Friday, December 29, 2006

Season of Rewrites

Greg Beal recently said that 2007 Nicholl Fellowship applications would be accepted as early as mid-January. No way I can be ready sooner than April.

Thankfully, the holiday season is almost over. Enter, the season of rewrites. The remaining members of my visiting family leave tomorrow and while I would love to spend more time with some of them, I can now get back to work on my screenplays.

Perhaps some of you are also preparing for the Nicholl and the Austin Film Festival. So, get busy with those edits, proofreading marathons, and rewrites! Somewhere among all the muddy footprints, discarded wrapping paper, pizza boxes, and broken tree ornaments are my screenwriting files which contain links to blog posts about editing. I'll add those links when I get the house clean enough to locate them. Meanwhile, here are my editing related posts:

Tactics for Making Passes
More on Making Passes
What Not To Do

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Anticipating Pirates IV

Conjecture. Conjecture. Conjecture.

There's talk. Really. Talk about more Jack Sparrow chronicles. The anticipation of Pirates of the Caribbean fans is spilling out all over the internet. But anticipation seems so pointless and potentially disappointing in this case. I've always been somewhat disturbed that the word "anticipation" rhymes with so many other potentially unpleasant "ation"s like "cremation", "dehydration", "masturbation" and "infestation". Ew.

Perhaps I've read way too much Dr. Seuss this week.

Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio have warned us time and again to question the validity of any articles that claim a fourth installment of Pirates of the Caribbean is on the way, but we don't want to! We relish the anticipation of a fourth Jack Sparrow film and now, there seems to be an announcement that gives a good appearance of credibility to that rumor.

So far, T&T have said nothing about the Happy Feet trailer.

Still awaiting At Worlds End, I can't even imagine where another sequel could go. We're at the finale of the pirate era and have been promised a spectacular conclusion. No doubt, Ted and Terry could master the daunting task of a sequel, but yikes. A prequel, however, about Jack Sparrow's earlier rum soaked exploits and the backstory of the Pearl is not only provocative and plausible, but perpetual in possibilities. (ah, alliteration - Jack is, after all, branded with "P")

Yup. Prequel is the way to go, methinks, because these limitless possibilities contribute to the insatiable frenzy of POTC fans while promoting Jack-o-holism.

Not just any ol' prequel for the sake of slaking the lust of Jack-o-holics will due either because anything less than a brilliantly constructed film with impossible choices, complex characters, and solid storytelling would careen.

Actually, instead of going bigger, I'd develop the prequel smaller so it could build up to Curse of the Black Pearl, Dead Man's Chest, and At Worlds End, not outshine, out-blow, or out-animate them.

Just how far back could we go with Jack and what led up to the mutiny that lost him the Pearl, the raising of the Pearl from the depths, and whatever juicy tale lies behind Tia Dalma's sultry reception of Captain Jack in her cozy little witch doctor's office?

And, just how much skinny do we want on Will's backstory? Do we want to get the goods on the merchant ship that blew Will into Elizabeth's life? How his mother died? Was she unjustly hung as a pirate? Murdered by Barbossa as he searched for the last cursed coin? Or did Bootstrap Bill make an impossible choice that spared Will, but cost the life of his beloved?

And what about Elizabeth? How does she know so much pirate lore? Maybe her mother was that fierce hell cat, Anne Bonney, who was said to have told her own beloved Jack Rackham, as he awaited execution, that if he had only fought like a man, he wouldn't be hanged like a dog. Governor Swann does, after all, respond to Elizabeth's fascination with pirates by saying "that's what concerns me".

Do we even want backstory on anyone except Jack Sparrow?

The possibilities are intoxicating.

I vote for prequel.

Somebody hand me a pen.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

20 Top Over Rated Films

People have vastly differing views on films. Some would even call certain irreconcilable differences "deal-breakers" but this list of the 20 Most Over-rated Films strikes me as -- well, ludicrous. It evaluates films, many of them icons and Oscar magnets, by the subjectivity of today. Here's what Premiere Magazine considers to be the top over-rated films of all time.

(1) Gone With the Wind (1939)
(2) 2001, A Space Odyssey (1968)
(3) The Red Shoes (1948)
(4) Easy Rider (1969)
(5) An American in Paris (1951)
(6) The Wizard of Oz (1939)
(7) Nashville (1975)
(8) Mystic River (2003)
(9) Moonstruck (1987)
(10) Monster's Ball (2001)
(11) A Beautiful Mind (2001)
(12) Jules and Jim (1962)
(13) Forrest Gump (1994)
(14) Good Will Hunting (1997)
(15) Chariots of Fire (1981)
(16) Field of Dreams (1989)
(17) Fantasia (1940)
(18) Clerks (1994)
(19) Chicago (2002)
(20) American Beauty (1999)

Does anyone else find it bizarre to compare Fantasia to a modern day screensaver? To say Easy Rider didn't age well? Call the Wizard of Oz garish because of its candy coated art direction and insulin shock inducing Technicolor? Not that any of it isn't true but this list labels films over-rated based on the evolution of technology, culture, art, and even human priorities and values.

Now, I'm not willing to fall on my sword for these films. Certainly all films are sifted through the eyes of the viewer. But was Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night over-rated because it looks like a modern day screensaver? Was a typewriter over-rated because it didn't age well and was eventually displaced by higher technology? Is baroque palace architecture over-rated because it's garish?

Certainly, all films have flaws. But sometimes, I think film critics simply enjoy taking on an air of superiority and spreading their cinematic expertise like the tail feathers of a horny peacock. Other times, I think they're just stupid.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Last Minute Tax Deductions

Okay, all you guys who wouldn't give me a specific charity to sponsor in your name, Food For The Poor is where contributions were made as my Christmas gifts to you. I've sponsored one orphan in the Caribbean for nine months in honor of each of the nine of you who responded to my Christmas post.

Should you need a last minute tax deduction, this would be my charity of choice. Nine contributions of just $60 will build a home in Jamaica for a family living in a shack with dirt floors, thatched roof, and no windows.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

My Christmas Gift to You

As expected, the demands of Christmas have exacted their own demands on my sanity. I'm so dog-weary of all the "gimme, gimme" that I just want Christmas to hurry up and pass by. I won't even wave at it in the rearview mirror. Good riddance.

It's not all bad. I love our church activities, the children's events, and the music this time of year. I've been called on to sing every single weekend since Thanksgiving. Normally, that would exhaust me. But, it's exhilerating this time of year. Maybe I'll even have hottie cartoon me sing a Christmas carol this weekend.

And, I really do LOVE giving people gifts - truly. I give gifts all year long just because I run across something I know a certain someone would love to have. Sometimes, it's something on sale that somebody can't afford otherwise or a hard to find item that I lucked into. In a strange, twisted sort of way, giving gifts is actually more about me than the person getting it. It just feels good.

But it's a nightmare this time of year to hear parents yelling at kids in public, to hear "me, me, me, gimme, gimme, gimme" all the time, and to see people blowing money on worthless crap that will wind up in the trash only to then see those same people pass by the Salvation Army bucket without dropping a dime.

Why does anyone need a $10 roll of wrapping paper or a trout that sings Jingle Bells?

Don't get me wrong. I like fun. There's nothing wrong with fun. In fact, I'm still waiting on that Scooby Doo Chia pet. Hello? Family? I circled it in red sharpie on photocopies of the newspaper inserts that I left beside all your purses and wallets. Pharmacy. Walmart. Target. What do you want, the money, too?

One of my sisters is getting Longhorn pajamas. She loves UT and needs pajamas. Perfect. And, fun. Another sister is getting a blingy pirate skull scarf. She loves pirates and bling. Also perfect. Also fun. But there's a vast difference between buying a fun gift that somebody will enjoy and buying disposable crap because you'd rather waste money than make an emotional investment in a gift that requires thought and effort.

Here's the point: please, if you don't know what to give somebody or find yourself with the urge to buy a singing trout out of last minute desperation, why not make a donation to a charity in the name of that friend or loved one? Then, be honest with them. Tell them you wanted to get them something special but were clean out of ideas so you made a gift to the Komen Center for Breast Cancer Research because you remembered that their sister has breast cancer, to the American Heart Association because their father had a recent heart attack, or to Children's Medical Center because their baby nephew died of SIDS last year.

Okay, so maybe these aren't glamorous ideas that will bring shrieks of joy, but it's how I cope with the waste I witness and the growing me-ism selfishness that appears to mushrooming with each new generation.


Blogosphere friends, I don't know most of you but you've all taught me a thing or two this year so tell me your favorite charity and I'll make a contribution in your name. Seriously. I really will. Well, unless I don't KNOW your name (unk and mystery man!) in which case, I'll make it in my name and you'll just have to trust me.

So, give me the name of your charity (and an address or phone # if it's one I probably haven't heard of). Give it to me now. Gimme, gimme, gimme. Yeah, it's still all about me.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tell Me What I Already Know

Sometimes, it's impossible to tell what kind of advice you're getting. Is it good advice? Is it harmful advice? Here's the conundrum in screenwriting - you have to know what you're doing enough to not need a lot of advice but the only way you get there is by listening to people who've already been there and done that -- er, get their advice.

I don't ask for a lot of reviews on my work. I get SOME from a couple of places, but I'm not active on Triggerstreet or Zoetrope although I pop in now and then and read boards. That's just me. Please don't beat me up for it. I've heard it all before.

However, the reverse of that is a writer who DOES put his work up on boards for comments and gets some very constructive help only to.. well, here ya go. Courtesy of a post on Zoetrope:

This is the way I built this place
Bathroom and dinette face to face
I know that others think that's odd
But I'm the builder. I'm the god
I do ask others for advice
We study plans and act real nice
But when the hammer hits the nail
I do it my way without fail
My pals and I pore over prints
But I ignore most of their hints
Now the house is up for sale
People laugh and buyers quail
I don't know what's wrong with it
Except diners watch you when you shit
Last year, I read a screenplay that had been "workshopped" over and over. By the time I reviewed it, I figured it had been worked over so much that it was probably in pretty good shape. I was wrong. My detailed and time consuming notes pointed out some very fundamental and no-brainer type inconsistencies, primarily with character development and plot resolution.

The author replied with a long email that said, "yeah, so and so noticed this" and "so and so pointed out that". He'd given me the same ol' script he'd been "workshopping" for months but he hadn't made a single adjustment. Not one. Not even to correct typos.

I wonder if he typed his reply from his laptop while sitting on the toilet in his dining room.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Repugnant Protagonists Part Two

My current writing project demands a grasp on how to engage the audience in a character who is less than noble. I touched on this briefly earlier this year, but hungered for a better understanding of how to write repugnant protagonists as compelling and sympathetic characters. This required studying films where the primary protagonist is a thief, scoundrel, murderer, or rogue.

What did I find out? You write sinners the same way you write saints.

Karl Iglesias did a series for Creative Screenwriting that broke character development into three elements and suggests that a writer must use a combination of these elements in order to craft ANY character that an audience will invest in.

Recognition - Understanding and Empathy
(1) We care about individuals we feel sorry for
(2) We care about individuals who display humanistic traits
(3) We care about individuals who have traits we all admire

Fascination - Interest and Intrigue
(1) We are interested in individuals who contradict themselves
(2) We are interested in individuals with internal conflicts

Mystery- Curiosity and Anticipation
(1) Plant unanswered questions about the past, present or future
(2) Create uncertainty about the past, present, or future
(3) Build anticipation about the future

Recognition, fascination, and mystery can invoke the same interest in villainous characters as laudable ones. The difference in not in the result but in the how you there. If we want to use recognition so our audience can identify with the character, we still need to get the audience to feel sorry for him, have him display some humanistic traits, or give him an admirable trait that the audience can hang their hat on. Throw in some fascination and mystery and you've got a compelling character. It's not harder, just different.

What I did notice, though, is that villainous primary protagonists fall into one of these categories. As usual, there may be more, but I've only identified these:

Hereditary bad guy - it runs in the family and he pretty much doesn't know any other way

Justifiable bad guy - he has a good reason for being bad like vindication or rescue

Misunderstood bad guy - he's not really bad, he just looks that way

Involuntary bad guy - he was forced into it, had no choice but to participate

Accidental bad guy - he didn't mean to enter into the lifestyle but is now trapped

Understandable bad guy - he had a choice but the viewer can easily understand why he took the less noble route

Lesser bad guy - our protag is the least bad of a whole community of bad guys

Loveable bad guy - yeah, he's unscrupulous and chooses to be that way but we don't really care
I wondered if Bourne Identify and The Long Kiss Goodnight might qualify as some kind of amnesiac bad guy, but they were bad in a former life, so they aren't villainous characters. Or, are they?

My favorite all time evil protagonist film -- Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I'd say she's "involuntary" since she's mentally ill.

What have I missed? In your favorite film where the primary protagonist is villainous or dastardly, does he or she fit into one these categories or does the list need work?

Friday, December 08, 2006

At Genres End

Ah yes, the end of the era of scurvy and scallawags is upon us. Shame too. I've become quite the saucy wench, cowardly swab, or salty dog. Maybe all three. The point is that At World's End is due out Memorial weekend next year and I can hardly wait. But after waiting three years for the second film, five months will surely pass like a leeward breeze.

At Worlds End will not only be the conclusion of the Sparrow chronicles, but the film title says it all. It's the end of an era. The first films tell us that the Black Pearl is the last real pirate threat in the Caribbean and Jack Sparrow is a dying breed. Thrilling, yet sad, because after these titanic films, it seems unlikely that anyone will ever make another film adventure on the high seas, at least not in my lifetime, and the spec piles are probably flooded with badly written and soon to be extinct pirate lore.

For me, dramas seem to be a good fit, but I, too, have a nifty little adventure to rewrite. I've put it off for three years because , well, I can hear the pitchfest now ---

What's your screenplay about, Miss Batchellor?

Oh, it's a marvelous tale about the extinction of the Arawaks in the Caribbean, ships, pirates, 18th Century medicine, a 2,000 year old sea hag, and the fountain of youth.

Ships and pirates, you say? NEXT!

Yeah, think we'll just let that dog lie lest they hang me from a yardarm or make me do a hempen jig. At least I never wrote anything about hobbits.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Katrina Klaus

Lola Teigland's program to provide Christmas for Katrina families has begun to overwhelm her. Letters are pouring in faster than families are getting adopted. Never heard of it? That's because Lola only began this program a month ago and it's already turned into something huge.

This is one of those situations where all those scam busting tips I mentioned may not help that much. You'll have to contact the family and go with your gut. There's no way to know for sure if these people are also getting help from a dozen other places or are lying opportunists. Lola knows that she may get had by a family or two, but you can't build anything worthwhile without earning a few cuts and bruises.

From my experience working with disaster recoveries, I can tell you that the passage of time is a fickle friend. For those of us who didn't live through Katrina firsthand, time is life's little tube of Neosporin that mends those open sores on our heart. The shock subsides, outrage tapers off, and suddenly one day, we can talk about the crisis without feeling daggers in our chests.

But Neosporin isn't enough for a massive heart attack and the Katrina victims, themselves, need more than fifteen months to move on. These days, we hear less about the plights of people still trying to rebuild their lives and even assume that storm victims are probably pretty much on their feet by now.

Some are. Some aren't.

Many Katrina evacuees still live right here in my small town. They never moved home because, after spending months in our shelter, they were either stuck here, had nothing to go home to, felt like our town was their refuge, or had suffered so much that they couldn't bear to go back and witness the debris of their former lives. A few of these families are even on our angel tree.

If time has relegated Katrina to a page in your mental history book and if you can recall the horrors of Katrina without choking up, join the club. Life's little Neosporin has served me well. While Katrina was my focus for many months as we sought homes, funding, and jobs for the hundreds of evacuees who landed here, I'm knee deep in other helping hand programs now and I simply don't give Katrina the same attention I gave it last year. My own community has kids spending Christmas at Children's Medical Center, families living without electricity, grandparents raising kids on nothing but Social Security and newly widowed parents coping with the death of the bread winning spouse.

So many needs. Not enough help to go around.

My proposal to you
-- Find a program you believe in. Offer your help. Then, do it again once a month for the rest of your life. Or, better yet, do what Clara Barton did, what William Booth did, and what Lola Teigland did. Use your own beliefs, your own skills and experience, and your own heart's desire to respond to a need from the ground up. You may suffer a few cuts and bruises, but there's always Neosporin.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Send a Card to the Troops

So, yeah, my big blues busting event today was sending my son to Walmart at 12:01 a.m. to buy me and half of my office the special edition of Pirates of the Caribbean Dead Man's Chest on DVD. He must have been a sight with an armful of Jack Sparrow but I figured it would lift my pathetic Christmas blah's to go home today and listen to the DVD commentary by Ted and Terry instead of the music I have to learn and perform on Sunday.

As it turns out, this did the trick for me instead. Click on this link or the picture to send a Christmas wish to our troops. It's easy, doesn't cost anything and age doesn't matter. Anyone can do it.

It's difficult to send gifts to the military unless you have a specific person in mind because they won't forward your stuff to just any troop. You need a soldier's name. I tried it when my brother was being shipped to Afghanistan. I sent homemade goodies to his whole troop but the cookies came back -- six months later.

Would you believe my kids ate those stale ol' cookies that had been to Afghanistan and back? Hey, they didn't cost anything and age didn't seem to matter.

By the way, know what the number one Christmas wish is on our angel tree? Dead Man's Chest. Five year olds and fifteen year olds want that film. Not that I'm criticizing, but there's stuff in there I don't think I'd want a five year old to see. If King Kong gave me nightmares at age five, I can only imagine what that Kracken will do to a tiny imagination.

But like homemade cookies and Christmas wishes for the military, when it comes to Jack Sparrow, I guess age just doesn't matter.

Take a minute and send a note to somebody's brother.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Have I mentioned before how much I dislike Christmas? I always turn a blah'ish shade of blue this time of year.

Please don't boo. It's not polite.

Family squabbles, hectic schedules, silly looking sweaters, countless parties, shopping, and let's not forget all that pressure to have a blinged out house and give rockin' cool gifts at the office -- not looking forward to it.

Don't you dare call me Scrooge or Grinch!

You're a writer. You can do better.

Besides, why don't people like Chia pets? I mean, really. Why? That Scooby Doo one is awesome! He'd look great in that space I'm saving for my Pulitzer. I only need something temporary there anyway.

But I get candy. Lots of it. Jars and cans and boxes and bags of every twisted, gnarly lookin' candy to ever leave a Dollar General store. Ever notice how stale candy smells like a hot glue gun?

I know. That's not very gracious of me.

You see, I'm a church girl and if Christmas really was only about singing carols and doing good will toward men, I'd enjoy it more. But it's not. It's also about that intern with the twinkling tie, that secretary in the jingle bell socks and that office nerd with the terrible body odor who wears that stupid mistletoe hat.

Yeah, his name really is Dwight and if I had a Chia pet, I'd knock him upside the head with it. Take that! And, that! And that! You twig wearing, muttonhead! Ask Santa for some Right Guard!


Christmas makes me grumpy.

But every year, something else happens, too. Some unlikely somebody does some remarkable something that is so unselfish and surprising, it restores my faith in humanity. One year, it was a handful of $1000 cashier checks for me to distribute to families as I saw fit. Another year it was an eighteen wheeler that somebody backed up to Toys R Us and said, "go get what you need, here's my credit card". And, every year, every single child on our community angel tree gets adopted.

Where do these kind souls come from? I don't know. But, they come.

So, as much as I loathe the pomp and vulgarity of the season, I'm also waiting -- anxious and expectant like a kid who knows Santa will come -- to find out what Christmas miracle I'll witness this year.

Who will it be? What will he bring?

Doesn't matter, as long as it isn't candy.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Holiday Scam-busters

This is not about what to buy great Aunt Martha or cousin Quagmire. It's about how to give and not give to people you don't even know.

Every Christmas and, in fact, most of the year, I participate in an assortment of social service projects. I've organized everything from small specific needs programs to citywide disaster recovery efforts. That's not necessarily part of my role as a professional bureaucrat, but more like my self imposed role as a member of the human race. This will sound false and pretentious to some, but I genuinely care about people. There, I said it. Not only that, my friends care about people. My co-workers care about people and even my kids care about people.

Having said all that --

THE GOOD -- 'tis the season to be charitable.

THE BAD -- 'tis the season to be swindled.

Friends, give until it hurts but be very careful where you send your money and who you buy Angel Tree, Santa Cop, or Christmas Wish gifts for. Make sure whatever cause, family, program, or event you contribute to can provide you with accountability.

That's right.


I'm sorry to say that Christmas provides the ideal opportunity for tender hearts and deep pockets to be taken advantage of. Sometimes the cost of serving many is being bled by a few. That's just the way it goes. But there's a big fat line between a few crafty people milking the system and a program that is a downright scam or enables exploitation by its ineffectiveness.

Legitimate programs do not object to questions. They know that confidant donors recruit other donors. While you probably don't need to research the Salvation Army, Toys for Tots and other familiar programs, the ones closer to your own home may not be so well known. And, people may POSE as Salvation Army or Toys for Tots but have no affiliation with them.

So, ask questions!

ORGANIZATIONS - look them up online, check with the Better Business Bureau and Chamber of Commerce. Is it a 501(c)3? How long has it been around? How much of your money goes to pay administrative costs? Where do surplus toys go? Are they checking with other organizations to see if their families are on multiple angel trees or getting help from other programs?
* tax deductible charitable organizations are listed with the IRS. Look them up on the IRS website
* charities are required to to file a Form 990 and provide it to anyone when requested (churches are exempt from this)
* tax I.D. numbers and tax exemption certificates are not proof of charities who collect tax deductible contributions.
INDIVIDUALS - if you don't know them personally, ask for identification and references and then follow up. Find out where and how the funds are set up and dispersed and ask for financial reports. Better yet, volunteer to help with your time and labor and see how they respond. If an individual is running a food pantry, toy drive or clothes closet, they will usually have a local church or chapter of an organization that can back them up.

EMAIL DONATIONS - just don't do it. Reputable organizations do not usually solicit donations from individual consumers by e-mail. Links in unsolicited e-mails to access the web sites of charitable organizations are usually bogus.

PHONE SOLICITATIONS - don't cave in to high pressure tactics. Many organizations use a semi-legitimate sounding name or one that closely resembles the real thing and play on your desire to help widows or children born with birth defects and diseases. Ask for a call back number and tell them you will get back to them as soon as you verify who they are with the IRS or with your state's attorney general's office. Or, tell them you will mail a check to the corporate office. If that doesn't work for them, hang up. "Now or never" deals are always a scam.

DOOR TO DOOR - don't give money or toys to kids. Don't. If they are collecting canned foods, blankets, or eyeglasses, you can probably give with confidence. But even if they're lying to get free canned foods, blankets, or eyeglasses, well, they probably need the stuff and you ought to give it to them anyway. It's not like they are going to sell your green beans on eBay. If adults solicit for a cause like March of Dimes or Muscular Dystrophy, they will have an official prepaid donation envelope they can leave with you that you can mail at your leisure AFTER you have checked the address. Again, "now or never" deals are always a scam.

ONLINE AUCTIONS - you are dealing with a nameless, faceless person and trusting that they really will give a portion of their sales to another organization. Enough said.

STREET SOLICITORS - fireman boots are frequent in Texas and the Shreiners often collect at intersections for the children's hospital. There's not much time at a traffic signal to ask for i.d. or to see a permit so you pretty much just have to go with your gut on these. But if the collection cans are crudely made and don't have a lock on it or the individual soliciting doesn't appear to have a posse of co-solicitors on every other corner, save your change and drop in the salvation army bucket at the local Walmart.

Bottom line: if you live every day for yourself alone and do nothing at all for your fellow man, yours is a shallow life. But don't be a sucker. There are far too many people who genuinely need your help to waste your money on those who don't.

Federal Trade Commission Charity Checklist

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Screenwriting, Podcasts & Magic

Still new to this whole iPod thing, I haven't quite figured out how podcasts work. I think it's magic. Yup. I have 288 songs (which is pretty much a misnomer since they come from movie soundtracks) on my iPod, but podcasts -- well, I can play them on my 'puter but can't seem to figure out how to put them on my iPod.

I just don't have the magic touch.

Anyway, yesterday I found the Creative Screenwriting podcasts among several other screenwriting related ones and oh my gosh, these things are uber cool!

Did you get that?

U-B-E-R cool!

50,000 subscribers to Creative Screenwriting podcasts and I'm just now catching up.

How sad.

You don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts (duh, I haven't figured out how to get them on my iPod) so that means all of us can listen to a range of writers from John August, Josh Olson, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio to Jonathon Nolan, Michael Arnt and Jason Reitman.

From Texas and at my own convenience, I get to listen to screenwriters in various stages of their careers, broadcasting from Los Angeles about their amazing, insane, and frustrating craft.

Want to hear from Paul Haggis at 3:00 a.m.?

No problem.

It's magic, I tell you!

I love it that Jeff Goldsmith, senior editor for CS, always introduces himself with a "howdy". I do that! I've often re-recorded my talking cartoon hottie to REMOVE the "howdy" because I thought the rest of the world couldn't appreciate that "Howdy" is good form. I won't do that anymore! Jeff's "howdy" has set me free! And, each podcast sounds like it is orchestrated specifically for me.

It is, you know.


Be sure you listen to Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio talk about Dead Man's Chest. Seriously, people, you cannot pay for a better education than these guys keep handing out for free. FREE! No excuses. And, a lightning bolt goes off every time I hear or read anything from them.


The Thank You for Smoking podcast is interesting with Jason Reitman, although the sound is lame because the host was stingy with their sound board. Jason talks about why he became a writer instead of making sub sandwiches or healing the sick and credits his father with pointing out that while those other professions are sensible and even noble, he knew his son wouldn't be satisfied doing either one.

His reason is the same reason the rest of aren't satisfied doing whatever it is we do all day to pay the light bill. It's the reason we clack at the keyboard for hours after working a ten hour day doing a job we may even love. It's why nothing else but writing satisfies that urgent need to create. It's why nothing else fills that void.

Not enough magic.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Defending Deja Vu

Naturally, I'm biased toward Bill Marsilii and Terry Rossio. They are brilliant writers and the screenplay for Deja Vu is genius.


I've read the negative reviews that contradict the good ones and while Tony Scott's cameras make me motion sick, I can say this -- my daddy commits the most gosh-awful crimes against choice cuts of beef. He uses barbecue sauce, steak sauce, and even ketchup and I'm not entirely sure he doesn't use them all at once. But the fact of the matter is that while he finds it delicious and I find it nauseating, a sirloin is still a sirloin regardless of what he does to it.

The amazing screenplay for Deja Vu never lags yet the film often trudges through molasses. But even covered in molasses Deja Vu is still a sirloin.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Two More Days

Terry Rossio says it's an incomprehensible mess. Bill Marsilii's outlook is not so bleak. Folks, I've read the screenplay. It's amazing. Making a mess of a brilliant screenplay still has to translate into better viewing than some of what's out there. Can't wait. Really.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dead Protag Addendum

My recent post on Pidgeon Holing Dead Protagonist still feels incomplete. I have many films left to watch. But geez, how many films can a working/writing gal watch in a week? Most recently, I watched V for Vendetta, Pay It Forward and The Godfather.

Before I get to these two films, a refresher....

DEATH BIOGRAPHICAL - character dies because character portrayed did
DEATH HISTORICAL - historically, it's what happened
DEATH EMANCIPATORY - death is freedom
DEATH ANTICIPATORY - death is ever present threat
DEATH MATRIMONIAL - death demonstrates love story
DEATH AS SYNTHESIS - brings the story full circle
DEATH SACRAMENTAL - brings reconciliation or reform
DEATH EXPLANATORY - autobiographical narration
DEATH ANTAGONISTIC - protagonists are also antagonists
DEATH RECANTED - ersatz death

V for Vendetta and Pay It Forward are examples of DEATH SACRAMENTAL. The death of the protagonist brings about social and moral reform. In V for Vendetta, there was no other way to accomplish the goals of the protagonist. But, in Pay It Forward, was it really necessary? The reform would have taken place anyway, gradually, like filling a bathtub one drip at a time. Instead, the writer chose to turn both faucets on full blast.

Much of my suggested viewing, including The Godfather, does not qualify for this study at all. Vito Corleone is not the primary protagonist. And, Michael does not die. If Michael dies in part two, I would guess that his death might exemplify DEATH ANTAGONISTIC, DEATH ANTICIPATORY, and maybe even DEATH OSTENTATIOUS or DEATH AS SYNTHESIS, but I don't know. Still have to see the second one. Oh, shut up! I'll get to it!

Charlotte's Web - Wilbur is the primary protagonist, not Charlotte.
Star Wars - Luke is the primary protagonist, not Obi Wan.
The Green Mile - John Coffey is secondary to Paul Edgecomb
Steel Magnolias - Six protagonists. Is there a primary? M'Lynn, methinks.

Why does the death of the secondary protagonist not qualify? Because that's a whole different study in itself -- one that I don't think I'll undertake because the reasons for the death of a sidekick or mentor are varied but I would guess (yes, guess, I'm a rookie) they usually deal with somebody else's journey, growth, discovery, etc.

So, I think I'm done with this one for awhile and will concentrate on films where the protagonist is the bad guy and whatever it is that makes it work.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Real Men Watch Emmitt

For awhile, real men kept it a secret around these parts that they'd been watching Dancing With The Stars. After all, men around here don't discuss television unless it's about sports and these days, most of the chest pounding is about the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Romo.

But yesterday, it was a former Dallas Cowboy that stole the barber shop talk. I also heard him discussed at the Post Office, the gas station and the newspaper office. Big, burly, beafeaters in coveralls, cowboys hats, and overalls were talking about Emmitt Smith and confessing openly that they had not only watched every single episode and were skipping Wednesday night church, after hour drinks, or plowing up that last acre to watch the results show, but they had even called to vote for the football legend.

This has to be a new demographic for that show!

The comments were funny, thought provoking, and downright ridiculous at times but everyone I overheard seemed to agree that Emmitt is a role model Dallas can be proud of and dancing seems less sissified now.

MOST MEMORABLE COMMENT:"Running a football ain't so very different from them moves with that little gal."

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Savage Breast

"Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak." William Congreve

I was a wee little hunk o' junk when I first heard this line from The Mourning Bride misquoted in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. But, no matter how you butcher it, it's true. Beast, breast, chest -- music soothes them all.

While I was acting like the Tazmanian local government dust devil today, my Hans Zimmer CD, "The Wings of a Film", was playing on my computer. I had just erupted into a sleep deprived Texas tornado when the Fire Chief insisted my relentless headaches could be from high blood pressure. His opinion sounded all the more ludicrous accompanied by the theme from Driving Miss Daisy.

What a goob. What was he doing in my office anyway?

I mean, yeah, people yell at me now and then because the highway access roads were just converted to one way and nobody thanks me for the drought restrictions that prevent them from washing their cars and we just had a nail biting bond election, but I've never had high blood pressure -- not even pregnant.

By now, Thelma and Louise was playing and I was not about to be bullied into a blood pressure check over a hectic work day.

But would that guy give it a rest? Not even when I told him that I had just had a thorough exam two weeks ago with normal blood pressure, a perfect EKG and new migraine meds.

There he stood with his little stethoscope and blood pressure cuff.


One minute. Two. Three.

I'm fine. Go away.


Hello? People are looking at us.

Five minutes.

Still there.

Beat it! I have speeches to write, people to pacify, reporters to pester.

And then he slapped the cuff on my arm.

Oh, come on, Chief! Like this is necessary? In front of people, even?

I've never seen The Thin Red Line, but one of its themes was playing when that man took the steth out of his ears and gave me an ultimatum. Did I want him to call an ambulance or would I allow him to drive me himself in his shiny new Fire Chief car?

Could I play with the lights?


Well, did the new car have a CD player?

It did.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

At World's End

Warning. Check your blood sugar after reading this post.

I'm loathe to admit how anxiously I am looking toward the release of the third Pirates of the Caribbean. Just look at that costume! Terry Rossio had a post some place where he discussed how stunning the Singapore set is.

I can only imagine.

Every scene in Dead Man's Chest is a work of art. Freeze any frame and it's optical glucose overload -- the sets, the locations, the costumes, the lighting, the framing, the makeup -- breathtaking! Terry Rossio says the sets in At World's End are even more amazing? Sweet heaven, I'm going to need insulin for all the eye candy. Don't even get me started on the ear candy. And, duh, the achronym for At World's End is AWE.

Yeah, I'm a nauseating fan.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Clapping for Bad Guys

My next study deals with villains as protagonists and once again, I'm relying on my fellow bloggers to help me come up with film examples because most of the films I can think of are all on our dead protagonist list. Aren't there films where the protagonist is a villain but doesn't die? Off hand, I can only think of Munich, Swordfish, Catch Me if You Can, and Inside Man -- sort of. I actually need to watch them all again to refresh my memory. A little help?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Who are the Champions?

This article in variety suggests that not only is breaking in hard to do, but that to do it you need, among several other things, a champion. I've heard this term used before and yes, I know it doesn't necessarily mean an agent. Still, it puzzles me.

What am I looking for? (cue Bonnie Tyler - Holding Out For a Hero) Surely not a knight in shimmering armor and fire in his eyes, atop a lofty steed, and waving my screenplay at the end of his lance?

Are we talking about a professional screenwriter willing to pause in his busy career to promote mine? A janitor willing to sneak my scripts into the reading material basket next to Steven Spielberg's toilet? Somebody who straps road flares to his chest until an auto parts mogul agrees to buy my brake pads?

The effort and the skill with which you show
How well inspiring are your gifts of grace
Displayed for all the truth of what I know:
"There lies a noble heart, mind, soul and face."
With skill and courtesy you took the field
Prepared for challenge from the very best.
With honor well contended, win or yield
You shared chivalric glory with the rest.
The real challenge lay not with the foe
But in the hazards brought by thy own tests.
"Surpass yourself" is guidance writ in gold.
Its victory brings prize of answered quests.
My Champion, how well you fought for me.
Now must I strive for worth, to worthy be.
Perhaps I'll hold off on the champion thing until, as the poem suggests, I know that I am worthy.

The Thinking Writer on Champions

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Remember, Remember

Remember remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder, treason
Should ever be forgot...

So, I am catching up on some of the films I haven't seen and imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch V for Vendetta this afternoon and it starts our with this Fawkes nursery rhyme. I had NO IDEA who or what this film was about and even though I had to look up a few Guy Fawkes details and watch the film a second time to get the full impact of the parallels, I like this movie. I'm going to have to put this one in the DEATH SACRAMENTAL category where the protagonist's death brings about some kind of social, moral or governmental reform.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Puppy Search

You'd think it wouldn't be so hard to find a puppy. After all, they're in animal shelters, advertised in the newspaper, posted online, and displayed in Walmart parking lots. But if you're looking for a specific dog -- say, a Cocker Spaniel puppy to replace a beloved pet who died last year -- it ain't so easy.

I'm in no hurry, obviously. I've waited over a year. Plus, I have my precious little half Chihuahua/half Yorkshire Terrier who has me wrapped around his little paw. But he's all alone during the day and needs a companion lest he shred every aloe vera plant, eat every tube of Chapstick and hide every pair of the boys' dirty boxers in peculiar places around the house. Ever fallen into your soft fluffy bed only to wonder why it smells like gym socks? Check under the pillow. Your lonely puppy may have buried his treasures there.

I digress.

There are a lot of puppy mills out there peddling sickly inbred little Cocker Spaniel puppies and I can't bear the thought of taking one home only to watch it die. Neither do I want to pay hundreds of dollars for a puppy when there are so many homeless dogs languishing in shelters.

What to do. What to do.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pigeon-holing Protag Deaths

Whew! Well, this was a daunting task that I regretted shortly after it began. Convinced that the death of the primary protagonist must have a story value that can be named, categorized and later replicated, I sifted through films where a primary protagonist dies, looking for logic and common threads. It was so depressing to keep watching the good guy die that I had to watch The Chipmunk Adventure to get out of my funk.

I've broken protagonist deaths into eleven categories but it's important to keep in mind that --

(1) there are likely many more categories - I couldn't find them all

(2) these categories pertain ONLY to the primary protagonist(s)

(3) this study only applies to protagonists that are still dead at film's end

(4) most films mentioned fall into more than one of these categories

(5) I'm not categorizing films. I'm categorizing death.

Why is it important to keep those five things in mind? Because I have NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING, THAT'S WHY! And because the parameters of the study affect the results. Please feel free to call my attention to a category I may have missed.

So, here we go --

Death Biographical - The purpose of deaths in biographical films is self evident. Quite simply, the primary protagonist(s) die because the character(s) portrayed actually died. While there is not always a demand for deep meaning or structural purpose of the death, screenwriters are not exonerated from crafting a compelling story. The death scenes in Bonnie and Clyde and Amadeus are unforgettable for me but many biographical films stop short of showing the character's death onscreen because the filmmakers may not see an artistic, structural, or creative benefit to showing the onscreen death, particularly the death of a beloved icon like Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, or Selena Quintanilla.

Death Historical - There is no other way for films like A Perfect Storm, The Alamo and United 93 to end without rewriting history. They all die. So the screenwriter's role in portraying these deaths is to orchestrate a story that makes viewers want to see the film even though we may already know the ending. Viewers need order, sequence, a driving force, or character motives that help us relate to events that are foreign to us. Even though the events are recorded in history books, the story still has to be written.

Death Emancipatory - Sometimes, death is viewed as a last act of defiance but I don't think it's that simple. Thelma and Louise were used, exploited, mistreated and oppressed by men. Death was preferable to going to jail and once again, living under the control and at the mercy of men. Suicide is in character for them and not the cop out ending I expected. It's about taking control and breaking free of the real or perceived bonds on their lives, much the way Maggie Fitzgerald dies in Million Dollar Baby. She doesn't want to live the way anyone else tells her to and in the end, she fights for death rather than live as an invalid. In both these films, death is liberation. Death is control. Death is ownership.

Death Ostentatious - Quiet and contemplative death or blaze of glory? Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid aren't going to sit around and be victimized. The end of their story has to do justice to the lives portrayed. I think this may be the same reason Oliver and Barbara Rose both die at the end of War of the Roses. The marriage ends with the ultimate visual punchline -- until death do us part. It reminds me of a line in Amadeus where Salieri tells Mozart that the audience needs a big bang at the end so the they will know when to clap. Films sometimes need a big bang, too. An ostentatious death ending is one way to do it.

Death Anticipatory - Films are tense and angst ridden when we know that at any minute, the protagonist could die. Death is an ever present anticipation in many disaster films, crime dramas, gunslingers, and war films. Is there any question that Michael Sullivan's days are numbered in Road to Perdition and that he will, indeed, eventually reap what he sows? We hope Captain John Miller won't die in Saving Private Ryan but in war and in disaster films like the Poseidon Adventure, bad things happen to good people so every gunshot, every falling beam and every explosion is the adrenaline rushing potential death of a character we are growing increasingly invested in. We're on the edge of our seats and that's good writing. But it has to be logical. In Diehard, the reality established in the film for John McClain makes him all but invincible. We cringe as he walks across broken glass in bare feet but he isn't going to die and we know it. We don't know that in Saving Private Ryan because the reality of that film tries to mirror the reality of war where good guys are gonna die. How many bullets can you dodge? All of them in some films. All but one in others.

Death Matrimonial - Until death do us part? Not always. Love can bridge the gap between life and death onscreen. In both Ghost and The Sixth Sense, the protagonist is dead from the beginning but hangs around because of a love too great to be separated by death. In The Notebook, Duke is so devoted to his wife, Allie, who suffers from Alzheimers, that life would be intolerable for either of them if one were to die. Their simultaneous deaths serve as a snapshot of love everlasting.

Death as Synthesis - Sometimes death is a means of bringing a story full circle -- or full triangle. In Titanic, Rose wanted to die (thesis) until she met Jack who taught her to live (antithesis). By the end of the film, she welcomed death as a means of continuing life as opposed to earlier in the film when she longed for death as an escape from life (synthesis). Most of the protagonist deaths I've watched this week feel like some kind of effort to bring synthesis to the story. Sometimes it works. Other times, I scratch my head.

Death Sacramental - Death of the protagonist can bring reconciliation or social, moral, or governmental reform. Braveheart and Gladiator are based-on-history protagonists. Much is still unknown about William Wallace but he most certainly did not do much of what the film portrays. Even less is known about Narcissus, the slave who killed Lucius Aurelius Commodus and whose name was changed to Maximus some time after David Franzoni finished the first draft of Gladiator. But these films are not documentaries so the protagonists' deaths in both were carefully crafted to do three things: make the protagonist a hero, avenge the death of their wives, and bring about a reformation in government. It makes them noble, heroic and admirable and brings synthesis to the story at the same time.

Death Explanatory - This is what I would call films like Sunset Boulevard and American Beauty where the dead protagonist narrates and explains how he met his demise. Norma Desmond destroyed Joe Gillis rather than lose him. His death is the culmination of her insanity. But the death of Lestor Burnham? Well, I guess are were meant to understand that everyone in his life who thought they would be better off if he was dead -- his daughter, wife, neighbor and himself -- will now have to find out.

Death Antagonistic - So what do you do when your protagonists are also your antagonists? In Troy and in War of the Roses, we are drawn into the stories of opposing sides. Since both the primary protagonists are also the primary antagonists, somebody we are rooting for must lose. In these examples, it's everyone.

Death Recanted - Ever so often, we get thrown an ersatz death when there is a sequel afoot. Dead Man's Chest ends with Jack Sparrow's demise but we're confident that he'll be back. Jack is either fighting for his life in the belly of the beast or a piece of jewelry he stole from Tia Dalma happens to have some kind of resurrection value. We also went through this with Hans Solo in the Empire Strikes Back. The protagonist is gone and we grieve, but only a little. We know he'll be back.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Need More Dead Protagonists

My list is growing but I still need more names of films where the protagonist dies. I'm at about twenty films now and while I don't plan to dissect each of them, I do want to find the story purpose behind the primary (or an important secondary) protagonist's death. Is it about character? Plot? What's does the death accomplish? Obviously this takes time because I have to watch or re-watch several films. Already, I've seen great variety in purpose and can't wait to map these out on paper. I Netflixed Thema and Louise (is Netflixed a verb?) because although I've never been interested in seeing it before, now I must.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

His Name Was Little John

. . . and sometimes I can still feel his head growing strangely heavy against my chest as he took his last breath. It's been one year ago today since I killed my best friend...again. The first time was fourteen years ago. Little John was a replacement puppy who slept at my feet, had a fetish for pacifiers, and liked to yodel. I refused to let him die alone, so I held his little head as the doctor put the needle in his leg and promised me there'd be no pain. He lied. It still hurts.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Death of the Protagonist

As if I don’t have enough on my plate – unfinished writing projects, a demanding job, even more demanding family life, music to learn, and migraines that reproduce, mutate, and slowly infest every inch of my head the way those cane frogs are plaguing Australia. Nasty little buggers. Anyway, on top of all of that, I get these questions that not even the migraines can quash. What makes a romantic comedy timeless? Is there a purpose behind battle speeches? An now, the latest questions that demand exploring -- the death of the protagonist(s). Why do we kill them and when should they die?

Killing off the protagonist at story’s end is not only about getting shock value, creating emotion, or closing an un-closeable story. While the death of the protagonist may accomplish those things, there also has to be a story purpose for the character’s demise. But what I read are a lot of wannabe's stories where the protagonist’s death feels like an after thought tacked on because the author wanted to add a few tears, a suspenseful ending, or a solution to an impossible situation. Or, he had third act writer's block.

I’ve begun dissecting and categorizing a few films where the protagonist(s) die at the end but I could certainly use additional suggestions and slashers do not count. Slashers are an exception to my “death with a purpose” theory because in slashers, death can be utterly pointless since the point of the whole film IS death. Usually, somebody survives (room for a sequel), but even if the protagonist does die, it is often to end the film with a bang -- a bizarre, unusual, or totally unexpected way to knock the protagonist off.

At least, that's what I'm thinking NOW. These thoughts are subject to change following my little study. I have ten films on my “death of a protagonist" study list and they will take some time for me to dissect and theorize but the floor is also open for suggestions.

Starting --- now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Feast Findings

Snickers outnumber scares in FEAST, the third, and likely final, product of Project Greenlight. But, what do I know? Maybe in this genre, like pizza, you can't get enough cheese. Seems to me, though, in a horror film, I shouldn't be scratching my head more than squirming in my seat.

Lest anyone misunderstand, I believe John Gulager has a busy film future -- at least I hope he does. While I'm far from qualified to render a verdict on this genre, if I had to point out the biggest shortcoming in the film, it would be character development.

Characters are so purposely over the top cliche and play such a degree of absurdity that the gags take the bite out of the horror. Having said that, watching Judah Friedlander's character alone, Beer Guy, is worth renting the DVD -- but beware of maggots.

Still if you like horror and aren't lactose intolerant (can stomach cheese), this film is for you, but be forewarned -- FEAST is appropriately titled, not because of the people eating monsters, but because FEAST is a caricatural smorgasborg that pushes the boundaries of taste.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Warming Up To Reality

In the past, my only reality show addiction has been American Idol. Oh, shut up! I'm a singer! But I don't watch much television and reality shows just don't do much for me. I've never even seen a single episode of Survivor. Never. Really.

Then there was Emmitt.

Who'd have thought I'd ever watch Dancing With the Stars? But Emmitt is utterly charming. Even Jerry Springer has some charisma when he's not surrounded by trailer trash.

You'd think thirty minutes of Meerkat Manor would be enough but I am quite distraught over Mozart's banishment. Come on, Flower! She's a kid! And, yeah, Bill Nighy's narrations humanize the little buggers but just where is our brave hero, Shakespeare? Did anyone even look for Tosca? Where for art thou, ya little monkey-looking herpestids?

Monday, October 16, 2006

Breaking In or Breaking Out

In March of 2004, I completed my first screenplay -- sort of. It took almost five months to write. It sucked then and countless rewrites later, it still sucks. By the time I finished my second screenplay, I had an agent on the wrong coast and a story beloved by several indy producers (or so they said) but too dark, edgy and expensive to make. More importantly, I had fallen into a trap -- an imaginary and self imposed trap which demanded that I "break in" or admit that I was not a real screenwriter.

Basura. (rubbish)

I didn't start out that way. I started out wanting nothing more than to write great stories. Okay, so they were written in crayon about magic pennies that made Davy Jones fall in love with me and a jealous one legged princess who resembled those goons on Popeye and turned me into a troll so I couldn't sing with the Monkees and cause the group to break up. Thank goodness Gumby and Pokey showed up when they did. Stupid princess. It was a troll that ate her other leg! Was she not worried that I would eat her remaining one? No, she was too wrapped up in that whole leprechaun discrimination thing. Come one! As if lephrechauns PURPOSELY put pots of magic pennies too far for a one legged princess to walk!

I digress... point, point, what was the point?

Oh, yes. The point is that until one ugly day last year, it never mattered to me if anyone read my stories, liked them, or rejected them. Writing was reward enough. I had something to say and I wanted to say it.

Then something happened. No, it wasn't déjà vu and Yoko Ono.

Maybe screenwriters are simply and inherently passionate for breaking in, getting validation, and seeing their work onscreen and maybe it is that passion which drives us to seek out "peer" reviews on sources like Zoetrope and Triggerstreet, befriend other screenwriters, move to Hollywood, and lament day after day over our founts of talent being overlooked because we don't have the right connections.

Whatever the reason, I adopted another way of thinking.

Suddenly, I cared about getting my work onscreen more than I did about the work itself. Story suffered. Creativity suffered. My mind was not full of insane ideas and creative ways to put them on paper. My mind was occupied with an urgency to get inside the gate before it closed, was reinforced with iron bars, and equipped with rookie sensitive cattle prods.

The fun was over.

It was all so serious and unpleasant, tedious and tense. No longer a creative outlet, a release, a thrilling opportunity to clack worlds into existence, writing was now just another overworked, underpaid, and misunderstood part of my life. It was a drag.

So, I quit.

For months, I didn't work on screenplays and vowed not to write another word until --

* I found more joy in writing a single sentence than in the thought of making a sale

* I got that "first love" feeling back every time I crafted a new character

* I wrote for the sheer love of storytelling

It's liberating.

Oh sure, I still sweat over the Nicholl and the AFF but it's the same kind of anxiety I feel when I watch one of my three sons run track, play football, enter an art competition, train for a wresting match, sing, dance, high jump, or play a trumpet solo. I want the whole world to recognize, admit, and publicly proclaim that my kids are better than everyone else's.

Is that too much to ask for my screenplay? I mean -- my kids?

But what I don't do is think about scholarships, commercial art opportunities, dance careers, the Olympics, drum corps recruitment, or professional wrestling contracts. None of that matters right now.

Honestly, I just enjoy watching my kids become who they want to be and I really, really want to raise great kids.

Likewise, I do not submit queries or worry about making a sale. Nor do I maintain a detailed contact list and strategize about how to "break in". It doesn't mean that I purposely miss opportunities and do nothing to promote myself. It simply means that story is what matters most.

Honestly, I just want to enjoy becoming the kind of writer I know I can be and I really, really want to write great stories.

I say this, not to urge anyone to quit writing or to discourage writers from seeking agents, producers, managers, or other writers to help market their work. That's all part of becoming a screenwriter. But I pen this as a plea -- to beg my fellow writers to not allow the desperation of trying to get produced to strangle the joy out of writing.

If that opt or sale or phone call comes that changes your life, I will celebrate for you and if it comes for me, I hope some of you party in my honor. But it's not THE MOST IMPORTANT part of writing.

Break out of that trap -- that vile, deceitful and consuming trap. While I have nothing to support my theory, I suspect that we all have to break out before we can actually break in. Why? Because we'll be much better writers.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

My Blog Anniversary

In honor of my one year anniversary (this past Tuesday), I've perused all 270 posts to see what, if any, real value I've gleaned or shared in the past year and I'm pleased to say that it has not been an entire waste of time -- although it has been a PARTIAL waste of time. I've listed some of the more useful posts and conveniently NOT listed the most babbling, obtuse, and nonsensical ones.

By the way, if you need anniversary gift suggestions -- Final Draft, squirrel repellant, Tijuana Brass CD's and does anyone know if the 1968 Banana Splits program is available on DVD?

Four banana, three banana, two bananas, one
All bananas playing in the bright warm sun
Flipping like a pancake, popping like a cork,
Fleagle, Bingo, Drooper and Snork
So, I guess I'll keep this up another year -- or, until I run out of things to say.

You Don't Bring Me Flowers Anymore
Why Characters Say No
How Many is Too Many?
Inconsistent Characters
Fish With Feet
Mysterious Characters
Fascinating Characters
Character Empathy
Character Over Gimmick

My Rom Com Question
Rom Com-mon Denominator
Learning the Rom Com
Finding the Romance Part Two
Finding the Romance Part One

Disappearing Subtext
Deciphering Subtext

Properly Exposing
Exposition ABC's
Over Exposure

Purpose of Battle Speeches
More On Battle Speeches

Thematic Reflexivity
Architects and Designers
How Many Pages Per Diem?
How Good is Good?
Sensible Stories
What Producers Look For
Repugnant Protagonists
Crushing the Villain
Seducing the Audience
Tactics for Making Passes
The Silent Treatment

Monday, October 09, 2006

Over Exposure

Of all the exposition no-no's, advice, and complaints I've come across this week, this one seems to be the most frequently addressed so I've decided that it merits its own post -- OVER EXPOSURE -- which (I can't help it) reminds me of Peter Venkman. Ghostbusters 2, for all its shortcomings, has some great lines.

Ray: Don't talk to me; talk to my attorney.
Louis Tully: And that's me! My guys are still under a judicial mistrangement order... that blue thing I got from her! They could be exposing themselves!
Peter Venkman: And you don't want us exposing ourselves!

That line could almost be the screenwriter's motto -- "you don't want us exposing ourselves!" Except -- it wouldn't be true. Exposition is a necessary evil. We want the viewer to see us exposing ourselves. We just don't want them to KNOW that's what we're doing.

It's kind of a reverse "Emperor's New Clothes" form of screenwriting. The emperor thought he was in magnificent robes so light and fine that they were invisible to anyone too stupid to appreciate them. If you don't see them, you're an idiot. If you do see them, you're normal. We want the same thing in reverse -- exposition so well weaved that it is invisible to anyone not purposely looking for it. If you don't see it, you're an average viewer. If you do see it, you're in film school.

But OVER exposure plays a major role in thousands of specs that implode on reader desks all over Hollywood. Most of the books, articles, & web logs that discuss exposition warn against giving the reader too much information. This seems to be the number one way for a screenplay to self destruct -- inundate your reader with busy exposition, flashbacks, and talking heads.

My top three list of the most annoying over exposure methods:

(1) YOU SEE, TIMMY - Not to be confused with "as you know, Bob"s, the "you see, Timmy" (as defined in the movie Speechless) is the lesson, theme, or moral of a story summed up the way Timmy's mother might close an episode of Lassie with something like, "You see, Timmy, birds have to be free. They don't want your affection. But Lassie always comes home because she'd die without your love."

Cue giant dog hug.

Yes, the lines are lame and cheesy (I made them deliberately lame and cheesy to illustrate a point), but they serve a purpose in summing up what Timmy learned and what the episode was trying to say. Used at the beginning of a story, it would give away the whole episode too early and rob the audience of experiencing the story from Timmy's perspective.

No fun for the viewer.

But surprising to me, half or more of the screenplays I've read by aspiring writers give all the details in the first act. Instead of dropping clues, they spoon feed the answers.

When I was a little girl, my grandmother used to tell me that if you show a little flesh, a man will hang around to see what else you've got. Show it all and there are no more secrets - no reason for him to stick around. We need readers to stick around.

(2) PRESS CONFERENCES - Oh, it pains my public relations soul to criticize the single most effective way for a government to confront a time sensitive, easily misconstrued, or volatile event. But I must. I once read a screenplay with an eighteen page press conference with one purpose - to detail how a man was logistically able to keep his sperm alive long enough to sell it on eBay. All the reader needs is a plausible explanation, not a detailed one. Press conferences are getting harder and harder to write because (1) they are BORING (2) they are PREDICTABLE and (3) they are BORING.

If you must, must, must write a press conference because it's a fundamental requirement of your story OR because it actually WILL move the story along, give your confrontation with reporters a twist, spin, or unexpected dialogue to lighten it up and separate it from every other press conference we've ever seen. Make it memorable.

In The Fugitive, when Lieutenant Gerard interrupts the sheriff in charge of the train wreck as he's showboating his investigation for the television cameras, we find out who Gerard is, the authority of the U.S. Marshals' Office, checkpoint locations, fugitive information, the search perimeter, and we get an unforgettable peek into the mind of Gerard as he announces that he wants a hard target search of every "gas station, residence, warehouse, farmhouse, hen house, outhouse and dog house". Cameras still flashing.

(2) NEWS PROGRAMS - So yeah, a twelve car pile up, bomb threat, or freakish weather event is news, but a news broadcast as the primary means of exposition is painful and seriously, while some stations do frequent human interest stories, how many of them really care that a fireman rescued a cat out of a tree? Like the press conference, news programs should be used to move the story along, not just reveal exposition.

Two favorites come to mind:

Bruce Almighty is about a beat reporter who does human interest stories but wants a seat at the desk. Still, each on-camera news scene is not just original and amusing, but it tells us something about the characters in the scene. Bruce is jealous, Evan is insecure, etc.

In the 1989 Batman, news reporters are shown on aira succumbing to the poisonous effects of cosmetics and grooming products. Others are later seen with no makeup and suffering from baggy eyes, bad skin and graying lifeless hair

So there ya have it -- the three abuses of exposition that annoy me the most -- too much information too soon, press conferences and news programs. What are yours?

Friday, October 06, 2006

2006 Nicholl Finalists

“Abilene,” Michael Raymond, Auckland, New Zealand, and Seattle, Washington

“Armored,” James V. Simpson, New Westminster, British Columbia, Canada

“Beatrice Creek,” Eric J. Litra, Monroe, Michigan

“The Free Republic of Bobistan,” Arthur M. Jolly, Marina del Rey, California

“Mr. Burnout,” Eric T. Gravning, Santa Monica, California

“Palau Rain,” Stephanie Lord, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

“Peepers,” Clark E. Morrow, Olathe, Kansas

“10 Day Contract,” Josh D. Schorr, South Pasadena, California

“38 Mercury,” Alfred E. Carpenter, Alexandria, Virginia, and Mark A. Matusof, Woodbridge, Virginia

“Tides of Summer,” Scott K. Simonsen, Hermosa Beach, California

Academy Announces
Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship
Finalists for 2006

Heartfelt congrats to each one! Deux, is that you?? And, FYI, from Greg Beal, the genres break down as follows:

ABILENE / drama
ARMORED / action thriller
BEATRICE CREEK drama (crime)
MR. BURNOUT / comedy
PALAU RAIN / drama adventure
PEEPERS / crime thriller
10 DAY CONTRACT / sports drama
38 MERCURY / science fiction fantasy
TIDES OF SUMMER / coming of age drama

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Exposition ABC's

In case you're looking, there's not a lot on the internet about exposition as it applies to screenwriting.

"As You Know, Bob" is apparently an expression which means "exposition that sucks" but until Karl Iglesias used the phrase as the title for his Creative Screenwriting article, I had never heard it.


Karl has five tips for writing good (invisible) exposition:

  1. Surround Exposition With Conflict - Create fights, arguments, complications and life-or-death situations.
  2. Present Exposition When the Reader is Eager to Know it - Set up the desire to know it.
  3. Make Exposition Active and Purposeful - Make a character need to say it because it contributes to the character's objective.
  4. Twist a Character's Emotions to Get Exposition - Make the character need the information and have to fight to get it.
  5. Add Dramatic Irony - Create tension by letting your character in on a secret.
John August also has five suggestions for writing better exposition:

  1. Show the information, rather than having a character say it.
  2. Try to follow a natural line of thought: A to B to C.
  3. Simplify. The reader may not need to know everything.
  4. Keep your hero active in learning the information, rather than passively listening.
  5. Balance natural speech patterns with efficiency. People rarely say things as concisely as they could.
All noteworthy.

Okay, now here comes my arrogance. As much as I know I'm not qualified to dispute professionals, session four of the American Film Institute's "Basics of Screenwriting" uses the phrase "exposition" and "backstory" synonymously. Backstory is not always exposition and exposition is not always backstory. Somebody who knows more than me, please set me straight on this.


Karl Iglesias quotes Humphrey Bogart as saying that if he ever had to spout exposition, there'd better be two camels humping in the background to distract the audience. But Dave Trottier warns us in "The Screenwriter's Bible" against making the exposition too exciting and uses the second Indiana Jones movie as an example. Funny -- I've seen the first and third Indy films more times than I can count, but with Temple of Doom, once was enough. Dave says that primary exposition is presented over a meal so revolting, that the attention of the audience is diverted from the dialogue. I wouldn't know. It diverted my attention from the entire remainder of the film -- I guess I'm just not entertained by humping camels.

Another crutch in introducing exposition is the flashback. Dave says that ninety-five percent of flashbacks in unsold scripts do not work for two reasons (1) it doesn't move the story forward and (2) we don't care about the characters or story BEFORE we get flung into the past.

Linda Seger's "Making a Good Script Great" says that expository speeches and flashbacks are most frequently to blame for the common mistake amateurs make in explaining motivation instead of showing it, which over-emphasizes backstory and the influences of other characters on the situation at hand. She says flashbacks don't work when (1) they are informational instead of dramatic, (2) they stop the action, and (3) the motivation is not here, now, or imminent.


Bill Martell's "The Secrets of Action Screenwriting" sums up dialogue this way:

"Make sure every line of dialogue:

  1. Exposes Character
  2. Moves the Story Forward
  3. Is Entertaining"

If every line of dialogue exposes character, then there's not much need to explain character motivation and the writer has more freedom to craft a story that doesn't need crutches.

One of my all time favorite lines comes from the John Lennon song, Beautiful Boy, used in Mr. Holland's Opus. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Life is happening. You just don't see it. This somehow reminded me that good exposition is always happening. You just don't see it.

ADDENDUM: Make sure that when you skeedaddle, you follow up this post with one from Unknown Screenwriter who also has a list of five exposition rules. What is it with the fives?

  1. Set limits on what your reader or audience needs to know.
  2. Spoon feed the reader and the audience just enough exposition and backstory so that you leave them wanting even more.
  3. Make the characters in your story want the information as bad as WE do.
  4. Use exposition as a setup for future action.
  5. Combine exposition and action.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Properly Exposing

In search of a page to post in response to the one page gauntlet, I skimmed some of my screenwriting efforts from the past year and -- well -- ouch. Those screenplays are collecting dust bunnies under the bed for a reason. More painful than recognizing the flawed writing is realizing that a year from now, I will likely have the same yuck-in-my-gut reaction to what I am working on today.

I don't know which parts read the worst, but I'm thinking it's a tie between my dead-on dialogue and poorly crafted exposition. Did I say it was poor? I meant tragic, calamitous, pitiable, and shockingly lamentable.

Okay, poor.

So, I'm on a quest for the keys to crafting a screenplay without insulting the intelligence of the reader by using exposition that couldn't be more offensively obvious if you pointed it out with flashing neon lights.

I have nothing against neon, mind you. It can be useful in pointing the way to ATM machines, pool halls, nail salons, tanning beds, tattoo parlors, slot machines, the exits of smoke filled aircraft, and -- beer. Oh, and anyone who has ever consumed two full bottles of Snapple green tea while driving four hours to Austin can ballyhoo the merits of neon signs over restroom doors in crowded convenience stores.

Neon has its place. Exposition, too, has its place. So why is it that some exposition works and some sounds like dialogue from a Dick and Jane early reader? Could it be that exposition often uses neon signs where better craftsmanship would require only a small blinking light? Or, do we sometimes use so many blinking lights that it spoils the view of everything else?

Karl Iglesias has an article about exposition in this month's Creative Screenwriting Magazine. My magazine arrives in the mailbox weeks after everyone gets theirs (and the mail lady wonders why I chase her down?), so I haven't gotten to read it yet but I'm thinking that on this quest to better write and better understand exposition, that article is the place to start.

Monday, October 02, 2006

One Page Challenge

Apparantly, Red Right Hand started this challenge and being too self absorbed of late to read my blog roll and somewhat preoccupied with job, kids, job, father's house, job, singing engagements, job, closet cleaning, job, and my new workout CD (latin dance, this is uber exhausting) I missed it. However, Unknown Screenwriter set me straight and here we are -- one page of an unfinished screenplay. Why unfinished? Uh, hello -- job, kids, job, father's house, job, singing engagements, job, closet cleaning, job, and my new workout CD.

This screenplay seems particularly appropriate at the moment. But, let me make this very clear. There was NO fly paper on my father's walls, no toilet in the yard and no fish in his bathtub.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The B Movie Life, Part 3

If you ever need to sneak off and call a psychologist friend for advice about your pecan phobic daughter, don’t do it in the driveway next to the patio where she’s laying tile. Window screens do not make particularly effective sound barriers.

Sheesh. As if it was my fault!

Halfway finished with the floor, I noticed an odd lump and realized that I had tiled over a remnant left from piecing around the door. I went off in search of a putty knife so I could pull the tile up and when I returned, my brother was trying to stomp it flat.

ME: That’s not going to work.
HIM: Dad said you need a break.
ME: It's probably a pecan.
HIM: Naw, you'd have noticed it.
ME: Not if it's a haunted pecan.
HIM: It didn't crack when I jumped on it.
ME: Because it's haunted.
HIM: Geez, you're whacked. Gimme that.

I handed him the putty knife and went to get my Diet Dr. Pepper from the table, but about the time I noticed it missing --

HIM: Found your pecan only it's a lizard!
ME: Not funny. Did you drink my Dr. Pepper?
HIM: He's road pizza.
ME: Knock it off.

But when I reached the patio my brother was studying the tile in one hand with a putty blade of lizard mush in the other. Then in his best Steve Irwin voice --

HIM: Crikey. His tail is still stuck.


Friday, September 29, 2006

What Do You Want?

Very disappointed that Scott the Reader didn't make the Nicholl finals. But, having made the quarterfinals and semifinals, he is sure to get plenty of reads and, of course, he has bragging rights. So, congrats, Scott, on what you've accomplished. I don't know exactly what your goals are, but I'm sure this got you closer to achieving them.

This leads me to a basic question every writer ought to be able to answer --

What do you want?

I'm astonished at the number of people (in this world of ordering fast food and complex coffee combinations) who can't plainly and simply tell you what they want.

Is it inarticulateness or indecision?

Is the art of communication suffering under the ease of internet use as a substitute for human interaction? Or, are we simply afforded so many choices, opportunities, alternatives, and methods that we can't whittle them down enough to find our core desire?

Not all aspiring screenwriters want the same thing. Some want to be full time working screenwriters while periodic spec sales are fine for others. Some want to write features. Others want to write television movies or sitcoms. For some, it's a hobby and for others, a career path.

Do you know what you want?

Since writers' goals differ, the steps toward accomplishing those goals will also differ. But if a writer doesn't know what his goal is, how can he map out a strategy for achieving it? And, if he doesn't map out a strategy for achieving it, how will he measure his progress? And, if he doesn't measure his progress, how will he keep from getting discouraged?

I know exactly what I want. Nobody else has to know it or like it or even understand it. It's mine. I may choose to share it. I may not. The important thing is that I know what I'm after and I have a plan for getting it.

EXAMPLE: I'm a little weary of being told that I'm not a serious writer if I don't throw caution to the wind and move to Hollywood. How can anyone say that if they don't know what it is I really want and how I plan to get it? Moving to Hollywood is exactly what some writers need to do so they can network and get a job related to the film industry. But who says it's right for everyone? This is not a foot race where we all wind up at the same finish line.

There's a difference between giving screenwriting advice and giving career advice. If somebody says, "How do I break into Hollywood?", that is an opening to suggest moving there, getting a job as a PA, or becoming a reader. But if somebody asks "how do I make this a better screenplay?", don't tell them to move to Hollywood. That will NOT make it a better screenplay (unless the purpose is to attend film school).

Writers often try to do everything at once -- find an agent, make a sale, produce his own film, enter contests, network at festivals, find a job in L.A., etc. There are probably people who can actually do all those things at once and do them all well. But many of us need to concentrate all our efforts and energy on one or two things. Maybe one writer should be working to get an agent while another is ready to to try to produce his own film. Yet another writer may need to stay away from contests and pitch fests altogether and concentrate on improving his writing.

How do you know which one you should be doing? You have a goal and plan for achieving that goal that you can measure your progress against. Otherwise, your goal feels out of reach and your efforts may feel wasted or out of control. Worst of all, it may appear to others that you don't know what you really want. People don't put their time, trust or money into people or projects that appear to lack focus and direction.

EXAMPLE: Many writers ask somebody to read their screenplay under the guise of getting screenwriting advice when, in fact, they are hoping that reader will help them along in their career. (For the record, I want screenwriting advice, not career advice.) When the reader's notes come back and offer constructive suggestions, the writer feels let down and the reader feels unappreciated. Then they warn others not to work with that person who disappointed them.

So, if you graciously agree to take a look at somebody's screenplay, make sure you know what it is they want from you. Are they asking if you think they're good enough to make a living at screenwriting? Or, are they asking you to tell them how they can improve their screenplay? Are they hoping you'll pass the screenplay along to somebody you know who can get it made?

If they can't tell you, don't read it.

Conversely, before you ask somebody else to read your work, make sure you know exactly what it is you want from that reader and you are clear about it.

If you don't know, don't ask them to read it.

And, if you're writing away on screenplay after screenplay, entering contests willy nilly, sending out hundreds of query letters a month, annoying the heck out of every professional you meet, and stalking the men's room at screenwriting conferences, make sure that your efforts are part of a strategy to get whatever it is that you really want.

Of course, that means you must KNOW what it is that you really want.