Saturday, March 31, 2007

Standing in the Ten Items Line

So the irony of me wanting so desperately to hear Morgan Freeman and Brad Silberling at the screening of 10 Items or Less is that the only way I had a shot at getting in was by standing in a very long line and hoping somebody would pluck me out of the line because I look like a rich film hottie or relative of Morgan Freeman.

I look like neither.

This film has been oversold since day two. DOH! I'm not the only one who didn't get in. I can always see the film on Cstar or buy it from Amazon, but that's not the point. I wanted to hear what Morgan Freeman and Brad Silberling had to say.

Had I purchased the festival pass that would guarantee me the primo screenings, I'd have missed most of them due to three funerals and my work, rehearsal and performance schedule this week. So, I opted to buy individual film tickets instead of blowing a lot of money and consequently missed out on the one film I wanted to see the most.

That's life. Or, in this case, death.

Mortality sucks.

Saw some other stuff.

Remembered to vote.

Then I stopped on the way home to pick up Happy Feet and stood in -- you guessed it -- the express lane, wondering why store owners insist on putting signs up that say "10 Items or Less" when they should read "10 Items or Fewer".

Even pouting, I'm still editing!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Not a Fan of Fishing

Friends, bloggers, and fellow screenwriters, my original intent was to blog about how far I've come on my Nicholl rewrite, detail the work I've done so far, and hint that while I'm confident that this draft is far better than anything I've written before, I could use some polishing suggestions. But, then I tripped up on my own thoughts. It was the word "hint". Why would I hint?

Why, indeed. Because all the discussion on Unk's blog about manipulative characters is turning me into a paraniod one! So, rather than spend a lot of time writing flowery crap and trying to manipulate you into posting replies that will help me become a better writer, I'll just come right out and ask for help.

Help. I need some polishing suggestions.


And, I didn't even manipulate you.

Or, did I?

Here's the rub. My screenplay is done, but I don't think my screenplay is "done". What the?? I don't think it will ever be "done". It's more like "stopped". I'm serious. I could write, improve, rewrite, and second guess this thing from now until the cows come home -- which is a very long time since I have no cows -- and it still won't be done. It's not due to nagging self doubt or a gut feeling that the screenplay is inherently flawed. It's because I don't think ANY screenplay is ever really done. You just stop editing one day.

In city government, we spend several months out of every year preparing a budget for the next fiscal year. We study fees, evaluate staff needs, look at facility issues, revise programs, and go round and round until the absolute last second the law allows. We're bound by statutory requirements to do things like hold certain hearings and publish proposed changes in effective tax rates. The calendar is a cruel task master and it demands we take the budget before the public and the governing body, ready or not. And, it's always "not". The budget is never ready. One day, you just quit working on it.

The Nicholl deadline, like that cruel task master, won't wait until I'm ready -- which, of course, I never will be. I've done these things - Tactics for Making Passes - but, I only have four weeks. What am I going to do in four weeks to turn what's at least a "pretty good" screenplay into a great one?

I'm not fishing. I'm asking.

ADDENDUM: One emailer asked how I know the screenplay is pretty good. He seems to think I have a very long way to go. Don't we all? But, it's a valid question. ANSWER -- Go get your Cheetos and fix the aluminum foil on on your rabbit ears. Montel is on.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stories, Stories, & More Stories

AFI Dallas is naturally heavy on Texas natives. Even more interesting to me than their stories on film, however, are the stories being told everywhere else. Of course, it's BECAUSE stories are told everywhere else that films get made at all.

We all have stories complete with peculiar moments, near misses, and chance meets. Sure, some stories are better than others and I can think of a few that I wish I had never heard (one in particular about a penile implant gone horribly wrong) but when I think of all the witnesses there are to remarkable, terrible, and magnificent things in this world, I wonder how anyone can NOT want to write?

Jack Valenti,former president of the Motion Picture Association of America, was scheduled to speak at the Nasher Sculpture Center on Friday. He didn't appear. The official word on March 23rd was that Valenti had a family emergency. He sure did. The 85 year old had a stroke and is hospitalized at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center in Baltimore. We're told the prognosis is good. Of course, we were told he had a "family emergency".

But that's not the story I want to tell. You see, Valenti was an aide to John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson and was aboard Air Force One in Dallas on November 22, 1963. That's him peeking over the flowers as LBJ is being sworn is as president of the United States. Look at his career and then look at the photo. What a story.

As an eight year old boy, Bill Paxton was in Worth with his father and brother at the Hotel Texas on the morning of November 22, 1963 when the president was there. Paxton, seen in the upper right hand corner of the photo, says he was lifted on the shoulders of a man he didn't even know because the man offered a kid a chance to get a better look at John F Kennedy speaking in the parking lot. Look at his career and then look at the photo. What a story.

So what, you say? Everyone has a Kennedy story? That's right. Everyone has a story.

There Just Aren't Enough Rocks

When the unspeakable happens, I am thankful for the escapism that is film. Film somehow stills the tolling mortality that ever reminds me how fleeting life can be. Film allows me to forget, at least for ninety minutes, that there is scarcely anything I can do that somebody else cannot undo out of pure petulance. And in film, evil is always crushed under the heel of virtue's boot.

Some day, I may tell you the events of this past week and the people we lost. Today is not that day. As Forest Gump would say -- "Sometimes, there just aren't enough rocks."

Community Honors Fallen Officer

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Little Hollywood in Big D

Although I've never had any desire to live in Los Angeles (there will be Texas bluebonnets in heaven, you know), I must admit that a little taste of Hollywood creates a merciless hunger for more. What must it be like to bump into filmmakers at grocery stores, pharmacies, and coffee shops like ordinary people?

Texas is aggressively working to bring the film industry in the Lone Star State and in the DFW metroplex to its full potential and AFI Dallas International is helping make giant leaps toward doing that. We also have very active film commissions statewide and locally including Dallas, Austin, Houston, and San Antonio. There's even a film commission in Amarillo and El Paso. El Paso! Do you know what is in El Paso? NOTHING. Well, nothing but room to shoot twenty eight films in the area including portions of The Day After Tomorrow and Man on Fire. And you thought El Paso was just for Mexican border and desert films, didn't you?

While AFI Dallas may not fill all 60,000 seats in its 190 films and events, as Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News said, "we're the new kid on the festival block" and Texas is serious about bringing the film industry to where the deer and the antelope have big hair and drive Chevrolet pickup trucks.

AFI Dallas
Film Screening Guide
Free Classics Showing at Victory Plaza
Texas Film Commission

Sanjaya Parody on SNL

Get your hankies. This one brought tears to MY eyes. Seen this, Linda? I need oxygen. Was that Dan Ackroyd?

Monday, March 26, 2007

10 Items or Less at AFI Dallas

Job, family, rehearsals, performances, and the unexpected death of a friend have me so rattled that bottom line -- this is the only film that I can't miss. Yeah, I know. I'm pathetic. All this stuff going on at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival in my own back yard and this is the only MUST SEE for me. Everything else is gravy and I don't know how much gravy I can fit in during the work week.

Life happens at the most inconvenient times.

As I've mentioned many times before, I am a fan of few. Morgan Freeman is one of those few. It's no secret that many a screenwriter hears Freeman's distinct voice in their heads as they create. I am one such screenwriter. Everybody has something for him to read. I am also convinced that when I die, the voice of God I hear pronouncing judgement upon me will either sound like Morgan Freeman or James Earl Jones.

Perhaps it's plain foolishness on my part, but I don't plan to pepper the men's room with copies of my screenplays or chase this man down at all. I only want to see this film and hear what he and Brad Silberling have to say about it. I'm fascinated by the film's simplicity and want to know how much of Morgan Freeman, the man, was written into Morgan Freeman, the character, in 10 Items or Less.

Tickets are only sold at the door and there's a good chance I won't get in at all. There's an awful thought.

APPEARING: Morgan Freeman, star and executive producer, and Brad Silberling, writer and director.

THE FILM: In 10 Items or Less, Morgan Freeman, playing an unnamed movie star remarkably like Morgan Freeman, is stranded at a supermarket while researching an upcoming role. Accustomed to being pampered, he doesn’t even know his own home phone number. In need of a ride, he turns to Scarlet, a crackerjack cashier. Under director Brad Silberling’s guidance, 10 Items or Less becomes an inspired buddy movie full of entertaining moments.

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday March 31, 4:30pm, The Magnolia, 3699 McKinney Ave. [Map]

Film Screening Guide
Free Classics Showing at Victory Plaza
AFI Dallas Blog

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Inland Empire at AFI Dallas Tonight

David Lynch's first movie in five years is shot on digital video and is three hours long. Since its debut at the New York Film Festival in October, the jagged narrative of Inland Empire has been called everything from an incoherent jigsaw that teases the audience into thinking it has the answers (Twin Peaks, anyone?) to Lynch's Sunset Boulevard. But what critics do seem to agree on is Laura Dern's indescribable performance in an inexplicable film.

Well, if that's that not vague enough for ya, I don't know what is.

Interesting screenwriting note: rumor has it that David Lynch wrote each scene of Inland Empire just before shooting it. Supposedly, all he had was a basic idea of what he wanted to do in the movie and wrote it as he went. This, I gotta see.

APPEARING: David Lynch, director, and star Laura Dern. The evening includes a presentation of the AFI DALLAS Star Award to David Lynch and Laura Dern.

THE FILM: In Inland Empire, an actress becomes deeply entrenched in a role when she learns that the script is a remake of a movie that was never finished because the two original leads were murdered.

WHEN & WHERE: Centerpiece Screening, Saturday March 24, 7:00pm, The Magnolia, 3699 McKinney Ave. [Map] Get there early. Tickets are $20 and the line begins at 5:30pm so it's possible, you won't get in at all. Good news, though. Encore performance at 11:00pm for $8.50.

Inland Empire on Combustible Celluloid
Inland Empire on
AFI Dallas
Film Screening Guide
Free Classics Showing at Victory Plaza

Friday, March 23, 2007

Women over 40 Screenwriting Competition

The MORE Women in Film Screenwriting and Short Film Competition is just for women over forty. You young film school hotties can't enter. This is just for us, shall we say, more seasoned hotties?

The competition is sponsored by MORE Magazine and Women in Film but has some Austin Film Festival ties as well since all but the $5000 cash prize is tied to the AFF. There's no entry fee. It's offset because you send THREE copies of your screenplay up front. No office staff costs and copying going on. You pay your fee in copies and postage.

Five finalists will be reviewed by Angela Bassett, Ilene Chaiken, Glenn Close, Lindsay Doran, Mary Hansell (screenplay competition director, Austin Film Festival), Diana Ossana, and Sela Ward.

Of course, the competition reserves the right to substitute VIP judges, substitute prizes, or grant no awards at all if all entries suck. I love that caveat. "We believe in women over 40 so much that just in case none of you can write, we reserve the right to call the whole thing off". And, it will take you longer to read all their rules than to write your screenplay.

So, for women who believe screenwriting is biased in favor of young males, this is it - a playing field only for us gals who secretly worry about arm jello.

Will winning this thing launch your career? Hmm. It may. It DOES have those AFF ties. But, let's be real. It's a new competition nobody's heard of. It certainly can't hurt your career. At least I don't think it can - unless you're like me and really don't want to win $5,000 plus prizes because it would interfere with your Nicholl eligibility.

MORE Film Contest - Celebrating Women 40+
(seriously, somebody tell them to change that tagline)

AFI Dallas Update

Several stars at the gala last night. Lauren Bacall looks amazing. Sydney Pollock knows how to shop for ties. Bill Paxton is a creepy polygamist to me (sorry, Bill, can't help it) and Lou Diamond Peter Pan hasn't aged a day since La Bamba. Or, my contacts are blurry.

Lou Diamond Phillips will appear at the El Cortez premiere at 7:30 p.m. today at the Angelika Film Center. He discusses the film with AFI here. Can't make it due to the death of a friend. Curious about this one, though, because according to the LDP interview, the script wasn't written for the main character to be autistic. LDP incorporated that later because he'd worked with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Los Angeles and saw some mannerisms in the main character that were typical of people with autism. That seems like a gigantic leap to make without a rewrite.

Oh look. Found it on Netflix. Or, is that Benjamin Braddock staring at Mrs. Robinson? Nope, it's El Cortez. Netflix says it releases on DVD March 27th (same day as Happy Feet). Okie doke. So it premieres at AFI Dallas and four days later it releases on DVD. Is that just how it goes with many Indy films or does that mean it's technically a direct to DVD?

Yeah, my newbie roots are showing again.

APPEARING: Stephen Purvis, director, and stars Lou Diamond Phillips, James McDaniel and Glenn Plummer.
THE FILM: El Cortez is about an autistic ex-con adjusting to life outside of prison when he's caught in a labyrinth of deceit and betrayal after attempting to help a wheelchair-bound miner recruit an investor to re-open a gold mine.
WHEN & WHERE: Friday March 23, 7:30pm, Angelika Film Center [Map]. Also screening Saturday March 24, 1:45pm at Angelika.

AFI Dallas

Film Screening Guide

Free Classics Showing at Victory Plaza

Thursday, March 22, 2007

AFI Dallas International Film Festival

Never heard of it? That's because tonight is the official launch of its maiden voyage. Get your last minute opening night invitation (if you're in driving distance of the DFW area) and be part of Dallas film history. Or, be able to say you were here when AFI Dallas began.

With more than 190 features, documentaries, shorts, panels, parties, and special events over the ten day period, AFI Dallas is aspiring to compete with Austin for serious cinephiles. This is a not only a creative accomplishment for Dallas, but an economic one, especially for those local supporters and corporate sponsors who expect to attract commerce and tourism to Big D. Many of the screenings taking place in the downtown Arts District.

The AFI Dallas Blog posts regular updates on schedules and screenings. Among opening night guests are Sydney Pollack and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. Yeah, you know Pollack's films and the Bermans' lyrics.

Yes, you do.

Do too.

So, ya going?

Well, what are you doing the rest of your life?

Alan and Marilyn Bergman

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Whole Writer's Co-op Thing

By now, we've all read about the co-op John Wells and several other writers formed and how it works. John August and Craig Mazin have good commentaries but I gotta tell you - and at the risk of sounding like the green rookie that I am - I still don't fully get the full impact of this. I've read everything I can on this but I need some Romper Room language.

My newbie roots are showing. A little help?

What I do understand -

I understand the basic premise and how the co-op affects these guys and the standard they could be setting for other A listers who may want to copy them. I understand the sacrifice they're making up front for the long run benefits and the example this sets for the profession of writing. But these are some of Hollywood's highest paid writers. So, yes, the likes of Ted Elliott and Craig Mazin and John August should take notice.

What I don't understand - Is this for A listers only?

Would this same concept work at all for Hollywood's not so coveted writers? Seems to me that this has almost nothing to do with anyone BUT A listers because --

(1) Craig Mazin says, if this idea spreads, it will put downward pressure on spec prices. It seems like that would only apply to the A listers. Doesn't downward pressure already exist everywhere else?

(2) The co-op acts as the film's producer? So, the studio doesn't bring in another producer at all? I'm assuming different co-ops will have different levels of voice and participation depending on the caliber and credentials of the writers in the co-op, wouldn't you think?

(3) Schulman said that if this model works, the co-op hopes other writers will emulate it. Will copycat co-ops work at all with non A-list writers? What really makes the co-op work, the material written by its participants or names of the scribes behind it? Since the material isn't written yet, isn't this first co-op's strength in its founding names?

I'm just asking questions and welcome any enlightenment. I really don't know anything so all help is appreciated. No tomatoes please.

The Sanjaya Secret

Theories abound. Why is this kid still in the game? Is it about sticking it to Simon? His Farrah Fawcett hair? His Howard Stern fan base? An Indian conspiracy? That web site (which I refuse to name) that encourages voting for the candidate that should be sent home?

It's a lot simpler than that.

Sanjaya Malakar is loved for the same reason teenage girls adore any other kid that can't sing but has great hair. And, he's a polite kid with an endearing smile and a hint of chivalry. After their auditions, Sanjaya carefully answered his sister's questions but skirted around telling her that judges said he sang better than she did.

As a little girl, I had a crush on Leif Garrett. Weak vocals. Great hair.

Maybe he's not the next American Idol, but Sanjaya Malakar is a teen idol already. Look for him on the cover of Tiger Beat.

For me, send them all home except Lakisha, Melinda, and Jordin.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Monkey See, Monkey Do

Everyone seems to be discussing the story in Variety in which Michael Fleming announces a new writer’s co-op formed by John Wells and several other writers. By everyone, I mean pretty much every professional screenwriter's blog I read. So, if you're as confused as I am about how this works and potentially affects us nobodies - er, I mean aspiring screenwriters - then John August and Craig Mazin are good places to start getting the pro perspective. Or, just Google "John Wells" and "writer co-op" and take your chances.

Meanwhile, in other news ---

Monday, March 19, 2007

Better, Stronger, Faster

Why are there no reruns of the Six Million Dollar Man? "Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic man. Steve Austin will be that man. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."

That's my screenplay. I can rebuild it. I have the technology. I have the capability. It will be better, stronger, faster. But it's taking forever! And, while it may not cost six million dollars, rewriting this thing does feel like it's burned six million brain cells.

One day, this blog may chronicle the screenwriting journey and the learnings of a Nicholl Fellow or produced screenwriter. Or, it may remain what it is right now -- the blog of an, as yet, unproduced screenwriter. Notice I did not say unsuccessful? Whatever becomes of this blog, its present purpose is to help me become a more disciplined, and consequently, better writer. Maybe in the future, it will help somebody else become a better writer.

My season of rewrites began in December. I had barely thrown out the leftover turkey when I was already re-evaluating my outline with the full knowledge that an enormous amount of time and work on my part would be required if I wanted to get my Nicholl entry where it needed to be in order to advance further than last year.

Since then, I've taken a look at not only the old research I've done (the word "research" here equates to "junk I've written about screenwriting, much of which is filed for your convenience in the right hand navigation column of this blog") and a few other screenwriting subjects which pertain to my Nicholl entry including:

Pan Fried Characters
Sidekick Stories
Symbolism and Foreshadowing
Weak Verbs and Pansy Words
Contrived Conflict
What Closers Look For
Identifying Problems
Formulaic Writing
Screenwriting Structures
Identifying the Scene's Purpose
Using Reflection Scenes
Scene Consistency and Transition

To those of you who write positive replies to my posts and send me encouraging emails and to those of you who have helped me with my screenplay, I owe you -- lunch, a stripper, or a kidney. I don't which. We'll see where this screenwriting thing goes. Maybe I'll buy you all corvettes. Maybe you'll buy me one. Maybe we'll just get a beer.

That's good, too.

But it's not all good.

Somebody recently mentioned that I seem "obsessed" with the Nicholl Fellowship this year. I prefer words like "passionate" and "committed" and I regret that I didn't seem obsessed last year. Otherwise, I may have advanced further.

Another email said that I'm far too nice to ever make it in Hollywood. I need to curse and it's obvious I won't sleep around since I'm reluctant to move to California. Uh huh. Thank you for your candor. Your email address is now blocked.

One wet blanket emailer warned me that my chance of advancing in the Nicholl gets slimmer with each passing year as more and more wannabes flood the business. He went on to say that I'm in for a giant disappointment when I lose. First of all, you can't LOSE something you never had so it is impossible for me to LOSE the Nicholl Fellowship. Secondly, the passing of time seems to be increasing my chances of advancing since the number of entries has decreased over the past three years --

2004 – 6,073 entries
2005 – 5,879 entries
2006 – 4,899 entries

Don't mess with me, pal, because I've known since I was a nine year old girl pulling rate sheets in my mother's advertising office that you can manipulate numbers to say whatever you want them to say and in this case, I say they work in my favor!

Another charming and encouraging email said that my blog is just no fun to read anymore and has lost all its humor. What humor? Since when have I had humor? The sheep in my driveway were real, fella. Real sheep eating my geraniums. Oh, and the monkey in the pink dress really did jump on my windshield on the highway during rush hour traffic. These things happen from time to time. I think the peeping Teletubbies were hallucinations brought on by seizure reducing medication WHICH by the way also prevents migraine headaches so ask your doctor if this medication may be right for you. Certain side effects may occur.

But humor? I write drama, ya moron!

And, there goes my reputation for being nice.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Wilford "Crazy Ray" Jones

There are people in this country who have probably never heard of Wilford "Crazy Ray" Jones.

This Dallas Morning News article doesn't mention that thirty years ago Ray met a pair of little girls on a Dallas bus and scolded them for riding alone downtown. The girls wanted to get money from their mother to go to the State Fair. It doesn't mention how Ray went to visit the girls' mother on Ackard Street in the advertising department at Sanger Harris to make sure the girls arrived safely but told the girls he was there to water the plants. Nor does it mention how Ray watered the office plants from the spigot in his hat, shined a few shoes, and went on his way.

Around here, Ray will be missed.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Screenwriting Blog-a-Thon

Screenwriting Blog-a-Thon

THE TOPIC: Your Favorite Screenplay & Why

WHEN: March 30 - April 2

Mystery Man is promoting a SCREENWRITING BLOG-A-THON for the weekend of MARCH 30TH - APRIL 2 like this contrarianism blog-a-thon only without the contrarianism. We simply post an article about our favorite screenplay and why.

Uh huh.

Let's see, which is my favorite internal organ and why?

That would actually be simpler to write.

Anyway, if we get to add word extensions to create a bombastic blog-a-thon title (contrarianism - pfft, what kind of inflated made up word is that?), maybe we could call this one an encomiumism blog-a-thon. Encomiumism has a nice ring to it, dontcha think?


You like that? Oh! Oh! How 'bout this?


It has a dirty pole dancing sound to it that might get a few writers to participate who might otherwise.. well, we don't want to know what they might otherwise do.

Let's just make everyone get out their dictionaries, shall we?

Or, -- you know -- not.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ties That Bind -- Or Not

Ever wonder why kids walk around with their shoelaces untied? I hate that. They do it intentionally, too. It's cool. Or hip. Or, whatever the latest terminology is for "not a tool". Don't expect these "oppose establishment by not tying my shoes" kids to wear new laces either. Only bacteria soaked shreds will due. If the laces don't appear to have been pulled from a sneaker on the side of the highway and run over few hundred times, then no go.

That's not actually an analogy that works for anything I have to say here, by the way. It's just something that annoys me.

The "tying" I want to talk about is not laces in shoes (too late, already did that), but that invisible thread that connects our scenes. There seems to be some confusion among us newbies about what it means to transition our scenes.

What I really want to create, but haven't yet, is a screenplay so compelling that the reader's need to continue is the equivalent of standing in one of those crooked houses and being forced to lean forward. I want the reader to have no choice but to go forward. For now, though, putting the screenplay down and going out for a pizza is still an option.

I actually discovered three problems with tying scenes together but I've never witnessed one of them. So, here's the other two:

(1) Many of us screenwriters fail to connect our scenes at all so they wind up feeling more like a collection vignettes than a cohesive story. How do we get from one scene to the next? Okay, yes, we need to enter a scene at the latest possible moment and leave as early as we can, but if it isn't all tied together, it's like reading a choppy episodic novel.

(2) Many of us screenwriters seem to think transitioning our scenes means explaining how characters physically arrive from one scene to the next. I'm not kidding. There seems to be an abundance of opening doors, starting engines, closing doors and walking from here to there going on in screenplays. I mean a LOT. Nobody wants to read 25 pages of somebody riding to the office and back. Car chases? Yes. Driving behind a trailer of ostriches flinging poop on windshields? Maybe. Just moving for the sake of moving? No.

I went off in search of some ways to thread your story and transition your scenes and found a few (some are no-brainers). However, if you are one of those who shares this disjointed dilemma, you won't like the solutions because they aren't easy fixes like "oh just throw in a mailbox" or "cut little Johnny's fingers off so he doesn't have to play the piano". They are the kind of solutions that you wish you had before you knew there was a problem -- kind of like figuring out you need to go to bathroom after you've already passed the last rest stop on the highway.

(1) Sequence your scenes - This comes from Linda Seger but I don't know which book. She says to group your scenes in sequences toward the development of separate climactic moments in order to get a better connection between scenes. Kind of like clustering. Probably, many of us do this in our outlines anyway - we just don't call it "sequencing".

(2) Make sure the protagonist's goals are demonstrated through action and dialogue - is there really anyone left that doesn't know this? Yes. What I saw this past week was scene after scene with a protagonist saying and doing all kinds of stuff that didn't demonstrate their motive, goal, or any purpose that would lead them toward achieving that goal. Hence, the scenes just went all over the place - like throwing out jacks and hoping they land in a pattern.

(3) Cut the superfluous scenes (kill your babies) - another DUH comment because we all know to keep the story moving forward. We hear it all the time. Keep it moving. Keep it moving. I really don't think most of us mind killing our own babies. I just think now and then we have a difficult time identifying which ones need to die.

(4) Use locations to create familiar territory that crosses age, space, or time - The more locations in a film, the more often the audience has to move (and the more expensive the film is to shoot). Same Time Next Year shot most of the film in the same cabin. Everyone aged and time passed but the characters kept going back to the same cabin. Fewer sets mean a tighter story. Of course, if you're on a road trip like Little Miss Sunshine, you've got the bus to keep it all together.

(5) Use traits and behavior to create continuity - Characters with unique behavior, traits, or catch phrases create an element of familiarity even in their unpredictability. We know to expect a doomsday mega decibel gaspy voice from Darth Vader. We know to expect dronelike stupidity or a socially repressed outburst from Napolean Dynomite. And, we know that Jack Sparrow will fail any test for brain concussion or roadside sobriety. We may not know the details behind the behavior when we first meet these characters but we quickly get to know the behavior and it carries us from one scene into the next.

(6) Create action/reaction links between scenes - Start or imply an action in one scene and play it out in the next. A phone rings in one scene and somebody answers it in the next. A person rushes out in the rain in one scene and and comes in from the rain in the next. Somebody blows out a candle and makes a wish for a pony. In the next scene, she's riding a pony.

(7) Create contrast - Opposites attract, apparently, even in screenplays. This is another Linda Seger note I wrote down that says contrast creates ties. If you have a death in one scene, you can build a thread by having a birth in the next. The Godfather comes to mind where there were hits and a baptism at the same time. The same thing goes for heaven and hell, rage and joy, fire and rain (now James Taylor will sing in my head all day).

(8) Use reflective type props - If a boy is singing in the bathtub at the end of one scene, we can pass time and put him in the shower as an adult at the beginning of the next. Or, go from chopping onions to chopping wood or wheels on a toy bus to wheels on a real bus.

When we were little girls, my sister and I would act out Whatever Happened to Baby Jane in the back yard. We had a big wooden spool that served as Blanche's wheelchair, took turns saying, "but ya aaah, Blanche, ya aaah in that chair!", and made placards out of cardboard boxes to use between scenes. Why? I dunno. We were morbid kids and confused about the difference between stage and screen. But we took great pride in marking our placards "here's the dead bird" and "liar, liar pants on fire part".

Something on the creative side of my brain knew, even at that age, that a story had to be tied together somehow and scenes needed to be transitioned well.

So, while I may have a long way to go in mastering my scene transitions, I'm through with cardboard placards -- sort of. A woman on the side of the road the other day was holding a cardboard sign. It said "will work for food". I offered her a job. She asked for money. I offered her a job. She asked for money. I offered her a job again. She said 'no'. So, I stole her sign.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Coverage Conundrum

I read a lot of produced screenplays. These past couple of weeks, I've also perused screenplays on Zoetrope and Triggerstreet and tried to get into the whole online screenwriting feedback thing. I won't post my work on those boards but I thought maybe if I reviewed some screenplays, I'd learn to better identify problem areas in my own writing. I tried these forums a couple of years ago but I figured I was just too much of a newbie. Turns out, I'm just a lousy reviewer.

I do read for friends now and then even though I'm not any good at it, but they don't care. My notes pretty much consist of comments like "the wife's dialogue was dead before she was" or "no way I'm buying the reveal". Friends can say those things to each other, but you can't talk that way to strangers on Zoetrope and Triggerstreet. When I'm reading Zoetrope and Triggerstreet screensplays, I can't stop reading to get clarification, ask the writer a question or email a smart remark. It's no fun and eventually, I just stop reading.

I know. Shut up. It gets worse.

I won't finish reading an awful screenplay. I can't. I won't. I don't care if you think I'm a poor mentor. If I start a screenplay on Zoetrope or Triggerstreet and it's clear this person is clueless, I'm done. Not fair you say? I was an immature writer once? True. But I wasn't writing screenplays and posting them on the internet. I don't want to waste a couple of hours reading crap. I don't. Life is short and on top of that, I don't want to spend MORE time writing story notes that (a) the writer is not going to understand anyway (b) will only hurt the writer's feelings and (c) will convince the writer that he is persecuted and I'm an idiot.

I probably won't finish reading a mediocre screenplay. Why? Because I WRITE mediocre screenplays. Even if I finish reading one, it would then take hours to write story notes pointing out what doesn't work, where the story breaks down, and explaining what needs to be done. I'm still doing that on my OWN work. And, as a mediocre writer, I'd be giving my input based on what? My expert knowledge? And I got that WHERE?

Sure, there are simple inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and little problems that it doesn't take a genius to point out (friends do that for each other all the time) but that's not what Zoetrope and Triggerstreet are about. They don't want a quick note or two. They want comprehensive reviews and these reviews are time consuming and require commitment. My commitment is in putting every free hour I have into my screenplay revisions.

I may not even finish reading a really good screenplay. What kind of story notes can I possibly write other than pointing out a minor thing here and there? Again, that's not what they want on Zoetrope and Triggerstreet. I'm not a story consultant. Besides, what I really want to write is "you're a much better screenwriter than I am so would you please take a look at my mediocre screenplay and offer ME some advice?"

So, basically, I'll help friends, but I don't think I'm able to do these other kinds of reviews.

A professional screenwriter once told me that a writer should know his story so well that feedback from others is superfluous. I wonder if that isn't part of the reason (among many) I rarely ask for anyone to read my own work. I don't want to waste people's time. Plus I'm territorial, possessive, and all those other ugly writer stereotypes. Yet, I know inwardly we all think somebody out there must know something we don't or have some secret we're missing.

By the way, I did solicit input on my Nicholl entry from a small group of trusted people. While I got a few helpful comments, overall I didn't learn very much. Why? Well, I wish I could tell you that the screenplay was so tight and well crafted that there wasn't much to say. But the truth is that most of my readers never got around to finishing it.

Imagine that.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

More Vile Little Beasties

It's official. My office is a Stephen King movie.

While some people might be misled by the elegant mahogany desks, gleaming floors and sparkling glass, the only real purpose those things serve anymore is to reflect my sickened expression each time a disease carrying varmint jumps out of my printer, leaps across my desk, dives off a ficus tree, or drops out of the copy machine.

We're a regular Mouse du Soleil around here. These creatures are acrobats, contortionists, and hurdlers. Each day, they spring, sprint, swing, and swoop in and then leave their feces breadcrumbs behind to remind us of their superiority (and to tell their friends where to find the donuts). I'm not sure how they avoid all the traps and still manage to get away with the bait but I suspect they have regular organized stealth training and watch Mission Impossible movies in the break room at night.

One mouse rode the lightening when he got caught in the coffee maker. The general opinion is that his death was an accident and he was going for the Starbucks' Caffe Verona but I think it was a botched suicide. Think about it. The chocolate in the Caffe Verona would have killed the mouse so he clearly had destructive tendencies due to self loathing and feelings of inadequacy.

Remember this? Well, my boots just aren't enough anymore. Sure, we've managed to kill a rodent here and there but our efforts have been about as effective as a little Dutch boy holding back a crumbling dam with his index finger. We're outnumbered. Plus, I think the mice are carrying knives now.

The infestation stems from an abandoned lease space next door that owners have only just obtained legal authority to empty. When the tenants, a dollar store of some kind, skipped out in the middle of the night to avoid paying rent, they left a rodent's paradise of cigarettes, snack foods and paper products.

The exterminators said that while my little electronic doohickies might help with common house mice, they wouldn't deter the Norway rats and roof rats which had chewed the dollar store from one end to the other over the past couple of months (now we know where they got the knives). The rats are searching for more resources and invading my building via pipes.

Get the picture now? These rats are jacked up on Cheetos, nicotine, and pantyliners and looking for a fix!

Since pepper spray, tazers, and shotguns are off limits in government buildings, my options are (a) file my first ever workers' comp claim based on the mental injury caused by extremely cruel and increasingly hostile working conditions or (b) make sure a Starbucks moves in next door.

Either, way, I had the exterminator go to the abandoned store and bring me a ping pong paddle.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Pop Goes My Heart

I haven't even seen Music and Lyrics with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore yet. Actually I wasn't planning to because to tell the truth, I never watch Rom Coms until they come out on DVD (please don't hate me, Billy) -- until now. I confess. I am a fan of this deliciously awful video. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got to go tease my hair and pull it into a Crissy Snow pony tail before I buy my movie tickets. Hey, anyone seen my striped leggings and Journey t-shirt?