Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Most recently, Avatar and Sherlock Holmes jerked me out of the film and slapped me around with "bingo". There I was, absorbed in the film when BAM! It's like somebody just kicked my chair or threw a crying baby in my lap.
I realize that actors frequently ad-lib, directors throw things in that writers didn't sanction, and that writers are often under the gun and scrambling with an edit so yeah, "bingo" will happen now and then. But fifteen or twenty times a year? I'm not talking Lifetime movies and re-runs of Reba either. These are big money new releases!
I find it amusing that I have some "favorite" writers whose films never seem to use the word "bingo". That tells me we have the power! We have the technology!
Maybe I'll spend the new year pleading for releases to compile a short film of nothing but clips of characters saying "bingo". I could even use voice alteration software to raise and lower the pitches so that the whole film is to the tune of "There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o. B.I.N.G.O....."
Yeah. That would get my point across.
Except, I don't think it would be a very short film.
Sunday, November 29, 2009
All the old screenplays in my room,
They gather dust, reek of gloom and doom,
Each a rotting corpse (oh whey oh)
Write something new, leave those in their tomb.
Macchiato flows by the mile
The waitress stops, speaks but doesn't smile
Gathers up my trash (oh whey oh)
"You leaving soon? Hate your writing style."
Writer types overlook her gripes, say
"Go away-oh, my cafe'-oh
and I like to write fiction."
Clacking on my keys through the day
The waitress comes, says it's time to pay
Showed her my receipts (oh whey oh)
She said "too bad, please leave anyway."
Underneath the chair, dropped a note
Next thing I know, knife against my throat
Forgot to take her meds (oh whey oh)
She went to jail, I proofed what I wrote.
All the cops in the coffee shop say
"Take her away-oh, don't delay-oh,
She's got an affliction."
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
I truly do believe Christmas is the time of giving. I just don't believe it's all about stuff!
Here's my challenge to you. Kick the quid pro quo habit. Don't just think about it. Do it.
Adopt a kid from an angel tree or take a few cases of veggies to the nearest food bank. Clean out your closet and call a charity truck or donate toys to the children's hospital. Buy a few new movies for the women's shelter or just write a check to a cause near and dear to your heart --or in the true spirit of kicking the quid pro quo Christmas habit, send a check to a cause you've never supported but know is worthy.
As for my family, we do several things but especially looking forward to Thanksgiving when we are decorating at a senior apartment complex and taking snacks to some dear little old folks who have nobody else with whom to spend the holidays.
So, you have your challenge.
With true love and brotherhood, each other now embrace.
Friday, October 30, 2009
Well, almost nobody.
Okay, child molesters probably deserve cancer.
People who abuse the elderly.
People who kick dogs.
Nobody. Nobody deserves cancer.
Ouch. That's hard to say. But if I've learned nothing else from my friend, she taught me that I should show kindness and compassion and mercy to all people, not just the ones I like. Anyone can love a friend. But an enemy? That's much more difficult.
Even as she lay dying in her bed, my friend greeted visitors with broad smiles and kind words. I never heard her complain. Her organs were shutting down and she couldn't stand without fainting. Still she insisted on knowing what she could do for others.
She was a truly a -- you know what? A word hasn't been invented yet that describes what she was. Miracle maybe. She was love, mercy, forgiveness, gentility, grace, tireless servant to her fellow man, teacher, wife, and friend to all with the singing voice of an angel. Not an unkind or selfish bone in her body.
I know I'll never be like her.
I'd still give cancer to child molesters.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
Sure do admire the respect for a battle speech! This kid's Dad is catching crap about his boy's viewing habits, though. Personally, I think if a kid doesn't climb trees or throw a ball, a heartstring never-say-die film is better than sitting in front of an X-Box all day. This kid may not quit a thing for the rest of his life. Or, he may turn into a tv watching couch potato. Who knows.
For me, this isn't one of the greater battle speeches. It's a little cliche. But the purity on that kid's face as he delivers the line "screw 'em!" has a shock value that Kurt Russell's speech doesn't.
In case you don't recognize it, this battle speech is from Miracle, underdog film about the U.S. hockey team in the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Still, the billboards, statue, motorcade and hoopla at Terrell's Tiger Stadium today, Jamie Foxx Day, leaves me a little cold. Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator Bob Deuell, State Representative Betty Brown and the heads of both the Texas and Dallas film commissions are all there to mark the re-naming of Eric Marlon Bishop's hometown street as Jamie Foxx Way.
I like the Jamie Foxx way. I adore his devotion to the grandmother who raised him. I love his shameless acknowledgement of the role his home town played in his life and I'm oddly thankful for his credo, "My goals, my dreams, my values". It's proud but not prideful, secure but not self-important. It doesn't say "my way or the highway". It says "Don't let anyone or anything run your life. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't. Don't let anyone shame your dreams. And don't ever EVER think that you don't have value because of who you are or where you came from." That's what his credo says to me. Yes, I do like the Jame Foxx way.
But, he's one man and his story is still being written. Who knows what kind of man he'll be tomorrow. Will we point at him when he's 90 and say "he made us proud"? I hope so. But, time will tell.
Down the highway from all this Jamie Foxx fanaticism in Terrell, Texas, a precious child named Laurren Smith is grand marshall for a homecoming parade in Forney, Texas. She's scarcely able to sit up or even breath as tumors suffocate her windpipe and attack her heart. Two short years ago, she was an active cheerleader on the 4th-5th grade squad my sister coached. The shock to Laurren's friends and family was surreal when the truth about her leg pain was diagnosed. She didn't just land wrong in cheerleading practice. She had a very rare form of cancer.
Our small town has rallied around her and one news station has chronicled Laurren's brave battle, infectious joy of life, and fearless matter-of-fact attitude as she's gone to California and Mexico for new and experimental treatments. There have been welcome home parties, carnivals, and fund raisers and now, Forney, Texas, will hold Christmas in October because Laurren won't live past December.
But five thousand people didn't line the streets for Laurren and the governor didn't stop by for a photo op. Laurren hasn't gotten the national or even local attention of a Jamie Foxx hometown celebration because there are so many heartbreaking Laurren Smith stories out there all over the state, the country, and the world that it's inevitable for one little girl's story to fade into the fabric of human suffering.
Two parades today. Eight miles apart. Two very different stories. Two very different heroes. Jamie, if you or any of your peeps are reading this, maybe you could stop by and shake Laurren Smith's unshakably courageous hand.
Mercy Me "Pray for Laurren" promo.
KXAS article on Laurren.
KXAS video on Laurren
Friday, September 25, 2009
I contend that it's okay to change themes in the middle of the writing process but not during the story telling process. You start with a theme and figure out you want to go somewhere else. So, you go back to the beginning and rework the story. Your theme is there from the beginning of your story to the end. If you introduce a secondary theme mid-story, it too has been set up from the beginning. So it's not really a CHANGE.
Stories, as we all know, are transitionary during the writing process.. wait. If we all know it, why do I feel compelled to mention it? I dislike stating what goes without saying almost as much as I dislike the contradictory nature of phrase "it goes without saying" since that which goes without saying is usually pointed out the moment we decide that it does, indeed, NOT need to be said.
And why do we even say "it does, indeed"? Isn't that redundant? Because if it does, it is already a fact. Said fact's existence is established. Indeed.
Stories, regardless of how well thought out they are, morph and blossom and wither and regenerate somewhere between inception and outline, again between outline and first draft, and then back and forth and, quite possibly, all over the place through subsequent drafts. We start out with a purpose - here's what I want to say and how I want to say it - but somewhere in the writing process we decide to amend that purpose.
Now let me ask you this... Okay, wait. There I go again. Stating what goes without saying because if I ask a question, is there really any need to inform a reader that I'm about to ask a question when they'll figure it out as soon as the question is asked?
Where was I?
Okay, so suppose your theme starts out as a Bruce Banner and somewhere mid-story it becomes the Incredible Hulk. Anger triggers Banner's change. What triggered your theme change? Something in the story caused such an overwhelming conflict in the theme that it became something else. Maybe now, it's grander than you intended. Maybe it's more thoughtful and subtle. Either way, the theme is now a powerful force to be reckoned with.
Are you really going to try to force the Bruce Banner-ish theme, mild but oh so endearing, to take on the role of the Incredible Hulk? Banner isn't Hulk. Only Hulk is Hulk. So which is it? A Banner theme or a Hulk theme. Your theme must be dealt with either way.
Anyone following my tangled thought process at all? It really was a well thought-out argument about changing themes until I sat at the keyboard and discovered how many empty things in the English language we say like "it goes with out saying" and "let me ask you this" and "I couldn't care less". That one really bugs me.. "I couldn't care less" indicates that you don't care at all which, if true, would not merit the mention of that which you don't care about.
Okay, so Bruce Banner isn't Hulk. I had a Banner theme. Now, it's a Hulk theme. What to do. Do I let my theme evolve as the story does or do I let the story evolve around one theme or the other? Why can't Banner and Hulk co-exist as themes in my story? Maybe they can but not as a single theme. If my theme mutates mid-story, aren't I writing two stories? Should I just use whichever theme fits, right? Any ol' port in the storm?
Just as this post is a strobe-light of helter skelter flashes of lucidity and stupidity and you, the reader, have had to pause to understand anything it says, I am suggesting that if we don't know the theme to our own stories, we don't really know what it says. If we don't know what our own screenplay says, how can we say it?
I started out this post writing about changing themes but then I realized how much I really want to write about all the meaningless phrases we use in speech and on paper. I should probably just pick one point or the other and go back and edit this post so the reader can follow it. But then, neither point would be made.
You can't retro-fit a theme.
Oh yeah. Plenty of writers have told me you can just start writing a story and figure out the theme later as it reveals itself to you. But I contend that is not possible. Here's why. Only these things can happen with theme during the writing process.
- You start out with a theme from the beginning and stick with it
- You start out writing one theme but the story evolves so you change the theme and go back to #1
- You start out with a theme and realize you need a secondary theme so you go back to #1 with both themes.
- You start out with no theme and figure it out along the way and then go back to #1
So, as you can see, it all goes back to number one. So there is actually no need for me to write numbers 2, 3, and 4 because they don't really exist. And there is actually no need to ever write "is actually" because if something "is", it is real and already "actual".
You know why you can't change horses mid-stream? Because you gotta take the horse you're on back to the bank to get the horse you're changing to. You started over at the beginning of the stream with a new horse. You didn't really change horses mid-stream at all. Of course, you could take a second horse along with you and get off one horse mid-stream and then mount the other one. But again, you didn't CHANGE horses mid-stream. You had both horses all along.
It goes without saying.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
My sons are now 25, 20, and 15. Never been in jail. No drugs. No alcohol abuse. No totalled cars. We eat lunch as a family on Sunday afternoons where I catch up on the latest work, bowling, or girlfriend adventures and hear about the newest album from the latest band whose name I'll never remember. They make sure I know when to be there when the youngest one runs, the middle one plays soccer, and the oldest one wrestles.
Sure, there is a great divide in approaches to parenthood and yes, there are and always will be disappointments, arguments, and challenges. But rude awakening? I'm not sleepwalking.
Friday, September 18, 2009
Unfair, says he.
Learning process, says I.
Sucks, says he.
That's life, says I.
Going to play Wii, says he.
After you study, says I.
Only missed two questions, says he.
Which ones, says I.
Satire and exposition, says he.
Define satire, says I.
A ridiculous word on a stupid test that a monkey could pass, says he.
Well done, says I. Go play Wii.
Point? I should learn more about writing satire. I should read more satiric screenplays.
Tuesday, September 01, 2009
The German dialogue with English subtitles didn't bother me, Brad Pitt had some amusing stuff going on (and I even found myself wanting to see more of him), and the action sequences were there. But it's a Tarantno film. I expect overkill, not so much droning.
It was weird. I don't know if I like the film or not. Gonna have to see it again, methinks.
Friday, August 14, 2009
It's not funny in real life.
Not at all.
Okay, maybe a little bit.
All right, yeah. A 65 year old woman in handcuffs is funny.
One of my favorite lines is from Sunset Boulevard where Joe Gillis says of Norma Desmond that you don't shout at a sleepwalker. That's what I've been doing by trying to force dysfunctional people see through a reality lens.
Can't be done.
I am not Jiminy Cricket.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
This is one of the most difficult posts I've ever written. I'm typing on a computer the size of a mousepad and while the keyboard is about 90% the size of a regular keyboard, it gives the illusion that it's about 50%. Don't care. I want 100%.
Hence I'm already cranky as I begin my rant.
Maybe the most efficient way to illustrate my recent film pet peeves is to go to the mattresses where my oldest son engages in performance wrestling and regularly endures some of the worst story weaving imaginable. The offenses go like this:
- Too much too soon.
- Vague conflict.
- Same ol' thing again and again.
- Shouting instead of drama.
- One dimensional characters.
Obviously, through the course of a 15 minute match, we're not going to see three acts, character arcs, and plot resolution because these storylines drag on week after week. I get that and in some venues where my son wrestles, it actually works. But most places? Yikes.
The difference lies in the person who controls the storylines. Does that person consciously or instinctively understand how to make the audience take a ride?
Performance wrestling should be more like Tom and Jerry. These guys beat each other up every episode but each ride is unique. Characters are clearly defined and periodically arc. Then the Indian givers take back their arcs and it works. They make us love them.
Now. On to film.
My boys and I recently saw a much anticipated new release. My wrestler son is the quickest to point out bad exposition, cliche lines, and inconsistency. For this particular film, he simply barked in his soft voice that carries a big stick, "This sucks." Basically, the film did everything he was accustomed to enduring in poorly written matches.
- Too much too soon - The protagonist's pain is over-sold and his heroism is nothing to cheer about. Why? Because it's way too early for me to empathize. Don't rush me. Even a roller coaster gives you a few seconds to anticipate a fall. Make me realize I'm ON a roller coaster before throwing me off of it.
- Vague conflict - Don't assume the audience gets it. Don't. I may not have read the book or seen the headlines the story was ripped from or ever been to other installments of the same series. Whatever. Don't expect me to get it. Make me get it.
- Same thing - Picture the last time you saw a person running in the woods and she falls down. Big fake deal. Now the murderer is closer. Now she has a twisted ankle. Yeah. It's the same ol' thing. There was a time when it increased the tension. No more. Make me feel the tension. Scare me. Thrill me. Anger me. Whatever. But don't use the same ol' devices.
- Shouting is not drama - Making your character yell is not the same thing as giving him something to say. He can yell and say nothing. Or, he can yell and say something. Or, he can just say something without yelling. It's not the yelling. It's the line behind it. Make me hear the line behind it.
- One dimensional characters - Here's your hero. Now love him. Here's your villain. Now hate him. Really? Is that how it works? MAKE me.
So that's that. Make me. Make me love your character. Make me hate your villain. Make me understand the conflict. Make me feel the tension. Make me listen to the lines. Make me!
My original plan was to purposely fill this post with ridiculous typos and then explain my easy bake oven computer to illustrate that I needed to MAKE YOU understand what was going on - not just expect you to assume from the beginning that there was a logical reason for all the typos. Most readers would ditch this post, though, after the first paragraph and I had to make you read it.
My boys and I didn't ditch the movie. We stuck it out even after my son said "who wrote this crap, I want to punch him in the face," and I had to remind him that he wasn't inside the ropes. We stayed. But we didn't stay because the film made us want to stay. The ticket prices kept us from walking out, not the film.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Case in point: It's not enough that my laptop crashed, my washing machine is dying a slow and painful death, my sewing machine bit the dust with 29 orders on the table, and I didn't get my screenplay done in time for the Nicholl. Oh, no. Open up any rag magazine or turn on Jerry Springer episode and somebody in my extended family is having similar issues for which they expect me to assist in finding a solution. And I try.
So a couple of weeks ago I learned that my nephew has gained enough credit recovery to graduate high school a year late. I immediately set about finding out what I needed to do to get him a tassel and a stole for his borrowed cap and gown. Emailed Jostens three times. They gave me the price, told me their hours and where to go. Got there. Line around the building. Came back next day. Line still around the building. Came back a third time. Stood in line 90 minutes in the sweltering heat only to finally arrive at the counter and be told I needed my nephew's student I.D. They refused to sell the stupid things to me as if I was a student from another school trying to crash somebody's graduation.
Where the heck has customer service gone? Seriously. Instead of saying "oh I'm so sorry nobody told you about the student I.D., let me see what I can do to help", the guy says "I'm been on my feet all day, too". Really? Did you just compare a customer unnecessarily suffering outside in the heat for 90 minutes due to your error to you doing your job in the air conditioning?
Here's the kicker. I get home and read my emails from Jostens and they're from the very same guy who absolved himself from all responsibility and told me to come back Saturday and stand in line again.
So, here I am exercising my right to free speech by saying this -- BUY YOUR SENIOR RINGS FROM WALMART!!
Saturday, May 16, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
During one of my breaks from the screenplay that will never end, I was attacked by swallows. They were hanging around a hollow eave that we put a brick on ten years ago to keep birds from nesting in the roof. I could barely detect a thin layer of mud and some grass on the brick. Were they really building a nest five feet from my back door? Day after day I've watched the progress and I must say that I am impressed with the craftsmanship.
Not so impressed am I with the house of straw build by field larks in my flower bed. Any ol' cat, rat, or coyote could come grab those four eggs. Last year, a similar nest on the pea gravel of my playground started out with four eggs but only one egg was around long enough to hatch.
Okay, what does this have to do with the screenplay that will never end? Nothing. Well, probably nothing. If I weren't on pain meds I might come up with a screenwriting metaphor for the well constructed bird nest with the great location and the poorly constructed nest in a poor location. Actually, that metaphor writes itself. Can't take credit for it.
Guess I'll just enjoy watching the story unfold.
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Monday, March 30, 2009
So, when do you choose to use them?
- To elevate an emotion. Montages are often used to show the depth of love, loss, grief, joy, or confusion.
- Recollection. Montages can be used to show a character's memory of events.
- Speed up the story. Montages acknowledge a part of the story that merits mentioning -- but not the time it takes to show it in a full blown story.
- To tie seemingly random events together.
- To tell a mini-story.
- To show background events.
- When the director wants it. A lot of montages aren't even written. They're added by a director because that's what he wants.
- The writer is taking an unnecessary shortcut to storytelling.
Ouch. Number eight is going to sting a few people. But I've seen it over and over. Writers get lazy and throw a montage in to avoid sorting out a messy area of the story. You can tell when a montage is an integral part of the story telling process and when it was used as a Band-aid for an open wound in the screenplay.
A montage CAN be used to do all those things on this list but it's not the ONLY way or necessary the BEST way. It's not a deus ex machina and it's not a convenient pair of scissors for a screenplay that's twenty pages too long.
I knew a girl in high school who wore an elastic belt with everything. She even wore one with her wrap around dresses and skirts. Why would you wear a belt with a wrap around? To look stylish? Those things tie! One Friday night while we were gathering on the sidelines, she grabbed her waist and said "oh my gosh, I forgot my belt". Um, yeah. I reminded her that our little blue skirts and vests didn't have belts. She told me that she always wore one under her uniform because it made her waist look skinnier. In her defence, the 80's were another era. Weight discrimination was rampant. At 118 pounds, I was terrified every week at weigh-in that I'd go over the 120 pound limit. But I was smart enough to know that a belt would ADD ounces on the scale, even if it made my waist appear thinner.
To some degree, a montage can tighten a story but there are times when using a montage is a lot like wearing an elastic belt with a wrap-around skirt. Maybe it looks stylish, but it's not necessary.
Neither should a montage be a collection of scenes that all say and do the same thing. If every scene demonstrates the same thing, why not use a single scene?
A montage should move. I like montages that have a beginning, middle and end. Scenes can progress or regress but the montage should be fluid. For example, a jilted lover could remember the beginning, middle and deterioration of a relationship. A mini-story montage should probably have three mini-acts. If the purpose of the montage is to elevate emotion, let's see a progression or regression of that emotion - good, better, best or bad, worse, worst.
Using montages is not just about knowing how to use them. It is first knowing why we use them. That's the difference between wearing a belt that holds your pants up or wearing one that is actually weighing you down.
Monday, March 23, 2009
My older brother performed this past weekend as part of SXSW in Austin at Hickory Street Bar & Grill. By the time he sang Hey Jude (his only cover) in honor of his son, Jude, who was named for the Beatles song, the guy was exhausted and his voice was going. Nobody cared. The audience had already heard his brilliant set of self written songs and they loved him. Just a man and his guitar.
A year and a half earlier at the Austin Film Festival, thirty something of us screenwriters (who frequent Wordplay) sat on that same deck chewing over each other's screenwriting journeys more than we did our food. My table, my very chair, was right where my brother is standing. He, however, was in the hospital recovering from a puzzling brush with death. Was it pneumonia? Sars? Bird flu? The doctors only knew that it was serious and met me with grave and sympathetic faces as I darted in and out, trying to make as much of AFF as I could without being away from my brother too long.
As poignantly ironic as it was to see one brother using a voice almost silenced, so was being seated beside another brother whom I once thought was lost to me forever.
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up,a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
Is my minimal writing time some form of kismet? Naw. Just poor time management and a laptop that's suffering a slow and painful death.
Writing today. By hand. Laptop taking a sick day and screenwriting software not on my desktop. Phone off. Not answering the door. Not running errands (hope the water bill is paid cuz my boys flush a LOT of toilets) and not braving the Walmart crowd to put food in the house (there's peanut butter, boys, you are NOT starving). I can't go to the store. CAN'T, I tell you. I'd run into a dozen people I know, it would take an hour and forty five minutes to buy bread and those Girl Scouts are stalking me with their doe eyes and overpriced cookies!
You can't make me.
How do you spell "famelicose"? No, I didn't mean "fallaciloquence".
They are TOO real words! Look them up. I dare ya.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Then my brother called back. He had grabbed the dog and cat and was overcome with smoke before he could get anything else. He barely escaped before the flames charged the hilltop and consumed the house and his patrol car.
Just like that. My father's house is gone. 650 acres and counting.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
When my son and I went to see Legend of Zorro, I knew Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman had the screenplay credit and Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio received story credit. Still, I was expecting to see T&T's fingerprints all over the film.
First act came and went. Hmm. Nothing struck me as T&T's work.
Second act. Odd. Nothing stood out there either.
Finally, toward the end of the film, there's a horse on a train. A horse on train! Now, THAT is something T&T would write!
As soon as I got home, I emailed Terry and told him the film just didn't feel like something he'd touched except for the horse on the train. Terry replied that he hadn't seen the film but had recently received his obligatory copy of the screenplay and flipped through it. He really didn't see anything of his own except -- you guessed it -- the horse on the train.
You see, once you get to know an artist's work, it's relatively simple to feel the familiarity. You'd be surprised how much Pirates of the Caribbean has in common with Mask of Zorro and Shrek and Road to El Dorado or how much National Treasure has in common with Aladdin. They all have the same writers' fingerprints.
James Horner, one of my all time favorite film score composers, almost always uses some kind of haunting oboe solo in his soundtracks. You wouldn't think Cocoon and An American Tale would be similar enough films to have common denominators in the soundtracks. They aren't. But, they do. Danny Elfman has a genius for weaving darkness with whimsy. That's his signature. Just listen to Nightmare Before Christmas, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Batman, and the theme from the Simpsons. The similarity is there even though the music is decidedly different.
Producers have signatures, too. Is there any mistaking Ridley Scott's herky jerky camera-on-a-tether ball scene transitions?
So yeah, filmmakers have signatures. Now watch this -- good stuff.