a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, December 30, 2005

Who's Bringing the Funny?

Harkening back to my post about movies needing to be excellent or fun, there's no doubt that most of the surprisingly-successful movies this year were the comedies.

The ones that worked -- "Wedding Crashers" (which is the second-highest grossing R-rated comedy ever) and "The 40-Year Old Virgin" were both very big moneymakers. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" made a ton of money.

And even the movies that just suggested that there might be fun to be had (even if they didn't quite deliver), like "The Pacifer", or "The Longest Yard", or "The Dukes of Hazzard" did better than they had any right to. Meanwhile, the comedies that didn't seem much fun, like "Elizabethtown" or "Guess Who", tanked.

The odd thing now is that we're in a period where there aren't a lot of real comedians dominating movies. Pretty much the big go-to comic guys right now are Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, who are more actors-doing-comedy than true comedians.

Steve Carell is more of a true comedian, but the jury's still out on whether he can sustain his movie career.

The days of dominant funnymen like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy seem to be over. Martin is doing family movies and serious roles, while no one seems to be excited at all about the specter of seeing him in "The Pink Panther", the release of which keeps getting pushed back and back and back. Murphy keeps doing silly family movies; he hasn't even done an R-rated movie since "Life", way back in 1999. There is no edge to his comedy any more, but then again there is no edge to most comedy any more.

So who's left? Adam Sandler has his fans, but it has been a while since he turned out an honestly funny movie. Aside from voiceover work, Mike Myers has largely vanished, while Dana Carvey is a second banana at best. None of the other former SNL people are doing much, not even Will Ferrell, whose peak in "Old School" and "Elf" seems to be sliding away.

Will Smith has been in a few funny movies; so has Ice Cube. But is this what black comedy has come to? Former rappers? Meanwhile, no one will go to a Bernie Mac or Cedric the Entertainer film until they make one that is actually funny.

Even guys like Kevin Smith and Woody Allen don't make funny movies any more.

Most of the stand-up comedians seem to be running to TV, where there is a lot of money to be made, but where it seems to suck out most potential for a movie career. Jerry Seinfeld might be one of the most successful comedians ever, but can you picture him in a movie? I can't.

Maybe one of the causes for the lax box office is that there just isn't a single comedian who is so funny/consistent, that just the news of a new movie starring them will get people lining up.

I'm not sure whether this is good news for screenwriters or not. Certainly the lack of a go-to comedian means that there is more of a demand on scripts to be excellent. This seems to be the case in animated films, where funny truly means more successful; arguably Shrek is the biggest star funnyman out there.

But as long as dumb live-action comedies starring guys like the Rock keep making money, maybe script quality isn't important enough either.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

So Anyhow, I'm Writing

As happens every year, Hollywood is a dusty ghost town, so I've turned my attentions to my much-neglected writing.

I spent yesterday shaking out the second half of my supernatural thriller, polishing the edges, putting back in a deleted sequence that worked much better than the one I replaced it with, taking out a subplot that never really served any purpose (there turned out to be no good reason the male love interest needed to have one of those electronic monitoring bracelets around his ankle), and groaning at how the fast-paced third act just points up how slow act two is.

And it's 128 pages. Ouch. So it needs at least one more pass, to trim the fat and get it down to 119. I'd settle for 123. Time to take a red pen to the dialogue, to the wrylies, to the repetitive exposition that assumes that the audience didn't get it the first two times around.

I'll let it sit for a few days.

Meanwhile, I have other scripts which have long demanded attention, the final polishes to get them into send-them-out-there-and-even-enter-the-Nicholls shape. The killer is that I'm really a one-script-at-a-time guy; I have to set aside a draft of one script before really tackling another.

There's the frozen time fantasy/romance/thriller, that got me some attention around 5 years ago, around the time that Clockstoppers came out, bombed, and leeched any interest from it. Fortunately, people are forgetting about Clockstoppers.

I tried a rewrite early this year, with notes I got from a friend who was trying to set up a reading in New York, but then I got bogged down with work and I think the script went backwards anyway. So it's back to the last draft that worked, and then incorporating into it the good ideas from the last brainstorming session.

There's my teenage-girl-with-psychic-powers script, which is my albatross, the one I have done about 18 passes on (or maybe it's 418); the title has changed four times, and it took me about 10 passes to finally figure out the story (which came when I briefly reworked it as a TV pilot). And I can't walk away from it -- not because I've already put so much work into it (because that's about learning to write) but because there is a lot in it that works really, really well.

Then there's my comedy/fantasy/romance whose plot I never quite cracked, but which has a lot of good stuff in it too, and which really needs a revisit.

(Right now I feel like John Cusack in "High Fidelity", going back to check on his old girlfriends).

And there's the horror script I started noodling around with a few months ago, which currently sits in about 45 random pages on my laptop. Very dirty and violent; not like me at all. Probably why for a while I was only writing it after midnight.

I do have a pile of screenplays in my closet that I'm never going back to, because really, what's the point? My first script was awful, a comedy (well, it was supposed to be a comedy) about a kid who gets turned into a vampire at college. I made ALL the rookie script mistakes with that one.

A decade later, when Dimension (who I was reading for at the time) was casting around for a werewolf tale, I spent about 10 days page-1-rewriting that first script into a non-comic werewolf-on-campus horror tale that has some good things in it, though a third act in which all the characters were wolves fighting in the woods probably upped the budget without doing enough right.

(Dimension made "Cursed" instead, which was their mistake.)

My second script was the only straight drama I have ever written, basically a roadtrip with a geeky guy and the girl he likes. It wasn't very good, and I haven't even read it in forever. My third acript was about a guy who realizes that the family next door are demons who killing everyone in town one by one; there's some good third act stuff, but it takes way too long to get there. Then there was my Tooth Fairy script, which I always liked, though the funny first half works better than the more action-driven second half.

There were also a couple of scripts I abandoned midway, when I realized that they weren't working and that I just didn't care enough about them to make them so.

I also did index cards for a raunchy teen comedy that maybe I'll write someday, while I have a few other good ideas noodling around in the back of my brain, gaining form.

So that's my screenwriting life. Some scripts that people have liked, a period around 5 years ago when I briefly had a manager and almost had an agent, and way too much of my own excuses, like "I'm too buried in reading to think about my own writing".

Which I really can't let be an excuse any more.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Monday is National Sneak-Into-a-Movie Day

Because Christmas is on a Sunday this year, Monday becomes one of those odd days off that doesn't have any actual holiday attached to it, other than it being National Redeem Those Holiday Gift Certificates Day.

Because of this, the day also qualifies as National Sneak-Into-a-Movie Day.

After you've traded that Best Buy Gift Certificate for a Blossom Season 2 DVD (you know who you are), head over to the local multiplex.

There the challenge is simple. See a good movie. Then sneak into another one.

My movie code wants me to suggest that the second movie should be something that you wouldn't have actually paid to see, something that isn't actually worth $9.75, so sneaking into it isn't really stealing. Like, say, "Fun With Dick and Jane". Or "The Ringer" (which is supposed to be funny, but you know you weren't going to see it).

But of course, this is flexible.

If you get ambitious, sneak into a third movie. Or a fourth.


10 points for every movie you sneak into (and sit all the way through). If you sneak into a movie, and only see the last half, or walk out after 20 minutes, that's only worth 2 points.

Add five points for every pound of food you sneak into the theater with you. Because you're going to be there for a long time, and you don't want to starve to death.

Bags of leftover holiday turkey, or leftover holiday pumpkin pies, are ideal for this.

10 points if you post a picture of you or a loved one eating snuck-in food in a movie theater auditorium that you don't have a ticket for.

10 more points for posting a funny anecdote about your day.

And remember, no one ever got arrested for sneaking into a theater, or sneaking in food. Though if you get caught, post that too.

I expect to find a slew of responses to this challenge early next week....

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Kong Isn't On Life Support Yet...

So there was much hand-wringing in Hollywood over the fact that King Kong only made $50 million on its opening weekend.

Personally, I think the movie will do fine. I just think they opened it on the wrong weekend.

Why? Because most Americans (like me) are lazy-ass procrastinators, and last weekend was the last real shopping weekend before Christmas.

So the reason why no one was at the movies? They were all frantically running all over the place, buying last-minute gifts so they could get them in the mail on Monday.

(Trust me, I saw them all at the mall. And then at the post office).

If King Kong opens the day before Thanksgiving, it makes $120 million on that long weekend, easily.

Instead, it opened on the Wednesday before the biggest shopping weekend of the year; whose bright idea was that? And people wonder why it underperformed.

I know that's why we didn't see it.

But we'll see it sometime in the next 11 days. And I think a lot of other people will too.

I don't see any reason why it won't be the number one movie for at least the next three weekends. I think it'll make a run at $300 million, and if it can get some Oscar nods and hang around a little, it could do much more.

Of course, sometime in January, the gay cowboys will finally hit #1. Just watch.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Excellent or Fun

So I read a post on the blog of Konrad West this morning, in which he reviews "King Kong". In the course of the review, he says that he likes a film if it is "excellent or fun" (he thought that "King Kong" worked much better as the latter).

But this is an idea that is almost perfect in its simplicity. Excellent, or fun.


This is why people go to the movies, on a base level. Either because they think they are going to be entertained (or even scared, which I think "fun" can be stretched to include) or because they think that they are going to see something excellent.

"Brokeback Mountain" doesn't look like much fun. Neither does "Munich". But if people think they are excellent enough, they will go.

And some balance is important, too. Certain movies shouldn't be too much fun; Superman III wasn't improved by the decision to add Richard Pryor and a lot of silly humor, while Superman IV went the other way, trying to be too earnest and excellent. (Not coincidentally, word is that the new Superman movie takes up after Superman II, and pretends that the next two never happened).

The problem with Hollywood is that "fun" is, on many levels, easier to do than "excellent". Because if you're trying to do "excellent" without any "fun" at all, and you fall short of "excellent", you get something like "Memoirs of a Geisha", which doesn't look like it is going to find much of an audience at all.

Or "The Terminal", which worked better in its first half, when it is fun, than in its second, when it goes for "excellent" and just gets gloppy.

So Hollywood tends to err on the side of "fun". Because even if something like "The Dukes of Hazzard" turns out to not have much on the "excellent" scale, audiences will still come to see it, because it has the sheen of "fun", even if it doesn't quite deliver.

So it's something to consider when you are writing your script. Because if you're not writing something that is "fun", or particularly "excellent" (or better yet, the rare combination of the two), you'd better ask yourself where it is falling short.

Opening today is "Fun With Dick and Jane". In case the use of the word "fun" in the title isn't enough of a grabber, the ad also plasters the word "FUN" on top of the ad (at least here, in the LA Times).

Because even if the movie doesn't get good reviews (and the real sign it's a stinker comes from the fact that it quotes the ever-dubious Earl Dittman of Wireless Magazine in the ad), people will go see it, because it looks like it's.... fun. At least until word of mouth tells them that it isn't.

Though who knows? It might be fun enough to survive even that.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I'm Too Sane To Be A Genius Writer

I think that's my problem. It's not my lack of discipline, it's my lack of angst. Either that, or I don't take enough drugs.

This comes after I read (well, was paid to read, I have no time for leisure reading) a biography of Philip K. Dick over the weekend.

As anyone who read any of Dick's works can probably attest, Dick might have had a questionable grasp of story structure at times (he often plotted his novels using the I Ching -- no index cards for Phil), the man was a genius when it came to imagination and theme and bending his obsessions and the details of his own life into generally-fascinating sci fi stories and novels.

Dick was also neurotic as hell. He was afraid of public transportation, and even had problems eating in public. He was paranoid and depressive, which was fed by his habit (don't do this at home) of fueling his marathon writing sprees (he could churn out a novel in two weeks) by taking a lot of speed, which didn't do a lot for his mental or physical health.

At times he thought that spirits were in his head. There were even some strange unexplained incidents, such as a voice in his head telling him a diagnosis for his young son which turned out to be right, leading to immediate successful surgery on his son. He also sometimes heard Greek, which turned out to even be an ancient form of Greek.

And we hear about things like this a lot. It seems that in every film we see about artists or writers or musicians, their genius is fueled by drink, drugs or some sort of mania.

Of course, this is something of a cheat, because the only movies they make of artists' lives are about the quirky ones. The disciplined, straight-arrow painters, composers and writers? Role models, maybe, but boring.

Still, there's no denying that a little madness, being a little bit out of control, can free up your writing -- or that maybe the price one pays for real genius is having to deal with a few mental problems and some pesky substance abuse.

I don't know. I'm not going to start doing drugs now, and I'm not going to get all eccentric. And I have quirky oddball details in my past, not enough to lure Kevin Spacey to play me in the movie, but enough to vibrate my psyche a little bit (though that doesn't include my stint in Mensa, in which I felt that most of the people there were too odd for me. Yeah, I don't qualify as eccentric enough at all).

Still, one has to wonder how far suffering for your art should go.

After all, my wife used to write poetry before we were married (not professionally, but dabbling), and she doesn't any more. Because she's happier now? Probably the reason.

And even going all Phil Dick doesn't guarantee anything.

Because Dick wrote 19 mainstream, non-genre novels during his life, that never saw print. Even after "The Man In The High Castle" won the Hugo, and even after "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep" was adapted into BLADE RUNNER, there wasn't a publisher who would publish any of them.

Friday, December 16, 2005


So I'm watching TV last night (I know, mistake number one) and a commercial comes on for the new movie version of THE PRODUCERS.

In case you've been living in a bubble, the voiceover announcer helpfully informs you that it's based on "the most acclaimed Broadway show ever."

Wait... the most acclaimed Broadway show EVER?

Now, I haven't seen the Producers on-stage, and I've heard that it's funny. But it also has a lot to live up to, since the musical was based on a classic film (something that seems to have tripped up the LA Times reviewer, who gives the new film an underwhelming review in today's paper, mostly because he compares it to the previous version of the film, though he sort of forgets to mention along the way whether the new one is particularly worth seeing on its own merits. Okay, mini-rant over).

But saying that something is the "Most Acclaimed Broadway Show Ever" is quite a claim. It's also obviously hard to prove (or disprove, making it easier for them to stick it in the ad), since "acclaim" is extremely nebulous a concept.

My best dictionary pretty much defines acclaim as "applause" or "praise", which really doesn't help much, though it does focus the scope a bit. I guess you could confirm that a show was the most acclaimed ever if you could show that it got the most applause, but even then would it be on a per-show basis? Or cumulative applause over a long run? Loudness of applause, or endurance? Is 30 seconds of applause at 80 decibels better than 60 seconds of applause at 40 decibels?

Praise is a lot easier to define. But I have a hard time imagining that the movie studio actually hired someone to sift through the reviews that every Broadway show got over the past 100-odd years, looking for the one that got the most praise. Though given the rise of internet sites, it would probably be easy to claim that on sheer numbers, acclaim would be easier to get now than in 1922.

Of course, what I'm willing to bet is that the claim that it is "the most acclaimed Broadway show ever" is based solely on the fact that it won 12 Tony Awards a few years ago, which is a record. But really, all that that means is that in 2001, it was better in most categories than its rivals; stretching this to make it the "most acclaimed ever" just feels a bit like a cheat.

It's the same thing as claiming that "Ben Hur", "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" are the most acclaimed movies ever, just because they each won 11 Oscars. Are they good movies? Sure. Most acclaimed? That's more nebulous.

And as acclaim goes, one of the best pieces of acclamation is the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which rarely goes to a musical. In fact, only one musical in the last 20 years has won it, and it wasn't "The Producers". It was "Rent".

But then again, this is the work of film promotion people, who will do anything they can get away with. Nothing like claiming you are the "#1 thriller of the week", even though your movie is tanking and isn't even in the top ten; as long as none of the movies above you are thrillers, you're golden.

And even if just 3 out of 100 critics like your film, if those three critics are spread out in Minnesota, Maine and Arizona you can claim that "critics everywhere are raving".

Thursday, December 15, 2005

King Kong as a Metaphor For Marriage

(With apologies to my wife.)

You're just hanging out with the guys, living a satisfying life, when suddenly she arrives. She's attractive, she's scantily-clad, she's available.

You let her turn your head, and your life falls apart. Suddenly you're squabbling with the guys -- sure, T-Rex turns out to be something of a cock-blocker, but you never had any problems until she showed up.

Before long it's all sunsets, and saving her butt, and no more time for your old friends.

And then it's all about giving up your place, and moving to where she wants to live. Where you feel like an outsider; you don't know anyone, and people treat you like you're a different species. You constantly feel like you're on stage.

Sex? Forget it. Suddenly it's all "I have a headache" or "Your penis is too big".

You think she's putting you on a pedestal, but it turns out to be a really tall building. And there are planes. Lots of planes, and they are shooting at you.

Personally? I think he jumped.

Beauty killed the beast indeed.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Random Thoughts On the Golden Globe Nominations

If you haven't seen them yet, they are here.

These are the first major award nominations, even though The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has always been a tad suspect; it's made up of like three drunken Australians and a Japanese guy who is too shy to overrule them on anything.

They once gave Pia Zadora best newcomer, an award they wisely phased out a few years later.

And now, random thoughts --

-- Despite the naysayers, Brokeback Mountain (which leads with 7 nominations) is going to make a lot of money.

-- I understand that they break down the categories into Dramas and Comedies/Musicals, but that still doesn't make "I Walk The Line" a musical. Just because they perform a few songs here and there - because that's their character's job - it's not a musical. The fact that Joaquin Phoenix is nominated for best performance by an actor in a motion picture musical or comedy is just rather silly.

-- It's great to see two of my favorite actors, Paul Giamatti and Philip Seymour Hoffman, getting recognition.

-- Who would have thought decades ago, when George Clooney was making unexciting appearances on the likes of "The Facts of Life", that he'd ever get a Golden Globe nomination, much less three in one year? Including one each for acting, writing and directing? Go George.

-- Of the five screenplay nominees, four have two credited writers. The only script written by only one writer was written by Woody Allen. Maybe he is back (and maybe I should start going to see his movies again. I've skipped the last 6 or 7).

-- This also makes me appreciate the fact that the Oscars has 5 Best Picture nominees and 10 Best Screenplay nominees (in two categories), while the Golden Globes essentially reverses this.

-- Even though Katie Holmes is pregnant by an alien and was cute in "Pieces of April", Michelle Williams was always the better Dawson's Creek actress. And now she has a movie acting nomination.

-- Given the mediocre reviews that "Mrs. Henderson Presents" is getting, and looking at the list of the 9 female Best Actress nominees other than Judi Dench, it seems like Reese Witherspoon might be getting an Oscar in about three months.

-- Matt Dillon and Will Ferrell each get a best supporting actor nomination. Wow.

-- If you're wondering how the four actresses from "Desperate Housewives" could all get nominated for Best Actress in a TV Comedy, all you need to look at is the lack of competition. There aren't that many successful comedy shows any more, and the female-driven ones aren't very funny.

-- Six nominees for Best TV movie/miniseries, and none of them were made by network TV. No surprise.

-- What, no nomination for William Shatner? Didn't he just win an Emmy?

Monday, December 12, 2005

Careful With Your Homonyms

I'm not sure if there is a Schoolhouse Rock homonym jingle, but if there is, I imagine it goes "Homonyms, homonyms, words that sound the same, but mean different things, don't fuck them up or the reader will know you're an idiot". Set it to a Kanye West beat, with Jamie Foxx channeling Ray Charles in the background.

Seriously, though, sloppy homonym use is a real problem. There's no excuse for mixing up there, their or they're, or there's and theirs, or you're and your.

Want to know when to use its or it's? If you can write it as "it is", it takes an apostrophe.

Anyway, I've been jotting down ones that I've come across in scripts recently. Here's the current list of shame --

That big thing on the front of a theater isn't a "marquis" or "markey". It's a "marquee".

The word is "unfazed", not "unphased".

The neighbors live "next door", not "next store".

The guy who comes on Christmas Eve is "Santa Claus", not "Santa Clause". (I've had two different scripts this month that made this mistake. I blame Tim Allen).

When you're appalled, you're "shuddering". Not "shuttering".

The place where the ball drops in Manhattan is Times Square. Not Time Square, or Time's Square.

And when a girl is crying, she's "bawling". Not "balling", unless she is and she's not enjoying it as much as she could be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Ramblings From My Stuffy Mind

I'm battling a pain-in-the-ass head cold, which is making my head feel even bigger than its usual oversizedness.

That's one reason I haven't posted in a few days, because I'm afraid that my Theraflu-addicted addled brain will reveal my love of "Little House on the Prairie", and my fantasy of a threesome with Nellie Olsen and her mom.

Because boys love the bad girls.

In the things-I-read-then-had-to-read-again department, Barbara Walters received the Sherry Lansing Award the other day, and talked about the working women she remembers the most -- the streetwalkers on 57th Street in Manhattan in the early 1970s, who Walters used to see while getting into her limo early in the morning to go to her gig on the Today Show. Remembered Walters, "I would look at them and they would look at me... and I gave them hope".

Later in her speech, Walters said "I think tomorrow I'm going to go back to 57th Street, and tell those ladies what happened."

Wait... You inspired them so much, that you think they are going to still be working there as streetwalkers, 30 years later!!??!! Not only does that not say much for her inspirational powers, but the visual isn't so great either.


Congrats to the finalists of the non-profit Writer's Arc Fellowship, a group of 25 (to be whittled down to 5-10 winners) which include several people whose blogs I've long linked to, including Shawna and Writergurl.

If you win this thing, I expect regular reports about whether or not it's worth entering for the next contest; they give out a bunch of $7500 fellowships every 6 months.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Chewing Over the Bones of Aeon Flux

AEON FLUX made about $13 million in its first three days, to finish in second place, which doesn't seem so terrible...

Except, of course, it's going to be a huge flop, because it cost at least $55 million, and they spent even more advertising the hell out of it. The $29 million total theatrical gross I estimated last week seems like it is going to be pretty close.

Sure, it'll make money overseas, and Blockbuster will probably stock 50 copies in each of its store, so in the end it probably won't be a huge disaster.

But the weird and interesting thing? Its performance isn't really surprising anyone. There was something to this movie, even in the coming attractions, that just gave a sense that this film wasn't going to work. And it's nothing overt, either; there are some interesting visuals in the trailer, and of course it also has Charlize Theron in a tight outfit.

I haven't seen the movie, which ironically is probably what qualifies me to comment on it, because most other people made the choice not to see it with the same info I had. But I talked to a few people who saw it. One thought it was awful. The other liked it a lot.

(So apparently it's one of those movies. Still, I have a feeling the word of mouth probably isn't going to be there).

Ultimately, one reason that I think it failed (aside from the studio's decision not even to show it to critics, which certainly didn't do anything to reverse the bad buzz) is because the trailer really needed to show the audience that this was the movie that was going to break the string of mediocre-to-bad female action movies that we've had recently, which include CATWOMAN, ELECTRA and the TOMB RAIDER movies.

But the trailer gave no real sense of the plot of the movie, at all. I hate when trailers give away too much plot, but still, if your film has any kind of a hook, let's hear it.

Instead, we got shots of Charlize being acrobatic, and some rolling marbles, and a sort of futuristic-looking world, and some dangerous-looking grass, and no real sense of the story -- and nothing to suggest that if we went to see the movie, there'd be anything much to see other than more Charlize, the rolling marbles, the futuristic-looking world and the dangerous grass.

I like Charlize Theron, and it's hard not to feel good that her dramatic movies like MONSTER and NORTH COUNTRY (which she undoubtedly took a lot less money for) are going to outgross her big Hollywood special effects film. At the same time, it's movies like AEON FLUX that pay her rent while she does the smaller movies, so maybe it's a mixed bag.

At the minimum, maybe it'll be another red flag to Hollywood that even the big action movies need to be entertaining and well-written if they are really going to bring in the audience.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Famous Actors Probably Don't Want To Cameo In Your Movie

Actual excerpt from a script I read for a production company this weekend. The context? A teen, who has become an unexpected celebrity journalist, goes on Letterman.


Mike and Beverly ENTER the green room where SEAN PENN waits, drinking bottled water, and a HUMAN CONTORTIONIST IS FOLDING HIMSELF INTO A SMALL GLASS BOX.

Penn warmly welcomes Mike, who greets him back. When Penn has his head turned, Mike quickly turns to Beverly -- apparently to ask who Sean Penn is.


Scene. It's a completely pointless moment, and it's unclear even what we're supposed to take from it; is it supposed to show that Mike is so clueless that he doesn't know who Sean Penn is? (The obvious choice, though there is no real sense elsewhere in the script that Mike is that clueless). Or is it to show that Sean Penn has become so irrelevant to today's teens that they simply don't know who he is? (And don't ask why the whole human contortionist thing is capitalized. Like Penn, we never see him again either).

Of course, the problem either way is that you've given Sean Penn absolutely no reason to actually want to do this scene, so why write it?

Yet it's amazing how often I read scripts, usually comedy scripts, in which they have celebrities wander through scenes, often while making fun of the celebrity. It's really rather dumbfounding, because unless you are going to give the celebrities something funny enough to do that they are willing to be self-depreciating (such as the former-child-star poker scenes in DICKIE ROBERTS, which no, I didn't see), it just jumps out as being dumb, an amateur penning a script who is stupid enough to think that scenes like this can ever actually come off.

So unless you go the balls-out BEING JOHN MALKOVICH route, or come up with something so off-center brilliant that the celebrity you put in your script will be dying to play the part, it's really not productive to try to work celebrity cameos in your screenplay. Especially if you're just going to make fun of them.

Unless it's Donald Trump, who apparently has no shame.

Friday, December 02, 2005

One Red Paperclip

In the "wish I'd thought of it first" department comes this guy, who set out, in a series of trades, to a barter a red paperclip and wind up with a house.

So far, he's up to a snowmobile.

To summarize, he traded the red paperclip for a fish pen, which he traded for a funky doorknob, which he traded for a Coleman stove, which he traded for a small generator, which he traded for an "instant party" (a keg of beer and a beer sign), which he traded for the snowmobile.

He already has a slew of offers for the snowmobile, including cars and other interesting stuff. Of course, it has taken him 4-and-a-half months just to get to this point, and a lot of work, but what the hell. It's just sort of interesting to show how a series of trades, in which all the other people are happy with what they got, can turn a paperclip into a snowmobile.

Or a car. Or a house.

Plus the guy's blog is very readable. And yeah, if he pulls it off, someone will probably turn it into a movie.