have a language. You don't necessarily have to know what a triangle choke looks like, but if you want to write fight scenes you should at least know the difference between Jujitsu and Judo and Muay Thai and Krav Mga. Know which style you want to see, because that's what sets the tone for your fight. Different styles create different types of fights, and you can use them to create variety in your script. A Muay Thai fight is prettier. A Jujitsu fight is going to involve a lot of wrestling on the ground. Krav Mga is great when you have multiple opponents. Sometimes you may just want a really ugly brawl. Say so in your prose. Know what you want this to look like depending on the plot of the fight.

You don't have to detail every single punch, but you do need to know what the point of the fight is. You should know the plot and the tone, just like any other scene in your script. Now go kick some vicarious ass!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Get to work

What are you writing right now?

I hope you have an answer. If you don't - if you hem and haw and make excuses, or if you mumble some words knowing you haven't touched your screenplay in months, stop it. Quit what you're doing and get to work.

I think the biggest threat to most screenwriters is our own self-doubt. We all have it. You get on this high when things are good. The pages flow, the ideas seem perfect, we're already planning the Oscar speech. But then one person reads our latest work and hates it, and we are riddled with fatalism.

Or maybe you never get that far. Maybe you're so convinced that your writing sucks that you can't finish anything.

It's normal. It's also some shit you have to get over if you want to write a great script.

EVERYBODY sucks. They know they suck. Even the best writers, the people you admire and respect and want to be like some day, the people you think are natural geniuses - they are absolutely certain that they suck. But they do the work anyway.

I suck. But I figure I'll keep writing anyway because I don't know what else to do. When I get notes that tell me I have to start over from scratch because nothing works, I have a routine that keeps me working. I pitch a fit for ten minutes. I rant and rave and shout and slam shit around and kick and pout. And after I get that out of my system, I get back to work.

For me, it comes down to faith. No matter how daunting the work feels in the beginning, or after you get a particularly prickly set of notes, the solution is almost never as difficult as it sounds like it will be in that moment. So I tell myself this sucks and I'm mad and I don't wanna and boohoo, and then I remind myself that I can do this. I know I can do this. I don't know how yet, but I know I'll figure it out.

Once I've decided I'm done feeling sorry for myself, I work on figuring out the solution to my problem. Solving puzzles is way more fun than moping around feeling like suckitude. When you have a big story problem, the best solution is to go after the stuff you thought was absolute. Those scenes I just KNEW had to be in the script? What if I scrap them completely? What else could I put there? Often, the answer appears as soon as I let go of certainty.

But the main thing is, believe that the answer will present itself. Believe that you can do this. And if your script isn't working - if somehow you just feel wrong - go back to start. What's not working, and how can you make it work? Because you can. You have to know you can. If you doubt that, you'll never finish the script.

So I'll ask again, what are you writing right now? Give me an answer.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Behind the scenes of this Logan Echolls tribute video I made

After I finished watching all the Veronica Mars episodes, I was right back in that deep obsession I remember so well from years ago. The Beefcake was all "I didn't even know you liked this show," so I pointed out my copy of season 1 on the DVD tower and explained that if he had known me in that summer between seasons 1 and 2, he would have had to beg me to shut up about who was at Veronica's goddamn door.

So when I finished watching everything, I still needed my Veronica fix. You can only spend so much time watching the Kickstarter ticker go up.

When I get obsessed with a show, I make a video. I love alpha males and I adore Logan Echolls, so I decided to make a Logan video. I like to make my videos match the music. The song choice is very important.

I decided to go with "Sabotage" from the Beastie Boys for one reason. In the middle of the song, there's this lone bass note that lingers, then kicks back up with a gradually increasing energy until you hear "WHOOOOOOAAAAAAH!" and then a lot of record scratches. You know what I'm talking about.

So my plan was: show Logan spinning depressed in bed over the bass note. Show him walking through the cafeteria in the building energy part, then start the part where he beats the shit out of Piz on the Whoa. And that's what I did. It was perfect, and I was so proud.

I finished the video and was totally in love with it, and then I uploaded it to Youtube. And even though it looked perfect on my computer, two shots came out pixellated.

I uploaded again. Same thing. I changed the shots. Same thing in the same place, which makes no sense whatsoever. I tried different aspect ratios. No change. I used a different uploading method. Same thing.

And if you've every uploaded a three-minute video to Youtube, you know that shit takes forever.

So after TWO DAYS of trying to get this thing to work, I noticed a note. Youtube has what's called a "Creative Commons" license, which means the artists who create the music - or rather, the studios that own that music - give permission for the songs to be used as long as they are properly attributed. EMI does not go along with this license, which means they do not give permission to little old me to use the song "Sabotage."

My video was blocked. I suspect that's the reason for the pixellation. I had been so fixated on fixing the problem that I never read the note at the bottom of the screen.

I tried another site, same deal. EMI was not having that shit. If you look, you can find videos that use "Sabotage," but they must be savvy in a way that I am not. I couldn't get my video seen.

So finally I sadly returned to my video and found a different version of the song. It's a good match, a kind of odd cover by The Penelopes, but it's not the same. The first half of the video I didn't have to recut at all. But that hanging bass note, that rising energy, that WHOA that I based the video on - gone. I recut the video to fit what I had.

I still like this video a lot, but it is a shadow of its former self. I can't share the original even as a download because the file is too big for Sendspace. I will ask Beefcake to watch it so that someone can pat me on the back for the editing genius the world will never see.

So that's how this video came to be. I still think it's kind of fun. But now I know not to fuck with EMI because they are some stingy motherfuckers.

I wouldn't say I put blood and sweat in this video, but there were tears. And lots of shouting.

If you are a Veronica Mars fan, especially if you are a Logan fan, you should enjoy it. I present: Logan Echolls, Lovable Jerkface:

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Torn: a book people should read

This is not a post about screenwriting. I'm gonna go off topic today and talk about my friend Justin and his book.

Back in middle and high school, I had this friend named Justin Lee. Justin was super smart - Math Counts and all that - at a school filled with smart people. Our high school was the main destination for kids whose parents worked at Research Triangle Park: Raleigh, NC's technology research center, so like half the kids I knew were 1) Asian and 2) Offspring of geniuses. Not having a natural scientific inclination, I latched onto my wonderful French friend and we watched her dad make our science project for us. We got third place. I still have no idea how it worked, but I gladly accepted my A.

Anyway, the point is, smart sciency people abounded at my high school, and Justin was one of them. But Justin also stood out a bit in that he was incredibly religious. Despite being smack in the Bible belt, the fact that our school was so filled with kids raised in the science community meant that religion wasn't a huge factor in most of our lives. But not Justin. He was seriously into Jesus.

I knew other people into Jesus. I lived down the street from The Flanders. They had five kids who went to a private Christian school and they constantly tried to convert me. My parents were DIVORCED! How horrible! And not only did I go to public school, but we didn't even go to church every Sunday. Mrs. Flanders literally forced 8-year-old me to "take Jesus into my heart" one day and sent me home with a psalm book and a cross. Later, she asked for her psalm book back. She also cast me as Mary Magdalene in the annual Easter pageant because none of her kids should play a whore.

So this is how I came to understand Christianity.

Freshman year I ate lunch with Justin and a few others in the cafeteria. We used to get into long debates about Christianity and I was constantly trying to prove something. I didn't know anything about the Bible, but I knew lots of shit didn't sound right to me. Justin never wavered. He had an answer for everything. He once told me "You don't know God like I know God." At the time, I thought that was incredibly pompous, and he'd probably agree that it was, but he also had a point. I didn't know what the fuck I was talking about, and he did.

So I blame Justin for all those religion classes I took in college. I often thought of those discussions he and I had, and I didn't like coming from a place of ignorance. I decided to get educated.

I had a wonderful professor named Calvin Mercer who blew my mind with his vast biblical knowledge and his way of making everyone in the room comfortable with both facts and theology. No matter your beliefs, his classroom was a safe place to talk about Christianity. It launched a lifetime fascination with religion.

I set out to prove that the Bible was full of bullshit. Instead I gained an appreciation for its power and intent. And whenever Christianity came up in my classroom, I modeled my teaching methods on Mercer's. The kids never could guess at my religious beliefs, though they often tried.

Our class president is basically Legally Blonde's Elle Woods, so we had a five year reunion. That's where I learned that Justin was gay.

My thoughts, that I admit with a bit of shame, were as follows:

"Whoa, really? HAHA where did all that religious shit get you now, buddy? See! I WAS RIGHT!"

Because I was still kind of an asshole back then. Not that I'm not still kind of an asshole now, but, you know, I like to think I'm a little classier.

But after the initial reaction wore off, we had a good time talking and I enjoyed the nostalgia - I'm big on nostalgia - and it was clear that Justin was still the smart, kind person he had always been. A lot of Christians are hypocrites. Not Justin. He's the real deal. He's also clearly a better person than I am, because I'm pretty sure he wasn't going through a bunch of ITOLDYOUSOs in his head.

So flash forward a few years, and in one of those cursory Facebook searches I found present day Justin. He's still a Christian, still gay, a spokesman for the Gay Christian Network, and he just published a book called Torn, about his experiences reconciling his faith with his sexuality.

Naturally, I was curious. I was in the middle of researching a screenplay so I was deeply into this boring million-page snoozefest about Blackwater, so I couldn't read his book yet, but I went ahead and got it on my Nook for later.

Then I told my mom. My mom was everybody's favorite middle school teacher, and Justin was once in her class, so I knew she'd want to read his book. She ran out and got it right away, and then she flipped for it. She showed it to everybody. And for the past few months, every single time we talked on the phone she asked me if I'd read it yet.

So the other night, as I was falling asleep AGAIN trying to push my way through this terrible Blackwater book, I gave it up and pulled up Torn. I ended up staying up like three more hours reading until I finally had to force myself to put it down so I could sleep.

It turns out that despite being a math nerd, Justin can really write. And his story is engaging as hell. He starts out talking about high school, which was all giggly for me, because again - nostalgia lover here - but it made me think about how weird high school was.

I was going through shit then. I had major father figure problems. I had a mom who cast a long shadow over me. And at the same time, Justin was trying to fight the growing realization that he was gay. And both of us were trying to pretend we were completely normal. Imagine that, and entire high school of Emilys and Justins, all pretending to be completely normal despite the crazy secret shit we were all dealing with.

If we'd all just confessed our drama, do you think high school would have been an easier place?

After that first year, Justin went off to eat lunch with a much smarter crowd while I ran off to hang out with the hacky-sack/ultimate frisbee types. We didn't chat much anymore, but I always thought of him fondly. I wish I could remember what girl he took to prom.

Anyhow, my point here is, this is a good book. It's largely about Justin's journey, but the bigger story is an analysis of the way our society has split Christians and gays into two camps, constantly at war. You can either be gay or Christian, not both. So what happens if you're a devoutly Christian man who is attracted to other men?

No matter what your philosophy on the issue, this book is well worth a read. I expect to see Justin on The Daily Show any day now after Jon Stewart pours through this thing, and then I'll be able to poke people and go "I remember that guy when he still had hair."

The book: Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs Christians Debate

Thursday, April 04, 2013

This thing I'm doing to stay focused

On my last script, I added a new thing to keep me on track. I always print out my outline and set it next to my desk on one of those paper holder thingees, but this time I tried something else and I liked it, so I thought I'd share it.

I typed up brief character bios with every character's motivation clearly stated. I printed the bios out, then taped them to the shelf above my computer, so as I wrote I could look up at every moment and remember why each person was there. It seems so simple, but it helped me out a lot. I'd been having trouble in the development stage of this script in figuring out exactly what my arcs were, but being able to see it clearly articulated exactly what everybody wanted - that helped me stay on target during the writing phase.

My story was about soldiers in combat situations, so I was reading this book about Blackwater as part of my research, and I came upon a story about a battle on a rooftop in Iraq. One of the soldiers said that after the battle they felt "Terrified but victorious," which is just a fantastic way to describe all the emotions a soldier must be feeling after a tense combat situation. I wrote that in big permanent marker at the bottom of my bio sheet: TERRIFIED BUT VICTORIOUS. So every time I had a fight scene, I remembered: terrified but victorious. It was right there on the sheet above my head.

As I wrote, I found myself not going back to my outline so much since I remembered my plot well, but instead, going back to that bio page over and over. I kept looking at it to remind me about what's going on in everybody's head.

So as I began to embark on my new script this morning, I printed out my outline and put it on my little paper holder thingee, and then I typed up my character bios and taped them to the shelf above my head. It's my new thing. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

We are women of action

I have trouble these days figuring out what I should write about here. There's a lot of stuff I'd like to talk about but can't, and then sometimes I start writing about something and realize that nobody is going to give a rat's ass. So I turned to Twitter, and asked for suggestions. I got this excellent response from Monique:

Are women credible action/scifi writers? Action is the bread&butter of spec market. Why aren't there more women writing in this genre? Or are there? I honestly don't know.

Women are supposed to write romantic comedies, obviously. Because we are pretty and gentle and we don't poop.

Clearly I'm going to say that yes, women can be credible action writers because I am one. In fact, I'm willing to bet I know more about guns and fighting techniques than most of my male counterparts. Some of that I can credit to my in-house technical adviser, The Beefcake, but I knew how to throw a punch long before I met him. I taught him how to pull off a successful roundhouse. He taught me how to combat load a Sig Sauer. And that's how our marriage works.

I love writing fight scenes. To me, those are not just the most fun thing in the world, but the easiest. My fight scenes are the only part of the script that remain largely intact from draft one to the end.

But I'm not alone. As time goes by, more and more women work their way into the spec market with action scripts. It seems like once a month I get an email from a woman who's working on an action script and is glad to know she's not the only one. Ashleigh Powell sold the excellent Somacell last year. Jane Goldman co-wrote Kickass. And if you go back through the history of action films, you'll find female names popping up every now and then. We're not overly common, but we're there.

So why aren't there more women in the action field? I'm no sociologist - in fact I slept through most of that horrid sociology class I took from that sexist asshole of a teacher in college - but I'd wager there's a cultural element at play. Girls aren't supposed to fight, or if they do, they're supposed to pull hair and scratch, not beat the tar out of somebody with their fists and feet.

Hell, look at the women who are considered badass in film. Linda Hamilton and Gina Carano aside, how many female action stars have any muscle tone at all? They're usually waifs who can somehow carry huge guns and beat up guys twice their size by flipping around and being sexy. Because girls can only be tough as long as they're still demure. Many of these are actresses I love so much, but I spend the whole movie wishing they'd do some pushups once in a while.

But that's a whole other rant.

The script that got me noticed is a romantic action comedy, so most of the time when I meet someone who's read it, they assume I'm a comedy writer. I get pitched romantic comedies. To their credit, whenever I clarify that I'm more into Seven Psychopaths than 27 Dresses, they almost happily shift gears. Usually they light up, excited to see a woman who can hold a conversation about the brilliance of Pitch Black or quote lines from Grosse Pointe Blank. I had sort of assumed I'd be stereotyped and pushed into some kind of romantic comedy corner, but it's been the opposite. I've received nothing but respect for what I do. Even the male producers think it's cool.

So why don't more women write in the action genre? A few reasons, I'd wager. For one thing, they just don't like action movies as much, for whatever reason. I forget what it was I dragged The Beefcake to see a while ago - Expendables 2 maybe? Either way, it was some glorious celebration of testosterone, and it was a matinee, and I think there were maybe two other girls in the theater? But the girls that were there were really enthusiastic, much like the only straight guy on Project Runway likes to make sure we all know how much he loves vagina.

So women are rare in this field, but not invisible. I honestly thought when I broke in that I'd be all alone - I'd the the only woman who knew how to write a quality action film. So imagine my surprise when I saw that announcement about Somacell. I was so excited. We are legion. We are.... at least two, anyway. And if there are two, there are others out there working their way here. We should all go out together and have girl nights that end in bar fights.