Thursday, December 21, 2006

Dramatic Action


I've been working really hard the last few months to craft plots with a lot of dramatic action, so I thought I'd share with you all and hopefully learn a few things from the collective intelligence I've been hearing so much about. This part is Writing 101, so please bear with me if you are, like, waaaaay past this in your work. :-)

Dramatic action describes the story beats that relate the plot. This is different from things that establish factual things about the character (e.g. he's married), or things that establish motivation or need (e.g. Reese's story in The Terminator confessing his reason for traveling through time). Dramatic action primarily concerns itself with conflict, specifically, conflict that generates action, i.e. plot.

For instance, in television, dramatic action is generally compressed (e.g. those short teasers in L&O that set up the crime), expressed in dialogue (like when characters talk about how angry so-and-so's off-screen behaviour makes them -- Aaron Sorkin is the master of this type of drama as I have yet to see anything actually happen during one of his shows), or elided (as in two characters prepare for the "Big Raid," then we cut to the aftermath of the raid).

In contrast, film stories are comprised of the most dramatic action you can find, bits that exemplify the protagonist's emotional journey. I'll go back to my favorite film LA CONFIDENTIAL for an example here. The open of the film establishes the main players and the film's themes through a jail riot (the Bloody Christmas scandal). From here on, the viewer can anticipate Exley's bulldog response when he discovers the inconsistencies in the Nite Owl murders and that he will be uncompromising in his pursuit of the truth, no matter the cost, as well as each of the other core cast members' emotional responses to the rising tide of shit that is at the heart of the film.

Dramatic action invests the viewer in the emotional journey of the story. It is the most difficult thing to master, and typically, the most dynamically evolving tool in the craft arsenal. It requires an attention to human psychology and a sense of spectacle. The writers who tend to make the biggest splash in the spec world are those who have an inherent sense of dramatic action -- not just what story to tell, but also the best way to show the story as they are telling it. These writers are adept at creating a voyeur out of the viewer (mmm, my literary criticism theory slip is showing here, sorry).

So, in short, I'm struggling to find some decent dramatic action to tell the story I'm writing. I like things that are visual, require the core cast to take dramatic action that will serve to reveal their motivations and strengths/weaknesses, and since I'm shoring up the bottom of the second act, I find that I've been going back into the first act to remove information that is revealed too soon, and planting "mini-beats" that foreshadow the big plot turn I have planned for my little people.

I'd love to hear alternate/opposing view points to all of the above, and, of course, anyone who wants to share their wisdom is welcome to do so. Toodles.

P.S. The pic is from the NY TIMES' excellent article on photojournalist Enrique Metinides, a Mexican photog who specialized in death, gore and other sensational images. I'm putting the coffee table book on my wish list today!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Merry X-mas

I'm busy busy busy and apologize for not being as prolific as Will. :-) After the 11+ hour flight back from the UK, I've been doing yoga, fasting (all that cheese, ugh), and spending time with the dog. He's real sweet and has been following me all over the house since I got back. He spent the two weeks being spoiled by my mom and has learned a really great new trick -- whining at the back door at 2 AM to be let out for a moonlight romp in the garden. Yay! Thanks, Mom! I really appreciate being awakened EVERY NIGHT by the dog! More together time! :-)~

I flew up to San Francisco for my novel-writing group and am finally back in LA for the next week and a half before I head out to San Diego for a wedding and possible trip to TJ (or Tijuana if you aren't from SoCal). At this point, I'm looking forward to January which has only got one trip planned so far, and February in which I will be home all month.

The new screenplay is turning out nicely. I've got work to do on the third act before I'll feel comfortable handing it out, but hope to get that done this week. My other screenplay is still awaiting notes from a friend -- he called to let me know he's started reading for an A+ list director, but will read my script on his plane ride home. I love it. I'm very happy he's getting this big break -- he has long wanted to work as a producer and paid his dues in some of the worst offices in town. Real terrible places where people get things thrown at their heads and are made to do humiliating personal chores that are best left undetailed (also, I don't want any scary lawyer-types emailing me). Anywho, he has an excellent eye for structure and the script that I've asked him to help me with is one that I wrote in two separate bursts two years apart, so it's uneven and reflects how much I changed vis a vis the subject matter. I'm hoping he'll throw me a lifeline when he gets back.

In the new year I'm going to blog the other half of that managers post from November, and also I wanted to blog a little bit about negotiating contracts. The request line is open, as always. I'll blog as much as I can over the next couple of weeks, but like the rest of Hollywood, I'm pretty much shut down until after Sundance.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Petition Time!!


Hey folks, last night in the UK. I've had a great time hanging out with my friend and her family. Haven't done any tourist type things, but I've had a ton of cheese, all raw milk, 'natch, eaten bangers and mash made with Duchy of Cornwall sausages, had toasted tea cake, clotted cream ice cream, and many other things I can't even get into before this becomes Deep End Dining.

Dix and Denis have been waxing poetic about DAYBREAK, which as some of you may know, I've been circling since the producers flashed Taye's nicely toned biceps at me. Damn, I'm simple. Anyway, Denis had a great post up on the 6th and Dix did a solid one the day before. Please check them out. Then, I heard a vicious rumor over at Callaghan's blog that the show is being put on hiatus/moved/cancelled, of course I had to follow up on this immediately.

From what I understand, the remaining eps will be available via internet, so at least those of us who hung in there can find out what the end is. Let's petition the powers that be to stop the madness. At least play out the storyline. I agree with Dix about the idea of a Maxi-Series aka Telenovela format. It hasn't been imported into US TV yet, but I think the time is just about here. Daybreak could be that test case!!! C'mon ABC, don't screw the viewers!! We need the chocolatey goodness that is Taye Diggs.... :-)

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mincemeat and Stilton


So, Day 9 in the UK and I'm finally waking up before noon. For someone who is used to waking up at sunrise, the last week has really kicked my butt, especially because sunset here is around 4:30-5pm.

I haven't traveled around too much, the friend I'm visiting has alternately had car trouble, baby trouble and stomach trouble, but I have managed to eat a few cheeses, some mincemeat pies (taste great with Blue Stilton!), these really great sausages made by The Black Farmer (apparently the only one in England, he even has a TV show wherein he trains and selects two apprentice farmers from a group of inner-city black youths), digestives, genuine lamb stew (with the fatty bits on, ugh, but the stew was delicious), tons of coffee, tea and every bit of bread I've come across, a crazy fruit from Israel called a Sharon fruit ("The sweetest persimmon in the world!), Cornish pasty (Steak and Stilton!), fish and chips, HP sauce, and at some point this week, I'm supposed to be headed to the town of Cheddar. Oh yeah, baby. I can't wait. After reading this list, it looks like it was a stroke of luck that I've had to walk everywhere....

Had to nix the trip to France since the dollar is doing so poorly (I knew I should've exchanged money the week before I left!!) it will literally cost me about 30% more than I've budgeted. I guess I'll have to do that as a separate trip. Darn. :-)

Anyway, in writing news, I'm pushing through on the drama I started a few weeks ago. I've been writing ahead, then reaching back and tweaking the first act as I refine the concept. I've been trying to use this SAVE THE CAT! software, but my brain rejects some of the terminology he uses (not because I don't believe in his structural outline, I just learned it under different names). It does look promising for anyone who outlines and plots with story cards and the demo version I have allows me to save and print to PDF for the outline I've started. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

One book that has been a tremendous resource for this is Linda Seger's classic MAKING A GOOD SCREENPLAY GREAT. I'm not afraid to reference a writing book, especially for craft information. No one can write your story for you, but there are definitely some nifty tricks to keep in mind along the journey. I haven't read any of her other books, so I can't recommend them. Please feel free to suggest away in the comments section.

In fact, I meant to ask folks to recommend their favorite craft books. I'll start a separate post with links to all the books on my shelf. Please include reference books as well, if you don't mind. I would never dream of asking anyone for their obscure reference materials, (you know, the one you found in a discard bin that is a first-person narrative outlining some completely mind-blowing life experience/job/time period/lifestyle), that would make me feel guilty and like a hustler -- I hate when writers steal my reference materials and write something better than me. :-)~

Anyway, it's nighttime here, and I'm trying to get to bed at a reasonable hour. My fingers are blue from the cold, even though the heat has been turned up to indulge the Southern Californian. I feel too guilty to complain, thank God I have my laptop to heat up my legs, my nose is colder than the dog's.

And the short film has been pushed AGAIN. The rock star DP isn't available until February cuz... he's a Rock Star DP. But, because it's been so long, the cool actor the director is enamored of (okay, it's really me, I'm enamored of him) has become available once again and is still interested. One good thing is that I have a lead on a location that will let me hang a rig (and an operator) out of a window and simulate flames and smoke. Heh, heh, heh. My own short film is waiting patiently for me to rewrite it. I went a wee bit astray starting this feature spec because I just woke up one day with 50 full-blown pages in my head and couldn't turn away from that (right, right?? I need validation here, people!). I am supposed to be rewriting the pilot, updating my SHIELD spec, speccing another current (prob RESCUE ME) and submitting all of this to the Agent and manager type folks I've been teasing for the last few months. Ugh. Back to the grindstone. I'm giving this drama another week's worth of work, and then returning to my "to-do" list of work. Promise.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

It's the Cheese!


I'm awake. I've been sleeping in 4-hour cycles every 8-hours since I arrived, so I might be a wee bit cranky. I apologize in advance. So far, I've eaten at a pub -- with teenagers, hmm, didn't realize the drinking age here was 16 -- walked around this little village outside of Reading (where I'm staying), eaten fish and chips, had a nice long chat with a bartender about why pudding isn't a pastry, and almost caused a car accident by screaming when my friend turned into what I thought was oncoming traffic, er, forgot about the whole left-side driving business (did I mention I haven't been sleeping very well?). Since I'm from SoCal, I've been wearing three layers at all times, sleeping with two hot water bottles, wool socks, a fleece pullover on top of my fleece pajamas, and wearing gloves everywhere but to dinner. Oh, yeah, and drinking lots and lots of tea.

Tomorrow I'm going into another small village to get some writing done, then, will be following up on a rumor about some farm-fresh cheese. Since the dollar is at a 20-month low, I'm not spending too much just yet. I'm saving up for my trip to London this weekend, and Paris next week.

The village I'm staying in reminds me of the town I grew up in -- lots of rain, fresh bread, and all the beef you can shake a stick at. :-) My friend's baby is 22-months old and has a British accent that is so darn cute, I keep stealing kisses and begging him for "cuddles." Still haven't mastered the money (well, that's true in the US, so I don't feel too bad), but I have to admit I can't understand everything folks are saying to me. Where I'm staying the accent is relatively mild, but the rhythm sounds like a scratched CD to me. Funny how it can be easier to communicate with someone in a completely foreign language than another dialect of your native one, huh? I gotta find a way to incorporate that into my screenplay....

OK, I'm off to bed. Gotta start brushing up on my tourist French for the public humiliation next week. Anybody got any suggestions for villages in France I can visit on my way to/from London -Paris? I'm determined to eat French cheese and bread in France if it costs me $150. :-)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Belated Anniversary!

Last week marked my one year anniversary blogging. Thank you to everyone who visits on a regular basis, and to everyone who posts comments (it's better than getting snail mail!).

I've really enjoyed this experience and hope to find more and better topics to post about in the upcoming year.

I'm off to Europe and San Francisco for the next few weeks, trying to clear my head so I can finish some things up in time for TV season. If I can master the whole Internet cafe thing, I'll post about what I'm up to.

TV shows I'm following:

HEROES -- Against my will I enjoyed this week's show. My resistance is entirely related to the plot hinging on the cheerleader, when there are other, much more intriguing story lines. And what's up with the short chick's mutation being the power of persuasion? I mean, honestly, I get it's some kind of mind control, but the way it was played out, she just seemed really really convincing (like Bill Clinton with a pixie cut). Let's hope the Hottie Brothers get it together soon.

BSG -- Loved last week's show, but it felt like it was missing a subplot, and I'm not sure I believe Adama would believe he was personally responsible for provoking the Cylons. Anyway, hope they give Tahmoh some screen time in this week's boxing episode. :-)

Grey's -- I'm still watching, but not as avidly as last season. I guess I'm hoping they start taking the medicine seriously again. I always enjoyed the personal drama, but felt like it was made more realistic by the grounding in the medicine. Tough balance, but I'm hanging in there hoping the show finds it again.

Ugly Betty -- Needs to get funny again. Telenovelas always have a melodramatic story point in the middle of the season, but I feel like the strength of this show really is in the fish-out-of-water comedy of Betty in the magazine world, now that they seemed determined to make her the Magic Chicana who sees things clearly and can solve any problem, I'm getting nervous.

Dexter -- Who did not already guess that the sister's boyfriend was the Ice Truck Killer??? The show is still very good, and I love that they took his character to the next level, and hope that the flashbacks into his life reveal some good shit. Can't wait for the rest of the episodes.

DAYBREAK -- So, I dug last week's show. Was really excited about Taye Diggs, happy he found something that will position him with a different audience (males 18-25, as opposed to the over-25 females his last show targeted), and am looking forward to tonight's epi. This will really determine for me if the show's premise has enough room to allow for a full season (let alone multiple seasons).

THE UNIT -- I watch this show every week even though the dialogue is sometimes uneven (I imagine that's what happens when Shawn Ryan and David Mamet pass scripts back and forth).

I'm taping everything while I travel and when I return, plan to throw up the blackout curtains and burn my retinas out catching up.

What are you guys watching?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Digging You Taye Diggs

I'm digging DAYBREAK. I was worried that it would be terrible, that it would take the premise and mangle it, or worse, be a ham-fisted attempt at reimagining the concept.

Thank goodness I was wrong!! I'm excited about next week. I'm a little worried that my head won't be able to hang on to all of the alternate reality details, I'm loving that Hopper's body reflects the events as if they happened in linear time, and hopefully that they will keep the production values as high as they were tonight. ABC is doing a great job with this big act-outs. I barely had time to pop some corn for the second hour of the premiere and I wanted to make sure I didn't miss a minute. Pretty unusual for me since I have a dvr, but I didn't want to miss the "flow" of the story. I'm going to roll it back now and watch the bottom half of the first half hour -- I wasn't paying attention because I was skeptical!

Let's hope Deja Vu is as good, but in a totally different way. Coincidentally it's a Bruckheimer film whose film deal is at Disney which is also ABC... or is it? Hmm...

Dig Deep

I have a manager friend who I've been recieving notes from over the last few years. He's read pretty much everything I've written so far, has always been supportive and insightful and he gives me usable, on-point notes. We were talking last night about the state of the business, how difficult it can be to get things done, and what the world of writing assignments looks like right now.

Writing assignments, for those who aren't familiar with the term, are when studios or financiers look to replace the writer of a project they own. Sometimes a writer is replaced because their deal is complete (I could do a post on writer deals if anyone is interested), sometimes a writer is fired from a movie with steps remaining in their deal, sometimes the idea was birthed internally at a staff meeting, sometimes it is based on a pre-existing property (i.e. book, movie, video game, etc.). The key here is that you are going to get paid to do the "assignment." When an assignment becomes available it is referred to as "open." Thus, open writing, open directing, is how jobs are often referred to, especially by agents, managers and execs, as in, "What do you have open in comedy?"

As studios move away from development and studio slates carry more and more films financed with outside money, the open assignment pool shrinks. This sucks for new writers, because after your first big spec, you want to make some of that assignment loot -- it's oh-so-sweet. The moral of my story: study your craft and always remain open to independent filmmaking. Making good movies is the only thing that matters.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Why Management?

Finally, by popular demand Part 1 of the Managers post!

This post covers much of the same ground as John Roger’s entertaining post about the different roles his manager and agent play in his career.

As I mentioned before in the agents post, the agency world is about making deals. Projects are talked about like trading cards, and agents spend the majority of their working day, supporting and advancing the agency’s agenda. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’m in no way disparaging the work of agents in the process of getting movies made.

For a manager, it is about making careers. Typically management agencies are also production companies. This arose out of the transitioning of several agents out of the agency world in the early 90’s as those agencies became more and more deal driven. I was just a wee little hottie (not yet a full-on Diva) back then, but over the course of about 5 years a slew of agents were forced out, jumped out, or otherwise ended up at these start-up management production companies. They scooped up actors, directors and soon-to-be hot young writers left and right and then commenced to “build” each one of these “talents” (and I mean those quote marks) into “brands.”

Managers are typically looking for clients who have raw talent, dramatic ideas, good work habits, and fast turnaround. This isn’t very different criteria than what an agent is looking for, managers are (usually) just willing to work with folks in earlier stages of their careers, and will spend time on less developed ideas. The biggest difference between a manager and an agent, is that a manager will take you around town to meet with executives, producers and directors when there isn’t really a job at stake.

Having a manager is increasingly important in Hollywood today because of the fragmentation taking place in the business. As has been pointed out in a number of places, the industry is moving towards a more "entrepreneurial" model of filmmaking. In my opinion, this move from the patronage system of the early movie studio model, to the free market financing that's starting to take place is a sort of balkanization, if you will, pitting artists against one another for the resources to make films.

All that to say, management can act like your own production company, providing in-house development, strategic planning and production capabilities. For most folks who want a career that lasts longer than 10 years, this is vitally important.

Housekeeping

OK, so, I hope I didn't screw with anybody's day by labeling all these posts without a warning. If so, *smack*! That's me tossing you a kiss.

I have nothing to say for myself. Borat is number one at the box office, comedies rule, and for a drama writer an ill-wind is blowing....

I'm sharpening up the pages on the pilot for the next few days. The drama feature spec I've been working on has been writing itself for the past week in odd bits and snatches, so I'm going to give it another week before I find out if I'm just nuts or if the pages are actually working as well as I think they are.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Groundhog Day All Over Again

I keep seeing previews for this new ABC show DAYBREAK. Am I completely trapped in my childhood or is this GROUNDHOG DAY all over again? I don't remember the exact time that Bill Murray's character woke up at, but it was suspiciously close to the time they keep showing in that preview. I just don't understand how that can be taken seriously by anyone old enough to have enjoyed the original. Same thing with the new Denzel Washington movie DEJA VU. Isn't that 7 DAYS (which was TIME COP)?

I'm still going to see both of them, of course. I love science fiction premises and let me tell you, I'll watch every cyborg movie out there and then some. I guess I'm just wary and hoping that they each find a new take on the idea of revisiting the past, that the stories and characters tread some new emotional territory and that they are just plain good. I'm tired of watching sci fi premises created without respect for what makes sci fi so great -- it's ability to imagine a brave new world and explore the good and evil in it.

A friend of mine from high school recently contacted me. I went to a performing arts highschool and was a nut (let's not talk about the ballet shoes I insisted on wearing nearly every day my freshman year, or why I decided leotards, mini-skirts and a headwrap with hoop earrings were appropriate attire). Anyway, we were talking about The Six Million Dollar Man and how much we loved the show. He had a car accident a few years ago that was pretty terrible. Being an optimist, he, of course, mainly remembers how the equipment used to piece him together was straight out of that show. I guess that's what makes me such a geek. I do think the job of an artist is to imagine the future.

In other news, I had coffee with a senior producer on a current TV show. He gave me some great pointers on what to do this time around when I hire an agent (I was repped a couple of years ago, but didn't get staffed, so I moved to the Bay Area...), what types of pitfalls to avoid in my spec writing, and offered to read my current spec (as opposed to the pilot spec) when I've finished them. The pilot spec I'll have to find someone else to read because it turns out he is writing something in the same arena. Oh, well, I did pitch myself for a staff job if his script goes to pilot in January..... :-)

****** BREAKING NEWS ********

They just KILLED my favorite character on LOST. WTF??!!! i'M SOOOO DEPRESSED NOW.

Ugh, OK, I'm going to drown my sorrows in DEXTER, luckily I haven't watched last Sunday's episode yet.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Interesting Example

I have no idea who this guy is but I found this very interesting. He basically annotates the opening page(s) of a screenplay. There are more styles of writing than one can shake a stick at, but this one is as good as any. Enjoy.

I've been writing up a storm. I reoutlined the original story for the spec pilot and have been writing new backstory on each of the relationships. Instead of the individual bios which I normally do, I've been writing "histories" of the individual relationships, the dynamics and how they drive one another. This feels much more productive to me for some reason.

Also, Monday night I sat down and wrote the first 60 pages of a story I've been thinking about since July. I'm really digging these pages so I'm going to write the rest of the outlined pages tonight and let it rest while I start back in on the pilot. This is my year to finish things and I'm on a roll!

Next year will be my year to revise them. :-) I'm also catching up with my HEROES, DEXTER, and BSG viewing.

I encourage folks to write spec features not just for sale, but also because this is how you get representation, get work and it is one of your only chances for folks to see the work that you do, what your point of view is, and what you bring to the form. Spec screenplays are also the main way that screenwriting and films evolve. During my brief stint in Hollywood, the scripts that I remember -- PULP FICTION, SEVEN, AMERICAN BEAUTY, SIXTH SENSE, TRAINING DAY -- were all written on spec. I have definitely read some great assignment work, but most of the truly great material was written by a solitary writer, at home. Spec material, if it is solid, will get you "read" at the junior and middle levels which is how you make your name and get on "writer lists." This is how you get meetings. Once you get meetings the rest is up to you.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Weekend Blackout and Holiday Greetings


I'm traveling to the Bay Area this weekend for my novel writing group. While there I do not anticipate being able to post to the blog (not like I'm all fastidious to begin with) so please grouse amongst yourselves. And Bianca: I swear to you I'm going to post that manager series. I just haven't had the time to re-read it and make sure I'm making sense (a big problem these days).


In other news, remember way back in February when I mentioned holiday cards? I know you've all been networking your tails off with one another inside and outside the industry. Well, this is your chance to get in someone's brain in a non-threatening way. One of the few things you can do that's business but feels purely social.

True to my word, I'm gearing up for the holidays myself. My christmas cards are designed, I'm finishing up the mailing list (very short this year, but a few key names) then that goes to the printer -- I normally try to hand-letter them in this insane italic script I learned back in the 4th grade (very hippy dippy school system, don't ask), but I'm beating back the OCD this year and just doing either preprinted stickers (eek, how Targ├ęt can I get?) or biting the bullet and dropping precious $$ on pre-printing.... We'll see. This option is much cheaper than in years past.... Anyway, I'll let you know how it all turns out. I hope that everyone out there is sending out their holiday greeting cards. This is the perfect time to remind folks that you exist and make sure they have a way to contact you.

A few tips:

DO NOT MAKE THIS AN AUTOBIOGRAPHY. A simple: "happy holidays" with a handwritten gentle reminder of the last time you met/saw one another "great to see you at that screenwriting conference/Britney's party, let's stay in touch in the new year" and then drop your contact info at the bottom (the pre-printing makes this seem more professional).

Name
Address (optional)
Email
Contact number

Most offices are sort of automated as far as contact info goes, so there is a pretty good chance you'll be added to the rolodex using this method, and as any insider who has ever rolled a call will tell you, being in the rolodex vastly increases your chances of making the call sheet or (gasp) getting through. Make sure you name drop in a way that isn't obnoxious, but that will catch the eye of an overworked 2nd assistant who is the one who decides if your card makes it in the right pile. And don't send holiday cards to someone you haven't actually met. Fan cards to talent, OK, unsolicited holiday cards to agents and execs... a little creepy.

And thanks to Scott the Reader for the link and the coveted spot on his blog roll. You are a true gentleman.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I'm Famous...Kind Of

Scott the Reader posted this in response to my Coverage post. I feel famous -- his blog gets waaaay more traffic than my little diary here.

And there must be something in the water, cuz UNKNOWN SCREENWRITER also recently posted about this, although from a different angle and he links to this solid little piece that lays out the bare bones of exactly what a reader's job is.

OK, back to the salt mines.... After I finish watching A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, of course. ;-) Talk about logic holes!!

Draft Numero Dos

I'm working on the second draft of my spec pilot right now. I'm really pushing because last week I met a writer from a one-hour drama show (I actually know him from just being in Hollywood and going to parties, but we've never worked together), and he agreed to read my spec. He's shooting his episode right now, so I've got 10 days to get myself together and put my best foot forward. I feel very confident about this pilot, perhaps foolishly, but I've only done one full draft of it and it is popping. I'm working on backstory for all of my characters and trying to lay to rest all of the logic/plot questions brought up in my notes session last week.

All of which brings me to this question: What do you guys do to stay focused? I have wicked ADHD and I normally drink about 10 cups of coffee per day when I'm under the gun like this. I'm trying new and different things this year so I thought I'd reach out to you all. I never pulled an all-nighter in college, but I think I may have to break my perfect record if I don't drink up. This is one of those damned if I do, damned if I don't situations since the coffee makes me so dang jittery I'm walking around with a dry mouth, wide eyes, and a paranoid mentality. :-)

Also, I hope you all have been paying attention to all these articles about digital/web-movie making. I've been preaching this to everyone I've ever met with -- and you can ask any filmmaker, actor or aspirant who has ever taken a talent meeting with me -- get some $$$ and make a movie yourself, and then post a comment here so we can all go and see it.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Notes Coming Out My Ears

First up, thanks to Will for the link on your blog and the advice -- I'm putting it to use already! I reoutlined the feature spec and found some good holes, so I think if I can figure out a more concrete objective for my protagonist, one that is thematically linked to his internal conflict, then I'm golden.... Until the next draft anyhow. :)

In other news, Saturday I went to a get together and ran into a few television writers. Last year, a friend got me into a table read-thru and the writers' room during a taping day and I was able to watch them solve a few last minute problems and break a story that played later in the season. Very cool stuff. It was nice to see those folks and catch up with them and feel like an insider while they dished.

My experience working as an executive doesn't really help me in situations like that, not directly, anyway. No one cares which directors I've worked for, or what credits I have, or what studio was paying my car allowance. These are writers who are, generally speaking, well-paid, they are at the top of their game industry-wise, and for the most part, only looking up. I mean nothing to them. I do have basic social skills from giving and taking pitches for the last ten years, so I didn't embarrass myself or nothing.

Then, tonight, this manager I've been chatting with called me about the spec pilot. He liked it, feels like it will get me work (yippee!) and gave me notes. Ugh. Nothing crazy, I don't need to reconceive the pilot, or the structure, just deepen some things that I had sketched in, make a bit more of a meal out of the basic character conflicts/objectives, and clarify some plot points. So, tonight I'm typing up what he and I talked about (after this post...), then tomorrow morning I'm off to Starbucks for a few hours to see what I can get done. I want to get the pilot out to a couple of drama writers I met at the party who've agreed to read it and give me pointers. I want a nice polished piece before I hand it over to the agent. Then, I have to write a current sample. This never ends, does it? Luckily, I'm hyperactive.

Chris: I've been asking around, but I don't really talk to the production company contacts I used to have, and studios use union readers. I'll keep you posted if I hear of anything. My suggestion to you is to dust off your resume, put the non-Hollywood stuff at the bottom, and at the top put a section that details your writing related/story training stuff. E.g. Robert McKee's story structure class, that part-time MFA in Screenwriting you've pursued, or the festivals you placed in -- I can write a longer post about what folks look for in a reader if you want, but there's an excellent book called READING FOR A LIVING that I highly recommend. It is dated, but for the most part that job hasn't changed since it was invented. Once you've got the resume reconfigured, go ahead and start sending it out along with a copy of sample coverage. Sample coverage should be for a script that is out in the world, but unproduced. For example, THE TRUMAN SHOW was the first script that I did coverage on (How old am I?! Yikes!). At that time, it was well-known as a solid, but flawed screenplay, something that everyone agreed should be made, but no one could seem to pull it together. That is, of course, until Jim Carrey came along.

I was never able to get work as a reader because I'm far to literal to write summary, fortunately for me I was able to hustle my way into an executive job. I always looked for readers who had some formal training, either in screenwriting or literary analysis. I didn't like to use readers who read for too many folks, but always wanted readers who had experience. My main criteria were: good grammar (cuz I need all the help I can get), objective analysis (meaning, I didn't want a reader who felt that their job was to pass or recommend material to me, but rather someone who understood dramatic structure well enough to know if a screenplay worked and why or why not), and consistency (both in terms of their taste in material and their work habits). I employed about 5-7 readers in addition to reading myself and aside from my core group, used about 2-3 readers on a rotating basis. Every production company is different, and generally it is the story editor who hires the reader, so directing your queries to that person, or his/her assistant is a safe bet.

Good luck with all of that, I don't think the reader route is for everyone, and certainly don't think it's the only (or the best) way to learn story structure. Actually making the scripts you've written is the most effective teacher, especially if you can find filmmakers who meet or exceed your own skill level. That's my advice, anywho, worth what you payed for it minus depreciation.... :-)

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Coverage Tips [UPDATED -- I forgot to label it!]

I've posted a little bit about this before, but thought I'd expand.

The only coverage that matters is bad coverage. Sure, folks will tell you that a Recommend can get you work, get you a meeting, and agent, blah blah blah, but let me tell you from experience -- I've blown off positive coverage with no ill effects, but every bit of bad coverage I've received on a project has dogged my footsteps.

What is coverage, exactly? It's a two to four-page report generated by a (usually freelance) "reader" which summarizes and evaluates a manuscript. It typically comes with a cover page that gives an at-a-glance "snapshot" of the project: logline, brief description of the story, and a grid that provides a short-hand for the reader's evaluation of the major elements of a script. Usually, the scores are on a five point scale and cover Characters, Plot, Dialogue, and Story Structure. Then, there's that little box that matters most: OVERALL.

Readers frequently have a disproportionate amount of power in the industry. Sometimes it is justified (I worked with some crackerjack union guys when I was at the studio, folks with a deep understanding of story), often it isn't. While there are shops where the head of the studio is a literate, well-read cineaste, and there are also those where the boss doesn't even read coverage and instead each movie depends on the exec's pitching skills and the effectiveness of the lobby from its agents and managers. The only way to get through all of this is by mastering your craft, keeping your eye on the marketplace, and networking, aka the good old fashioned way.

There are ways to "write with the reader" in mind that won't compromise the artistic integrity of the script, but these things are best thought of after you've put the piece through your own rigorous artistic machine, not before. That said, let's go through a few:

1. Professional formatting.
I cannot tell you how often I've heard of folks tossing a script because it came in a 3-ring binder. That is about as asnine as putting a script in one in the first place. And two wrongs don't make a right. Because you can't count on getting a reader with a sense of work ethic, please show yours by submitting screenplays secured with 2 brads, one in the top hole and one in the bottom hole -- and go the extra mile to get "industry standard brads" i.e. ACCO Solid Brass Fasteners, 1 1/4 inch No. 5. Hollywood is a rigid, image conscious place. The nail that stands up gets hammered down. Remember that.

2. To paraphrase Cameron Crowe (stealing from Billy Wilder, I think), write the script as if you're writing a letter to a friend.
I say this in regards to the descriptive action, of course. I do not recommend you do this on the first, or even fourth pass. Wait until you are ready to send the script out, then, carefully, go through it and keep in mind that someone is reading this. Does your description invite the reader into your story? Are you clear and unambiguous in your choices? Can someone reading the script enjoy the time s/he spends with you and your story? Shane Black has made a career out of this, and is worth studying. I recommend reading only the descriptive text to test flow. This is also another candidate for the little black box method, and if you have a friend who loves you, perhaps you can provide enough beer and pizza to get them to do the reading for you and you can sit back and listen. Or you can use the Final Draft voice box, but I wouldn't recommend it -- no poetry.... Still, any port in a storm.
3. Plug Logic Holes.
Readers love to find logic problems with a script. If you have done a solid job with characterization and the tone feels right, these types of problems will be forgiven, but there are readers out there who rejoice in finding flaws in a screenplay's structure and will allow these flaws to dominate their analyses of a screenplay. Find as many logic-minded folks as you possibly can and get them to comb through the screenplay. Address their problems. Even if it kills you and upsets the delicate dramatic balance you've crafted. Even if it costs you a laugh. Don't get nutty and throw the baby out with the bathwater, but at the very least, tip your hat to the logic-fascists.
4. Keep your tongue out of your cheek and don't wink at anybody.
While you want the script to be reader-friendly, don't go overboard and put on a show just for the reader. I'm sure Scott the Reader has a few things to say about this, I dug round the archive but don't have the time to find a good post to link. Anyway, executives, producers, directors and readers hate it when writers "break the fourth wall" and ruin the flow of a screenplay by facing camera and doing a softshoe.

All of this sort of assumes you've exercised basic craft and found a story that's compelling. Again, that OVERALL box is a killer, but if you can get high marks in the other areas a story is evaluated for -- i.e. Characters, Plot, Dialogue, Story Structure -- you may get passed to the next level... underpaid story editor.

Good luck and toss questions where you think they'll do the most damage. :-)

Back to the Beginning


Hey, everybody! I turned in the script last week to the indie director. They couldn't read the first copy (software incompatibility issues), so I had to wait another day and a half to hear from them after I sent the second copy (thank goodness for word RTF files). I've been a bundle of nerves and Tums waiting to hear from them, and sorry to say, not the best company for my poor little Stinky Cheese puppy dog.

Anyway, last night, I finally heard from the local producer. The director read the script Monday night and she cried at the ending. And not because it was awful. :-) So after rushing out to buy myself a pint of Haagen Das chocolate peanut butter ice cream and then eating it, of course, I've been waiting for her notes.

This project is a beast. A 130-page script that I had to basically rewrite from page one. I managed to cut 18 pages out, but the director wants to add to a storyline I'd been trying to minimize, so I know the next pass is going to require a rethink of the dramatic structure. It's all good, though. I'm trying to keep it out of my head until I actually get the notes back, so I'm turning to another draft of the spec feature I drafted in August. It's slow-going....

Anyway, I decided not to pursue the job opp. I'm going to kick networking into high-gear instead and try to meet as any showrunners as I can over the next few months. I haven't done that because I didn't have any current samples worth passing around, but I will by the end of December.

P.S. Scott the Reader is trying to get a Koffee Klatch going. Join him! Screenwriters UNITE!!

P.P.S. The pic is from Natalie Dee.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Another Job Call

Every six months or so, I get a call to see if I would be interested in "meeting" about a job. I don't take every one of these that floats down the river, but if I think the person who is inquiring is interesting, or if it would just be rude for me to turn it down, I'll go in. I'm 99% committed to my artistic poverty and the whole notion of writing until I sell something, but there is that little niggle of doubt that haunts me. When I get calls like the one I got this morning, that doubt trebles in urgency and the next thing I know, my eyelid is twitching again....

This morning an agency friend called to ask me if I wanted to go in and meet with a client who just got a boatload of financing and a distribution deal with a pretty substantial marketing committment behind it. As you may or may not know, having money to make a movie, getting a movie into theaters, and spending money to let folks know the movie is made and out there, are each entirely separate things and have to be approached as such. So, this place sounds like it could be set up pretty nicely. In my previous incarnation as baby shark in Gucci pumps, I would have shown up with double-shot soy lattes for everyone, but, with my goals in sight (the writing is getting much much better), I'm not as interested in the dance as I would have been this time last year.

The irony here, of course, is that the dance is just that, a dance. I call her, she invites me to meet and it's on from there. Here's a little Hollywood for you:

an office meeting -- she's not that serious, but if I can tapdance well enough she might tease me;

a coffee date -- she's not that serious, but she doesn't want to insult me so she's playing the "we're close enough to not need to do the whole formal thing with one another," tap dancing required;

a breakfast/lunch date -- she's serious, but I'm still too junior for her to beg, a softshoe is in order;

a dinner -- she's serious, real serious, if I play my cards right I might pry out enough money to buy a real house somewhere near the beach, no dancing, but a nice rhythmic swaying would be prudent;

a dinner at Mr. Chow's -- how serious am I about this job? They'll double whatever I ask, but they will own me.

If I were looking for an exec/producing for hire gig, this one wouldn't be it. I'd shoot for something at a studio-based production company, something at a branded entertainment deal (meaning they already have a name for themselves, so you're pushing product) because when you've been dead as long as I have, you gotta find a way to make what's old look new (Chris Rock has a funny blue riff on this that I won't repeat here), and the best way to do that is following a mandate and filling a slate -- the assembly line assures that you won't wont for submissions, and the brand guarantees that you have a wide mouth ready to swallow whatever you're serving.

To build a new company, from the ground up, with all the pressures independent financing brings (e.g. the slate has to hit the ground running, there's little time for development because the money is coming from individual institutions, not some corporate board with a thousand other ways to monetize your failures), is a huge endeavor. I've participated in a few of those and they're startups, and have the same advantages and disadvantages of every start up.

Anyway, I might get sucked into the meeting out of guilt and loyalty. But I won't like it. I'd rather be home, writing.

Monday, October 09, 2006

And Another Excellent Bargain

My friend who has donated her services for a charity auction has just informed me that her book agent, Richard Abate at ICM-NY, has also donated his. This is a grand opportunity to get feedback from someone who normally wouldn't even see your query letters. Take advantage, please! And pass it along to anyone you know with a book manuscript. The auction's not been highly publicized, so I think whoever submits for this one will get an excellent "deal."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Good Cause

A friend is auctioning off her services. She's an excellent reader and excellent analyst. Please consider donating to what promises to be a good cause. I'm a big softie and reading through the website moved me enough to post this here. Please spread the link, bid and/or donate as you are able.

********************

In other, more frivolous news, I'm watching Ugly Betty again. Already had two big belly laughs and the show is only halfway done. I'm not digging the arch-nemesis, or that dumb Fashion TV bit they keep overplaying, but the freaking fight between the sister and Gina Gambaro was the best ever. Also funny -- the line, "You can take my bunny, but you can't take my spirit." I saw it coming a mile away by that girl really sold it.

My biggest question: why are they Mexican? In New York? Queens, no less?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Oh Yeah, Baby


I dig it.

Count Me In


I was over at one of my favorite new blogs: Unknown Screenwriter, and he has a (meme? thread?) from Red Right Hand. My DSL has been down since Saturday, so I'm straggling in with the first page in the short I held the read-thru for last month. I hope you guys like it....

P.S. This is the Unpolished Turd... er, version.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Ugly Betty

Halfway through the show and I already love it. I was ready to hate it, but I think they got this one exactly right. I almost fell out when they played the blurry vision POV after she hit the glass like a damn country pigeon in the Big City. Still thinking about how I can use that one.... The guy she's working for isn't enough 0f a bad guy to justify this emotional arc with her, but still, really love it.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Rules

The last few days have been pretty busy. In addition to preparing my book for the next 100 pages of writing (e.g. re-reading the 100 pages I have, outlining, journaling, setting up a writing schedule, repeating affirmations to myself that I don't suck and I don't need to get another development job), a producer friend called me about an indie rewrite job. Originally, this was supposed to come together at the end of August, when I had no pressure for my book pages, but, of course, being indie filmmakers they didn't have the money.

This time I held out for a couple grand because I knew it was taking me away from working on the book and finishing my tv samples (I'm waiting for feedback on the pilot and working on outlines for RESCUE ME and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA to see which one works best), so I thought I'd leave it up to the fates to determine if I should put that aside.

Aside from the validation I feel cashing a check that says "for screenwriting services" in the memo line, I have set up some criteria for how I price my services and the reasons I'll take a non-union, indie job.

The number one rule is: Who is making the film? Obviously I don't expect Stephen Spielberg to call me up and ask me to do some work on a "little experimental thing he and the Toms (Cruise and Hanks, 'natch)" are brewing up. However, I do like to feel like the folks I'm working with are actually going to make the movie. Afterall, a writer is just a dreamer until somebody actually produces the work.

Rule number 2 is: How much turnaround time do I have? I prefer to work under tight turnarounds. It sounds nutty, but in my spec work I'm taking my time, making sure that I get things right, but I'm used to the pace of major feature film production where the only obstacle to getting something done is money. I've worked on films where the pages were being printed in a trailer on set and photocopied in small batches to make sure the critical folks got it in time for shooting. There's something about sitting with professionals who are there to make it work, people, and actually making it work. Also, there are fewer politics (usually) simply because there's no time for manuvering.

Rule number 3: How much work do I have to do? Now this isn't about the number pages that need to be re-written, this is more about how clear are the filmmakers about what they want to have done. Do they have specific scenes that need to be adjusted? Do they know how those adjustments will go? Are they adding or omitting specific elements? Or, is it one of those general pleas to "make it better," and off you go. Having worked as a development exec, I don't do development work for free. There's a fine line on a rewrite job between work a writer ought to be doing, and work that ought to be done in order to hire a writer. Of course I'm capable of figuring out what's wrong with a script, writing that up, then deconstructing it into a writing plan for myself and then actually executing the work, but that's a helluva lot of work for one person. I make it clear that I will be charging more for that work because I am meticulous and detail-oriented and persistent.

Rule number 4: Will I get credit? On non-WGA films, this is entirely negotiable. I'm sure it would suck if I had a film I'd originated and someone else ended up with a writing credit, but I also know that if I put time into it, my deal would reflect that. I definitely protect my writing services much better than I do my producing ones! If it's not possible for me to get a credit, I take whatever figure I'd had in my head after sorting through the above and add about 25%.

Rule number 5: Can I actually deliver? Now, you'll notice this is the last rule here. My philosophy is that it's hard as shit to get work in this town (even indie work), so I'd rather kick the tires and start the engine before deciding to back out of a deal than pass because I couldn't handle it. I do believe that if you are a solid craftsman (nothing to do with art, at this point), you can analyze the style of a screenplay or genre and figure out the basic tick-tock that makes it work -- that doesn't mean you'll make it a work of art, but at the indie level any film looking for a new writer just needs some basic mechanical work.

In truth, each of these is a weighted rule and that weight is constantly changing (in this case, when I said I'd do the job I had more time, now that I'm pressed for time I wish I'd asked for more $$ and more specific notes). Still, a deal is a deal and the check did clear....

Anyway, I'm hoping to post more regularly now. I feel like I was supposed to post something I wrote a while ago and have forgotten about.... I'll have to look around the old hard drive and see what's gathering dust.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Read-Thrus Rock!

Last night went much much better than I thought it would. It also ran over by about 2 hours, and if one of my actors hadn't had a 5 AM call we'd still be there fighting over the beat work right now. To every single one of them I have to give a big hats off. They all had sharp eyes, good instincts, and real committment to helping me get the work on its feet.

I have no idea when this piece is going to be shot. The director has up and moved across the country, the boat is sitting in the harbor just waiting, and the weather is a few weeks away from turning. But, for my purposes, I'm tightening up the turn at the bottom of the script, then passing the script off to the producer and moving on to greener passengers. My goal is to let things settle a bit before I start polishing. I came home last night and spent about an hour typing up my notes, writing thank you notes, and reviewing parts of the tape. I'm going to bed early, and when I get up tomorrow I'll pound out the revisions.

What I'd been hoping for is a little back and forth with the actors, an opportunity to find out where they were going emotionally to get to the place that I wanted them to end up, the good underbelly of filmmaking that as a writer you only experience by yourself. What I ended up with was far more than that. To anyone out there staging your own reading, I highly recommend you find actors who have done extensive stage work, who've done vocal training, movement training, and scene analysis workshops -- it makes everything so much easier. If you can also take at least one workshop/class in each of these subjects you'll be ahead of the curve.

We spent the majority of our time talking about the characters, their backstory, the beats that the actors felt didn't have enough underpining for them to build on top of, I found three missing beats, and a few beats that were out of order. I think the best thing that came out of the evening was a big shot to my confidence. Oh yeah, Diva rocks! Now if I can just get my feature to this place I might finally make this into a paying gig! LOL. Hopefully things will settle down enough for me to do that -- I hope all of you are doing well out there.

BIANCA: The book's subject isn't top-secret, I'm just not coherent enough about it to really lay the plot out. Basically, it's about a young woman coming to terms with her childhood. The particulars involve a beat-to-hell Volkswagon Fox, a bunch of baby dolls and a Korean hooker. That's all I can say for certain. Ask me again in December (my self-imposed deadline to get the first draft completed).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Get Geeked

I'm working on my sides for the read-thru but thought I'd post this link for all you 007 fans out there. I've been reserving judgment about Daniel Craig as Bond because I do think he's hot (in a blue-collar, dirty kind of way) and my favorite Bond films were the ones with Sean Connery and lots of ass-kicking. I think they nailed it.

CASINO ROYALE -- let me know what you think.

P.S. There is no legitimate reason my prep work would take me to the internet. Again, this is exactly why I normally work at Starbucks!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Hey There, Stranger....

I'm still alive. Congrats to Will for the gig. Think of me when you're toiling away and now I'm green with envy!

I'm gathering all of my bits and pieces for Sunday. I had a couple of actors flake and had my lead actor go all crazy with me yesterday:

Me: So, I'm calling to confirm the reading on Sunday at 8:30p

Actor: Is that when it is? (beat) I've been waiting for you to call and give me a date. For a week.

Me: Can you not do it?

Actor: Oh, no, I'm free, but you said you were going to call me, and then I didn't hear from you....

Me: Well, if you remember, about a week and a half ago I told you we were definitely doing it on Sunday the 17th probably at 7p, but that I had to confirm with another actor and the theater before I could confirm with you. (beat) So, this is me confirming.
Head 'em off at the pass I always say. This guy was already complaining to the producer that I hadn't told him every little detail about the read-thru, so I knew he was waiting with some kind of scolding. Meanwhile, he's been promising me actors and that he'd help find the stage, etc., only to turn around once I've secured things to say "Oh, well, I would've done it but since you have something for certain...." I hate when people do that.

Anywho, for anyone who's never done one of these, I'll lay out my plans for the next few days. I'm happy to break the entire process down and provide examples of some of the materials below if anybody needs a flashlight through the woods.

So far, I've pulled together maps and directions, assembled my cast, secured the theater we'll be using, picked up a tripod and photocopied a stack of scripts. I emailed out an agenda with a map, the script, an agenda and my "hopes and dreams" idea of how the read-thru will run.

Today I'll place a personal call to everyone involved in the reading, pick up the the video camera and tape so that I can do a dry run of the recording and see if I need to beg, borrow or steal a microphone(s).

Then tomorrow I'll break the script down in pieces and put together my binder for the run-thru (phone numbers of everyone involved in case anyone is running late, extra copies of the scenes separated into different "sides", blank paper, tape flags, pens, pencils and a couple of colored pens and highlighters in different colors).

On Sunday, I'll get cash (in case someone needs to get bailed out of jail, (and I'm only partially kidding here)), buy some soda (coke/diet coke/sprite), bottled water, ice, grapes, pretzels and some cookies, meet up with my friend early to set up the read-thru area and a "holding" area for folks who aren't doing scenework, then settle in and wait for people to show up.

The read-thru itself is going to (hopefully) run like this:

8:15p-8:30p -- ARRIVALS
8:30p -- Cold read-thru
8:45-9:15p -- Scenework: Scenes 1-3
9:15-9:30p -- Scenework: Scenes 4-9
9:30p-9:45p -- Scenework: Scenes 9-11
9:45p-10:00 -- final read-thru
The piece is actually only 9 pages, so I think it will take about an hour, but with the crazy lead actor, and another actor I've never even met (who is used to doing stage work), I'm anticipating any kind of craziness if these two don't like one another.

I made sure everyone knows the session is being taped for my personal use so no one is shocked by the camcorder, and now, all I can do is work my plan and watch things unfold.

Last weekend, I went up to the Bay Area for my novel writing group and had a great time. Everyone is so on point in terms of just getting the pages out there. It's really inspiring, and the books were good too. I'm due to turn in 100 pages in November, so I'm sweating every night. I'd put the book aside to get my samples finished and since I'm still working in rough, I'm having nightmares about ex-boyfriends showing up recently divorced, giant bbq's at which I'm cooking everyone's food using my pages for fuel (they impart such a nice smoky mesquite flavor to the ribs...), and my dog growing a beard and sitting in a rocker waiting for me to finish something.

Anyway, back to the salt mines. This week I rewrote one chapter of my book (the dreaded Chapter 5 which has been kicking my ass since I started it). Came up with an act-break fix for my tv spec pilot, wrote a partial treatment for an indie film idea I've been kicking around for a while, and read a book (LICK CREEK by Brad Kessler which I can neither recommend nor trash, just wish I had back the 8 hours I put in). What have you guys been up to? :-)


Thursday, September 07, 2006

How Not to Keep a Job

Hey you guys, I'm bearing down on my read-thru, tightening up the script, casting the actors (really just passing the script out to friends and saying "Gotcha!"), and putting together logistical details like maps and ice chests. Posting will be exceptionally light for the next week as I try not to fall out from stress.

Anecdotally, I spoke with a friend of mine who had to fire her director today. She is shooting a short film and he wasn't stepping up to the plate. The director provides leadership through the production phase of shooting. Not bringing story boards, not actively pursuing your crew (especially the department heads), running late for meetings -- all of this is rock star behaviour which typically doesn't mesh well with low budget/no budget indie films and it sucks for everybody who is working their fingers to the bone.

And completely randomly: there are now officially 4-digit hits per month! I'm almost done with the two projects I'm writing (TV spec pilot and a feature spec) and when I'm done I'm going to finish the re-do on the template. I want to put up some blog links to those of you who frequent the blog, so please let me know if you want me to link you up!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

There Can Be Only One

If you've been following the corporate struggles over at Viacom (and I know you have, right?), this morning's news was a long an area of speculation.

Tom Freston is OUT at Viacom. Leaving Les Moonves as the head of CBS and Paramount. Talk about evil plans coming true! Now we'll see some Executive Deathmatch as Brad Grey, Gail Berman (mostly on the outs according to to scuttlebut), and whoever the hell else is still alive over there, scramble to prove that the movies they've released, purchased and packaged over the last two-three years are going to start raking in the loot for the studio. With their share price hovering in the mid-30's they've got to pull up on the yoke before they crash and burn. Media moguls care about two things: prestige and money. That means Oscars, Globes and Box Office, none of which have been Paramount's strong suits in the last few years.

I predict there will be sharp turn into genre films: think horror, romantic comedies, movies geared at tweens, action films (like FAST AND THE FURIOUS), and big fat comedies (like 40-YEAR OLD VIRGIN), and definitely definitely definitely tentpoles franchise films. That means middle of the market dramas (like COACH CARTER) probably won't be made there for a while. If you write genre films this is the time to put it in high-gear and get ready to pound the pavement to find an agent with an in over on Melrose....

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Il-LUSION-ist

I went to the Arclight this evening and saw Ed Norton's new movie, THE ILLUSIONIST. I was entertained. But, I can't say it was the best movie I've seen this year. The character work was interesting, the set design was amazing, Jessica Biels looked hot (not enough for me, but I'm sure there are those of you out there who will gladly pay $14.50 to see her), and Ed Norton had some crazy facial hair all down his neck.

The most annoying thing for me were the visual affectations used throughout the film. Dick Pope shot the film (and I've enjoyed other films he's shot) and it uses this "irising" effect that's meant to emulate early hand-cranked cinematography. They also introduced a flicker, and some soft focus on the edges. I got a raging headache about 20 minutes into the film, but I'm interested to hear what other folks experienced. I might have thought the film was better if I could've tolerated the viz fx.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

One of the Reasons I Got Out

I recently came across a very angry filmmaker I never worked with when I was a producer and an executive. He's doing much better for himself than he was when I was passing on his scripts, turning down his dinner invitations, and in general avoiding him. He's not rich, but he got his movie made, he got distribution, and hopefully, someday soon, he'll realize that this is all that matters. In the meantime, I'm avoiding his angry little behind like the Plague.

A lot of people take their rejections personally. And it's hard not to take rejection personally when someone is telling you that your dreams aren't what they are looking for, not good enough, or not commercial. This is one of the reasons why I got out. I hate being the bearer of bad news. Not just because it's emotionally painful to tell someone you can't help make their dreams come true, but also because I'd rather just get it out of the way and leave no room for backpedaling -- which can seem impersonal to some people. Well, guess what? A "good" pass is impersonal. It has nothing to do with you, who you are, or, hopefully, your future potential submissions to the person who passed.

When you are a female executive, male filmmakers (and agents, directors, actors, etc.) think they can hustle you by showering you with attention, flattery and a little romance. It works pretty frequently because, as an executive, you're typically working 80 hours a week and you never get to leave town. Whenever you see a crappy movie that should've died at birth, there's a romance somewhere in the background. I'm not one of those folks. I rarely work, or even really discuss work, with the guys that I date. I might have a general discussion about movies, or story, but I've never been one of those people who fantasize about being part of a "Hollywood Power Couple." Consequently, the men I dated who did work in the industry were not folks I ever planned to work with -- occasionally to their consternation.

I guess the point of this post is that if you discover that you are one of the folks I never worked with when I was at The Studio, YOU are one of the reasons I got out. Kindly cross to the other side of the street and carry on.

Mystery Solved

Today when I signed onto Blogger I bothered to read the log-in page. Apparently, in my rush to be ahead of the tech-curve (damn me for being an early early adopter!), I didn't realize I would lose all ability to comment on non-beta blogs and to mobile blog. The only good thing I can say about this development is that it's kept me off the internet long enough to get through two books and a couple of scripts over the last week. Now I remember what I did before I got dsl.

***************************

One of my short films is inching closer to production. I'm staging a read-thru in three weeks or so (still waiting for word on the theatre and actors), but I heard from the director today and he is ready to go! I've been racking my imagination for a way to include the Shark Sub in my story, but, I only have 2 days of shooting and the story has absolutely NOTHING to do with submarines (not even through every stretch of my insane imagination). Oh well, I'm going to put in a dialogue reference and see if we can't do something about that on the day we shoot just in case a couple of hours free themselves up....


P.S. This is from one of my favorite goof off sites.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Just for Will: MySpace Answer

For some reason, this nutty blogger-beta won't let me make comments on anyone else's blog (unless they don't require a sign-in). So, because Will is always so nice about commenting on my blog (and has great stories and YouTube connects), I'm creating a post just for you, Will!

I've been way out of it so I know I'm Diva-Come-Late-to-the-Party on this
one....

I think MySpace is about people feeling the need to get
noticed. Look at all the social networking sites YouTube, MySpace,
Blogger, etc., and the common theme is folks reaching out for validation, peers
and admirers. Not to get too philosophical, but celebrity has always been
about the search for love, and if you go through some of these profiles that
becomes soooo apparent.

Most of the A-list folks I've worked with (and the hardworking folks who
aren't household names, but still manage to pull in north of $750K a script, or
$2-3 million for a directing gig) are far too computer illerate to set-up and
maintain anything on the internet. They can barely operate their
text-messaging (I actually have a friend who dictates text messages to his asst
because his ADD is so bad he can't operate the Blackberry!).

Of the industry folks I know out here who have MySpace profiles they are
either doing it to promote themselves professionally or have serious addictions
(comics, sex, teenagers - or other darker things). I do have a friend who
uses it to keep in touch with her extremely large extended family.

As for the Diva, I set up a page long long ago, but found blogger much more
suited to my purposes -- I have no interest in DRKNITE79 and his ill-conceived
plans for my body....

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Happy Birthday Dog!


I bought my dog when I quit my studio job. He was eight weeks old, 3 1/2 lbs, and mostly potty trained. So, every year at this time during "our" anniversary it reminds me that I quit in order to enjoy some "outside interests." As we bear down on Labor Day Weekend I encourage all of you to get out in the world, kick up your heels and find something else to do!

P.S. The indie film is coming back into my life in dribs and drabs. I'll keep you all posted once I've spoken with the other producer. The filmmaker, bless his heart, was really passionate about the work I've done with him so far and had a heart-to-heart with the guy who brought me the film. As a producer I do not like to call attention to myself, or to be the source of any drama on a project. In this particular instance, I felt that I would be more of a problem unhappy than off the movie. Anyway, we'll see what happens.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Broken-Hearted

Well, I had a very emotional last few weeks. It's affected my writing, my sleeping, and my blogging. I had to make a very difficult decision to part ways with the independent film that I've been working on for about a year now. The project was originally brought to me by another producer and we had a disagreement (an amicable one, since we've been friends for about 7 years now) about how to move forward.

When I left my former life, I made a pact to establish myself as a writer. I'm super competitive so it's been murdering me to listen to my friends succeed (I mean, I'm happy for them, but I also know I could be them), while I toil away at home, doing all kinds of crazy jobs to keep my dog off the street and my little putt-putt on the road. Ultimately, I guess it came down to me not wanting to compromise during the hours I don't spend writing. I agonized over it, and came to the conclusion that the sadness I feel at leaving is far outweighed by the anxiety I felt staying.

Anyway, I finally spoke with the filmmaker today to reassure him that I wasn't leaving the project because I no longer believed in his film or in him. These are always really difficult calls, and I'm happy to say he is a very classy guy and it went as well as it could (no tears!). So, broken-hearted, I'm writing out my sorrows in this little scene I came up with over the weekend for my TV pilot. It's a bit arch right now, very mellow dramatic, wounded warrior kind of stuff which I'll smooth out later, but it sort fits with how I'm feeling right now....

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Slowly But Surely

There are more changes today. I haven't opened up all the posts to start labeling them because I haven't settled on a nomenclature yet, and I wouldn't want to put you (and me) through multiple republishings.

The blog has been slowly gaining visitors, but the day after I switched to the new Blogger Beta I noticed that I had a big fat 0 in the visitor column. I sort of brushed it off -- I mean, it's not like I've been posting anything of note lately, right? But, this morning when I checked, again with the 0 visitors thing. Then I realized -- Blogger wiped my html clean. Dang it! I barely knew what I was doing the first time around, and now I've got to go around the internet and reload all my little htmls..... This may take longer than I thought.

Anyway, enjoy the new template, or let me know if you don't. You're my little test audience. See, when I started the blog it was all part of a master plan which won't be revealed until we hit some critical numbers. Hee hee hee.... OK, actually, there is no "master" plan, but I thought that would be a provocative way to end the post. :-)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

**Warning**

I just upgraded my blogger account to the new beta and I'm planning to add labels to some (all, if I can) of the archived posts. I thought I should warn anyone who has a feed, just cuz I'm cool like that. ;-*

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Trying Snazz the Place Up a Bit


I found this very cool website (through Micro Persuasion) that gives you a Web 2.0 mock logo. I love it and wish I knew enough about the internets (*snark intended*) to post it instead of the blogger template logo I have now.

Monday, August 14, 2006

That Kung Fu Monkey!

Well, fortunately, I decided to scour my favorite blogs to see who I could link to on the Manager topic and I came across this great post at Kung Fu Monkey. I encourage you to click on through, read, enjoy, and I'll revise my post down to cover the advantages/disadvantages of management for folks a little lower on the food chain than Mr. Rogers. I plan to read the archives of a few more blogs to see if anyone else had my same bright idea -- I might be able to save myself even more typing!

Had a friend read the first 36 pages and the last 6 of my spec pilot and got some really solid feedback on the scenes I haven't written, and I got to test run a pretty big change I'd been playing with for my lead character. My normal process is to keep things to myself until I'm completely finished, polish, put it down, read, polish it again, then send it out, but since that method wasn't conducive to the assembly line method I'm trying out this year, I'm just pitching out scenes and writing them as they come to me. I can't say it's the best method, but once, a very long long time ago, when I was a little asst. hottie (and I was, with my 4 inch pumps, mini-skirts and disco shirts while on location scouts...I didn't know any better!!) I had a chance to work with Danny Jacobson for two weeks while he did a script doctoring job on this movie that was on the swift boat to hell. It was great fun, there were two comedians involved and I sat on the phone with him typing my fingers off while he pitched ideas around the ether. I learned a tremendous amount, which I promptly sublimated until I quit my studio job.

I'll let you know how it all works out. I did a good bit of revising in addition to the new pages I finished this weekend, but the entire thing reads much much better, and the character work is getting closer to what I want it to be. I have to finish it soon, though, because some of my other projects are getting close to boil.

The independent project is in limbo right now. I didn't get a positive response from the casting director. I can't say that I disagreed with any of his comments, the director and I had actually had a long talk about the problems the casting director mentioned to me, and we'd discussed how we were going to address them. I think he needed that outside opinion to push him to the next place, and let's face it, I'm pooped. Anyway, I put the whole thing on pause over the last week so I can finish this draft.

Also, one of my former assistants is totally coming through for me and scoring me a stage to hold a reading of one of my short films. I've been blessed with some real gems in the assistant department (who curse my name to this day, but still take my calls), and I try to keep up with them. I had a couple of real stinkers, too, mind you. One woman, gorgeous blonde, which sadly for her had no influence on me, although every senior executive on the lot found a reason to drop by my office while she worked there, actually got me into a screaming match with my boss. All week I'd been sending faxes out about this project I was desperate to put together. Every time I saw my boss I'd harass him about it, I was faxing business affairs about putting the deal together, calling the writer's agent every five minutes, in short, making a Grade A pest of myself. Finally, my boss called me on Friday afternoon and started SCREAMING at me for bothering him all week long and then not doing my job by getting him and everyone else all of the information. I whipped out my stack of correspondence (CYAP, folks, Cover Your Ass in Paper), and started reading through the stack at the top of my lungs. When he yelled back that he had never received any of them, I screamed back: I have the confirmations in my hand! Then, of course looked at them, and every single one read FAIL FAIL FAIL. Eek. Talk about a 180! I started laughing hysterically, which is what I do when cornered. Told him I would be in his office in 5 minutes (cuz I figured I might as well show up with my own whipping post), and then I asked my assistant what happened.

"I don't know," she said. So, I made her stand up and physically show me what the hell she'd been doing all week with the fax machine. She grabbed the papers, put them in the WRONG WAY, punched in the fax number, then pressed STOP. STOP, people, THE RED BUTTON, not THE GREEN BUTTON which said GO, but the STOP button. Which, of course, pulled the papers through then printed a FAILED notice NOT A CONFIRMATION.

I literally couldn't breathe. My entire chest cavity collapsed. My cheeks went a dark dark red color and felt like they were going blister. I was so past shock and anger that I couldn't even tell her what was wrong and why she would NEVER WORK ON THIS LOT AGAIN.

Instead, I went to my office, called HR and told them I needed her out of my office before I got back from my visit with the HEAD OF THE STUDIO who was REALLY PISSED AT ME because my assistant DIDN'T EVEN KNOW SHE DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO USE A FAX MACHINE and that I was INCHES AWAY from losing A $60 MILLION DOLLAR MOVIE because EVERYONE THOUGHT I WAS AN IDIOT AND A LIAR. And can you help me deal with this before close of business?

Then, I hung up the phone, put on my little Gucci suit coat, grabbed a fork and knife and trailed off to my boss' office to eat a crow.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

You know...that novel I'm writing?

Came across this today while I was procrastinating (this is why I write at Starbucks!). I love this show so much. The way they play past the first laugh on the flashbacks/fantasy sequences, the way they are not afraid to keep working a joke. Fox has got it all right with their animated comedy line up.

I've been watching a lot of pilots for the new season, and so far, my favorite is Studio 60. I'm not a big fan of Amanda Peet (she is REALLY not funny at all), but the stars on that show are bright, indeed. I especially can't wait to see what happens with D.L. Hughley who is hysterical and much much funnier in his blue stand up than he was on that family show that made him a millionaire. I like the idea of Tina Fey's show, but the promo clips play better than the show to me. Can't wait to see KIDNAPPED, didn't like VANISHED, and want to see HEROES (I'm putting that out there in case anyone has a tape!) -- although doesn't it seem a leeeeetle too much like X-Men? OK, back to work!

Friday, August 11, 2006

I Must Be Crazy

Taking a little break from my script to scribble a few lines for you guys. I know you miss me.

:-)

About a year ago, I convinced my novel writing group to go on a writing retreat. I'd been freelancing my ass off, had just moved back to Los Angeles after an extended absence and wasn't getting any pages written on any of my projects. The week before I was trying to decide what I would work on during the retreat. Then, I had this dream about a pair of siblings at their father's funeral. The image that stuck with me when I woke up was of the younger sister crouched beside the grave dropping in worms instead of dirt and saying, “God bless you, old man. You worthless bastard. I hope they eat your eyes first.” Since then I've been plugging away at it in 25 page chunks. And let me tell you, 25 pages of a book is a hell of a lot more writing than screenplay pages.

I'm not saying the book is fabulous or anything, I try not to re-read it too often cuz I alternately hate it and then love it and then hate it again, but it will be finished by December. Just in time for me to start the second draft! I love how this whole writing thing works.... Anyway, I just received pages from another woman in my group on her 5th draft of the book she's writing (5th!!!) and that old green monster is rearing her head. Not to mention the fact that I set a deadline to submit the next 75 pages of the book in October, and I've only written 30 of them.... Why do I do this to myself???

Blech. I decided that 2006 was a volume year. Finish as many projects as possible, no excuses. So, back to the salt mines. The manager post is almost finished, so I'm going to start cutting it down then I'll post it in parts. Right now, I'm headed off to find to drown my sorrows in some frozen yogurt.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Flapjacks and Links

I'm working on my script. That's about all I can say for myself. After my weekend high, I've been hunting and pecking out the second act about one scene per day (which means I've written 6 pages since Monday!). I had planned to post a little bit every day while I work on the longer post, but got distracted..... Soooo, thank god for Will Dixon over at Uninflected! (Yay, Will!) He wrote an excellent post the other day about writing and posted some excerpts from Stephen King's book (which I haven't read, but the excerpts were great so now it's on my b&n shopping cart).

There's an interesting discussion (started by Jutratest) about becoming obsessed with how-to books which I'd like to pick up here. I'm one of those big nerds who reads tons of those how-to books, marks up the margins and underlines and highlights my way through, looks up related terms, then types up those notes and files them away to be compared with one another at a later date.

Of course, I only sleep 5 hours a night, so I've got to keep myself busy somehow.... ;-)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Life on Mars

I have a new favorite show. LIFE ON MARS is a BBC drama that's playing on BBC America right now. It's about a modern-day detective who finds himself in the '70's working his old beat. I love that music, the clothes, and the fact that the word "bastards" is used in the promo trailers. Oh yeah, baby, Manchester is the British Detroit!

It isn't nearly as well written as ROME, another favorite, but it certainly has the best internal character conflict of any show in recent memory. I'd love to hear what you guys think.

P.S. I am working on the manager post. I wrote 30 pages this weekend of my TV pilot and 10 pages of Draft 2 of my feature, so my hands are KILLING me. I'll try to pound out a longer post later tonight after I ice my wrists!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Self-Referential

I try to keep my blogging separated (like Church and State used to be in American politics). But, every once in a while, something so stupendous happens, I have to share it. So, in a bit of self-referentiality I link you to my latest groove. I downloaded this last week and have it on super high rotation in the Diva Lounge.

Miss Me?


I've been working, folks. Long hard hours at the keyboard finishing a polish on my short film, reworking the first act of my feature, writing long, detailed memos to the line producer on exactly how many donut-munchers I can afford working the set of my independent film, and talking my writer-director off the ledge every time we hear back from folks about the movie (or don't hear back from folks about the movie which is actually much harder to deal with, ain't it?). Casting director and I spoke about actors, met with a packaging agent twice, and now I'm starting to circle my financiers to find out who has money for me. Oh, yeah, the short film I'm producing has reared its head once again, so I'm meeting with that filmmaker and the woman who is helping production manage on Tuesday. I'm swimming in a dank pool of my own making. And it ain't pretty.

It's hard out here for Diva, let me tell you.

I am sleeping 5 hours a night for the next few months, so I'll carve out a 20 minute stretches to blog now that I have my arms around my work load.

Manager post coming up!

1st post: Difference between manager and agent and producer.

2nd post: Manager's role in your life

3rd post: strategic use of manager to score gigs and earn your rightful place in Hollywood.

Hopefully, I'll come up with some snappy titles for these otherwise, it may just be 1,2,3, cuz it's getting that deep up in here....

I've written 10 pages today and I'm on a little bit of a sleep-deprivation high, so I'm going to keep plugging away at this 2nd draft of my feature. I'm giving it to a friend to read this weekend. I want her to tell me if I'm just cracked out, or if it is almost as good as I think it is.

I saw the trailer for THE PRESTIGE. It looks ah-mazing. Anybody else see it? I know folks who worked on it, so I'd been hearing the title for months, and honestly was a little worried. It was on the front of PIRATES which I saw last weekend (more on that some other time) and I was absolutely sucked in -- Christian Bale is evil! I love it!!

Monday, July 24, 2006

**WE INTERRUPT THIS BROADCAST...**

For those of you trapped in Hel-LA with me you know it's gotten surface-of-the-sun hot out here. At this point, anyone who doubts we are in a period of Global Warming is nuttier than G-Dub. That said, I bowed to the corporate conspiracy and installed an a/c to save my little pooch from certain death since I can't drag him on all my little errands and meetings, or into Starbucks with me, and wouldn't ever ever ever leave him SURVIVOR-style to suffer through the heat. Now with these rolling blackouts in effect and knowing that my a/c will just shut down, I'm thinking of installing a doggy pool in the kitchen....

For those of you with pets, I found this article with suggestions on how to keep your dog from dying. From the folks in Phoenix:

Heatstroke
Pets can also can get heat stroke in the summer. The signs of heatstroke
include:
1. Heavy panting, rapid heartbeat and glazed eyes.
2. Dark or bright red tongue and gums
3. Excessive thirst
4. Staggering or dizziness
5. Vomiting and bloody diarrhea

What to do:
1. Lower body temperature by applying ice packs or cold towels to the head,
neck and chest.
2. Immerse in cool but not cold water, since very cold water constricts the
blood vessels and slows cooling.
3. Give your pet small amounts of cool water or have it lick ice
cubes.
4. Take your pet to the veterinarian even if the animal seems better.
Internal organs can be affected by heatstroke.

http://www.sdshelters.com/health_education/HotSummer.html

http://www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=pets_hotweathertips