Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Writing from Angst

Some of the most disturbed minds have achieved immortality through the written word. How do they get so disburbed?

I know one way -- We live in a world where we're forced to put our faith in people and people who put their faith in other people are setting themselves up for disappointment.

It's a sick rule. We must trust people. They will disappoint us.

This is true of all relationships - work, family, neighbors, church, politics, school - yet the ant colony structure of society demands that we trust somebody with our money, our health decisions, and even the care of our children.

Deny it though we may, we cannot go through a single day of our lives without putting our faith in somebody for something - even strangers. No wonder we're whacked. Who can remain sane when -

  • We trust that the guy in the car next to us will stay in his lane?
  • We trust that the chef didn't spit in our meal?
  • We trust that the payroll lady will cut our checks on time?

Hmm? Who? It's maddening.

We may not even realize a bond exists until it is broken. Somebody swerves into our lane or we find a foreign object in our food or our paycheck is late and suddenly, the bond is broken. We feel cheated. It's not fair. That person had an obligation and didn't fulfil it.

But what happens when we KNOWINGLY and PURPOSELY put our faith in another person or system of some kind and they fail us?


In my profession, several odd things have taken place this month and most of us are doing the best we can to maintain the public trust. That's a very good thing. We owe the public that. The problem is that, in the process, something was overlooked. Me. The obvious and normal route that most every other city in the State of Texas would have taken under this circumstance isn't being taken. It's weird. Not illegal. But weird. In this instance, that path was me.

The people who should speak up, aren't. Speaking up on my own behalf is unethical and remaining silent hurts like hell. Such is the way these situations work now and then.

It's not personal. It's just politics.

We exist in a twisted society where the lazy are frequently rewarded and the self absorbed are exalted while the driven and sincere are often overlooked. Why? Because decent, hard working people are too busy taking care of their responsibilities to advertise and role play.

It's no wonder so many masterpieces are written in frustration.

I'm disturbed. Give me a pen.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The End is Here

Prepare yourself, people. The tips of my fingers may burn right off as I type these words -- I just wasn't that inspired by At World's End.

Among many flickers of brilliance are Jack Sparrow's preoccupation with size and a cameo by his mum. But for all Jack's prancing and Barbossa's nostril flaring, the film lacks the charm and tempo and adrenaline that I've come to expect.

The cinematography can't compare to the artistic mastery of the second film and many portions actually feel like rough cuts. I'm guessing that editors fell victim to a cruel and merciless taskmaster - the release date.

The story complexities and character nuances that compelled me to watch the first two Pirates of the Caribbean films over and over seem to be missing from this one and with all the side changing and betrayal going on, I frequently felt like I was watching a Homer's Odyssey version of Deal or No Deal.

I was predisposed to love At World's End but basically, my heart didn't flutter. I think I even heard it snore a time or two and for such disloyalty to my favorite writers, I should cut the treacherous thing out and lock it into a chest.

But I was warned. The foreshadowing was there.

Early in the film, we actually cross through hell frozen over.

Maybe I'd better watch the movie again just to be sure . . .

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Pimping Storytellers

Spring Storytellers Series
Writers Guild Theater
135 S. Doheny Drive
Beverly Hills, CA

Thursday, May 24, 7:30pm

Thursday, June 21, 7:30pm

$20 - gen. admission
$15 - WGA members and faculty
$10 - Full-time students

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Messed Up Reality

Ever watched a film and bought the situational reality only to suddenly be jerked out into some other reality? Life can be like that.

Insane month. Prom. Graduation. Career decisions. Relatives. House to clean. A crisis or two at work and then the unspeakable. Near disaster for my family and horror for somebody else's.

No details. We move on.

Or, try.

But even when the bad guy loses, the fear lingers. Reality doesn't exist anymore. There's only the nightmare. People are still mowing their lawns and buying cappuccino as if nothing happened. But that's not reality. The nightmare is reality. I'm still readying my house for guests and ordering food for graduation. It's not real. Only the nightmare is real.

Weird. In time, it will be the other way around.

But let's use this.

When I get back to it, I'll study situational reality in film that doesn't work. I'm taking movie suggestions where the reality is disjointed, contradicts itself, or is not credible. The first one that comes to mind is Failure to Launch where an "out of harmony with nature" theme causes animals to bite. What have you got?

I think the study will be useful because while I was copycatting Unknown Screenwriter to find the most popular ways readers arrive here, I found that serious screenwriters often drop by. Most use bookmarks or links, arrive looking for information on battle speeches and protagonist deaths, or are researching character development. That is uber-cool. U-B-E-R. People are getting something they can use (and probably plagiarize on their term papers) from this blog so I'm inspired to put the time and work into writing better articles.

Plus, I get to feel important, puff out my chest, and pretend I actually know something.

However --

Now and then, a search engine answers a question by picking one word or phrase from multiple posts and sends some poor schmuck to my door where I deliver squat. No oasis of knowledge here. Today's goose chase is courtesy of a Yahoo search for "Does anyone in Amarillo, Texas do penile implants?" - Yeah. Good luck with that.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

My Date With Chris Daughtry

... and my boys and several thousand other people Saturday night reminded me that I'm really not so old after all. Then the woman my age-ish in front of us was about to take her shirt off and I had to point out that my youngest was only twelve and gravity was not her friend. She might get grass burns. Suddenly I was old again.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Who's Your Audience?

While squealing girls, Jack-o-holics, and pirate fans worldwide are waiting for Captain Jack to stagger back onscreen May 25th, rumors of his confusing storyline are already burning up keyboards. At World's End is sure to be dissed by critics for not dumbing down to audiences in the same way Dead Man's Chest was criticized for being too complex to follow. But the wallet of the viewer is louder than the voice of the critic and the reason this franchise works is because Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio know exactly who they are writing for.

Okay, there are a whole lot of other reasons the POTC films work -- Depp, Bloom, Verbinski, Bruckheimer, Rick Heinrichs, Penny Rose, Hans Zimmer... it goes on and on.

The point here is that all of these guys know there's a great packhorse made up of POTC fans carrying this trilogy on its back into mind-numbing legendary explosiveness and it's that beast that has to be fed -- not the critics.

Whatever the genre, don't write for somebody else's audience. You aren't Stan Lee. You aren't Nora Ephron. You aren't J. K. Rowling. You aren't Steve Martin. You aren't even Ted Elliott or Terry Rossio. Don't write for their audiences.

Who's your audience?

It's not the critics.

Oh, my aching back.

Friday, May 11, 2007


This loss of purpose and vacancy we writers feel if we aren't a perpetual sally port of our otherwise stifled creativity is a twisted addiction to the written word.

Or, just plain insanity.

Scarcely three weeks have passed since I ended a six month marathon rewrite and while my personal and professional commitments demand that I breathe, regroup, think about some immediate career issues, and get through all the preparations and bombardment of superfluous chaos that accompany the middle son's high school graduation, I find myself sketching character notes in the middle of the night.


The clock says 4:00 a.m. It's flashing at me. Shut up, clock. I know I need to sleep. It's reminding me that tomorrow is a busy day. I have a couple of job related things to do, gotta go vote in the local elections, got a lawn to mow, housecleaning to do , miscellaneous repairs to make, birthday gifts to buy, and a list of stuff to make sure the boys get done. What's the use of having sons if you don't make them clean the shed and paint the front door?

Stupid clock.

Shut up, already.

It doesn't know there's no rehab for writers.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Not a Love Connection

An old high school friend found my blog the other day and dissed me for wasting my time chasing rainbows and for not having a real writing career anymore. He wanted to know when I was going to do the world a favor and get real again.


Glad I skipped that last reunion. Can you imagine making chit chat with that pompous windbag over punch?

Still, he has a point. I may never amount to anything. But I make more money than he does and I haven't been divorced five times. I'd have said so, too, except Terry Rossio prepared me with a better reply in his somewhat now infamous Throw in the Towel column which says:

Once you've satisfied yourself that you've given every effort, and failed, and it's no longer fun to you, then it is, truly, time to find a new challenge and move on. Something else that will bring more satisfaction.
So, when my former chum asked when I was going to quit chasing rainbows, I told him I'd quit when I didn't like rainbows anymore -- or whenever screenwriting got in the way of my exceptional income. Government work is good and writing on my yacht is therapeutic. Wanna meet me for golf Monday? Oh wait. You gotta work.

The moron.

He deserved it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Newbie Reality Check

I almost didn't write this post because I know somebody will misconstrue it as an attack on indy films. It's not. I love indy films. Some of the greatest films ever made are indy films. What this post is meant to be is a warning to newbie writers, like myself, that an indy filmmaker can be anyone from Clint Eastwood to the guy who delivers your dry cleaning. That guy who delivers your dry cleaning may be making a rockin' good little film. It doesn't have to be huge to be good. But, know what you're getting yourself into.

Making an independent film requires taking certain risks. Getting involved with an independent filmmaker also requires taking risks. So far, those risks have never paid off for me. That doesn't mean I shouldn't take risks at all. It just means that I haven't been very smart so far about the risks I've chosen to take.

Hence, I impart my wisdom (or decided lack of it) to other writers.

It's not a game of chance. I hate that analogy. Sure, there's always a little bit of luck involved in most aspects of every day life. I'm lucky to find a good avocado in the produce aisle and I'll be very lucky to find flowers for my son's date to the prom because she hates roses and lucky me, orchids don't match her dress.

What kind of girl hates roses? The sicko.

What I'm talking about is, when choosing to work with an indy filmmaker, making a decision that requires processing calculated liability and effort against estimated benefits and gain.

Sounds like math.

I'm terrible at math.

Since this post has nothing to do with algebraic geometry, homological algebra, or functional analysis, I ought to be able to scribble out some kind of payoff in the next few paragraphs. If not, well, you know, I shouldn't have made the math comparison.

Almost anyone can be a filmmaker these days. Technology is increasingly accessible and affordable and even the high school kids in my small town are buying cameras and making their own films. I didn't say you can buy a camera at Walmart and make Star Wars in the garage, but you can probably make something like Thumb Wars in the garage with a camera, computer, a few friends and some good software.

I often hear that new writers need to become producers. I understand this advice. I do. I also understand and admire the commitment to film that drives a writer to undertake the enormous task of making his own film. But I don't want to make my own film. Orchestrating a film requires all those management and public relations things that take me away from writing and I want to write.

However, if a writer doesn't want to make his own film, there may be an indy filmmaker out there willing to make it for him. Did you see that word "may" and that other word "willing"? Those are very iffy words. Still, if the studios aren't parking private jets in your backyard and you don't want to make your own film, indy might be the way for you to go. They're more likely to read your spec and return your call.

The numbers of indy filmmakers out there are inestimable. Some are brilliant. Others aren't. Some have budgets. Others are honest about their lack of budgets. Many indies are recruiting writers with their tales of Hollywood contacts and millionaire financiers in foreign countries. Sometimes, these filmmakers want us to give away our specs for an executive producer credit. They may offer small options or purchases but often, it's all talk and that talk is paid for on our own phone bills. Some of these deals are worth it. Some are a joke. Not literally, but yeah, literally.

We newbies are easy to persuade. We want so much to believe that we're finally about to be recognized as the great artists that we surely must be that we're willing to give away a year or two of work for a shaky promise.

How shaky is too shaky for you? Too shaky for me might be just fine for you. It all depends on how much risk YOU are willing to take.

I've never seen anyone detail their indy disappointments online and I don't intend to detail mine but what I say here is from personal experience. I'm not taking this from a magazine or anyone else's blog. I've done some incredibly stupid things. I've also made some amazing contacts and really good friends by going down some indy paths. But, because I was given a reality check early on by a professional writer, I wasn't surprised when the disappointments came. I didn't like it, but I wasn't surprised.

So, if you are a newbie, this is your reality check. While you're weighing your options and calculating your risks, there are a few things you should know:

(1) Not all Hollywood contacts are valuable. I'm sorry. They aren't. Some of them are schmucks and liars and people living in Mommy's garage and using a borrowed cell phone. A single indy film credit on IMDB does not necessarily mean this person talking to you is a contact you must nurture. Have you seen the film? Is it something you would make? Is this a controlling, manipulative, or patronizing person that makes you cringe? Burning bridges is bad. Very bad. But you aren't a doormat either. You still have the right to say 'no'.

(2) There is no billionaire looking for a script to finance. There never is. What you will encounter are salespeople. Like you, they're looking for a break and they need you. You see, you're a writer and they aren't (stole that line from Joe Eszterhas). They're trying to make money off you. That's not necessarily a bad thing as long as you know that's what they're doing and as long as you realize that there's no financier in love with your work. Somebody is chasing a financial lead. That's it. That's all. If, even that much.

(3) People will try to get you to work for free. Trust me on this one. It will come in all kinds of disguises. It may come to you in the guise of a collaboration where you wind up doing all the work. It may even arrive as a big name Hollywood star looking for that perfect script and all you need to do is write a treatment. Hurry up. She's waiting for it! My foot. What you've got is a guy who knows a lawn man who knows somebody who is sleeping with a lady who knows where said A lister gets her hair extensions. I'm not saying you shouldn't collaborate with a writer you already know. Some of the most successful writers in the world are collaborators. I'm saying don't get buffalo'd into giving your work away. Even the smallest indy can pony up $250 for an option. (please don't take this as advice to opt for $250 - talk to your attorney or agent)

There are truly great indy films out there and somebody, somewhere, had to take a chance on them.

Be smart about which indy paths you take and KNOW now that you WILL take some wrong ones. Each day that passes, you have more research and resources available to you than the day before. That puts you at an advantage over people who had nobody to warn them. Every indy path I've gone down so far has been wanky. Every single one. But that doesn't mean I regret taking them. Okay, I do regret some of them. But it's kind of like math. I made sorry grades in every math subject I ever took in school. But, I couldn't get through life right now if I hadn't taken them.

Oh, and as for my son's date to the prom, these pics are from my yard. Last count, I had about fifty five rose bushes. Not smart, boy. Not smart at all. Talk about a risk taker. Dating a girl who hates roses? But, he's good in math.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Perpetual Apprentice

My notes, drafts, and collection of screenplays and screenwriting books are out of control. I hate clutter. Tough trait for a writer. Time to shred bad writing and move a few books from the rolling wire bins under the bed to cedar foot lockers in the garage.

Why shred bad drafts? Because if they aren't good enough to be produced while I'm alive, I sure don't want anyone reading them when I'm dead. I save the portions worth saving, clearly mark them as rough drafts, and ditch the rest.

Of course, a person only has to scan the web for bad writing I've left etched into eternity online. Not much I can do about that unless I have early warning and time to delete my blog before I die. Even then, my footprints will still be all over the place. Still, there's much to be learned from the good, the bad, and the ugly so I refuse to delete the post about my first grade singing serpent with the British accent and Davy Jones haircut.

The other day my son noticed that I had bought the paperback screenplay for a film that I loathe and he marveled that I had even dog-eared pages and highlighted certain passages. While I'm not going to waste my breath explaining to a teenager how my whole "learning from other screenwriters" thing works, it merits mentioning here because it's probably true of all of us.

So, here goes --

True, I have very few "favorite" screenwriters but I can appreciate a writer's skills without being particularly fond of the results. While I may be a fan of very few, I'm a student to all.