Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Nothing To Do With Screenwriting

But hey, it's my blog so here's a video recorded by my nephew, Jude. Forgive the production value. He's eight years old. What's important here is (1) Jude is a future filmmaker and (2) my brother is a talented writer and performer.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Daring to Disbelieve

One of the latest posted Nicholl review comments:
“This is a simple story, fast-paced, entertaining, and a good read. The writer is capable and assured. Even when the story takes a loopy turn (or two), the writer presents these events so confidently and matter-of-factly that it's almost like he's daring us to doubt what we're being told.”
What I love is that this remark speaks of a writing style I particularly admire. This is a writer who knows his story so well that he simply watches it in his head and dictates that onto paper. He knows his characters. He knows their back stories. He's telling us just enough but if you asked, he could elaborate. There's just no need to. He doesn't worry about suspending disbelief or flowery prose because the story is what it is. He's not making it up as he goes along. It's a "this is my story and I'm sticking to it" style of writing. Wish I could read this screenplay!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Level of Suckage That's Not Negotiable

Creative Screenwriting's podcast this week is with Jay and Mark Duplass about Cyrus. Funny stuff. Give it a listen. The best remarks are about the evolution of their creativity. My favorite line: a level of suckage that's not negotiable. Ha! That's what I think when I read things I wrote two and three years ago. Also, digital versions of Creative Screenwriting are now available. That's a temporary link until they get a permanent place.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Will the Real N1 Writer Please Stand Up?

New this year is the Facebook page for the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting where we, entrants, are given access to a few reader comments. More than ever, the Nicholl folks are helping writers understand the fellowship selection process and answering our questions -- even those already answered on the Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting FAQ page.

The readers' comments are interesting and give us a little window of insight. This one likes strong prose while that one likes that a script isn't overwritten. One applauds how the writer forces the reader to feel something while another is impressed by the sharp dialogue.


The replies to those posts, though, are usually the same: declarations of ownership. It reminds me of the people at ball games who watch for themselves on the jumbo tron and wave just in case. Out of 6000 plus screenplays, only 45-ish remarks are up so far and quarterfinal letters go out in about 40 days. Do the math.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tell Me Something Good

I've often been told by other writers that the prevailing theme will reveal itself as the story progresses . Admittedly, I don't like to write unless I have something to say. Now and then that "something" will reproduce and give me a secondary "something" or morph into "something" entirely different. It may even experience a sort of thematic mitosis where the parent "something" splits into two equally important "something"s and I'm left deciding whether both "something"s are still a single story or two --- which is why I don't really believe that much in writer's block. There are just way too many "something"s duking it out in my head. And I'm terribly sorry but right now, the something is this:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Diamond Lasts Forever

Old films make me smile and even though film making has evolved, many old movies endure and are current despite the passage of time.

Case in point: Mildred Pierce starring Joan Crawford. So somebody uses a rotary phone instead of a cell phone. Big deal. The situational conflicts are timeless. Mildred indulges her spoiled child to the point of excess and then ultimately, destruction. I see parents every day over-indulging disrespectful unappreciative kids. I know a lady who can't pay her utilities but her 12 year old daughter gets her hair colored and cut, her nails done, and her eyebrows waxed every month. Just yesterday, the parents spent their grocery money to get the girl her third new cell phone since Christmas. "What am I supposed to do?" asked the mother, "It wasn't her fault somebody spilled a drink on her phone and she's got to be able to call me because we can't afford a house phone."

On the flip side, when I was watching The Damned Don't Cry, another Joan Crawford film, I was struck by the opposite. The film doesn't translate today and it's not the lack of 3D or CGI. The gold digging seducer is unconvincing and the gangster element is even less believable for today's audience. I am unable to overlook the dated cars, guns, and phones the way I do in films like Mildred Pierce, Sunset Boulevard, and All About Eve. Everything about The Damned Don't Cry has me stuck in 1950 and the dialogue bounces between stale and on-the-nose to somebody-please-make-it-stop. The bloodless acrobatic shootings don't even render a bullet hole and remind me of Bugs Bunny saying "you got me, Doc, you got me." Part of my reaction may have been brought about by my recent viewing of Johnny Depp's Public Enemies. In fairness, there is no comparison. But the point is that The Damned Don't Cry was probably a great film in its day. Today is no longer that day.

A lot has changed in 60 years. But, a lot has not. Those films that capture the "a lot has not" are timeless and have eternal themes. They are the ones that have sipped from the cinematic fountain of youth.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Can You Drive My Car?

Perhaps it was the reports of the death of Mystery Man on Film, I don't really know, but whatever the reason, I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to start reading more screenplays from aspiring screenwriters. Zoetrope and Triggerstreet are places I don't frequent much but they're a good place to go read what other wannabes are writing. I usually take the time to read the screenplays people email me (heh, as if I know anything) but I thought I'd take it a step further. So, I looked at some scripts being "workshopped".

O. M. G.

About 99 % of my time and oxygen would have been better spent teaching my dog how to use a stick shift. He already believes he's the one driving the car anyway. He sits on the arm rest, looks over the windshield, observes passersby and barks at anything red: stop signs, cars, school uniforms. The only time he takes his eyes off the road is to lick himself.

But I digress.

There are, of course, a few gems worth reading and those exceptions are why the goal of the Nicholl Fellowship is to identify and nurture the screenwriting skills of talented writers. But most of us need a reality check. So here it is. Most wannabe screenwriters:

  • Cannot write a complete sentence
  • Have no storytelling skills
  • Don't understand screenplay structures
  • Wouldn't know a theme if it was tattooed on their butts
  • Have a better chance at winning American Idol than being produced
  • Don't have a decent command of the English language
  • Have no idea what's behind the door they're knocking on
  • Think all pronouns are possessive
  • Actually want fame instead of a writing career
  • Do not know the difference between "effect" and "affect"
  • Are under the mistaken impression that screenwriters get wealthy
  • Have never heard of a misplaced modifier or split infinitive
  • Believe that they are the exception to every bullet on this list

Here's the brutal truth. Most of us can't write. I'm sorry but it's true. If screenwriting is a hobby, have fun. But stop whining about not getting produced. Most of us have no business even attempting to write screenplays and quite frankly, the movie industry doesn't want us right now anyway. The only films being distributed right now are proven commodities, sequels, prequels, re-do's, CGI's and those distributions necessitated by nepotism.

We think because we can use screenwriting software or self publish, that makes us writers. It does not. It makes us people using screenwriting software and self publishing. We think because we go to film festivals and shake hands with produced screenwriters and film executives that they are now our friends. They are not. They are people who shook a few hands. We think because a few indie producers are polite to us or we advanced in an obscure screenwriting competition run out of somebody's garage that we have a shot at making real industry contacts. We do not. We are people that found a sympathetic ear or a hungry wallet.

Wake up, schmuck. You are not a writer.

If you are the exception to those bullets, good for you. If you are not -- and make no mistake about it, most of us are not -- stop throwing your money away on gurus, books, online gimmicks and contests. You may learn formatting and structure but nobody can teach you creativity. Nobody can make you something you are not naturally inclined to be.

I'm sorry. I really am. But this is the truth. You can't write. Have you already given five or ten years of genuine effort to screenwriting with no results? Then get out. Find something fun or meaningful and go after it.

Life is short. There is more to it than screenwriting UNLESS you know know know know know that you're the exception. But remember this: my dog knows he's the one driving my car.

P.S. -- about 53-ish days before Nicholl letters go out.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Music in My Mind

For as long as I can remember, my two passions have been music and writing. I'm an absent minded singer. The music plays in my mind and I don't always know how it will manifest itself. A song? A story? Flowers down the sidewalk? A painting on the wall? Or this.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

RIP Mystery Man on Film

I'm hoping this a very poor joke or Mystery Man is retiring and thus killing off his pseudonym to sun on a beach and drink out of little cups with tiny umbrellas. But what I'm hearing is that Mystery Man on Film has died.

I "met"-ish Mystery Man on his first blog and spoke to him many times via email, this blog, and Triggerstreet. He was quick to encourage and even compliment but didn't hesitate to point out flaws and room for improvement. Mystery Man was intuitive. Learned a lot from him.

Here is a comment about Mystery Man's passing where Scott Myers also posts a conversation he had with Mystery Man eight months ago. His present blog is flashy and impressive and he's become a regular writer for Script Magazine. And, of course, he's on Twitter and he's here and he's -- well, he's just about everywhere screenwriters go for advice, reviews, and analysis.

Or, he was. I hope this is a mistake and I'll be taking this post down. Meanwhile, I'll end this sad news with Mystery Man's closing remarks in the latest issue of Script magazine.

I know writers love to know the "rules" and "formulas" and "principles" of writing, but truthfully, there are no great truths about writing. A great writer knows the pitfalls and takes a concept and creatively considers the most compelling way to tell that story - structure be damned.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Speaking of the Nicholl Felllowship

Actually, I haven't spoken of it in a very long time but the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting reader comments on their facebook page make sure I don't forget the coveted screenwriting fellowship. Even though this pic must be from last year since only electronic submissions were accepted in 2010, it demonstrates clearly in the show/don't tell spirit of screenwriting how much work is involved in the administration, reading, and selection process. Only 60-ish days until we get our letters. How time flies when you're nurturing delusions that every positive remark pertains to your script.