Monday, July 31, 2006

Mistakes on a Plane

In the category of "things learned the hard way" -- Hot Topic has some uber cool Snakes on a Plane t-shirts for $18 to $22 that scream, "No, you don't need a sack! Just stick your son's Southpark shoelaces in your purse, rip off your tank top and wear me out of the store!" Yeah, that's fun.

But if, while proudly strutting around the mall in your shameless film marketing attire that will eventually fade gray and wind up in a garage sale, you should get an unexpected call from your father to come pick him up at baggage claim C26 in 45 minutes, you might consider changing your shirt -- unless you actually WANT to chat with those few airport and homeland security personnel who have not, as yet, heard of the film. Oh, and did you know that shoelaces look like garden snakes an X-ray machine?

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Cost of Beans

"...perhaps there is hope for the rest of us little shlubs who simply want to take our little box of beans and sell them for a fair price at the market." Josh Friedman

I'm pimping Josh Friedman today because seriously, if anyone's blog is worth pimping, it's Josh's. But, his posts are infrequent these days and apparently his fan base (yes, he has a fan base) has been lamenting it.

That includes me.

Okay, so maybe I haven't whined out loud (much) but I do visit his blog every week hoping to find something new and instead read something old because as any junkie knows, a leftover or substitute fix is better than none at all.

Same reason homeless alcoholics use your loose change to buy Listerine.

Just what makes an aspiring (nobody) screenwriter from Picayune, Pennsylvania or Tumbleweed, Texas think a professional screenwriter owes the world an unpaid piece of his mind, heart, or soul? It's like saying, "yeah, I know that's your own box of beans, but why haven't you given me any of them in three months?"

From whence does said sense of entitlement come?

Probably the same place that breeds the reality show mentality that says screenwriters owe a debt of gratitude for the privilege of working without a proper wage. And, how do I know this from my free seat on the plains of Texas? From a guy who DOES write a periodic piece of his screenwriting mind, heart, & soul without earning a dime for doing it.

No, it's not the same thing. But because screenwriters like Josh Friedman, Ted Elliott and Craig Mazin (among many others), give their unpaid time to expose and write about unpaid, underpaid, and under (or over) regulated injustices, the rest of us are catching on.

These screenwriters don't get paid to tell us about all the writers not getting paid. And yet, we whine when they don't.

Go back to your Terminator script, Josh. I'll just sit quietly over here and catch whatever beans you happen to drop.

They are, after all, your beans.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nicholl Letters Due Out

This is the week.

Nicholl Fellowship entrants hold their breaths and call in sick so they can camp out at the mailbox and wait on that much anticipated Greg Beal letter in the envelope with a little gold Oscar on it.

Sadly, most of us 4800 or so writers will rip open the envelopes, exhale with the expulsion power of a rapid fire balloon fart and clutch the daggers of bitter reality that plunge into our chests, burst our bubbles and deflate our egos.

We'll pout, cry, swear off competitions and walk around with big L's on our foreheads, avoiding eye contact with everyone we boasted to that we were SURE this was the year we'd advance.


My self imparted advice? Well, if you happen to get a "regrettably" letter, mourn sufficiently and get over it. That's right, Self. It's not a crap meter. You're a good writer. You didn't lose. You can't lose what you never had. You just didn't advance.

Besides, Self, you have a hundred readers and just as many friends who will most likely shower you with sympathy gifts -- jigsaw puzzles, comic books, Captain & Tenille CD's, cheese, clothes pins and honey mustard.

Okay, Self, so some of your friends are kind of odd.

Ah! Here's an idea, Self. Make a list of consolation gifts just in case. You know, kind of like a bridal registry only more like a pity party registry of your favorite things -- Smurfs, crystal door knobs, cantaloupe, rubber duckies and purple Play Dough (it tastes the best).

What? What's that you say, Self? You don't need consolation gifts? Oh, yeah, you now have Pinky and the Brain on DVD to help you shake off the bummer of it all.

Life is good.

Nicholl Fellows 1986 - 2005

Monday, July 24, 2006

Try to Take Over the World!

Pinky and the Brain comes out on DVD tomorrow! I love these little guys. My favorite episode is about shiny pants. Seriously. They use shiny pants to try to take over the world! Of course, women already tried that in the 70's. We came close but our shiny pants, Farrah Fawcett hair and sequin bandeau tops were no match for Microsoft.

Also grabbing up the Animaniacs Season One DVD. My favorite episode? Potty Emergency. Hands down.

"I can't potty in there! It's digusting!"

Don't get it? So sorry. It's hysterical. Really.

Somewhere, someone is laughing.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Immovable Feast?

For anyone who has been following the Marcus Dunstan & Patrick Melton script and John Gulager's vision, according to Sean Decker on, Feast is into additional shooting this week in preparation for the September 22nd release.

This is the last week of July and they're shooting another five days?

Melton says that “Feast will be in 100 of the nation’s top markets, and show at two theaters at midnight on Friday and Saturday, with no further screenings scheduled".

So, let me get this straight -- two theaters in each of 100 markets on September 22nd and 23rd at midnight only? And the point is? I'm sure there are logical and economic reasons for all this, but they escape me. The only thing that comes to mind is that maybe Feast is really a direct to DVD but they are releasing it in a few markets for publicity prior to the release of the DVD on October 17th or because of a contractual requirement to release it in theaters?

UPDATE 7/24/06 -- Marcus Dunstan sent me this comment:

"That is the state of things as of this week. FEAST will have another week of filming come to a close on Tuesday and if half of what was shot makes it in to the final cut...whew! It will be unrated. That means: Midnight Madness. The studio left John completely alone to shoot whatever he wanted. That is worth whatever the cost release-wise. Would'a been great to blanket the country but we'll take what we can get." Marcus Dunstan

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Story and Concept

One of the few benefits of semi long-term (abeit temporary) illness is the ability to read, read, read. Most mobile working people don't have this much time on their hands, but a couple of must reads --

Fun Joel has a very good article in Scr(i)pt about story and concept. Joel's article is thorough and he has a knack for making no-brainer screenwriting basics sound like fresh news. Example? Joel quotes Michel Shane who pretty much says that scripts can be fixed but it's tough if the story or concept is weak. Sure, I write it and you say "duh". Joel writes it and you say "slow down a sec, I'm taking notes."

Speaking of stories and concepts, turn to page 44 in Creative Screenwriting (take your nitro or two blood thinning aspirin first) and read up on an intellectual properties claim and the implications of implied contacts. This could be disastrous for us newbie and wannabe screenwriters who already need an agent just to submit a query. Who's gonna want to hear a pitch from a nobody writer who can claim "implied contract" if they later see a project similar to theirs? Yeah, I'm over-simplifying. Just read it.

Meanwhile, I really shouldn't have read the Snakes on a Plane article right before the one about a seventeen year old Kansas kid who struck screenwriting gold. Not only am I now drinking Geretol laced Tequila and writing on a Big Chief in crayon but I just noticed my latest draft about a teenage entrepreneur somehow got titled Penis in a Paper Shredder.

Yeah, I know. What's a Big Chief?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Orphaned Ideas

Even if you've read Sean Kennelly's interview with Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio in Creative Screenwriting, don't skip the online version. It's a spillover, not a duplicate, with comments on theme, character risks and the exploration, semi-development, and abandonment of more ideas than will ever fit into a screenplay.

Interviews with T&T abound right now (rightfully so) but a couple of obscure articles you may have missed are in Box Office Mojo where Ted comments on Jack Sparrow being perceived as less likeable and in Latino Review written prior to the release of POTC2, in which Terry humbly discusses the "daunting" nature of his job --

...we can’t predict box office for Pirates 2 or 3 and you have to face reality that it’s nonsensical to make these movies. It doesn’t work, it’s not fiscally responsible to go out in the Caribbean, to build sets, to have actors out there that cost a lot of money... Terry Rossio

That's another idea Terry can orphan since we now know how it turned out -- $258 million in ten days. It may not be fiscally responsible to make POTC films, but like any gamble, the pay off can be -- um, word, word, word, somebody give me a word that hasn't already been used to describe this phenomenon -- neato? Sorry, all the superfluous ones have been used.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Buttering Flutterbies

There it is -- right there on my forehead -- my big idea.

It's not just good, just great, or just grand. It's a curiosity, an enigma, and a spine tingling expectation that both challenges and defies me to put its singular beauty and peculiar qualities into words without bungling it up.

Such is the description-elusive wonder of any birth, I suppose.

There it is. I can see it. It's touching me like nothing ever has. A worthy scribe could capture its fleeting glory before it flutters away. As for me -- well, sometimes I just marvel at it and wish I had a butterfly net.

Thanks for this awesome picture, Lola.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Not Enough Rocks

Remember that scene in Forest Gump where Jenny throws rocks at the home of her miserable childhood and then falls to pieces? Forest has the perfect narration -- "Sometimes, there just aren't enough rocks."

My friends are still trapped in Beruit and apparently, all the important people are getting out first -- you know, the ones paid to be there. The ones who are there just volunteering to serve their fellow man are at the bottom of the list or not on the list yet at all.

I really do understand how complex this situation is. But please, somebody send me more rocks.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Price of Humanitarianism

A momentary departure from films and screenwriting --

Those who have never held a high level government position can't possibly imagine how agonizing it is to make decisions that affect the health and safety of people. Nor can we fully grasp the complexity of balances and bargains must be struck. I'm trying to remember this as I think of my friends trapped in Beirut but beneath my controlled demeaner, I'm screaming, "Somebody, do something!"

Cynicism dictates that people not get off their sofas or step outside their comfort zones to do humanitarian work. Just cross your fingers and hope somebody else goes, does, or writes the check. I don't hang out with people that think that way. My circle of friends go, do and write checks. They make personal and financial sacrifices to serve their fellow man. Sound cheesey and artificial? Think there's an ulterior motive or economic denominator? Then you're probably part of that cynical group.

Some people just step up. No reward. None wanted. But often, a price.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Still Having a Cow

WARNING: This post contains cow cliches.

Ten months and 220 posts later, my daily count is finally exceeding 100 visitors. Why is that a big deal? Because writers like to know they're being read, that's why!

But, it's not about me. Nope. It's about Steve Oedekerk. Yesterday 38 of my 105 visitors arrived at Fencing with the Fog by web searching the Barnyard movie with words like male, udder, cow, and bull. Great. You don't read my thematic reflexivity post but clamor for Crying Game cows?

Since udders get people to show up at a random nobody's screenwriting blog, I am even more convinced that the bulls with boobs are marketing fodder meant to grow Barnyard into a cash cow. Good job, Steve, but while Barnyard still has my knickers in a twist, I won't be planting them in a seat to see the full length version of the cow tipping comedy. I am, after all, too busy seeing Dead Man's Chest every few days and will probably keep seeing Dead Man's Chest until the cows come home -- or at least until the movie comes out on DVD. Don't give me any flack about the film's flaws either unless you want me to tell you how the cow at the cabbage.

Meanwhile, I sure wish Steve Oedekerk would call or email or send me a message by carrier cow so I can ask him about this mammary confused animation. But the more pressing question is, "Steve, when are you gonna do Dead Man's Thumb?" Yeah, I want to write it. Duh. Swashbuckling thumbs! How cool is that? Well, as long as the male thumbs don't have udders.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Thematic Reflexivity

Alrighty, back to screenwriting.

Algebraically speaking, reflexivity involves automorphisms and phrases like surjective isometry, linear interpolation, and a whole lot of other stuff that I am incapable of processing. All those matrices whose nonzero entries lie in an upper-triangular pattern mean pretty much squat to me. But thematically, reflexivity is one of my favorite writing methods.

What is thematic reflexivity?

Basically, reflexivity means this equals that. Grammatically, reflexivity is when a verb has the identical subject and direct object. "He kicked himself" is a reflexive sentence because it finishes the same place it started -- with the guy doing the kicking. Thematic reflexivity brings the narrative full circle or mirrors the end of a story with its beginning.

Even when readers or viewers don't congnizantly recognize the reflexivity in a narrative, subconsciously, they probably still know it ended on the same Bat-channel or they get a weird deja vu feeling or they think, "here we go again".

Let's skip over Gilligan and company getting rescued and then winding back up on the island -- that's predictable no brainer reflexivity.

Rather than ending a story with victory, defeat or closure, reflexivity effects a sense of victory out of defeat, defeat out of victory, or renewal out of ruin. Among other things, reflexivity allows closure without really closing and can make the old seem new, the lost seem found or the dead seem alive. These aren't the only ways to use thematic reflexivity but they're the only ways that come to my feeble mind at the moment.

Victory out of Defeat/Defeat out of Victory - In All About Eve, it appears that the scheming Eve Harrington is victorious in her pursuit of fame, fortune, and adoration at the cost of those who befriended her. But after she wins the coveted Sarah Siddons award, Eve arrives back at her apartment to find a manipulative fan gushing in adoration but secretly trying to use Eve to further her own career the same way Eve, herself, had fawned over and used Margo Channing to advance hers. Reflexivity brings us full circle when the user becomes the used. Eve's victory is also a defeat and Margo's defeat is somewhat of a moral victory as Eve gets what she dished out.

In Gladiator, reflexivity is used at the end of the film to allow Maximus to accomplish what he set out to do - go home. Sure, he's dead, but the film uses his death as a way to reconnect him with his family which is all he ever wanted from the very beginning. His death is a victory through thematic reflexivity. He's finally going home.

Life out of Death/Renewal out of Ruin - My favorite examples for this use of thematic reflexivity are Little Shop of Horrors which ends with the appearance of another Audrey (renewal out of ruin) and Turner and Hooch, where the line "this is not your room" signals a puppy that takes us back to where we began house training the dog that died a hero (life out of death).

Another example is Lion King where the son becomes the father, repeating the ritual of presentation of the heir to the throne. These three examples also work in the victory/defeat scenario. In Little Shop, although Seymour is victorious, there's another plant, so is he really? In Turner and Hooch and Lion King, death's defeat is overcome by newness of life by taking the story full circle -- thematic reflexivity.

Closure without Closing - In Master and Commander, the Surprise pursues the Acheron from the very beginning of the film. At the end, the captured Acheron, now commanded by one of the Surprise's officers, sets sail for an English port. But, after Aubrey realizes the Acheron's captain duped him into thinking he was only a doctor, the Surprise has to pursue the Acheron once again to escort it to port. We end the way we started -- pursuing the Acheron. The film is over but the thematic reflexivity says that while we're leaving the theater, the story continues behind our back or even starts over.

Would Back to the Future work without the reappearance of Dr. Emmett Brown and the promise of additional adventure with "Where we're going, we don't need roads"? Probably. But the reflexivity here adds dimension and starts the story over with Doc taking Marty McFly purposely into the future instead of accidentally into the past.

Thematic reflexivity can become cliche. I don't know how many amateur screenplays I've read where the hero's girlfriend is unexpectedly expecting. Don't do it. Please. But if a writer can craft the thematic reflexivity in a way that feels holistic instead of tacked on as an afterthought, then it can be a defining or climactic moment.

I love the scene in A Beautiful Mind where math professors present their pens to John Nash in the same way an old professor was recognized when Nash was a young man in school. It's a make believe ritual that could very easily have felt phony and contrived. Instead, it's thematic reflexivity at its best and even more poignant than the scene where Nash accepts the Nobel prize for his non-cooperative games dissertation which, by the way, contains some very impressive examples of algebraic reflexivity.

Just don't expect me to discuss or explain any of it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

La Vida Pirate

Say what you want -- loved it, hated it, too many thrills -- but Dead Man's Chest is wielding a cutlass at box office records and making film history.

I'm reminded of that Entertainment Weekly list that set my teeth on edge by putting POTC2 seventh in the "most anticipated films of the summer" list.

No need for me to say I told you so to EW since the $55 million opening day record is pretty much evidence that POTC2 was THE most anticipated film of the summer and the $132 million opening weekend record makes it, in my mind, one of the most highly anticipated films of all time.

Bottom line. The wallet of the viewer is louder than the voice of the critic.

Well done, Ted and Terry. Truly incredible.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Gotta Make One of These

My son has been telling me for months that he wants to make a Lego video. I thought it was a "cute" idea but meh, no biggie. I was wrong. This is awesome. Pay close attention or you'll miss the streaker.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Déjà Vu Release Date

Been following this film for almost my entire three years of screenwriting and finally, a release date and a trailer for Déjà Vu. Three whole years. Yeah, I hear ya. Big whoop. You've been doing it ten. The point is that even as a li'l sprout, I was hearing about this picture.

I don't recall the details but reports in early 2005 said the screenplay for Déjà Vu had sold for seven figures. This is the first film to shoot in post Katrina New Orleans.

Written By: Bill Marsilii & Terry Rossio
Release Date: November 22nd, 2006 (wide)

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Courage to Dare

Tonight, tonight, won't be just any night,
Tonight there will be no morning star.
Tonight, tonight, I'll see my love tonight.
And for us, stars will stop where they are.
Today, the minutes seem like hours,
The hours go so slowly,
And still the sky is light
Oh moon, grow bright,
And make this endless day endless night!

I'll be living la vida pirate at 12:01 tonight. But don't expect a review of Dead Man's chest from me -- ever -- because, like an expectant parent, I'm predisposed to love this second child as much as the first even if it looks like it was hit with an ugly stick.

If the headlong courage and bold audacity it took to take on two sequels to POTC amid the overblown expectations of passionate fans and the certain close examination of critics wasn't enough to garner my wholehearted admiration, then the mammoth magnitude of work that went into this film would be. As it is, courage is enough for me.

Oh sure, we could say the same about Lord of the Rings, Superman, Star Wars and any number of grandiose and highly anticipated sequels that required guts to write, stage, cast, direct, costume, produce, score, etc. But I wasn't emotionally invested in those films. It wasn't my kid. So if somebody says the kid is so ugly that they need to diaper both ends or is the reason some mammals bury their young, so what?

Nope, I'm not interested in reviewing, defending or picking apart Dead Man's Chest. I'm simply not objective enough. I'm a fan of few -- this is one of the few.

I'm not saying it's the thought that counts, but as I've read blogs and updates on the progress of the film, I've come to respect the extraordinary workings behind it. Stupid and naive of me? Maybe.

Funny thing about kids, though. Sometimes they bring us a handful of weeds and say, "look at the pretty flowers." Sweet. We love them. But they're still weeds.

Just look at those breathtaking photographs, people. Dead Man's Chest is offering us an armful of roses. Somehow, I don't think I'll notice if there are a few weeds.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Udder Bull

What I've learned about this peculiar animated anomaly so far is that as early as August, 2004, comments have been circulating about the gender confused cows in Barnyard. But, what I still don't know is whether the cross gender cows were an intentional statement of some kind or a bizarre oversight.

Comments on Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB vary from "oh my gosh, no wonder people think America is the stupidest nation in the world" to "lighten up, you idiots, males have udders, too."

Yeah, and men have nipples but they don't lactate!

Even the kids on's Barnyard Message Board are smart enough to ask what's up with the udders. Yeah, they noticed. Some of them, anyway. There was one kid, however, who replied to the question "If those are boy cows (bulls), then why do they have udders?" with "Hello? Because they have to be milked."

The Oedekerk Fan Site is silent on the udders and not surprisingly, Steve Odekerk isn't returning my call. Wonder how many "got milk?" hangup calls he gets...

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Feast Release September 22

Seems like it's been years since the third season of Project Greenlight debuted on Bravo with the script selection process that brought us Feast, written by Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton. Executive producers Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Chris Moore and Wes Craven didn't make the selection lightly or unanimously. But, the studio had the final say and Feast was launched over some strongly expressed objections by Matt Damon.

Meanwhile, twenty four months haven't even passed since PGL announced John Gulager as the winning director and the Feast odyssey officially began. After the final episode of PGL aired on May 12, 2005 , Feast faded into an obscure phase of postproduction, studio divorce, and release issues leaving fans to wonder if they would ever see Gulager's vision on screen. While Bravo and PGL are oddly silent on the Feast release, or I just haven't seen their announcements, September 22nd is supposedly the big day. Go, Gulager!

Directed by:
John Gulager

Written by:
Marcus Dunstan
Patrick Melton

Eric Dane .... Hero
Navi Rawat .... Heroine
Krista Allen .... Tuffy
Balthazar Getty .... Bozo
Diane Goldner .... Harley Mom
Judah Friedlander .... Beer Guy
Jenny Wade .... Honey Pie
Duane Whitaker .... Boss Man
Josh Zuckerman .... Hot Wheels
Eileen Ryan .... Grandma
Clu Gulager .... Bartender
Henry Rollins .... Coach
Jason Mewes .... Edgy Cat

Project Greenlight
Bravo's PGL Feast Site
Feast Blog
Judah Friedlander
John Gulager's Blog