Friday, December 29, 2006

Season of Rewrites

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Anticipating Pirates IV

Conjecture. Conjecture. Conjecture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do we even want backstory on anyone except Jack Sparrow?

The possibilities are intoxicating.

I vote for prequel.

Somebody hand me a pen.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

20 Top Over Rated Films

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Last Minute Tax Deductions

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

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

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 22, 2006

My Christmas Gift to You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tell Me What I Already Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Repugnant Protagonists Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 08, 2006

At Genres End

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

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

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

What's your screenplay about, Miss Batchellor?

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

Ships and pirates, you say? NEXT!

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

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Katrina Klaus

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

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

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

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

Some are. Some aren't.

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

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

So many needs. Not enough help to go around.

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

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Send a Card to the Troops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 04, 2006


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

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

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

Don't you dare call me Scrooge or Grinch!

You're a writer. You can do better.

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

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

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

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

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


Christmas makes me grumpy.

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

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

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

Who will it be? What will he bring?

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