Monday, June 13, 2011

Thou Art Worthy

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A project worthy of your extra $5.00 should you have any money left after you pay your bills, put gas in your car, tithe at church and retrieve your wallet from the kids who are pillaging it for summer swimming and movie money, Prodigy is a short film about a little girl's soaring imagination and how an honest love of music affects us, regardless of our individual talents.

The prospect of this film touches me in a very real and personal way. Music heals the soul and moves people like nothing else. When I was growing up, writing was my escape and my salvation but music was my counselor and best friend. Scary thought but I can tell you that in the depths of my childhood despair, it was music that brought me joy and the prospect of a bright future.

Hans Zimmer refers to music as the wings of a film. Try to imagine Star Wars without John Williams. Imagine Titanic without James Horner. Imagine Pirates of the Caribbean without Hans Zimmer. (Speaking of POTC, if you've not heard the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides soundtrack featuring Rodrigo y Gabriela, do it now! Track 4, The Pirate that Should Not Be, has heart racing Spanish guitar that brought tears to my eyes.)

I am, at present, playing the flute in an orchestra WAY ABOVE my skill level. I joined late with a borrowed instrument because mine is loaned out to my aunt so she can teach private lessons. I have two other flutes but they're not in any shape for stage. My music was incomplete and not entirely transposed into the correct key. I'd only had it a few days when I attended my ONE rehearsal that covered only the second act. Everyone in the room flew through the music like they'd been playing it their whole lives while I .. well, I was like a lost lamb in the rapid fire of key signature and time changes. It was pitiful.

And I loved EVERY. SINGLE. MINUTE!

We rehearse with the cast on Thursday. I am not qualified to be part of this production so I must work ten times harder than anyone else to be one tenth as good. Regardless of my talent or lack of talent, it is a glorious experience!

Music, my friends, expresses the inexpressible. I hope Lisa Ford gets all her funding for Prodigy. Judy Hyman, an Emmy award-winning violinist, is composing the score. I'm confident these two ladies can illustrate what music does for the soul much better than I can. It's not about talent.

I'm the proof.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Incredible Disappearing Theme

One of my all time favorite lines comes from Sunset Boulevard. Betty Schaefer tells Joe Gillis that his screenplay is no good and explains that she believes pictures should say a little something. I, too, believe films should say a little something. Why else do we write? Because we have something to say.

Choose a film. Gone with the Wind. What does it say? A Beautiful Mind. What does it say? Ever see a film that doesn't say anything at all? Or maybe it said something but it was so vague or heavy handed or buried in explosions and car chases that you didn't hear what it was saying? Was that film any good? Yes? No? Maybe? Sort of?

Don't get me wrong. I am NOT pitching heavy handed message films. Recently I saw a comedy that was so beaten up by the message that it ruined what could have been a delightful film. Instead it was a mean spirited dismal mess. At one point in the film, my brother and I looked at each other and both asked the exact same question at the exact same time about the hero's journey. Not good.

On the other side of the coin, I took my son to a different film (which either lacked theme or I missed it) and as we left the theater, my 17 year old's comment was "well, that was pointless".

Often, when asked what a story is about, a writer will immediately mention the theme. That's because usually we writers are so anxious to get our points (message) across. Let's use It's A Wonderful Life as an example. Suppose I'm pitching it and I'm asked what it's about. I might say it's about how a man's humble life makes a gigantic difference to a great many people even though he believes his life was wasted . Pffft. Noooooo. That's the "say a little something" Betty Schaefer was talking about. That's not the story. The producer doesn't want to know what I have to say. He wants to know how I'm going to say it. A man thinking about suicide meets an angel and gets to see what the world would be like if he never existed. That's the story. Through that story I get to say that every life, no matter how seemingly thankless and without glory, has a butterfly effect on the world. That's the "say a little something".

Writers write theme. Writers teach theme. Writers study theme. Writers explore theme. Writers talk about theme. Writers overlap and combine themes. Some writers even confuse theme with tone when discussing theme but hey, I split infinitives now and then. Nobody's perfect. The point is that writers love theme! I know they write it. I know they do.

Yes, films need more than story and theme but I'm not on characters, timing, structure and all that other stuff today. I have a soap box to get on and there's a huge bottle of whine to go with my cheese sandwich. A big fat bone needs picking and I intend to pick it right here and right now.

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Okay. All done.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Any Man That Falls Behind

How well do you remember the pirate code from the first Pirates of the Caribbean film, Curse of the Black Pearl? Well, maybe I remember it a little too well.

Went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides yesterday with my brother and son even though it doesn't officially release until the 20th. Facebook held a free fan premier and after listening to the soundtrack, I jumped at the chance to take a familiar ride that I hoped was as fresh and new as the music. I was not disappointed.

Being searched at the door for cameras was unexpected but the moment they finished poking through my handbag and running a wand up my legs, I ditched my brother and son and made a mad run for my favorite seats. You know the ones. Right there behind the wheelchair spaces where you can prop your feet up on the rails? Well, I got 'em! Three seats. Right there. You betcha. I didn't wait in line three hours to crane my neck beside the exit sign. But did my men folk appreciate my considerate dash?

NO!

My son seemed offended and demanded an accounting of what I would have done had he texted me that he'd been detained at the door for having a knife in his pocket. What nerve. I assured him I had a plan. I took out my phone and sent him this sweet little message.

"See you in 141 minutes, son. Love ya."

Monday, May 02, 2011

Do You Know Where Your Children Are?

Remember those old public service announcements? It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are? Well, there's a phrase we use in screenwriting about not wanting to kill our babies which basically refers to our inability to let loose of an idea once we have committed it to paper. But therein lies the beauty of losing your final draft. You also lose all your babies and don't have to consciously kill the ones that don't work. They just die on their own.

When I switched computers and somehow deleted my final drafts and put a final draft date on a preliminary noodling-around-in-my-head outline of last year's Nicholl entry (color me stupid), I didn't kill my babies. I simply lost them all. That wasn't such a bad thing when I sat down to start over. I remembered every idea and, of course, I had all my note cards. But there was great freedom in not already being committed to any one course of action anymore. There was no chain reaction if I removed or revised something.

I've always know that's what a rewrite is supposed to be but have I ever really done it? I mean REALLY put it into practice and made the tough decisions? Probably not. This time, I had no choice.

I'm not going to pretend that this amended version of my screenplay is as good as the one I worked on for two years. Of course it's not. Or, at least it's not as good as my memory of the final draft since I don't actually have a final draft of it anywhere. But I do believe in some respects, the revision is a little better because I was absolved from killing my babies. They were already gone. The decision was already made for me so I could move on.

The cold reality here is that this version is not as polished as my other and doesn't read like a final draft to me. But I've learned much about me as a writer and as a storyteller and most importantly? The earth didn't fly off its axis when I sent out something I would normally be utterly humiliated to admit came from my pen. Instead, I'm confessing it on the world wide web in the hope that my fellow writers will learn what I did. Sometimes, teachable moments come disguised as ... oh, who am I kidding? I am never, ever doing that again!

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

It's Nicholl Season Again

So this may be the most embarrassing post I'll ever blog but..

I discovered a few weeks ago that I sent out a ROUGH DRAFT to the Nicholl Fellowship last year. Oh yeah. And when I say "rough", I mean escherichia coli of the eyeballs raw. And if you are the one or two friends who got my entry and were too kind to tell me it sucks, shame on you.

How did I wind up with a final draft date on a very preliminary outline-ish copy of my tinkering-around-in-my-head version of the story? Beats me. Cleaning out my files when I bought a new computer I guess. What a ditz.

On the up side, the Nicholl had the decency to dink me and I do have a printed copy of a near-final version that only semi-sucks so I may be able to get it in read-able condition before the deadline for the Nicholl this year. If not, well, it's not the end of the world because now that I've sent them my very worst, I've got no place to go but up.