Friday, June 30, 2006

One of Those Days

When somebody says it has been "one of those days", no details are necessary. Those days are never good and during them, I miss the compassionate environment of mid and post disaster situations.

No, I don't wish woe on my fellow man just so people will grow charitable and selfless, but in crisis mode, people who usually aren't, become magnanimous. When a crisis subsides, so does the purity of many people's motives and I feel a tragic sense of loss as goodwill ebbs in a proportionate displacement of altruism with narcissism and generosity with animosity.

Compassion seems to increase with catastrophe and retreat with recovery. And, plenty of bad things happen -- tornados, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, mud slides, floods and this ---

Communities in North Texas have been in crisis mode for weeks, suffering a drought of critical proportions. Ever shallowing lakes merit my public relations best as water regulations become more restrictive and are aggressively enforced.

My life for almost eight weeks now has been brochures, ads, mailers, door hangers, yard signs, billboards and an entire web site developed solely to educate the public about water conservation and drought contingency. This has left little screenwriting time. But the toughest part? No water slides, wading pools, or water wiggles. Ouch.

Even so, while we've had periodic complaints, most people have been cooperative and understand that North Texas communities only transport water. We don't create it. We've gone out of our way to be responsive and informative because when citizens are given the facts and not kept in the dark, they feel less helpless.

Then came one of those days -- taxpayers gone egomaniacal -- petty complaints, illogical requests, selfish demands, angry threats, cursing, crying, berating, and a general disdain for anything less than, "sure, Mr. Cheerleader Dad, we'll use six million gallons of water on the football fields so the grass will bring out the green in your daughter's eyes."

This is great news, really, because if goodwill retreats in displacement of recovery, it must mean rain is on the way.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Edge of Outside

"Too many strings" Producer Al Ruban says is why many independent filmmakers turn down the very funds they so desperately seek to get their films made.

Edge of Outside, which premiers on TCM July 5th, explores what it takes to make an independent film and recounts the tales of witnesses to and participants in the begging, borrowing and saving of milk money necessary to get the funding that posits an artistic vision for translation to the big screen.

An intriguing look into the creative and sometimes enigmatic filmmaking minds of Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Nicholas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Sam Peckinpah and John Cassavetes, Edge of Outside looks at how each one approached specific films, addressed the challenges of maneuvering in and out of the Hollywood system, and drove their vision by whatever means necessary to accomplish what, at times, must have been like herding a bevy of wandering cats.

Interviews abound in this film with Martin Scorsese, Peter Falk, Ed Burns, Spike Lee, Henry Jaglom, Arthur Penn, Gena Rowlands and John Sayles and friends and crew members who worked with classic filmmakers, including Nicholas Ray, John Cassavetes and Sam Peckinpah.

Directed by Shannon Davis, Edge of Outside is TCM's first fully in-house produced original documentary. It airs each Wednesday night in July, followed by films that TCM calls "a month-long movie festival devoted to the six classic filmmakers featured in the documentary" beginning on July 5th with Faces (1968) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974), written and directed by John Cassavetes, and A Child is Waiting (1963), written by Abby Mann and directed by John Cassavetes. Each week additional films by a featured filmmaker will follow Edge of Outside.

There's too much information in this film for me to digest and then abbreviate in a single post so I will likely do several. Meanwhile, take a look at what Turner Classic Movies has to say about Edge of Outside and then mark Wednesdays as "TCM Indy Night" on your calendar. This film discusses many of the lesser publicized labor pains of birthing indy films. I suspect that Edge of Outside will not garner the same level of interest from viewers outside of the film industry, but it is a must see for present and future screenwriters, directors and producers of indy films.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Great Caesar's Ghost!

And that about sums up my review of Superman Returns.

Oh sure, I could recount the story, the moving moments, impressive performances, delivery of dialogue, great sound, amazing cinematography and heart palpitating special effects -- but so will everyone else.

Instead, I'd rather mention how, as the Superman Returns title appeared on the screen, heralded by John Williams' signature theme and greeted with wild cheers and applause from an interactive audience of super-nerds predisposed to love this movie no matter what, I forgot all about:

* the obese guy rolling onto my drink holder
* the kid kicking my chair
* the putrid smell from vomit or old cheese under my seat
* the urine bag hanging on the wheelchair in front of me
* the eight teens I brought with me
* the $94.50 I spent on tickets
This movie made a joy out of what should have been a horrific cinema experience. See this film. I'm going back for seconds. But I may bring a pee bag of my own. It's a two and a half hour film and I'm not wasting one moment of Superman Returns in the ladies' room.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Really Bad Eggs

If you missed the mind numbingly dreadful interviews at the red carpet premiere of Dead Man's Chest and the new Pirates of the Caribbean ride, you can replay it here.

No doubt, this will be a titanic blockbuster of record breaking proportions. I'm counting down the days and wearing my pirate bling in honor of its pending arrival at my local theatre.

However ----

Glad I didn't catch this premiere on live television. Well, at least not without a fifth of Barcadi to dupe me into thinking it was rum that dulled my senses.

The peek at the new POTC park attraction is almost more fun than the root canal I had this week but does anyone really give a pirate's bugger what Marilyn Manson's favorite Disney ride is?

Highlights? Well, the Hans Zimmer interview is charming and Jerry Bruckheimer is well spoken. As for other interviews (loose interpretation), unless you're a diehard Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom or Keira Knightly fan, you can shut the webcast off right after Terry Rossio chokes on the lyrics to A Pirates Life -- or at least that's how it appears -- he's really choking at being asked if, as one of the screenwriters, he is familiar with the story.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Film Architects and Designers

Too similar to this song, too much like that movie, this dress looks like that one-- these are common "poser" and "slacker" accusations depending on whether the situation is one of imitation or duplication.

I went to see Nacho Libre this past weekend after having been warned by my number two son that it was "entirely too much like Napoleon Dynomite".

Different story. Different cast. Different location. Same feel.

Michael Graves is one of the most influencing voices in American architecture. His work usually has a retro minimalist "feel" whether he's designing a clock for Target or the Denver Central Library. Does anyone look at the Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky and say, "hmm, so yeah it's one of the ten best buildings of the decade, but it's basically crap because it's entirely too similar to Disney's corporate building in Burbank"? Graves has an affinity for certain creative design elements.

Michael Graves is an architect and a designer.

Vera Wang's clothing designs share similarities. I can spot a Vera Wang dress in a window from across the street. She likes clean lines, crisp colors, and what are ruffles? She constructs garments with a definitive style.

Vera Wang is an architect and a designer.

James Horner's movie scores can be counted on for a haunting oboe solo and Hans Zimmer likes us to feel the score pounding in our chests or leaking from our tear ducts. They have certain music elements they like to incorporate in what they compose.

James Horner and Hans Zimmer are architects and designers.

Nacho Libre is similar to Napoleon Dynomite? Yeah, well the score to Troy is similar to the score to Enemy at the Gates and didn't I hear brass patterns from Gladiator in the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack?

Filmmakers are creating and constructing too. Doesn't it make sense that writers, directors, producers, and production people have certain similarities that underscore our work?

We, too, are architects and designers.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Udderly Confused

I realize that I often think I know a lot more than I actually do, but aren't all cows female? Could somebody please watch one of these trailers forThe Barnyard and then explain to me how these cows are male?

Otis the cow, played by Kevin James, is unmistakably shown with a giant pink flapping udder in the trailer and there are other male cows: Eddie the Jersey Cow voiced by S. Scott Bullock, Ben the Cow voiced by Sam Elliott, Budd the Jersey Cow voiced by John DiMaggio.

Is there a cross gender message I'm missing here?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Keith Richards to do POTC 3

Can it really be true? The on again, off again rumors have circulated for as long as I can remember. Is it for real this time? The Toronto Star says he'll film his POTC 3 role in August and even quotes Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski, and Terry Rossio. Not too difficult to picture Keith Richards in pirate get up. Maybe he'll be using some of that trademarked Jack Sparrow eye liner and eyebrow pencils that Todd told us about. I once thought Pirates of the Caribbean M&M's were the ultimate indication that a film had reached ultimate uber mega marketing proportions, but bringing a rock music legend to the cast? Yeah, I don't know what can top that -- except maybe Papa Sparrow pirate panties to throw at the giant screen. Size 7, please.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Facing the Giants

I genuinely believe that the hype around the PG rating given Facing the Giants is just that -- hype meant to promote the film and get butts in seats -- not a decision by the MPAA to give this film a PG rating because of it's overtly Christian content as opposed to its hard hits during football game scenes and some delicate discussion in the film about sterility.

POINT: HYPE over this "warn the public about Christianity" rating accusation is getting this Indy film noticed. HYPE may get butts in seats and HYPE has resulted in over 15,000 email complaints to the MPAA.

So, I have to ask -- anti Christian discrimination or clever marketing at work?

"What the MPAA said is that the movie contained strong 'thematic elements' that might disturb some parents," said Kris Fuhr, vice president for marketing at Provident Films, which is owned by Sony Pictures.
Okay, now see, that wasn't very smart. But what does the other side say?

Joan Graves, chairman of the MPAA ratings board, contacted the Catholic League, admitting that she was the MPAA official who originally spoke to Fuhr. According to Graves, she told Fuhr that the PG rating was given to the movie, not for being overtly religious, but because of mature issues, e.g., depression, matters relating to pregnancy and sports-related violence.

In a statement Graves indicated the MPAA "has a long-standing policy not to comment to the press about individual films other than to give the rating and the rating reasons", but owing to the "misunderstanding that this film received a PG rating for its religious viewpoint", she felt obliged to respond. She added, "This film has a mature discussion about pregnancy, for example, as well as other elements that parents might want to be aware of. There are many religious films that have been submitted for rating, and they have garnered ratings from G to R, depending on the graphics and intensity of various elements in the film."

. . . the MPAA really did give Facing the Giants a PG rating solely religious religious content?

(cue Gomer Pyle) Shame. Shame. Shame.

Doctrine has no place in rating systems. If it did, where would it stop? Would it stop at rating a film like Bend it Like Beckam for having strong orthodox Sikh principles or would we also warn people that Mulan prays to ancestors, Hercules resurrects a dead woman, and Pocahontas thinks rocks have spirits?

Do we even stop at religion? After all, certain races and nationalities have beliefs, customs, and superstitions that may conflict with my religion. Maybe the MPAA should warn me that the poor black family in the film believes a baby's hernia came from allowing a woman on her menstrual cycle to hold that baby. And, since many people's political views are connected to their faith, maybe we should have ratings for films that express strong political views in opposition to mine, too?

Ain't gonna happen. Shouldn't. Wouldn't. Won't.

The whole rating "because of religion" thing is just silly which is why I don't believe the MPAA based the PG rating on Christian content. I have no doubt religious bias exists. I see it, hear it, and receive it.

Maybe my cockeyed optimism is in overdrive or I'm just overly naive. But why would the MPAA suddenly feel responsible for shielding us from religious diversity? If so, they would create the task of rating all films based on strong agnostic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Scientologist and Christian (among others too numerous to list) content in every film. That is an enormous self imposed task and I really doubt it's a giant that the MPAA wants to face.

But, I don't know anything.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Cavite, the Movie

Anyone seen Cavite, the Movie? It's in San Francisco, San Diego and Berkeley this week only and then in Seattle the week of June 30th. That's it. No scheduled viewings anywhere else.

Saw the trailer onthe film's MySpace. That still amuses me -- that a film has a MySpace, but many do. IMDB says: "Flying back to his home country, an American man is informed that his mother and sister have been kidnapped and will be killed if he doesn't comply with certain demands."

Anyway, somebody watch this and give me a report.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why Characters Say No

Ever had a comprehensive outline with fully developed characters but got halfway through the first draft and realized a character can't possibly perform the task you've assigned him? No? Lucky you.

Happens to me all the time.

Writing a reluctant character feels like I'm dragging my whimpering dog into the vet's office as he's bracing himself with his front paws. When that doesn't work, his last act of defiance (or sheer terror) is to defecate at my feet.

Nothing quite like realizing your words are no better than dog poop.

I don't know if this phenomenon is something unique to amateur writers, multi-taskers, or people with mild ADHD tendencies, but for me, it doesn't matter how well I outline, how thoroughly I research, or how detailed my character sketches are, most of my characters are never fully fleshed out until I start writing the first draft.

Why won't they just do what I tell them to do?

Characters aren't obedient creations that I can always manipulate and control. That sounds utterly ridiculous to me even as I type it. But my characters have instincts -- my instincts. They know when something doesn't feel right because somewhere in my gut, heart, or head, I'm telling them so.

Why won't that little girl use a public restroom? Why isn't that woman afraid of spiders? Why won't that man take off work and go play golf?

Somewhere during development of these characters, they've exhibited behavior that doesn't jive and even though I can't necessarily verbalize the reasons, I know what I want them to do won't work. It's not in their nature or it contradicts previous behavior in the story.

How do I know this if I don't know why I know it?

I know my characters for the same reason I know my kids -- not because I gave birth to them but because I'm a witness to their entire lives. My middle son, the distance runner, would no sooner get run down by bad guys than my youngest would if there was a nearby tree, pole, or wall he could scale. And the oldest? He wouldn't run from bad guys at all. He's training to be a professional wrestler so he'd just beat the crap out of them.

We writers know our characters better than we may consciously recognize and yet, we're still capable of writing accidental inconsistencies. But I can't knowingly fool my characters into doing something against their nature any more than I can fool my dog into going to the vet's office. Well, not without cleaning up poop.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Who's Your Audience?

When I'm The Audience - My hair stylist, Lauren, moved to a salon in far north Dallas last month and since I don't like driving an hour and fifteen minutes in traffic for a thirty minute haircut, I had to find another stylist and here we go again.

It's the same thing over and over every time my stylist graduates college or moves on to a salon I either don't want to pay for or drive to -- your layers are too fluffy, your bangs are outdated, you need highlights, you don't need highlights, ever considered a perm? Regardless of my style, cut, color, or length, the new stylist knows best. Ha.

Here's the deal, girlie. I'm not out to compete with runway models or bag a man. I just want to look in the mirror without hating you.

STYLIST: But your hair is so -- so--

ME: Charlie's Angels?

STYLIST: No, they had straight cuts.

ME: Wrong angels.

My mirror is my audience. Not my co-workers or even those construction site guys who don't whistle as often as they did when I was twenty. Me. I'm the audience.

When I'm Not the Audience - My ladies ensemble sings all over the place. One of the first things we ask when selecting our music is "who is our audience?". Even for something like a fourth of July picnic, we must know the audience. We can't just sing any patriotic song. It doesn't work that way. Singing in front of an audience can feel like singing in your underwear but singing the wrong music in front of an audience is like singing the Texas fight song while sitting on the OU side --- in your underwear. We need to know two things --

(1) who is the audience and

(2) timing of that audience.

If we have an audience of ranchers and rodeo cowboys, we know the tired ol' "God Bless the USA" is gonna be a huge hit no matter what time of the year. If we have an audience of young adults, "God Bless the USA" is gonna be a drag unless the timing is right like during the high period of patriotism after the World Trade Center fell. Meanwhile, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" is always going to be a hit with WW2 era senior adults and never going to get more than a few polite claps and crickets if we perform it in front of an audience of twenty somethings.

Who's Your Audience? - Yeah, it's a no-brainer question, but many writers don't know who they are writing their screenplay for. I'm just guessing here, but I think most of these aspiring screenwriters who can't answer the question "who's your audience?" are some of the ones who never went to film school. I'm not dissing them for not going to film school. I didn't go either. But how are they going to pitch the story if they don't know who the audience is?

I read a portion of a screenplay a week ago but before I started it, I asked, "who's your audience?" The reply was "I don't know. I just wrote a good story." I suppose that could be true. Maybe it's a very good story and we can figure out later whether it's a coming of age thing or something middle aged single men will watch. But if producers have to know who is going to watch a film before they make it, shouldn't writers know who is going to watch the film before they write it? Can you really wait until you're ready to market your screenplay before you figure out who you're marketing to?

Forgetting Your Audience - My lady's group recently asked a former Mavericks dancer to choreograph something for us. She's stunning, talented, personable, and has a gift for figuring out what works. We gave her a CD, told her who our audience was (no cheesecake stuff), and what our physical limitations are (no splits). Most of what she wrote for us worked. But we were afraid our conservative audience might not respond well to a few the moves that seemed too seductive.

"Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry" she said, "I forgot who your audience was."

Monday, June 19, 2006

How Many Pages Per Diem?

As a followup to How Good is Good and How Many is Too Many, I now tackle "How Many Pages Per Diem?" And, I have no answer.

Many screenwriters post comments on boards and blogs about the number of pages they write each day and measure their progress that way. That's great. But, I can't do it.

I just read a post where the writer says he tries to write at least five pages each day. This is a difficult concept for me to grasp as opposed to "I try to write two hours every day" or "I try to write one scene each day". How do you dictate quantity in screenwriting each day in terms of pages? How DO writers put a page number goal on their writing day when five pages could be one scene, half a scene or five scenes?

I've been known to spend hours, HOURS, working on a single line.


I once needed a line by a teenage boy. One line! He had to be a pot-head (which I've since learned is NOT what they are called) and have a general dislike for the police. I researched arrest statements, searched notes I'd taken, got advice from my own teenager, and looked up conversational blogs by teenage boys who appeared smoked dope and were the same age, race and (if I was able to discern it) similar living conditions as my character. When that didn't work, I asked my son to recommend a place to eavesdrop on dopeheads. He informed me that they are "stoners" and knew where to send me but said I'd stick out unless he came along. So we went to a store where stoners and goth kids buy a lot of their clothing, piercing apparatus, fishnets, chains and weird paraphenalia.

Yikes. They weren't all stoners, but I still got my line. It cost me an AFI t-shirt, SouthPark shoe laces, an AC/DC patch and a very interesting belt buckle with a quote on it, but at least I got my line. There was probably a better place to get it, but my boy being the clever teen he is... well, the belt buckle he bought with my money said it all --- "carpe diem".

Sunday, June 18, 2006

What Lies Beneath . . .

. . . three gleaming white teeth are mangled tentacles of torture and disease that must be disemboweled and supplanted with synthetic rods.


. . . the dentist's sympathetic smile is the heart of a coward who won't touch those deceptive shiny white teeth because his patient is running a high fever, trembling uncontrollably and mumbling "find a happy place, find a happy place" and instead of offering this pitiable patient solace, refers the quivering cry-baby to an endodontic specialist.

Thanks, pal. May I please have drugs now?

. . . the calendar of the endodontic specialist is an obscure credo designed to teach new patients a lesson about waiting until the last bearable moment to see a dentist by making them wait until the last survivable moment to give them an appointment.

A week? You expect me to live a week on milkshakes? Do you have ANY inkling how much weight I'll gain by NOT being able to eat?

. . . the introspective blog of a screenwriting wannabe is the stifled scream of a woman in torment who has waited nine days for relief since the loss of a filling that alerted the dentist to what lies beneath -- a creeping destruction slowly eating away at those sparkling white and seemingly normal teeth.

For mercy's sake, please -- if you love me, kill me -- or refill my meds.

Friday, June 16, 2006

When I Fall in Love With a Film

"Truth in science can be defined as the working hypothesis best suited to open the way to the next better one"
Konrad Lorens
Ever get sick of people repeating memorized lines from a film while you're trying to watch it? It's aggravating and makes the film experience uncomfortable. Why? Well, I have a theory. It's like a double date where one couple is already steaming up the windows and the other is still on overly polite "getting to know you" behavior. The back seat is already in love. The front seat is still saying their howdy-do's.

"Imprinting" is a theory of attachment discovered by German ethologist Niko Tinbergen or Konrad Lorenz who shared the 1973 Nobel Prize with Tinbergen and Karl von Frisch. I don't have my facts straight about who learned which part of this associative behavior stuff, but it has something to do with a rise in the body's levels of the chemical dopamine. Basically, it means you and I click and I'm suddenly taking mental engravings of the most miniscule and unimportant things about you -- a wrinkle in your smile, a cute unevenness in your hairline. Everything about you suddenly becomes special and I memorize it effortlessly.

My theory is that's what happens when we fall in love with a film -- imprinting. We all imprint in different ways but we attach ourselves to the film the same way we attach ourselves to anyone or anything else we fall in love with. That's why we memorize lines, music, and events -- we're in love.

My own imprinting of a film is three part:

(1) The score makes an audio imprint some place in the emotional side of my brain. I can hear any portion of the score later and tell you exactly where it was in the film and I relive the mystery, the adrenaline or the tears. It's like still hearing the voice of a person you're in love with long after you've hung up the phone.

(2) I identify my own set pieces -- lines or moments that I'll never forget and it won't necessarily be the ones filmmakers expect. Those lines and moments resurface in my brain even when I need them to go away so I can do my job, pay some bills, or work on my own writing. It's like that marvelous "new love" feeling that makes your chest flutter when you think about a special word or gesture or -- a kiss.

(3) I find myself loathe to watch other films that I expect to pale in what are usually unfair comparisons. Why bother going out with anyone else? I'll never feel about anyone the same way.

So, yeah, that's how falling in love with films works -- imprinting. Oh, and just like my children, dog, or the love of my life, tread warily when you speak of them in my presence. I and only I am free to criticize. Anyone else is running the risk of a black eye.

Monday, June 12, 2006

How Many is Too Many?

I write screenplays with a lot of characters. Can't help it. It's a requirement of the story premise choices I make. I haven't figured out how to write an orphanage, City Hall, golf tournament or tribe of natives with only five characters. I'm sure it can be done and done well, but not by me.

The core of my stories does always involve only one to five primary characters but as yet, I haven't written a story where everyone outside of my circle of "agonists" are extras or prop people. What are prop people? A term I just made up (or maybe I only think I did) for cast members who amount to little more than a prop. Sure, I have some prop people, too, but there are usually several other minor characters who contribute to humor, exposition, etc. They are important.

So we have major characters, minor characters, extras and prop people (non speaking extras). Did I leave out any others?

Seven deadly sins of multiple characters:

(1) reader/audience confusion
(2) unnecessarily long screenplay
(3) spreads story too thin
(4) characters with overlapping purposes
(5) repetitive characteristics
(6) too much dialogue
(7) accidental side streets

Is that all of them? Well, what if you can write multiple characters without doing any of those things?

As a followup to How Good is Good?, I looked at some of my favorite screenplays to figure out just how many characters is too many.

Back to the Future managed a high school, small town, and senior prom while maintaining its focus on about five characters. There are a lot of extras and prop people. See? It CAN be done and done well. But is it the only way or even the best way?

Twelve Angry Men - Obviously, this wouldn't work with fewer than twelve characters and while there is only one primary protagonist, each member of the jury is a necessary part of the story. Are all characters equally weighted in importance? No. How many character conflict combination opportunities is that? I can't do the math. But it works.

Pirates of the Caribbean - This was a big cast with two pirate ships and a navy vessel to staff but the story is about three primary characters. Sure, you could ditch the governor, but why would you want to? And although Norrington & company aren't THE main characters, there wouldn't even be a story if Murtogg and Mullroy didn't pipe up at just the right time because of a chance meeting with Jack Sparrow. Lots of characters AND we even know their names. It works.

A League of Their Own - We know that we need at least nine characters to make a baseball team. The story centers on one player, her sister, and the coach, but not only do we know the names of each of the other seven players, but they each have a storyline to some degree. Shirley can't read. Betty loses her husband. Alice never washes her socks. Mae gets around and Evelyn is the launch for "There's no crying in baseball". It works.

So how many characters is too many? I'm thinking any character that commits one of those deadly sins is one character too many regardless of the number of characters in the story. But, don't take my word for it. This is an amateur hypothesis, not a professional conclusion.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Walking the Plank

If you are eagerly anticipating Dead Man's Chest, are a diehard fan of Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio, are wondering if there's going to be a Pirates of the Caribbgean 4, or --- never mind. this is great. Just go there!

Terry Rossio's Blog

Saturday, June 10, 2006

How Good is Good?

Not good enough. In this industry, or so I'm told, a screenplay has to be great to rise above the hundreds of thousands floating around.

Based on brief notes from the Writers on the Storm competition, which I still don't recall entering, my screenplay is good.


On a scale of Not Good, So-So, Good, Very Good, and Excellent --

Not a resounding review which may indicate that quarterfinals is where I stall unless another reader evaluates it differently for the semis. Even though the quickie notes are the subjective view of only one reader, they say something I anticipated -- number of characters -- because every single non-producer who has ever read my screenplays has mentioned it.
EVALUATION: A well-written and emotional story. The dialogue is sharp and many of the scenes have a good amount of conflict. There are a lot of characters in this story, so at times it was hard to follow everyone, but you did a great job of making sure each character was distinct! A good heart-felt story! Nice job!
But that tells me either (1) absolutely nothing because it's relatively generic, or (2) that my screenwriting has definitely improved over the past two and a half years and I'm doing a good job of connecting with the reader. For me, "good" in this connotation of the word is great.

But, I'm just a cockeyed optimist.

Next post: How many characters are too many?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Solved! Mystery of the 0:00

See, Billy! I told you there was a better reason for the zero second visits than your -- wait -- gotta savor this -- ahem --I told you so!

Oh that feels so good.
"Why do some of my visitors have visit lengths of 0:00?

That means the visitors are only staying to view a single page and then leaving. The only way that Site Meter knows how long someone is on a site is by the times of each page view. If they only look at a single page and then leave, we don't know how long they looked at the page. If they looked at two pages and left we would know they at least were on the site during the time of the first page view and the second page view. The difference between those two times would be the length of the visit. "
Sometimes, all ya gotta do is read the directions.

When the sky is a bright canary yellow
I forget ev'ry cloud I've ever seen,
So they called me a cockeyed optimist
Immature and incurably green.

I have heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we're done and we might as well be dead,
But I'm only a cockeyed optimist
And I can't get it into my head.

I hear the human race
Is fallin' on its face
And hasn't very far to go,
But ev'ry whippoorwill
Is sellin' me a bill,
And tellin' me it just ain't so.

I could say life is just a bowl of Jello
And appear more intelligent and smart,
But I'm stuck like a dope
With a thing called hope,
And I can't get it out of my heart!
Not this heart...

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Confessions of a Bureaucrat

The deeper I sink into the demands of full time employment, longer are my intervals of detachment from those stories that once consumed me and the more impersonal and emotionless my writing becomes. Detachment is necessary from eight to five, a hindrance afterward.

These are challenging days for a North Texan who works in local government public relations. I often find myself seeking mental refuge in that writer's realm where I ink worlds into existence, the very clouds obey me, conflicts have resolution, dark characters have redeeming qualities, and my pen is less of an epee and more of a lightweight foil that carves victorious Z's on behalf of the oppressed.

Public service is an opportunity to protect human rights, restore integrity to government and practice those altruistic qualities that few of us really believe our government officials possess.

Some days, I am the fairy godmother. Others, I am a bureaucrat and a villain. Today was one of those days.

Drought season never retreated last year. It only fell back a few yards, regrouped, and then charged the dry line of scrimmage in a 4-3 defense, breaking into the backfield and sacking any approaching cold air mass that might attempt to shift to the southwest, decrease temperature and humidity and permit a rise in pressure that would usher in -- gasp -- precipitation.

In other words, no rain. It started sprinkling the other day. I can spit more than that! So, I wrote a thunderstorm into my golf screenplay.

Small victory.

Lake levels in north Texas are at record lows and some uninformed and many down right stupid taxpayers demand to know why their public servants weren't prepared with alternative water supplies instead of infrastructure improvements, citywide drought information campaigns and State mandated conservation requirements.

Oops. Silly us. Alternative water. Why didn't we think of that? Maybe while we were bidding new police cars, we should have also accepted bids from metroplex water dealerships for an extra few million gallons of water per day just in case.

Good grief.

Is mankind really this arrogant? That we presume to defy hurricanes, quell volcanoes and command the heavens to shower?

Dear citizen, I regret that I am incompetently unable to make it rain -- at least, not in your world.

Typical of Many North Texas Cities:
Frisco Feeling the Heat

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Cookie Dough Reality

The same argument takes place every time I collaborate on something with another writer. Does a story element have to be possible or probable or can it just be plausible?

Wait -- before we go there. Does a cookie sheet have to be greased or floured or can you bake cookies on it bare?

Same thing.

Is too.

You can't answer my cookie sheet question unless you know one or more of the following:

  • What kind of cookies?
  • Are there chocolate chips in them?
  • How well did you follow the recipe?
  • What temperature are you baking at?
  • Is there Teflon on the cookie sheet?
  • How long are you planning to bake them?
  • Is the oven conventional or convection?

There's more. But the point is, it's all about the cookies. Not me. The cookies.

It's about what AFFECTS the cookies, what's IN the cookies, and what ENVIRONMENT the cookies are made in. It's not about what affects me, my makeup, or what environment I'm in. Well, duh. I might be able to bake cookies at 98.6 degrees but do I really want to do that just because that's what my own temperature is? Or, maybe I should just set the oven to match the room temperature?

Story elements are not about what works in my life. They aren't about my environment or my reality. Story elements have to work in the story's reality -- in the reality where my characters exist. If that reality was influenced by own, fine. But it's still not about MY reality. It's about where the story is.

I think part of the problem here is that many writers only create realities that mirror their own.

Real men don't get emotionally attached to Volleyballs so we don't write that. (Castaway)

No man's dying wish is to watch Fred and Ginger instead of porn, car chases and explosions so we don't write that either. (The Green Mile)

A dog can't identify a murderer he saw 200 yards away behind a dirty upstairs window at midnight. Okay, scratch the window, scratch the murder, and scratch the dog. (Turner & Hooch)

Alrighty then. Now my story reflects my own reality and my thermostat is set at 350 degrees.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Answered Nicholl Question

Greg Beal posted this response on Zoetrope regarding my question about the confirmation email that said "thus far" --

The all time record for a slow arriving script was (I think) June 24 for a package mailed on April 23 from Portland, Oregon. As Daniel mentioned, foreign entries often take several weeks to arrive.

We also have a small pile of problem scripts -- application form not signed, collaborator application form not included, etc. Those aren't included in the count until the problem has been solved. I think we're at 4893 right now.

We are sending an email confirmation about 6 or so weeks after a script arrived. The new system caused us to be much slower in entering data and much slower in getting checks off to our accounting office. Sorry for that. Thanks for putting up with the inconvenience. Regular mail confirmations will also be sent to those without an email address, but I do not think we have sent any of those yet.

There has been a major learning curve on our end with the new application system.

We expect to send congratulations and regret letters via regular mail (but that could change) prior to August 1.

We hope to meet that deadline again this year, but if any year offers the possibility of us being a little late this is it.

How great is that? Despite the enormous number of entries in the Nicholl and the allegations that he dresses funny and can't parallel park (Brett), Greg Beal takes time to lurk on boards and give thoughtful detailed replies to random questions. Works for me.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Small Validations

So, it's not the Nicholl or the AFF or the Disney Fellowship and it's not even a win -- it's a quarterfinalist where almost 20 percent of the 907 entries advanced. I actually don't even remember entering the Writers on the Storm contest (I think I entered after reading Mark Atwater's blog), but it's encouragement and I'll take it, even in its smallest measurement and even if I found out by accidentally running across my name on a writer's board.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Burning Ears

Amazing thing, this internet stuff. Shortly after I posted heartfelt accolades for Doing It For Money, I got a thank you post from Daryl G. Nickens who edited the book. Got an email from Jim Mercurio after reposting his article, Everything I Needed to Know About Screenwriting, I Learned from Watching American Idol -- well, maybe. Who knows. It could have been George Clooney. And, Lee Goldberg always seems to know when I mention his name.

How does that happen? How do writers find bloggers talking about them? And, how far can I take this "if you blog it, they will come" idea?

Let's see --

Stephen King! Stephen King! Stephen King!

Alrighty then, he should be emailing me shortly to see if I'll work with him on his latest project. Naturally, Frank Darabont will pitch a fit if he doesn't get to write the screenplay so -- just to keep the peace -- I guess I'll let Frank collaborate provided Frank lets me work on Farenheit 451 with him. See? I'm a give and take kind of gal.

Okie doke -- waiting -- waiting --

Shut up! I am NOT on drugs! Wait -- do Flintstone vitamins count?

Meanwhile, I really need somebody with Bowling For Soup to grant me use of one of their songs for a video short so if any of you know anyone with Bowling For Soup connections, I need a contact person with a propensity for saying 'yes'.

Yikes! Just remembered! Gotta mow my back lot for Spielberg's plane.

Oh, and go Mavs!

Saturday, June 03, 2006

If You Write Query Letters

A letter is only as good as the concept it's pitching -- I didn't say that.
Christopher Lockhart did. He dissects a query letter and has some very basic observations that should be no-brainers to most aspiring screenwriters. Maybe after reading his post, they will be.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Nicholl Status Letter

Got an email from Greg Beal today that confirmed my entry into the Nicholl Fellowship competition. Did everyone get this or was it just the applicants who entered online?

I'm a little puzzled because the email says "thus far" there are 4891 entries. Thus far? The deadline for entering has passed. Wonder what he means by "thus far"? Somebody get on Wordplay and post that question, will ya? Greg Beal lurks around there and usually gives thoughtful replies.

Last year, it seems like the number of entries was over 6800 so I certainly wouldn't complain if there are 2000 fewer competitors. The letter says first round judging should be done by the end of July and we should get a report around August 1st.

Last Day to Enter AFF

This is it. Postmark your screenplays today and get them in the mail to enter the Austin Film Festival Screenwriting Competition. Also, Creative Screenwriting Magazine extended the deadline for the AAA Screenwriting Competition to June 8th.