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

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


For whatever reason, the script ideas seem to be flowing for me. I'm not complaining, but it is creating a logjam.

I've never been a big start-a-script-then-back-burner-it guy. I'm more of a rewrite-the-same-script-endless-times kind of guy.

Anyhow, last fall I had an amusing idea for a comedy, that I brainstormed a lot, and then knocked out about 15 pages off, before getting bogged down in actual work stuff.

Then I came up with an idea for a dark comedy fantasy thriller, and put the comedy to the side to work on that. I came up with a rough storyline, started knocking it out, and even got 25 pages in pretty good shape for my screenwriting group, where they tore it apart, but in a way that made it clear that there was something to the idea. Cool.

But then, a little over a week ago, I started pondering the idea of writing something that can be done for a low budget. Not that I have any desire to direct it myself (I don't), but it seems like everyone is always looking for genre scripts that can be filmed relatively inexpensively, and yet everything I tend to write has something to it that it going to require special effects or at least a butt-load of locations.

So I started pondering what story I could tell, that had minimal locations and only a few characters. And I came up with an idea. And then I thought about it some more, and expanded it, and then came up with a cool twist. And then the ideas started really flowing.

The capper was on Sunday, when I drove up north with my wife; we noodled around the back roads up to Solvang, turned aroud, and came home. And on the drive back, I pitched her the story.

If you can't tell your story to a rapt audience in a car, your story doesn't work yet.

This time it did. I hooked her, she loved the twists, she wanted me to write it. Which isn't something that often happens.

So the other script has been moved to the back-burner; I will finish it someday. But I've got a new obsession.

Stay tuned.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #16

This weekend's boxoffice is about as generic as it gets, and pretty much exemplifies the kinds of movies that Hollywood is determined to keep making and making, even if most don't turn out to be very good.

There's the romantic comedy, the spoof comedy, the horror film, and the Tarantinoesque actioner; all look rather derivative, and there isn't a lot of real wanna-see factor to any of them.

Add that to the holdover "urban" film (Stomp the Yard), the holdover family film (Night at the Museum) and all the Oscar bait, and pretty much all audiences are covered.

New films this weekend:

EPIC MOVIE (2801 screens). When they are funny (like Airplane, or Scary Movie 1, 3 and 4) these films work. But there is nothing in the commercials for this movie that make me think that this approaches those films on any level. Still, people will probably see it. $14.8 million.

SMOKIN' ACES (2204 screens). Tarantinoesque-type dark comic action/violence tales were out for a while; let's see if this can resurrect the genre. They got a lot of interesting actors in it, and at least director Joe Carnahan (Narc) has something of a track record. $11.2 million.

CATCH AND RELEASE (1622 screens). I guess women have to see something, but there doesn't seem to be any real hook to this tale. The fact that Erin Brockovich writer Susannah Grant wrote and directed this is interesting, while Jennifer Garner is likable, but I don't think most guys will want to go near it, and date night might turn into an Epic Movie compromise. Call it $7.8 million.

BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (1200 screens). Dumb title, very generic looking tale, and a dozen films just like it at Blockbuster. I think Smokin' Aces will kick its butt. $4.4 million.

The interesting thing is that if any of these films break big -- or fail big -- it'll be an interesting sign of how these genres are holding up.

Thoughts? Predictions?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

50 Things

Inspired by a post over at Borderline Inappropriate, here are 50 things about me --

50. I once almost ran over Ed Asner on the Warner Brothers lot.

49. I used to part my hair in the middle, but sometime in my 20s I was talked out of it.

48. My wife and I play board games almost every night.

47. I don’t like olives.

46. I used to cry while getting my hair cut. I’m not sure when this ended, but it went on for far too long.

45. I once had a mad crush on Winona Ryder, but I never stalked her.

44. I have been to hundreds of baseball games in my life, but never caught a ball, though I was with two people who did.

43. I don’t really enjoy “2001: A Space Odyssey”.

42. My first screenplay was about vampires on a college campus. It wasn’t very good. I later reworked it into a script about werewolves on a college campus. It was only slightly better.

41. I once scored a perfect 800 on the math section of the SATs, and I knew it when I did it. It's largely a wasted skill now, though.

40. I have ridden horses twice in my life. One was in Quebec, the other was in Las Vegas.

39. Cats, not dogs.

38. I never ate sushi until I moved out to Los Angeles. Now I eat it a lot.

37. Supposedly, when my brother was about 16, he made out with Mariah Carey, who lived only a few blocks away. She was a few years younger.

36. I only have one cup of coffee a day. But it’s a really huge cup.

35. My second semester of college, my GPA was 0.79. I made the dean’s list the next three semesters.

34. I have a lot of awards, but they were all for Mathletes. Again, wasted skill.

33. While working as a movie theater manager in Manhattan, I once checked Adrian Lyne’s ID. It was him.

32. Billy Crystal makes me laugh.

31. I met my wife on Valentine’s Day. I married her on Valentine’s Day one year later. I have very few anniversaries to remember.

30. I have absolutely no skill at music or art at all. And don't ask me to sing.

29. My first memory is running in the waves with my father, with my pants on. It felt like we were doing a forbidden thing.

28. My mother-in-law makes great tamales.

27. Little House On The Prairie molded my moral sensibility, for good or bad.

26. In high school, me and my friends used to go to the roller rink every Friday night. I was a geek full of yearning.

25. I believe that the movie “200 Cigarettes” is more amusing than most people give it credit for.

24. Despite not being a churchgoer, one summer I worked as a counselor at a YMCA sleepaway camp. The next summer I worked at a Jewish camp.

23. My parents had only a black-and-white TV for most of my youth.

22. When I lived in Manhattan, I shared an apartment with the guy who builds the Phillie Phanatic and other mascots. His workshop made up 90% of the apartment.

21. I have finally broken my addiction to “Desperate Housewives”.

20. In high school, me and a few friends took an embroidery class. We were the only guys in it. We played poker most of the time. I embroidered a slice of cherry pie onto a t-shirt.

19. I like playing golf, but I’m really not very good at it. Ditto pool.

18. There was one point, not too long ago, when I had read everything that Stephen King had ever written.

17. I once broke my hand punching a bully in the face. He never flinched.

16. The first two albums I ever owned were Queen’s “A Night At The Opera” and Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver”.

15. The original “House on Haunted Hill” is the only movie that gave my nightmares as a kid.

14. In Atlantic City, I once bet $100 on a hand of blackjack, and was dealt an ace and a jack.

13. I wrote a puppet show, which was performed in Manhattan.

12. Hot foods make my nose run.

11. “King of the Hill” is one of my favorite movies. No, not the cartoon.

10. In high school, I wore corduroy pants every day. I have no explanation for this. I haven’t worn corduroy pants since.

9. When I’m tired, I will occasionally cry during movies.

8. I once took a 3 1/2 day bus trip across the U.S., from Long Island to Seattle. My seatmates included at least one ex-con.

7. I don’t really like roller coasters, but a good flume is cool.

6. I know several people who have sold scripts for big bucks. Neither have writing skills I don’t possess.

5. I am not sure I’ve ever done anything that could be considered truly crazy. Though it might be time.

4. At age 14, I thought “1941” was the best movie ever. I grew out of it.

3. One of my ancestors might have invented saccharine.

2. I have had facial hair ever since I could.

1. I wish I could cook better.

My Words Hung In The Air

As previously mentioned, I joined a screenwriting group, a weekly gathering of very solid writers. One of the cool things is that once a month each writer gets the chance to hear actors (there are a number of talented up-and-comers who show up each week) read 25 pages of their script out loud.

Last night was my night. In fact, it was the first time I'd ever heard anyone read anything out loud that I had ever written, something that was long, long overdue, being that I'd long heard that it was truly a good thing for screenwriters to actively seek out.

As experiences go, it was pretty cool. The dialogue seemed to flow pretty well, while any repetitive lines in the dialogue and the scene description jumped out. The actors had some fun with the dark comedy of the material, which was nice to see, and afterward everyone there gave me a lot of really good notes about what didn't work.

I suspected that this would be a good experience, but now I'm sold. There's definite benefit in getting this new POV of one's work. It also made it clear that my first 30 pages were still rather rough, and that there is a lot that needs to be reworked for me to find the best story in the material, but I knew that going in, and now I have more of a sense of where the script's current shortcomings are.

Still, people seemed very intrigued with the premise, and had no idea where I was heading with it; in fact, several of the other writers worried that I had written myself into a corner. Since I know exactly where it is all heading, this made me happy; the fact that they were wondering where it was going next, and had no idea, can only be a good thing.

It all gives me a lot more motivation to have pages ready for my next session, a discipline-goose that is always welcome.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Children Of Men

I finally saw it, and I liked it a lot. One of the best movies I've seen in the last few years. If you haven't seen it, stop reading now, and go see it.


It's hard to know where to stop talking about what really works well here. The bleak future-world is well-realized; we're given enough of a glimpse of things to make it seem very fleshed out, with a myriad of things only hinted at.

In fact, one can say that about the whole film. We never learn a lot about the main characters, but the script does a good job revealing who they really are through action, while things keep moving briskly enough that we never find ourselves wondering about Kee's backstory.

The basic storyline is really very simple -- a man has to get a woman from point A to point B, with various people trying to stop them -- but the writers (there were a bunch of them, working from a novel by P.D. James) do a very good job weaving the tale out of a series of great sequences, finding good mini-dramas each step of the way while making the danger Theo and Kee are in feel plausible throughout.

And the setpieces -- wow. I have no idea how they did that single-shot sequence in the car, while the third act is amazing.

In the comments two posts down, there was some debate over the story logic, with a poster feeling that the main characters were able to get away from the bad guys too easily at times, and that Theo's motivation never made much sense because the baby wasn't that important.

I never felt this at all. The one scene he cites in which they don't shoot at the tires, it was clearly because they didn't want to risk anything happening to Kee.

As for the baby not being important, clearly there's the idea that the scientists might be able to use Kee or the baby to figure out why Kee is fertile, while the idea that Theo wouldn't just leave her to die somewhere is an important part of his growth as a character and establishing who he is.

Great movie.

Friday, January 19, 2007

I've Said It Before, But I'll Say It Again...

I actually have posted on this before, but since they keep popping up in things I read, I feel that I need to rant about these bad screenwriting habits again.

Things that drive me crazy in your script:

CHARACTERS TALKING TO THEMSELVES. There are times when a character might logically talk to themselves -- hell, there are times when I talk out loud to myself -- but it needs to be done very judiciously and sparingly, if at all.

Instead, I read script after script, where the writer, desperate to make us understand what is going on in a character's head, will have them just blurt it out, even if there is no one else in the room.

I read one script the other day that had about 15 different incidences where this happened, with about a half-dozen different characters. And in most of the cases what they were saying was really very obvious anyway.

Trust your readers/audience to understand things, and if you think they need a push, figure out how to do it visually or more inventively. There's always a better way than the random I'm-alone-but-I'm-chatty blurt out.

MENTIONING THE MOVIE IN THE SCRIPT THAT YOUR SCRIPT IS SIMILAR TO. I've read two scripts in the last week that did this, part of an odd habit that is shockingly widespread and endlessly reoccurring.

It seems to be driven by guilt. Writers who find themselves penning scenes (or storylines) that are derivative of something that came before feel driven to namecheck this film, as if acknowledging it makes it okay.

But there are few really-original moments any more, and pointing out the ones your script is borrowing is counter-productive; it just makes the reader even more-aware that even you know that you haven't put forth the effort to make your tale truly original.

Best-case scenario? You make your script as original as possible. But if it does hew close to something that came before (because that's the best way to tell the story), don't feel you have to point it out. If you are doing a story about some kids going on an adventure, you really don't need a scene in which "The Goonies" plays on a TV in the background, or one of the kids mentions that in "Stand By Me" the kids found a body.

CRIMINAL MISUSE OF APOSTROPHES. "It's" is ONLY to be used to represent "it is", not when something is possessive.

"Let's" is short for "Let us", so you shouldn't write "Lets go".

Apostrophes are used as possessives, or to replace letters. If you are talking about the Kennedy clan, they are the Kennedys, not the Kennedy's.

It's The 1960s, not The 1960's. Shortening years, it should be The '60s, not The 60's.

Characters are in their 30s, not their 30's.

VARYING THE NAME OF THE SAME CHARACTOR IN THE SCENE DESCRIPTION. If a guy's name is John Brown, you shouldn't be calling him John sometimes, and Brown others. In the dialogue, fine, but not in the scene description.

And after you intro characters, we should never see their whole name again. It shouldn't say JOHN BROWN as the name over all the dialogue (much less something like ASSISTANT DA CHARLES KINCAID). Pick the first name or the last and stick with that, and make sure it's what you are calling him in the scene description.

EXCLAMATION POINTS IN SCENE DESCRIPTION. These look really amateurish. If you are writing an exciting scene well, you really don't need them.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Weekend Boxoffice #14 (In Retrospect)

I missed making my predictions last week because of all the other stuff going on, though I doubt they would have been very accurate: who could have guessed that "Stomp The Yard" would make $26 million in its first four days, particularly given the largely-unenthusiastic reviews that it got?

Still, looking at the box office in retrospect is important, because let's face it: how movies are performing drives the kind of scripts that sell, and for us aspiring screenwriters (you know who you are) it's all about what genres are hot, and what no one will buy in a million years.

For me, there's the added element that, as a reader, I can guess what I'll be seeing more of in the future. I think everyone is currently dusting off any old urban dance screenplays that they have.

Other things the current box office tells us:

FOR CERTAIN GENRES, HIGH CONCEPT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN REVIEWS. If you are going to make a serious drama, you better get the critics behind you, but for movies like "Stomp the Yard" and "Night at the Museum", critical plaudits haven't been necessary. "Night at the Museum" made another $21.5 million over the four-day weekend, and has made a remarkable $190 million in 5 weeks, especially considering that its stars Ben Stiller and Robin Williams aren't sure box office draws.

SOMETIMES, EVEN GOOD REVIEWS DON'T HELP. The most surprising underperformer is "Children of Men", which is supposed to be great (I haven't see it; I am pitifully far behind), but which did a relatively-disappointing $7 million or so for the 4-day weekend, dropping off more from the previous week than the other big movies did. "Children of Men" cost $76 million, and has only made $22 million so far, while the Golden Globes ignored it completely. Unless it gets some surprising Oscar nominations, it could fade away, which is unfortunate; these are the kind of movies that one wishes did really well, to encourage studios to bankroll intelligent action-thrillers.

THERE'S STILL ROOM FOR UPBEAT, WELL-MEANING MOVIES. Perhaps as the reaction to our uncertain times, movies like "The Pursuit of Happyness" and "Freedom Writers" are doing well; "Freedom Writers even made more money than "Children of Men" this weekend, after trailing it last weekend. People apparently want earnest stories of hope, especially when the buzz on them is pretty good. That may also explain why "Stomp The Yard" made almost 4 times as much as "Alpha Dog" did.

GOOD MUSICALS WILL MAKE MONEY. Just because no one wanted to see the mediocre "Rent" didn't mean that the musical is dead. "Dreamgirls" has already made $67 million, and it's likely to keep performing well for a while, particularly in the wake of its Golden Globe wins.

ANIMATION IS NO LONGER A SURE THING.... "Arthur and the Invisibles", which cost $86 million, made only $5.8 million in its first 4 days. I don't know if kids were aware of (or cared about seeing) this movie, but they certainly weren't advertising it during anything I was watching.

... BUT HORROR MOVIES PRETTY MUCH ARE. "Primeval" made $7 million in its first 4 days, even though I still have no idea if the killer is a man, an animal, some sort of supernatural entity, or a combination of all three.

SOME BIGGER SERIOUS MOVIES WITH NAME CASTS ARE TAKING A BEATING. "Blood Diamond" cost $100 million, and has only done $48 million in North America, though it may do well worldwide. "The Good Shepherd" has only made $54 million. "Babel", for all its plaudits, has only made $21 million. "The Good German" is completely taking; it has made less than a million dollars, and took only $73,000 from its 23 theaters last weekend. "Bobby" has only made $11 million.

GOOD SMALL MOVIES ARE BUILDING WELL.... "Pan's Labyrinth" made $2.7 million last weekend, despite playing in only 194 theaters. "Notes on a Scandal" made almost $2 million on 200 screens.

... EXCEPT WHEN THEY AREN'T. Neither "Miss Potter" nor "The Painted Veil" is doing all that well, while "Venus" desperately needs a Peter O'Toole Oscar nomination to find an audience.

Anyone see anything good this weekend?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Illusionist (No Spoilers)

I've always had a fascination with magic. As a kid I noodled around with those cheap magic kits, playing with the cups and balls and decks of cards, though I never had the dexterity or the patience to get really good at it.

When I lived in Manhattan, I used to go see Penn and Teller perform, and try to figure out how they did their tricks. The fun thing about their show is that they demonstrate how they do about one-third of the tricks, I could figure out another third, but the last third had me baffled. And it all worked.

Despite this, somehow I missed both The Illusionist and The Prestige in theaters, though I finally just caught up with The Illusionist on DVD. It does a lot of things very well, chiefly in its handling of the allure of magic -- both Paul Giamatti's and Rufus Sewell's characters are obsessed/intrigued by how magician Edward Norton does his tricks. Writer-director Neil Burger does a good job filtering a lot of the story through the perspective of Giamatti, a police inspector investigating Norton's character, whose awareness of the mysteries of what is happening and what isn't pretty closely mirrors the audience.

The tricks here are well-done as well, a string of intriguing illusions that both flesh out the story as well as driving it on certain levels; one waits in anticipation to see what the next trick will be.

The film isn't perfect. The actors' odd European accents are distracting at times, while Norton's accent ebbs and flows. Norton's character is also a bit too much of a cipher at the heart of the tale; there aren't enough real depths to his character. But given the nature of the story, this still sort of works; he's a magician, and we're not supposed to know all his secrets.

All-in-all, worth seeing.

There's also a contest for people to submit videos of magic tricks, if anyone has any ideas in that arena.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Reading Thing

This blog essentially started out as a blog about reading scripts, though it has morphed over the years, as I ran through the few good reading stories I had, took a bit of glee in posting really bad typos and spelling mistakes, and tried to toss out whatever knowledge came to me that hadn't already been chewed over too much other places.

It occurred to me the other day that I had drifted away from the reader posts, maybe because my reading work has been so unimpressive over the last year or so. I used to be a senior reader for Miramax/Dimension, where I'd get a lot of hot scripts that went somewhere, but then Miramax imploded, and since then I've been working for a lot of smaller production companies.

Unfortunately, they largely have me reading books (the cool companies I work for) or dumb teen stuff (the teen-geared company that I occasionally toil for) or the stuff that everyone else has pretty much already passed on (the basic-cable company that gives me the most work at this point).

On the plus side, most of the work is in Burbank or messengered, so I don't have to get on the 405 or try to go over the hills at rush hour.

On the downside, I can't remember the last script I read that was really good, or intriguing, or that was even inevitably destined for the big screen.

I'm looking for another client now, and I'm trying to rectify this, by trying to find a production company that is actually on the list of places that people immediately send good scripts for possible production. Hopefully that works out, and that soon I'll be able to say that I read the latest thing by that cool big-name writer.

Which has to be better than the dreadful uplifting, spiritual, angels-and-demon riddled tale I read last night, which was full of random dancing and misspellings in almost equal measure (my favorite -- "whole in the wall").

Meanwhile, welcome The Rouge Wave to the blogworld, another reader who is fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

And Then Real Life Crashes In

My wife's father died yesterday morning. He'd been in the hospital for about three weeks, on life support, after suffering a couple of serious heart attacks. The prognosis was grim from the start, though he hung on, unconscious and heavily medicated, for longer than anyone expected.

Though it's a long, involved, odd story, basically my wife and her father didn't really have much of a relationship; he removed himself from the lives of her, her siblings and their mother when she was young, and they had only had minimal contact since. He was a troubled man, who had had a serious drinking problem, though when my wife tracked him down several years ago, she was happy to learn that he had embraced AA and the local church and had been sober for 26 years.

There's a lot of other stuff too, that's too private to go into in a public forum like this. Suffice it to say that in a perfect world, he would have been a stronger man, but he wasn't, and my wife has made her peace with this.

I'm a lucky man. Until this week, I've never had to be even partially responsible for having to worry about what to do with someone who died, and after going through the process of helping with the funeral home/cemetery arrangements, I'm rather horrified by it all. Losing a family member is stressful enough; having to deal with everything that comes along with the aftermath adds another layer of stress.

I had no idea how much it costs to bury someone, even without many real bells or whistles. I know now.

But my wife is coming through this all very strongly, while it has formed new bonds between us and her father's family (his sisters and their grown children). So even in death, new things emerge.

But my writing is off on a shelf again. There's family stuff to deal with, and work piling up (not that I'm complaining) that needs to be done, and priorities that are being reshuffled. The volume of time that just last week hung on me like an albatross has now been entirely sucked away.

But it won't be long before I dust it off, and dive back in again. I've promised myself.

Until then, call your parents, and hug your kids.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The Process

So the screenplay I'm writing now is the first new one I've actually gotten immersed in in several years. My Nicholl script was an old script that I tweaked, while my supernatural thriller was the latest rewrite of a script I first wrote 2 or 3 years ago.

I did start several other scripts last year, only to get sidetracked and ultimately set them aside. I wrote about 40 pages of a horror movie rife with sex and violence; I wrote about 15 pages of a supernatural comedy that I had done a pretty full treatment of. Both are scripts I'd like to finish sometime this year.

But now I'm immersed in the new thing, and trying to refine my writing process, which is something that I know all writers wrestle with, and something that by its nature is different for everyone.

I used to dive into the actual writing process way, way too early. I'd come up with some interesting characters and a basic situation, and just jump right in. I dig the actual writing process much more than the sitting-around-and-thinking-about-it process, and I wasn't mature enough to rein myself in.

The good thing with this is that I'm the kind of writer who gets a lot of ideas while actually writing scenes, more so than in the pure-brainstorming process, so there's a method to my madness.

The very bad thing is that this process tends to take a long time, because in the course of finding the best story (which often had little resemblance to the story I started out with, while probably neither was actually the "best" story) I would write draft after draft after draft after draft.

I'd like to say that I'm such a genius writer that I knocked out my Nicholl semi script on the first pass. The truth is that it took about 20 drafts, during which a LOT of different storylines came and went.

But as I kept setting that script aside, and writing other stuff, I refined my process more. Some scripts came easier than others. My frozen time script somehow blew into my head fairly fully-formed; I wrote out an extended treatment of it, and then knocked out a first draft. It still took a few more passes and a couple of story shifts to get it right, but it was a lot less work than my Nicholl script was, while quality-wise they are fairly similar.

Still, the essential quandary for me (and, I'm guessing, a lot of other writers), is this:

A) The more I brainstorm ahead of time, the more I think out and figure out, the easier the actual physical writing process is going to be. But...

B) It is through the actual writing process that I generally discover most of the real meat of my story, as well as the shadings of my characters, and the journey they are going through.

Complicating things for me is that, as a professional reader, I'm constantly reading and analyzing other people's stories. Which is good in developing analytical skills, but bad if I am actually trying to hold my script, and whatever aspect I am working on, in my head, while someone else's plot is pushing it off the ledge.

With this new script, I decided on a process that mixed A and B in what is hopefully the most workable way possible. I figured out the story, and brainstormed it to the point that I knew the first act in some detail. The rest was somewhat vague, though I knew the ending, and had a lot of scenes and ideas that could fit in. I knew (I thought I knew) what the characters' journeys were, and how the story was going to reveal this.

And then I sat down, and tackled the first act.

And as expected, my characters started talking back. The story started to mutate, to change, to get better, but also to become different. To define itself in ways that I didn't expect.

But it's okay, because that's built into this process. Because the second half of the script isn't fixed in stone, there is enough flexibility for the tale to shift in ways that it needs to, without my feeling locked into something that I endlessly brainstormed.

That's not to say that I haven't embraced the thinking-about-the-script-a-lot aspect. I'm mixing getting-into-the-scene writing with brainstorming what's ahead. Some of the scenes doesn't work, or is rendered unworkable by later scenes, but I've gone back in and spun things a different way, or cut them.

Saturday I had a moment where I was concerned it all wasn't working. I had written a bunch of new scenes, but the script now felt unfocused and off, a jumble of good ideas and muddy structure.

Then I realized that the first part of the second act needed better juggling. Where the sequences should be A-B-C-D, I had it A-D-B-C. Things were happening too soon, that was throwing the tale off. I had a talk with D, moved him to a better location, thought about the implications of A-B-C-D in terms of the rest of the script, wrote several legal pad pages of notes, and suddenly it all clicked. Boo-yah.

Right now I'm benefitting from a lack of paying work, which is enabling me to give the attention to the script that I want to. But still, the time issue is something that needs to be finessed. If I write too fast, I'm not thinking things out enough; things need to simmer, not boil over. If I write too slow, the ideas in my head are losing their freshness, while I'm also risking losing this window of opportunity that the inevitable pile o' work is going to bring crashing down.

Still, I'm enjoying the experience. My decision to exercise my analytical skills more (via my $60 notes) over the last 15 months has definitely paid dividends; I now feel much stronger in analyzing my own work in progress, something that I had often struggled with in the past.

45 pages so far. Some of it is raw, a lot of it needs polishing, but I think it's on the right track. Feels good.

Anyone out there want to share their processes, go right ahead.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Pleasure Seeking

One of the aspects of my new script is a character who is almost pure id -- she is in a place in her life (he said vaguely) where she has been repressed for too long, and suddenly she just wants to get pleasure in whatever form she can.

Though I'm having fun reveling in various aspects of this (sex, food and revenge are currently well-covered), I figured I'd just toss it out there, and see if anyone has any wild suggestions.

I'm just looking for a few potent ways that a woman in a semi-urban area can blow a lot of cash in search of pure pleasure, something that doesn't take a lot of time or involve any travel. Immorality and self-destruction are definitely in character.


Friday, January 05, 2007

A Good Day

Though I'm not sure how much I really believe in fate -- I think that we make our own destinies -- part of me wonders if the complete lack of paying work I currently have is fate's way of making me pound out this new script.

So I brainstormed a lot of new second-half ideas, and thought about how to do more interesting visual things with my premise, a story idea which happily lends itself to "scenes we've never seen before", which are always very, very nice.

I continued pounding out my first act as well, and found my characters talking to me, which is also nice. Unexpectedly, I also found more dark humor creeping into the tale, which seems to serve it well. A lot of it still needs polishing and better finessing, but the tone of this script, which was elusive for a while, is starting to firm up.

By the end of the day, I had written 11 new pages, as well as reworking large chunks of the 12 previous pages. This morning I got up at 6AM, made my wife coffee and kissed her goodbye as she headed off to work, and then pounded out 2 more pages, essentially wrapping up the first act.

It still needs some work, but I'm very happy what's on the page so far, and at this point it's already a tight, intriguing 25 pages.

But I had most of the first act in my head, and now I'm heading into more uncharted territory. I know the basic plot beats of the story, but there's a lot of work to do within them, and though I have filled a lot of legal pad pages with ideas, there are a ton of choices to be still be made. In the past, I've seized on plots that seemed to work, rather than searching for the best one. This time, I'm determined to spend more time plotting, though the fact that I have a first act to build on definitely helps.

Last night, my wife asked me if I'd be disappointed if I never sold a script. She knows what a longshot it all is.

I told her that I enjoy writing, and until actual work comes in, it's either write or sit around and watch Judge Judy and The People's Court all day. She agreed that writing was better.

So now I'm headed to a coffee shop, to go through all my notes, and start organizing acts 2 and 3 on index cards, while brainstorming some more. I'm riding the wave, while it's there. I urge you all to seize the day as well, no matter what your urge is.

Weekend Boxoffice #13

I figured I'd keep this weekly prediction column going, even though new releases are going to be rather lowbrow for a while, the curse of the January/February movie dump.

Opening today:

HAPPILY N'EVER AFTER (2381 screens). This is a grammatically-wonky title -- it's unclear what the apostrophe is replacing -- and I have no real idea what the film's plot is or who the main character is. Still, the ad's linking it to Shrek will help, and people will probably see it. $11.7 million.

CODE NAME: THE CLEANER (1736 screens). I saw the commercial for this, and wow does it look bad. You can almost see Lucy Liu's career finish its death rattle. I suppose Cedric the Entertainer has his fan base, though that didn't help his version of The Honeymooners. $5.3 million.

FREEDOM WRITERS (1360 screens). On the downside, it looks earnest and very familiar, and I have no idea who will go see it; I think most teens will be apathetic, and most adults have plenty of stuff up for Oscar running that they still need to see (my shortlist: Children of Men, Pan's Labyrinth, Dreamgirls). But the one review I skimmed of this (in the LA Times) sort of liked it, and it is written and directed by writer Richard LaGravenese, who I like. But it's hard to see it making more than about $5.0 million.


CHILDREN OF MAN (from 16 screens to 1210). The buzz on this is just getting better, and though the screen count is still low, it should do around $10.1 million.

Look for NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (which is the season's big breakout hit, thanks to a lack of alternatives), THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS and DREAMGIRLS to finish 1-2-3 this weekend, in that order, probably all making between $12 million and $19 million.

What have you seen? What do you recommend, or not? What are you likely to see this weekend?

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Jet Lag and Writing

So though I'm back in L.A., I'm still on New York time, which is messing with my head.

Usually I'm a night person. I go to bed around 1-1:30, then get up around 9. But the last few days, I've been falling asleep around 9PM, and waking up around 4:15.

If the human race was meant to be up at 4:15, then there'd be something on TV at 4:15. I don't know if you have flipped around the channels in the wee hours recently, but pretty much everyone is well into infomercials by then.

I also have trouble focusing on writing when I'm tired, though I'm trying, particularly since, because Hollywood hasn't gotten up to speed yet in the new year, I have nothing to do but write.

So yesterday I pushed myself into brainstorming more of the second half of my new script, which I'd knocked out about 8 pages of in December. Since the first half of the script is pretty much all structured, I actually feel confident putting words on paper while the second half is still in flux, and playing with the pages is helping bring the story into focus.

Yesterday I also reworked those 8 pages, and added 4 more. So I'm up to 12. Today's plan is to write like a madman, at least until paying work falls on my head.

My slot in the writing group comes up on January 22. The plan is to have a solid first act, 25 pages for the actors there to cold read, so I can hear how it sounds and get feedback from my fellow writers. So far I'm on schedule, and I hope to be well beyond the 25-page mark by then.

Deadlines help.

Otherwise, I've been wading through season 2 of The Office, which was a gift from my lovely wife (after I hinted for it heavily, naturally). The great thing is that each episide has about 8 minutes of deleted scenes that are just as strong as anything actually in the episode; editing down what would be solid 30-minute shows into the 22-minutes they actually have must be tough every week, and its great that they throw all this material on the disk.

The commentaries are fun too. I can't recommend the DVD enough, especially if you are a fan of the show.

I'm caffeinated, and still tired. But it's time to suck it up. Back to the script...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Hell Has Frozen Over....

Josh Friedman has finally posted again, with more writing skill than I will ever have. Dammit.

There's a new post from Scoopy over at Hollywood Fun Camp as well. Nice to see that the new year has brought a few of my favorite blogs back to life.

A New Year

So I'm back in L.A., after spending ten days with my folks back on Long Island, New York, where I grew up.

It reminded me why I don't like the cold -- and it was a warm Christmas back east. Not helping was the fact that my parents' house is always cold (I guess they don't feel it) while because of their septic tank we were limited to 60-second showers.

We visited my sister in Connecticut, and the wife and I spent another day driving down to Philly just for the hell of it, where an old friend showed us around. We did the two big tourist things there -- we ran up the Rocky steps, and had an original Philly cheesesteak.

(Yeah, yeah, I know. We also drove past the Liberty Bell, and waved at it. But the line was too long, and there was no place to park).

I didn't see a single movie over the break, or read anything, or even watch much TV. I'm not sure what I did. I do feel recharged, though.

It terms of resolutions, it's all about the writing thing. Hopefully the screenwriting group I joined will keep me writing regularly. Otherwise, I need to just get what I have out there, and try to take advantage of my living in L.A. to make something happen on the screenwriting side.

Happy New Year. Let's all have a good one.