Friday, December 30, 2005

Oversimplifying Hollywood
















You see it all over the internet and industry publications. An increasing number of commentators (columnists) are stating boldly that Hollywood is in trouble and without significant changes, the industry will spiral into the depths of bankruptcy and eventually burn itself out. Others spout statistics to prove that there is no box office slump at all.

Naturally, each commentator knows the root of the perceived problem. These roots span every possibility from bad movies, lousy scripts, and cheesy remakes to noisy theatre patrons, DVD sales, poorly run multiplexes, political conspiracies and alien invasions. So, what are those of us outside the golden gates supposed to think?

Well, I don't want to trivialize what may or may not be critical issues, but was any one of these commentators looking over the accountant's shoulder when Disney recorded $313 million in losses? Hiding behind the curtains when Harvey and Bob Weinstein said their goodbyes at Miramax? Doing the laundry when Dreamworks threw in the towel?

Hollywood is made up of people. The film "industry" is made up of people. People run the studios. People write the scripts. People direct the films. People keep the books. People scrape the gum out from under the theatre seats.

The economics that affect filmmaking are volatile, variable and complex and the direction of an organization is as individual and subjective as the politics, personalities, policies, and prerogatives of the people holding the reins.

If it rains in Seattle, do people in Kalamazoo, Michigan get wet? Only if it's raining there too and only if the people aren't indoors or wearing raincoats or riding in their cars or holding umbrellas or standing under an awning or camping in a tent or riding on a subway (does Kalamazoo have subways?) or crossing through a skywalk ...the variables go on and on and on. So what's the answer? Depends on where you're standing.

The same thing works in the film industry or any industry. Variables affect organizations differently. A badly timed release date and an economic nightmare in New Orleans might not leave a bruise on some organizations while breaking the bones of others. Sure, some factors are universal, but the impact is not.

The direction of Hollywood can't accurately be summed up in a single magazine column any more than the solvency of a company can be summed up in a single financial statement. And yet, we continue to talk about Hollywood. Why? Because we must! It's Hollywood! But in the words of William Goldman's Psychology of the Deal, "Repeat after me. 'Nobody knows anything'."

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Attainable Screenwriting Goals

Just finished reading a blog that discusses setting attainable goals as opposed to setting yourself up for failure. It mentions a few writers' goals that are not achievable or are only achievable at the will of someone else. Specifically, this blogger states that setting a goal to win the Nicholl in a given year is unreasonable because it is not within the sole power of the writer to achieve. While I don't categorically disagree with this statement, I do think it merits deeper exploration.

Let's use the three points cited with regard to establishing goals. Goals should be: (1) achievable, (2) within your own power and (3) measurable. Okie doke. Now, let's use those criteria against the goal: Winning the Nicholl in 2006.

Okay, first, is it achievable? Somebody wins it every year so apparently so. Second, is it within my own power? Hmm. Well, yes and no. I have the ability to write a great script but judges make the final decision. Third, is it measurable? I have the "regretfully" letters from Greg Beal to prove it.

So based on the three criteria, because subjective judges are involved, nobody should ever set winning a Nicholl Fellowship as their goal.

Although I agree, in theory, with these three criteria for setting goals, every person who has ever won the Nicholl wanted to win it and probably set it as their goal.

Could we, instead, set a goal of "entering" the Nicholl? That's insane. Any moron can enter.

Could we, intead, set a goal of "advancing" in the Nicholl? Well, sure, but again, the goal is not within our sole power. Readers decide who advances.

It's paradoxical.

So, what are we to do about it? Not dream big? Not aim high? Poppycock. Nothing about making films, not even writing one, is within anyone's sole power and films are only made when somebody dreams big, reaches seemingly impossible goals, and crashes through boundaries. Proof? Just try to get a film financed. Ask any producer if he didn't reach an impossible goal. Follow a director around a set for a few days and you'll wonder why his insides haven't exploded.

Verdict? Sure, set reasonable and attainable screenwriting goals, improve steadily and measure your progress. That's important. But set a few grandiose goals as well. Without them, you'll never leave Idaho.

(http://museinks.blogspot.com/2005/12/first-goal-post.html)

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Screenwriting in a Barber Chair

Well, it's not a barber chair. Men go to barbers. Women go to salons. So, I guess I was in a salon chair. The point is I was bored and in no mood to share intimate details of my stressed out holidays with a perfect stranger with perfect hair, perfect complexion, perfect figure, and perfect fashion sense. My mother had gifted me with an ultra expensive cut, color, perm, style and whatever else I wanted at an elite salon so even though I felt like Quasimodo being coiffured by Esmerelda, one glance at the my split ends and trailer trash hair in the mirror was all the motivation I needed to stay put and let Miss Perfect Teeth do her job.

Now, remember that list of my idiosyncracies from another blog? No? You stumbled here by mistake and only stayed because you saw the words "perfect figure" and hoped I'd send you a nudie photo? Okay, fair enough. I mean, if you actually want a nudie of Quasimodo, that's your business. Anyway, among my idiosyncracies are aversions for bank tellers, clowns, balloons, King Kong and that absolutely terrifying plastic faced Burger King dude. Cripes, he's creepy! Oh, and one more thing I neglected to mention on that list... strangers putting their hands on me. Not that I mind a handshake, brief hug, or casual arm around my shoulder. I don't even mind girlie looking hands as long as they belong to a good friend or at least somebody I know, like, respect, or want to know, like or respect. But strangers? Don't friggin' touch me!!

So, there I sat while Miss Perfect Boobs told me how lovely I was and how cute this cut would be on me. I had not one drop of makeup on, my hair looked like my last cut came from a weedeater and I was wearing my Magoo glasses because the salon fumes burned right through my contact lenses. Uh huh. The picture of loveliness.

I had to get out of there! I couldn't stand another second but what could I do? She had half my head cut and was smiling sweetly at me. Even if I wanted to leave with one side of my hair down my back and the other side to my shoulders, I couldn't leave Miss Perfect Smile and hurt her little feelings. Then I heard him.

Remember Sal? No? Argh! Sal, as I explained in my "I'm Not William Hung" post of October, is that little voice of doubt in my head. Don't tell him I said that because part of the agreement we reached when we became co-writers was that I was only to refer to him as "voice of reason", not "voice of doubt".

Okay, anyway, Sal got my attention while I was in the chair and pointed out that I needed to be doing one of two things. I could either take mental and/or written notes of some of the choice dialogue taking place in the chairs around me or I could withdraw into that dimension that only writers know about where as God, I was stuck in the second act or somewhere along the fourth or fifth day of creating my own universe.

Oh, that Sal. He's usually right, you know. So there I sat for over two hours working out plot issues, rewriting dialogue in my head, taking a few notes in one of my multitudes of books that weigh my purse down so much I get ruts in my shoulder. I had two entire hours of uninterrupted writing time except for a trip to the sink for a rinse. Life was good.

Now, there is a downside to this story. I can no longer do that very cool and ultra sexy Catherine Zeta Jones thing. You know the one... Mask of Zorro. Yeah, that one. Zorro-wannabe slices up her clothes with his sword and only her hair protects her modesty when the shift hits the fan..er, I mean floor. Yeah, well, I can't do that trick anymore.

Oh, and one more thing. I decided I really do like and respect Miss Perfect so I booked her for a trim in six weeks. You know what else? She's not so perfect. As I reflected on my day, I finally identified her flaw. I refer back to paragraph three. She's a liar! Oh yeah, we're gonna get along just fine!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Salmon Swimming Upstream

Okay, it happened again. I just read a screenplay by a fellow aspiring writer and guess what? No conflict! Oh sure, the protagonist has a daunting journey, but everyone in the story is on the very same journey. There is nothing that makes the protagonist stand out. If everyone has the identical conflict, it's not a conflict at all. If every fish is swimming upstream to spawn, you have to point out the one I am supposed to care about by making him or his situation unique. Otherwise, there isn't a story.

I'm a Butterfly, I'm a Size 3, I'm a Screenwriter

Ever just get sick to death of those "positive thinking" people? It's not that I think positive thinking is bad. It's not. Bad is negative. Positive is... well, it's positive!

The problem with positive thinking is that it is not a substitute for hard work, improvement, and corrective measures and I am truly sick to death of motivational speakers who make it sound like it is. Positive thinking alone is worth squat!

I can say that I'm a butterfly all day and I can believe it, too, if I want to. But when I try to take flight off the top off the Plaza of the Americas, all the positive thinking in the world will not prevent the resulting splatter and puddle of crushed bones.

It's that time of the year when we, women, have just spent weeks at the mall surrounded by seventeen year old pencil thin hotties. I can say I'm a size three and I can believe it, but that won't change the fact that nothing but my wrist will fit into those size three jeans.

Now, with some positive thinking, diet correction, hard work, endurance, and exercise, I could be a size three again. So, let's assume I am a size three. No, I haven't been there since I was eight years old but that is not the point. My scenario, so I'm a size three. The trouble is that positive thinking and hard work won't change the fact that I'm still 43 years old and now that I'm a size three, my collar bones stick out, my face is sagging and I get carpet burns every time I pulled my bra off. Not good. I don't want to be a size three!

Okay, now the last one. I'm a screenwriter. You know what? I am. Really. I'm not a produced screenwriter, but I am a screenwriter... a very good one, but not a great one.

I've written five screenplays. Of those five, only one is ready to show anyone. One is still in first draft form and three are undergoing complete rewrites because I was obtuse enough to think at one point in time that they were actually finished. They aren't.

I've got potential. But I'm not a great screenwriter yet and no amount of positive thinking will get me there without hard work.

Hmm. Obtuse. That reminds me. I think I'm late for my exercise class. No, I'm positive!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sewing Analogy Part Deus

Christmas Eve Eve Eve and I think I'm all sewn out. I've made some lovely quilts and blankets as gifts for friends and family but geez, it's time to get back to writing. However, now I have to wrap all these gifts and tie lovely bows on them.

Is there anything more pointless and mundane than wrapping gifts?

Can't I just wrap these blankies in newspaper with a card that says, "Merry Christmas, dear friend or family member, I love you, as proven by the twelve hours it took me to make this mediocre blanket that wouldn't bring more than $50 on eBay or $75 at the flea market so please don't bother trying to sell it and please don't look too closely at my stitches"?

You're right. The printer's ink would stain the fabric.

Funny how I can only sew so much before it becomes a chore and I don't enjoy it any more. Same thing with screenwriting. My brain has to take a break after weeks of nearly nonstop writing. The difference is that when I'm sewing (or gardening), I'm still sorting out screenplay elements as I work. While I'm writing, I'm not sewing a stitch.

Next analogy? How screenwriting is like gardening. Hmm. Uh, yeah. Yippee. Doesn't that make ya wanna rush right back here?

By the way, I still don't see a box under my tree that looks like that $2000 sewing machine in an afore-written post. Anybody?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Exclusively on DVD

Anyone heard this yet? A home entertainement editor at Variety, Scott Hettrick, says a Marvel Studios exec is considering approaching Disney with his next big idea. What idea? A live action film released direct to DVD. How is that new? Because he's talking about a full budget of $60 million or more and charging a premium price ($40 or so) for the DVD of a film that hasn't been shown in theatres.

On the positive side....
* $39.99 for the whole family to see premier in own home
* No movie theatre agony, crying babies and annoying patrons
* Fewer marketing and distribution costs

On the negative side...
* No movie theatre experience, giant screen, and explosive sound
* $40 is about twice what we pay now to wait for the DVD
* Straight-to-DVD has a stigma
* If the idea took off, it would cripple theatres

I can't imagine standing in line at Best Buy to wait for the release of a film anymore than I can fathom the logic behind sleeping on the sidewalk for the opening of Return of the Sith.

Is this the future of movies? The small screen? What would it do to DVD sales? I'm just not movie-savvy enough to speak intelligently about whether this idea has merit. But, I think it's a worthy experiment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Ten Times as Big as a Man

Anybody remember that animated King Kong series? Not old enough? Um, me neither. Ahem. Kong lived on Mondo Island in the Java Sea and fought prehistoric animals, injustice and occasional bad guys. King Kong was produced by Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass for ABC-TV in 1966.

Would love to take a look at a few of those old episodes again.

King Kong you know the name of
King Kong you know the fame of
King Kong ten times as big as a man

Throughout the land you've heard about this wonder
Listen closely and you will here the thunder
Oft this mighty ape and he's a friend of man
So goes the legend The legend of

King Kong you know the name of
King Kong you know the fame of
King Kong ten times as big as a man

One day a boy, too young to know the danger;
Made a friend of this giant fearsome creature!
And the life they led on their island home became a legend, the legend of . . .

King Kong you know the name of
King Kong you know the fame of
King Kong ten times as big as a man.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Stitching a Screenplay

Singer XL-1000
Sewing Machine- Makes all your Dreams come True…

Well, that's what the advertisement says anyway. And, if any one of you is in the mood to spend $2000 on me, this machine is what I want for Christmas.

But, will this sewing machine really make all my dreams come true? What if I didn't know how to sew? Would it still make all my dreams come true?

I've been sewing throw size blankets and quilts for the past few weeks for friends, neighbors and relatives for Christmas. It really doesn't save me any money, but it's more personal than buying a throw off the rack at a department store and I can use my friends' favorite colors, characters, or themes. Plus, sewing gives me time to think, reconcile defects in my screenplays and work out plot issues.

So, this is my take on screenwriting courses, books, software, websites, and conferences. It's kind of like sewing. Yes, another analogy! Just hang in there. This one will pay off.

Sewing isn't just knowing how to stitch anymore than screenwriting is just knowing how to clack on a keyboard. What if my seams are crooked? What if I use brown burlap on everything I create? What if I'm following outdated patterns or my sleeves are uneven or my hem is too short? There are those pesky bobbin jams and needles that need replacing and all those loose threads you gotta do something with. Maybe I'll take some shortcuts because I only want to spend twelve hours on a project, not the forty that it needs. What if my overall finished project just isn't very interesting, attractive, or useful?

Here's the point. I can buy the most expensive and elaborate sewing machine in the world and if I don't know how to use it, I'll read the manual or get somebody to teach me. But that doesn't mean what I create on the sewing machine will be anything somebody would want to buy. Neither will screenwriting courses, books, software, websites, and conferences mean a writer will create a screenplay somebody will want to buy.

There's just not a magic potion, silver bullet, shortcut, or wand that replaces experience, practice, natural creativity, and hard work.

Oh, and one more thing pointed out by a colleague (thank you, Lola!)... a few bad stiches doesn't necessarily detract from the beauty of the overall finished product. But, conversely, perfect stitching won't help a bit if it's a really ugly dress.

Friday, December 16, 2005

On Selling Story Rights

So, Winnie the Pooh is getting a girlfriend! I have to wonder what author A. A. Milne would say about the new television series which will include a six year old girl. Walt Disney Company spokespeople say the female character is not a replacement for Christopher Robin who was based on Milne's own son. The new character is being written in to help with the interactive nature of the series. Argh. Even in the Hundred Acre Wood, I hate change.

Now, this calls the attention of my very little brain to the complexity of owning rights. If I sell my mint 1965 Mustang fully restored to near original condition, then I don't have a thing to say about it if a beatnik sews love beads and dangly balls on the headliner, replaces the pony seats with pickle barrels, and paints psychodelic flowers on the doors.

I guess the same thing goes with story rights. Christopher Robin Milne died in 1996 and I don't know what rights the family owns versus what rights the Disney Company owns. So, if Disney wants to write a six year old girl into The Hundred Acre Wood, I suppose that's their prerogative.

Maybe Disney would consider naming the six year old girl after the author's wife, Daphne. Of course, regardless of her name, Eeyore isn't going to like the new character because he dislikes change more than I do and has very strong views on writing, too.

"This writing business," says Eeyore, "Pencils and what-not. Over-rated, if you ask me. Silly stuff. Nothing in it."

Wonder if that's what he'd think of my blog?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Writing Talent or Skill?

I can't count the number of arguments I've read on various boards about whether writing is something people have a gift or knack for versus a skill that can be taught and learned in the classroom. Most arguments end with some kind of combination of natural creativity and acquired skill. Hmm. No comment, but I do have one very interesting analogy that may or may not fit.

Several weeks ago, I was forced to choose between missing one son's district cross country meet or another son's flag football game. The solution came in the form of my youngest son's team-mate. "We'll take him home after the football game" offered the team-mate's mother, "and if you aren't home by 1:00 p.m., we'll just bring him along with us to the archery tournament."

Her son was competing. Mine had used a bow and arrow once at a rennaisance festival this past spring in one of those booths where you get a prize based on the targets and distances you hit. He was thrilled to see a tournament. Okie doke. Problem solved.

Well, both boys came home with medals around around their necks that afternoon. Yup. Even though my son didn't own a bow, had not practiced, trained or ever competed with a bow and arrow, he entered the tournament at the last minute on a lark. The other boy's mother signed him up and paid his fee on a gut feeling. What do you know? He won a bronze medal!

So I ask you. Skill or natural talent? Either way, I have a Genesis competition bow to purchase for Christmas.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Rock Star

I've often mentioned my sixteen year old son, the runner, who frequently teaches me lessons about life, endurance, willpower, and courage. Just click on any of my posts that compare marathon running to writing. That's my son, Will, in the pics. Funny thing is, the boy has no idea how much I've learned from him.

Tomorrow, Will becomes a Rock Star. That's what White Rock Marathon runners are called as they run a 26 mile race in downtown Dallas that goes around White Rock Lake. Proceeds from the race go to the Scottish Rite Hospital and I cannot begin to adequately express the irony of this whole situation.

When Will was an infant, he had his entire skull reconstructed, was on a heart rate monitor until he was a year old and underwent additional surgeries for a cleft palate and to reconstruct his inner ear. He had the very best doctors. The same doctors who separated the Egyptian twins at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, rebuilt my own son's head.

Today, corrective surgery for craniosynostosis is not as invasive as it was sixteen years ago when they sawed off the back of Will's head, disposed of the curled bone, removed the bone from the top of his head and broke it into little bits to piece the rest of his skull back together. Imagine putting together a 1500 piece jigsaw puzzle with only 40 pieces. That was my son's head after surgery.

Since his head was like oatmeal, he had to stay in a walker and wear a helmet. A fall could kill him so we couldn't allow him to walk unless somebody was right there to catch him if he stumbled. He was developmentally behind other children his age because he couldn't run, swing, climb, and explore the way other children did.

Portions of his skull are still as thin as a piece of notebook paper and he has several spaces and pinholes where the bones never connected. No developmental issues at all but even a mild blow to the head could result in a fracture or concussion. He can't participate in many sports and for a competitive high school jock, that seems almost cruel to him at times.

There was a time sixteen years ago when I put Will to bed every night not knowing if he'd be alive when I woke up in the morning. Today, the little boy who wasn't allowed to learn to walk, runs! Oh, how he runs!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Writing through the Cold

This is Texas. The thermometer on my truck said thirteen degrees this morning. Ouch. Cold weather is so depressing that I sink into a funk every year when it arrives. This year, it arrived with a vengeance.

The power went out in much of my iced over county Wednesday night and mine was one of 3200 homes that had no heat. So, my family huddled in the den by the fireplace and listened to the blizzard of sleet do its best to crack a window. It succeeeded.

Now, when I say family, I'm referring not only to my sons of varying degrees of height and foot putridness, but also to an assortment of animals including one cat, the dog, a small blue fish and a horse. Well, sort of. Sculley (yeah, I named her during the X-Files days) is half Collie and half whatever jumped the fence to visit her mother. I am convinced it was an ancient Caspian horse with exceptional jumping ability.

Sculley lives in a small corral by the barn in the back. She's my walking/running partner. Watching her run must be something like watching those wild horses run along the beaches of Assateague Island. I'd like to go one year and watch the annual pony penning. Anyway, I only just discovered that Sculley is a notorious couch hog and thank goodness she likes Tic Tacs.

So, that's how we stayed all through the night and through yesterday, even after the power returned. We drank hot chocolate and ate leftover homemade chicken noodle soup. Then I sat in my late father-in-law's late third cousin's late mother's heirloom rocking chair and tried to write the beach portions of my latest screenplay. Don't try it. You can't write about a beach while shivering.

But every time Sculley jumped from the sofa to the kitchen (yeah, that far), my mind kept going back to those remarkable horses swimming across the channel. Naturally I was thinking how cold that water must have been and by the end of the day, I had an outline of a Chincoteague story. Oh sure, it's been done. My kids have all read the adventures of Misty. But my story is not about a horse. What's it about? Yeah, you think you've figured it out. Nope. Not a dog either.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Hell on Ice

I'm a Texan. I love Texas. For me, there's no better place, unless we have ice. It's been a couple of years now since Dallas/Ft.Worth had a nasty ice storm and alas, our reprieve may be over. Cold weather depresses me anyway, but ice? Well, that's a living hell!

I've heard it said that we, Texans, can't drive in the snow. That myth can just be busted right now. We rock in the snow! We get our four wheelers out for the short trips and our kids fight over whose turn it is to wheelie out to the barn and back.

For the longer trips, we shift our trucks into four wheel drive and plow through the snow on banks and highway medians while we watch those misplaced yankies in their Volvos idle in traffic behind creeping sand trucks.

And, since it hasn't rained in 129 days, those of us who have sorely missed the sport of mudding (that's joy riding your four wheel drive truck through insanely deep mud), would love to make snow angels! No, that's not lying in the snow and moving your arms. It's taking your mud flaps off, gunning the truck and peeling out so the snow in your wake looks like angel wings. So, yes, Texans can drive in the snow. The trouble is, we don't get much snow.

What we get here is usually a thin sheet of ice that makes highway driving so treacherous that the roads are littered with wrecked cars and jack-knifed eighteen wheelers. It's not even safe to walk or take your four wheeler out because every few minutes, that sickening sound of crunching metal can be heard as another car veers off the road and slams into something or somebody. Schools close because the roads are too hazardous for buses. Hotels fill up so people don't have to make the drive back out to the suburbs from work and stranded parents scramble to find a place for little Johnny to go until they can make it home.

There are no shortage of jokes about Texas weather. I don't know if it's that way in other states but the saying goes that if you don't like the weather, just wait a few minutes. Well, I'm waiting.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Window Sticker Mentality

You've seen them. I'm talking about those brag decals on back windows. Parents put a sticker in the rear window of their cars with a football or cheerleader and the name of their kid beneath it. You probably don't hate them. I do.

My sister has them on her car and says they are a way of showing support to her kids. To me, it looks like a way of validating yourself through your kids. These decals seem to say, "I'm an insecure person who needs to feel like I've done something right in my life so I put this sticker on my window to show you that my kids will amount to something, thus making me a worthy user of the precious oxygen in this world being threatened by deforestation, ozone erosion, and perfume sprayers at department stores."

Here's what else some of these stickers say to me:

CHEERLEADER, DRILL TEAM, DANCE - Hey, look at me! I was an outcast in High School that couldn't get a date even if I paid my brother and now I'm either an overweight housewife, self absorbed socialite, or cafeteria lady but my daughter is a hottie and therefore, you may call me "mother-of-hottie!"

FOOTBALL, SOCCER, BASEBALL - I was a jock and my kid will be a jock. That's all there is to it even if it means he warms a bench all year because he knows more about slide rules than sports. And, hey! Where do the rules say you can't do calculus homework in the outfield?

KARATE - Nobody will give my kid a swirly.... ever. Me? No. I never had a swirly. I was born with chronic inner ear infections and I only hyperventilate at the sound of a flushing toilet because the whooshing makes my asthma act up. Really.

Yeah, I know. You disagree. Most people with kids seem to disagree with me on this whole window sticker thing. If kids want to put a sticker on their own car when they get one or a patch on their jacket that says, "I went to State UIL competition singing Les Boheme", "I am a junior olympic wrestling champion" or "my bull sold for $6000 at the state fair" then good for them. It's their accomplishment and I won't flinch when I read it at a red light. I may even honk and give them a thumbs up for not being one of those bleary eyed kids sitting in front of a video game all day.

There's nothing wrong with bragging about your kids and having pride in them. I brag about mine all the time, even talk about them on a blog!

What I'm saying is that it's dysfunctional to take credit for our children's accomplishments, even if we are the ones that pushed them, drove them to practice, paid for their private lessons, reminded/bribed/threatened them to practice, and bought their uniforms, jerseys or pink leotards.

Seriously. Let the kids have the glory. You think Carly Patterson's mother has a sticker on her bumper that says, "my daughter won the olympic gold in 2004"? Nope.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Dead Man's Chest - Pirate Fever

If you are a fan of Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio and haven't seen the trailer yet for the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean, stop what you are doing and go find it online. It made my palms sweat. But, in truth, I am more excited for the continued success of these two writers' careers than I am about actually seeing POTC 2. While they deserve whatever blessings providence bestows, they didn't luck into suceess. They earned every bit of it. These men work hard, share their knowledge, and do whatever is in their power for their fellow man. Ted and Terry are not only extraordinary writers. They are exceptional human beings. You'll just have to trust me on this one. I don't kiss and tell.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Putting Dreams on Paper

Know what this is? At first glance, it looks like a hundred other houses you've seen with grass, sky, fluffy clouds and a big yellow sun. But this is not a typical house.

This is a bed and breakfast designed by my eleven year old. Yup. He has decided that he wants to open a bed and breakfast when he's older. Funny thing is I didn't even know he'd ever heard of a bed and breakfast until he showed me his design.

Not being the connoisseur of eleven year old art that I am, you most likely missed the wood blinds in the windows and the carriage lights on the porch. Those little trees are crepe myrtles because they are his Mommy's favorite tree second only to the Magnolia tree which, coincidentally, sports that lovely tire swing.

Kids are remarkable teachers. They're unafraid to dream and they boldly proclaim those dreams. Why is dreaming acceptable, charming, and encouraged in children but something we are embarrassed and reluctant to do as adults?

Well, gee, my peers may think I'm a kook if I tell them I quit working in local government to write movies, especially if I've never been to film school, don't know anyone in the industry and have no concrete reason to think I'll ever actually sell one of my screenplays. And yet, like my little boy, I have dreams.

Ya think a blog about screenwriting is the same as a drawing of a bed and breakfast?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Software Worth Every Penny

Never heard of this screenwriting software? Well, maybe I'm the only one on the face of the planet that uses it, but when I began this screenwriting adventure less than two years ago, the $29.99 was more attractive to me than the more advanced softwares that most writers use. I decided to buy the bargainware and upgrade later depending on whether or not my scripts were laughingly passed around water coolors like the latest William Hung CD or received with interest.

This past year, I've had some nibbles from a few good indy producers and a whole barrell of aspiring producers who have never actually completed a project but are looking for the script that will launch their career. Meanwhile, a few readers have said that my margins are wanky and skewing the number of my pages.

So, a few months ago, I decided it was time to upgrade my software and yikes! Final Draft is expensive. But I'm a serious writer, right? So, I started setting money aside in a jar over my refrigerator and prepared to buy Final Draft at the end of the month.

Then my computer crashed. So, I used my Final Draft money on a new computer and started saving again for the next month.

But when the next month came and I was all ready to buy my new software, my singing group was booked at an opry and we needed glitzy costumes. So, my Final Draft money bought a Dolly dress and I started saving again.

Then, the next month came along with hurricanes Katrina and Rita. How could I possibly buy Final Draft when there were people covered in mud and grime who needed clean undies?

The next month, I dinked in both the AFF and Nicholl fellowships. I didn't exactly expect to win either one but I thought I'd at least advance! So, I had a six week long pity party, kept giving my spare money to hurricane evacuees, and bought my son's class ring.

Six weeks later, I was through pouting and was ready to buy Final Draft. Then my laptop died. So, there went my software money again.

This past month, I tried one more time. I saved the money for Final Draft and then opened up a a six hundred dollar electric bill. No, this is not a joke. I don't know what it costs where you live but six hundred dollars for electricity in my house is insane!

Meanwhile, in all that time, my wanky little software program helped me finish a first draft of my latest project. So, I'm not saving for Final Draft anymore but I am still putting money in a jar over my refrigerator. What is it for? I have no idea but it won't be spent on Final Draft.

By the way, look closely at the bottom of that box in the pic. It says "Write polished professional scripts within minutes of opening the box!" I have yet to write a screenplay in minutes!

Monday, November 28, 2005

Seducing the Audience

Marlene Dietrich seduced every camera lens ever put in front of her. She made it look effortless. She was a natural. Yesterday, a blog led me to an interview with with Alan Moore where he discusses seducing the audience as opposed to demanding they see your perspective. Seduction? This is a new screenwriting concept for me.

Moore said "in the story, in the telling of it, the dialogue, the characters, I introduce myself to the reader, I talk to them interestingly, fascinatingly, calmingly, I get them to sort of follow me up the alleyways of the narrative until they are so far within it that they probably can't find their way out, and then you can do whatever you want to them."

I took his comments to heart and started reading at the beginning of a completed project with one question in mind: "am I seducing the audience?". Four pages later, there was no doubt about it. I had reeled the audience in. Very cool. I strutted around with script in hand saying, "oh yeah" and "you got 'em right there".

Hmm. But what kind of a seductress am I? Am I a natural that seduces in first draft? Or, do I have to work on it?

So I started at the beginning of a first draft I'm working on. Ususally, I'm not too critical until I start the second draft. First draft is a "get the outline in screenplay form" stage for me.

In this particular project, I was going about the story in kind of a "Regarding Henry" fashion. You may recall that in the screenplay, Henry gets shot on page eight. Page eight! The story is intelligently written and explores people as they change to meet the challenges of a tragedy.

So, I got started. Okay, first eight pages, did I seduce the audience? No, not yet. I went further. Got to page fifteen. Did I seduce my audience? Nope, still waiting to be seduced. I went on through page twenty five and quit.

It's a good story. It's a strong story. It's a compelling story. But it doesn't seduce the audience. I am not a natural seductress. I have to work on it. It takes time and multiple drafts. The interesting thing here is that even though I didn't verbalize it as "seducing the audience", I knew it had to be done.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Readers Taking Sides

Maybe this should be one of my "mysteries of life" posts, but it does have a screenwriting perspective because it's really not about sports, but about a formula I need to master in my screenplays.

(1) I turn on a football, baseball or basketball game that I have absolutely no emotional stake in but decide to watch anyway because there's nothing better on television and whadya know? It turns out to be an awesome game!

(2) By the end of the first quarter, inning, or period, I have a mild interest and am secretly pulling for one the teams.

(3) Halfway through the game, I'm desperately, but quietly, pulling my hair out and gnawing on my thumbnail, unless the phone rings, in which case, heaven help the person on the other line if he/she isn't giving birth, being transported by helicopter ambulance, or collecting a lottery check.

(4) By the two minute warning, final inning, or last minute on the clock, I am screaming at the television, shouting encouragement, and damning those officials who are one more bad call away from meeting my cousin Guido's dark hooded friends.

(5) When it's all over, regardless of the outcome, I am exhausted and sooooooooooo glad I didn't change the channel. Then I talk about the game with everyone I know who likes baseball, football, or basketball.

How does that happen? I need to recreate this formula!

Maybe a reader picks up my script because it's his job, he's judging a contest, or his production company was interested enough in my logline to accept my script. He has no particular or vested interest in it, but hey, it's in his reading pile and whadya know? It turns out to be an awesome screenplay!

The reader doesn't know my characters in the first scenes but by the end of the first act, he has a vested interest in my protagonist.

By the end of the second act, the reader cares desperately about what's going on.

By Fade-Out, he's either been holding his bladder for the last forty five minutes because he couldn't put the screenplay down or he's been sobbing in his hanky for the past ten or fifteen pages.

When he finally does put the screenplay down, the reader is so glad he read my screenplay that he talks about it with anyone who will listen.

Now that I've identified this "ballgame" formula, all I have to do is figure out how to make readers take sides the way ballgame viewers do. I guess I'll just have to keep watching ballgames until I figure it out.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Critical Rhythm of Dialogue

Oh, the depths to which I've sunk! Yesterday, I heard the cast of Seinfeld on "Live with Regis and Kelly" and they were discussing the critical role of rhythm in dialogue. Stop snickering! I wasn't watching Regis and Kelly. The kids left the television on. Really. I was busy ordering books at Barnes and Noble online with a gift card from my mother (happy birthday to me!). Of course, when I heard discussion about scriptwriting and dialogue, I did step away from my computer and pay attention.

Now, puhleeeze stay with me on this. I think it's important.

The point made by the Seinfeld cast was that producers and directors rarely, if ever, allowed any of them to deviate even one word from the script. It wasn't that the cast didn't have good ideas, but the rhythm was critical to the comic value of the dialogue. No flexibility.

Okay, so botch up the rhythm and the laughs are gone. That's the first thing you learn in Stand-Up-Comedian 1.01, right? But, I'd heard it before related to script writing.

Ted Elliott says something similar on the Pirates of the Caribbean commentary. There was a portion of dialogue that one of the actors felt was too harsh or brutal or out of character. I don't remember it exactly so if you want a direct quote, put your DVD in. Ted's response was not an objection to change in dialogue as long as the rhythm didn't change. Flexibility as long as the rhythm doesn't change.

Okay, that got me to thinking about other films, programs, and characters who relied heavily on the rhythm of the dialogue. All the examples that come to my mind, however, seem to be for comedic effect. At the moment, I cannot not come up with a single non-comedic situation where I think changing the rhythm of the dialogue would ruin the dialogue.

So, this is my quest: to find out from screenwriters and from studying films if rhythm can be critical in non-comedic situations. I'll report my findings later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Gal Who Set Terry Off

Sometime back in October, I posted a link on Wordplay to an article that had some very cool set and production information for Dead Man's Chest including great spoilers about a giant squid! A squid! Can you imagine? Who, but Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio would put a giant squid on the deck of a ship?

Anyway, Mr. Rossio read the article and promptly took exception to remarks made by the article writer regarding the success of Pirates of the Caribbean resting solely on the shoulders of Johnny Depp. He then spilled out a much justified rant insisting that a performance is created by an actor, but the role is created by writers, directors, producers, editors, costume, hair, makeup, sound, background, etc and he concluded by saying he really didn't understand why writers (entertainment article writers, I'm assuming) keep getting it wrong.

That's easy. Human beings are superficial.

The writer of the article, like many movie viewers, saw the finished product and discounted everything underneath, all of the components that went into making Pirates of the Caribbean work. I would compare that to the body of a car getting credit for the V8 under the hood. Poor analogy? No, I don't think so. An actor being credited with the success of a film is just as unreliable as body styles being credited for the performance of a vehicle. But, it happens. It's all about the surface.

Take my all time favorite car, the Ford Mustang. When they came out, Ford could have sold those things with a lawnmower moter and women still would have bought them because the car looked hot! Superficial. Sad. True.

Dodge Chargers had terrible sales in 1966 even though they came standard with a 318 V-8 producing 230 hp at 4400 rpm. Why? Because the body was ugly. They only sold 468 of them with the 426 Hemi. The body was hideous! (and Hemi amounted to about a third of the cost of the car) Point? Dodge had to make body style changes so one of the hottest running vehicles outside the racing world would be attractive to consumers.

Same thing with movies. I want to watch a well made film on all levels, but unfortunately, I actually do enjoy a lot of very bad films with very bad performances. Why? Because I'm superficial enough to sit through Master of Ballentrae for Errol Flynn, of course!

Some days ago, I was in a chat room for screenwriters and screenwriting wannabes when somebody recognized my name and said "hey, you're the gal that set Terry off!". He told the room about Terry's rant and how my post had ignited it. No, I corrected him, I didn't set Terry off. The author of the article set Terry off.

You see? This guy in the chat room, this guy who would be the first to shout AMEN after reading Terry's post, this guy only remembered the surface of what Terry Rossio had to say.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Writing Silly Putty Characters

Remember silly putty? It bounces, bends into all kinds of shapes and will even take on an image if you smash it into the newspaper? Well, I wrote a character like that recently.

Many times, I'll write some kind of on-the-nose dialogue that I know is lame, but I'll put it there as a placeholder and edit it later. This works pretty well for me. So, I tried an experiment doing the same thing with a character in my current project.

My outline was complete but something still didn't feel right. Something was too contrived and predictable. Okay, so technically, I guess that means the story was IN-complete and I knew it. As I was writing the screenplay, I decided to add a vague character. This character was basically a "placeholder" for a future character and he was drawn in a way that I could make him jump on any side of the fence depending on where I built that fence. He could bounce, bend, and take on any traits I needed depending on where I stuck him in the story.

I was reasonably certain this was one of the most irresponsible screenwriting stunts I've pulled yet and I had no idea what I was going to do with this character. I fully expected to cut him and his chessy pointless on-the-nose dialogue in my second draft. He was poorly drawn, wishy washy and sometimes mirrored another character. He added absolutely nothing to the story.

My red pen was readyto kill off this waste of paper as I went through the draft and started marking weaknesses in the story. Then I found a hole. It was a big gaping ugly crack in the story. Could my placeholder character fix it? I studied it for a day or two. Nope. No way he could fix it and even if he could, he's in all the wrong scenes. This was a really stupid idea. So my red pen killed him. It was quick and painless.

Yesterday, a bright cliche went off over my head. (That would be a yellow light bulb because as much as I've sought out strobe lights, lava lamps, blacklights and even a lazer pen, I always get those boring yellow light bulbs.) The solution was simple.

All I had to do was alter the crack in the story. It wasn't a bad crack. It was just too clean a crack. It was a symmetrical crack that affected each character the same way. Aha! That was the problem. I should have known better. Cracks aren't symmetrical. They zig and zag, get wider and fatter, and take bizarre nonsensical turns.

So, I put my silly putty placeholder character back in and guess what? He still didn't work.

Morale to the story? Characters aren't characters without a purpose. Maybe somebody else can make this idea work. I couldn't. But at least I was right about one thing. Writing a silly putty character was one of the most irresponsible screenwriting stunts I've pulled yet.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Mysteries of Life - Squirrels on Crack

If this is an urban legend, I sure wish I'd been the one to start it. I've scanned newspapers online and am unable to verify, to my own satisfaction, the validity of the story that squirrels in South London are digging up stashes of hidden cocaine in front yards and are becoming addicted to crack.

Now, the first and most important question is: how do you know if these spastic little rodents are on crack? Isn't that like choking a Smurf and waiting for him to turn blue? Squirrels are scary mean little beasts anyway. Oh sure, you think they are sweet bushy little tree dwellers, but try to pet one and you'll draw back a nub!

Second, if the story is true, then why are the reporting authorities being so vague about the identities of witnesses? Quotes are coming from "a neighbor", "an unnamed police officer", "a local backyard wildlife specialist" and an "anonymous gardner"? No witness wants to be quoted pointing an accusing finger at a squirrel? Well, I have some theories on this whole squirrel situation and why witnesses wish to remain anonymous.

Theory Number One - Squirrels are being used as the new weapons of mass destruction. Yup. Al Qaeda has created a whole species of suicide squirrels who are strung out on crack and planting explosive walnuts on subways, in hoods of cars, trash cans, mailboxes and birdhouses.

Theory Number Two - The FBI caught so much grief when those dolphins-packing-heat got loose after New Orleans flooded, that they are now stashing microphones in the bushy tails of squirrels to gather intelligence. The squirrels only appear to be on crack because every time a squirrel relives himself, the little microphones zap his teeny tiny testacles.

Theory Number Three - Tim Burton has something to do with it. I don't know what. My mind doesn't go that dark but you can bet that Johnny Depp is lurking around someplace waiting to be called on the set.

Feel free to dismiss any or all of these theories in whole or in part but if your mailbox explodes and you see Johnny Depp slinking away with an electricuted squirrel under his arm, I'm gonna say "I told you so".

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Writer Idiosyncrasies

We writers are peculiar folk. In fact, artists of all kind seem to have idiosyncratic habits and traits that make some people nod and say "yeah, I know what that's like" and others shake their heads and think "what is wrong with that guy?". Creativity is in the eye of the beholder apparently.

I have a few of these idiosyncratic behaviors or so it would seem to the uncreative eye. I like chedder cheese dipped in ketchup and am terrified of balloons, King Kong, bank tellers (so I always use the drive-through), and clowns. Yikes. Clowns are scary stuff. Really. Also, I would sooner invite the public to watch me shower than discuss my work with strangers or let anyone read a work in progress. It's just unnatural! What I write is my business.

Case in point -- A librarian this morning commented that I'd been missing for a week or so and said it was good to see me. I shouldn't have told her that I'd been busy writing because her natural response was "Oh, really? What kind of writing do you do?" Argghh. I really wanted to say, "None of your busybody business. I'm not here to chit chat, make friends, buy cosmetics from you, or apply for a job. Please just scan my card, give me my stinkin' books, and let me get to the bank so I can be first in line when the drive through opens!"

But, I smiled and instead of saying any of that, my answer to "Oh really, what kind of writing do you do?" was a very simple.... "very good writing, thank you." Did she take it lying down? No.

Some time while I wasn't looking, that crafty woman must have dialed the bat phone under her desk and notified the whole library that an idiosyncratic writer with an attitude problem was up front because directly behind me arrived a man checking out a VHS. What tape? Well, on the cover was King Kong and Fay Wray! Gasp! This was a sign of a very bad day.

I immediately realized I should have been nicer to that library lady. Providence was ticked off. I smiled sweetly, bid her have a nice day, and prayed that I had redeemed myself before any other calamity befell me. I was wrong.

As I darted through the metal detector, I bumped right into ...yikes, a clown! He had white paint, green circles on his cheeks, and either painted his teeth yellow or missed his last few dental appointments. I took two careful steps backward, moved to the left and proceeded cautiously to door. Then you know what that maniac did? He tried to give me a balloon! Aaaaaaaccckkkkkk!

I dropped my books and ran out into the parking lot screaming like a schoolyard sissy. I guess sooner or later, I ought to go back and see what became of my books. That clown probably stole them and I will have a hefty fine to pay. You know what that means? Another trip to the bank...

Note to reader: I used a picture of Fay Wray without King Kong because I don't want to to wet my chair.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Mysteries of Life - Train Graffiti














Have you ever taken a look at the art on a train? I was sitting at the crossing guards this morning and stopped counting freight cars because (1) I was getting dizzy and (2) I started looking at the art on the sides of those things. It's remarkable! Among the single color spray painted political statements and tic tac toes, I saw complexly drawn cryptic texts, multi-colored naked women, a volcano spitting out dollar bills and one very well drawn sneaker.

Who paints those anyway? Bums? Teenagers? Graphic artists with too much time on their hands? Do people walk around train yards with three or four of their favorite colors of paint in their pockets? I smell a marvelous documentary in the making!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

High Concepticide


Okay, no "concepticide" is not a real word, but I accomplish it now and then none the less with my screenplays that asphyxiate their initial high concepts. So, concepticide, by my definition, is death of a high concept.

How do you kill a high concept? Well, you choke the life out of it. Yeah, really. You start out with a fresh high concept outline that you've slaved for weeks to perfect. Then, as you start writing, you can't resist the urge to cram it full of additional themes, symbolism and subtext like an obsessive horticulturalist filling a patio garden with four seasons of veggies, a fruit of the month for the next year, an herb assortment for a homeopathic cure to everything from the the common cold to bunyons, and then add a few hanging vines and perennial flowers to make it look nice.

On the positive side, you're almost certain to have NO weeds. There's very little room for them. However, virtually every reader will be allergic to something on your patio. Can the high concept be saved? I'm not sure yet. I haven't finished digging the turnips out of my screenplay.

Gumball Management
















Dallas voters, for the second time in six months, defeated a proposal to amend the charter to give more administrative and management authority to the mayor. Voters are smarter than we are given credit for being. Most of us understand that elected officials don't necessarily have management skills and elections are volatile and unpredictable. The change in mayoral power would affect future mayors as well as this one. There's a reason so few large cities have strong mayor governments. It's like putting a loaded gun in a vending machine. You may get somebody who knows how to use the gun responsibly. But you may get some kid with a pocket full of quarters.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Only a Writer Could Love

Can you imagine snuggling up with this little bugger on the sofa? Yikes! Few people probably appreciate this guy's value as a pet. But somebody loves him. His owner enters him every year in the ugliest dog contest and he has won three times in a row. He's probably a great pet.

If a writer is the only one who loves his story, does that mean it's not a very good story or could it be that the story is just one not easily appreciated? And, if the writer knows he's the only one who will appreciate his story, does that mean he shouldn't write it?

Writers aren't wired that way. We have to write the story in our heads and give our stories the same tender loving care this hideous beast gets. Maybe somebody else will snuggle up with my darlin' some day and appreciate it for the art I'm certain that it is. Then, again, maybe I've written an ugly dog with a face that only a mother could love.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Writing as a Marathon Part 3














My son's cross country team continues to demonstrate the payoffs of endurance, hard work, and a refusal to accept mediocrity. They advanced in the regionals yesterday and qualified for the state meet next weekend. Out of one hundred and fifty seven of the best runners in the region, my son finished tenth even after suffering from a virus that left him dehydrated earlier in the week. I learn a lot from this boy.

Some day, I'll explain why his head was reconstructed as an infant and why he wasn't allowed to learn to walk and why watching the boy run is a testimony to willpower and the miracles of pediatric neurosurgery. That's him out front. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a screenplay to improve.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Horses Circling the Airport

I love mixing my metaphors! Oh, and also Chicklets soaked in Big Red but that's for another post. This post is a concoction of equine and aviation metaphors but is really about outlining.

I plan to quote people with more cells than I in the screenwriting lobe of the trilobed structure of the brain, lying posterior to the pons and medulla oblongata and inferior to the occipital lobes of the cerebral hemispheres... oh wait. No, that is the portion of the brain that regulates voluntary muscle use and balance. Anyway, please take advantage of the web addresses, where provided, and get the information straight from the horses' mouths as I have a tendency to confuse horses with mules, zebras, small giraffes, an occasional political figure and even now and again, the lead singer of a geriatric rock band.

Perhaps you are one of those few people who can knock out a darned good first draft without outlining. Terry Rossio (www.wordplayer.com) says that in this case, your first draft is actually functioning as an outline. Everyone outlines, says he and he's a thoroughbred so no need to examine his teeth. Just take his word for it.

I've often compared writing without an outline to taking a road trip without a map. Sure, it's easily done, but the driver risks getting lost, taking unnecessary side trips, wasting fuel, and making the journey longer and more frustrating than it has to be. Many writers buck at this analogy but Charles Edward Pogue says that while non‑outliners always think that outlining precludes "wandering", it doesn't. Rather, because we have the road map, we are free to wander, explore interesting by‑paths and curious dead‑ends, without losing our way and still, we know how to get back to the main road without all the grief, and confusion of getting lost.

I saw a remark yesterday by Dave Olden on an Artful Writer forum (www.artfulwriter.com) where he compares writing without an outline to circling the airport and looking for a place to land. Dave is not a seasoned horse like Misters Pogue and Rossio, but you can check out his blog just the same at www.manifestingit.blogspot.com.

Though I've never seen a flying horse, nor elephant for that matter, many writers do this very thing. They circle because they really don't know where they are going, much less where they are landing. I know because I've done it myself.

Yes, on the rare occasion when I was liquored up on arrogance, I deluded myself into thinking that I was a unicorn, a mythological version of the horse that doesn't observe the laws of nature or gravity that mortal horses do. Naturally, stories written while I was in that state either fell from the sky, crashed into mountains, or exploded into fireballs.

By the way, I did eventually locate the little black boxes for each of these doomed screenplays. They all said the same thing: pilot error.

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Nicholl Farewellowship

Okay, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but finding out today that two guys who frequent Wordplay got Nicholl Fellowships felt like hugging a warm puppy. Up to that point, my day had been terrible. I mean, this was the kind of day that made me want to shave my head just so I could feel in control of something. Then I read about these two guys and I was suddenly proud for people I've never met.

Isn't that bizarre? Pride for something I had no part in accomplishing? Beats the heck out of me. I'm usually rather miserly with my applause and have a predisposition for eating sour grapes when it comes to these sorts of things but right now, I'd really like to give my best Hugh Beaumont imitation, brush my fist past their chins and say "atta boy, Beav!" to each of them.

As for me.. well, I may not have gotten a fellowship, but a great many nifty things rhyme with fellowship. Maybe I can make due with a few of them while I'm improving my craft. Let's see...pleasure trip, skinny dip, cruise ship, tortilla chip and guacamole dip all rhyme with fellowship. Sounds like a nice vacation in the Caribbean, doesn't it?

Or, how about pistol grip, leather whip, roach clip and guilt trip? I don't know what that sounds like but somebody's probably going to jail.

How about tie clip, ego trip, unzip and pink slip? Okay, moving on.

Maybe I should just write a better screenplay and one day see my own film clip. Sounds like a good plan. Well, right after I finish reading Funky Winkerbean.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Research Beyond Ratings

A movie rating does not absolve a parent from making educated decisions about what their kids watch. There. I’ve said it. MPAA’s rating standards cannot possibly reflect the moral and censorship standards of every household in America as words like “offensive” and “appropriate” are subjective terms that vary from parent to parent.

I’ve been reading today about the alleged violence and adult humor in Chicken Little and the objections of some viewers. Maybe it’s excessive. Maybe it’s not. It’s gonna depend on who you ask.

People like to point to old cartoons either as a defence for current day animated violence or as a participant in the decline of America. (Funny. Seems like there'd be a rash of anvil related crimes in the 60's). It’s simple parental prerogative. You don’t like Roadrunner cartoons? Don’t let your kids watch them. You think Popeye was a racist? Don’t buy his DVD’s.

I saw a Tweety cartoon the other day that I hadn't seen since I was a little girl. The Abbott cat tells the Costello cat to give him the bird. Costello cat says, “yeah, I’ll give ya the bird”. It was hysterical and I don't care if my kids see it. But, it didn’t even merit a chuckle when I was ten. On the other hand, I never allowed my kids to see the animated Hercules film. My son, who was thirteen at the time picked up a picture book of the movie and saw a dead Megara floating in a green fog in hell. He had just lost his grandmother to Cancer and was very disturbed by the image. So, no Hercules. My circumstance. My kids. My prerogative. No biggie.

Parents are still in charge of what they send their kids to see and can investigate films before their little darlin’s are exposed to them. If it worries you, then listen to what other parents say, watch movie reviews, look the film up on the internet or even view the film first and then form an opinion about the appropriateness of the film.

You think Chicken Little might give your kid War of the World nightmares about uzi wielding farm animals? Don’t spend the $8 plus $10 or so in snacks. Nobody is twisting your arm.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Backstory Cacciatore

Once again, I’m speaking as a writer with nothing on my resume to defend the authority of my pen on the subject of screenwriting. What I am defending here today is the absence of backstories. Character development is not dependent on backstories and backstories are not a substitute for character development.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post is meant to infer, suggest, intimate, hint, or insinuate that Mario Andretti is a hot headed reckless Italian. Please don’t sick your lawyers on me, Mr. Andretti, this is a hypothetical example for education purposes only.

Since I argue much better by clacking on my keyboard than in person, I warn you now that it will be very difficult to disagree with my position. If you prefer to spend your time digesting opinions that ignite in you a belligerent ire, you may want pop in Forbes.com or the Washington Post for some choice political blogs.

I’m really quite sick of aspiring screenwriters claiming that an antagonist without a backstory is not a well developed character. These two phrases, “backstory” and “developed”, are not synonymous. The measurement of a well drawn villain and/or antagonist is not whether or not he comes with a compelling backstory.

Ever been in the passenger seat of a car driven by a maniac? By maniac, I mean a guy who jumps curbs, drives over medians, takes out a few mailboxes and doesn’t hesitate to roll down an embankment or gun it through a red light at a busy intersection. If he’s flippin’ the bird at a guy wielding a sawed off shotgun out his window, do you really care WHY either one of them became an insane driver? No. You’re in the middle of a nightmarish adventure, caught up in the moment (oh how I hate that phrase) and only interested in getting out of this situation with your body parts still in tact. No backstory necessary.

Okay, same situation. You’re the passenger in a maniac’s car. But this maniac happens to be Mario Andretti. Now, if you don’t know who Mario Andretti is, then a little backstory here may be helpful, interesting or even a little important. You do, after all, need to know that he is a racecar driver. It might raise your confidence level in the driver and lesson your fear of becoming road pizza. But the driver’s character as a daredevil is demonstrated by the way he drives, not by the fact that he’s Mario Andretti. And, do we care, as we face the dude with the sawed off shotgun, that Mario grew up in post-Mussolini Italy and became a racecar driver after seeing Ascari compete in the Italian Grand Prix at Monza?

In The Fugitive, we don’t know how Gerrard became the uncompromising diehard that he is. We know nothing about his backstory. When his partner is held at gunpoint, Gerrard shoots the gunman without negotiating so we can guess that maybe at some point, Gerrard came out on the losing end of a compromise, but we don’t’ know that. He says simply that he doesn’t bargain. No backstory, but a well drawn character.

In Pirates of the Caribbean, we know that Barbossa stole the Black Pearl from Jack Sparrow so we have a little history. But Barbossa is well spoken and a shrewd negotiator so we can guess that he may have been a lawyer in the King’s court before he became a pirate but he could just as easily have been a banker. So, why did he become a pirate? No idea and we really don’t need to know.

We, as writers, need to know the backstory for most of our characters. If we don’t, then we may not know our own story very well. But some writers try to use backstory as a substitute for character development and what they get is a cacciatore of backstories instead of well drawn characters.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Writing Sources of Conflict

We’ve all read them: screenplays written as dramas, but the stakes aren’t real or the conflicts are so flimsy that they aren’t credible. If there are, according to Georges Polti, only thirty six dramatic situations to choose from, shouldn’t we be able to just pick one and write it knowing that it will work? Why then are so many dramas crammed full of conflicts that don’t work or leave the reader apathetic?

If drama, in its most simplistic definition, is conflict, then characteristics of drama will be as variable as those components that formulate conflict. Sources of conflict are made up of opposing goals, views, forces, and desires. The sources of drama will change as those same goals, views, forces and desires respond to our changing world. Time moves forward. Sources of conflict move with it.

How is that possible if there are only 36 dramatic situations and they never change?

Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Fugitive and Les Miserables all fall into the category of pursuit. A fugitive is being pursued for some kind of offense. The dramatic situation is the same in all four, but the sources of conflict in each one are different. Bonnie didn’t have to ride a horse over scorching desert and Butch didn’t have newspapers reporting his every move. Jean Valjean hid from justice for over 20 years but Richard Kimball lived in an age of instant information. Four very different films. One dramatic situation.

What does this mean to me, as the writer developing a drama? It means that not only must a I intelligently convey the drama, but I must also portray the conflicts (1) within the bounds of logic for the period I’m writing and (2) within the context of the reality I’ve created in my story.

Does this mean that a conflict in 1940 won’t work in 2005? No, but if conflict is a car metaphor and your protagonist is driving a shiny new 1940 Plymouth coup still sporting a $645 window sticker, he would never pass a Ford Mustang on the highway. Mustangs came out officially in 1965 (although I happen to own one of the 1964 1/2's). In the same respect, a pregnant teenager in high school doesn’t experience the same sources of conflict in 1950 that she would today. The conflict is there, but the shock value, attitudes about teenage pregnancy, education resources and her alternatives have changed. As a fashion metaphor, your conflict is no longer a poodle skirt. It’s a belly ring.

Generational conflicts that existed 50 years ago are still around. Take Rebel Without a Cause, for example. While the film was made in 1952, the conflicts between Jim and his parents, the teens with each other, and the conformity of society being forced upon them are all conflicts that exist for young people today. Change their clothes, stick them in modern cars and get rid of a few cheesy slang words and portions of that film could be re-shot word for word in 2005. They may argue over Internet privileges instead of telephone privileges, but hair, clothing, language, curfew and choice of friends are all pretty much unchanged sources of conflict with teenagers.

To the contrary, when Imitation of Life was made in 1959, the sources of conflict had to be adjusted to fit attitudes about race and changes in the roles of black Americans that had taken place since the original adaptation of Fannie Hurt’s novel in 1934. The black daughter still longs to be white but the modernized story had to base her desires on the segregation issues valid in 1959, not 1934. The conflict was the same, but the source of the conflict changed. Were the story to be remade in 2005, the daughter not wanting to black would be a harder sell altogether since her motivation for wanting to be white in 1934 was that blacks were treated as subhuman and in 1959 that race and affluence were conjoined. Race issues still exist in 2005, but they’ve increased, decreased, branched off and mutated. A 2005 remake of Imitation of Life would need (1) a differently defined source of conflict (2) a different conflict altogether or (3) a different reality (or lack of it). Race conflicts have regrettably withstood time, but the sources of those conflicts have changed. The daughter may still want to be white in 2005, but maybe it’s to get into a particular college or profession where white Americans have an advantage over black Americans.

Last year, I read a screenplay that I would consider a modern day version of the 1957 film Twelve Angry Men. With our current preoccupation with courtroom drama and crime shows, I thought this was a clever premise for a low budget indy film. But the 2005 story didn’t work using the same basic sources of conflict that the 1957 film used. The primary conflict of one juror holding out for acquittal against the other eleven worked but the conflicts between the individual jurors lacked credibility. Instead of twelve white men on a jury whose bigotries are based on age, education, and social class, a 2005 story would need a more diverse jury where gender, race and probably religion play a role in the conflicts.

In the 1937 civil war era film Jezebel, the female protagonist and her fiancĂ© have conflicts in their relationship when she defies acceptable behavior of the time. She wears a red dress to a party instead of white and shamelessly enters a bank where all respectable ladies know that women are not permitted. We would assume this conflict wouldn’t work in 2005. But defying acceptable behavior is a timeless conflict. Only the sources have changed. We could write the protagonist walking into a men’s restroom because the ladies’ room line was too long and achieve
the same effect. Same conflict. Different source.

I read a short story recently where an older sister was trying to protect her little sister from Nazis. The author was insulted that I said the conflict was weak. “How would you feel if you were protecting your little sister from Nazis?” she demanded. In her story, everyone was protecting somebody from a horrible fate so the protagonist’s conflict blended with everyone else’s. This story was the equivalent of 500,000 salmon swimming upstream. Their conflicts are identical. They’re all swimming upstream and they’re all trying to get to the same place. Which fish am I supposed to care about and why? Point him out to me.

Dramas encompass everything: wars, sports, show business, literature, economy, politics, natural disasters, mental illness, social problems, disaffected youth, biographies, race, societal conditions, current events, law enforcement, technology, health, history and science. It’s only logical that as time progresses, new sources of conflict will be born while others fade into extinction. That doesn't mean the dramatic situations change, only the sources of conflict. Good drama requires credible conflict. Credible conflict requires legitimate sources of that conflict.

If sources of conflict change as mankind progresses. The key for us, as writers of drama, is knowing our Plymouth coups from our Ford Mustangs and our poodle skirts from our belly rings.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Inconsolable Second Place














So yesterday, my son’s cross country team placed second in their district meet. They had been sure they’d beat their rival school and were certain they’d have a 2005 district champion patch on their letter jackets. Second wasn’t good enough. They were inconsolable.

Even though they had three runners in the top ten and even though they qualified for the regional competition next Saturday, they were inconsolable.

These boys ran a good race, but it wasn’t their best and they knew it. It didn’t matter to them how many schools were going home with nothing. They were inconsolable.

It was the end of the world because they weren’t first. Most of the guys didn’t even smile as they accepted their trophies. What a bunch of whiners. I wanted to smack each one of them.

Then I remembered how it felt when I dinked in the Nicholl and the Austin Film Festival. It didn’t matter how many Indy producers had drooled all over my screenplay, I had never opted, never sold, and never advanced in a competition. I wasn’t thinking about all the writers who have never even gotten this far. After each dink letter, I pouted, had a pity festival (a party wasn’t enough), and eventually shook it off and got back to writing. Then I found some people I respect to take a look at my screenplay and tell me what they think went wrong.

The cross country team was back at school running this morning before most people’s alarm clocks go off. They have a regional meet to prepare for and another opportunity to beat their rival school. If they don’t place first or second in the regional meet, they don’t go to the state competition. They have to work harder this week than ever before.

Is it really such a bad thing to hold yourself to a high standard and then beat yourself up when you fall short of your expectations? Maybe if the boys had won district, they’d have gotten complacent, not worked as hard this week and botched the regional meet. Maybe nothing would be different and they would work just as hard either way. Maybe if I had advanced in the Nicholl or the AFF, I wouldn’t be working so hard to identify and improve my own writing weaknesses.

If failure isn’t painful, can you ever really succeed? I hope I can write next week that the boys placed first or second in the regionals and are going to the state meet just like I hope some day soon, I can tell you that I have aced a respected competition or better yet, opted a screenplay. But if I don’t, you can bet that the boys will still be running and I will still be writing.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Signing Release Forms

Okay, so here's my unqualified unprofessional unreliable hypothesis on release forms. If you don't sign it, your screenplay won't get read. It's pretty much that simple.

That's not to say you should sign a release given to you by any ol' toothless dude in a mobile home with "production company" spray painted over the door or some guy sitting in the Walmart parking lot accepting submissions from the tailgate of his El Camino. But, come on. You've signed more complicated stuff. You've probably given away a kidney or two on your credit card applications and do you even know what you agreed to when you refinanced?

If a legitimate agency, production company, or manager gives you a release and you want them to take you seriously, sign it. Yeah, we all have to start some place and maybe you have to work with some small company that really is in a mobile home. Fine. Take the release to an entertainment attorney and/or research the company's history with other writers.

Friends, a release is standard operating procedure. You have to sign one so your kid can ride a bus to school, you have to sign one before a doctor will look at your hang nail, and you have to sign one before a production company will read the work of an unknown. Whether established screenwriters sign them or not is something you'll have to ask a pro.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Who's Your Daddy?

Somebody asked me yesterday what my status as a screenwriter was. That is one of the strangest things I've ever been asked. My status? As if I'm an online auction or a bank statement downloading? Geez. But, I know what he meant so here's my status.

I'm a good writer. Am I a great one? That depends on whether we are talking about screenplays or press statements. Independent producers have ooooh'd and awwwww'd and showered me in drool. But, none of them option my work. Hmm. Guess I'm one of those gals with a "great personality".

I've dinked at the Austin Film Festival and in the Nicholl. I didn't even get a second round or next 100 or top ten percent. Does that mean I can't write? No. It means, so far, I can't win. But, it could mean I can't write.

I am in the process of writing what I think is a great screenplay. Who isn't?

Once this screenplay is done, I'll be doing some serious soul searching and self evaluation. How much more time am I willing to devote to a craft that I have only a minute sliver of a chance of succeeding at?

Sometimes, it feels like I'm on the Midway at the fair, throwing away dollar bills trying to win a stuffed animal in a game I know is rigged. If that's the case, why do I keep seeing little kids walking around with giant Yogi Bears? Because their Daddy won it for them? Because they outsmarted the barker? Because they are that talented? Well, I don't have a Daddy at this fair and I don't know enough about the barkers to outsmart one so all that's left for me is the talent. I'd better have some or go play a different game.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Three Day Migraine

I don't promote products of any kind because somebody could have an allergic reaction and sue me. So, I'm not telling you to buy this product. Nope. And, don't try to sue me because I have three sons so even the pennies in my sugar bowl are missing. Nor am I telling you not to buy any particular product because I don't want any manufacturer hunting me down like a homeopathic and/or pharmaceutical product bashing dog. So there. Let's see.... is that all the caveats, admonitions, warnings and information before I continue? Oh! One more thing. I am not a doctor, nor have I ever played one on TV.

All right. Here we go. I get migraines. It's probably because I spend so much time in front of a computer screen so writers, take note. I have had a migraine for three days. Three straight head-pounding, somebody-please-close-the-blinds-and-nobody-make-a-sound days. Yes. Three can't-drive-a-car-cuz-I-can't-read-the-street-signs-because-of-the-flashing-things-in-my-eyes days. You get the picture?

I used to take prescription migraine medication. It worked like a charm. But once the medicine wore off, the headache came back determined to punish me for trying to vanquish it. You could almost hear the headache say "you dare try to thwart me with your dastardly elixar? There is no concoction, antidote, drug, panacea, placebo or remedy of any kind that can foil my awesome and terrifying power! Wah! Ha! Ha!"

.. okay, maybe you couldn't almost hear it, but it was loud and clear to me. Doctors called these voices "rebound headaches" and we all know anyone on the rebound is bad news.

Where was I? Oh, okay. So, a year or so ago I stopped taking the prescription drugs and have treated my periodic migraines with over the counter Excedrin Migraine. (reminder to read disclaimers in first paragraph. DO IT NOW!). Well, this week, the Excedrin met Mister Awesome-and-Terrifying-Power and cowered in the dark recesses of my stomach like a whipped puppy. Frankly, I was in a head pounding, light oppressive, vomiting in the dirty toilet(oh gross, do men just sit on the pot and explode?) hell. Yes, this migraine was hell.

Somebody told me about this headache stuff that you roll on your head the way you roll antiperspirant in your armpits. Uh. Huh. I was skeptical but desperate. So, I got my son to play seeing-eye-dog and lead me through the Walmart Pharmacy where he found it. I couldn't read the labels because of all the orange and yellow lightening in that store which I am sure is against some kind of building code.

Within a few minutes it dulled the head pain and the flashing things in my eyes were gone. With the flashing things gone, the nausea went too. This product worked for me.. moi...yo...it may not work for you.

If you try this product, which I am not recommending for aforementioned reasons, there is one important warning you need to know that they neglected to put on the box. When you use this product, to the average consumer in the Walmart parking lot, you will look like a befuddled moron rubbing Chapstick on your forehead.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Is Screenwriting a Marathon?


Craig Mazin says screenwriting is not a marathon and that if it feels like one, you either have serious flaws in your script or you have no business writing screenplays. I've never heard that analogy but now hearing it challenged, I have to disagree with Craig.

My son is a runner. He delights in getting up at six in the morning, hard work, and steady improvement. What I've learned from him has a lot to do with discipline and diligence but nothing about dreading the run or praying for it to end. Running isn't torture for him, but an exciting event to train for and look forward to week after week.

Perhaps, whether or not writing screenplays is like running a marathon depends entirely on what kind of runner you are. A lazy reluctant one looking only at the finish line has no business running. Naturally all analogies break down some place, but this one has a ring of legitimacy to me. Yeah, that's my boy in the pic. Does he look bored to you?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

This Dress Make Me Look Fat?

I got to wondering the other day about the time I've spent on screenwriting boards. Was it worth it? What did I learn? How many stupid questions and arrogant posts have I written? How many times have I humiliated myself in public? So, I started researching and ran across a post on Wordplay from over a year ago. Here's an excerpt.
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WARNING: Long post, short point.

A few years ago, I had written a speech for a particularly high profile press conference when I was suddenly attacked by an out-of-character-for-me case of nerves. The press room was already crammed with cameras when I begged a colleague to look over my speech. I stood by and studied his slash marks as his pen committed suicide on my pages. He ranted things at me like, "what the hell is this?" and "who gives a damn about that?" among other expletives so brutal, they pain the human ear. Halfway through the speech, he shoved the ink-bloodied pages at me and told me to polish up my resume. I thanked him as he blew out of the room. He could be heard down the hall still ranting, calling me a hack, and accusing me of exploiting my job to promote my own political agenda.

Another director, who had overheard the whole thing, asked why I didn't break the guy's jaw for berating me like that. Because, I calmly told him, he gave me exactly what I asked for: his honest opinion. If he had glanced at it and handed it back with a casual, "looks fine to me", I'd have been ticked off. Instead, he told me exactly what was broken, but not how to fix it.

I rushed to my office, made extensive rewrites and called (note to reader: insert name of any important person here cuz I'm not telling) to report that I had some edits in his speech. We went over the revisions and he concluded the briefing by telling me it was the best thing I'd ever written for him.

That colleague did me an enormous favor. I respect him for having the intestinal fortitude to tell me it wasn't good enough and for getting angry. He knew what I was capable of. That speech wasn't it! If I were honest with myself, I would probably admit that my nerves that day were nothing more than a manifestation of my own knowledge that I'd done a sorry job.

Monday, October 24, 2005

A Matter of Heart


Last year, my fourteen year old dog stopped going potty in the grass. He just stopped. Like how I use technical terms like "potty"? He went on the sidewalk, on the porch, in the middle of the patio and all over the driveway because he didn't want to put his great big wookie paws in the grass anymore. The path to the back door suddenly became a defecated mine field. It was aggravating, but hey, he was old and at least he wasn't going in the house.

One night that changed. It was New Year's Eve 2004 and I had the extraordinary luck to be IM'ng with Terry Rossio. Yup. Really. I had thought he was someone else but when I read his profile which said Terry Rossio I asked him, "are you Terry Rossio?" He said he was and I promptly demanded to know what he was doing home alone on New Years Eve. Then it happened.

My dog decided he liked my expensive wood floor better than the pavement. Fourteen years and suddenly when I have an opportunity to talk to my favorite screenwriter the dog goes on my floor? I knew this was a signal that the dog was getting senile and my time with him was limited. Oh, and with Terry Rossio too because he was gone when I got back from cleaning up dog pee.

Even though I went through this with my other Cocker Spaniel twelve years ago and even though I know it's the merciful thing to do for the ol' guy, making the decision to end my dog's life was no easier than the first time. Once in a lifetime is too much. Twice is unbearable. So, I put it off and his symptoms of dementia and deterioration went on for months.

First his hearing went. Well, a dog can still live a decent life with no hearing. Before long, his eyesight went but he could still find his way in and out the back door (to potty everywhere but the grass) and he could still find his food. Then, it got weird.

He began to growl at imaginary intruders and was particularly indignant over the Glade plugins. They really chapped him. But, he was a perfectly healthy blind, deaf, senile dog living a comfortable life. He climbed in and out of his favorite chair and still barked when he smelled a stranger in the house...well, ten or fifteen minutes after he smelled a stranger in the house.

Then this past Friday night, something happened. He abruptly yelped and began walking in a circle. He walked and walked in a circle until he dizzied himself and his hind legs caved beneath him. We loaded him in the car and took him to an all night vet. By the time we got there, he was fine. Whew! Close call. But the next night, he did it again.

This time, he couldn't stop. All night and all the next day, this little dog walked in circles and yelped in pain. He didn't stop to potty, eat or drink. I kept thinking that any minute, he'd be fine again just like he had been before but he just kept walking and barking until he fell down with exhaustion. I had no choice. I felt like a monster for waiting so long. Today, I held him in my arms and kissed him goodbye on his fuzzy face as the doctor put a needle in his leg.

I marvel that my heart can endure such pain and continue to beat. It has every time I've lost friends and family to disease, war, accidents, and the malice of others. Millions of hearts continue to beat every day while suffering unimaginable grief. Why would mine be any different? The human heart is an enigma.

Every day people agonize over whether to end life support, assist a suicide, or accept painful treatment. And yet, these hearts manage to survive those decisions. How many couples do I know who have divorced this past year and how many of them were caused by infidelity? What heartache they must have experienced! Love, pain, grief, joy, disappointment, anger, bitterness, resentment... the heart endures it all.

The remedy to these heart conditions is to have no heart at all. We've all met people we think are heartless and yet, biology tells us they must have a physical heart even if they don't demonstrate the human conditions that we attribute to the heart. A heartless person could matter-of-factly endure the death of a pet or even a family member because that heart hadn't felt the emotional attachment that, when severed by death, results in a sort of heart attack.

There are only two choices available to us. Be a person of heart with all the accompanying ranges of human emotion or live life as a tautological exercise. I'm reminded of a statement by the Tin Woodsman in The Wizard of Oz. The line is in L. Frank Baum's book, although I am not sure about the film. The wizard warns him that a heart causes great unhappiness. The Tin Woodsman replies, "I will bear all the unhappiness without a murmur if you will only give me a heart."

Though I, too, prefer to have a heart and willingly bear the unhappiness, I have a blog to murmer on.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Treguna Mekoides...











Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee
Utterly charming but one of the less celebrated Disney films is Bedknobs and Broomsticks starring Angela Lansbury and David Tomlinson. Begun before it's closest resembling Disney picture, it was completed and released seven years after Mary Poppins.

Also directed by Robert Stevenson, Bedknobs and Broomsticks began as a benchwarmer for Mary Poppins. Some time in 1963, negotiations to acquire Mary Poppins was apparently going sour with author P.L. Travers. Anticipating that the deal might fall through on Mary Poppins, Walt Disney retained rights to "The Magic Bedknob and Bonfires and Broomsticks" by Mary Morton as a contingency project.

Work on Bedknobs actually began before Mary Poppins but was nudged aside when rights were acquired for Mary Poppins. Sharing much of the same production team, there is no shortage of resemblance between the two films, including music.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks
was given the same pomp and promotion when it debuted in in England October of 1971 that Mary Poppins got in 1964. Much of the 139 minute film was cut in order to meet running time requirements of Radio City Music Hall's Christmas Spectacular.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks won an Oscar in 1972 for best special effects but was also nominated for best art direction, best costume design, best score and best original song. The Sherman brothers, who wrote the music for both Mary Poppins and Bedknobs, are responsible for penning some of Disney's most familiar and memorable songs. Bet you know every word to "It's a Small World" and while you may not remember all the lyrics, you can hum "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" and "Winnie the Pooh", can't cha?

Why then, is Bedknobs and Broomsticks not as beloved as Mary Poppins? While the story, performances, and production values equal or exceed Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks falls short with the music. Music is obviously a foundation of any animated musical. Miss the mark on the music and the film suffers. There's nothing wrong the songs and score of Bedknobs and Broomsticks. They were, after all, nominated for Academy Awards. It's just that the audiences had already heard it all before.

"Bottom of the Beautiful Briney Sea" was actually a song that never made it into Mary Poppins, so the Sherman brothers resurrected it for Bedknobs when, after they'd already left Disney, they got the call to come back and finish work on Bedknobs and Broomsticks. "The Age of Not Believing" was the Sherman brothers song nominated for an Academy Award for best original song, but other Bedknobs songs bear striking resemblance to songs that the Shermans wrote for Mary Poppins.

"Substitutiary Locomotion" sounds suspiciously like "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" and "Portabello Road" feels like a pepped up version of "Feed the Birds". "A Step in the Right Direction" (which was one of the songs cut to shorten the film) is very much like "A Spoon Full of Sugar". Good stuff. But, kids didn't walk around singing "Substitutiary Locomotion" the way they did "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious", "The Bare Necessities", and "Hakuna Matata". It just wasn't unique enough.

Since composition of the Bedknobs and Broomsticks music began before Mary Poppins, only the Sherman brothers know how many of the ideas for Bedknobs made it into Mary Poppins and how many of the songs for Bedknobs and Broomsticks are spinoffs. Maybe the Shermans were having an off year. But, it doesn't matter. The music didn't really hit it off with audiences. Shame, too, because the picture is charming and despite the unimaginative music, it is one of my favorites.

So what is Treguna Mekoides Trecorum Satis Dee? It's a spell recited in the film to make objects take on a life of their own. The irony here is that while Bednobs and Broomsticks recites that spell over and over in the film, it failed to do what all great films do... take on a life of its own.