Friday, May 27, 2011

Stuff from this week

I was wondering where the week went when I remembered where the week went: yearbooks and Fable.

Yearbooks came out this week, and the senior class has been a real asshole about it. This is the coolest book we've ever done and it looks great even though we had extra work to do this year and less time in which to do it. I had no seniors on my yearbook staff. Actually, scratch that - I had one senior who was responsible for the senior section who just disappeared along with the pictures halfway through the year. So the senior section is thin. I begged and pleaded with the senior class to give me some photos and they shrugged their shoulders. So now they're all pissy and spreading bad press about the book, which is making it difficult to sell.

So get ready. Class of 2011 seems to want a whole lot for nothing.

Anyhow, I also got a new XBox. Ours was stolen over a year ago, but we finally got a new one last weekend so I could start over with my character on Fable 2. This time I'm doing all the side shit and dyeing my hair and stuff, and I'm taking the relationship shit seriously. Like, sure, I could go buy a shitty house and marry the first villager who demands a ring, but fuck that. I want a guy who's going places like Sam the alchemist or Greg the bookseller: upstanding citizens of Albion. And I will buy a nice house in a nice part of town with my earnings. No sleeping in the Gypsy caravan for me.

I love games like Fable because you control the story. The first time through this game I married a nerdy dude, but he seemed unhappy, so I took him to his favorite place to try to cheer him up with a picnic. We were attacked by bandits, and while I ran off to kill them all he was stabbed to death. That was really sad. Like for a minute I was really broken up about that. I just wanted him to be happy, and I got him killed instead.

So I'm waiting a while before I get married this time. I want to be a responsible ass kicking wife and homeowner. Sure I like to raise the dead to slaughter my enemies, but that doesn't mean I don't have love to give.

I still can't be a bad guy, though. No matter how many of these role playing games I get into, I still can't be bad.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Story Epiphany saves my sanity

Way back I used to do the index card thing when I started working on a project. I wrote up a loose summary of my story, then very neatly printed color coded index cards with scene summaries on them - sometimes as many as 25 - and posted them on my bulletin board.

Then I had to write a treatment for a producer that as far as I can tell never actually read  it, but in the process I realized how useful a full treatment can be when you're doing prep work, so I started writing up treatments for all my projects. I printed them out then set them up next to me as I wrote the script.

I used this method when I wrote Nice Girls Don't Kill: draft 1. And the group generally bashed it. I needed a major overhaul of everything, so most of my first draft became pretty useless as I started over. The group discussed how often we end up having to start over like that - it happens all the time to all of us.

I had to do it two more times on that script before I finally got a draft I love.

So this time I swore I would not do that again. This time I would minimize the macro notes. I wrote up a treatment and carefully went through each of my major characters creating a lengthy backstory. I did stream of consciousness for my protagonist to get a better idea of who she is.

Then I started writing and after the opening scene which I liked, it slowly began to occur to me that this wasn't working. Something felt off, forced.

Page 20. I left it alone for a couple of days. I couldn't figure it out.

Then I passed my treatment around to a few people. They hated it. At first I was frustrated. They pointed out things that weren't working, but I wasn't getting that epiphany.

THE STORY EPIPHANY: That magical moment when you get that one note that turns on the light bulb and suddenly a seemingly unsolvable story problem becomes the most amazing idea you ever had.

So I wasn't getting my story epiphany and I was whiny about it.  I was all "WAAAAAH. I feel bad."

And then one friend of mine said "The stakes of why the guy's after her need to be higher." Then another friend said "The backstory sucks." And then another friend said "Why don't you have her keeping something from this guy? Maybe she buried some cash that belonged to him."

And then there it was: STORY EPIPHANY. She didn't bury cash, but she did bury something else. And as soon as I knew that, I knew she was a totally different person. And as soon as I knew that, I knew her love interest was a different person, and his mom was a different person, and the antagonist is a different person. All that's left is the setting and the premise, so I'm really glad I only wrote 20 pages.

So now I'm doing a page one rewrite on my treatment, which is much more fun than doing a page one rewrite on a completed script.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Martin McDonagh: Personal Hero

For a long time I only wrote dramatic action stories. I tried a couple of time to write sitcom episodes back when I was still considering television, and it always turned out kind of crappy because I can't do "jokes" very well. I figured, even though in person I'm a cheeky bugger, in script form I just couldn't do comedy.

Then people kept telling me to do comedy and I kept saying no, no, I'm no good at it. Then my friend Mel at PitchQ listened to my pitch for Not Dead Yet and told me that my pitch was so high energy and kind of humorous, but the story I pitched was so serious that it didn't match.

I got that a lot. Tone doesn't match the story.

So I thought, to hell with it, and wrote a comedy. And what do you know, I enjoyed it. So I wrote another one. And now I'm working on a third. It feels more natural in many ways, but there are still times when I find myself struggling to turn a scene funny.

So now I get the note that the tone is uneven. Sometimes funny, then suddenly serious.

I'm too funny to do drama and too serious to do comedy.

That's why my hero is Martin McDonagh. He was a playwright who won an Oscar for his first film endeavor, a short called Six Shooter that you can see on ITunes. It's a beautiful little flick starring Brendan Gleeson, about a train car full of messed up people in different stages of grief. In this little movie we have death of a child and a wife and a mother and a horrible suicide, and in the middle of it all there's this long joke about cow farts. You laugh and then you feel kind of sick about laughing.

It reminds me of Catch 22. There's a scene in the book where you're just roaring with laughter over some stupid Army regulation or whatever, and suddenly out of the sky comes an airplane flying super low over the water because the pilot is fucking around, and the propeller slices a guy in a raft into pieces. That scene was one of the pivotal scenes in my development as a writer. I didn't know stories were allowed to do that.

So here's Martin McDonagh with his short film, and he goes on to make In Bruges. I came out of the theater pissed off than nothing I'd written was anywhere near that good. But In Bruges has this tragic child death and suicide, yet it was billed as a comedy. In Bruges isn't a comedy, and yet it totally is. And it's also a tragedy.

I'm sure at some point someone told Martin McDonagh, "You can't do that! You can't have a child murderer be your protagonist and crack jokes!" and he said "Go fuck yourself" and made a brilliant film.

And now he's making Seven Psychopaths, a story about......

I have no idea what this story is. It's some dudes and they're writing a screenplay and it's all very meta, but there's a dog and a mobster and a lot of violence, and I don't know what all. All I know is I read it in an instant, and then I just sort of sat there in awe of its brilliance.

And once again there's gruesome death and I rooted for bad people and I laughed until suddenly I felt sad.

I love you, Martin McDonagh. I want to do what you do, but, you know, with some female characters.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Wonder Woman Cold Open

Today my buddy Hamboogul over at Done Deal posted one of his ongoing writing throwdowns. The challenge? Write a cold open for the Wonder Woman TV show you'd like to see. I managed to sneak by without participating in the other throwdowns, but since this one was pretty much aimed directly at me, naturally I have to put up my take.

I felt a lot of pressure on this one because I've talked a lot about how I'd like to write the Wonder Woman film. This is TV so my take is a little different than I'd do it in a feature, but here's what I contributed, written this morning while I gave a state standardized test:


This place is wrecked. Two customers lie passed out on the floor, covered in spilled coffee. Computer screens are busted, chairs pulled apart, pretentious artwork smashed on the floor.

THREE GOONS advance on a woman, but not just any woman.

This is DIANA PRINCE, 19, dressed in an equestrian outfit - jeans, red tank top, cowboy boots, a pair of super thick bracelets and a headband. She's olive-skinned with dark, soaking wet hair, and she's astoundingly gorgeous if you can get past her current appearance as a drowned rat backing away from these big muscle-bound dudes.

A guy cowers a bit behind her, a cute sciency type in his late 20s, STEVE TREVOR. There's a welt on his neck. He grabs a broken chair leg and holds it out to Diana.


You want this?




Come on, Diana, don't be-

HEAD GOON punches her in the face. Diana grimaces, yanks the proffered chair leg. Swings it at the Goon-

And SLAMS it into his gut. He FLIES across the room, crashing into a percolator. Coffee splashes everywhere. He is OUT.


(to the goons)

We were kind of in the middle of something, guys. You should probably head on home now.

SECONDARY GOON thinks about this, but THIRDARY GOON dives right in, grabs Diana by the waist and POUNDS her into the floor. He's got her pinned.

This gives Secondary Goon the confidence he needed. He rushes Steve, who runs like hell.

While Secondary Goon chases Steve over the obstacle course that is this cafe, Thirdary Goon tries to ground and pound Diana on the floor.

But Diana sweeps her leg around in a lock on Thirdary Goon's leg, and SNAPS it. CRACK!

Thirdary Goon screams. Diana clocks him in the face with one of her bracelets, breaking his nose, then THROWS him off. He lands a few feet away.

She reaches under a table and grabs a LASSO, whips it at him, catches Thirdary Goon around the neck. She yanks. He struggles to breathe.


Where is he?

Thirdary Goon just wheezes. Diana loosens the noose.



He grabs the noose and RUNS at her, full force.

Diana whips the headband off her head and flings it like a boomerang. It CRACKS right into his skull. Thirdary Goon drops like a sack of potatoes.

Diana turns to Steve, who races around the room, throwing muffins at Secondary Goon as the big guy nearly catches up to his prey.

Diana kneels over Thirdary Goon, rifles through his wallet.


You can't run forever, Steve.


Oh yes I can!


You're going to have to fight some time.



He hops over the counter.

Secondary Goon tries to follow him, slips on a coffee puddle, THUNKS to the floor.

Steve stops, spots the Goon, cheers, almost falls off the counter himself.



Steve hops down, kicks the Goon on the floor. He pours himself some coffee from one of the unbroken pots. Drinks.


Still warm!

He offers her some.

Diana ignores him, reads some info she pulled out of Thirdary Goon's wallet.


I've got the address. Shall we?


Who's our back up?

Diana grabs the coffee, chugs it.


We don't need backup, Steve. We've got moxy.


And a gun, right? Please say we have a gun.


Just moxy.


I never should have pulled you off the island.


But then we wouldn't be having so much fun, would we?


Naturally, this is where we'd cut to her back on the island of the Amazons and show how she got here.

To see the thread and the rest of the entries as they go up in the next couple of days, go HERE.

Monday, May 16, 2011

My Query Method

When I'm bored I like to take on a research project and pursue it all over the Internet. Sometimes I'll say I want a rose bush. So I spend all day looking at rose bushes, figuring out what is the best kind for my yard, learning all about them and how to prune them and whatnot. So in one day's time I suddenly went from knowing nothing about roses to knowing all kinds of great things and sounding like someone who knows things. Then the next day I'm on to something else. Lock picking or thai chi or dog training. I like learning, but I have a short attention span.

This is why my students think I know everything, because it's really easy to trick kids into thinking you're an expert on something you read two articles about.

Except calculus. They're well aware of my calculus deficiencies.

Anyhow, I took this energy for short-term research projects and put it toward querying. I go to IMDB pro and look up each company that interests me, scroll through each rep's client list, looking for writers who make material similar to mine. Then I go to Tracking Board and look up those reps, searching for what kind of deals they've made lately. Any who look like they might take a shine to my material I put on my list. I go to Done Deal and search for them to see what kind of reputation they have among other writers. If they pass inspection, I query.

I think it's important not to query the entire town, because why query people you wouldn't want to work with? Having the right manager is more important than having any manager at all, and having the wrong one can actually hurt you. I only query those I'd be happy to work with if they liked my material.

So once I have a rep in mind, I find their email, shoot them the query, and mark the date in my Word file. If they respond positively I highlight their entry in yellow and list the date I sent the script. If they respond negatively I highlight it in red and add a note about exactly why they weren't interested. Most places, of course, don't respond, so I just leave them as they are.

After a few weeks, I follow the process all over again with a new group.

I also add to this list people who've requested my script because they know me through this blog or some other place, along with a note about how they know me and why they were interested.

So far including both groups I have 28 entries on my list, with five yellow entries and two red.

This is the first time I've been so methodical about it. In the past I was sort of random, taking the approach that anybody with an office is good enough, and not really keeping an organized record.

This way I feel a little more proactive. I also feel a lot more confident about my script this week than I did before, and I think one of these people will like what I have to offer. Nice Girls Don't Kill is my point of view, my story the way I want to tell it. It's the perfect showcase of my work, and the draft I have now is as good as I can make it. Of that I'm sure.

So now I wait. And in a few weeks, see who else I can find.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Stupid proofreading

The Nicholl reader line of the day is this:

"This writer opens with . . . character and plot intrigue that hooked me, then followed it up with a different character/plot one two punch that hooked me even more, then put those two characters on a collision course impossible to ignore. This script works on so many levels because this writer understands that no plot works well without characters who clash and learn from each other."

I'm a pretty optimistic person, so I thought hey, that could be my script. It's possible they're already reading mine because I was number 900-something.

I open with my antagonist in a pretty cool scene. Then I go to my protagonist, and then I lead them to each other until they crash. I'm sure I'm not the only one who does this, but still... could be me. I decided to look back over my script to see if they learn from each other at all, and as I read I discovered a bunch of tiny mistakes I didn't notice last time I did my check for errors. That time I was looking specifically for spelling and grammar, but this time I wasn't looking for anything, just reading. Maybe next time I should just do one last minute read of the script for shits and giggles with no agenda and I'll see things I wouldn't otherwise.

I noticed places where I had changed things and forgot to adjust a line of dialogue. Like originally an old lady died in an apartment so a character says "Who's the old lady?" except later I decided to let her live and took her out of the apartment. Now that character's line makes no sense. There are half a dozen little lines like this all over the script.

These aren't things that will get my script thrown out, and none of my readers have mentioned them so they must not be a huge deal, but I'm still kicking myself. One thing I learned as a copy editor back in college, it doesn't matter how many times you read something, you'll never catch every single mistake. Still, you want to catch as many as possible before someone else does.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


In case you missed it, this is a great moment for rap and comedy in our society. Jon Stewart rips Fox News a new one again for being hypocrites, but this time he does it in the form of Spoken Word.

I don't post this so much because of the politics, but because this whole issue is about words. Rappers used to push boundaries and force us to think about the nature of our society, and even though we've gotten away from it with modern rap, there is still a culture in hip hop of challenging the status quo, and there is still a gaggle of people who like to take lyrics out of context and use them to support silly agendas.

Common's great, and Public Enemy, but here's my favorite: KRS-One.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nice Girls Don't Kill Queries - round 2

I made a few changes to my script after the mini melt down I had yesterday. Not a major rewrite, but a line of dialogue here and an action there - enough to add a whole page to the script. I hope that settles the issue, but I don't know. I'm getting another opinion.

I also discovered I forgot to change my title page back after the Nicholl submission, so everyone I've sent the script to has a version with no name on it. Hope they remember who I am.

That also burned through all my connections. Every person I know who could have put this script in good hands has passed on it mostly because of the issue I described yesterday.

And unfortunately I did all my changes after I sent it away to everyone who requested it, so I hope they don't have the same problem, and I hope to get more requests.

Speaking of requests, I clearly have a decent query letter. All in all I sent out 22 queries, and I got four requests - all managers so far. So despite my angst of yesterday, the concept is NOT fundamentally flawed. My logline works. Two of the requests were sent half an hour after I emailed the query.

I'll share the query after I no longer need it, but I play up my voice because I know that's my strength.

I will most likely figure out what kind of changes I want to make, then wait a couple of weeks, then ask somebody else. And we persevere.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

I have a dilemma.

I finished Nice Girls Don't Kill and started the whole sending it around town and querying process, but something keeps getting to me. Three of the people who've read the script I considered finished have come back with notes. Moreover, it's been the same note.

Early in the script my protagonist makes an unusual choice. I completely understand her choice, and it's important to me that it is, in fact, a choice and not a necessity. But three people have all said they don't understand why she makes that choice, and suggest she instead end up on the run from people chasing her, so she HAS to do what she does.

Two things. That would involve ANOTHER page one rewrite (#4 if you're counting) of the script. And it would fundamentally change the story itself into something I don't want it to be. I feel like it would make my script into a generic action film, because I feel like the fact that my protagonist makes this choice is one of the things that separates it from other stories.

I even have dialogue that specifically says why my character makes her choice, but obviously the dialogue is not enough.

If three people give you the same note, you have to acknowledge that it's not something you can ignore.

I have a choice. Do nothing and hope the right person reads it - seems unlikely.  I could do another page one rewrite and turn it into the script everyone else wants to see. I could try to find the note behind the note and make her motivations clearer.

I have a feeling that no matter what I do I'll still get the same note, because I already thought I addressed it with each other previous rewrites to no avail.

It may be that I have a fundamentally flawed concept.

It's frustrating as hell. I worked my ass off on this script and I am completely happy with how it turned out, but even though everybody loves my voice and my pacing and the fun action scenes - they all say the same thing about my character's motivations. And it's something I do not want to change.

For now I've taken the note-behind-the-note approach and added a few bits here and there to make her decision a little clearer, and I'm still thinking of possible tweaks her actions that will give her more tangible reasoning, but I'm still afraid it won't work any better than what I've already done.


Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Great Eleventh Grade Zombie Project moves along

My eleventh graders are having a blast learning about the movie industry. They're in groups, writing scripts for a zombie film. I used a few scenes from existing films they like to teach them script format, but there are a few things they're still having difficulty with.

They all keep writing themselves into the script, for one thing. So a kid named Mario will write a character named Mario. And when character Mario gets raped by a zombie he gets all mad at the other members of his group for making him the victim of zombie rape. I keep telling them not to make themselves the characters and just focus on writing a script, but they're having trouble getting the idea. So now Mario thinks he's going to get Zombie AIDS.

The other big problem they've been having is putting the screen on the page. They keep writing scenes like "Joe and Fidel are brothers. They talk shit while they walk up to the crack house."

They don't realize that they have to describe everything that goes on screen. So I handed them a script to a short film and then showed them the film so they could follow along reading as they watched. After that they said they understood, but we'll see.

If one of the scripts turns out to be super cheap and easy to shoot, I may act as producer and let the kids make the movie. In the mean time, I'm having a couple of guest speakers come in and talk to them about the film industry. So this is turning into a mini film school, all on the suggestion of one kid who wanted me to talk about zombies so he didn't have to do any work on Monday.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Things to do in LA

Last night The Beefcake and I went to see a taping of Web Soup, so if you watch tonight you can catch a brief glimpse of us in the audience. Chris Hardwick is adorable and always excited and I want to put him in my pocket and carry him around.

This is one of the major benefits of living in LA. You deal with the traffic and the violence and the smog and the loud noise and the tourists and the movies that close down busy streets and the high cost of everything, and as a reward you get to do cool stuff. I can go to a drive-in movie or a movie in the Hollywood Cemetery. I can go see a taping of some show or a preview screening of the pilots we'll be seeing on TV a couple of weeks later.

I've been an audience member at tapings of the following shows:
Web Soup - my favorite! Who doesn't love nutshots? Besides my mom, I mean.
The pilot taping of a sitcom starring Fred Savage called Single White Millionaire. It did not get picked up.
A sketch show by some dude that was briefly popular and has since disappeared and I can't remember his name.
The AMAs. I got a free sweatshirt.
An episode of Crumbs, also a brief Fred Savage vehicle. I love Fred Savage. On both shows, he made sure to entertain the audience between takes, often by mocking his own career. He's great, and I would work with him in a heartbeat.

And I've been lucky enough to see a few movies at cast and crew screenings or at Creative Screenwriting screenings. I stopped going to those, though, after the third time I waited an hour and a half to be the second person in line when they cut it off and stopped letting people in.

Every couple of months I realize I haven't done anything cool in a while, so I'll check Twitter or Film Radar and find something in town to do. I've yet to look and not see something I wanted on my activities list.

And that's one reason I love LA.

So to sum up, watch Web Soup tonight on G4.

Tomorrow I will tell you guys about the awesomeness that in one week has become the Great Eleventh Grade Zombie Project.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Today in school we learned about zombies

Last week the eleventh grade English students all finished the same novel, and I was in charge of organizing the whole thing, including a culminating event where we screened the movie in the theater and ate Chinese food and whatnot, so I am tired.

I was so busy working on this that I failed to plan for the future, so Friday I told my kids "Now that we're done with this, I have no idea what we're doing on Monday."

And one of my kids says "Talk about zombies."

They know how much I love zombies. That class has thoroughly discussed our plan of action should the school be swarmed with zombies at any moment. We know where all the weapons and exits are.

So the kid says "Talk about zombies," and I say sure. Why not?

I brought in all my zombie books and asked the class why zombies are so popular. We discussed how they are empty vessels for metaphor, and how they represent so easily who we could be if we made poor decisions. Then I showed parts of Bella Lugosi's White Zombie, the first zombie film, and parts of Night of the Living Dead to show the evolution of zombies as a film creature. They're all mad today because they want to keep watching Night of the Living Dead. We talked about Fido and 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland and Zombie Strippers and Dead Snow. I told them about Maggie and Zombie Baby. I showed them World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide and Zombie Haiku.

So now their assignment is to get into groups and write a script for a zombie short film. Today they're just brainstorming, but tomorrow I'm going to show them how to write a script. One group doesn't like zombies, so I'm allowing them to write about werewolves. One group immediately wanted to write about Jacob from Twilight but I nixed that because then they're not inventing anything. Then they wanted to write about Zombie Osama bin Laden but I nixed that too because it would just be a series of Osama jokes. Now they're getting more creative.

In addition to being a story that includes a protagonist and antagonist and rising action and all that, they must have some kind of metaphor. The zombies must symbolize some issue in our world. One kid came up with the idea of using them to symbolize our obsession with texting. One group wants to use them to represent what it's like to go to high school.

They are all over this thing. I've never seen kids so stoked about a project before. Clearly this was an excellent idea. Right now I'm just getting them to write the script, but if they're up to it I might get them to make the movies. Some days my job is really fun.