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

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Back On The Writing Horse

Though I did some writing this month -- I did a polish of my low-budget thriller, though I just got some notes back from someone I know, so it still needs a little tweakage -- this week I finally decided to buckle down again.

I spent several hours each of the past several days wrestling with the rewrite of my fantasy/comedy, trying to get the first act to work, mostly involving figuring out how to set-up the main character. It's getting there.

I'm going to try to keep the writing going. 2 straight days so far with an least an hour. I think last year I topped off at 70; let's see if I can do better. I have a lot of writing I want to do.

And yes Dave, if you are reading this, someday this year we'll dive back into that thing.


I was sitting in a coffee shop yesterday typing on my laptop when a cute young woman came up to me, and told me I wasn't supposed to be writing because there was a strike. She was kidding, but I told her I wasn't a pro. She introduced herself anyway, but since I'm married, I immediately forgot her name, and she wandered out with her friends.

Nothing like that ever happened when I was single.


In the weird-rating detail of the week, the upcoming "Strange Wilderness" is rated R partly because of "non-stop language".

Wow. How much profanity do you need to have to get them to throw "non-stop" into the rating description?


On February 23, some AMC Theaters are offering a special deal in which you can pay $30 and see all five Best Picture nominees, in a row, on the same day.

Given how bleak most of the nominees are, it's hard to imagine that many people will make it the whole way, though you do get a pass that allows you to skip a movie or two and come back in. You get a free refillable large popcorn too.

It starts at 11 AM, and the film order is Michael Clayton, There Will Be Blood, Atonement, Juno and No Country For Old Men, finishing a little over 12 hours later.

There Will be Film Geeks. Not sure if I'll be one of them, but marathon days like this are fun. I once sat through Star Treks 1-5 in a row in a theater.

Monday, January 28, 2008

There Will be Blood/I Am Legend

No real spoilers.

So I caught both these movies yesterday, in a rather downbeat double-feature; the wife and I could have capped it off by sneaking into Cloverfield, but it seemed like a bit much.

There Will Be Blood is definitely a great movie on a lot of levels; it's a very intense character piece, Daniel Day Lewis is mesmerizing, and Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the best directors working today. But it is long, and it does lack a particularly satisfying third act, at least to mainstream moviegoers. But I thought it worked. Not something I'm liable to watch again all too soon, but a very, very solid film.

I Am Legend is interesting and well made too, though it has some nagging questions to it, mostly rooted in the fact that the movie jumps into the story very late, and then glosses over the question of exactly what did happen during the transition from a populated New York City to the one we see in the movie.

Mostly the question of why Will Smith's character didn't save any of the other survivors that there must have been in the city at one point. Which could have all been interesting, particularly as set-up to the climax we get here, but instead goes naggingly unexplained.

Still, I generally liked this film as well.


In weekend estimates, Meet the Spartans has indeed been declared the surprise winner, with about $18.7 million. Its filmmakers also found success with Date Movie and Epic Movie, which I also didn't see, but which apparently weren't very good at all. Apparently with this sort of scattershot pseudo-parody comedy, quality really doesn't matter.

Rambo did about $18.1 million, Untraceable did an okay $11.2 million, and the well-reviewed How She Move tanked with only about $4 million.

Cloverfield dropped 68% in its second week, while 27 Dresses hung on pretty well and beat it for third place.

Juno crossed the $100 million line. Congrats, and it'll be interesting to see how studios try to figure out how to make another movie to capture the same audience.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Weekend Box Office #68

There has been some freaky weather out in the LA area this week. I was walking down the street in Studio City yesterday when it started hailing.

Last night there were tornado warnings for the Malibu area.

There's also going to be some action at movie theaters this weekend:

RAMBO (2751 theaters). Though recent (downbeat) war movies haven't been doing that well, there's probably an audience to see someone kicking ass in a foreign land. Even if they are using a walker. It should do about $20.2 million, and battle CLOVERFIELD for the top spot.

MEET THE SPARTANS (2605 theaters). This looks really, really stupid, but sometimes that's what people are looking for. $10.7 million.

UNTRACEABLE (2368 theaters). I've only seen the trailer, but I think I already know who the bad guy is. Still, films like this often do well. $9.8 million.

HOW SHE MOVE (1531 theaters). This was an Sundance last year, and is supposed to be solid of its type. $8.9 million.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD more than doubles its screen count to 885, while NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN and ATONEMENT continue to expand, and MICHAEL CLAYTON reopens on over 1000 screens.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Oscar Nominations

So the Oscar Nominations were announced this morning. I know, it's all very subjective and meaningless, but I've always feel a little movie-geeked out when they are announced.

No real surprises this year. A couple of minor ones -- 13-year-old actress Saoirse Ronan got a supporting-actress nomination for Atonement, and Casey Affleck got the family's first acting nomination for his supporting work in The Assassination of Jesse James, in which he was very good.

Cate Blanchett was nominated twice, for Best Actress (in Elizabeth, the Golden Age) and Best Supporting Actress (playing an incarnation of Bob Dylan in I'm Not There). Probably the two most-disparate roles that anyone has ever been nominated for in the same year.

No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood tied for the most nominations, with 8 each; Michael Clayton and Atonement got 7 (even though Atonement was skipped over for Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director). They were all nominated for Best Picture, along with Juno.

Well-reviewed films that were largely shut out include Sweeney Todd, Eastern Promises, American Gangster, 3:10 To Yuma, Charlie Wilson's War, The Great Debaters, Into the Wild, the Bourne Ultimatum and Once. It was a pretty good year for movies.

Best Actor: George Clooney, Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones (In the Valley of Elah), Johnny Depp (Sweeney Todd) and Viggo Mortenson (Eastern Promises).

Best Actress: Blanchett, Page, Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose), Julie Christie (Away From Her), and Laura Linney (The Savages).

Best Supporting Actor: Affleck, Javier Bardem (No Country For Old Men), Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Charlie Wilson's War) and Tom Wilkinson (Michael Clayton).

Best Supporting Actress: Blanchett, Ronan, Ruby Dee (American Gangster), Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone).

Best Animated Film: Ratatouille, Persepolis, Surf's Up.

Best Director: Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Jason Reitman (Juno), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood)

Best Adapted Screenplay: Christopher Hampton (Atonement), Sarah Polley (Away From Her), Ronald Harwood (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country For Old Men), Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood).

Best Original Screenplay: Diablo Cody (Juno), Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Nancy Oliver (Lars and the Real Girl), Brad Bird (Ratatouille), Tamara Jenkins (The Savages).

Impressively, that's four writing nominations for women, including three of the five best original screenplay nominees.

I'd post my list of the best films of the year, but I still shamelessly, woefully haven't seen a lot of these. Soon.

If anyone else wants to make their picks, go for it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Three Chainsaws

My old friend Tom has reworked his blog (originally called The One Year Push) into something that better reflects his current obsessions. Check it out here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Weekend Box Office #67

When was the last time three movies opened wide on the same weekend, and all featured female leads?

Okay, CLOVERFIELD is a bit of a cheat; though actresses Lizzy Caplan and Jessica Lucas get top billing, this seems more due to the fact that the ensemble cast is listed alphabetically than there being the featured performers.

But both 27 DRESSES and MAD MONEY are both firmly female-driven, not only having female main characters, but also female writers and directors.

They are obviously out there as holiday-weekend counterprogramming to CLOVERFIELD, though it'll be interesting to see if they cannibalize each other, particularly with JUNO out there making another $10 million or so.

CLOVERFIELD (3411 theaters). Early word is that this is a bit thin but still effective. It's also really short; if you don't count the 10 minutes of closing credits, the movie itself is only 75 minutes long. Which will allow theaters to add an extra show or two a day. Look for this to be huge; Call it $51.1 million for the 4-day Martin Luther King weekend.

27 DRESSES (3057 theaters). The verdict is out on whether Katherine Heigl can carry a movie, but this one seems amiable enough. $12.2 million for the four days.

MAD MONEY (2470 theaters). This looks a bit too light and dumb, though Queen Latifah is liable to bring in a lot more viewers than either Diane Keaton or Katie Holmes (while it's hard to know how Diane's accidental dropping of the f-bomb on Good Morning America the other day will affect it, if at all). Figure about $7.8 million for the four days.

Woody Allen's latest, CASSANDRA'S DREAM, also opens today 107 theaters, starring two guys (Ewan MacGregor and Colin Farrell) who don't seem to be able to lure people to films that aren't great, and apparently this one isn't.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Taking My Laptop Out For Coffee

So one of my odder quirks has been that I've never been a laptop-in-public kind of guy.

Part of it is paranoia; I'm worried that I'll drop the damn thing, or that someone will swipe it. Though I'm way too careful for either of those to happen, so it's all rather senseless.

So I've had this new laptop for about a year, and bought a bag to carry it in with it, but I hadn't used the bag at all, except when I moved the laptop to the new apartment.

But today I finally sucked it up, and took the laptop out with me. Actually put it on a table in a place that serves coffee, and let it live off its battery for a while. Knocked out about 10 pages of my rewrite. Felt nice.

It helps that I've finally found a great place to go in the afternoons, when I get stir-crazy being in the apartnent and need to get out.

I've been prowling my new neighborhood in my car, looking for the perfect coffee shop. Generally in the past I've often wound up sucking it up and going to a Starbucks or a Coffee Bean, though I don't really like the coffee at either.

And though there are two Starbucks within a half mile of my apartment, both have terrible parking.

My needs are small. I don't really need a place to plug in my laptop. I don't care about being on the Internet in public (it's nice to be away from the distraction).

All I need is a place where I can camp out for a couple of hours without feeling rushed, where the music is low but not too low, where there are enough people to make people-watching interesting, but not enough to be too distracting. Good coffee is a plus too.

So anyhow, I found it. Ironically, it's a place I've been in before, a small place that specializes in gelato, but which also has great coffee and tasty baked goods.

A place that's fairly dead in the afternoons, so I can camp out at a table in the window, read and write without being disturbed, and occasionally watch the people passing by.

Today, as a bonus, totally randomly, I looked up to realize that they were playing the new Rilo Kiley CD in its entirety. Quietly, but not too quietly.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Maybe On Page 81 the Ropes Would Have Broken -- Into Song

One of my clients is a TV network that caters to kids. You can probably narrow it down.

On Friday, they gave me the manuscript of a book to read, to look at as a possible series aimed at young boys.

So I curl up with the book, and on the first page the dead body of a boy is found on the bottom of a pool.

Okay, yikes, but this might be workable. Maybe the main character is the ghost of the dead boy.

The body passes through the hands of two characters, both in their late 20s or so. The girl works in the morgue; the guy works in his family's funeral home.

They go out together to a club. They smoke some pot. They have sex.

She has a troubled past. Scars on her wrist. They are obsessed with each other. Soon they get into some hardcore bondage and other sexual activity.

No ghost of the dead boy. No kids at all. In context, probably a good thing.

It's become pretty clear that some awful mistake has been made, but I read the first 80 pages (about a third of the book) anyway, because one never knows. But when the girl starts to dig getting tied up with ropes, I finally pull the plug and send off an e-mail, just to let them know that this probably wasn't the "tale of a boy overcoming obstacles" that they were looking for.

It's sort of the reader equivalent of sitting down to watch The Little Mermaid, and finding some Cinemax-tame porn taped over it.

I'm still waiting to hear back about what someone, somewhere, was thinking...

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Saw a Couple of Very Good Movies Today --

The first was Charlie Wilson's War, which works well, a nice blend of humor, based-on-fact drama, solid dialogue (via Aaron Sorkin), and lots of very good acting. And yeah, Philip Seymour Hoffman steals every scene he is in.

The other was The Great Debaters, which I thought was going to be an okay rousing drama, but which turns out to be much more than that.

Combined, the movies have 5 Best Actor/Best Actress winners between them. And all 5 are very solid.

No deep analysis; it's my day off. Just two movies worth checking out.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Weekend Box Office #66

A trio of unexciting new releases, though that's not unexpected -- it's January, when Oscar-bait holdovers still rule the box office.

Though I have a feeling that when CLOVERFIELD comes out next week, it'll do a lot to reverse the expectations of how well a solid new movie released in January can do.

This week's wide openers:

FIRST SUNDAY (2213 theaters). Actually, this looks like it could be funny, and the cast (Ice Cube, Katt Williams, Tracy Morgan) should bring in a decent crowd. $10.1 million for the weekend.

IN THE NAME OF THE KING: A DUNGEON SIEGE TALE (1605 theaters). Uwe Boll is one of the worst directors ever, having done such forgettable films as HOUSE OF THE DEAD, ALONE IN THE DARK and BLOODRAYNE, and yet they keep letting him make more videogame movies (and according to imdb, he's got 6 more in the pipeline). It's hard to believe this one will do all that well. $5.5 million.

THE PIRATES WHO DON'T DO ANYTHING (1336 theaters). This must be one of the worst titles ever; talk about your passive characters. I can just imagine the pitch: "They're pirates. But they don't do anything". "Nothing?" "Nothing at all". Yeah, it's a Veggietales movie, and aimed firmly at little kids, but don't they want their pirates to swash, or at least buckle? And is anyone really going to see this in a theater when it'll probably be available for $4 at Walmart in 10 weeks? Probably a couple. $2.5 million.

THE BUCKET LIST expands from 16 theaters to 2911; look for it to do better than any of the new releases, with about $13.1 million or so.

JUNO adds another 523 theaters, to 2448, and may be the number one movie this weekend; it has led for the past 4 days, and the buzz is building. Look for it to do about $16 million, and edge out NATIONAL TREASURE 2.

THERE WILL BE BLOOD expands to 129 theaters, and is currently atop my list of things to see. Maybe tonight.

On a side note, there has been no sign of ants for two days; apparently the Raid terrified them. The parakeets seem fine.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Woke up this morning to find ants all over my kitchen.

Not where the food is, but running in a line down the wall and into the sink. I traced the line to a couple of infested cabinets.

I sprayed the hell out of them with Raid, which is like instant death for ants, but which makes the apartment smell bad (while it's just too cold outside to open the windows and air the place out, at least until later).

The parakeets were agitated, probably because of the smell, so I moved their cage into the bedroom.

I think I'll bolt too, and find a coffee shop to work at for a while. Then I'll come back to see if the ants have regrouped.

I hate ants. And the countertops in the kitchen are black, which means it's hard to even see the damn things on half the kitchen.

Time to think about that remake of "Them!"

Monday, January 07, 2008

What I'm Gonna Write In 2008

So now that the move is over, the unpacking is largely done and I've almost taken care of the pile of work (mostly $60 notes) that piled up in the interim, it's time to think about writing again.

Other bloggers have things on their sidebars about how far they are on certain scripts. I don't know how to do that, plus it's more fun just to whine about it in a post. So here it is.

Scripts I want to tackle/finish in 2008 (the ambitious version):

1) THE LOW-BUDGET THRILLER. This is actually almost done; a few weeks ago I made a few minor changes that a few readers inspired. Now I just need to read through it, make a few final tweaks, and get it out there. Definitely next on the agenda.

2) THE THING I'M DOING WITH THE WRITING PARTNER. I still think this could be a good, fun idea, but several false starts (torn apart by my screenwriting group) showed that we hadn't cracked how to approach it yet. Still, i think we're closer to a good take on it. The downside is that he lives in Canada, and long distance writing is almost as hard as long distance sex. Still, I'm determined to bang this out -- sometime.

3) THE REWRITE. This is a fantasy/romance that I dug out of mothballs and brought into group last month, which helped me get an idea out of how to finally made it work. There's a lot of good stuff here, but it needs a first act set-up (and a main character finessed exactly the right way) to make it all work.

4) THE RAUNCHY TEEN COMEDY WITH HEART. Once upon a time, I did heavy outline and index card work on this, then tossed it into a box. Now that teen comedies are coming back, it might be time to finally type it into a screenplay.

5) THE SUPERNATURAL COMEDY. Another idea that I did some plotting out of, and even banged out the first 13 pages. It still needs work, but it has a high-concept hook, and if I could crack the plot it could be the most commercial thing in my bag.

6) THE VIOLENT HORROR THING. I plotted this out, wrote a lot of the more sex-and-violence filled scenes, disturbed myself, and locked it away for a while. Some week I'll be bored enough to let it out of its cage and at least pound out a rough draft.

7) THE BOOK ADAPTATION. A friend slipped me a book by a guy who wants a script made from it, and might possibly pay some minimal cash for me to spec it. I want to read the book before I even think about it, but it is dense and historical and I haven't had a chance to curl up with it in the 6 weeks or so I've had it. So who knows.

8) SOMETHING FROM MY BOOK OF IDEAS. I recently started collating all the random ideas I have had. Maybe I'll spark to one enough to try and tackle it along the way.

9) SOMETHING I HAVEN'T EVEN THOUGHT UP YET. Because you never know.

I think that's everything crying for attention, though there's also the odd thriller idea that I did a first act for that I'm still determined to do something with (it's been off to the side since the screenwriting group tore it apart almost a year ago).

I also need to go turn my 2-hour TV pilot into a one-hour TV pilot that somehow captures the same story. Feh.

In reality, I probably won't knock out 7, 8 or 9 scripts this year, but some of these things have had a lot of work put into them, while it's time to resurrect the at-least-one-hour-a-day thing again.

This is the year. And who knows, maybe the strike will even end someday.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Juno and Teen Movies (No Real Spoilers)

So I finally made it out to see Juno last night, and it's an interesting movie. A funny, sweet little film, with a great, star-making performance by Ellen Page.

Is it groundbreaking and a superior example of screenwriting?

Not really. The script is fairly solid, but the story is really rather wispy. For all her charm, Juno (the character) really doesn't have much of a story, or much in the way of dramatic goals.

It's a movie I wish I'd discovered without the hype, and without the trailers/commercials spoiling so many scenes for me. But which I can still happily recommend.

Will it save teen movies?


It'll certainly give them a chance for a comeback.

Because Juno is quickly becoming a phenomenon. It seems headed towards $100 million at the U.S. box office; it will careen past the halfway mark today, as part of the $15 million or so it'll make this weekend.

And I guarantee, right now all the studios are dusting off all of their well-written (and, sadly, probably a few not-so-well-written) teen-driven scripts, which people liked but never got made because no one thought they'd actually make any money.

Largely because they didn't think that teenage boys, who are generally seen to drive the market, didn't want to see them.

But Juno breaks the mold. It's a movie that is a hit despite the fact that most teenage boys are unlikely to really like it: it doesn't have big, broad laughs or easy answers, it features a female character who doesn't take her clothes off, it deals with some serious, dramatic story points from a female POV.

And it's making a lot of money anyway. Hoo-rah.

I've read a lot -- A LOT -- of bad teenage scripts in the past two decades, too many of which trot out the same old stereotypes -- snotty cheerleaders, beautiful jocks, the male teen lead who wants to be with the hottest girl in school, his cute female best friend who he finally realizes at the end he should be with.

Teenagers aren't that easy to put into boxes (watch the TV series FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which is also currently doing a great job breathing life into teen characters), and ultimately that goes to the core of what makes JUNO work. Because Juno really is a fascinating, interesting character, a smart, sardonic girl who really doesn't have all the answers and is lost in the situation she finds herself in.

When I was a reader for Miramax (the first incarnation, before it exploded), I covered (and championed) a great short story called "Keith", by Ron Carlson, a well-written teen-centric tale, one of the best comic/dramatic teen romances I've ever read.

Miramax put it into development, didn't hire me to write it (I took a shot, but didn't have a chance in hell), had someone else write what turned out to be a very solid script, but it died in development hell anyway. Obviously because the number-crunchers told them it was a bad bet.

Hopefully Juno proves that well-done tales featuring teen characters can click at the box office, and movies like "Keith" will finally get their chance.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Weekend Box Office #64/65

So I missed last weekend, not that much happened, other than a lot of movies made a ton of money.

It's turning out to be a solid holiday season for the studios.

The only movie opening this weekend is the thriller ONE MISSED CALL, in 2240 theaters. Look for it to make about $8 million for the weekend, and finish in about fifth or sixth place.

Meanwhile, the big holdovers should keep chugging along well. NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS has already made about $150 million, and should bring in another 20 this weekend.

ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS is the big shocker, having made over $160 million already. I AM LEGEND is sitting at about $212 million.

JUNO is still expanding -- it almost doubles its screen count this weekend, to almost 2000 theaters -- but it has already made $35 million, and is just starting to break out.

The only big disappointmentof the December releases boxofficewise is WALK HARD, which has made only about $15 million in two weeks.

I haven't seen any of them. I'm going to have to rectify that this weekend. Promise.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

2008 Already?

So the move-from-Hell is done. The last five days feel like 50, and we're still not completely unpacked yet.

Aside from a dresser drawer, nothing got broken, so there's that. But wow, do I have too much stuff.

The one thing about moving into what turns out to be a smaller place than the last one (I warned by wife, but she liked too much else about the place) is that it forces you to unpack quickly, find a place for everything, and get rid of anything that doesn't have a place.

Which wasn't the case with the last apartment, that had been closets that boxes could disappear into.

So we're making things fit. Initially we crammed the futon into the living room with the couch, but it didn't really fit. Then someone else moving into this building offered us a loveseat that he didn't have room for, so we swapped it out for the futon.

We left the futon near an elevator, with a note in the elevator stating that it was a good futon, and that someone should take it. It was gone within an hour.

So the circle of life continues.

We have two parakeets, and I drove them over one night with their cage in the backseat. I probably should have covered the cage, because soon they were clinging to the side nearest to me, giving me this frightened what-the-hell look.

I briefly worried that they'd never be the same, but I decided that maybe that was a good thing, since the female wouldn't get close to me anyway, and the male is a finger-biter. So rebooting the birds can't hurt, though now they just seem more nervous.

My ankle healed enough so that I could do way too much work during the move, though as soon as the move was over I tweaked it again, and I'm largely back on one crutch again. But it's healing.

I haven't had a chance to do any work, or any writing. But if you sent me a script for notes, I should be turning it around soon.

I also haven't had a chance to see any movies, at all. So I need to spend a day this weekend sneaking around a multiplex.

Otherwise... it's 2008. I have a double-handful of scripts in various stages of completion, and it's time to hammer them out, and then sell one.

If this writer's strike ever ends.

Too much to do, no time to do any of it.

But at least we're out of Woodland Hills.