Thursday, April 30, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - The Limits of Control, Revanche, The Merry Gentleman

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at info@screenwritersleague.com.

- Tribeca wraps this weekend! Check out what's still screening here.

Opening this week...

THE LIMITS OF CONTROL, written and directed by Jim Jarmusch


PREMISE: The story of a mysterious loner who exists outside the law and is in the process of completing his current job.

PLAYING: Angelika

It's Jim Jarmusch, so it feels like a no-brainer for me. And with a soundtrack by metal acts Earth and SunnO)))? All over it.

REVANCHE, written and directed by Götz Spielmann


PREMISE: Ex-con Alex dreams about starting a new life with the Ukrainian prostitute Tamara. To do so, he wants to rob a bank erasing debts and making the flight towards the South possible. But Tamara is unintentionally shot on the escape by the coincidentally present policeman, Robert. Alex flees to the farm of his father and learns that Robert lives close by...thoughts of revenge start to arise.

PLAYING: IFC Center

This Austrian film (translated title: "Revenge") got the Academy Award nod last year for foreign picture. You can check out the trailer here.

THE MERRY GENTLEMAN, written by Ron Lazzeretti, dir. by Michael Keaton


PREMISE: Fleeing her abusive husband, Kate Frazier travels to Chicago to start a new life. But upon fatefully disrupting remorseful hitman Frank Logan's suicide, she becomes intertwined in the lonely killer's life and that of the sullen detective attempting to track him down.

PLAYING: Landmark Sunshine

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 69 - Too Many Characters


I like to write action movies. Action means big explosions. Big shootouts. Big chases. Big ensembles. In order for the bodies to stack up, I have to litter the script with C-characters, people who can get offed in the most awesome ways, while the protagonists run onward to victory. The trick, though, is making these people recognizable to the audience, while not cluttering the script with too many speaking role bit characters.

I’ve been reworking my Roman army spec recently. The first draft had a lot of speaking roles. To give you an idea of how many characters – the script opens with two opposing armies at war which, over the course of the script, come together to battle an even greater force. Yes, many, MANY characters. ‘Backer took the lead in letting me know that too many of the characters sound the same and do not distinguish themselves from one another. I just realized how this came to be.

In dealing with ensembles, I feel compelled to make sure that most if not everyone who I drop onto the page has some sort of a speaking role. Onyx and I are both guilty of this. We put a lot of people into our scripts – more people than we need – and we try to distinguish them all. What this leads to is too many characters speaking, too many descriptions of people we aren’t supposed to remember, and too many deaths of characters we haven’t begun to care about. There’s a prime example of “too many characters speaking” in the first draft of my Roman army project; during one scene, two characters are having a debate. However, each of them also has two cronies who are always at their side. In order to justify the cronies’ presence, I gave everyone lines. What was a discussion between two people became a discussion between two people but through six people. Everyone sounded the same, because I had just swapped names in throughout the dialogue. ‘Backer was right – no character (except the main two) had a unique voice.

It’s hard juggling multiple characters, especially when many of them speak. The key, though, is balance. Who needs to be there, and who doesn’t? Who has to speak, and who doesn’t? Who is just there to die onscreen, and who has a greater, story serving purpose? Onyx and I are on the lookout for one another, letting one another know when the character count is getting too high. He suggested that I’ll probably have to cut a number of characters, and he’s probably right. At the very least, I’ll have to cut their dialogue.

True Love: Now Available with Guarantee


I went to see TiMer on Sunday night. I'm not typically a romantic comedy enthusiast, but the premise caught my eye immediately. Tribeca Film Festival's website said the line for rush tickets form an hour before the movie, so I strolled over after a nice taco dinner, 50 minutes before showtime, and was met with a daunting line. There were a good 75 people before me. Many of us went to the front to ask how many rush tickets were there (A: she didn't know, but thought there was a good chances everyone will be able to get in.) Rumor down the line was that there were about 400 seats so people were nervously optimistic. It was a pleasant spring-summer night, and most people were sharing their previous Tribeca experience cheerfully. When I got in the theater, most of the seats were taken. While I stood there staring at the full house, my boyfriend valiantly charged off to the distance (leaving me behind) and secured 2 seats on the fourth row to the side. For being so far in the front, my neck was suprisingly not soar by the end of the movie.


The film was very worth the wait. Set in an alternative LA, "TiMER" is a wrist implant that counts down to when the wearer will meet the eyes of their soul mate. While this breakthrough technology has taken the doubt and worry away from many, it has not helped Oona (Emma Caulfield), who is reaching 30 and her TiMER hasn't even started counting down (which means her soul mate is probably a bumpkin or a rebel who has not gotten a TiMER himself). While employing Leave No Rock Unturned tactic dragging every "virgin wrist" boyfriend to get a TiMER, Oona sees no point in dating someone who's already counting down, since the relationship is doomed from the start. That is, until she meets Mickey (John Patrick Amedori), a young attractive drummer who only has four months until he meets his "one". I think what makes the movie so enjoyable is that, while it brings up many interesting questions such as "would you know to know?" "what is worse, a blank timer or one that tells you you won't meet the one until you're old and withered", it never loses sight that it's a romantic comedy. The writing was funny, smooth and crisp. The side characters aren't just hanging out being talking heads either, but has their own interesting problems (my favorite is the 13-years-old brother, who reluctantly gets the implant only to see that he has merely 3 days before he meets the girl he's supposed to spend the rest of his life with.) It was easy to relate to all the characters problems and dilemmas. Tribeca described the film as "smart and delightful", and it was exactly that. My boyfriend enjoyed the movie as much as I did.

There're still 3 showings left in Tribeca!

Mon, Apr 27th 4:00pm
Thr, Apr 30th 7:45pm
Sun, May 3rd 3:30pm

Find where they're playing and watch the trailer here: http://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/TiMER.html

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Trailer Trash XLIV: Mother's Day (1980)

"When you know how to celebrate, every day is Mother's Day!"

In honor of Mother's Day coming up, I'm (not so) proud to present, well, Mother's Day.

Before we get started, it's not THAT Charlie Kaufman. (If you were wondering.)

The movie is pretty vile, and the trailer is pretty NSFW, so consider yourself warned:



In the most bizarre twist of all, Brett Ratner is apparently attached to a remake of this? (Whyyyy???)


"You've made your mother proud!"

Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: Even these guys got their movie made... so can you! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - The Informers, Il Divo, Treeless Mountain

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at info@screenwritersleague.com.

- The Tribeca Film Festival has started! Our post about it is here.

Opening this week...

THE INFORMERS, written by Bret Easton Ellis and Nicholas Jarecki, dir. by Gregor Jordan


Premise: A multi-strand narrative set in early 1980's Los Angeles, centered on an array of characters who represent both the top of the heap (a Hollywood dream merchant, a dissolute rock star, an aging newscaster) and the bottom (a voyeuristic doorman, an amoral ex-con). Connecting the intertwining strands are a group of beautiful, blonde young men and women who sleep all day and party all night, doing drugs -- and one another -- with abandon, never realizing that they are dancing on the edge of a volcano.

Playing: BAM, Angelika, Chelsea Clearview, AMC Empire 25

Love it or hate it, American Psycho sticks with you. I'll give this adaptation of Ellis's novel a shot.

IL DIVO, written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino


Premise: The story of Italian Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti, who has been elected to Parliament seven times since is was established in 1946.

Playing: Landmark Sunshine, Lincoln Plaza Cinemas

This film's been cleaning up the house at festivals, and the star, Toni Servillo, is garnering particular acclaim for his portrayal of the notorious senator.

TREELESS MOUNTAIN, written and directed by So Yong Kim


Premise: In Seoul, Korea, two sisters must look after one another when their mother leaves them to search for their estranged father.

Playing: Film Forum

Free on Friday night? The director will be present to introduce the screening that evening.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tribeca Film Festival Begins Today!



That's right! One of New York's best and most widely known film festivals - the Tribeca Film Festival - opened today. you can check out information on all screenings, filmmakers, venues, and anything else festival related here.


I personally really enjoy the Tribeca Festival. i was first really introduced to it about four years ago when I was an intern at a studio here in NYC. I think I saw something like 13 movies in eight days for work over the course of the festival. While the festival has, in recent years, expanded to include screenings virtually all over Manhattan, my favorite part of the week plus long festival is trekking down to sunny Tribeca. It's a part of the City that I don't often get down to, but I always find it beautiful and refreshing when I'm down there. If you're in NYC and love film, I really recommend trying to make it out to a few screenings (especially if they're down in grassy Tribeca).


Anyway, we're gearing up here to try and catch a handful of the films. Enough about us, though, what are you seeing and, more importantly, what do you think of what you watched? Email us at info@screenwritersleague.com to let us know, and we'll convey your thoughts.

Find a Home for Your Film


Several filmmakers I've talked to said that the most stressful thing was not making the film, but getting someone to distribute it. I work at a movie distribution company that specializes in indie, documentaries, and foreign films. Among all my jobs, one of them is preliminary acquisition. I'm the chick you have to impress before your film can reach a higher up.


While doing my job, many obvious "don'ts" the filmmakers or producers make while trying to submit their film surprise me. But then it occurs to me that I'm looking at things from a very different point of view, so here's a look into the mind of a gatekeeper. I hope this post will help anyone who's trying to find distribution for their film.

Call in: Like most movie distribution companies, we have information on our website about submission via email. Call in anyway. There're about 200 emails in my junk email box per day. There's a good chance that your ACQ email never even reached me. However, I do scan through my junk emails before I delete them, skimming for keywords. If you had called in and said you're sending in your film, named FILL-IN-BLANK, I would have a better chance of catching the email. Also, on the phone if the film sounds immediately interesting, I would give my personal email address (verses the standard acquisition email address), ensuring that I actually get it.

Don't leave a voice mail: I'm sorry, but the only reason why my job is very secure is because I'm super busy. I don't have time to call you back to hear about your film. Reaching me is your job. Call until you reach a real person.

Sound like someone you want to talk to! This is really important. When I have 2 dozen other things that needs to be done, I don't want to talk to anyone. But if you sound pleasant, you just upped your chance of my not cutting you off. I get a lot of callers who sound like they've already decided to pick a fight with me before dialing the number. And I completely understand their frustration and apprehension. Calling in to sell your film is scary, it's annoying, it's highly upsetting getting turned down or no replies. I know all this and I'll still give you all the information, but you're not helping your chances by sounding like you're already defeated! And honestly, don't be pushy or condescending. People think they can get what they want this way, but honestly, I deal with these calls everyday, so no, the scare tactic doesn't work anymore, and it doesn't make me want to help you get a contract so I can deal with you for years to come. Go for the sympathetic angle. It's worked. I've pushed DVDs forward to the VP's desk and asked especially for it to be viewed asap, because the director made me want to help (also because the film sounded good). I completely understand how stressful it is placing the call, but before you do it, just stop for a second and think about your tone and voice. Sound enthusiastic about your film! Tell me why your baby is kickass. Make me want to see it too. Down a shot of espresso or vodka before you pick up the phone if you have to.

Don't get too fancy: If you really hate the phones, just sending in an email is fine, but like resumes, don't make it super fancy looking with colorful background and weird fonts. You'll make your email look like a junk email, and my delete key finger moves faster than my mind.

Have a website: I don't like to waste the higher-ups time so I check out every ACQ that comes through the door internet-stalker style for 5 mins. Most people provide me with their website, even myspace pages. But some simply has nothing online. That makes my decision to send you up much harder when I can't see one movie still and have to make a judgement base off of your synopsis (which sometimes are so sparse I can't even tell if it's fiction or a documentary).

Really invest time in the trailer: More than anything, a trailer helps me decide on the film. I can see the quality, if the director/editor can tell a story, if the actors can act. This is the biggest sell point for your film! Really make sure it's good all the way through, and not just the first minute.

Got Reviews? Like any movie out there, the only reason why people will see it even if the trailer looks just eh, is if it's got good reviews. Awards? Festival runs? Newspapers reviews? Internet news? Anything to back up the fact that someone else out there likes your film gives you a step up. I don't know why people don't mention this up front to me, but a lot (and I mean a lot) of them don't say a word about how they got an audience award.

Finally, don't send in a screener unless you're invited to. First, you didn't get a contact name to follow up on. For all you know the screener might have never reached the company (this has happened, more than once or twice). Second, it's wasteful, if I don't think it's something we're interested it, the screener goes straight to trash. You could have saved a copy. Third, because it's uninvited, it gets stacked onto the "when I have time" pile, and I rarely have time. (And this applies to smart-ass emails that starts with "just letting you know I'm sending you a screener" before even telling me what your film is even about.)

In the end, no matter what, the quality of your film is the ultimate determiner whether a distribution company will pick it up. But no one will know how good your film is if you don't get through the first door! If you are rejected, don't get discouraged. There're so many factors that you simply can't control, many of them ridiculous and mundane and has nothing to do with whether your film is good or not (the most common one is "we're not looking for something like that right now.") Stay strong, don't forget why you made the film and why you love it, and keep submitting.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sugar: Another American Dream



Going to see Sugar was kind of a last minute decision. I didn't have time to read any reviews, no trailers, only the first 2 lines of the synopsis. So when the lights dimmed, I only knew it's a movie about a Dominican kid who comes to the states to play baseball and fight for the American dream. Even though I knew it was an indie film, I kind of hoping for a Hollywood ending. Anything else would just be terribly depressing. I was pleasantly surprised.

Rather than a sports movie, Sugar is more of a come-of-age movie. Miguel "Sugar" Santos left the Dominican Republic with no English, the best curve ball in his academy, and a head full of dreams. He stands at the brink of manhood-- 19 years old not old enough to drink, on one hand promising his girlfriend a Cadillac and Christmas at Yankee Stadium, on the other hand making tables and chairs by hand for his family and diligently sending money home. He never considered failing or an alternative future until he arrived at the rolling corn fields of Iowa to play in the minor leagues. There, not understanding the language or culture, he is isolated from his host family, coach, teammates, and even fans, with only 2, 3 other Latin American players who understands what he's saying. Miguel also witnesses the cut-throat baseball business, where people are removed often overnight when they don't look if they'll make it. When loneliness weigh down on him and his performance falter, Miguel begins to examine his life and goals. I found the ending much more realistic than the direction a Hollywood movie would have taken. It was kind of a downer-uplifting end, and after a day of thinking about it, it was very satisfying.


What I find most impressive is the portrayal of isolation in a foreign land. Often funny but heart felt, the struggle Miguel goes though is painfully realistic. Despite friendly welcomes from most Americans Miguel meets, it is still distressing when one can't answer a simple greeting or question. Writers/directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (also responsible for Half Nelson) show that struggle on the most universal social level: ordering food, trying to talk to a girl, understanding one's coach, responding to a friendly greeting from a teammate. It doesn't matter if you're smart or funny when you can't find the vocabulary to express it. I feel the most poignant moment was after months of suffocating silence from Miguel with only a few words of response, the host family's granddaughter asks him how he received a cut on his head. Miguel tries his best to answer, but after 2 lines of broken English, gives up and says he doesn't know how to say it. She tells him it's ok, he can tell her in Spanish, and he does. There is no subtitle, and no sign that she understands him, but he is finally able speak normally, tell a simple story, and it feels like such a relief.

Sugar is not your typical feel-good movie, but when I left the theater, I was glad that it wasn't. It was more realistic, and because of that, it makes the peace Miguel finds in the end feel that much more genuine and hopeful.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 68 – The Power of Research


All movies require research. Think about some of your favorite sci-fi or historical movies. Think about the best war movie you can recall, or the great Wall Street, courtroom, or medical drama that just came out. No matter the subject, setting, or time period, extensive work goes into getting the most accurate depiction of the world possible – often before a film even goes into production. I recently found this out firsthand.

My post-Apocalyptic script, which I’ve been working on for about a yeah and five months now, is, like any script in that genre, set in a devastated Earth where many things have gone terribly, terribly wrong. And, like most post-Apocalyptic scripts, the way in which things have gone terribly wrong was the jumping off point for not only the story, but for my writing process. Before I really began writing, I did (what I thought was) extensive research into the “what-ifs” and “what would happen” behind all situations imaginable for the world I was creating. I thought I did a pretty good job hammering out the points and was pleased to be able to answer any questions that came my way.

Then, about a month ago, a friend of mine who works in the development office at a production company with a first look deal at Warner Bros. got in touch with me. She wanted to make a push for the script, but could I answer some questions about the world first? I sent off my answers, and things quieted down for a bit. Well, about two weeks ago, I heard back from her. She was still working on the script, but all the creative/development people she showed it to kept getting hung up on the logistics of the world. Could I send another few paragraphs explaining how certain things would happen if the Earth “died” the way I wrote it? A page and a half email later, I felt confident that I had done my best to answer everything as coherently and completely as possible. At Onyx’s suggestion, I even emailed some physicists about specific questions pertaining to my script, and sent those off to my development contact.

Though I’m still waiting to hear back from my friend about my script, I’ll say that I was surprised by how much and how many times I was asked to give detailed answers about my writing. I know, I know. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. I guess what caught me off guard was how hard a time my friend and her coworkers were having getting on board with some of the key elements of the spec. How many times do we go to the movies knowing that we’re supposed to completely cast logic aside? Or we see fire in space (cough *Armageddon* cough) and don’t bother asking how or why? How many times do you, the viewer, ask yourself how any studio was able to get behind something that was so clearly not researched at all?

One of the best weapons a writer has is his/her ability to research. My spec would have been dead in the water long ago if I couldn’t answer basic questions from the rest of the League and my friends, let alone from development staff at production companies. Make sure you know your world. Research as much as you can. Know what it’s supposed to look, sound, smell, feel, and taste like. Because, I can almost guarantee you, someone will ask, and you’d better be able to answer.

10 Ways to Save NBC's Kings


Last week, a new show was cut short before its time. Kings, the bombastic NBC hour-long drama starring Ian McShane and a host of mid-level character actors was exiled from its prime Sunday night 8pm timeslot to that barren wilderness that is Saturday night TV. While the ultimate fate of this show may be to compete against House reruns on USA it irks me knowing that it didn’t have to be this way. So here, I’ve compiled a list of 10 things that creator Michael Green could have done to keep his baby alive


1. A Killer Opening Sequence

Kings was touted as an epic – a modern retelling of the biblical story of King David. Complete with court intrigue, war, and the classic archetype of the young man who goes to the big corrupt city. The formula was sound. But if there’s one thing that the HBO and Showtime shows do well, it's giving you the impression of physically transporting you to another realm, and that starts with an opening sequence that grabs your viewer and takes them there. From Weeds to Six Feet Under, this is something that people have come to expect from the TV shows they take seriously in the way Kings so wanted itself to be. Premium cable shows usually farm out their opening sequences, so for small trailer and commercial houses these highly stylized and intricate sequences become the jewel of their reels. The Kings opening sequence is some stock footage of butterflies put with some digital butterflies on a background of butterflies and some kind of annoyingly serious music with a digital star filter and an age preset. Meh. Network shows on that level keep their opening sequences short and sweet for a reason.


2. Put It On A Premium Channel

Kings could have really flourished on a premium network – from the creative control the creators would have retained to the more selective viewing audience they would have reached, there would have been a chance for this show to flourish and grow, without worrying about why people aren’t switching channels from America’s Next Biggest Celebutard’s Got Talent. This show is just aching to be on a real network, you can feel it when you watch it. All Kings wants is to tell its story without Billy Mays interrupting it every 4 minutes to sell epoxy.


3. A Little Less Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Posturing

Oy, we get it already. Oh, look at you, Kings writer/producer/whoever thought that “clever” device up, someone went to college, yes they did! Someone learned about those cutesy-wootsy story devices in their craft class. What you say? There are two guys who are in every episode whom only one person in the world even acknowledges and have dry commentary on the goings on of the noble people they serve? My my, I’ve never heard of that before, so it’s compelling and makes me connect more emotionally with the story. You’re lucky no one else thought of this first, because then your ham-fisted attempt at copying a tired, overused device would only make me roll my eyes and fast forward on the Hulu.

-What are those guys doing over there?
-Who Cares?
-Good point.



4. A Little More Immersion in the World

Gilboa: This is a country that was recently torn apart by war and has now been stitched together by Ian McShane into an empire, (hell, I’d live there). Although all the talk in the show is the country this and the kingdom that, very little time in the series has even been spent outside the walls of the palace. There’s no sense of the space, or the place that these people appear to care so fervently for. The city is like set dressing, it’s not a character in the show, and in a plot where the fate of the country is so often put in peril and touted as the motivation for many of the characters’ actions, it’d be nice to give a damn one way or the other.


5. Focus More on the Ensemble Instead of The "Stars"

The two driving forces of Kings, acting-wise, were laughably lopsided. On one hand, you have Ian McShane as King Silas, a classically trained actor with a resume a mile long and the ability to straight up kill people with a derisive stare. On the other, you’ve got a Christopher Egan as David, a pure-faced blonde-haired blue-eyed twenty-something whose last big movie was “Resident Evil: Extinction”. As the main character, not much is required from him except to stand there and make moral decisions while the other characters scheme against him, like most major network shows, but still there are times where he just seems laughably out of his depth. Now, to be fair to Egan, I don’t know if the writing is at fault or his acting is- the writing is admittedly quite poor on the fundamentals, and I’ve yet to get around to making it all the way through the Resident Evil films, but it doesn’t look good, either way.

Then, you have this ensemble cast, which is dotted with “hey isn’t that the guy from…” moments. Not all of them are spectacular actors, but by the third episode I was a bit tired of focusing 70% of the plot on David and was ready to start cozying up to the other characters, like how about that wacky gay crown prince that has such a ginormous chip on his shoulder? I mean, he can’t be going all swishy Richard III all the time, I’ve devoted six hours to this show already and I’ve yet to see any reason why he wasn’t smothered as a child for just being so darn evil.

The evil gay crown prince. Never seen that before, nope. Someone would have to have a pretty BRAVE HEART to copy a character like that, tell ya what.

There are a host of remarkable characters, competently acted and sometimes even interestingly written that only get a line or two when they get on screen. I keep on getting the feeling that this is like a miniseries that got cut to a feature length, a bit of the “Mulholland Drive’s” if you will, but it’s a network drama, which should give it more than enough time to develop their ensemble cast competently and completely. It just feels rushed and that’s the last thing you want for a show focusing on intrigue. For one to pull off a show focusing on intrigue, you have to first convince your audience that they should care about whether or not character A gets stabbed in the back by character B. And honestly, as much as I yearn for this show to get a chance to say its piece in full, I’m sick of focusing on one quite uncompelling main character. Needless to say though, as always Ian McShane is fantastic.


6. A Better Advertising Campaign

Right now the studios are kind of at a loss to how to grab the 18-24’s, having been raised on advertising to the point that we don’t even notice half of it anymore, full page ads in newspapers (what were those again?) or even your average TV commercials (thank you TiVO) can’t hold our MTV and text message honed attention spans. I for one remember seeing ads in the subways with the Kings signature butterfly on it, and was quite intrigued, but there was no way for me to know what it was supposed to be – A cell phone add? Some new medication? And that was pretty much all the info I got, until the lukewarm reviews started showing up on blogs. For someone who spends over half their day plugged into their computer, I saw practically nothing until after the premiere. I’m seeing this more and more with big show premieres. If I want to watch something, I have to actively put in an effort to find out when it is and where, I guess because network TV expects their viewers to be watching commercials, but that’s something I know most of my friends and I actively avoid. For a show that’s trying to be an HBO drama for the primetime crowd, they could have taken a bit more out of the HBO playbook for this one. These kinds of shows live and die by their word of mouth, which leads me to…


7. Having Faith in the Show

Shows normally under-perform in their first season. Especially ones meant for people with more neural activity than your average According to Jim fan. I think that even given all its flaws, it would have found a core audience that would have carried it through. The first season would be a loss leader until around the finale, but once the DVD’s got out and more people got to watch it, the second season would have come in with a bang. The story of King David has a lot of really cool stuff in it, which I’m going to be sorry to miss, since they decided to spend their first five episodes harping on about health care reform and letting their children do script revisions… with crayons. I mean hell, Heroes found a core audience and that’s an abysmally written ensemble show whose characters, for the most part, are actively disliked by pretty much everyone who watches it. But they’re still watching it!


8. Another Draft or Three the Script

A couple of passes on the show bible could have really helped here. But by one person, not a committee. This show suffers from the same lack of authorship that your average sitcom does. Any the teeth that the show might have had have been ripped out completely by majority rule – so the crown prince becomes a stereotypical sulking evil gay, the princess becomes a chattering harebrained harpy who can’t shut the hell up about how much she wants to help people, but oh goodness her nether regions want David, and Macaulay Culkin shows up out of the blue for what appears to be no good reason. So far the only thing I know his character does is steal black pumps, and I don’t even care. Make me care, please, o writers of Kings. Let him be an evil transvestite or have some voodoo that destroys souls through their shoes because for the life of me I doubt that he got banished from the land for being an unimaginative kleptomaniac.


9. Alan Ball, David Milch, or David Simon

WTFOMGBBQ Alan Ball!David Milch iluvsuZOMG David Simon ROFL

Oh man, between these three guys, what they could have done with a concept like Kings just boggles the mind… I’ll be in my bunk.

10. Ian McShane in Every Role.

My god, what have I done...

Nuff Said!



Kings has been exiled to Saturdays at 8pm, and the rest of the first season is available on the Hulu. This was not actually a DVD Junkie column, but Kosmic just had to get it off her chest anyway. DVD Junkie is a weekly review of TV Series on DVD. It'll be back on a regular basis soon, but in the meantime you can follow her on Twitter @kosmicblues

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Best Moviegoing Experiences

Movies are made to be seen at the theater. They can be watched and appreciated on anything from a flat screen to an iPod, but you will rarely find a venue with as tangible (the sound, the size) and intangible (the collective laughter in a comedy) assets as a movie theater. As such, there are certain movies that MUST be seen at a movie theater for its full potential to be realized. 

Some may scoff at the fact that Rocky beat out Network and Taxi Driver for Best Picture in 1977. (Hell, I prefer the latter two.) But hearing my parents say how the entire audience chanted, "Rocky!" during the film's climactic fight makes me really feel it was an experience of a lifetime. I kick myself to this day for missing out on Saving Private Ryan (I compensated by seeing Enemy at the Gates opening night...). Something About Mary? American Beauty? Missed 'em. There are plenty that I chose to "...wait until it came out on [video/DVD]", only to have similar regrets.

Strangely, when scanning my facebook page,  among my favorite movies, I only consider one as a top moviegoing experience. Here are my top five:

(NOTE: this only includes movies in their original theatrical runs, not retrospective screenings - i.e. It's a Wonderful Life at IFC.)

5. The Matrix. I saw this movie pre-buzz. There was a solid audience, but it was far from full. The lights went down and, wow...

If anything could beat the originality of the premise, it was the original action POVs. It was completely revolutionary, enhancing an already mind-blowing story. The action built and built until the climax totally dwarfed the beginning. (And the best part: no one in the audience knew it would be ruined with a second and a third!)

I went with my dad and my friend. We sat in our seats a few minutes of credits, a rarity. My dad looked over at us and asked, "Are you real?" Totally awesome.

4. The Dark Knight. I preferred Slumdog Millionaire. The story, I feel, is more original, the storytelling is clean, it's beautifully shot, it's got heart ... it's my favorite movie of 2008.

But that gets to the heart of what makes a moviegoing experience. The Dark Knight action scenes were incredible, and Heath Ledger's Joker scenes provided icing on the cake. The score mirrors the strength of the characters. The camera always seems to be moving, as if in a state of panic. It's special for a two and a half hour movie to begin with a bang and end with an even bigger bang. 

Afterwards, I could deconstruct some of the movie's logistics, and certain criticisms from blogs and film buffs rang true. But that didn't keep me from going back and experiencing it again.

3. Home Alone. For a six-year-old, watching an eight-year-old command his world was the coolest thing. First of all, he's home alone, meaning he has access to parents awesome TV, he 
can eat as much ice cream as he wants, he can order his own pizza, and he can watch violent movies. Secondly, this kid is cool. He can outsmart the check-out lady with witty remarks, scare away an inept pizza clerk, and talk to grown-ups on their own level. And when two accomplished burglars attempt to step on his turf, he outsmarts them and kicks their ass (yes, he even gets to say "ass"!).

Children are at the mercy of their parents. But for me and my friends, Home Alone allowed us to vicariously spread our wings.

2. Kingpin. What parent would let a ten-year-old watch this movie? An awesome one. This was 
quite possibly the funniest movie I've ever seen in theaters. What's not to love? There's a constant stream of jokes both subtle ("We present 'The Jeffersons on Ice!'") and over-the-top ("Roy, can you get sick from drinking piss? ... Even if it's your own?"); an ex-bowler protagonist with a hook for a hand who steals a baby's breast milk to supplant coffee creamer; a 40-year-old amish Randy Quaid introduced to the decadency of America; and a creepy/hysterical performance by Bill Murray. The great thing about seeing a comedy at the theater is that you're watching it with many senses of humor. And as a result, everything was funny.

I still watch this once a year. It has something most comedies lack: a heart. It's a story about redemption, and the ability to rebuild one's self-esteem. It's not only one of my favorite movie-going experiences, but one of my all time favorite movies.

1. Jurassic Park. The magic of seeing real live dinosaurs was simply captivating. I revisited the theater three times to watch this movie, got into countless debates with other eight-year-olds
about whether such a theme park could actually be built (one was not only convinced that it could be done but that it had been done, and his rich parents took him there!), and spent countless hours watching dinosaur TV specials and reading dinosaur books. Sadly, I was not one of the cool kids as I lacked the Jurassic Park lunchbox...

I was less enthused when I got the video for my tenth birthday; I was bored when I watched it when I was twenty-one. But there's no denying or forgetting that initial excitement. That was sixteen years ago. No doubt, it was my favorite movie-going experience.

What are your top 5?

(Note, here's a movie that nearly made my list: Titanic. In retrospect, the story is pretty lame, the lines are beyond cheesy, Billy Zane is a cartoonish villain, and you kind of want to punch DiCaprio in the face. It's hard to take it seriously nowadays. But I didn't know what to expect when I first saw it. I was really involved with an unexpected love story, and the ending was effective on a superficial and emotional level. And I know I'm not the only one.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Trailer Trash XLIII: Trog (Joan Crawford, 1970)

"From a million years back... Horror explodes into today!"

(You know a movie is going to be poorly written when even the poster's tagline barely makes sense...)

This week's movie is most notable for starring Academy Award-winner Joan Crawford in her final movie role. Oh, how the mighty can fall... (Ben Kingsley, I'm looking at you.)

The other big highlight of this movie is that it features one of the dumbest-looking b-movie monsters to ever appear on the silver screen. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Trog:


I mean, seriously! Trog looks like a guy who forgot to put on the bottom of his Chewbacca costume. I understand Joan Crawford probably didn't come cheap. But, damn. Did they not have enough money left in the budget to buy their monster a pair of pants?



At 0:08 - Do you think this is the kind of stuff Syd Barret would see whenever he closed his eyes?
At 0:44 - Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit!!!
At 0:56 - Jurassic Park has nothin' on this.
At 1:09 - How many times are they going to superimpose that face?
At 1:18 - Now? GAH!
At 1:20 - Does anyone know if underwear is considered proper spelunking gear?
At 1:28 - Chewbacca, no!
At 2:12 - "You may want to forget what you see..." - Does he mean the cavediver in his underwear?
At 2:25 - Aaaaaand back to Syd Barret-vision.

Wow. I mean, just wow, right? After the bizarre cave-exploring interlude at the beginning of the trailer, it's all just a man in half a gorilla costume chasing people around. Though, I suppose I'd run from that, too...


"...with the strength of 20 demons!"

Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: Even Rob Schneider can get a movie made... so can you! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - Sleep Dealer, Lemon Tree

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at info@screenwritersleague.com.

Opening this weekend...

SLEEP DEALER, written by Alex Rivera and David Riker, dir. by Alex Rivera


Premise: An intercepted radio transmission is the motivation Memo needs to leave his village for Tijuana, where he goes to dangerous lengths to secure work in the hi-tech factories he once dreamed about.

Playing: City Cinemas Village East, AMC Empire 25

High-concept science fiction on a minimal budget. Don't see enough of this these days.

Check out the trailer here.

LEMON TREE, written by Suha Arraf and Eran Riklis, dir. by Eran Riklis


Premise: A drama based on the true story of a Palestinian widow who must defend her lemontree field when a new Israeli Defense Minister moves next to her and threatens to have her lemon grove torn down.

Playing: IFC Center, Lincoln Plaza

CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, written and directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor


Premise: When we last saw Chev Chelios, it appeared as though the assassin had met his maker. Wrong. As his story continues, Chelios hunts down the mobster who stole his nearly indestructible heart and replaced it with a battery-powered ticker that requires regular jolts of electricity to keep working.

Playing: Everywhere.

He's back from the dead! After "falling some 10,000 feet, bouncing off of a car, then slamming to the pavement and dying" - I'd see this one just to check out how they try to explain THAT one.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good Distractions


I’ve recently come to the conclusion that I love my home, but I can’t write there anymore. There are just too many distractions, but that’s almost too negative a word because I’m very fortunate to have everything that’s competing for my attention in that apartment. Let’s start with the beautiful girlfriend, who manages to capture my attention in so many different ways. If I’m lucky she’s batting her eyelashes at me with a grin on her face. How do you write with that going on? I’d close the door to the study, except I don’t have a study. I write in the living room and she’s always about twenty feet away no matter what room she’s in. Anyway, not the worst problem to have, although sometimes those bedroom eyes narrow and get angry, most often for silly things like me not wanting to walk to the food co-op with her, or scheduling a weekend of drinking with buddies over a Saturday engagement that she is “100% positive I told you about you douche bag. Don’t even think about it…you’re fucking going.” Sorry Cake Man and Zombie, I don’t think I can make the DC trip. At least my next favorite distraction never gets angry or talks back. Oh Xbox.

I think Xbox 360 was made by God as a test to see just how determined some people really are in their pursuits. I’ve shot that terrorist through his red beret so many god damn times, but I can’t stop going back to shoot him again. It doesn’t matter if I’ve finished the game. I can still play it through on expert. Funny thing was last weekend my girlfriend was in New Orleans, so I actually managed to get two hours of decent writing done one day. I decided to reward myself, and for some reason the best way I could think to do so was to fire up the Xbox to defend virtual United States for six hours straight. I watched the sun go down, but didn’t want to get up to turn on my living room light. I’m just glad I got the girlfriend before I got the Xbox. I hear girls don’t dig guys sitting in their boxers, wearing headsets, and talking to their buddies across the city with videogame controllers in their hands.

“Are you talking to them or playing with them?”

“Both! What don’t you understand!?”

Have you ever been writing and making progress on a scene, and then suddenly the next moment you’re looking at porn and you don’t even remember how you got there? Cake Man says he disconnects the internet when he writes. I’m just going to assume the scenario that makes me giggle the most. You should do the same.

Anyway, to get back on track I’ll just say there are a lot of things at my apartment that I like, but they aren’t helping my writing much these days. So I’ve decided to return to a practice I abandoned several months ago and start writing at work again after work hours. In most cases once the clock strikes five I’m still in work mode and have a get shit done type of mentality. Some people have told me they don’t have the discipline for an after work routine at the office, but I think it takes more discipline to keep motivated for writing once you arrive back home at your sanctuary. This is the practice that led to some of the best writing I’ve experienced. Since I’ve gone back to working at the office I can say for certain that I’ve moved past my recent slump. It’s a beautiful thing to see that you’ve written four new pages in a day when it took you all of last month to reach that number. If anybody out there has been having trouble with turning out pages and you have a work environment that would allow you to stay on for an hour or two to write, I’d strongly recommend you give it a try. If you hate your job, knowing that your workplace has been a creative temple for your craft could give you a new appreciation for your space. No matter how much I might dislike arriving at my desk early in the morning, I’ll always know that this is the space where I wrote one of my strongest scripts, and that means something to me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Musician Will Oldham on movie music - do pre-existing pop songs belong in films?

Will Oldham (AKA Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Palace, and about a dozen other pseudonyms) is far and away one of my favorite musicians working today. Beyond his extremely prolific recording career, Oldham is a really talented actor - appearing in the classic Matewan, and more recently Junebug, The Guatemalan Handshake, and the superb Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy.


It's no secret that I absolutely love this guy. I've written roles in screenplays with him in mind - and listened to many, many hours of his music while I've been writing.

Oldham recently did a rare interview with The Onion AV Club where he talks about his creative process, his acting career, and the current state of the music industry. The whole interview is fascinating if you're a fan of his, but his thoughts on film music were what really got me thinking:
AVC: You mentioned talking to Richard Linklater and Caveh Zahedi about your ideas on movie music. Can you summarize those ideas?

WO: Well, for a while, it seemed like you were always seeing movies where all the music was determined by the music supervisors and their special relationships with certain record labels. And I just felt like, “Wow, I’ll bet they spent months or years writing this screenplay, and I’ll bet they spent months shooting this, and I’ll bet they spent months editing this, and now they’re spending no time at all picking these completely inappropriate songs with lyrics to put under a scene that has dialogue.” How does that even work? How can you have a song with someone singing lyrics under spoken dialogue and consider that mood-music, or supportive of the storyline? As somebody who likes music, when that happens, I tend to listen to the lyrics, which have nothing to do with the movie. And then I’m lost in the storyline. Not only is that a crime, but it’s a crime not to give people who are good at making music for movies the work. It’s like saying, “We don’t need you, even though you’re so much better at it than I am as a music supervisor.” Like the cancer that is that Darjeeling guy… what’s his name?

AVC: Wes Anderson?

WO: Yeah. His completely cancerous approach to using music is basically, “Here’s my iPod on shuffle, and here’s my movie.” The two are just thrown together. People are constantly contacting me saying, “I’ve been editing my movie, and I’ve been using your song in the editing process. What would it take to license the song?” And for me it’s like, “Regardless of what you’ve been doing, my song doesn’t belong in your movie.” That’s where the conversation should end. Music should be made for movies, you know?

This bit of the interview really made me stop in my tracks. Anyone who knows me or my writing is aware of how important a part music plays, both there and in most everything I do.

I've (mostly) gotten out of the habit of writing songs into my screenplays, but I'm still setting my scenes to music in my head as I write, creating an imaginary soundtrack. Music can inspire certain feelings and emotions in me much quicker and more efficiently than any other medium. If thinking of a certain song can help me get into a desired mindset, I see no problem with using that as my crutch.

But, once you get past the screenplay phase and into the editing process - does using existing songs distract from the film itself?

I can see myself on both sides of the fence with this one. On one hand, I hate, hate, hate it when popular songs are slapped into a movie haphazardly, without any real rhyme or reason other than to create a hip soundtrack. (I'm looking at you, Juno and Nick and Norah.) I find myself annoyed by the music, and these negative feelings will bleed out onto the films other qualities, or lack thereof.

But on the other hand, there are plenty of examples of movies that have used an existing song to elevate a scene into something sublime - I'll use Apocalypse Now's use of The Doors' "The End" as an example for this, or the unsettling acapella version of Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" in Blue Velvet.

Do pre-existing pop songs have any business appearing in movies? When is it okay/not okay?

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 67 - Baby Step Rewrites


Rewrites are generally pretty tough. We've all moaned about that here. I know I sure have. I think they're difficult for a number of reasons, depending on the situation. They can be hard because you love how your first draft turned out, and you aren't ready to accept that it's flawed. They can be difficult because you know your first draft is flawed, so flawed, in fact, that you really don't know where to begin to fix it. Or, rewrites can be difficult because you simply aren't invested in the project anymore. Whatever the case may be, I think it's always important to get time in between drafts of a script.

After about a month off, I'm just starting to really get back into my Roman army spec. The initial excitement I felt coming off the first draft rapidly cooled as the reality of the rewrite I was facing kicked in. So this week, with an idea of where I had to get the second draft, but no road map to take me there, I started phase one of my rewrite process: baby step rewrites.

Baby step rewrites involve any and all superficial rewrites. The most basic one I can think of is a grammar and spelling rewrite, where nothing but punctuation, formatting (if necessary) and spelling get changed. Sometimes, it's important to do this just to get the brain focused on starting to make changes to the script. Luckily, I'd already moved beyond the proofing stage. So this week was stage two: changing simple plot/setting points. For example, I open the script with a battle sequence, in which the protagonist's opposing general has to display his lack of skill commanding troops. The example I used to show this in the first draft was space filler - it did the job, but it, too, showed a lack of skill, this time on my part. It was dumb, and had to go. This week, it went and was replaced with something better. In another example, I changed a setting to work much better. Simple improvements, but big feeling improvements, too.

The thing that I did not expect, however, with these basic changes was how much they made me realize that many other things will have to change down the road. The baby steps are quickly leading to an out and out sprint out of the starting blocks as draft two gets underway. I just still don't quite know which direction it's heading.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Trailer Trash XLII: Big Stan (Rob Schneider, 2007)

"Do you have anything you can tattoo around my sphincter to make it less attractive?"

Good God. Somehow, SOMEHOW I missed the DIRECTORIAL DEBUT of Rob Schneider. Maybe it's because I'm of at least moderate intelligence and don't require a handler to spoon-feed me my meals. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back a bit:

The DIRECTORIAL DEBUT of ROB SCHNEIDER. What the f*ck??

Speaking as a young screenwriter, more often than not bad movies give me a feeling of hope; if a terrible script can be made, then my better-written one has a chance, right? But Big Stan inspires no such good feelings.

Big Stan proves to me that there is no God in Hollywood. Watching the trailer makes me believe the entire film industry is actually a practical joke made at my expense.

The premise for the movie: Rob Schneider goes to prison and must protect himself from being raped. It's like whoever came up with the idea for Big Stan was watching HBO's Oz on DVD, and thought the horrible things that happen in prison would be absolutely hi-larious if they were played for laughs.


I always hoped that that Hollywood had some sort of protection mechanism that would prevent a "prison rape movie directed and produced by Rob Schneider, starring Rob Schneider" - but there evidently isn't. Somebody also put about $10 million dollars into this movie. If it didn't all come from Rob Schneider's own pocket, I'll give up the whole Hollywood dream right here, right now.

I feel a sense of shame putting this trailer up here. I really do. So I'll apologize here. If knowledge of this film's existence managed to escape you until this point, I'm sorry I ever brought it to your attention. If you really must watch it, feel free to stop after the first 20 seconds. The first 20 seconds of this trailer are easily among the most repugnant seconds ever committed to film.



I'll give you a couple minutes to clear the bile from your mouth.

My sole comfort in this film's existence is knowing that despite wrapping its filming in summer of '06, it was only finally released straight-to-DVD almost a full three years later. That just tells me that someone out there didn't want to unleash Big Stan on the world. (Except in Russia, where this apparently got a theatrical release.) I see that person as our guardian angel.

"That's a nice top. Would you mind lowering it a bit?"

Trailer Trash is a weekly tribute to oddball, cheesy and often just plain terrible movie trailers. Writers: Even Rob Schneider can get a movie made... so can you! You can read through our archive by clicking here.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - The Pope's Toilet, Anvil! The Story of Anvil

What, When, Where is a weekly guide to select screenings, discussions and events in the NYC-area of interest to screenwriters. Have an event you'd like to see listed here? Give us a heads-up at info@screenwritersleague.com.

Somewhat slow movie weekend, unless you're looking forward to the new Hannah Montana movie, or possibly former Trailer Trash subject, Dragonball Evolution. But, here goes...

Opening this week...

THE POPE'S TOILET, written and directed by César Charlone & Enrique Fernández


Premise: A small South American village is in a flurry over the Pope's 1988 visit.

Playing: The Museum of Modern Art

This film has flown under my radar completely, but it's getting amazing reviews for a movie about a man trying to build an outhouse for the Pope in his back yard. I'm in.

ANVIL! THE STORY OF ANVIL, dir. by Sacha Gervasi



Premise: The founding members of Anvil, the Canadian heavy-metal band that missed out on fame in the 1980s, keep a torch lit as they begin recording their 13th album and head out on a tour to support the record.

Playing: Angelika

I usually avoid posting about documentaries as we try to focus on screenwriters here at the League, but I want to check this one out. VH1 Classic has been running the commercials for it almost nonstop, and as my DVR full of Classic Albums episodes can attest, I'm a sucker for music documentaries.

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Challenge Issued


Over the past two weeks I’ve been exchanging emails with a coordinator for Writer’s Boot Camp. For those of you who haven’t encountered them, Writer’s Boot Camp is a resource for the development of screenwriting, both feature and television. Operating out of LA and NY, the premiere service from WBC is their 22 week think tank where screenwriters develop 3-5 screenplays with script evaluation conferences, script readings, web support, and more. I’m not the best source of information, so for more info check them out at www.writersbootcamp.com.

In the email exchange the coordinator outlined the perks of the program, which I’m sure has helped many writers develop their craft. I was hesitant to sign up, and the coordinator was consistent in his opinion that what the writers receive through WBC is beyond what I have, which at this point is an education in screenwriting from NYU and the support of the screenwriter’s league. My argument, or point rather, wasn’t that I thought WBC wouldn’t help me, but rather that it was an investment, as was my NYU education. I graduated in 07 and in some ways I’m just starting to put what I’ve learned to practice. Not even two years out, I wanted to give my investment a chance to pay off before I determined that I needed to fortify my craft through additional resources, many of which mean spending dollars in a tough economy. I thought it was a fair point to make, and I think the coordinator did as well. In his last email he mentioned that a typical development cycle takes six months and that we should check in around then. Whether or not he intended it to be a challenge, I took it as such, but not the type of challenge where two cavemen bark at one another for the right to club a mate. It was something more elegant, like I stepped on his toes at court and he brushed me across the face with a silk glove.

I think it’s funny how this should happen during a stretch where I’ve been grappling with motivation. It’s just the sort of motivational spring board I’ve needed. I’m fully confident that I can get back into the swing of things and have a well developed product by the time the six month check-in arrives. But who knows, there’s also the chance that I fall flat on my face. One of the things I miss from my time at NYU was that there was always somebody waiting to see the writing, expecting the developed pages. It’s hard for a lot of students to find that when they move on. Even though it’s half a year from now, I feel like there’s someone waiting for these pages. He might not remember me when we get there, but I plan on delivering anyway.

Jim Jarmusch, Atom Egoyan - NYC events with the Museum of the Moving Image

Two amazing-sounding events sponsored by the Museum of the Moving Image were announced today:
An Evening with Jim Jarmusch
Thursday, April 23, 8:00 p.m.
Cantor Film Center, NYU
36 East 8th Street (Between University Place and Broadway)

Jim Jarmusch, whose brilliant and laconic style has made him one of America's most distinctive filmmakers since his debut with Stranger than Paradise in 1984, will participate in a conversation with clips moderated by Chief Curator David Schwartz. In addition to an exclusive look at scenes from his remarkable new film The Limits of Control (being released by Focus Features in May), which was photographed by Christopher Doyle and has an ensemble cast including Isaach de Bankolé, Paz de la Huerta, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Bill Murray, the evening will include scenes from Stranger than Paradise, Mystery Train, Night on Earth, Dead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Warrior, and Coffee and Cigarettes.

Tickets: $12 Museum members/Free for Sponsor-level and above/$18 public. Order tickets online or by calling 718.784.4520.
Jim Jarmusch! Woot.

Aaaand...
PREVIEW SCREENING
Adoration
With Atom Egoyan in person
Monday, April 27, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
At AMC Loews 19th Street 6, 890 Broadway, Manhattan

2008, 100 mins. 35mm print courtesy Sony Pictures Classics. With Arsinée Khanjian, Scott Speedman, Devon Bostick. The latest film by Canadian director Atom Egoyan (The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica) is a compelling drama about family history, technology, and the modern world. When a high school French teacher asks her class to translate a news story about a terrorist who plants a bomb in the airline luggage of her pregnant girlfriend, the assignment has a profound effect on Simon, who imagines that the news item is his own family’s story. In the resulting turmoil, a mystery is solved and a new family is created.

Tickets: $12 Museum members/Free for Sponsor-level and above/$18 public. Order tickets online or by calling 718.784.4520.
Atom Egoyan! Woot #2.

You can purchase tickets for either of these shows here.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

What Makes A Good Movie?

Yesterday The Screenwriter’s League got into a bit of an interesting discussion about what it meant to make a good movie. Here’s our convo…

Onyx:
Question. Would you rather people cramming to get inside, eager to see your movie and having a great time. The movie is panned by critics, but makes a ton of money. Or would you rather win an oscar, but hardly anybody goes to the movie and it doesn't stick with viewers. Trying to think of a comparable movie. I guess something like The Reader, even though I've never seen it.

Backer:
I'd rather entertain the audience

DOA:
Same, I think the general crowd liking the movie is more important...not that Oscar winning films AREN'T good, it's just not what people want to pay money to see on a Friday night...the thing is, do you think film companies are more likely to rehire you if your movie did well in the box office, or if the movie got great reviews?

Blades on the Brain:
But would you rather your script mutilated by producers but enjoyed by millions, or a work of art that not everyone 'gets'

Cake Man:
Writers who can either: win a company awards, or make a company a ton of money will get hired.

Backer:
Yeah, no kidding. The writer and director (of Fast and Furious), talented or not, definitely solidified their careers. Every studio in Hollywood is gonna want a piece of their magic.

F&F5 got greenlit BEFORE the opening. It's going to take place in Europe. Lovely.

"Hangover Sequel" the sequel to "Hangover" (opening June 5) has already been picked up. Guess someone's expecting that to do well, too.

Onyx:
I'm still hung up on how we can define a "bad" movie. There's really no argument with something like Battlefield Earth. It was a bad movie and it made no money, one of the companies that backed it went under. It was just bad. But if a movie does it's job and entertains the masses and makes 300 million dollars for the company, can it really be called a bad movie?

Blades on the Brain:
We are a culture that defines a good movie by monetary gain since what is 'good and bad' is subjective. But money is objective! That's super interesting/depressing.

Cake Man:
But I think the question of a "good" movie or not is more simple. A good movie is one that entertains (perhaps) and works, technically. A successful movie entertains (probbaly) and makes a lot of money (or gets awards).

OK, that wasn't so simple. But I think there's a distinction between good and successful.

Baker:
I'm not sure if the question is good vs. successful. I think the question is, does successful mean it's good.


This is where our conversation ended! Alas, it is incomplete. What does everyone else think???

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 66 - Fired My Manager


The phrase “Fired My Manager” seems a bit harsh to me. It is essentially what people do when they change representation, but it makes the whole action seem much more hostile than it is at times. Nonetheless, that’s basically what I did this week. I was surprised to find so little info on how to go about doing this, so hopefully this post can be of some help to any of you in a similar situation.

In order to follow along, here’s a short timeline of how things went down. For courtesy’s sake, I’m not going to name my manager or the companies he worked at. Let’s just call him Z. Z signed me when he worked at Company 1. He was excited to push my script in what he thought was a good chance of a sale. A month and a half later, he got a pass on my script, and soon found himself moving companies, to Company 2. He submitted my script to nine production companies, yet after two months, I still hadn’t heard from him. He also failed to tell me that he moved to Company 2 (I knew he left the first company, but a friend had to tell me where Z moved). I found the lack of information from him – regarding the move, and, in particular, his destination company – especially unprofessional. On top of that, Company 2’s homepage specifically says that it is not the right company for screenwriters. Big problem. When I asked Z about Company 2’s reputation, he said that it's based on his credentials, and was therefore a great reputation.

I still have a few contacts in the film industry whose opinions I value. Those contacts have agreed with me that my manager’s responsiveness and his answers to questions that I’ve asked have been less than professional. I’m relatively new to this, I won’t lie about that. However, I know enough to know what desired behavior from a manager is and what isn’t. My manager (unlike others) did not try to get me an agent, did not get me any sort of meeting, and left me without updates for months at a time. My initial excitement gave way to restlessness, disappointment, and ultimately frustration. I knew that if I reached a point of no-return with how I felt toward him, it would be overwhelmingly hard for him to climb back into my good graces. Perhaps I should have tried to clam myself. Maybe I could have given him more time to get his stuff together, but since he technically represented my career, I thought it unwise to remain with someone that I did not feel pleased or comfortable with.

So, I sent him an email, asked for an updated submission list, and after letting the weekend come and go, told him that I no longer needed representation from him. The initial email was somewhat short – I thanked him for his initial excitement and told him that it was invaluable to me as a young writer, but that I would be moving on. When he asked what had led to that decision, I decided to answer gracefully but honestly. I knew I was not obligated to offer an answer, but part of me wanted to get my frustrations off my chest; another part of me felt that, for some reason, I owed it to him. I have no hard feelings toward him now, and do not want to sound as if I'm attacking him here. This is just part of the journey we've sworn to document here at The League.

I understand that many of reading this might feel like I’ve made a huge mistake, or made mountains out of molehills. I’m well aware that a newbie writer is fortunate just to land representation. The last thing one wants to do is appear needy or to have unrealistic expectations. But there’s a saying (which I know I’ll fudge and can’t remember who to attribute it to) that goes something like: it’s better to have no manager than a bad one. If something isn’t working, regardless of how new to the business or risky a client you are, you have to know when to cut it off. At least, that’s my take on things.

Coming In on the Sly

I recently started a new job, which is amazing in itself considering all the shit that has been hitting the American flag lately. What is even more amazing is that this job is the job I wanted: It’s an assistant to the Executive Producer of this really cool kids show, “The Electric Company.” (www.pbskidsgo.org) It’s produced at Sesame Workshop, which means I get to spend my days walking through the brightly colored, stuffed animal clad hallways of Sesame. Of course being an assistant means all of organizing someone else’s life – but my boss is so cool and zany that I am really into it!

I’m on week two of my job. Last week was nothing but fast paced and exciting. From a writing stand point, also really inspiring. I was not only asked to read a few short scripts and give my boss my notes on them, but I was allowed to sit in on a script meeting! I am trying to let everyone in the office know that I am and want to be a writer and am good at it – without being a dick about it. I have fared well so far:

One thing I learned from being in the Dramatic Writing program at NYU is that if you’re the newbie in a room full of people who have been working on a show, you have to keep your mouth shut. No one wants the new person to be cocky or loud mouthed, because everyone else in the room does know more than you do. I failed a little and said three things total during the script meeting. Interestingly, the script coordinator, who is the official note taker of the meeting, wouldn’t even write down what I said. That is, until the third time when the head writer told her to.

We were done reading this first draft, and the script supervisor was going page through page, asking who had notes. We came to page 10 and I asked a question, “I was wondering why x wasn’t in the script,” (which is a better tactic instead of saying, “this is wrong but I know how to change it”). Everyone paused and told me to go on with my thought. I did, and the head writer said, “That’s really smart. Put it in the notes!”

So wahoo! I got my note in the page of notes to be given to the writer, which he’ll use to revise. Of course, who knows if he’ll do anything with it – but being called smart by the head writer was totally a thrill! Now the next hurdle would be to be invited back to the meeting. I don’t want to seem too entitled and assume I get to go back. But I would love recognition that I have smart things to say, and that I could be of use to the show. Because I would be! But who knows…