Monday, June 29, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 78 - Make (and Meet) Deadlines

Even though I'm not a "professional" writer yet - though I did get to deposit the first check I've received for my writing since a competition in high school this week - I treat my writing as though it is a job. As with any job, there are deadlines that I have to meet. Only, in this case, most of the deadlines are made by me.

Treating your writing, from the outline you've just started to the re-write of draft number five, as a project that you're getting paid for (even if you're not) can actually be a great motivator. I've found that since I adopted the "every script is a job" mentality, I've become more focused in my writing, sharper and more professional. The writing is of a higher caliber, from a more experienced writer. All too often, I fell, when there isn't a concrete drive to deliver a high quality product, quality can inadvertently fall by the wayside. That's not to say that I want to write an inferior script, but by treating the work as something that someone is waiting for and expecting a high quality result from, it helps me focus on delivering.

Deadlines are, so far, mostly up to me still. The producer and manager I'm working with on the post-Apocalyptic spec are pretty loose on when they want the rewrite done by; we're hoping to go out in September. That said, if I claim to be able to get a new intro to them by the end of the weekend (which I did last week), then I'll be damned if I don't do that. Even though the deadline didn't come from them, it's been planted. And at this stage in my "career," the last thing I want to do is come off as someone who makes claims and never follows through. As a young writer with no production history, it's crucial that I deliver on time.

If you don't work with self-imposed or other deadlines, consider giving it a try. The key is to acknowledge that no deadline can be broken. Hopefully, not only will the crunch keep you writing, but it will help you deliver high quality pages, since you know you might not have time to go back and rework them as much. It's an exercise that might help. And, down the road, when you are writing for that major studio, it'll be practice that paid off.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Academy to Nominate Ten for Oscars?

I just clicked over to imdb for part of my daily work avoidance and saw the following breaking story:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has just announced in a small blurb the Oscars this year will be bumping their Best Picture nominees from five to ten beginning with the upcoming 2010 Oscars President Sid Ganis announced today at a press conference in Beverly Hills.

“After more than six decades, the Academy is returning to some of its earlier roots, when a wider field competed for the top award of the year,” said Ganis. “The final outcome, of course, will be the same – one Best Picture winner – but the race to the finish line will feature 10, not just five, great movies from 2009.”

The move is an obvious response to the recent discussion concerning The Dark Knight’s absence from the nominees for more art house
style films such as The Reader and I would expect we can now look at Up as a serious contender for a Best Picture nominee when previous Pixar favorites Ratatouille and WALL-E were left in the cold.

“Having 10 Best Picture nominees is going allow Academy voters to recognize and include some of the fantastic movies that often show up in the other Oscar categories, but have been squeezed out of the race for the top prize,” commented Ganis. “I can’t wait to see what that list of ten looks like when the nominees are announced in February.”

You can read the full article at Rope of Silicon.

Not sure how I feel about this. I guess in some ways it's appropriate, but the Academy could also just get more selective with its nominating, rather than just expand the category. Then again, I also just don't like change. What's your take on this?

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 77 - When to Seize the Opportunity

If you ask an unproduced writer what opportunities he or she should seize, the answer will probably be, "All of them." For the most part, this is true. With nothing to lose, everything is a gain. Yet, there are two things that we emerging/new/unproduced (or whatever other word you want to use) have to be on guard against: shady "opportunities" and not being ready.

One of the things I most worry about in terms of my writing career is not being able to deliver. If there's a deadline, I have to meet it. If there's a page count someone's requested (no more than this or no less than that), then it goes without saying that I hit that mark. And if I pitch an idea (as I did to my manager on the post-Apocalyptic spec on Friday), then I had better be able to follow it up with the physical pages.

Not long ago, as you know, I optioned a script. In addition to getting a producer to back that project, it also landed me a manager, at least as far as this once script is concerned. On Friday, Kevin (the manager) and I spoke about what our relationship is exactly, both in relation to the post-Apocalyptic spec that he's repping me on and in the future. Unlike many managers - and in a testament to his seriousness about finding quality material and writers - Kevin said that he does not immediately sign up any writer who might come along. Though we're working together on one script, he wants to familiarize himself with my writing style and ability to work with notes before we agree to work together more long term. That time also allows me to gauge how well I can work with him and whether we're on the same page about my projects. All of that is actually pretty great to hear - I haven't had the best working relationship with managers in the past, so I am happy for the trial period.

However, at one point in the conversation, Kevin asked what else I had. I pitched him two ideas, one of them the Roman army spec that I have a first draft of, the other a smaller character study that I have just a few pages of. Of course, he jumped on the character study. I regretted having to admit that the project was still very much in the development stage, as his enthusiasm about it was encouraging. As for the Roman army idea, he agreed to read it, despite knowing that there were going to be some major changes made to it. I tweaked a few small things in that draft and sent it off to him, yet still wished I'd been able to deliver on the other. Granted, in other situations, writers frequently pitch ideas that are just that - ideas. (I've even heard of people querying ideas just to see what kind of response they get.)

Nonetheless, I feel that, especially for writers who are just starting out, it's best to be able to back up anything you pitch. Onyx, 'Backer, and I have all talked about making the move to LA, but we all acknowledge that it's not necessarily worth doing until we have a solid body of work to back up our pitches and carry us through meetings. Luckily, Kevin understood that I have ideas and multiple projects in the works, but the call with him was more proof that if you're going to pitch or try to break in, have the scripts to back the talk up.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What, When, Where this Weekend - Dead Snow, $9.99, Whatever Works

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

Opening this week...

DEAD SNOW, written by Stig Frode Henriksen and Tommy Wirkola, dir. by Tommy Wirkola

Premise: A ski vacation turns horrific for a group of medical students, as they find themselves confronted by an unimaginable menace: Nazi zombies.

Playing: IFC Center

Zombies. Zombies, I say! Nazi Zombies!

$9.99, written by Etgar Keret, dir. by Tatia Rosenthal

Premise: A stop-motion animated story about people living in a Syndey apartment complex looking for meaning in their lives.

Playing: Landmark Sunshine

WHATEVER WORKS, written and directed by Woody Allen

Premise: An eccentric older man encounters a Southern belle and promptly falls in love. But how will the couple, her family, and his New York City friends mix?

Playing: All over.

This was made from a shelved script Woody wrote in the 1970s, and from the early reviews it sounds like it was better off hidden away. But, it's Woody Allen, so I'll see it eventually. The logline, though... old man, young girl. And this was written before Soon-Yi?

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Hangover: Ahh, the Dangers of Alcohol

I was pretty excited to see The Hangover. I am a twenty-four year old male, who enjoys drinking and has experienced more black-outs than I’m proud of. The day after a black-out includes me sheepishly calling a friend, recounting my few memories, and subtly trying to inquire about my post-blackout actions. Then, after the initial laughter, I am forced to reconcile said actions with who I am as a person. This movie was made for guys like me.

It's not uncommon for guys to take their buddies to Vegas for a last hurrah, drink too much, and do stupid things they don’t remember…stupid, meaning, going $400 over budget or getting thrown out of a casino. What the fine gentlemen in The Hangover get into is beyond surreal. Their night begins innocently enough with three friends (Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis) toasting their soon-to-be buddy Justin (Doug Billings) atop a Vegas rooftop. And then…they wake up. They can’t remember a thing, but with the room trashed, they guess they had a good time. Until they discover the groom is missing.

This begins the arduous process of piecing together the previous night which includes – but is not limited to – the following discoveries: a bed atop a Vegas hotel; a baby in their hotel room; a tiger belonging to Mike Tyson; a missing tooth; a valet ticket which gets them a police car instead of their convertible; a Chinese gangster inside said convertible. Though incredibly random, the movie is able to make it work within a logical timeline (which is the Add Imageonly logic necessary, given that most drunken behavior is illogical).

And yet, I left the theatre pretty under whelmed. It’s a pretty basic story, held above water by the reveals and the jokes that go along with them. I feel like most of the action in the now was not spent paving over the previous nights' events, and that we were treated to a slew of characters saying variations of, "Oh, you don't remember what happened? Oh, you were so wasted..." I didn’t love the cast, nor did I feel that they would have actually been friends (Galifianakis is a HUGE exception; everything he says is gold). And the Chinese gangster bit, though initially funny, gets tiresome.

I still liked it, in that I can remember and laugh at certain jokes and moments. But I definitely expected more. If we judge the movie from the box office, it was insanely successful. I don’t know…maybe after X years of drinking, I’m a bit desensitized to this sort of stuff?

(PS - Sit through the credits)

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 76 - How Things Do Change

(Speaking of change, this Writing Week has the pleasure of appearing on a Tuesday. Ooops.)

Anyway, as we all know, writing is a process of evolution. Not only do we evolve as writers, honing our skills and abandoning amateurish tendencies, but our projects evolve, as well. That gem of an idea you had evolves from an indie, two character drama set in a beach house to an ensemble shoot-em-up that takes place in Manhattan. It happens. Different drafts often mean different movies altogether. It's not something that necessarily meets with resistance; often these developments go unnoticed as we make them. Notes come in and the script goes a completely different way.

Take, for example, Simon Kinberg's "Mr. and Mrs. Smith." We all remember the action flick about a couple who find out that neither is what the other thought. But look at these two very different loglines that I found on Done Deal Pro.

A bored married couple discover they are enemy assassins hired to kill each other.
Logged 2/26/2003


A couple forms a bond while escaping a coup in Colombia.
Logged 1/15/2002
Obviously, Kinberg's script evolved. But where did the changes come from? Who influenced them? In re-working my post-Apocalyptic spec, I am incorporating notes from my new manager and from the producer who is trying to set the picture up. Luckily, the changes don't create such a drastic re-inventing of the script as Kinberg's loglines make it seem that he experienced. Nonetheless, what was merely an interesting, albeit briefly visited location in the draft I sent out is now becoming a much larger focus of the script - to the point where I've been encouraged to work it into the title. My character's arc now ends with triumphing over forces in this location, whereas before, any obstacles he faced there were merely hurdles before his greater goal.

Similarly, I've been mulling over a new idea recently. I haven't bothered to put anything down on paper about it, because there are some very large, very obvious questions I have to address first. I've spoken to Onyx at some length about it, and his suggestions have already started to reshape my original idea. I'm not displeased with where it's going - I actually like it a lot - but I can definitely see the differences. It's funny, considering that there isn't a whole lot to it at this point, either. The basic framework is largely the same, but some of the fundamental ideas woven into it have been altered.

Writing is evolutionary, there's no doubt in my mind. I think that's one of the things I like most about it. And who knows, the superficial action that my post-Apocalyptic spec is becoming to help its sale along will hopefully evolve into something deeper and more meaningful, something I had envisioned for it initially.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Trailer Trash L: The Brain from Planet Arous

"These are - the eyes of a man possessed! - by the greatest power in the universe!"

It's the brain from planet Arous, not "Planet Arouse" - yes, I made that mistake, too. There's nothing sexy about this movie.

By far the scariest thing in this trailer (and in the movie) are that guy's eyes. They're the first thing you'll see:

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

Thursday, June 11, 2009

UP: A Surprisingly Realistic Fantasy


Let’s throw this out first: I really enjoyed Up. I went in the theater not really knowing what the film is going to be about, trusting that Pixar will not disappoint. It didn’t. But I was a bit weirded out.

Traditionally, cartoons and anime are geared toward kids. With the rise of adult-friendly Pixar films, the plot has become better, the writing smarter. However, the themes are still the all-age relatable ones: find true love, be accepted for yourself, struggle and triumph against odds. Both kids and adults can connect with them. Which is why Up was so surprising. Its theme is “how to move on after a spouse has past away”, or simply “how to let go of the past.”

The opening to Up was beautiful: quickly setting up young Carl and Ellie’s meeting and their shared dream of going to the mysterious Paradise Fall, followed by a touching montage of the decades they spent together, ending with the death of Ellie. This was especially effective since if the film simply started with the 78 years old Carl, the audience will laugh and enjoy watching a grumpy old man who talks to his house, but not relate to him. By starting from a point we can understand-- youthful fantasy for adventure, finding your true love— and taking the audience by the hand, leading us through the big chapters of Carl’s life, making sure we relate to his decisions every step of the way, we reach the end of the montage still connected to Carl at his old age. While feeling tearful for Carl’s lost, there was something eerie about the intro. In the back of my head, I could not help but feel the film was pointing out something no one wants to think about: This will eventually happen to you.

Carl didn’t do anything wrong: he got the girl, he didn’t really have any character flaw in his adult life, he loved and cherished his wife while she was alive, there was no foul-play in Ellie’s death. But in the end, enviably, Ellie died. This seemed wrong. Villains should have murdered her, turning Carl into a vigilante. Young Ellie should have snubbed the shy Young Carl or simply never knew he was alive. Their parents should have been against the marriage. Ellie should have been a mermaid (or Carl could be).

The second thing that’s all wrong is in a typical “let go of the past and move on to better/newer things” movie, the audience want the protagonist to move on throughout the film. We see before the protagonist does that the new girl/mom/school/etc is better. The new girl/mom/school/etc also welcomes and wants the protagonist to move on. Not so in Up. We love Ellie and the house they built together as much as Carl does. It’s painful to see the mail box he and Ellie painted together be bashed. When Ellie’s photo falls off the wall, we really really want Carl to catch it. Even when the house literally becomes a burden, we’re still behind Carl. We’re not that far ahead of Carl, but instead journeys with him in seeing how the past is stopping him from making the right decisions.

In a certain way, Pixar really did pick a theme that’ll apply to more of us than the usual anime subjects would. After all, most of us don’t need to battle against enormous odds, have friends that accept us, and probably go through life never actually talking to that attractive guy/girl (or do, and it was kind of anticlimactic). Being left behind during old age on the other hand, it something that has a good chance of happening. But because of this, Up doesn't just have a happy ending: it’s uplifting. Despite the flying house and talking dogs, Carl’s inner struggles have always been very realistic, and because of this, there is a feeling that, when this happens to the audience, they also have the ability to triumph.

The only bone I have to pick is I feel Carl could have kept something from the house. When people move on, they don’t forget about what had happened. They keep the memory without letting it hold them down. The house and all its content is Carl’s love and memories of Ellie materialized. In order for Carl to save Russell and Dug, he needed to throw all the heavy furniture out of the house. But I was extremely saddened seeing the matching chairs that symbolized all the years Carl and Ellie sat side by side together left behind. In the end, as we watch with Carl at the house drifting away and disappearing into the clouds, we come to the same sober sad conclusion as Carl: it had to go. But he could have kept a small token: the wood bird on the mantle or the framed photo of the little gap-tooth Ellie. The credits vaguely try to remedied this showing photos of Carl’s new life in the My Adventure Book the belonged to Ellie, but in the plot that would have actually gone away with the house.

That point aside, I really did enjoy the film. It has the expected goofiness and crazy villain, and the unexpected tear-jerker and uplifer. I walked away not too sure how I feel about my future, but all that said and done, Up earned my15 bucks fair and square.

What, When, Where this Weekend - Tetro, Moon, Betty Blue: The Director's Cut, Taking of Pelham 123

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

Opening this weekend...

TETRO, written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola

PREMISE: Bennie travels to Buenos Aires to find his long-missing older brother, a once-promising writer who is now a remnant of his former self. Bennie's discovery of his brother's near-finished play might hold the answer to understanding their shared past and renewing their bond.

PLAYING: Landmark Sunshine

Notably, this is Francis Ford Coppola's first original screenplay since The Conversation, which was way beyond awesome. I heard he's not a shabby director, either...

MOON, written by Duncan Jones and Nathan Parker, dir. by Duncan Jones

PREMISE: Astronaut Sam Bell has a quintessentially personal encounter toward the end of his three-year stint on the Moon, where he, working alongside his computer, GERTY, sends back to Earth parcels of a resource that has helped diminish our planet's power problems.

PLAYING: Loews Lincoln Square, Landmark Sunshine

Sure, it sounds a bit like 2001 or Solaris. But I really like both of those movies, and it's directed by David Bowie's son? I'm intrigued.

BETTY BLUE: THE DIRECTOR'S CUT, written and directed by Jean-Jacques Beineix

PREMISE: Zorg is a handyman working at in France, maintaining and looking after the bungalows. He lives a quiet and peaceful life, working diligently and writing in his spare time. One day Betty walks into his life, a young woman who is as beautiful as she is wild and unpredictable. After a dispute with Zorg's boss they leave and Betty manages to get a job at a restaurant. She persuades Zorg to try and get one of his books published but it is rejected which makes Betty fly into a rage. Suddenly Betty's wild manners starts to get out of control. Zorg sees the woman he loves slowly going insane. Can his love prevail even if it comes to the worst?

PLAYING: Cinema Village

I don't usually highlight re-releases, but this is a really good one. (And Beatrice Dalle sure is purty, ain't she?)

THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123, written by John Helgeland, dir. by Tony Scott

PREMISE: Armed men hijack a New York City subway train, holding the passengers hostage in return for a ransom, and turning an ordinary day's work for dispatcher Walter Garbe into a face-off with the mastermind behind the crime.

PLAYING: Everywhere

Here we've got a remake of a remake of a film based on a Morton Freedgood novel. There's a lot of talent involved in this one, but has this story been beaten into the ground already?

What are you doing/seeing this weekend?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"I was getting laid a lot in this movie" - Hilarious Arnie commentary

Saw this on the Village Voice's Topless Robot blog a few weeks back and haven't been able to stop laughing at it: Arnold Schwarzenegger and screenwriter/director John Milius giving a DVD commentary for Conan the Barbarian. These guys sound stoned out of their freaking minds.

John Milius (who already had the Apocalypse Now screenplay under his belt at this point) went on to write both Clear and Present Danger and Red Dawn, as well as co-create HBO's Rome. As for Arnie, I hear he went into politics or something.

Monday, June 08, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 75 - Option and Conference Call

It never ceases to amaze me how rapidly modern transportation can shoot someone around the world. I woke up in Spain on Thursday morning, and within 12 hours of take off from the Pablo Picasso Airport in Malaga, I was downing beers with most of the League down on the Bowery. But I wasn’t just coming back for beer (they have that in Spain, I’d have stayed abroad if that was the only reason). No, as good as beer is, I had another reason. I had managed to pop onto my email a few times while overseas, and did two key things: I accepted the revised option agreement from a producer who wants my post-Apocalyptic spec, and I set a call for Friday evening with the producer and her manager.

Friday night, after two 16 ounce coffees and a few cans of soda (jetlag was beginning to set in with a vengeance), I sat down for my preset call. At just past 8pm EST, the phone rang. On the other end: producer Gretchen Somerfeld and manager Kevin Donahue. With the option agreement in the mail, it was time to get down to business. The point of the call was script notes, and we got down to business with little chit chat beforehand.

All in all, the notes were very easy to stomach. I’d gotten a lot of positive feedback from professional readers (at management companies and prod cos) who had seen the script, and had been told more than once that the draft I had was pretty solid, especially for a newbie’s spec. Nonetheless, no one had picked it up yet, so there was undoubtedly work to be done. Basically, I managed to write something that most creative execs and managers have told me would cost between $70 and $100 million to make. Not a small sum, especially for an unproduced writer. While the script is strong, it is not perfect, and in order for a studio to cough up that sum, it needs to be.

One of the issues with the script as is is that it builds slowly. I don’t mean to imply that it takes a long time to get into the script – hell, it starts with a body falling off a roof – but for a high budget action, it opens small. The producer and manager want to see it open with a bang, a chase or fight, something that gets the heart pumping 30 seconds in while also establishing the world. Whereas Gladiator opens with a battle, I opened my script with the aftermath. So, one major change will be a reworking of the first ten pages.

Next, I also have to focus a lot on long scenes, especially long because of dialogue, and make sure that the action remains throughout. I tend to overwrite dialogue for two reasons: I love writing it and I’m never sure if the reader gets what I want them to from the scene. However, as any screenwriter knows, dialogue can be a good script’s enemy. Though I will do my best to focus on the dialogue and cutting the script down where I can, Gretchen will also be working with me on it.

The notes kept coming, but for the most part, I was able to almost instantly get on board with them. I really think that they’ll help sell the script. That does not necessarily mean that they are working toward my original vision for the script. However, Hollywood is a game, and the one I’m playing now requires me to write the most saleable script, even if it’s a bit more mindless than what I originally intended. I will probably have to cut some of the layers that I was hoping to include, but can already admit that they weren’t working. With any luck, though, if the script sells and a director is attached, I’ll be able to work with him or her to get some of my ideas reincorporated. Right now, though, I’m doing everything I can to turn it into a payday.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Trailer Trash XLIX: Fantastic Voyage (1966)

"It drops the bottom out of the world you know and understand!"

A lot of you may be familiar with this movie, or at least the seven or eight episodes of The Magic School Bus that it inspired. By the 1960s there had already been science fiction movies that took us on journeys into space, to the bottom of the sea, and the center of the Earth. Fantastic Voyage, however, was the first movie to send Raquel Welch on a journey through a man's small intestine.

In case the theatrical trailer wasn't psychedelic enough for you, we present a SPECIAL TRAILER TRASH BONUS: The Original 1960s TV Spot:

"Four men and a beautiful girl, off on a FANTASTIC voyage!"

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

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Writing Week (Vol. 2) part 74 - Recharging My Batteries

Well, I'm back on the proverbial road again. Six months ago I was deep into one of the most southern points of Africa. Now, I'm in Europe, staring at what is the too rapidly approaching end of my vacation. New York City can't quite draw me back yet, but I'm having a hard time denying that I can hear it calling.

I love to travel just as much as I love to write. And I think the two go hand in hand. Even if I don't write scripts that take place in Africa or Ecuador or Europe (at least not yet), going to those places helps me shape my view of the world. It helps me become a more well-rounded writer. And, maybe most importantly, it helps me recharge my batteries.

We all have different ways of getting back onto the writing horse that we've recently fallen off of. Some of us play video games, watch movies, and generally let our minds go blank for a few weeks. Some of us get heavily into jogging. Others drink. Heavily. I travel. Whatever you have found that helps you, do it, especially if you're feeling burnout.

I tend to write really quickly for about a month, and then take a month or two off while trying to regain focus and dive into a new project. As you might have gathered from my earlier Writing Weeks, rewrites and minor edits are my baby steps back to full blown writing. But every now and then, I need something really big to stir things up, a change of scenery in which I can go guilt free about not writing. And, as absence makes the heart grow fonder, by the time I'm back to my usual stomping grounds, I want to write. Need to write.

New York City, I'll be back soon. Computer, I hope you're ready. Vacation, for now, I'm all yours.