Friday, March 31, 2006

Finding the Romance (Part 1)

Great Golf Shoes at Amazingly Low Prices - That's the title of the Rom Com I started outlining this morning at about two-ish. Yeah, it hurts. But I came up with it about the same time I figured out that not only am I hurting in the ROM department, but I've got serious COM issues, too.

Title sucks, doesn't it? Well, so does self discovery! Cripes. This little Rom Com exercise is giving me hives. Wait. Can you get crabs from LOOKING at somebody? Just wondering cuz that sleazy American Idol contestant, Bucky (rhymes with garbage trucky), was on t.v. about the time I started itching. He may be a very nice boy but there's just something inherently dirty about the guy. He looked all the filthier when they showed his picture next to that breathtakingly beautiful, perfectly ladylike, squeaky clean, every mother's dream, Katherine McPhee, which rhymes with sweat-pea by the way. Funny how that works.

So, where was I? Oh, yes, my self imposed Rom Com exercise. So, rather than botch up the completed screenplay that lacks any chemistry between my primary characters, I decided to learn chemistry FIRST before I try to spice it up, not only by watching Rom Coms and observing human behavior (and yeah, I'll do the music, fragrance, and flirting exercise recommended by uberpossom), but also by trying to write a Rom Com. Don't laugh. I'm a drama writer -- that wasn't a joke.

My inspiration? Garbage trucky, sweat pea, and a golfer I dated in high school. Love the idea so far. Of course, I need appropriate names. I'd like to borrow a name from an exchange student I once knew -- Dickie Deutschbag -- but he was studying to be a lawyer and might sue me. Of course, the obvious joke here is that it wouldn't be the first time a writer had been sue'd by some Deutschbag.

Yeah, I know. I still have to find the funny. One thing at a time. First, I gotta find the romance.

Terry Rossio's Rom Com Rulez

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Need Rom Com Recs

A pathetic truth washed over me just now like bad hair color. My rewrite sucks. The fault is not in the structure, dear Brutus, but in the ambiance, mood, atmosphere, or whatever you want to call it. Although the story is not a romantic comedy, the relationships in my drama are too flat and boring.

I have two options here -- (1) watch a bunch and learn from a few rom coms and (2) spend a few hours a day taking notes on male/female interaction at bars, malls, restaurants and a transatlantic cruise to Rome. Okay, the cruise isn't necessary but the relationship part is. Why? Because I do not have a girlish romantic notion lingering in my over 40 head and I write clinical, predictable, and organized love. What the? I'm out of touch! What is up with that? Am I really that dull, flat, and impersonal? (that is rhetorical)

Checked my video closet just now and guess what? I have over a hundred movies but apparently, I don't watch Rom Coms! Gee, could that be the problem? I have three -- While You Were Sleeping, When Harry Met Sally, and You've Got Mail. Most everything else will either make you want to cry or thrust you into some kind of no guts/no glory campaign with lines like "for England and for the prize!" or "Freeeeeeeeedommmmmmm!"

So, dear readers (yes, all five of you), I need viewing assignments (no porn). Give me some Rom Coms that will jar my romantic memory and transport me back to that time when I cared if my dress made me look fat, changed my clothes a dozen times before a date and wondered whether or not my meal would give me onion breath.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Still Working the Deal

No, not the kind of deal where directors and producers validate your words with a contract and a check. Congrats, Julie, by the way! She is working that kind of deal!

Now, back to me -- mine is the kind of deal that is negotiated for a few weeks and results in either full time employment or frustration and a politely slammed door. Just when I thought it was the latter, I got a call for another meeting. Okie doke. However, thinking that door had been closed and my time this year would be as flexible as last year, I've already planned a cruise (for writing, of course), booked a trip to Michigan (to see mi madre), reserved my room at the Driskill for the Austin Film Festival in October, and accepted a July wedding gig in California singing "I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You" with the bride's cousin - hope he can carry a tune.

Alas, nothing in life is easy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Good Ol' Days

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers are disturbingly entertaining when I'm on meds. I don't mean those geeky space rangers, ninja storm or megarangers either with all their high tech gadgets. Sheesh. Anyone can be a hero with advanced technology.

I'm talking ORIGINAL McCoys that started airing on Fox in 1993. Rangers totally rock riding Thunderzords and wearing shiny leotards with shields of quilted batting. And those episode titles were mind numbingly brilliant -- Enter the Lizzinator. Whoa. That's deep. Has there ever been a MMPR villain to top Rita Repulsa and her henchmen, Finster and Goldar? I think not! Rita, with her pointy cones and screechy voice, is every man's nightmare -- a ticked off alien sorceress hell bent on galactic domination! Yeah, good times.

But then again, I love Sid and Marty Krofft weirdos like H.R. Puffnstuff (RIP, Jimmy) and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Katie Couric is far too civilized to kick off my insane days and I lament the loss of Saturday morning entertainment with the likes of Witchiepoo. Thank goodness for DVD's and cable. Marty Krofft said that their programs weren't drug induced.
"That was our look, those were the colors, everything we did had vivid colors, but there was no acid involved," Krofft said. "That shit scared me. I'm no goody two-shoes, but you can't create this stuff stoned."
Hmm. So, maybe it's not my meds and I just have a thing for tights, magic flutes, and characters with names like Weenie the Genie -- or wacky low budget and imaginative alternatives to animated entertainment. I'm assuming there's no longer a market for stuff like this. Shame.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Worst of Me Meme

I was Kevin's first tag. Yeah, really. But, I answered it in HIS blog instead of MINE. I thought that was what his email said to do but everyone else has answered in their own blogs so what the heck!

WHAT'S THE WORST THING YOU'VE EVER WRITTEN? - a sappy song eight years ago for my son's birthday. Wrote it, sang it, recorded it in a studio. Seriously, a person could get diabetes from all the sugar in that song. I pray my son doesn't play it at my funeral.

- something about scrambled eggs as my heroine crushed a devolved villain beneath the heal of her boot. A curse on you for calling that up. May your proctologist have arctic hands.

WHAT'S THE WORST ADVICE YOU'VE EVER GIVEN? - It can't hurt to go out with him just once.


WHAT'S THE WORST PITCH MEETING YOU'VE EVER HAD? - Will let you know when I actually have one. By the way, I have this great story --

WHO'S THE ONE PERSON YOU'D NEVER WORK WITH AGAIN AND AREN'T AFRAID TO NAME? - Jeff Crilley, a news reporter who thinks governing by popular opinion is a good thing, even if those opinions are rendered by toothless train jumpers with second grade educations.

WHAT'S THE WORST SCRIPT IDEA YOU'VE EVER HAD? - Let's see, it would either be the Errol Flynn lookalike or the life of Marcus Garvey. Errol, because it's a dumb idea and Garvey because nobody would touch it.

WHAT'S THE WORST THING ABOUT YOU BEING ON SET? - Never been on set other than as an extra and that goes without saying but, I'll state the obvious -- twelve hours standing around doing (wait for it)-- NOTHING!

WHAT'S YOUR WORST WORKING HABIT? - Rewriting before I've finished the first draft or even first scene or even the first sentence. Wait. Make that editing before I've finished the first draft, first scene, or first sentence.

WHAT'S THE WORST MISTAKE YOU'VE EVER MADE? - My mistakes are alphabatized and catalogued but not put in order of severity. However, the worst would probably fall midway between wearing one black shoe and one navy shoe at a press conference and quitting a high profile, well paying job to spend two years writing screenplays.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Got No Strings

Sure, the rest of you have been wireless for years, but I'm anti-gadget and anti clutter. Really. I don't even own an electric can opener. I hate clutter on my countertops and wouldn't even have a microwave if it weren't for kids and frozen pizza. I hate clutter anywhere in my house or office. I can't even sleep at night if there are dishes in the sink or a basket of unfolded clothes on the dryer.

So, how is that my computer armoire is a death trap of wires, cables, and interfaces? I regularly dust, unplug, replug, rearrange, stack, sort and combine until the armoire is a tidy and functional part of the room but within a day or so, I'm shuffling through the kids' speakers, earphones, digital cameras, and PSP's again just to reach my blank CD's. Even though wads of cords may be as unavoidable in life as missing socks, something had to be done before I lost my ever-lovin' marbles.

And, you're thinking "lady, get the kids their own 'puters." No. All that would do is create three MORE wads of cords and electronics and I don't work that way. We have a family computer in the middle of the house that the three boys share. It has internet access and parental controls -- the kind of parental controls where parents can see what kids are doing from the hallway, the den, kitchen, or the patio window. I know whether they are IM'ng friends or doing homework. The setup actually works better than a bedroom computer for all night Halo parties on XBox Live, too. But, it isn't so great for an adult who wants to write, balance bank statements, or participate in online courses.

So, I added a wireless router and now I don't even have to leave my sofa to check an online dictionary, verify a fact, or use the internet for research. Life is good. Well, as long as the fire marshall doesn't stop by.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Writing at Sea

Why is it I get more writing done at sea than any other place? I genuinely love sunning on my balcony or a deck that overlooks the water -- and writing. Yeah, something is wrong with me. While other people party, gamble, and make out on the decks, I'm soaking up the peace, lack of interruptions, and freedom of the whole environment with pen and paper -- not a laptop -- pen and paper.

On my last cruise, I took a shot of this charming girl in Cozumel who was probably the only one of her entire dancing troupe that was having a good time. Most of her dance mates faked half hearted smiles or looked downright miserable as they suffered through the latest performance for tourists. But this little girl? She loved every minute.

Perhaps that's why I got an entire treatment written on a four day cruise. Because I loved every minute. (I didn't say it was a good treatment, only that I finished one)

The self imposed pressure is gone at sea and getting lost in that writer's zone is as effortless as the sun on my face. The hardest part is remembering to step out of that zone and refresh my sunscreen. The older I get the less my grandmother's Hispanic heritage protects me from sunburn. A lady approached me once and asked what tanning product I used to get my marvelous tan. Hmm. Was it marvelous? I hadn't noticed. I gave her my product and told her to keep it. I had another one in my cabin. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd been on deck almost eight hours that day.

Yeah, time to book another cruise.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Seen Squid and the Whale?

I finally saw this yesterday and since Noah Baumbach doesn't read my blog, I can say 'huh?' without offending the Oscar nominated screenwriter. Watching films for each of the Oscar nomiated screenplays seemed like a good exercise in improving my craft but I am genuinely puzzled. Could somebody who has seen it please tell me what makes this a story? IMDB says:

Based on the true childhood experiences of Noah Baumbach and his brother, The Squid and the Whale tells the touching story of two young boys dealing with their parents divorce in Brooklyn in the 1980's.
Okay, I can relate to that. I didn't grow up in an Ozzie and Harriet house either, but --

(1) Where is the plot? - It's a ringside seat to the daily struggles of a dysfunctional and broken family but what is the plot? It's like "Hey, take a look at these screwed up people. Mess, aren't they? Okay, good night everyone."

(2) Where are the arcs? - Each character is messed up before, during, and after the divorce. Divorce is not the cause of the dysfunction.

(3) Who are the protags and who are the antags? - Is the "divorce" supposed to be the antagonist here? Is each of the four members of the family a protag? Who am I pulling for and where are my "hurray!" moments?

(4) What about the ending? - Nothing is resolved. Was finally seeing the Squid and the Whale supposed to indicate that the older boy had broken free of his mother? Didn't need her?

I'm not dissing this film and yeah, parts of it are icky but I have a strong stomach. The film doesn't offend my conservative values or shatter my sheltered life. (HA! As if. Baumbach doesn't want to play "can you top this?" with me) I am simply trying to understand what makes The Squid and the Whale a story and an Oscar caliber screenplay.

Thoughts? Illuminations? Teach me, people!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Coyote Crossing

So I understand that a coyote in Central Park is a bizarre oddity and I also understand nervous park patrons -- but come on! Helicopters, a S.W.A.T. team, news conferences??

Don't get me wrong. I am not a coyote fan. When my headlights hit a coyote, I wonder if I'm not shining a light on Satan, himself. Coyotes are creepy, evil looking predators that prowl around at night stalking pets and leaving rabbit carcasses in your yard just to remind you that while you may have built a $250,000 home, planted pansies, and fenced them out, coyotes were here first.

Coyotes around here are becoming increasingly brazen as we concrete their homes and exterminate their food sources. Self preservation is conquering their natural fear of man and they are frequently crossing that comfortable barrier between wild life and urban life. Years ago, coyotes would just slink around hunting rabbits and stealing chickens here and there, but now they're jumping fencings and becoming a genuine threat as they scavenge for food in neighborhoods.

Not too long ago, a little girl and her friends were playing with a new puppy in her front yard when a demonic flash of light snatched the puppy and disappeared before her mother's brain could even register that a coyote had just blown by her feet and stolen the puppy in broad daylight right out of her daughter's hands.

So, no, I'm not a fan of coyotes and I can almost understand the helicopter following the coyote around to keep an eye on it until animal control caught up, but this wasn't a grizzly bear, bobcat or even a white bronco. Maybe I just don't get it because I'm a Texan and coyotes are not an unusual sight around here. But, what did catching that coyote cost New York taxpayers? Sure, he needed to be caught, but do they send out that many uniforms, alert the media and bring in a helicopter every time there's a mugging in Central Park?

Seriously, I don't want anyone's pet mauled by a coyote and while I consider myself somewhat of a naturalist, I wouldn't have second thoughts about shooting a coyote if it came at me. But coyotes don't usually attack people. Muggers, on the other hand --

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Shilling Jane

Good tip on Jane Espenson's blog today about starting a scene where opening lines make it clear what you missed before you walked in on the middle or end of the conversation. She sums it up better than I could so go read it. Most of us probably do this anyway as part of the "come in as late as possible" and "leave as early as possible" scene construction rule, but I love it when I run across stuff that I already know but didn't know I know until somebody who knows it better tells me that I know it even though I don't know that I know it. Ya know?

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Storytelling & Story Writing

This is an outlining post, not an American Idol post. But, something Barry Manilow said tonight on AI was so simple and so obvious that I marvel I've never heard it said to a singer before. (Stop boo'ing me! I'll tie this up in a minute.) Manilow reminded the Idol contestants that they are not just vocalists, they are storytellers. He warned them to stop belting it out and remember to tell the story.

So, what does this have to do with screenwriting?

Fundamentals are critical, but at this stage of the American Idol game, those singers shouldn't have to focus on them. Proving you can belt out a song is not the same thing as singing it well. Same goes for us as writers. At the "writing the screenplay" stage of the game, we shouldn't have to focus on fundamentals or be so anxious to prove what good writers we are that we belt out a story without really telling it.

I'm not suggesting that fundamentals are unimportant. Nor am I suggesting that the pros don't ponder technical issues. But those are issues that need to be resolved at the outlining stage which is actually the "story writing" stage. The outline IS the story and the screenplay is the "telling of that story".

Outline = story
Screenplay = telling of that story

The lesson for me is that while ever-learning and ever-improving my craft is good, there is a time and place for fundamentals - the outline. Don't start the screenplay until the story and structure are in place. I should know the story so well that by the time I start writing the screenplay, I'm not thinking about the fundamentals at all. It's a no brainer. That doesn't mean there won't be changes along the way. There will be. But, when it comes time to write the screenplay, my focus should simply be on telling a good story.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Character Motives

So to follow up my questions about "fascinating" characters which nobody attempted to answer, by the way, probably due to "fascination" with my photo which I've since removed in response to my irrational fear of stalkers and affinity for identifying with Underdog, I'm -- what? Where was I? Oh yeah, I'm now wondering what good a complex character is if we don't have the faintest idea about the character's motives. Isn't that something you learn the first day of screenwriting 1.01?

I read a script this weekend about a road trip. The characters were complex, although at times I believe vagueness was being used as a substitute for depth. Hate it when that happens. But the road trip was fun, the adventures were fun, the people the protag met were fun, and the whole thing was fun -- but pointless. I had no idea why the heck our educated white collar hero was on this trip scrimping for money, digging in trash cans, doing odd jobs and putting himself deliberately in harm's way. Did he crack at work? Was he nuts? Did he catch his wife in bed with another man? Was he a fugitive on the run or on hallucinative drugs? The question is never answered.

Perhaps "motive" is not one of those things that many readers need spelled out for them but I really need to know why a good looking educated guy is living a nomadic road life.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

"Getting to Know You" Meme

Just when I thought the meme novelty had worn off, Alicia tags me with the latest. I don't know who started it but I cannot help but hum "Getting to Know You" from The King and I as I answer this one --

Getting to Know You
Getting to Know All About You

Four Jobs I've Had

Sales Clerk at Sears
Police Dispatcher
Radio Rep Firm
Public Information Officer

Getting to Like You
Getting to Hope You Like Me

Four Movies I Can Watch Over and Over Again
(only four? no way - but how 'bout the last four?)

Master and Commander
The Green Mile
Mask of Zorro
The Fugitive

Getting to Know You
Putting it My Way But Nicely
You are Precisely
My -- Cup -- of -- Tea

Four Places I've Lived

San Antonio, TX
Dallas, TX
Richardson, TX
Mesquite, TX

Getting to Know You
Getting to Feel Free and Easy

Four TV Shows I Love

Gilligan's Island
American Idol
Law & Order

When I am With You
Getting to Know What to Say

Four Places I've Vacationed

New York

Haven't You Noticed?
Suddenly, I'm Bright and Breezy!

Four of My Favorite Dishes

a wooden salad bowl my grandmother brought me from Israel
the glass pitcher my mother-in-law made tea in
a milk glass fruit bowl my mother paid entirely too much for
the set of china I inherited from my grandmother

(hey, I'm on a diet and it didn't SAY food)

Because of All the Beautiful and New

Four Blogs I Visit Every Day

The Artful Writer
Living the Rom Com
Scott the Reader
Miss Snark

Things I'm Learning About You

Four Places I'd Rather Be Right Now

There is no better place than where I am right now.

Day -- By -- Day!

Four Bloggers I'm Tagging
(sorry, it's the unofficial scribosphere rules)


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Hobbits On Stage

More difficult than it was for me to imagine relegating a mammoth book like Les Miserables to the confines of a stage, Lord of the Rings is due to open in Toronto on March 23. Not a good comparison says you? Of course not, says I, but what is there that could possibly compare to a $24 million stage production of middle earth?

If reports are accurate that LOTR moved from London to Canada for lack of a large enough stage, then I'm wondering how it will open in London next fall. Something tells me it was more about the $3 million in assistance from the Ontario government than logistics of the theatre. Even so, how many stages compare in size to the Princess of Wales Theatre?

Broadway, the aforelinked article states, will likely not see LOTR on stage for many years so for now, our only opportunity to see LOTR is in the ancetorial home of my grandfather. Hmm. It's been five years since my last trip to Ontario and my cousins are long overdue a visit.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dear Dawn, AFF Blog

Dawn Wiercinski, Austin Film Festival's Screenplay Competition Director, has a blog on the AFF Site. A recent "thank you for visiting" form email says:

In the coming weeks the column will expand from questions about our competition to more general questions about writing screenplays. From writer's block to guild registration and beyond, "Dear Dawn" will draw on our expert Festival staff, panelists, and industry contacts to cover every aspect of screenwriting. Of course your questions about the Screenplay Competition are always welcome. Based on the responses I've seen so far, there are many of you out there with questions about how to become better screenwriters and I'm happy to help get some answers from the people who know.
I met Dawn when I was a volunteer at the Austin Film Festival. I don't know how they get all the pieces to fall into place without leaving bits of themselves all over the place but somehow the AFF staff pull it off every year.

This might be a good blog to keep an eye on although the AFF website isn't always current. For now, the "Dear Dawn" questions appear to come in by email, not by open posting. Meanwhile the AFF Blog is rocking right along.

End of the Chase

Presently working out that deal with the devil I spoke of last week which would, most likely, put an abrupt end to my two years of rainbow chasing or, at least, drop it down into a much lower gear.

Great job. Great pay. Great hours. Great location. Good people. Little or no writing time. Too good to pass up. Yeah, I gotta do it. However, in those great words of John Lennon, "life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Life isn't waiting for me to make a sale and for some reason, the utility companies won't wait around for it either. Go figure.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not living off cheese balls and using water from the neighbors' faucets to flush my toilet. But, with a son one year away from college and another son on his heels, I need to be practical.

Funny that the pivotal part of the deal, which marks the decline of the rainbow chase, falls on this day -- a day to celebrate being who you are.

So, to those of you 80 or so visitors who plan to spend the evening drinking whiskey and green beer, sniffing shamrocks, getting gigitty on tabletops, frolicking in meadows or whatever it is Irish folk do to take a break from rainbow chasing, a very happy St. Patty's Day to you.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Fascinating Characters

Stole this pic from Snobsite. I love the Hollywood sign looming over the apartments like Zeus on Mount Olympus and how the sign is seemingly holding up a great blue sky the way Atlas, the Titan, held the pillars that separated the heavens from the earth. Okay, moving on --

In part two of Karl Iglesias' exploration of character development in Creative Screenwriting, he discusses "fascination" as a means of drawing an audience into the character. Last issue, he gave us some input on "recognition" or character empathy. Good stuff. But, as usual, I need clarification and, for some reason, Karl doesn't answer me when I talk to his picture in my magazine. How rude.

The basic crux of Karl's position is that fascinating characters are those that contrast or contradict themselves. Again, he uses the Melvin Udall character from As Good as It Gets as his example. Unlovable Melvin, who hates just about everybody, writes romance novels. That's his character contrast and what makes him fascinating. Okay, I'm clear on this. But the "unlovable" part is because Melvin is so compulsive, so disagreeable, so difficult for people to understand, and ultimately this makes him lonely. Melvin's character is "fascinating", but parts of his character are "recognizable" and inspire empathy. Karl's basic truths about characters we empathize are --

(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 admire
In order for a character to be "fascinating", does one of his conflicting characteristics have to be something that people recognize and empathize with? Melvin is certainly somebody we feel sorry for (number one) and he certainly displays humanistic traits (number two).

Parts of Melvin's character fall into the "feel sorry for" category and he displays "humanistic traits". Would the fascinating part of his character work without the empathy part? Can characters be fascinating if we don't identify with them at all? Does fascination stand alone or must it be paired with empathy?

Greek mythology has always held a fascination for me. While I can't possibly relate to being master of the universe like Zeus or goddess of love like Aphrodite (unless she was a short, demi-butterball with a Texas twang), I can certainly identify with the Greek gods' feelings of jealousy, pride, love, anger, and vengeance. Even mythological gods have characteristics people identify with. Goodness knows I pity poor Atlas who groaned at being used as a great packhorse for mankind. Wonder if that Hollywood sign groans under the weight of a similar burden?

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Shoot JR in Dallas!

Never say never. I don't blog about politics and don't read political blogs because the thrusting, parrying and falling on swords gives me a frightful pain in my right temple. However ---

As a Texan, I shudder at the thought of the movie version of Dallas or the television series based on Friday Night Lights being filmed any place other than the Lone Star State. It's as an unconscionable notion to me as burning a flag, spitting in the wind, tugging on Superman's cape, or giving Russell Crowe a faulty telephone. But, if the Texas legislature doesn't find a way to keep up with the other 39 states now offering film incentives, Friday Night Lights could move from its pilot site in Pflugerville, Texas to North Carolina.

Yeah, my Texas pride is offended but more importantly, Texas has lost half a billion dollars in economic activity in recent years because producers have taken their toys and gone to states that played a better game with them. That's real revenue that could have gone into our roads, libraries, parks, and schools. Gone. According to Texas Governor Rick Perry's office, 3200 film related jobs have left Texas since other states began offering incentives. Those were real jobs held by real people. Gone.

The focus of Texas lawmakers appears to be on getting more revenue into Texas schools and improving health benefits. Who am I to say that these issues are less important than economic development? But economic development provides the means for putting more revenue into Texas schools and improving health benefits by, among other things, providing the infrastructure that attracts homebuyers who pay gigantic city, county and school property taxes. It's an economic circle.

A bill last year offered a rebate based on wages paid to Texas employees during a film or television production. The governor also recommended that $20 million be spent for incentives and $10 million for promoting the state as a filmmaking and tourism destination.

According to the Dallas Morning News, one Austin lawmaker said proponents' requests for funding "were laughed at" by budget leaders focused on school finance, and the item was eventually dropped entirely. Argh. Prioritize after education? Okay. Drop all together? Very bad. Laugh at it? Grow up, people!

So, amid the lawmaker wrangling and public relations spinning, the clock is ticking for NBC and for producers of Dallas.

State film commissioner Bob Hudgins said last week that the City of Dallas "is doing everything but holding a bake sale" to encourage producers to shoot the Dallas film in Dallas, Texas. So, I say to Mayor Laura Miller, you bake the pies and I'll bring the brownies!

Dallas Film Commission

Texas Film Commission

Austin Film Festival

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Defining Film Noir

Yesterday, I found myself cringing at an article by an entertainment writer who kept using the term "film noir" as if it was the latest hip word needed to validate that writer's knowledge of the film industry. The phrase was abused, mis-used, and over-used. So, I looked up some definitions of film noir and found a couple of links that were interesting. I welcome more links or better definitions.

film noir - a movie characterized by low-key lighting, a bleak urban setting, and corrupt, cynical characters.

film noir - Originally a French term (literally "black film"), now in common usage, to indicate a film with a gritty, urban setting that deals mainly with dark or violent passions in a downbeat way. Especially common in American cinema during the late forties and early fifties, its themes of existential alienation and paranoia have often been read as signs of postwar malaise and Cold War anxiety. James Monaco's Film Glossary

film noir - shadowy, pessimistic movie: a cinematic genre popular in the 1940s and 1950s, often filmed in urban settings with extensive use of shadows, cynical in outlook, and featuring antiheroes.

film noir - a type of crime film featuring cynical malevolent characters in a sleazy setting and an ominous atmosphere that is conveyed by shadowy photography and foreboding background music; also : a film of this type. Merriam Webster Online

The Development of Post-war Literary and Cinematic Noir

High Heels on Wet Pavement

Hello, Helsinki

Found this picture when I visited the Helsinki Tourist and Convention Bureau website. Never been to Helsinki. Don't know anybody in Helsinki. But somebody in Helsinki drops in and reads my blog once in awhile. I know who two of the Australians are and I know at least one of the Canadians. As for the rest of the visitors outside the United States, I don't know what value they find in the blog of a screenwriting nobody but two percent of them regularly read it in German. My visitor stats are fascinating.

84% from the United States
8% from Canada
3% from the United Kingdom
3% from Australia
1% from Germany
1% from Switzerland

It's a shame that the statistical breakdown in Site Meter doesn't eliminate the passers through like people who arrive mistakenly looking for "The Bachelor" instead of me, the Batchellor! But, Site Meter gives nonpaying clients many more options than Blog Patrol, which I ditched after the program was down over a week for site maintenance.

Maybe there is no real value in knowing the monitor resolution and browsers used by my readers but when I see dozens of people in the Los Angeles area dropping by, I have the privilege of deluding myself into thinking that Steven Spielberg or Jerry Bruckheimer is, at this very moment, picking up his red bat phone and demanding that somebody "bring me THAT girl!"

No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.
Christian Nestell Bovee

Monday, March 13, 2006

Well, Now I Know!

Okay, you have to read my blog from yesterday to understand why this link posted today out of Billy Mernit's cyber rat pile is so hysterically pee-in-your-pants funny to me. I think I may have even cracked a rib --

Indeed, artistic ability may have evolved as a form of mating display, a courtship technique to attract partners. In his 2001 book The Mating Mind, Geoffrey Miller argued that intellectual and artistic ability were a form of human plumage, designed to entice sexual partners. “Come up and see my etchings” may be a central statement in human evolution.

I have no argument with that statement or anything in the article, but I just got through talking about how poorly I, ahem, performed. Wa! Ha! Ha! So, the reason I didn't sing well this weekend was because I wasn't horny enough? Well, now I know to eat oysters and green M&M's before I sing again! And, to quote that great philospher of Saturday morning cartoons, GI Joe, "Knowing is half the battle".

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Eye of the Beholder

Periodically, I get arrogant enough to believe that art is less subjective than it really is. Good is good and bad is bad. I really wish it was that simple but once again, I am reminded that how well music, literature, film, or dance is received sometimes has as much to do with the audience receiving it as it does the quality of the art.

I had a very rough singing weekend. Exhaustion and migraines took a vocal toll on me and one of my events was very disappointing. I assumed the only reason I didn't get pegged with tomatoes was because they were not serving food. But after the event, I was greeted like a celebrity, praised, and asked to come again. What was wrong with these people? Were they deaf???

On the drive home, I tried to figure out what went right. I couldn't think of anything. That was just not my best performance, plain and simple.

I was turning onto my street when I remembered a comment by John Fox during one of those Masterclass thingies offered by Screenwriters Online. (yeah I paid $98.00 just so I could chat with a VP at Dreamworks and no, he did NOT request my screenplay) Fox said there is just no way to measure your screenplay's worth against how well it is received by a producer. Why? Because you have no way of knowing what frame of mind the producer was in when he read it. Your query might get trashed or your screenplay passed if the reader or producer just found the pool boy in bed with his wife and hated everything and everybody that particular day. On the other hand, your mediocre screenplay might get a recommend if the pool boy -- then, my cell phone rang.

The sound man called me to apologize. Seems he forgot to reset the monitors on the right side of the auditorium after the video ended. When I took the the microphone, there was barely any vocal and half the audience heard mostly music. Ah. That explains a lot.

The point is there is no magic formula for winning people over because tragically, the receiving end of your hard work is just as human as you and I. But, sometimes human error works in your favor.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

On Collaboration

Last year, three other writers and I collaborated on what we thought was a timely and very creative adventure/mystery. However, we got so frustrated with each other that at the end of seven months, we were at an impasse on our fourth draft. We had to step away from the project for a awhile.

What was our problem?

Well, we weren't in agreement on that either. The screenplay began as an exercise in collaboration and was meant to last only a weekend. The four of us were relative strangers when the project began. Each writer took a turn writing a few scenes and then passed the story on to the next writer in a 'round' until the story was complete. At the end of the exercise, we were each so caught up in the story that we decided to complete the screenplay. That was a year ago. The screenplay is still incomplete.

The entire process was a recipe for failure but we were too excited about the story to see the flares in front of the cliff, so we just took turns falling off. There were several snags in our collaboration, but in my opinion, the two biggies were:

(1) No agreed upon outline -- That was a nightmarish circumstance probably akin to trying to build a house with no blueprint. Lack of an agreed upon outline sealed the failure of our project because by the time we got around to outlining the story, some of us already had other ideas about the direction the story should go.

(2) Character development -- We divided up the development of character profiles but life kept interfering with some of our writers and many of the profiles weren't written. Those that were written were not met with unanimous approval.

The lessons we took away from the exercise were worthwhile and valuable -- things like learning to write on a deadline, spinning off someone else's idea, and developing a uniform style. But collaborating the way we went about it was worse than when my eighth grade teacher teamed me up with three jocks to do a history project. Naturally, I wanted something clever and cerebral that would help me get into that honors class I never seemed to qualify for. They wanted something that would explode. As for the four of us screenwriters, we were very nearly enemies by the time we finally took grown-up pills and sent ourselves to separate corners for a time out.

Now we're leaving our corners, shedding our dunce caps and preparing to start over on a draft we hope will lead to completion of the screenplay. I'm genuinely excited about it because I really like the story. But, before we even start the next draft, we'll agree on the outline and agree on the character profiles.

Sure we will.

Maybe we should just write in a few explosions and call it a day.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Deal With The Devil

Ever feel like Hank the Cowdog? Yeah, you think you're teaching those coyotes a thing or two and scaring off stray dogs, but then it hits you like a whack from Sally May's broom -- those coyotes just stole the liver you rescued from Little Alfred's fish hook, that stray dog you scared off was your own reflection, the rats are eating your dog food and, worst of all, Pete the barncat has outsmarted you again.

Then, suppose somebody offers you a different kind of job and all the liver and steak you can eat? If you accept the offer, you will probably leave the ranch behind and have no time for your pursuit to become a truly great Head of Ranch Security.

Deal or no deal?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What's Your Angle?

Rarely do I blog about structure, format, or semantics and rarely do I use absolute words like "completely", "always", and "everyone" because usually, there is an incomplete exception to "complete", a sometimes exception to "always", and a somebody exception to "everyone". Case in point: a question about camera directions in my Script Pimp Email Newsletter --

Question. Where is it necessary to have 'camera shot' direction?

eg. Close up: Character giving emotional confession.
Pull back: Character is confessing to a dog.

Can this be written into the script, and if so, how?

Answer from Ask the Script Pimp Expert. Generally speaking you want to avoid shot description completely. There are two main reasons for this:

1. A spec script is intended to tell a story. Camera directions pull
the reader out of the story and are distracting. These kinds of
technical instructions are inserted into the script when the
shooting script is prepared, but not before.

2. Directors like to make decisions regarding shot construction etc.
Many get offended when the writer tries to play director.

I agree with both of the points made by the Ask the Script Pimp Expert (no idea who that is, by the way -- he/she just has periodic questions that show up in my Script Pimp email newsletter). However, I did find occasion in my latest screenplay to use camera directions when a person was introduced as one twin, but his press pass had the other twin's name so I wrote in a closeup on the press pass to tell the reader and/or viewer which twin they were really looking at. Did this take the reader out of the story or clarify the story for the reader? Was there another way to write it? Sure. Was there a better way? Probably.

Thoughts? Is eliminating camera directions completely really always the way to go for us newbies?

Simple, Write a Movie

Confession -- in the eighth grade, I wore a bright green Shaun Cassidy t-shirt with black pants and knee boots. Yeah, I was hot. Okay, I couldn't even type that with a straight face and now my mother board is smoking. Stop that! Well, at least it wasn't lightening.

Anyway, that green shirt is in a box in the shed because it is the only shirt from my youth that my kids refuse to sleep in. Wonder why? My sixteen year is old is pretty chapped that he isn't allowed to wear my Journey concert t-shirt. Kids. Doesn't he know it's sacred? Doesn't he know that Steve Perry could have been his father? Doesn't he know -- ? Actually, it's a good thing he doesn't.

Anyhoooo ---

AOL's TV Tattler posted an interview with Shaun Cassidy that discusses his success with Invasion and how the teen idol turned executive producer had been asked to guest judge on American Idol. He said 'no'.

"My whole take on the music business is, it seems to be the most populated by people who really are fly-by-night. The music business is a tough business to be an artist in and it's very difficult, especially now, to have a career."

Then when asked about his future plans --

"Next year, I think I might write a movie, which is something I haven't done."

Okay now, it just looks bad because of the order in which his interview comments were placed in the article, right? Surely he's not saying he thinks writing movies is easier than a singing career. Plus, he says he hasn't tried writing a movie yet, so no, no, no. That is not at all what he meant.

Shaun Cassidy works with television writers. He's not flippant about screenwriting. He can't be. He just can't! Besides, his comment about the difficulty of a music career was in response to a question about whether he'd encourage his kids to audition for American Idol. The comment about writing a movie was about his own career. Yeah, that's it.

Hmm. Gotta wax my pickup later. Is it okay to use a green shirt as a chamois?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Excruciating Rewrite

My very first screenplay was ghastly. Oh, the pain of reading it! It's a mythological fantasy adventure and it was great fun to write. But it's ghastly! So is everyone else's first screenplay. So what? Well, I'm spending several hours a day rewriting it, that's what! And, it is such a bad read that I wear a paper sack over my head so I don't have to see my own reflection in the screen of my laptop.

I love the story, but I can't think of anything mean enough to say about the writing. This particular screenplay, however, is the only one I've written that ever advanced in a screenwriting competition. How is that possible when the writing is so poor?

In Writing the Wrong Story, I mentioned that I didn't ever want to give anyone who reads my work cause to say, "it's not a bad story, it's just written that way." Well, it took reading my own blog and two and half years to figure this out (yeah, I'm really that green of a newbie). Never say never. My first screenplay was not a bad story. It was just written that way.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Crappy Endings

Tom McCurrie's latest article for , The End of the Screenplay, says that there are three endings for a screenplay:

(1) Happy Ending
(2) Unhappy or Downer Ending
(3) Bittersweet Ending

He also says "...with falling ticket sales and fragmenting audiences, Hollywood wants stellar word-of-mouth more than ever. So if you're a new writer without a box-office track record, go for as happy an ending as possible."

Huh? What does one have to do with the other?

He goes on to say that "one reason box-office is falling is because movies are becoming too predictable, and a Happy Ending is nothing if not that. But if you make the journey to that Happy Ending entirely unpredictable, you will challenge and delight audiences in equal measure."

So, basically, unproduced writers need to make sure all their stories have unpredictable, but happy endings?

This goes into my nitwit bad advice pile along with "every single character in every story must have an arc". And, are there really only three endings? Couldn't there be an "open ending" where much is unresolved in lieu of a sequel?


Monday, March 06, 2006

Tiraders of the Lost Arc

The latest blog on The Thinking Writer lists three questions about character change. This is one of those no-brainer issues to me that writers shouldn't need spelled out for the. Characters need arcs. Period. But if you happen to be a writer that needs it spelled out, this post gets the job done.

But does EVERY character need an arc?

Yes, says a mentoring writer to a friend of mine. The mentor said that every character in every story needs, if not a dramatic arc, at least a subtle change.

I disagree.

Scenario One - My protagonist is a shoe. My antagonist is a pond. I toss the shoe into the pond. The shoe gets wet. It changes. The pond reacts with ripples. Both changes are temporary.

Scenario Two - My protagonist is a glass. My antagonist is a concrete wall. The glass will shatter forever when I throw it against the wall. Does the concrete wall change?

There is no mathematical process by which to determine how many characters need arcs. Like most character and structure issues, it depends entirely on the story. Unfortunately, neither is there a scientific process by which to appraise the value of the suggestions and advise we are given by amateurs and professionals. That being the case, my own comments should be weighed carefully because my scales may be calibrated incorrectly.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Congratulations, Paul Haggis

"I wrote two spec scripts that I was absolutely sure no one
would ever buy: Million Dollar Baby and Crash."
Paul Haggis

"Write something that's in your heart, and if you have your
craft down and if you're really honest with the characters, it will sell
It just may take some time..."
Paul Haggis

Saturday, March 04, 2006

You Cannot Date My Son

Posted this story on MySpace (where I rarely post) and decided that young girls who stumble onto this page ought to get the benefit of my motherly wisdom.

Once upon a time there was a guy who broke into homes and stole people's stuff. He also assaulted the English language every time he opened his mouth. He kept a journal on a Big Chief tablet in which he logged every address and item he stole. In big letters on the front, he wrote "Things I Have Stole". The courts had no trouble convicting him and the police had no trouble returning the unsold stolen merchandise confiscated from his garage.


Girls, pay attention. If you think your mother or the mother of the boy you are dating/want to date/used to date will never read your blog, you are in the same category as the "Things I Have Stole" guy.

If you admit to driving drunk, you cannot date my son.

If you are flippant about your virginity, you cannot date my son.

If you admit that you routinely lie to your parents, you cannot date my son.

If you admit to doing drugs, you cannot date my son.

If you swear like a drunken sailor, you cannot date my son.

People are human. None of us are perfect. We are all fallible. These things, I know. But girls, if you don't even make a pretense at being a lady, you cannot date my son! And, because I care about you as a human being (a human being no longer allowed to date my son), when I stumble across your blog, I will point your technologically challenged parents to it. You are free to cry, cuss me, hate me, and slash my tires (for which you will go to jail), but --


Friday, March 03, 2006

59 Days for the Nicholl

Yup. That's it. Only 59 days until the the Nicholl Fellowship deadline. If I submit my screenplay early, what are the chances I'll get fresh eyes not yet blurred by their portion of the six thousand or so submissions? HA! Too bad for me. The application isn't online yet and Greg Beal turned down the Dickie's Barbeque bribe I offered at the Austin Film Festival when I followed him into the men's room.

Okay, Greg may not actually know it was a bribe and he may not actually know it was from me. Toilets flushing, crashing towel dispenser and some fool hollering 'not my dickie' -- it's all a blur. What exactly is wrong with clipping a twenty dollar bill to my screenplay and sliding it under an occupied stall? Besides, if the stalls were out of paper (and I happen to know they were because I took all the paper), those guys weren't going anywhere anyway -- unless they used my screenplay but ouch, the paper cuts.

For the record, is it really illegal to take somebody's picture at the urinal?

Anyway, I still have ample opportunity to proof, second guess, and spellcheck each and every word of each and every page over and over again until I drop a priority mail envelope into the box and then suffer the inevitable followup thoughts --

(1) Oh my gosh! Did I mail an early draft by mistake?
(2) Where are those photos I left by the outgoing mail?
(3) Please tell me my pap report is still on the kitchen counter.

Yeah, you do it too. You know you do.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Sheep In My Driveway

No, Billy , these are not song lyrics along the lines of your famous "clouds in my coffee". Those are sheep in my driveway. At least, I think they are sheep. They could be really fuzzy dogs or ugly neighbor kids.

Infected with stomach flu, I've been homebound and dehydrated for almost five days now. This stuff is bad. Light is excruciatingly painful to my eyes and crossing my house is like wandering the rocking halls of a cruise ship during a nasty thunderstorm. At this moment, I have vision and am looking at my laptop. However, in a few minutes, my white walls will take on interesting hues of blue, green and magenta, nausea will reign supreme, and I'll go back to sitting in the darkness, wishing those elves would sing something besides Muskrat Love.

And they whirled and they twirled and they tangoed
Singin' and jingin' the jango
Floatin' like the heavens above
It looks like muskrat love
La da da da da ...

Light bad. Dark good.

A few minutes ago, I went to the kitchen for more Gatorade. After dodging the pillar in my entryway (which does the hula if I turn my head left and right real fast), I made it to the window where I swatted the sunlit daggers from my eyes and watched two sheep eat my prematurely blooming daffodils, wander out around my barn, and visit my yard dog. Then it occurred to me that the sheep were suspiciously NOT interesting hues of blue or green or magenta and I might not be hallucinating.

So, I took a picture.

That's my yard. Those are my crepe myrtles. That's the shadow of my sister's car in the driveway, a sister who nodded compassionately and heated my chicken noodle soup but wouldn't look out the window and affirm that there were two sheep in my driveway. Once I fully recover, it will be interesting to see if those are actually sheep in the picture -- or if there is even a picture.

My five minutes of light are up.
Time to go back into darkness.
Oh, look. Elves.

And now he's ticklin' her fancy
Rubbin' her toes
Muzzle to muzzle now anything goes
As they wriggle,
And Sue starts to giggle

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

How Cool is That?

To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter ... to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird's nest or a wildflower in spring—these are some of the rewards of the simple life.
John Burroughs

To the unfamiliar eye, my enthusiasm may appear to be over the man in the picture. Partially. But I am especially moved by the many hands through which the picture passed in order to arrive in my own. People I have never met hold me in high enough regard to trouble themselves with a simple act of kindness? Chokes me up every time.