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

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Oh Well, The Run Had To End Sometime

Nicholl finalist letters went out shockingly early this year, and I didn't make the finals.

Best of luck to those still in it...

Weekend Boxoffice Prediction?

I may make this a weekly feature of this site, because pondering future box office beats a sharp stick in the eye.

Three movies are opening wide tomorrow:
Open Season (on 3833 screens)
The Guardian (on 3241 screens)
School For Scoundrels (3004 screens)

Plus there's one major holdover, Jackass Number Two, on 3063 screens.

All you need to do is predict (in the comments section, naturally) how much these four movies will make this weekend. Closest (determined by total difference of your four predictions to the actual official gross reported on Monday) wins kudos, bragging rights, and the ability to dance around your apartment in your underwear for an actual reason.

My picks:
Open Season $18.9 million
Jackass 2 $13.7 million
School For Scoundrels $10.6 million
The Guardian $9.3 million

Contest closes at 3 PM west coast time on Friday.


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Feast and Famine

So, in case you blinked and missed it, Feast finally opened last weekend, in 146 theaters across the country. Apparently most theaters just had it as midnight shows, though it seems to be playing at different times here and there, since it made about $4000 on Sunday and $1575 on Monday.

Total four-day gross? $56,131. Less than $400 per theater. Which means that the average crowd at each midnight show was about 20-25 people. I don't think theaters were rocking.

Suffice it to say that this is unlikely to catch on as a release pattern, expecially since it usually costs $1000-$2000 just to strike each print of a film. They may be carving some copies into guitar picks as we speak.

The sad thing is that last year, when Project Greenlight 3 aired, they actually did a good job selling this as an interesting movie. So much so that, if they dumped it directly into theaters as soon as the series was over, one would have to believe that they could have at least done $10 million or so. Because the TV series is invaluable free advertising.

Now, the TV series was so long ago that most people forgot why they wanted to see it. The underwhelmed reviews certainly didn't help, while since I'm no longer big on dragging my bones out to see a movie at midnight, I wasn't even tempted.

Had it been showing at a multiplex at 4PM last Sunday afternoon? I may well have gone to see it. Had it come out a year ago? Absolutely.

One of the features of Project Greenlight is supposed to be synergy. You get people interested in a film, you get them vested in wanting to see how it came out, and then you let them see it, immediately. It's hard to argue with that template.

But you need to get it out in theaters, or at least have popped it out on DVD a year ago.

Feast may well have been a victim of the Miramax-Disney divorce, that hit right around when the film should have come out.

And I suspect (though I have no real knowledge) that last weekend's release might just have been a contractual thing; they promised to give a theatrical release to the finish product, and did.

It's also a little advertising for the DVD release, which is coming out on October 17. And I'm sure some people will pluck it off the shelves at Blockbuster.

The Feast writers just sold a couple of scripts, and one assumes that Feast director John Gulager will get another shot to direct something. Maybe.

But for the movie that was supposed to show that Project Greenlight was commercially viable -- they had finally selected a genre film, just for that purpose, rather than the coming-of-age dramas that they had done as the first two films -- what could have easily been something of a success, if they had gotten it out right away, instead put a stake in Project Greenlight's heart.

They botched it.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Attacking Your Critics

Apparently sad, sensitive filmmakers aren't going to just sit back and take shots from critics any more.

So not only did we get M. Night Shyamalan's awkward anti-critic tirade in "Lady In The Water", but now there's Uwe Boll.

Uwe Boll is generally considered to be the worst film director working today, almost certainly the worst that is continually working on fairly big budget films.

He made the epics "House of the Dead", "Alone in the Dark", and "BloodRayne". He has another 4 movies he is directing that are listed on imdb as being in pre- or post-production.

Uwe Boll has repeatedly complained in the past about the unfair rap that his films have gotten. But his whininess just made people make fun of him even more.

So recently, he took it a step further, challenging his critics to meet him in the boxing ring.

Seriously. And it happened.

Four critics showed up to fight Uwe Boll in Vancouver, British Columbia, last Saturday, including a writer for "Ain't It Cool News". Boll took them on one by one, in a ring in an arena, with a referee and a crowd.

And while I'd like to report that the critics doled out some damage, the problem is that Boll (41) is a former semi-pro boxer, a tough-looking German who, despite not wearing protective headgear like his opponents, still dispatched them all in a dominant round or two.

You can view the carnage here.

So Boll will continue to direct bad movies. His next one is another video game adaptation, "In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Seige Tale", which has the kind of cast (Kristanna Loken, Jason Statham, Ray Liotta, Matthew Lillard, Leelee Sobieski, Burt Reynolds) who really must just be in it for the paycheck.

Meanwhile, if Woody Allen wants to do some cage fighting, count me in.

Monday, September 25, 2006


I'm finding myself with a lack of blog topics; I spent the weekend reading a ton of stuff for my job, without anything amusing coming up along the way.

I haven't seen a movie in what feels like ages, though the only thing out there I'm truly tempted by is "Jackass Number 2" (seriously), though since my wife refuses to see it I may have to take it in sometime this week while she's at work.

If I do, rest assured, I'll blog about it.

Last night I finally curled up with the rewrite of my supernatural thriller again, after not touching it for a few days. On the agenda was one of the notes that everyone gave me: beef up the villain.

My problem is that I tend to tell stories the same way -- I pick a central character, and as the tale goes along they are in every scene. Thinking back, this hasn't varied much; my frozen-time script is the only one that really breaks this mold, because it has two main characters who are apart for stretches.

The horror script I have been noodling around with jumps around from characters a lot, and the teen ensemble comedy I once did a lot of notes on them put into hibernation would be, if I write it, a real stretch -- think "Dazed and Confused" in the way that it constantly cuts between a large number of characters' stories.

The incredibly-low-paid-rewrite I recently blogged about was also sort of an ensemble piece, and I think in the long run that might be the best lesson I get from that exercise, about just bouncing around from story to story.

Unfortunately, my main-character-in-every-scene-template has a big flaw: If you are telling the type of story where there is an antagonist, and the main character and the antagonist spend the second act apart, the antagonist is going to drop out of the story for a long time.

And that was my problem in my supernatural thriller. I actually had a little scene, in which we leave the main character for about half a page, and pop in to what the villain is doing, only to rush back to the safety of the main character's POV very quickly.

But in the past few weeks, I've been musing on ways to pump up the villain's story, because it's important -- the rule that certain kinds of tales are only as strong as their villains is true.

One of my previous problems was that the villain was also offscreen in act 2 because he pretty much wasn't doing anything; he was just kind of waiting for act 3 to roll around.

Not good.

So I came up with two new sequences for him, that give him some real second-act action, which not only sets up the third act stuff even better, but which gives him some more development as a character (which was always a problem as well).

Plus it feeds the urgency of the tale; now we're reminded that not only is the villain out there, but he is taking action that is bringing him closer to the main character.

In retrospect, it seems obvious, but again I was caught in the idea that I wanted the main character in every scene, which works here in acts 1 and 3, when the main character and the villain are brought into proximity a lot.

But now the bad guy gets his scenes too, and the script is all the better for it.

I guess the lesson is that when you are figuring out the way you want to tell your story, you need to be able to bend a bit, to fit in with the particular demands of the story you are about to tell.

But no, Brett, there still aren't any lesbians. Or midgets.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Exposition Waltz

So I've been a good boy this week, diligently spending at least two hours a night on the rewrite of my supernatural thriller.

I've reimagined the backstory a bit, and really done a lot of work on the main character, whose emotional journey is a lot more developed, and hopefully helps drive the story more.

My problem is that this is one of those tales with real exposition issues. Because I'm jumping into the story late, there is a lot of backstory to work in along the way.

If this was a four-hour miniseries, I could spend the first hour on what happens to my main character in her childhood and as a young woman; here, the tale begins with all of these events at least five years in the past.

So it's a constant waltz, trying to figure out what to reveal when, and how best to do it. I'm trying not to have flashbacks, because it's a device that I don't think will work well in the context of my story, so pretty much everything has to slide out via dialogue or visual moments along the way.

It's tricky, trying to parcel it out, and make it feel natural. The trick is to make it come out of the story, building so much interest into the "rules" of the supernatural element of my tale and what might have happened to my main character in the past, that the characters would naturally ask each other questions or feel the need to explain things, and that the audience will happily devour each dollop of information because they want the answers too.

So at times, to make sure I have it all in there, I'll overwrite. I'll purposely give my main character long, dense, clunky speeches about what happened, but not actually leave them in any scene. Instead, I'll carve pieces off the speeches and spin it into a piece of dialogue here, a silent moment there.

Once I get this pass down, I'm going to do an exposition pass, just jotting down what information we learn in each scene, and how we learn it. I'm going to make sure everything is there, and that I haven't established the same thing in four different scenes.

I'm going to ponder whether the exposition is something we really should learn earlier, or if it serves the story to hold it off a little later. And I'm going to think about better ways to bring across the exposition, or if certain bits needed at all; there's a lot of things the audience can be trusted to put together on their own.

It's a constant dance, one that (bad metaphor alert) I've been a wallflower with too much in the past.

But it's just one of those things that needs to be done.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More Encouraging Tales of Writers Making It

Today's LA Times tells the story of Bryan Bertino, who two years ago was working as a gaffer on commercials and low-budget independent films, trying to accumulate enough hours to get into the electrician's union.

On his off-hours, Bertino wrote a thriller spec called "The Strangers", which got knocked out of the quarterfinals of the Nicholl but got Bertino a meeting and a manager. Bertino was so encouraged by his first meeting with a production company that he quit his job. Several days later, the script sold to Universal for low six figures against mid six figures if the movie was made. Bertino celebrated by buying his first suit and a TV.

The movie starts to shooting in three weeks, with Bertino directing, a $10 million budget, and Liv Tyler playing the lead. Bertino has also been hired by Jerry Bruckheimer and Scott Rudin to write genre-bending horror scripts for them.

This week's TV Guide (hey, I read it on the toilet) tells the tale of Caroline Kepnes, who became hooked on the TV series "7th Heaven" in college; it lead her to want to become a screenwriter (we all get our muses somewhere). Kepnes wrote a sample script for the show, and wound up befriending the producer. Fast-forward; Kepnes wrote this year's season premiere of the show.

I know, it's only "7th Heaven". But real passion, focused in the right direction, can get you anywhere.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Crack

So as previously mentioned, I've been wrestling with my supernatural thriller, a script that has some great ideas to it but which never quite entirely jelled.

One of the problems is that the story keeps mutating. It started out as one thing, but as I keep upping the visuals and the thrills, and changing the character dynamics, and refinessing the backstory, what I wound up with was too many pieces and echoes of different stories.

Too many half-realized ideas and glancing subplots. A story that revs up, and then idles for too many stretches.

The tale I'm telling has a lot of complex things in it. It's the kind of tale that really needs to be all worked out from the start, so that the supernatural stuff and the character stuff dovetail throughout, driving the story together.

It never got that.

In the last pass, I came up with (yet another) new first act, and then a third act that finally really started revving things up pretty well. Unfortunately, this just left the second act feeling slack and aimless in comparison.

I doled the script out to a few friends, and over the weekend I got the bulk of the notes on it back. Good notes, though oddly largely different; though everyone spotted the same bad typos (fortunately not many of them) and incoherent dialogue, everyone sort of had a different take on the script's problems.

Though, boiled down, it was all about Act 2.

But as I started going through these notes, and wrestling with what they were saying, that's when it came.


The crack is the loud noise in your brain, when your plotline suddenly snaps into place. When everything suddenly makes sense. When the big gaping hole in your script suddenly seals.

When all you want to do is write.

The crack.

I've come up with what amounts to three major plot changes, that actually weren't suggested by anyone, and yet somehow it was a simmering combination of all of their notes that led me to the breakthrough.

Unfortunately, the crack often comes with a price, and the price is the realization that your script isn't nearly as close as you thought it was, and that it is still going to take a lot of work to wrestle it into place (the next crack is when you slap yourself on the forehead, and wish you'd solved all these plot problems beforehand).

It's not just about plot changes. It's about tearing it all apart, and making sure that every scene deals with these changes well. It's about starting from scratch on some levels, and really making sure it's all well-constructed this time.

The irony for me of course is that most of the time, I'm giving people notes, trying to lead them to the crack, and I can usually tell when I have; I get an e-mail back that sounds like they are flipping out, going through the shit-I-have-to-do-a-major-rewrite-on-my-script-but-wow-do-I-want-to moment.

And hopefully it's those moments that help fuel greatness.

So shit. I have to do a major rewrite on my script.

But wow, do I want to.

Thanks to those who helped.

Friday, September 15, 2006

I Wonder Whatever Happened To My Pusher?

His name was Jeff, and he had good stuff.

I met him in the late 1980s, in Manhattan. The first time he saw me, he pulled me behind a corner, and showed me a sample of his wares.

He was a little scruffy, but for a few years he fed my addiction.

He sold screenplays.

Most importantly, he sold screenplays of movies that hadn't come out yet, and in late 1980s Manhattan, that was pretty rare.

I hadn't been trying to write screenplays for long, and I certainly never imagined reading them for a living. I was living in Manhattan, managing a movie theater, noodling with the screenplay format on the side.

One day, I was up at a shop, somewhere around Columbus Circle, that sold screenplays of movies that had already come out.

I didn't understand yet that they weren't allowed to sell scripts of movies that hadn't been released, so I asked the guy behind the counter if he had a copy of When Harry Met Sally which was about to open in a month or so. He explained the rule.

And then Jeff was there, behind me. Luring me into the shadows of the store.

It turns out that he had When Harry Met Sally, and he sold me a copy. I was hooked.

For a while, I bought stuff from him regularly. He had a list, a photocopied, stapled stack of sheets of every script he had squirreled away in his apartment somewhere. He must have had a deal with a local copy shop, because he certainly kept them in business.

After a while, he'd just call me, and give me huge discounts or whatever he had left over after a convention; sometimes I'd pay him $20 for 6 scripts. I was the guy he sold to to keep eating, because even in Manhattan 15 years ago, the script pusher business wasn't all that lucrative.

So I wound up with a lot of crap. What did I care? I was engorging myself on screenplays.

I've since purged a lot of the bad stuff from my collection, like Funny About Love, but I collected a lot of solid scripts along the way.

I have two different drafts of Heathers. One even had Daniel Waters' phone number on it; my roommate George called him on a dare, and chatted with him for a while.

I have Diner, Tin Men and Avalon, I have a draft of Big with some really dumb subplots about his co-workers that they wisely cut out (and in the days before DVD "deleted scenes", stuff like this was cool in and of itself).

I have two drafts of Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead that show that Scott Rosenberg must have gotten some amazing notes along the way, because whatever you think of the movie, the early drafts were a long, long way from it.

I have a copy of This Is Spinal Tap, that is indeed only 60 pages long, mostly just describing the scenes that they improvised during filming. I have a copy of Stranger Than Paradise that is only 55 pages long.

I have a copy of "Star Wars" in which Luke is named "Luke Starkiller".

But then I became a script reader (which reading all of these scripts was no little part of), and I largely stopped buying from Jeff, because now my addiction was being filled in another way.

I still saw Jeff occasionally, and he'd call me regularly. I might have bought something interesting from him here and there, but since moving out to L.A. in 1998 I've lost touch with him.

Of course, now, with the Internet, the bottom has probably completely dropped out of his business. Because if you want to read a screenplay, all you have to do is nose around the Internet long enough, and you can probably find a copy of it.

The other day, when I mentioned the script of "Stranger Than Fiction", I soon found one in my e-mail.

The problem is that, because of the Internet, security is tighter. Before, no one cared all that much about scripts; most were floating around Hollywood, most got out, but the passing-hand-to-hand distribution system of the Jeff's in the world never let it spread too much.

But now, the Internet is easy, and it's free. I can send a script to 100 people without worrying about copying fees.

So, for instance, there's not a copy of the new Charlie Kaufman script "Synecdoche, New York" to be found online anywhere, even in the shadows. And that makes sense; it's just too early for that script to be in the hands of the public.

Jeff probably doesn't even have a copy.

Of course, now that I do nothing but read screenplays all day long, I never have time to actually read anything from my collection. But I'm happy they are all there, a memory a time in which I was still getting to know the format, still learning what makes a good sequence.

In fact, when I first started reading "When Harry Met Sally", and was 5 pages in, I thought it was going to be a movie about this unlikely pair of people driving home from college. When that turned out not to be the movie, I took that premise and made it the basis of my second script.

My script sucked, but that's all part of the process too.

What's your favorite screenplay on your shelf (that you didn't write)? Where did you get it from?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Stranger Than Fiction, Pt. 2

So someone slipped me a copy of the screenplay for "Stranger Than Fiction", which I glanced at, not wanting to ruin the movie for myself.

But I'm happy to report that indeed, most of the scenes in the trailer are from the first act -- the writer tackles the story head on. The toothbrush bit is on page 5; the scene in which Harold learns that he is meant to die soon is on page 23.

So I don't think the trailer gives away much at all, other than the set-up. Hot damn.

The screenplay is written by Zach Helm, who is basically living the dream at this point; not only does he have this already-getting-great-reviews movie coming out, but he just got to direct his next script, "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium", which stars Natalie Portman.

Can't beat that.

According to research I just did (in which I'm essentially cribbing from a June 2005 Variety article), Zach Helm is 31, a former DePaul University theater student/aspiring playwright who was recruited by a Fox 2000 initiative aimed at "under the radar writers".

Helm wrote "Mr. Magorium", got an agent, sold the script to Fox, and spent the next three years "going to film school", as he puts it, which in his case meant that "anytime someone offered me a job, I took it. I doctored, I adapted, I did page-one rewrites, I developed TV shows, all of which were bad ideas. I spent three or four years killing projects right and left. Maybe I saved the world from some bad movies."

Not until he realized that his fate wasn't in script doctoring did Helm discover his knack for spec screenwriting. "I'm much happier and they're much better movies" he said.

Helm has another well-received screenplay, a comedy called 'The DisAssociate", set up at Warner Brothers.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Charlie Kaufman News

Today the L.A. Times started a new weekly feature, written by Jay A. Fernandez, called "Scriptland", which is going to be about the "work and professional lives of screenwriters".

Could be interesting, though it's probably a good thing that he's not interested in the private lives of screenwriters; I don't think there are many screenwriters outside of Joe Eszterhas who make for very good tabloid fodder.

This week's column is largely concerned with notable scripts that Fernandez has been reading, including the new Charlie Kaufman script "Synecdoche, New York", which is apparently very hush-hush, and which Fernandez only provides minimal details about.

But according to Fernandez, it is great, a "wrenching, searching, metaphysical epic... about death and sex and the vomit-, poop-, urine- and blood-smeared mess that life becomes physiologically, emotionally and spiritually. It reliably contains Kaufman's wondrous visual inventions, complicated characters, idiosyncratic conversations and delightful plot designs, but its collective impact will kick the wind out of you".

Fernandez was so blown away by the read that he goes on to write "If this film gets made in any way that resembles what's on the page... Synecdoche will make Adaptation and Eternal Sunshine look like instructional industrial films. No one has ever written a screenplay like this. It's questionable whether cinema is even capable of handling the thematic, tonal and narrative weight of a story this ambitious."

Okay. Crap. Now I want to read it, now. Anyone who wants to sneak me a copy, feel free.

Because Spike Jonze is off in Australia directing "Where The Wild Things Are", "Synecdoche, New York" will be directed this spring by Kaufman himself. According to imdb, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Michelle Williams have been cast, though the movie is still casting.

The great thing about Charlie Kaufman is that though Hollywood likely (sadly) has no interest in ever making a ton of Kaufmanesque movies, it's great that he is out there, doing fresh and inventive things and inspiring us by showing that it's not always about staying inside the lines, even in Hollywood.

And whenever an imaginative film comes out, like "Stranger Than Fiction", everyone assumes that Kaufman wrote it, even though he had nothing to do with it.

So there's something out there to look forward to, though it's hard to imagine that it'll hit theaters before late 2007 at the earliest.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Stranger than Fiction

Work has fallen on me like an avalanche, plus I just had a house guest, so the sprint is over.

So, blogwise, all you get is YouTube :-)

This movie is getting great buzz, and the trailer works well. It looks Charlie Kaufman-esque, though he didn't write it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

nina gordon - straight outta compton

Not safe for work.

An unexpectly beautiful cover version of the N.W.A. song, if you can get past all the uses of the N-word and the MF-word, run atop the original video.

Nina Gordon is a fav or mine; was in the band Veruca Salt

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Bob Dylan - 'When The Deal Does Down'

Scarlett seems to be the muse of the day for aging legends.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's Usually A Marathon, But Sometimes It's A Sprint

An important thing for all aspiring screenwriters to understand is that good screenwriting doesn't come overnight. There really aren't all that many examples of people who have written (and then sold) a great script off the bat, and usually those stories have some other hook to them; it turns out that the writer had written a bunch of shorts, or cut his teeth on something else.

This business is a marathon. It's not really a business for the "I just wrote my first script, who do I sell it to" people, though lord knows they are out there.

It's about writing, and writing regularly, and learning through writing (and reading, and watching movies).

But sometimes, in the midst of the marathon, there are sprints.

I find myself in a strange place right now. As a Nicholl semifinalist, suddenly I have a little cachet. Aside from my Nicholl script, and my frozen time script, I have a supernatural thriller that I'm polishing up. I have a lot of ammo to go out and get an agent.

Yet oddly, at this very moment, there's this weird lull in my entire life.

My supernatural thriller is out to my most trusted readers, to get notes on, but who knows when those notes will trickle in (nag, nag). My very-low-paid rewrite is still in the hands of the producer, and I'd be perfectly happy not to see that for a while. I was working on a horror script, but as I mentioned in the last post, I'm tired of killing people every 10 pages.

But the Hollywood lull continues. I literally have no paid work to do.

So last weekend, I came up with an idea for a comedy, and I did some early brainstorming with my wife as we drove around the Valley (she even came up with one good story idea for it). Sunday and Monday I jotted down notes, and all week I've been pounding them into a 6-page "Blueprint" (which is a lot messier and less polished than a treatment).

Yesterday, I even went online and did (yes! no!) some actual research.

The result isn't fully realized, but it's coming together. At first, the point of it was just to get all these ideas out of my head and into a rough treatment form, so that at some future date I could pick it up and be able to run with it, or at least have something to pitch.

But then last night -- still with nothing to do workwise, and wanting to keep the whole writing momentum thing going -- I mustered my discipline, sat at my laptop, and knocked out the first 11 pages, in a little over 2 hours.

They're rough, and I've already thought of ways to rework parts of them, though I'm trying to be more of a get-the-first-draft-on-paper guy and less a fiddle-with-the-first-draft-and-get-stuck-in-act-one-forever guy (though both are better than the find-the-story-as-I-go-along guy I used to be).

But it feels good to create; I've been doing much too much rewriting of my own (and others') stuff recently, and just not enough pure creation.

I think my record for pounding out a draft of something is 8 days, though that was a page 1 rewrite, turning my vampire script into a werewolf script; I wound up changing 98% of the stuff in the script, though. The result wasn't great, but it wasn't bad for 8 days.

In terms of pure creation, I think I did the first draft of my frozen time script in just 10 days of actual typing time, though I had completely roughed out the story beforehand, though that itself was a process that occurred shockingly quickly.

But now I'm back in the sprint. I know that soon work is going to come crashing down on me (which is good; we need the money), but until that wave breaks I'm going to pound away at this script as much as I can. And hopefully I'll get myself in a groove where I can continue to devote an hour or two to it at night, every night, and wind up with another script in my arsenal for the big agent hunt.

I'm going back to it now.

For the screenwriters out there, what's the fastest you ever knocked out a first draft?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Character Needs A Job

So while I'm waiting to get notes back from friends on my supernatural thriller, I started noodling around with an idea for a comedy, mostly because I wanted to write something fun for a change.

Everything I've been writing recently has been fairly bleak. Lots of bodies hitting the ground. In my supernatural thriller, the meek female main character kills four times along the way. In the low-pay rewrite I did, by the end corpses are littering the frame. The horror script I started working on was just more of the same, so finally I've pushed it to the side.

Anyhow, the comedy is coming along well; I've been brainstorming the hell out of it, and I already have a rather fleshed-out treatment.

But I need a good job for my main character. And I figured I'd just toss the question out here, rather than falling back on something generic and familiar, like his being in advertising.

Here are the parameters:

The main character (Ben) works in an office in Chicago.

The job is slightly dull, but pays well, and has the opportunity to pay even better should Ben get a promotion. But it isn't really creatively fulfilling; there's definitely a sense that financial compensation is by far the reason why he is doing this job.

The company he works for needs high-end clients; Ben is expected to help wine-and-dine potential clients when they are in town.

It's all fairly basic, and it's not going to be a huge part of the action, but at the same time it's an important enough element to make me want to do something interesting with it.

Anyone have a job for Ben?

Monday, September 04, 2006

Blue Car

So continuing my weekend of catching up on movies made from Nicholl Fellowship-winning scripts, last night I watched "Blue Car".


The irony about "Blue Car" is that at first glance it seems to fit the formula of scripts that do well in the Nicholl competition -- the main character is a creative young person (in this case a teenage girl poet) who blossoms under the tutelage of a male mentor, who turns out to have a troubled life of his own. It's basically the same plot as "Akeelah and the Bee" and "Finding Forrester".

But the take here is much more stark and real, it throws some nice curveballs along the way, and ultimately it doesn't actiually have all that much in common with the other two movies. There were times in this movie that I had absolutely no idea where it was going next, but I wanted to. Which is pretty much what writers strive for.

"Blue Car" was directed by its writer, Karen Moncrief. Leads Agnes Bruckner and David Strathairn do very impressive work. It's not a happy movie, but it is a very good one. A strong recommendation from me.

Ironically, in the history of the Nicholl, there have been 85 winning scripts. Only 8 have been made into movies that got any kind of real theatrical release; along with "Blue Car", "Finding Forrester" and "Akeelah and the Bee", the others are "Mean Creek", "Traveler", "Closet Land" "Down in the Delta" and "Arlington Road". Another handful were made as low-budget films, and played the festival circuit.

(1998 was a particularly stellar year, with "Blue Car", "Finding Forrester" and "Mean Creek" all winning the Nicholl in the same competition).

But it just goes to show you that even winning a big contest like this is still no guarantee that your script will ever be made. It is a tough business.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Akeelah and the Bee

I finally caught this on DVD, and this is a very, very solid movie, that just does everything right.

For every slightly-formulaic moment, there's another scene that's a surprise. Mostly it's just good writing, and acting.

And you have to love a movie that's concerned with the inspirational power of just letting yourself be smart, and how that affects those around you.

The writer-director is Doug Atchison, who won a Nicholl Fellowship in 2000 for this screenplay.

Rent it. One of the best movies of the year.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

So I'm reading a screenplay the other day, and I come across this immortal line of dialogue:

He'll me what's on them go.

It's a classic case of not proofreading your screenplay when you send it to someone to read, and it's something of a running complaint of mine, because I get so many scripts to read with dumb, didn't-the-writer-read-through-this? mistakes throughout.

I don't care if it's just a rough draft, that you are sending to a friend to read. There shouldn't be stuff like this in it, that is just plain incoherent.

Unfortunately, the big problem here?

The script was mine.

Last weekend, I was a good boy. I printed out my rough draft of my supernatural thriller, and went through it page by page, reading it through, finding typos, making a few changes, spinning a scene in a new direction here and there.

Then I sat down, and typed up all the changes. And I was happy, because I finally had it to the point where I was ready to send it to friends to read, to see if the rewrite worked.

And I did, immediately, flushed with the success of a finished draft.

But I hadn't taken the time to proofread the changes. And that little brain fart snuck through.

"He'll me what's on them go". Jesus.

That's going on the wall, as a little reminder.

Proofread your scripts thoroughly before you send them out.

Talent and Awe

In thinking about the concert I saw the other night, it occurred to me how awed I am by talented singer-songwriters.

There's something about watching someone really good, on a stage, performing their music, that really grabs me. It's the closest thing to idol worship I have.

The irony? I don't really feel that way about screenwriters. And that bothers me.

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of screenwriters I respect a lot. But I just don't have that sense of wow. Of awe.

Maybe it's because it has lost its mystery for me. I'm a reader and a writer, I've seen behind the curtain. Well-known screenwriters are just people like you and me, who are very good at crafting words.

Meanwhile, I have no musical skill at all. None. So it's all a marvelous mystery to me, being able to sit down, and write a great song, then be able to play it onstage and wow an audience... Much less 10 songs. Or 110.

There's no real similarity in screenwriting. Screenplays aren't really meant to be read; their purpose is to be a movie. So they are awkward, unsexy beasts, part of a long process that by its end just feels more and more divorced from the original creator.

Sure, screenwriters can stand on a stage, and read from their screenplays. But for me it doesn't stand up to a solid tunesmith working their art.

I hate feeling like this. I should be a scribe-worshipper. I shouldn't be feeding into the same mindset that leads teens looking to get laid to form a garage band, and not a screenwriting team.

But, sad as it is to admit, given the choice, I'd rather break bread with Neil Young than William Goldman. Tip a beer with Billy Corgan, rather than Shane Black. Tar Aimee Mann's driveway, rather than Charlie Kaufman's.

Sorry Charlie.

But somedays, I wish I could just write a perfect little song, and sing it on a perfect little stage. And kudos to the people that have the talent to do it.