Friday, February 26, 2010

Robbed again

So my house was robbed yesterday. I got home to like eight LAPD officers in my kitchen. Fun times.

We're insured, but they got some really significant things. They knew what they were coming for and they were in and out in five minutes. The side door to my house is smashed and everything was ransacked.

I was in a really good mood when I got the call to come home, too. I was going to make chicken salad for dinner and watch Dead Snow with the Beefcake but that plan went out the door with our stuff.

I don't want to be at work today. I don't want to talk to anyone today. I just want to go lie in bed and cry, but we have to finish the yearbook and most of our work MUST get done today and we have a shitload of work to do. So here I am.

I'm getting an alarm system, a German Shepherd and a bazooka, and I shall carry them with me at all times from now on.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Someone recently asked me to figure out where I want to go in my career as a writer. If I want to write action, she said, I need to pick a direction. Do I want to write fun, violent, popular stuff or high-brow, sci-fi deep and dark stuff?

I had never thought about this before. I just wrote what I wrote and had fun with it. I want to write fun, popular, high-brow, deep and dark stuff. Can you do that?

All I could do was respond with films I'd like to emulate: In Bruges, Pitch Black, The Terminator. Then I looked at them. They're dark. Dark and deep and violent and surprisingly good. So I said, well, that's it. That's what I want to write.

So I put it to you. Pick a direction for your career. What are the movies you want to write? What is your tone of choice?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bitter Script Reader analyzes this guy's first time

The Bitter Scriptreader just analyzed a writer's first script and posted an interview with the writer about what it's like to be a clueless new writer.

It's worth a read.

I remember those days well, when I thought my brand new first script ever was the next big thing, with all my voice overs and flashbacks and sci-fi adventures. It's like a right-of-passage for any writer who ever wants to stop sucking. First, you suck. Then you suck slightly less each day until one day, you barely suck at all.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I just got some notes back on my latest work, and I have a shitload to do.

One of the things that doesn't work is the build-up of the love relationship between my leads. On the way home from work today I figured out how to fix it with an added scene, but that's an issue I think a lot of people probably have.

I just gave notes on a script last week that had the same problem - these two people are supposed to be madly in love, but I don't get what they think is so great about each other.

This makes me think about Pretty Woman. These two people are only together for a week but somehow you feel more of their love for each other than many films that build up a relationship over years of movie time. I think it's because they need each other and the scenes that have together show that need. She loves going out on the balcony but he won't go because he's scared of heights. You get right away the things he sees in her. She is everything he's been afraid of but secretly wanted, and he can take care of her in a way no other man ever has.

Of course, the whole movie is devoted to their relationship. How to establish a strong chemistry in a couple of scenes? Maybe Sideways, where we really only get a couple of scenes in a restaurant and one great dialogue exchange about wine, and we get these two people together. It's that speech about wine that does it - that one great scene filled with not-so-subtle subtext as the woman confesses her deepest thoughts to a man she just met.

What do you think? Got any other examples of great scenes that build chemistry quickly?

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Neglected Queue

I've been thinking about my Netflix queue and the poor, neglected movies that slowly ride their way up the ladder, only to get bumped back down every time a new release catches my fancy.

Right now, for instance, I have at home Good Night and Good Luck, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and The Bride with White Hair.

The last movie is in there because someone recommended it to me last week, so I stuck it in there right at the top, jumping it well over long suffering films that thought they were moving closer to their goal. Good Night and Good Luck is up there because the other day I realized there was no reason it wasn't further up the line, except that it had been one of the aforementioned long-suffering films on the line ride. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, is of course, a new release.

After that I have thrown ahead of the line some movies for research purposes. I may be meeting with people someday in the near future, and I don't want to be a giant ignoramous about who's done what - I'm really bad at remembering directors - so I'm watching movies I know I should know about in case I get a good meeting. So they hopped up over everything else.

Then there was last month's string of female protagonist films, because I wanted to see how different stories handled women successfully. They jumped up over everything else, too. Those poor movies in the middle. They must think they'll never make it to my house.

I reorder my queue almost daily, due to boredom. But there are always movies that just sit there and never make my reordering list.

Like Timecrimes, which I keep forgetting what the hell it's about so I pass right by it every time I reorder my queue. That film is at 159 out of 187. I haven't touched it since it went into last place. Will I ever watch that movie? Hell, how long does it take a film to travel up the queue when it's that far down? A year? Eight months? I don't know. It makes me want to conduct some kind of experiment.

Actually I think I'll do that. I'll pick a movie I only vaguely want to watch, throw it in the queue, note the date, and watch it's progress. I'll make a note each time I reorder my queue as to where that film is, and never touch it's place, only the place of those films around it. I'm not sure what I'll learn from this, and I'll probably forget to do it after like two weeks, but right now it seems like a good idea.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


Good things are happening right now. Professional, personal, good things. Two events I have been hoping for for a very long time collided in one week that will change not just my life, but the life of several people around me. Now we all have to work together to not fuck it up.

You know how sometimes you spend years working toward a particular goal, and then when you reach that goal, you throw up on yourself?

Okay I didn't throw up on myself, but I felt like it for a minute.

I won't go into detail, but good things. Very good things. Things good enough that what would normally be a bad day at work is still a very good day because some things are so good they overshadow Martin's desire to throw markers across the room or Roger's need to steal Elliot's Ipod and run around the room with it.

A good day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Thoughts on the film: The Descent

I'm not a big fan of modern horror films, so it took me a while to get around to watching The Descent. It seems like every horror film these days is over-the-top gore. What happened to being scared? What happened to the days when you got to know the characters before the serial killer started taking them out? I miss those days.

So thank goodness for The Descent. I was one a female protagonist kick, so I finally Netflixed it because it's a film starring only women, women who are kind of badass and voluntarily do things you could not pay me a bazillion dollars to do, like go spelunking in the middle of nowhere and crawl through teeny tiny corridors where they could easily get stuck and then trapped and eaten by evil creatures that probably evolved from people and are hanging out in the cave in the dark waiting for brave ladies to eat.

Spoiler warning, but everybody but me has probably already seen this movie anyway.

Nobody died for the first hour. Instead, we spend the time getting to know the women. I remember something about each character - Sarah lost her husband and child, Juno was having an affair with Sarah's husband, Holly is a brash action junkie, Beth is the nicest person alive, Rebecca has an incredible amount of upper body strength and hutspa, and her little sister Sam is studying to be a doctor. I learned this and remembered it, and as a result I cared about every single person in this story. When someone died, I was distressed. There are no expendable characters here.

Even though none of the girls died within the first hour, I was still on the edge of my seat because of some terrific camera angles and good creepy music.

The suspense, the action, the character development, all excellent. Maybe too excellent. See, Juno is supposed to be the bad guy who deserves to die because she takes dangerous chances and was having an affair with our protagonist's husband - an affair that was never actually stated, something else I loved about this film - but I never felt like she deserved to die. I LIKED Juno. When the evil creature grabbed her friend Holly and tried to take her body, Juno didn't hesitate. She was unafraid. She grabbed a weapon and started swinging while everybody else ran and hid. Immediately I forgave Juno for the affair. And when she accidentally killed Beth because the silly girl snuck up behind her in the middle of a homicidal creature killing rage, I can't really blame her for that either.

So in the end when Sarah left Juno for dead, I was disgusted with Sarah. I don't think that's how I was supposed to feel.


The unrated version has a different ending than the theatrical. In the end of the theatrical version, Sarah escapes alone, gets in the car and drives off, freaking out all the way. In the unrated on DVD version, after Sarah pulls the car over, she wakes up and realizes it was all a dream and she's still in the cave with the evil creatures.

So everybody dies and you faked me out with a long ass dream sequence? Does that mean Juno is still alive, wandering around in the cave, looking for Sarah? Killing Juno was part of Sarah's dream sequence, so I guess yeah, Juno is somehow still alive. Or something.

This is why you shouldn't play around with "it was all a dream" in your story. Also, pick an ending.

I thought this was the ending, so I called Beefcake and was like "So they all die in the end? WTF." And he informed me that in the original ending, Sarah escaped.

So now I'm not sure what the message was in the film.

But endings aside, this was the kind of film I miss in the horror genre. I was scared shitless watching this because I wasn't grossed out. The gore factor is relatively low, the scare factor very high, and there's no torture porn anywhere. And I cared about these women very much. That's how horror films should be made.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Burnside: almost complete

I had three things to do today: laundry, work out, and finish my latest draft of Burnside.

I worked out for two hours this morning. The Beefcake beat me up in our usual Saturday thing, but I got a chance to beat him up later when I taught him how to kickbox. So if anybody walked by our house this morning and saw an enormous man punching a much smaller girl, no worries. I had it all under control. Until that one time I forgot to protect my side, but we don't need to talk about that.

Now I'm about to do laundry because I'm finished with Burnside, at least this draft. I probably wrote 15 pages worth of material today in 4 hours. I tend to do that lately - go through long stretches of letting other things get in the way of writing, then setting aside a day to crank out a ridiculous amount of material. And I feel fantastic about the material. I feel like I solved all my major problems, even that blasted ending that has been giving me fits.

Now she's off to get another pair of eyeballs. Hopefully this version will satisfy, because there's only so many times you can send out a zombie script before you wish you had something else of quality to show, and something with a more original idea.

Today was a good day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Thoughts on the screenplay: Dead Loss

I read the screenplay for Dead Loss the other day. It was a winner on the Black List this year, written by Josh Baizer and Marshall Johnson. And it taught me something.

This screenplay is fantastic not because it's that great a story, but because the writing is superb. It's an excellent case of brilliant writing overcoming a less-than-completely-original idea. It's a thriller about a bunch of crab fishermen on a boat up in cold ass waters. The shit hits the fan when they find a dude on a raft with diamonds and gold.

So it's A Simple Plan meets Dead Calm. It's your basic thriller plotline - greed wins and the guys decide to keep the money even if it means murder. Mystery guy tries to kill everybody. People die. The guys turn on each other. The money is not worth the price.

So we've heard it before, but this script still made the Black List. It made it because it just rolls right off the page like a steam train.

Yesterday I wrote about the importance of memorable character introductions - this is the screenplay that inspired me to think about it. When we first meet Cliff, he dangles deckhand Pete over the water because Pete won't put out his cigarette. I never forgot which one was Cliff and which was Pete. In fact, I never mixed up any of the characters in a story about a bunch of men on a boat. That's not an easy feat.


Check it:

Pete, Sol, Griggs and Nate watch helplessly as the raft below begins to sink...with Cliff and Montoya stuck inside.

Pete and Sol grab Cliff and Montoya’s safety lines...trying to pull them out.

THE SHIP BUCKS AGAINST A THIRTY FOOT WAVE...once again slamming the raft against the metal hull and COVERING THE DECK IN WHITE WATER.

Every man is knocked off their feet.

ON PETE as he’s washed over the side of the ship in nothing but his weather gear. He desperately tries to grab the rail, but no dice.

A LOOK OF HORROR ON HIS FACE as he disappears into the sea.

I was going to leave early from work yesterday so I could go home and jazzercize but I couldn't leave until I finished the script. I was so worried about these guys and I was really fucking upset that Pete went overboard. I kept thinking about that scene where he realized he was unable to stop himself from falling into the water.

I kept really hoping a couple of them lived and that's not an easy feat to accomplish in a screenplay.

Obviously we all want to think up some amazing high concept idea that's easy to sell, but every now and then you just read a script that jumps off the page just because of straight up good writing.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Character introductions on the page

Over the past 24 hours I read three screenplays off the black list, and it made me realize something. I don't differentiate between characters that well. I'll see a character description and sometimes I kind of glaze over it, especially if the characters have really generic names. Then I'll forget who's who for the rest of the screenplay.

The times this doesn't happen are when someone uses a really distinctive description that gives us an element of a person's personality, or preferably when the description involves somebody doing something.

"JOB, 30, races through the day care, machete raised as he screams at the poor kid he's chasing" is memorable. I don't think I'll forget who Job is.

"JOB, 30, tall and skinny" is not memorable.

When you're reading written material you don't have the benefit of seeing an actor in the role. They're all blurs in my head until something makes them more than a blur.

This seems common sense, but I realize now that a few of my character intros aren't very interesting. My main characters are introduced doing stuff, but I should go back and make the rest stand out a little. It doesn't always take a lot of extra words. You can have a character turn red while he screams on the phone or picking a scab or twirling her hair into a tight band around her finger. All of these a character can do instead of just standing around waiting for the scene to begin.

I don't want anyone getting confused because they can't remember who's who.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Best song ever in a movie

I had a conversation today that reminded me of To Sir, With Love, which put the song in my head all afternoon. I love that song. I used to listen to it as a kid and I always thought it was about a young woman talking to her first love.

In college, my first truly inspired story for creative nonfiction class was a story about my stepdad called "To Sir, With Love" and was about how I always had to call him "Sir" when he was mad.

Then as an adult I saw the film for the first time. I've said this before - want to know what teaching is like? Don't watch Dangerous Minds. Watch To Sir, With Love.

For about three weeks after I watched that movie I had that song in my head, only I couldn't get through it because I kept stopping to cry. Every time I thought about that line "A friend who taught me right from wrong and weak from strong, that's a lot to learn." it just gets me. Sometimes I feel like we've all gotten together and made an agreement that we're going to get through high school together. They drive me nuts, but I love those little bastards.

So given that I loved that song before I knew the movie, and now it has even more emotional appeal, I think if I had to choose a favorite movie soundtrack song of all time, that's probably the one.

You got one? Best song in a movie ever? With words? It doesn't count if it doesn't have words.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Loglines for kids

Every year, the National Endowment for the Arts hosts The Big Read, a program where kids all over the country read the same book and participate in related events. Last year it was 11th grade and The Maltese Falcon, prompting me to spend a semester on film noir. This year it's a collection of 20 Mexican short stories published specifically for this year's Big Read.

The good thing about that is that the kids like it. We're the first class reading the book at our school, so they're excited to think almost nobody else has read this book, and they LOVE reading Mexican literature because almost all of them are Latino. The downside is there isn't a whole lot of information on these stories as a collection. Several of them I'm able to look up and research, but for the most part I have to do a lot of the prep work myself. Not that I mind, because I'm having fun learning, but it involves a lot of staying after school in my room and working.

I decided that since we just finished reading a novel as a class, I'd let the kids handle the stories on their own. We read Octavio Paz "My Life with the Wave" as a group, and now they're going to split into groups and each group will take either one long story or two shorter stories and research and present them to the class.

In order to help them choose, I had to go through each story one by one, count page numbers, and create a logline. That was the learning part, creating the loglines. I had to come up with one sentence that summed up the story but kept it sounding interesting enough that the kids would want to read it.

"After a man buys the statue of an Aztec god, his life changes for the worse as the god gets progressively stronger" sounds interesting. "Philosopher Pao Cheng thinks about existence" does not.

It's a challenge, because I want these kids to want to read the stories, but some of them leave me not much to work with. One of the stories is 2 pages long and describes the process of shooting a deer. My logline: "A hunting story." What else am I supposed to do with that?

Then there's tone. Some of the stories are serious and some comical, and I want to give the kids an idea of which is which. So "A man ponders his relationship with a large, quirky woman" is what I went with for the story about the guy who dates an obese lady he thinks is kind of nuts. I figure throwing in "large" and "quirky" do the trick to indicate tone.

Then there's the combination. One of the stories is an employee in a train station just talking and talking in this absurdist voice to a guy who just wants to board his train. I had to figure out how to make it sound both interesting and comical, when all I really had was straight dialogue, mostly one-sided. This is what I went with: "A train station employee explains to a perplexed traveler why he can’t go to T. despite having a perfectly good ticket."

My point here is, if you ever want to practice writing loglines, get a book of short stories and try to create a logline that would make a teenager interested. It's not as easy as it sounds.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Just this one thing about From Paris, With Love

In case you didn't catch it, I wanted to point out something about the trailer for From Paris, With Love.

Okay so despite the bizarre baldness and the earrings or whatever, and the fact that this movie is about wooohooo a craaaazy out of control guy with guns! I'm talking about the moment at the end of the latest trailer where John Travolta, who's most popular character ever is probably Vincent Vega, who's most famous speech ever was about the different ways French fast food restaurants title their dishes, that same actor, John Travolta, his character Charlie Wax says he enjoys eating a "royale with cheese."

I just wanted to point that out.

Remember that scene in Be Cool where he dances on stage? Like the time he danced on stage in Pulp Fiction?

Yeah that's when you know your movie is trying too hard.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Putting the puzzle together

As I come to a sense of temporary completion on Burnside, I have begun to work on what I want to be my next script. I had a low budget scifi thing I wanted to write, but I have no second act and I have yet to write a really good script that takes place in the present, so I altered my plan to work on this carjacking thing I've been thinking about. I've always wanted to write something in the vein of Three Days of the Condor, where your main character isn't a super badass, just a guy in the wrong place at the wrong time with no discernible training.

So this is the fun part, the part where you shift ideas around. Should they dump the car in the lake? Nah. Too cliche. Crash it into a store front like in Lethal Weapon? Nah, then the cops would find it too easily.

It's a game where you throw pieces at the puzzle and see what fits. This doesn't work, so you try the next idea. That doesn't work, so you keep going until you find something that does. And sometimes even after you write what you think worked, you find out you just smushed a piece into a place where it didn't really fit. But sometimes, if you're lucky, you can lock it into place perfectly. You see that scene where the family runs from the zombies at the beginning, or where your lady ninja hops along rooftops to get away from the soldiers. And it plays in your head and then on the page and you never question it.

Anyway, it's pretty cool.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Lookit: I found my painting

See this picture? I did, once upon a time on a wall in The Louvre. It's getting nigh on ten years now since I first saw this image. I looked at it and laughed and thought, that must be a cool dude.

About a year later I thought, I should buy a print of that painting, only I couldn't remember who painted it. I knew it was called Self Portrait but couldn't remember the painter's name. I thought I remembered he was Italian.

Want to know how many Italians painted something called "Self Portrait?" Want to know how many are hanging in The Louvre? I don't remember. It was too many.

I've often thought of calling The Louvre and describing the picture and asking them if they know which one I'm talking about. It's a pretty memorable painting, n'est pas? But I never got around to it.

I've Googled "Italian painting finger pointing" "self portrait guy pointing" "pointing painting" and any other assortment of phrases. I've painstakingly pored through all the paintings posted on The Louvre website and searched through every art website I could find trying to find this painting. I want it to hang in my house. Maybe in my bathroom, maybe in the living room; I haven't decided yet. But I knew that even if I had to fly back to France and walk through every single room, I would find this painting.

I mean, it's a super awesome painting. Look at that guy. Don't you want to hang out with that dude? Old ladies must have hated his guts.

Then yesterday on a message board someone posted this picture with some words over it, no doubt part of some meme I never saw before. My jaw fell completely to the floor. I frantically messaged the guy: Where did you get that omg holy shit.

Turns out, there's a whole series of Zazzle products with this picture on it. So here I was, spending whole hours of my life trying to find this painting, and there are people out there with it on a mug.

He's not Italian at all. His name is Joseph Ducreux and he was a French baron. He also painted a picture of himself yawning, a painting that now hangs at The Getty of all places. I've been to the Getty. I bet I walked right past whatever room it's in.

I am filled with glee over this discovery. Now if I can just find a print of Théophile Steinlen's Apotheosis of Cats, my dream art collection will be complete.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Oscars and whatnot

Exciting things are happening today. I had to leave work early for a thing and now I'm home with extra hours to spend writing. First I have to research the origin of poker because I have two characters who are going to play cards and discuss the rules of the game, but since this is a period piece I need to make sure the version of the game that I pick is one that fits the time. I'm afraid I may have to play poker this weekend as research. It's a hard-knock life.

There are too many movies nominated for Academy Awards and most of the time they end up being a publicity race anyway, but I'm still excited that Kathryn Bigelow was nominated. The Hurt Locker is a nearly perfect film and it deserves every bit of recognition it gets.

Avatar, on the other hand, is way overrated. It's pretty and expensive and made a ton of money. It is not an amazing story. There are whole categories for technical feats on film - Avatar should sweep those, but it should not take any award for storytelling.

The one film I feel like got robbed was The Road. Robert Duvall deserved a nomination for sure, and the screenplay is beautiful.

Annnd LOST. Who's excited? I am. What the fuck is going to happen? I DON'T KNOW. Nobody knows. Who's where? What's when? Does this show even exist or did my brain make it up while I was sleeping?

Now I will go write.

Monday, February 01, 2010

I am a slacker

I have been shitty about posting. I wish I could say it was because I've been writing too much to have time for this, but the truth is, there's a heavy bag at our house now and I've been punching it.

I know now what I need to do to fix my script; I just have to stop napping on Saturday and write instead. I've been compiling a list of agents to seduce when I'm done, people who've repped Blacklist writers with similar material, people who've said interesting things in interviews, people whose names I like. I've got a whole strategy planned for phone calls and query letters. Last time I got one read out of about 9 queries, so maybe this time my higher concept idea will net me some more opportunities.

I just have to finish the damn thing.

This weekend. Swear.