Thursday, November 30, 2006

Holiday Scam-busters

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

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

Having said all that --

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

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

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

That's right.


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

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

So, ask questions!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Federal Trade Commission Charity Checklist

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Screenwriting, Podcasts & Magic

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

I just don't have the magic touch.

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

Did you get that?

U-B-E-R cool!

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

How sad.

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

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

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

No problem.

It's magic, I tell you!

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

It is, you know.


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


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

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

Not enough magic.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Defending Deja Vu

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


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

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

Monday, November 20, 2006

Two More Days

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

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Dead Protag Addendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Real Men Watch Emmitt

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

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

This has to be a new demographic for that show!

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

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

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Savage Breast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


One minute. Two. Three.

I'm fine. Go away.


Hello? People are looking at us.

Five minutes.

Still there.

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

And then he slapped the cuff on my arm.

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

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

Could I play with the lights?


Well, did the new car have a CD player?

It did.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

At World's End

Warning. Check your blood sugar after reading this post.

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

I can only imagine.

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

Yeah, I'm a nauseating fan.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Clapping for Bad Guys

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

Monday, November 06, 2006

Who are the Champions?

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

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

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

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

The Thinking Writer on Champions

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Remember, Remember

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

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

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Puppy Search

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

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

I digress.

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

What to do. What to do.