Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Screenwriting Nominees

Juggling plates so not much posting or writing time. Baby nephew still in hospital and not recovering as quickly as we had hoped. However, your assignment, should you choose to accept it, is to see these films before March 5th!

Nominees for Best Adaptation
Brokeback Mountain - Laura McMurty & Diana Ossana
Capote - Dan Futterman
Constant Gardner - Jeffrey Caine
A History of Violence - Josh Olson
Munich - Tony Kushner and Eric Roth

Nominees for Best Original Screenplay
Crash - Paul Haggis & Bobby Moresco
Good Night and Good Luck - George Clooney & Grant Heslor
Match Point - Woody Allen
The Squid and the Whale - Noah Baumbach
Syriana - Steven Gaghan

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Triangular Scenes

While I'm away . . .

A fellow screenwriter emailed me the other day about triangular scenes. New terminology for me so my latest screenwriting exercise will be to look for triangular scene elements in films I watch and screenplays that I read. I'm open for suggested scenes and porn doesn't count!

What I am looking for are three elements (characters, objects, events) in a scene that are dependent on each other. The scene cannot end until one or more of the three elements is resolved. Example: two people (two elements) are arguing and one cannot leave until the other surrenders the car keys (third element). A teacher (one element) cannot dismiss her class (second element) until the bell rings (third element).

If you have examples or a better explanation about triangular scenes, I'm a willing pupil so please post a clever reply! Okay, you can post a not so clever one, too.

My baby nephew is having cleft palate surgery tomorrow at Children's Medical Center by the same doctor who performed corrective palate surgery on my son and another nephew. Yeah, it runs in the family. As the oldest sister and since my mother lives out of state, I usually am the parent to all my siblings so I'll be standing ready at the hospital with oxygen and valium for my sister.

With the baby likely to be in the hospital three to five days, I'll be taking reading material in the form of Shawshank Redemption, Good Will Hunting, The Green Mile, and Seabiscuit. My laptop plays DVD's so film suggestions are appreciated. Remember, looking for triangular scenes.

Is there anything more heartbreaking than a baby hooked to tubes and wires? The baby in the picture is my son, Will, runner and hottie jock of the high school. I've now seen dozens of babies right after surgery. Love and drugs seem to work every time. Reminds me of a song by Bowling for Soup which says "all we need is ice cream and a hug".

Friday, January 27, 2006

Socially Responsible Screenplays

Lately, I've been wondering if my stories are too heavy. Most of my stories have themes like redemption, forgiveness or embracing diversity. It's not that I have a desire to change the world. I just like to write stories that draw on something deep and personal in the human spirit. That's my choice. Something about exploring the human spirit feels like a valuable and worthwhile use of my time, skill, and talent.

Therein lies the problem.

My very first screenplay was a silly fantasy about pirates, mermaids and sea hags. It's been two years since I wrote it. Not bad for a first attempt but nothing I'd have the nerve to show anyone. The writing was dreadful. No, that's too kind. I can't even think of anything bad enough to say about the writing. It was an adventure to research and an adventure to write but it didn't have a theme of social responsibility and after the first rewrite, I put it away. It just felt frivolous.

Don't get lost here. I'll tie this up in a moment...

I've written before about my son, Will, , his challenges and the multitudes of surgeries he endured before becoming a hottie jock with wings on his feet. Since then, I've spent a lot of time at Children's Medical Center visiting children who undergo craniofacial surgeries and talking with their parents about what to expect after surgery and during the months to come. Two things always happen during recovery visits. Photos of Will running like the wind make the parents cry while the recovering children watch a funny DVD. The movies watched most often by recovering children? Shrek, Ice Age, and Monsters, Inc.

Each one of those films is silly and frivolous. But, each one them also has social value. Shrek has that "beauty is only skin deep" thing going on and Ice Age addresses cultural differences and relationship barriers. Monsters, Inc. has a cleverly crafted message about fearing what we don't understand and people who are different.

The measure of a good film isn't whether or not it makes the viewer cry, donate blood, join the army or give money to the Red Cross. The lesson here is that social value doesn't necessarily have to be heavy, dark, and depressing. It only has to be entertaining.

Time to pull out that frivolous adventure story and rewrite it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Crushing the Villain

So, you've birthed the most contemptible villain to ever scourge a keyboard (let's call him Bob) and now it's time to get rid of him. Act three rolls around and you still don't know how you're going to bring Bob to his knees. Thwarting him isn't enough. You want to crush him.

Question posed to Wordplayers: do you catch him or kill him?

Why does the author think there are only two doors?

Door (1) Kill him. Okay, we got that one. But, let's come up with something clever like death by gold bricks (Mask of Zorro), death by corn (Witness), strap the villain's shoulder holster to a maverick missile on a Harrier's wing (True Lies), or take him out with a deadly accurate hat (Goldfinger).

Door (2) Catch him. But don't JUST catch him. Find a clever way to catch him and that doesn't mean just any ol' chase scene. Are there even chase scenes left to write that we haven't already seen? How about we hang Bob with the bra of the stripper he just murdered and only cut him down when he confesses?

Door (3) Villain lives a life worse than death. Maybe he catches the disease he was using to poison the community's water supply, has to live without arms and legs, or murders transvestites and then somehow becomes one. How? I don't know. That's for the writer to figure out. Remember how miserable Red was when he was paroled in Shawshank Redemption? Death was preferable to life. In one Twilight Zone episode, a swindler's holy water made him blind.

Door (4) Suicide. Okay, this one could rob the audience of the satisfaction of seeing justice served, but it doesn't have to be that way. Maybe Bob kills himself so his nemesis won't get the glory.

Door (5) Villain escapes. Done right, it could work. Hannibal Lector did it in Silence of the Lambs and it ended the film on an odd mixture of trepidation, disappointment, and relief.

Door (6) Leave the Door Open. Did he live? Did he die? Did he escape? A lot depends on the genre of the film and not every story can be crafted in a way that the audience would accept this type of ending, but it it can work, especially in horror films and films like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters.

Door (7) Accidental Death. Talk about cheating the audience! But, maybe you don't think the audience would accept the protagonist with blood on his hands and this will work better.

Door (8) Villain Undetected. The audience knows, but most of the players don't. This is a toughie and off hand, the only film I can think of is Presumed Innocent where the killer turned out to be a protatonist, but there must be others.

Other doors? I'm sure I've missed some. Aliens take Bob (X Files) or Bob goes into a vegetative state after taking his own wife off life support, or maybe Bob suffers memory loss when the old woman that he is swindling decides to bludgeon Bob with a can of turnip greens. Maybe he becomes mentally retarded or hypnotised into thinking he's somebody else.

These are more than two options here. It doesn't have to be as simple as catch him or kill him or as silly as aliens and turnip green cans. Some stories will require the simple resolution but others demand a more creative downfall for the villain.

What are some doors I've overlooked?

UPDATE: Karl Moeller added catch and release - find a way to help the villain change inside, permanently, in a way that's clear to the meanest understanding. And then have your Hero Team turn the villain loose.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Defining America in Ten Films

The challenge, as mentioned by John Rogers at Kung Fu Monkey, is to explain America to a non-American by giving them 10 movies to watch. The idea is to give the viewer of sense of who we are, not to give them the history of America. This should be your own take on America's dreams, our attitudes, our idioms, what we think we are, what we are afraid we are, what we really might be.

For me, this has been a daunting, but worthwhile exercise.

Lean on Me
Lean on Me is based on a true story and it's a powerful film that explores how racial bias, lack of funding, and defeatist attitudes affect the achievements, self esteem, and ultimate success of students in less affluent and mostly black schools. I once met Joe Clark at a Texas Municipal League Conference and have to say he's one of the most extraordinary human beings I've ever had the pleasure to meet.

The Secret of My Success
Pretty much sums up the professional world for me. We're all trying to make our way to the top. We either use the devil's own tools against him or content ourselves sorting mail. We could also fill this slot with Working Girl which pokes at female professional stereotypes. My favorite line in the film is when Harrison Ford's character says to Melanie Griffth that it's nice to see a woman dress like a woman, not like a woman thinks a man would dress if he was a woman.

A League of Their Own
Don't scratch your head at me! I like the way this film portrays each woman as complex and uniquely different. Some are weak. Some are masculine. Some are sluts. Some are goody-goodies. Some are walking in the shadow of somebody else. Some are bright. Some apparently wear their curlers way too tight. All are good. All are bad.

Okay, I'm not trying to give a history lesson here, but this film, based on true events, takes an honest look at one of the many seeds that sprouted racial bias in our country. Were the slaves on the Amistad human beings? Were they property? Whose property were they? If we don't understand the mentality of our predecessors, how will we know we aren't perpetuating that mentality?

All the President's Men
We have to address political corruption somewhere on this list. This is it.

I Am Sam
Yeah, I'll get some flack over this one, but some of the biggest arguments taking place in American courts today are over the upbringing of children. Who is a fit parent anyway? Is the home of drug addicted parents better than a parent with a mental handicap? Gay parents? A single parent? Who gets to decide whether you're qualified to raise your own children? And, what if you aren't?

I don't like this film at all. But a lot of people do and I think it's because it takes a positive look at blended families and the impact of divorce and remarriage on each adult and child affected.

Erin Brokovich
The most profound part of this based on truth story is that blatant corporate disregard for human health and welfare really does take place and it really can be this hard to call it to somebody's attention and be taken seriously.

You've Got Mail
Ahem. Yes. You read that one correctly, but we could easily substitute it with Sleepless in Seattle, While You Were Sleeping, or one of a dozen Rom Coms. Americans are romantic dreamers. That's why we read so many Danielle Steele books.

Because I needed one that touches on Hollywood, that's why, and because each of us aspiring writers has done business with a Bowfinger at one time or another.

So there ya have it. By my ten films, we can deduce that the logline for America would be something like, "Strong willed, status seeking country ever addresses new and changing political, social, and racial challenges while maintaining joy in life, an idealistic sense of romance and spirited sense of humor."

Yeah, I'm an idealist.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Back to Screenwriting

Sooner or later I really must get refocused on addressing screenwriting on this blog. The original purpose of the blog was to force me to process screenwriting issues in writing because unless it's written down, we only retain about three percent of what enters our brains. You see, it's really all about how I can use this blog to improve my own screenwriting, critical thinking skills, and thought regurgitation.

Some may ask then, "why does it have to be posted on the scribosphere for all the world to see?". Accountability, of course. I'm an accountability kind of gal. If I knew that nobody else would ever read what I put to paper, I'd be less concerned about accuracy, logic, application, and value. As it is, my blog counter says that I get about forty unique visitors a day. That's forty opportunities to make an utter fool out of myself in public.

Was that a collective laugh I just heard? Yeah, okay, so I don't have a lot of readers but hey, if I know even ONE person is going to read what I write, I'm likely to process my thoughts more thoroughly than if I write something down in my journal and shove it under my bed.

So, okay, gonna get back to screenwriting... right after I finish editing the draft I'm working on because I'm trying to read it with fresh eyes. I don't want to focus too much on technical issues this pass. I want to look at the overall presentation of the story. But as soon as I get through this, then my blog will focus on screenwriting stuff again.

Well, except that there's another really cool meme that I just read on Kung Fu Monkey and I really must participate. I must. The challenge is to explain America to a non-American by giving them 10 movies to watch. The idea is to give the viewer of sense of who we are, not to give them the history of America.

I like this challenge, but it will take me some time to think about because there is a vast difference between who I am (or, at least think I am) and who America is (or how I perceive it, anyway). and I've got to differentiate the two.

So yeah, as soon as I do the latest meme, finish this read, register my latest screenplay, and finish up the outline I'm working on, I'll get back to blogging about screenwriting.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Boiling Point

Yeah, I reached it this week. Long story. Not of interest, but you know you've had a bad week when trying to choose microwave popcorn at Walmart makes you want to kick over the Orville Redenbacher display.

It's not that I can't choose between Orville, Paul Newman, Pop Secret or Act 2 (which is a really stupid name because nobody I know waits until Act 2 to eat their popcorn), but standing there staring at all the boxes of butter, extra butter, movie butter, extra movie butter, sweet 'n buttery, salt free, fat free, white 'n fluffy, cinammon, caramel, carb friendly, kettle korn, family packs, snack packs and single serve suddenly made me miss decision-free Jiffy Pop, (which they do still make but I never can seem to find).

I don't want to be bombarded with decisions on a Saturday. I just want to buy my popcorn and leave. That's my motive. No complex internal turmoil. No setup. No payoff. No dialogue. Don't make me choose a popcorn and figure out which one will give me more ounces of popcorn per each of my hard earned dollars . Don't make me evaluate which checkout line is the shortest. Don't make me count my items (which was about eleven different kinds of popcorn). Don't make me decide between paper and plastic. Just give me some stinkin' popcorn and let me go home and watch my latest DVD. It's that simple!

I was trying to decide between a medium regular line and a short self check when it hit me. This whole complex popcorn thing is a conspiracy orchestrated by the movie industry to drive people back into theatres where they don't have to make popcorn related decisions. Yup. That's it. Big name production companies are secretly funding popcorn research and creating so many varieties of popcorn with so many sizes of bags and boxes that they're going to bankrupt the popcorn eating public into returning to the box office.

Ha! Well, it wasn't going to work on me! I was onto them. I am entirely too sane to fall into their trap. So, I left my eleven boxes of popcorn on the conveyer belt, bid the checkout guy a good day and stormed out of the store.

Ha! I showed them. I sure did . . . yesiree, Bob. . . yeah . . . I won.

Hey, um . . . did I mention that there is a brand new movie theatre right by my Walmart? No? Well, did I mention that you can smell the popcorn as you're storming out the store and that tickets are only four dollars and popcorn is $1.50 for all you can eat so if you see more than one movie you can fill your bag up over and over all day long? And, did I mention that there's an unsecure wireless internet connection that you can use to post your blog while you're waiting for the movie to start?

Friday, January 20, 2006

TV Theme Meme

Don't know who started it but Dave tagged me and the meme is for top ten favorite TV themes. Only ten? Geez. The only ones on the list I know for sure are in the correct order are numbers one and two. The rest tie for third.

(3) Lone Ranger
(3) Twilight Zone
(3) Hawaii 5-0
(3) Mission Impossible
(3) My Three Sons
(3) Lost in Space
(3) Speed Racer
(3) Batman
(2) Gilligan's Island

I'm not tagging anyone because I still remember how grouchy those old men used to get when I knocked on their doors selling Girl Scout cookies after they had just bought band candy from somebody else. Fun Joel's meme is still hitting a few stragglers and I'm not one to wear out my welcome.

Evil Gnomes Opting Books

Ever wonder how unpublished books get film opts? A snarky literary agent has a plausible explanation: evil gnomes in Hollywood with little elfish spies who open the mail and answer the phone and get extra booty for securing a scoop.

Time after time I'm told by screenwriters who were once in the spotlight but now relegated to an obligatory courtesy email, that I should convert my screenplays into novels. Waaah. I don't wanna.

"Your agent will thank you," says the most obnoxious of these bitter at the world writers who always prefaces our screenwriting discussion with "what are you wearing?" After I tell him I'm wearing a .357 Magnum, we move on to how I come from a writing arena where prose is non existent.

I'm guilty of throwing bits of prose into my screenplays and while I don't mind reading two pages that describe an antique castle in the highlands, I can't possibly write two pages describing a castle in the highlands. I can't even write two pages of a treatment describing my screenplay! But hey, next time you need to confront a press corp over judicial misconduct, I'll punch out a speech for you that makes the Gettysburg Address sound like... well, like my prose.

Example of my prose:

This is Dick. This is Jane. See Dick? See Jane? This is Spot. See Spot chase the ball? Spot has rabies. Dick runs away. Jane runs, too. See spot chase Dick and Jane? Run, Dick! Run, Jane! Jane runs faster. Dick falls down. Spot bites Dick. Jane bites Spot. Spot dies. Dick dies. Jane wins the Boston Marathon. The End.

No, my agent wouldn't thank me for it.

UPDATE: Here's what The Thinking Writer has to say on the matter. If you don't want to read the whole thing, the crux is this: "it is no harder to sell a well-told unpublished short story or novel to Hollywood than to sell a screenplay."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Disappearing Subtext

Yesterday somebody commented on Wordplay about recent movies having no subtext. The basic issue was that dialogue these days is expressing theme, tossing out philosophies on life and saying exactly what is meant as opposed to steaming with underlying subtext. What gives with that?

The specific example used was Munich and the responses were very interesting:

(1) Mainstream filmmakers don't trust the audience. Basically, this sounds like we're dumbing down for viewers. I object to blanket statements like this one because it implies that we, the audience, are too stupid to grasp, relate to, digest, and appreciate complexities. Some films are actually made just so the audience can enjoy the inane stupidity of it. That's not dumbing down.

(2) Characters speaking their philosophies saves time. This answer puzzled me. It seems to be saying that on the nose dialogue relieves the author of creative exposition, but I think what it really means is that spoken philosophies relieve the filmmakers from costly scenes needed to expose a particular mindset. It's a plausible explanation but strikes me as an improbable one. Can you hear a film exec saying, "Hmm. We need to cut costs. Let's ditch some scenes and cover it with dialogue"? Somebody PUHLEEZE tell me this doesn't happen!

(3) Development execs don't get subtext. This is silly. So, they understood subtext in the 50's but not today? We've jumped leaps and bounds in technology and marketing and production value but the bodies behind all these miracles of modern filmmaking are devolving? Good grief.

(4) Unnecessary ironing out. This one says that subtleties are ironed out little by little. One person didn't get this part so we ironed it out. Another person didn't get that part so we ironed it out until one by one, all the clever stuff gets pressed flat. Okay. Maybe.

Now on to my unqualified, unprofessional opinion which I didn't have the intestinal fortitude to post on a board frequented by professionals so I slunk off (is slunk a word?) to the safety of my blog:

Subtext used in film depends a lot on the author, genre, and a whole host of scene contruction issues that vary from film to film based on a limitless number of variables like goals of the director, vision of the producer, and purpose of the character. In the case of Munich, the film deals with such difficult philosophies that Spielberg probably wanted to make sure there was no misunderstanding because he knew he could be accused of blanketly endorsing assassination!

I'm not sure subtext really is disappearing at all. But if it is and if points one through four made above are actually valid, then the solution is simple: KEEP THE WRITERS ON THE SET!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Confronting a Phobia

I finally went to see King Kong. For normal people, that film was a three hour ride with a giant ape. To me, it was a confrontation with one of my greatest phobias. I can't even bear to look at those inflatable apes at video store openings. Nothing paralyzes me with fear like King Kong, except maybe clowns.

"Mom" my precious boy kept asking during the movie, "You okay? Need a cold towel?"

"No, no, I'm fine, sweetie," I assured him, "it's just a movie."

Of course I need a cold towel, I thought. I'm sweating a puddle, I just pee'd my chair and I need to throw up, but I'm not going to tell you because you are eleven years old!

"You don't look so good," he said.

"It's the light. All that green hue from dinosaurs."

I'm fine. Really, I can do this, I told myself. I am not too dysfunctional and narcissistic to sit through computer animation even if it is sheer terror. I will not cling to unreasonable childhood nightmares no matter how often I wet the bed. I am an adult.

"Oh my gosh! Don't look, son!" I shielded his eyes.

"What? Mom, move your hands. You're getting mustard in my eyes."

"I can't, son. There's porn in this movie. It's vulgar and we're leaving. Just stand up and keep your eyes closed. I'll guide you out."

"Mom, there is no porn in this movie. Please uncover my eyes."

"Honey, there are giant penises with razor sharp teeth attacking people. One just bit somebody's head off. Why it isn't circumcised in not our concern. Maybe it's for dramatic effect. But it's still death by penis and we are not watching it."

"Lady!" the guy in front of me scowled, "Give the kid a break, will ya!"

"Sir," I scolded him gently, "I'm his mother. Stay out this."

"Ma'am," his wife whispered, "Those are leeches."

Payback is hell. I never should have mentioned the marble statue and the Twinkie wrapper.

Monday, January 16, 2006

My Dirty Mouth

My comment on a blog was censored. Nope. It's nobody you know.

I related a story about how, on an eighth grade field trip, a young brown haired dimpled faced girl (who shall remain nameless) decided that the prominently carved marble genitalia of a particularly large statue was a good place to hang her empty Twinkie wrapper and my comment was blocked for questionable material.

That was a relevant story with valuable metaphoric connotations. What were those valuable metaphoric connotations? I don't remember. I am too busy laughing hysterically that I, me, this person in front of you, the person whose blog you are reading, the person who nary pens or speaks a foul word ever, GOT CENSORED!

To quote Ted and Terry (not Jack Sparrow cuz he didn't write these words, he only spoke them), "Funny ol' world, ain't it?"

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Screenwriting & Sewing Part 3

Geez, I hate identifying my own flaws. It's maddening!

Yesterday, my sister arrived at my house with the sewing machine that Santa brought her. I've been sewing since I was sixteen and this past Christmas, most of my gifts for friends and family were sewn. I made wall organizers, receiving blankets, quilts, stuffed animals, pillow cases and baby bibs. My sister was eager to plug in her machine and start pumping out cleverly crafted goodies for her daughter's chearleading squad. It didn't happen. She didn't know how to sew.

She was frustrated that it took hours for her to learn how to thread her machine, work her bobbin, and cut out a pattern. I thought my sister did well for her first day at the machine. At the end of the day, which she counted as a failure, she'd succeeded in creating a sleeve for small pillow shaped like a letter "A". That's more than I learned on my first day of sewing.

Then it hit me.

One small quilt takes me about 48 hours of cutting, placing, piecing, and sewing ... not two days. I mean 48 hours spread out over as many days as it takes depending on how much time I put in each day and that's only because I've been sewing for such a long time. But that's what my sister wanted to accomplish in one day.

Produced screenwriters have worked at their craft most of their adult lives. I've been writing screenplays for two years.

Ahem. Point taken.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Need More Cowbell!

Ah, good times... Will Ferrell in the SNL Blue Oyster Cult Skit where Bruce Dickinson, played by Christopher Walken, says "I need more cowbell!" Funny stuff. Not funny if that's the kind of advice you're getting on your screenplay.

I won't post my work on those online screenwriters' groups. I just don't like 'em. First of all, I don't like people reading my unfinished work. Period. Secondly, most of the reviews I've read are by amateurs who make a cursory read of somebody's work and then make suggestions that have no solid purpose or are based on personal preference. The result is hard feelings and questionable rewrites based on unqualified recommendations.

I'm not opposed to seeking a read from somebody who knows what they're doing but bottom line is that if the writer himself doesn't know WHY he wrote something the way he did, he's not ready for anyone to read it anyway.

Many writers who frequent these sites do make sales, do win contests, do opt screenplays and do have constructive things to say. Several professionals even drop in on some of these sites. Nothing in this post is meant to construe that we're all a bunch of ignoramuses. But when you put your work out there, you don't know who is gonna read it. And seriously, do I really need screenwriting advice from some guy who has never been to film school, changes oil for a living, has an eleventh grade education and just finished his first screenplay about street racing vampires? Hey, he may be a genius and there may even be a market for street racing vampires. But the odds are good that he's gonna tell me he needs more cowbell.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Heroes and Monsters

A recent thread on another board about "heroes" gave me pause. The statement was made that "to be a hero, you really have to stand out and, quite frankly, most humans don't qualify."


Naturally, the definition of "hero" is as subjective as the person making the evaluation and "hero" is also a relative term, particularly in writing. But does a person really have to stand out to be a hero?

Point One:
"Hero" qualities can be internal in our characters and acts of heroism may blend in with the rest of the world.

If a bunch of millionaires each give a hundred dollars to Katrina relief, few people would think them generous and even fewer would find them heroic because it took no act of courage, self sacrifice, or moral fortitude for them to give away their pocket change. However, if a woman is earning eight dollars an hour and supports three children alone, then gives away the only hundred dollars she has, her sacrifice may be very heroic. Did she stand out? Doubtful. Her contribution was minute relative to the need. Does that make her less of a hero?

Point Two:
Be careful that in attempting to create a hero, you don't create a monster. (unless your intent is to create a complex part hero/part monster character)

Yeah, that has you shaking your head.

I'm reminded of a form I was once asked to fill out for a volunteer position working with children. One of the questions asked if I was sexually abused as a child. I was. When I questioned the validity of such a cruelly invasive question, I was told that most child molestors were molested as children. Uh huh. So what? Most molested children certainly do not grow up to be child abusers. All poodles are dogs. Most dogs are not poodles.

This organization believed that by making victims stand out, they were somehow protecting children. But what they were really doing is victimizing adult survivors of childhood abuse. In other words, while searching for monsters, they became one.

I didn't teach that year because I wouldn't fill out the form. They said I could skip the question. That didn't change the fact that it was wrong. Fine, they said. We love you. Don't fill out the form at all. Just teach. Nope. What about all those other people you don't know and love that still have to fill it out and are unjustly looked upon as potential threats? I found an attorney.

You may not think the attorney was a hero. It was ONE question. It was a form. He didn't stand out. He didn't rescue anyone from a burning car. He didn't take a bullet. But to all those people who don't have to feel accountable for something that was out of their control, he is a hero. Well, he would be if they knew... but since the question isn't there, they probably don't know and he doesn't stand out. Does that make him less of a hero?

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. Friedrich Nietzsche

UPDATE: Found these "hero" related blogs written by people who actually know what they're talking about.

John August's Theory of Heroic Relativity

Craig Mazin's Subtle Hero

Terry Rossio's Impressive Failure

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Meme, Been Tagged!

Joel's meme is spreading liking a Texas wildfire . . . or something that you doctor with a cream that the pharmacist keeps in a plain brown wrapper and hides under the counter. Moving on . . .

Okay, memes are lists of questions that someone posts on their blog with their own answers and at the end "tag" others do the same. This particular meme was begun by Fun Joel and made its way to me via a tag from Todd. Yay! I've been noticed.

Earliest film related memory:
My grandmother and aunt were fanatical Elvis fans. I remember being about five years old at a drive-in with them watching A Change of Habit starring Elvis Presley and Mary Tyler Moore. It was a terrifying departure from Elvis' other films and I have since not been able to hear the name Julio (the nun raping villain) without cringing.

TWO favorite lines from movies:
"I don't gotta do nothin' but stay black and die!"
- Lean on Me
"Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm a schizophrenic... and so am I!"
- What About Bob?

THREE (3) jobs you'd like to do besides writing:
* Teach music
* Graphic artist
* Museum curator

Four (4) jobs you've actually held outside the industry:
* Church Secretary
* Police Dispatcher
* Searching Female Prisoners
* Camera Sales at Sears

THREE (3) book authors you enjoy:
Rafael Sabatini, Alexandre Dumas, Robert Louis Stevenson

TWO (2) movies you'd like to remake or properties you'd like to adapt:
* Anansi Boys - book by Neil Gaiman
* Whatever Happened to Baby Jane - not only do I want to write it, I want to play Jane! "But ya AAH Blanche, ya AAH in that chair!"

ONE (1) screenwriter you think is underrated:
Steve Martin. Wait. Underrated by who? Never mind. I still say Steve Martin!

THREE (3) people I'm tagging to answer this meme next:
Julie O

MEME UPDATE: Lee Thomson's website has a Hall of Fame of participants and deadbeats who won't play. He has time on his hands.

People's Choice Awards

Okay, so I commented on the Critics' Choice Awards, I guess comments about the 32nd Annual People's Choice Awards (Butts in the Seats Popularity Contest) are somewhat obligatory. Just locate any Associated Press feed for a list of winners and the accompanying photo of Ellen Degeneres filming the audience as she receives her award. I won't be inventorying winners here. But boy, oh boy, oh boy! What a ride and there's no shortage of other things to comment on.

My greatest annoyances of the night:

(1) Those insulting Crest Best Smile, Nice 'n Easy Favorite Hair and Olay Total Effects Awards. Good grief. Once again, my advertising background says "this is a good thing" but the consumer in me says, "great way to make each and every award handed out look like a sticker from the dentist's office."

(2) George Lopez - Dude, you forgot to insult your mother. But that's okay, you persecuted a woman who just separated from her husband and almost made her cry even though she had just seduced the entire audience so I guess it all evens out.

(3) Ray Romano - Bullying your kids to come onto the stage didn't make you look like father of the year.

(4) Only heard two recipients acknowledge the writers.

(5) Craig Ferguson. It just didn't work. Enough said.

Most amusing parts of the program to me:

(1) The high school pep rally environment was more fun than the stiff awards shows and it made the time go by faster.

(2) Harrison Ford is looking more and more like George Lucas.

(3) Johnny Depp's acceptance via satellite. The guy is sharp and he's very well spoken when he wants to be. Last night, he was ill at ease (probably intentionally - he is, after all, an actor) and it was endearing.

(4) Peace Out! - Oh, yay, hippie cliches are "in" again.

(5) Sandra Bullock's near wardrobe malfunction when she leaned over to brush hands with fans in the pit.

(6) Jennifer Garner, via satellite, wearing a giant black blanket disguised as a dress which was probably designed to hide baby weight.

(7) Ellen videotaping the audience. Another endearing moment, silly as it was. She was unrehearsed and appealed to the regular folk. There's a quiet genius about her that way. Don't know much about her program, but geez, she won the popularity contest over Oprah!

--- and the Batchellor Award goes to ---

(8) Angus T. Jones - Ray Romano dragged the Two and a Half Men star out of the audience after Ray's own kids dissed him. When Romano made a remark to the effect of "what's better than working with me?", Angus' quick unscripted reply was "working with Charlie Sheen".

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Critics' Choice Awards

Did we all watch this? Did any of us watch this? No, I don't mean that scene from Crash. I'm talking about the Broadcast Film Critics Association's 11th annual Critics' Choice Awards that aired last night where presenter after presenter read teleprompter comments along the lines of "for the last three, four, or six years, the Critic's Choice in this category has also won the Oscar". Although carefully worded, eventually it began to smack of "as the Critics' Choice goes, so follows the Oscar so get your speech ready if you win". I think I would have been a little peaved if I were a voting member of the Academy.

You can catch up on who won what some place else (try www.theenvelope.latimes.com). What I want to point out are some of the things that were said.

Writer-director Paul Haggis accepted the trophy for best screenplay and said, "We never thought we'd get this movie made." He also commented that he and Bobby Moresco initially didn't think the screenplay was a movie or even a screenplay. Interesting that the little voice of doubt does not discriminate, but visits professionals and amateurs alike.

Amy Adams, who shared her Best Supporting Actress win with Michelle Williams, was the night's small films cheerleader saying, "Can you believe we made this for less than a million dollars?" and "Any of you out there who has a small movie to make, I'm telling you: Do it!" Gee, Amy, thanks, I'll be dropping by later so you can read my little Indy prequels to June Bug entitled April Showers and May Flowers. (that's a joke, people)

While I'm highly UNqualified to make any Oscar predictions and I'm certainly not suggesting that Brokeback Mountain didn't deserve the awards it received last night, I genuinely would like to see Crash get the Oscar for best picture, not just because I think it IS the best picture, but also to disprove the "as the Critic's Choice goes, so goes the Oscar" theory.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Spoonful of Spielberg?

Apparently, the news/rumor started circulating around the end of December so I'm lagging. But, Richard Eyre, the former head of the National Theatre and director of the blockbuster West End musical based on the 1964 Disney film, has revealed that he has been in talks with Spielberg over a new film version of Mary Poppins.

Perhaps Spielberg's genius is so far over my head . . .

Maybe he . . .

Maybe I just don't . . .

Oh, skip it. Just Google it for yourself. I can't go there.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Screenplay Sales Statistics

Ever feel like Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark, clutching a golden idol and running for your life only to fall into a pit right in front of a steadily closing stone gate?

According to Hollywood Reporter (Dec 23-25 issue), 77 specs were purchased in 2005. Now this is a very troubling statistic because we really have no specific number of written, pitched, and optioned specs to calibrate it against. The only number I know to use is the number of screenplays registered with WGA in 2005 which, last I heard, was in the 30,000 range. Ouch.

Of course, we don't know how many of those were first drafts, rewrites, etc so maybe we should knock a few off. Whatcha think? Five thousand sound good? Okay, done.

Another thing we don't know is how many unregistered scripts and scripts are being queried, pitched, and bandied about in front of directors and producers so maybe we ought to put that five thousand back.

Roughly then, we are looking at 77 out of 30,000 specs actually sold in 2005. Naturally, these numbers are unscientific and unreliable. But for lack of other factors, it's what I have to go on. So approximately one out of 389 scripts in 2005 was bought. But wait, what about all those scripts from other years? If we estimated 10,000 per year for the past five years, then we have to add 50,000 scripts and something tells me that is a very conservative number. Even so, that's, at a minimum, one in about 1100 scripts.

That's a narrow gate and I think it's overly conservative but for the sake of argument, I'll use it anyway. Besides, I have a knack for beating much larger odds.

Women have a one in a million chance of getting pregnant taking the form of birth control I was using 21 years ago. No skill involved. I beat those odds.

Women have a much smaller chance, one in ten million, of getting pregnant using a secondary form of birth control along with those little pink liars doctors call birth control pills. Well, I beat those odds, too. He's sixteen now.

One in 7000 babies is born with some form of cranio anomoly. Got one.

One in 2000 babies is born with a cleft palate. Got one. Sister got two.

One in three cleft children are born per every 100 members of a family with this genetric tendency. We got four.

Statistics, as my advertising background taught me, can be manipulated to put whatever spin you want on them and a lot depends on your source, unknown variables, and whether the stats have changed since they were last reported. So, I guess you can make them say pretty much whatever you want.

For me, however, I seem to have a gift for beating ugly odds when there is no skill involved. I'm thinking that with some hard work and talent, one in 1100 is a shoe in.

Oh, and for the enquiring minds, when doctors asked if I wanted my tubes tied, burned, or cut, my answer was, "Can't you do all three?"

They did.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Online Screenwriting Relationships

What a peculiar and miraculous facilitator the internet is for cultivating screenwriting relationships. Obscure nobodies develop email, instant message, and blog relationships with screenwriters, directors, movie stars and producers who wouldn't consider entering into a discussion with that same person through old fashioned fan mail.

In the two years that I've been screenwriting (wow, only two years) I've talked to several aspiring writers who have begun a promising career with the assistance of a big name they met online. That's great. In this way, I think internet relationships can be a very good thing.

Yet I've talked to others who left their spouses for other aspiring writers as well as one or two screenwriting wannabes who actually wound up having an intimate relationship with an amateur or professional screenwriter that they "met" online. Depending on circumstances, I'm not sure this is such a good thing.

While I would assume that these "romance" situations only occurred after the two people actually followed up their online discussions with a face to face meeting at a film festival, coffee shop, or book signing and only after they subsequently shared a drink, meal, or a few good laughs, this is not the story I've gotten from those aspiring screenwriters who kiss and tell. Most say they got very personal before a face to face meeting to which I ask some poignant and somewhat disturbing questions.

Huh??? Grownups? Educated people? Getting emotionally involved with somebody they have never laid eyes on? And writers, no less!! It doesn't compute and here is why...

If you meet a "writer" online and your entire relationship is based on what you "write" to one another over a computer, what would lead you believe that you have an accurate portrayal of this person's thoughts, personality, values, and goals? This person is a writer! If he is a good one, he can portray himself as any type of person as may be necessary to attract attention.

Imagine, for a moment, dating an actor. Now, I'm not talking about the kind of role playing we do in every day relationships, but a professional actor who earns a living faking it for the camera. When are they genuine? When are they acting? Did you really make her cry or is she wheedling a new diamond bracelet out of you? Is he really late because he had a flat tire in the rain or did he soak himself with the garden hose before he entered the front door?

That's the way I see online relationships with writers. Writing is what they do. Writers are who they are. How do you know if something written is contrived for your benefit?

Naturally, I must admit that there are probably some good relationships that began this way. But the tales I've read smack of heartache, frustration, insecurity, and mistrust. Of course, each of these accounts was given to me ... ahem ... by a writer.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Confessions of a Monkie Junkie

I'm the worst kind of television fan which is no fan at all. I enjoy television but I don't sweat the clock on any certain night because "my show" is on and I get genuinely annoyed with people who cut short meetings, meals, and rehearsals because they have to rush home and watch Survivor or some other television show. My advertising background tells me that program obsession is a very good thing. But my geek-monitor tells me that these poor schmucks have no life. Besides, haven't they heard of TiVo? VCRs? Reruns?

I like television. Really, I do. But I don't give a program much thought once it's in my recent past.

There are a few exceptions, of course.

I do like American Idol. I can't help it. I'm a singer. It's a law, I think. But, life comes first so if I miss an episode, no big whoop.

I do like The Apprentice. I can't help it. Donald Trump wears mind-controlling ties. But, I miss plenty of episodes. Thursday is one of my only free nights and I don't want to spend every one of them in front of the television.

I love Monk. No explanation necessary. He's Monk.

When I learned that Lee Goldberg was writing mystery novels about Monk, I pre-ordered the first one from Barnes and Noble, but it wasn't in my mailbox on January 3rd as promised. I couldn't wait so I called every book store within driving distance until I found one with copies. Then, I took off work and instead of going to see my brother on his birthday, bought my book and promptly went home where I sat up the entire night reading it cover to cover.

But hey, I do NOT obsess over him. While I do, now and then, put into practice certain safety tips I learn from the program and am a little more particular about food preparation, anti-bacterial soap, and the alignment of picture frames, I am not obsessive.

I am merely a fan.
A fan who has twenty four brown suits.
But hey, doesn't everyone?

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Patrimonial Storytelling

I refer back to all those arguments about skill versus talent, how much of each is inherent and how much can be acquired. If you've not read any such arguments, most of them have been duked out in several multi-thread arguments on Wordplayer. Happy reading. I'll not attempt to recapitulate them. Instead, I introduce you to the Canadian side of my heritage.

Middle of the picture is Margaret, my great grandmother. To one side of her is my great aunt, Florence. I only call her that because you, not knowing her personally, would not want to call her Aunt Flossie as I did the one and only time in my life I ever met her. I was eight. Just behind Margaret is Uncle Reggie, who died in his early thirties and whom I never met. To Margaret's other side is my grandfather, Walter, whom I called Daddy Batch and lived some of my young life with up to and abruptly stopping after the first grade.

Daddy Batch was a storyteller with an appreciation for books. As a little girl, I was sometimes spooked by his outlandish tales of leprachauns hiding in the traffic signals and a very intelligent monkey that operated the electric gate where my grandfather worked as a night watchman. Why a monkey? Because monkeys work for peanuts, of course, which is also what Daddy Batch claimed they paid him, although I never saw any. I wish now that more of the stories were written down because I don't remember many of them and even those I do remember are fractured and incomplete.

I don't wish to eulogize him because like many members of my family, Daddy Batch had a dark side and a few ugly secrets not relative to his creativity. Or, are they?

Why are so many highly creative people a little on the eccentric side? Why are so many artists down right whacked in the head? Maybe they aren't really, but are simply misunderstood. Perhaps there was nothing extraordinary at all about that German artist that wanted his dead body fed to piranhas in front of zoological students while somebody poked him with a stick to make his lifeless body seem alive and inviting to the flesh eating fish.

In 2001, I cajoled my aunt Sharon into taking a trip to Canada where we visited the childhood home of Daddy Batch, Sharon's father, and where his brother Reggie's widow still lives. We visited the church where he married my grandmother (and source of my name) and found the grave of a distant uncle Ben who tied us to the cousins I had met through some online geneology.

From Reggie's wife, Aunt Edna, we gleaned some history. Some of it was good. Some of it was not so good. But one very interesting thing we learned is that the other children in the photo were also storytellers. Many of the stories were written down and lost. Some were told in letters from Reggie to Edna while he was in the army. Others were just passed around because there was nothing better to do. But each of them told stories.

One of these stories was about Daddy Batch's grandfather, John, who disappeared one winter night after he left his Bible study class to walk home in a snowstorm. His body washed up on the shores of Parry Sound in the spring and it was generally assumed that he fell through the ice and drowned. I am not so certain though.

Maybe he just didn't know that there were no piranhas in Ontario.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Leftover Story Ideas

Dry skin is uncomfortable any time of the year, but winter is especially miserable. I have dozens of partially emptied bottles of body lotion in my bathroom. I find a new brand or scent and buy the lotion, use it for about a month, and then lose interest or just grow tired of it. This month's winner is a brand from Tigi's Bed Head for Body line called Creamy Dreamy Orange. Really good stuff! I hope this bottle (at $12.95) will get used in its entirety. But the truth is, I only empty about one out of ten or so and the rest get stashed away in the cabinet and forgotten.

This is similar to what I do with story ideas.

I have journals full of story ideas. Some of these ideas, I've fleshed out into articles, columns or short stories. A few have been developed into screenplays. Others lost their charm the moment I pulled my notebook out at the stoplight and scribbled them down. Some made it halfway through the outline. On average, I would say I only fully develop one out of every ten or so ideas.

About once a year, usually right after Christmas, I clean out my bathroom cabinets and box up half used body lotions along with cosmetic mistakes, nail polishes, and frangrance gifts I didn't like, and I let my sisters and nieces take what they want. I never have leftovers and they get some very cool stuff that they would have never bought themselves like that great smelling Mimosa body butter by Ulta that I was so fond of a few months back.

Not so with my story ideas.

Periodically, I look back at my story ideas and am inspired to finish outlining one, adjust one, or combine a couple of them. Sometimes, I actually flesh out an old idea and wonder why I ever set it aside or I rough out a draft of a story that I never outlined. But, in this instance, the rough draft actually serves AS an outline. Whatever becomes of them, story ideas don't leave my possession.

Some day, probably when my bones are dust, somebody is going to find my old journals and either think I was a cockeyed genius or a mad eccentric for keeping them the same way a little old lady might save margarine containers, hat boxes, latex gloves, and bread sacks.

Speaking of gloves, I really must tend to my chapped hands now. Thirty degree weather one day and eighty degrees the next plays havoc on my hands. I wonder if I still have any of that Mimosa body butter...