Friday, March 30, 2007

Spicey Cow Cartilages

After the 2 free preview classes...

Richard finds a street-front noodle shop on he way back to the car-park. It’s a shotgun place - like a hallway with tables on one side. We squeeze past everyone’s table (hmm, that looks good, I wonder what it is?) on the way to ours. Menus are on the table under a sheet of plastic - they are the table top. And they’re in Chinese.

Now, this isn’t bad thing to me. I like adventure. Richard has them get me a menu in English and ruins the fun of food roulette - a game I call "Point & Pray" where you point to some Chinese writing and pray you can eat the dish without gagging when they bring it.. I decide to order "glass noodle with pork dumpling" - how can you go wrong with that? Richard orders in Chinese. The coffee is kicking in and I’m a little jittery – I order Sprite with fruit slices. That’s what’s on the menu. If you want just plain Sprite, good luck. Comes with fruit slices.

They bring the drinks - waitress squeezing between the tables and the walls - and then she goes back for the noodles. The other people are mostly young, and they look like they may have been out clubbing. The waitresses are about the same age, but instead of wearing dresses and flaring skirts, they’re in bright orange uniforms. If someone is coming from the back of the restaurant, they have to wait until they leave before they can come down with the food - there just isn’t enough room for 2 people.

The glass noodles aren’t really made of glass, but they are wide and transparent - like really long window panes. There are leafy greens and a half dozen pork dumplings in the soup, too. Looks good. The pork dumplings are tasty.

Richard has some kind of soup with traditional noodles... and the waitress comes back with a plate of spring rolls and something really weird looking. The rolls are delicious - filled with something savory, and I ask Richard what’s on the plate.

"Spicy Cow Cartilages."

Doesn’t that just make your mouth water?

Now, just because something is *called* spicy cow cartilages doesn’t mean that it is actually made form cow cartilages. Could be anything. Looks weird, though. Slices of gelatin with something stringy in it in a red pepper sauce garnished with scallions.

"What is it made with?"

"Cow cartilages. They cook them until they are very soft and pleasant to eat. Try one."

I grab one with my chopsticks... or *try* to grab one - they’re kind of slimy. I eventually get one using the chopstick s a spear. I bring it up to my mouth and... well, it’s kind of rubbery. And spicy. And... well who thought of eating cow cartilidges in the first place? That doesn’t just spring to mind. Hey, those cartilages might not be so gristly is we slow cooked them! And I’ll bet they taste kind of slimy!

I accidentally dropped my second spicy cow cartilage into my noodles and watched it slowly dissolve as I ate around it. Soon, only the stringy part was left. I ate all of my dumplings, all of the veggies and over half of the glass noodles... and that was enough. I actually ate another piece of spicy cow cartilage just to show how tough I was (tougher than the cartilage) and a couple of the savory rolls.

We squeezed out of the restaurant, found the car (my laptop had not been stolen) and drove back to Richard’s mother’s. I was both exhausted and jittery from the coffee - and could not sleep. I just know I’m going to be a mess by this weekend - I’ll either have a cold or just be zonked from lack of sleep. I slept fitfully all night long.

- Bill

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Free Preview Class - Standing Room Only!

Hong Kong has to be the most densely packed city on earth. Wall-to-wall sky scrapers with only inches in between. Streets so clogged with pedestrians that there is often a second layer of sidewalk - elevated. This is a city overflowing with people.

I wake up on Wednesday morning... and Richard is already gone. No instructions, no communication. I’m doing my 2 preview classes tonight, and that means I need to bring all of my (heavy) class materials. Plus, maybe my audio CDs for sale. Oh, and I’ll need my laptop if I’m going to check email and post these blog entries. Originally I was going to post "real time" but after finishing an entire blog entry... I lost my connection and lost all of that work. So I’m a bit behind.

Anyway, I decide to skip the CDs and just bring all of my heavy class material and my laptop - that’s two shoulder bags. Though I might have just pulled the portion of the class I plan to use for the preview, having that massive binder bursting at the seems with material is something that helps sell the class. You can see how much information is there for the weekend class. A massive amount.

Now, I’ve been in Hong Kong for 2 days, but I’m still groggy and jet lagged. My first stop after I get off the shuttle bus is a local Starbucks (Alexandra House) where they play the exact same music they play in the Starbucks in Studio City. It costs me $32 for my coffee, and I drink it and scan emails and message boards. I have an ad on Craigslist LA for my class in May that will run out some day while I’m here - and I check to see if today is that day. Nope.

I’m coughing a little bit - and I’m worried that I caught a cold due to lack of sleep. I don’t want to be sick for the 2 day class. After leaving Starbucks I buy a pack of cough drops at a Boots on my way to catch a taxi for the Convention Center.

My job today is to hang out and talk to people at the booth - get them to come to the free class. There are not many people, so I end up talking to the people in the other booths. Richard’s job is to hand out this huge stack of flyers about the free classes - and I can’t imagine him giving them all out in one day. And the flyers aren’t a half page - they are *multiple pages* who wants to carry that around for the rest of the day?

LAST YEAR....

I was originally supposed to come in March, during the Film Festival and Market, but my visa hadn’t been approved in time, so I came in May. The idea of tying my class in to the Festival or Market was a great one - the reason why the class works so well during the Raindance Festival is that you have all of those people who love movies already there. When I was at the VSDA last year I talked to the person in charge of their seminars and panels about doing screenwriting classes this year as part of the event. They were excited by that idea. If you are putting on a festival any time someone can offer you a class or panel that you don’t have to organize yourself is a great thing. It’s something for nothing. So I’m glad this year my visa was approved in time so that my class could be part of FilMart...

Except it’s not.

When Richard returns at the end of the day without any of the flyers (fantastic!) I find out that the 2 free previews are not in any of the rooms at the massive convention center - it’s at some building we have to drive to. Richard thinks the 6pm class will be filled, because people will want to head out to dinner after that. That makes sense - but what if they want to head out to dinner at 6pm?

The event being away from the convention center means that people have to leave no matter what - and if they are going to go, why not go to dinner?

Hmm, maybe we should have done it in a bar?

FREE SCREENWRITING!

So Richard and I go to his car... and once again he walks behind me. I have no idea where his car might be, so I *can’t* lead. Maybe he is behind me because I am walking too fast - I’m tall and have long legs. Maybe he is having trouble keeping up? I try slowing down... and he slows down. I try walking behind him, and *he* moves behind me. I had no idea my ass was that attractive! It’s crazy - but I somehow manage to lead us to his car, mostly by looking over my shoulder every few steps to see if he’s still there.

We get into his car and he asks if I would like dinner. That seems like an easy question, but I am exhausted and wonder if eating will put me to sleep. Last time I only had to do *one* free preview, this year I’m doing two - back-to-back. Can I stay awake? "Sure, but something light" is my answer. Seems there’s a café in the same building as the meeting room. He drives to a busy downtown area and parks in a garage... then we walk a couple of blocks to the venue. I’m dragging my shoulder bag - the laptop stays in the car. Will it get ripped off? I don’t know, but I’m not going to lug it anymore today.

The café is this multi-cultural cuisine place run by a woman who looks Indian. She brings a menu and I order a cup of iced coffee and a plate of open faced sandwiches. The coffee *comes with* sugar and cream already added - yes, this was a British Colony a decade ago. The sandwiches - are great! Garlic french bread, one with tuna salad, one with ham and cheese, one with smoked salmon. The garlic bread sold it. Delicious.

It also made me wonder if I had junk in my teeth. Last way to sell people on a class is to have food hanging from your teeth during the free preview.

I got another iced coffee to go and we went to the venue. No signs telling you this was the place, and a creepy elevator that takes you to whatever nosebleed floor it was on. No signs in the narrow hallway pointing to the correct door - and we went to the wrong door to begin with. The room itself was great - some sort of class room. All of the stuff you need to show film clips except a TV. I had brought my clips, just in case.

We wait - Richard at the door to keep people in the hallway from getting lost.

Kristy, Richard’s assistant, has a big stack of sign ups for the 2 day class - ready for the people who love the free preview and want to spend a few thousand HK dollars for the 2 day class.
6pm comes... and goes.

No students come.

Maybe it’s just traffic from the Convention Center.

Millions of people crammed on this little island... and we’re in an empty room.

By 6:30 Kristy gives up and decides to go shopping for an hour - we have her cell number in case someone shows up.

I walk up and down the creepy narrow hallway to stay awake.

At 7:30 we hear someone getting off the elevator! Kristy returning from shopping. She bought shampoo. Somehow, that’s seems like a bigger let down to me than no one showing up. Just shampoo?

A few minutes later we hear the elevator... as it moves past this floor heading elsewhere.
Richard’s phone rings. It’s a novelist who has taken courses at the Academy who is coming for the 8pm free preview - but she’s lost. Seems the street the venue is on is broken in the middle and has a North and South version that don’t meet - but have duplicate street numbers. 1107 South Broadway and 1107 North Broadway (only this street isn’t Broadway). I wonder how many people got lost on the way to the 6pm class? Probably nobody.

We end up with 4 people at 8:15, and 3 of them can’t come to the weekend class - other plans. I chug the rest of my iced coffee and give on hell of a free class to the 4 people in the room set up for 30. Somewhere out on the street there are 26 people smashed together on a crowded sidewalk who could be sitting in those chairs.

By the end, the three wish they didn’t already have plans, and the 4th guy is writing a check. I’m exhausted. Richard wants to know if I’m hungry...

- Bill

Friday, March 23, 2007

Asian Oscars - Translators Take Your Positions!

The golden invitation says "Black Tie".

I’m not even wearing a black shirt.... and that’s unusual when I’m traveling. Black shirts don’t show the wrinkles as easily, and everything ends up wrinkled after you unpack it. So I pack a bunch of black dress shirts. Basically, I only have black dress shirts, blue dress shirts, and blue stripped dress shirts. Being a heterosexual male, I want to avoid ever thinking about fashion - I want to just reach into my closet and pull out shirt. After it is used, the shirt will end up where used shirts belong - on the floor along with my socks. I am not a domesticated animal.

I am also not dressed for the Asian version of the Oscars. I have on one of a bunch of identical bright blue stripped shirts that I own and a recently purchased pair of Levis.

Richard (also not in black tie) and I take an endless number of escalators down to the ground level of the Convention Center and cross to the main lobby... where there is a full red carpet and every media camera in Asia. Plus a million fans with *neon* signs. I have no idea what the signs say - they are in Chinese. The problem is, the red carpet is blocking our path - we need to get to the escalators on the other side. Now, this isn’t just me and Richard who have to get to the other side of the red carpet, it’s *hundred* of people. These guys in front of us (also not in black tie - but at least they are in suits) are herded out a door to the street and we follow. All hundred or so of us. Including the multi-tattooed girl from Brain Damage Films (not in black tie - but nobody seems to care, she’s hot). On the street we have to walk around the limos pulling up with stars and the crush of screaming fans - it really is like Oscar night - to the other side of the building.

The two guys in front of us somehow get on the red carpet by mistake, and flashbulbs are popping and reporters are asking who they are wearing... and who they are. The two guys smile, wave, and keep walking down the carpet. They are like deer in the headlights. Confused, trying to find a way off the red carpet and away from the reporters and fans... while pretending like they belong.

Richard and I make it the other side of the building - the other side of the crush of screaming fans - and enter the lobby...

In time to see some security guards escort the two guys *off* the red carpet and back to the place that normal people are supposed to be. They seem relieved, and are now at the back of the hundred or so of us... as we go up every escalator we just went down (except in another wing of the Convention Center). After going up a series of escalators in this wing, we hear screaming from the crowd below: "Andy! Andy!" Andy Lau has arrived. From up here, he looks like an ant. I think about THE THIRD MAN for some reason.

They check our golden invitations at the door, make no comment about our clothes, and allow us in to the cocktail party. Waiters and waitresses circulate with trays of drinks - hard to tell what they are. I spot something that looks like a glass of beer and grab it. I hit the food section where they have spinach pastries and crab tarts and spring rolls. I’ve only had a sandwich, so I stock up. But the plates are small, and when I stand in line a second time I get the pleasure of walking past empty food warmers. Richard sees some people he knows - and a few of them even know him. I look at hot Asian women - many in sliced up evening gowns.

Suddenly, I hear xylophone music. Coming from every corner of the room!

Ends up being the "two minute warning" - waiters with xylophones wandering around the room. They want us to pull out our golden invitations and take our seats. Richard splits - I was going to go, too... but when will I ever get to attend an Oscar-like ceremony again?

At the door to the huge theater, they look at my invitation... and there is a blue dot in the corner. They tell me to sit in a blue chair. I’d never noticed the blue dot before. The guys in suits have a green dot and are sent to green chairs - closer to where the movie stars are going to sit (in gold chairs). I wonder if they put the dots on when they checked our invitations at the cocktail party - putting those of us who aren’t black tie closer to the sides or back where they are less likely to show up on camera. The event is going to be televised *tonight* - with a couple hours delay.

I find my blue seat, near the front but off top the side, and settle in. There are bleachers set up at the very back of the house, filled with all of those fans who were lining the red carpet. There are *hundreds* of people here - maybe even a thousand.

Two hosts come out and explain about the awards show... one in English and the other in Chinese. They say the event will begin with a speech from a government arts official... in English and then in Chinese. A middle aged fellow who looks very important steps up to the podium and begins speaking on the importance of the event in English... and it’s translated in Chinese. After maybe ten minutes I realize this *isn’t* the government arts official - this is the guy who *introduces* the government arts official. A second important looking middle aged guy steps up to the podium, thanks the first one for the great introduction, then explains why *he* thinks this is an important event... for half an hour! He talks about how Hong Kong "fillums" have touched the world, like "Internal Affairs" (um, dude, that’s *Infernal*). We get half an hour of this.

When he is finished, they have him press a button to kick off the evening... setting off some fireworks. After the fireworks (indoors - I’m memorizing the nearest emergency exit) the two hosts say this event could not have happened without these dozen government officials, so let’s get them all on stage! In English, and then in Chinese.

The two hosts seem like they are having a conversation - except one speaks in English and the other answers in Chinese.

The two hosts seem like they are having a conversation - except one speaks in English and the other answers in Chinese.

So the dozen officials get up on stage and form a line of middle aged government arts officials - maybe they’ll be scrimmaging against a dozen fans? Anyway, half of them are named "Wong" and one seems to own an equipment house in Hong Kong. They all get to say something, we applaud, then four of the dozen are lead to a globe that they all touch at the same time - starting off even more fireworks. My nearest exit is a hundred yards away. Now I’m thinking about TOWERING INFERNO... meets the Oscars!

We survive, and the *real* host comes out - hot Chinese star Karen Mok (SO CLOSE) who is dressed as a folksinger - the same outfit Joan Baez used to wear. She announces the first of ten awards - Best Composer. The ward will be given out by Maggie Q and some pop singer named "Rain"... and as soon as she mentions his name, the bleachers erupt in loud cheering. "Rain! Rain! Rain!" When Rain comes out, it gets worse! No one can speak for maybe 5 minutes. Then, when they announce the nominees (in English) we get a Chinese translation. The event will take twice as long as the Oscars, because we get everything twice - once in English, once in Chinese.

The winner is from the film OPERA JAVA, and we get a great preview of the rest of the night... because these are the *Asian* Film Awards, and that’s a whole lotta countries and a whole lotta different languages. The host can’t even pronounce the winner’s name, and once he comes up to accept his award, his speech needs to be translated and translated and translated. I admire the translators - they have to know every language in the region. But we get the same speech again and again - and I barely understood it the first time.

After this award, we have a new host - movie star Danny Wu. This guy is slick - like a car salesman. He goes the lounge-lizard MC thing for the rest of the night. Because he speaks English, everything he says has to be translated. Everything anyone says is translated. This makes the show run very long...

Also, the way they have set up the stage makes the show run long. The presenters enter from stage right, climb down a sweeping flight of stairs, and speak from the podium on the left side of the massive stage. We get to hear more "walking music" than multiple translations. After the first few awards (Editing: And A Century, Production Design: The Banquet, Special Effects: The Host) hours have passed and the two guys in suits who walked the red carpet walk out of the doors. The guy sitting next to me is snoring loudly. Imagine how the stars feel (Rain!) Having to sit in the golden seats on camera all night?

I’m hungry. I know when a film isn’t working because I’m thinking about food - and I’ve been thinking bout food since that first middle aged government official took the stage.

They give a special award to Andy Lau... and the bleachers go wild.

We get to hear the acceptance speech in at least two languages.

The next award is Best Screenplay, so I stick around through the host banter... Danny Wu has been joined by some hot young actress and they do that forced scripted banter indigenous to awards shows. I’ve been here almost 3 hours... and I want food.

They announce the winner of Best Screenplay, then Danny Wu says the winner isn’t here tonight, so he will accept the award for him and.. "Hey! I’m here!" The writer of MEN AT WORK is trying to make his way from his seat to the podium. It takes a minute or two to change course, start up that "walking music" and prepare to give the guy the award. Just like Hollywood - they do anything to keep the screenwriter out of the spotlight! The bleachers are silent for a change, as the writer gives his speech, and then it is translated a few times.

Best Cinematography - The Host. From Korea. So we get the speech in Korean, then an English translation, then a Chinese translation. 3 minutes of thank-yous last over 10 minutes!

Even when the speeches were in English they sometimes needed a translator - Andrew Lau (director) has a heavy accent.

After this, there’s a legendary female singer who does medley of songs from famous movies that seems to last forever, and they give a Lifetime Achievement Award to an actress who began as a child star. It’s during the endless clips of her films that I decide to sneak to the doors. I escape the awards show - hearing multiple translations behind me - and starts down the endless escalators to freedom.

I find a place to grab some food, then take a taxi back to Richard’s mother’s house on the other side of Hong Kong...

Where she is watching the Awards show on TV! It’s still going on!

Well, actually it is tape delayed. They are right at the point where the fumbled with the screenwriter... except the fumble is trimmed down for TV. And the endless songs are trimmed to one song before the commercial and one song after. I had been there for 3 hours, and the TV version is, like, an hour and a half including commercials! Maybe the Oscars *shouldn’t* be live? Maybe they should edit the crap out of it?

Anyway, I get to see the last half of the awards show - and THE HOST sweeped. Best Picture, Best Actor, etc. The cool thing about being there was having Michelle Yeoh right there on stage being translated into Chinese, and both of the Andy Laus (actor and director). I’m probably never going to get to the Oscars, so this was my big awards show... and I love HK movies. I watch the rest of the awards in the edited and quick version (but still translated again and again).

The camera shows the movie star section - gold seats - and you can see a bunch of empty seats! Heck, even the movie stars got bored and went home!

Hey, even RAIN! gets hungry.

- Bill

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hong Kong FilMart - AFM, Only Shorter

The Honk Kong version of AFM begins Tuesday, and I have a badge waiting for me. What I don’t know is where the event is being held. I haven’t talked to Richard all day on Monday, and he’s my ride. I also need to get him the class workbook original so that he can make copies - ASAP. So, even though I am exhausted, I wait up Monday night for him to return. I end up so sleepy I just pack it in at around midnight, and set the alarm for 8am. I’m still jet lagged and haven’t had anything resembling 8 hours sleep in days. I also don’t get 8 hours sleep that night - I sleep in 2 hour segments, then wake up and can’t get back to sleep - my body *knows* it’s the middle of the afternoon in Los Angeles.

Eventually the alarm goes off and I get up. I can hear Richard talking to one of the servants in the main section of the house, so I quickly shower and shave and dress and... by the time I’m ready to go Richard is already gone.

Swell.

I could take the shuttle bus downtown and catch a taxi.. But where to? I have all the event information on my email - but it’s not on my laptop. That means I would have to take my laptop downtown, log in at Starbucks or Pacific Coffee, ead my email and get the address, then lug around the laptop for the rest of the day. Because I have no idea what the venue is like, I don’t know how difficult this will be. If it’s endless stair climbing like AFM, I don’t want to be stuck with the laptop.

Yes, I should have written all of this stuff down in LA, but I knew I would be staying at Richard’s mother’s condo again, and he would be my guide/ride.

So I put in a call to Richard and wait for him to return it. Even though it is early now, the shuttle bus doesn’t run from noon until 2pm (lunch break) and if Richard takes his time returning the call I might not be able to leave here until 2pm - wasting half the day.

Richard calls about an hour later - it’s at the Convention Center. Well, that makes sense. Maybe I should have just taken a cab there in the first place?

I get on the shuttle, get off downtown and grab Starbucks to go, then flag one of the millions of bright red Toyota 5 door taxis on the street. I have no idea how much this is going to cost me, but the *base charge* is $15 HK. The Convention Center is cross town, but I could probably walk it. The taxi driver zooms through traffic like manic (hell, he’s taxi driver) and we end up at the Convention Center... with $18 HK on the meter. I give him a $20 and a $2 coin... anything under $20 is a coin over here, and my pockets are filled with coins I forget to use.

Then I get lost in the convention center. It’s huge. Los Angeles Convention Center has 2 halls, this one has 7 halls just in one of the 3 wings. I have to figure out which of the 7 I need to go to. I actually follow signs and do okay - waiting in a very long line for my badge then another long line for my bag-o-crap. They give out "goodie bags" at these events, but there are never any goodies in them! This bag contains ton of brochures for products - commercials! I find the hall entrance, where they scan my badge and allow me to enter.

CONVENTION FLOOR

Though the convention center is huge, the FilMart is small. Just one hall - and it is split into FilMart (selling films), Location Expo (showing you places to shoot your films) and an Equipment Expo (like the old Showbiz Expo - all kinds of cameras and grip equipment and those cool RC camera helicopters). All in one hall. Unlike AFM where it is 8 floors of hotel suites, here we have your standard dinky booths. 2 chairs and a table. The first 4 rows are film sales, the rest is the other stuff. I find the Hong Kong Film Academy booth - which has 2 huge posters for my class and a stack of handouts for the Wednesday night "preview" - which is now "previews" - one session at 6pm and one at 8pm. I hope I’ve caught up on my sleep by then... tomorrow. Richard and his staff are there handing out flyers and brochures.

Next to the HKFA is my friend David from AFM selling his films. Next to his booth is a new company, and I know one of the three owners from IFP. We can almost shake hands without my leaving Richard’s booth - it’s that small. A handful of other AFM companies are there - and many are not. This event is *small*. I walk it in less than an hour - including locations and equipment.

There are ctually several events going on all at the same time at the Convention Center: FilMart, a Music convention one floor down, a TV convention one floor down from that, an arts funding event on another floor and the HK Film Fest has some seminars and screenings in another wing. Basically, everything entertainment is set up for the same week - this is a great idea. It also means that pop stars and bankers are on the escalator in front of you. Lots of different types of people.

I spend the rest of the day talking to David and Richard and Richard’s people and the IFP guy. I also talk to the salesmen from Shoreline about Blood Predator and Slaughterhouse. There is a convention center café where I guy a Coca-Cola for $12... HK. It probably would have cost $12 US at the LA Convention Center. Richard says that he will wander the convention center giving out flyers about the free premieres himself... but when he returns an hour later he has about the same number of flyers as when he left. I mention this to him and he tells me he is only giving them to people who look bored. Though, that sounds like everyone to me, I guess some people are less bored than others. I ask how many people are signed up for the class and the only answer I get is "More than last time" - well, I guess that’s good.

As the day winds down, David asks me if I would like to go to the Asian Film Awards tonight. He has two gold invitations, but isn’t going to be able to use them. Sure. There’s a reception with drinks and fingerfoods first - hey, I’m there! Richard takes the other invitation but tells me he’ll have to leave early. When they close the expo floor, we grab the invitations and head to the big theater downstairs. I had no idea how much trouble I was in for...

- Bill

Monday, March 19, 2007

They Found My Phone...

In the rectum of a Malaysian monkey along with 2 kilos of uncut heroin... Ouch! Somone was trying to smuggle the monkey into Hong Kong dressed as a toddler and security noticed...

Actually, it was found on the plane, taken to lost & found, where I could have picked it up... except lost & found is is the secure area of the airport, so I'd need a boarding pass to get it, unless I wanted to wait 45 minutes for someone to come out with it. I decided to try Popeye's Chicken & Biscuits in Hong Kong. Chicken - okay, Biscuits - not so good.

Phone - back. Doesn't work over here, except as a camera.

- Bill

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Twice Live Only You, Mr. Bond!

Okay, I'm in Hong Kong, sitting in a Starbucks. Jet Lagged - as if Jet Li beat on me for a few days.

Over an hour to get to LAX.
4 hours of waiting at LAX.
10.5 hours flight to Tokyo.
4 hours waiting in Tokyo for my connecting flight.
5.5 hours floght to Hong Kong.
1 hour to go through customs and pick up luggage and have a bunch of Chinese military police look at my visa & passport a few times. Some had machine guns.

Add it up, my friends! I slept about 4 hours before I left and about 8 hours last night and I feel like crap.

Oh, and I lost my cell phone. I had it out to make a call at LAX, then had to put it in my laptop bag (carry on) in Tokyo when I went through security again. Now, I think I remember having it in my pocket after that... and I think I remember taking out of my pocket when we landed in HK... but I was so tired, I may just be imagining that.

My flight from Tokyo was a minor nightmare - I'm tall, and the *ssh*le in front of me reclined his seat until it crushed my kneecaps. So I moved to the empty seat next to me... and *he* moved to the empty seat in front of that one and reclined it all the way back - spilling my coke into my dinner. I attempted to say "excuse me, would you mind..." but he completely ignored me. I almost stuck my plastic fork into his little bald head, but then I'd be writting this from a Hong Kong jail. I suffered for about 4 hours of the flight... and maybe I lost my cell phone while trying to fit between the reclined seat and my seat. I don't know. I'm going to the airport to check the lost & found and talk to the airline to see if they found it.

Kind of the cool thing: I'm on my own today. FilMart starts tomorrow, and today I'd planned on just sleeping. But the lost phone was a good excuse to go out exploring.

Once again, I'm staying at Richard (HK Film Acad) 's mother's huge condo. She gave me a book of tickets for the condo's private bus and the schedule. She also have me a card with the condo's address in case I need to take a taxi, and a disposable cell phone with some minutes still on it. So I'm just wandering around HK - I'm here in an HK Starbucks checking my email and writing this, then on to the train that goes to the airport (I just have to follow the signs - plus I know what the building near the station looks like) then I probably find out my cell phone is gone forever, and come back to HK Central District and wander around. Maybe find an HK movie. Find a place to eat. Get lost and use the skyline as landmarks to find my way back. Explore.

I love exploring. I love seeing things you wouldn't see on a tour.

I paid almost $40 (HK) for a Venti Iced Coffee... and it's Grande sized. I paid $150 (HK) for a month of wifi here - I think that's around $20.

(500 yen = $4.50... not a million bucks.)

Okay, time to go to the airport and find out that I need to buy a new cell phone when I get home.

- Bill

PS: The title of this entry refers to traveling from Tokyo to HK, in the Bond film YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE, Bond starts out (precredits) in HK, is assassinated, buried at sea... and then ends up in Tokyo for the rest of the adventure. I did the reverse.

Welcome To Japan!

I just spent 500 yen to go online at the Tokyo airport, where I have a 4 hour layover on my way to Hong Kong. My question - is 500 yen like 500 dollars? If so, this is the most expensive blog entry you will ever read!

So, as usual, Friday I'm hustling to get packed and get all of my class materials rounded up. I also had to write an article for MovieScope Magazine in Europe - this issue will be given away to everyone at Cannes. No pressure, right? I finished it Friday night before trying to go to sleep... and not being able to until 3am. (usual for me) Problem is, my flight left at noon, and you're supposed to get there 4 hours early, and LAX is a ways away. I get to LAX and it's *jammed* - huge lines at the United counters. Huge lines. I wait in line for an hour and a half at Terminal 7(left) (United International) only to be told they've changed everything - and 7(left) is now paper tickets going anywhere and 7(right) is electronic tickets... I'd have to go to the never ending line in T7(right) and start all over. This sucks. I'm one of a *bunch* of people who *read the signs* that said Domestic at 7right and International at Tleft... oh, they were supposed to change those. Sweet!

So, I wait another hour - the line barely moving - and I'm starting to worry that I may not make my flight. They stop taking luggage 45 minutes before the flight - and I'm gone for two weeks and have luggage to check in... and this line just isn't moving. Then an employee asks if anyone in the line is United Premier.... Um, I am. Well, they can check me in at Terminal 6, if I want to drag all my luggage down there. I *race* down there - hoping there is no line... and there isn't! I check in, go through that hell known as security, and get to the gates about a half hour before boarding. I had planned on making a phone call, but was afraid I didn't have enough time.

Anyway - I get on the plane, maybe 4 hours sleep, tops, and don't sleep all the way to Tokyo. My eyes are bright red. I'm here for almost 4 hours, then off to Hong Kong to teach a class and attend the HK FilMart (AFM in Chinese). Depending on internet access and time, I'll try to keep you informed of my adventures.

- Bill

Monday, March 12, 2007

Screenings For Screenwriters?

Because I had two films released on DVD on the same day, my friend Tina arranged a screening of the movies at Lola’s Martini Bar in Hollywood - a great place. The management did an amazing job - setting us up with a private room with big screen TV, DVD player and surround sound speakers. And we had a pretty good crowd - maybe 50 people. Though none of the Thursday night crowd showed, we had folks who flew in from the UK and Texas! We all got drunk and watched the two new movies...

But they aren’t really *my* movies. My name is on both of them. They both began with my screenplays. But what ended up on screen bears no resemblance to the screenplays I wrote. Oddly enough, the one that I was a co-producer on is probably less like my script than the other one - they even changed the *concept* on that one.

I like the idea of celebrating the accomplishment of having two movies made. I always recommend celebrating your accomplishments, because we are in a business where writers don’t get enough respect, don’t get enough praise, and usually don’t even get noticed. I advise celebrating every time you finish a screenplay - that’s a big accomplishment! Reward yourself! In fact, I recommend giving yourself some small reward for finishing your pages for the day - treat yourself to a desert, or movie, or *something* - writing is not easy, and no one is going to pat you on the head, tell you did a great job, and give you a doggie treat. You have to give yourself the doggie treat.

Years ago, before moving to Los Angeles, I had a hot new script called RECALL about the auto industry - and my then-agent (the worst agent in the world) loved it and was going to send it out to a bunch of big producers. So I decided to throw a party to celebrate, and made up a stack of copies of the script and sent them to everyone I knew along with an invitation. The booze and food was on me. I have to confess, I was hoping that all of my friends would show up and tell me how much they liked the script - how they laughed at the funny parts and were excited by the action scenes and found the suspense portions real page turners. People began showing up at my house, booze was flowing, everyone was having a great time... except me. Not a single person had even read the first page of the script. Maybe I was expecting too much of my friends? They were a mix of folks who wanted to break into the film biz and civilians. But I had hoped that at least the film biz folks might have taken a look at what I was so proud of.

Well, my awful agent couldn’t get anything going with the script... maybe it was the script, maybe it was his lack of letterhead and crappy manual typewritten cover letter.

I had a much better party when I sold my script to Paramount... but that was basically a going away party. It had nothing to do with my writing. The writing was the reason why I was going away, but nobody was saying "Congratulations on your writing!" they were saying "We’re gonna miss you!" Maybe I shouldn’t be picky about stuff like that. These folks came to the now-defunct Velvet Turtle Restaurant in Pleasant Hill to show me love. That’s cool.

And everyone who showed up Sunday night was there to show me love - and that’s fantastic.

But how do we celebrate the *screenplay* when the film is so much different?

In this case, both films completely suck. How can I subject my friends to crap like this? How can watching these wretched films be celebrating the much better scripts they came from?

One of the reviews of CROOKED says the films problems stem from a bland script from William C. Martell... except the movie doesn’t resemble my script at all. They stripped away all of the cool stuff. I sent the reviewer a link to the script... but I’m pretty sure he hasn’t read it, and the review still blames me for dialogue I didn’t write. Welcome to Hollywood! I remember watching an episode of Siskel & Ebert where Roger praised an actor for a specific action in a film, and having read the screenplay, I knew that the *writer* had come up with that amazing bit. Because I had Roger’s e-mail (and was a regular contributor to his Film Answer Man column) I sent him an e-mail about this... and nothing happened. Roger is a great guy, but his paper isn’t going to print a retraction about a bit of business in a film... and Buena Vista isn’t going to let him talk about some past film review flub on the TV show. Plus - who really cares? Film Critics don’t have the time to read the scripts for every film they review, let alone all of those versions of the script that came before. If there is a problem with the story or the dialogue, they blame the name listed on the screen as the writer. As writers, we have to sort it out for ourselves. That means we don’t take any of that stuff personally - hey, it might have been the dozen uncredited rewriters or the awful notes from the director we had to implement or some other reason. We have to just be happy knowing that we did a good job - even if the resulting film completely sucks.

One of the things that helps me deal with having my work screwed up on screen is that I still have the screenplays (that nobody reads) - and I post them. In fact, I post the *first drafts* typos and all. Now, if you read my *script* and think it sucks, that’s fine. You are judging *my work*. I can live with that. It’s particularly easy to live with when someone has pulled the screenplay out of some huge stack (half a million scripts in circulation at any one time) and bought it... then invested the millions to make the movie. I’m not saying that everything I wrote is perfect... or even good... but when someone buys my script instead of one of the other 499,999 out there, *something* was good about it. And that decision to buy and make my script is something I should celebrate...

But how?

As we watched the dreadful films Sunday night, I felt like we were celebrating bad rewrites and poor direction and awful acting. That wasn’t my script up there.

My friends were trying to like the movies - and *I* don’t even like them.

About 3/4 through one of the films, I thought we had had enough - and I popped out the DVD and popped in the *other* version of the script so that we could do a scene-to- scene comparison. This was better - that other film is much more like my original script, and the scene from that version was more exciting, more interesting, and actually looked much more expensive (on 1/6th the budget). At lest these were my characters. And the scene itself was my scene. (If you’re wondering - it was the STAGECOACH inspired fruit truck vs. motorcycle chase... which became a boring car chase in the new version.) By showing both scenes, my friends could *see* the difference in writing. They could appreciate my work - by comparing it to the rewritten version.

After that I just plugged in CROOKED, turned the English subtitles on and the volume down... and we had a party with the movie in the background. This ended up being the best choice - we could just hang out and have fun, and every once in a while I could point out something happening on the big screen and comment on it. We had a great time, and when it got late I scooped up the DVDs, thanked everyone, and drove back over the hill to the Valley.

I still don’t know the best way to celebrate a script. The problem is that what we do is *written* and to appreciate it, you have to read it. That means we aren’t going to get much appreciation for our work - nobody is really going to read our scripts. Even when the films get made, the writer gets the blame if the film sucks and the director and stars get the praise when the film is good. Critics don’t read scripts. They never will. Writers are always going to be behind the scenes and unnoticed. The world is never going to even notice that we exist... unless they’re complaining. That means we can’t expect anyone else to appreciate all of our hard work... we have to practice "self appreciation".

Next time, I think the DVD will just be playing in the background as I just hang out with my friends. Having the friends is the important part. Having the script sold and made is what is important - not whatever the heck is on that DVD.

Maybe next time I’ll just show my credit on the big screen... Then spend the rest of the night celebrating that credit, but not necessarily the film that comes after it.

- Bill

Friday, March 09, 2007

I Don't Want To Brag, But.....

I need to develop an ego.

It seems I didn’t just have two films released on DVD on the same day, according to the big rental chart over at Video Business Magazine, I wrote the #4 and #10 original DVD titles last week. That’s in the USA. The whole USA. Now, the #4 movie kind of makes sense - I walk into my local Blockbuster and there are 20 copies on the shelf... but they have ZERO copies of the #10 movie (CROOKED) - I did find 2 copies at my local Hollywood Video. The funny thing about CROOKED is that the star’s face isn’t on the DVD box - from looking at the box you would think no one stars in the movie. So why did so many people rent it?

Anyway, here I am with these two films on the top ten rental chart... and I go to my usual Thursday night drinking group and listen to an unproduced writer friend pontificate for a couple of hours. I listen. Eventually I get into a conversation with some of the actors about how there are no manly male actors and very few character leads. We’re talking about guys like Lee Marvin and Bronson and Karl Malden and Ernie Borgnine. Today it seems like everyone is a pretty boy like DiCaprio... even the sidekicks are pretty boys. Anyway, I go through the night mostly listening or talking about subjects of interest to everyone... and never mention my two movies placement on the big charts. I *do* invite everyone in the group to come see the films when I screen them - but I don’t give it a hard sell. People are either going to come or they aren’t.

On my way from one Starbucks to another I stop in at Frys Electronics to buy a DVD for an upcoming tip... and notice they have 4 copies of one of the films and 3 of the other on the shelf. That’s nice.

I get to Starbucks and talk to some fellow writers about *their* scripts, then go online and avoid work by answering some questions on message boards. Some posters give me abuse - but who cares. And somewhere along the line it hits me that all across the grand and glorious country of ours, people are watching a couple of really crappy movies I wrote. Man, I should do something with that!

So I sent a mass e-mail to some people and post it on a couple of message boards and then think about how I need to do laundry.

I know so many blow hard writers - guys who can talk on and on about themselves. Between last night and today at Starbucks I listened to a bunch of ego-talk. But I’m just not good at doing that. Whenever I realize I should maybe mention something, I either just casually mention it - and no one hears, or I blurt it out in some weird too-loud boast. I’m just not good at tooting my own horn. And that might be why the blow hards have three letter agents while I have... well, nothing.

Except the #4 and #10 movies on the Video Business Rental Charts.

- Bill
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