Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Still Standing

From almost exactly this time of year in 2010...

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I didn’t get much writing done because I ran into some old friends at my local Starbucks and we just hung out all night. The very first question everyone asked me was, “Where’s Craig?” And I ended up telling each person as they arrived and asked me that question, “He moved back home”, which was an amazing conversation killer. Moments of silence as people processed this, and wondered if they would move home someday.

The group consists of people from the neighborhood who shop at the local Ralph’s Grocery and often eat at City Wok or Tortas across the street and grab a coffee on their way to work at Starbucks and a beer after work at Residuals Bar. Some of the folks have known each other longer than others - three of them all lived at the Oakwood Apartments (where Jay Leno knocks on doors sometimes as part of a gag) at the same time. The lynchpin that holds it all together is one guy who was one of the Oakwood guys - who would come home from work and go straight to Starbucks, sitting outside by the front doors whether it was summer or winter. We called him the Mayor of Starbucks. He’d say hello to you when you passed him - said hello to everybody. Knew most people by name. And when I hit a snag on a script and needed to step away from the laptop before I smashed it to pieces, I would take a break and sit outside with him for a while. And that’s how I became part of this loose group. We all knew this one guy, and we all started to hang out together.

Two or three times a week - no schedule and no set dates and no real organization - a bunch of us would be at Starbucks at the same time and go to dinner together at City Wok and then go back to Starbucks and sit around and BS. There were directors and stunt men and writers and cinematographers and FX people and a puppeteer. You read that right - a guy who puts on puppet shows. Oh, and actors. For a few years, this loose group would meet and have dinner and BS - sometimes our table at City Wok would be for 4 people, and sometimes they’d have to put a whole bunch of tables together. I often work in that Starbucks, as did a couple of others, so we would always be part of the group. Others came or went or whatever.

Sometimes people would move to the other side of Los Angeles, and we might not see them for months... and then they’d drop in one night out of the blue. Sometimes they moved and just never made it back. And sometimes they would go home in defeat.

Mostly guys, but one ultra hot gal who lived in my building landed a big deal - a TV show - and moved into a luxury pad by the beach on the other side of town and... then it all fell apart. She ended up going home. It was tragic.

One of the guys had the hots for this cute Barista gal, but was kind of scared to ask her out. Every time he was there he would flirt with her and she would flirt with him. She was single. She was dating. She was dating men. But this guy just couldn’t work up the nerve to ask her out. Every time he was there for dinner we would encourage him to just do it - what’s the worst that could happen? She says no. One night, he decides he’s going to do it. We’re all there - over a dozen of us - I think the puppeteer was even there - when he flirts with her for a while and she flirts with him and then he asks her out... and she BRUTALLY shoots him down. You could hear us gasp all the way in Long Beach. It was like a body blow to all of us. He grabbed his tea and sat back down with us and pretended like nothing happened. He was joking about something a few minutes later.

A couple of years ago the group began to dissolve. One of the guys got married (his wife is now expecting), some of the guys moved, and the lynchpin guy who kind of held the group together had some personal problems and doesn’t go out of his house much anymore. I seldom go to that Starbucks, because it became very crowded (difficult to get a table) and too many people know my name (so it’s hard to get anything done). Some days I check to see if there’s a table, some days I just get on the bike and go somewhere else without even checking. But a couple of weeks ago I showed up for the evening shift, the place was almost empty, and I grabbed a table and started working...

When one of the guys came in and said he’d gotten a call that some of others were going to show up later... and we ended up with around 8-10 people. All of whom asked me: “Where’s Craig?” And I had to answer that he’s moved back home.

Craig was one of those other guys in Starbucks with a laptop open writing something. To hear him talk, he had it all figured out. He had quit a high paying job back home and moved to Hollywood to make it big. Make millions. He drove a sports car - leased. He was one of those guys who could talk their way into just about anything - super confident, aggressive about business, a real hustler, cocky but also funny. That was really his biggest gift, because he could make you feel at ease - like you were an insider in his world, joking at the losers on the outside. He had cajones. He would just go up and talk to some movie star or producer and often get them to take his scripts. He landed a deal, that worked out well for him... and it seemed like this was the first step to bigger things. He was walking on air - king of the world - sure that he would just be climbing that Hollywood ladder rung after rung until he got to the top. But after that initial success, he stumbled a bit before he landed his next deal. The stumbling part he shook off, telling us that those deals weren’t met to be and not getting them was a good thing because it cleared the way for the big one. Then he landed his second deal, which looked like the big one... and that did not go as planned at all.

I read one of his scripts once, and it was wild and energetic and had no act 2 and kinda didn’t really come together at the end. But filled with cool stuff. I tried to give him some feedback on it, but he thought it was fine... good enough to get him though the doors. And it was. You know, it’s not easy to get through those doors. But once they tried to make a movie out of it all of the problems became apparent and it crashed and burned horribly and something happened to him - maybe he realized he could get through the door, but when it came time to make the movie he didn’t have those skills. Or maybe he had this dream that making it big would be easy and it wasn’t. Or maybe it was something else.

Anyway, after that second one crashed, he tried to set something else up and nothing happened at all, and then, while I was out of town for the holidays, he called me and said he was going home, I thought just for the holidays.... but he never returned.

The first or second year I was at the Santa Fe Screenwriting Conference, William Kelley who wrote WITNESS said that you don’t know anything until you’ve had a script produced. You *think* you know something, but actually having that script turned into a film changes everything. I think that’s true. I think when it’s a screenplay, it’s all still kind of make believe and the decision to change something isn’t going to cost a pile of money or put production behind by a few days or make the ending impossible. You may have a script that’s an amazing read, but when it is time to put that script on screen most of the cool stuff stays on the page and the film doesn’t work. Or maybe can’t even be filmed. Once your dream becomes something that is going to be scheduled and budgeted and rewritten for budget and schedule and available talent and all of the other physical issues that come along with production (not even bringing in the artistic stuff), it often turns into something so real it is not enjoyable. That scene where he teaches her how to surf while they are on vacation in Hawaii and they fall in love? Well, we are shooting this film in New Mexico because of the tax incentives - Can he teach her how to ride a horse instead? Stuff like that destroys some people. And having to make something that only works on the page due to some fancy word-dancing, work on the screen where there is no dancing allowed, may be outside of some writer’s skill set. They may discover that they are not good enough for that next step.

There are 5 steps to screenwriting, and each is a chance for all kinds of failure.
1) Learning to write the screenplay.
2) Learning to write the screenplay that someone wants to buy.
3) Learning to write the screenplay that gets made into a film.
4) Going through the hell of production.
5) Remaining a screenwriter over a period of time.

I have seen a lot of “big talkers” come and then go. Maybe they are embarrassed because they told everyone how great they were and how great their work was and how easy it was for them to get their first thing set up someplace... and then it didn’t turn out easy after all. Maybe all of that talk is what *made them* go back home or make some low budget film that can’t find a distrib and drop out of sight so that they don’t have to answer questions about it. Maybe they have told everyone they are going to be Kings, and when they end up just pawns, they can’t deal with that.

But here’s the thing - you can get depressed or frustrated or heart broken and go back home, or you can stick it out and figure out what isn’t working and fix that. If you don’t brag about what hasn’t happened yet, no reason to be embarrassed when it doesn’t happen or takes much longer than expected.

At the TALES FROM THE SCRIPT panel, one of the writers said that screenwriting is a job where you get punched in the face again and again and again. And that is the truth. If you haven’t been punched in the face yet, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen... it means when it does happen you’ll be hit twice as hard. Maybe five times as hard. It will happen.

Best thing to do: Feel the pain, then get up and prepare to be hit again.

The best line in the last ROCKY film: “It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That's how winning is done!”

Same is true in Hollywood, as I’m sure Stallone can tell you. You want to go the full ten rounds and take a bunch of hits and still be standing at the end of the fight. A setback is just a setback - shake it off, stay in the ring.

"Hello, I'm a screenwriter.... I want you to hit me in the face as hard as you can."

- Bill

I'm sorry, one of my movies is invading the UK again...
Movies For Men Channel: 4/27 - 16:20 - Steel Sharks - When a United States submarine is seized by terrorists, a rescue attempt by Elite Navy Seals goes awry. The submarine crew wages a silent war beneath the waves in this tense undersea thriller.

(oddly wrong synopsis - it's a germ warfare scientist who is kidnaped by Iran, and a rescue attempt by Navy SEALS that goes wrong, etc.)

- Bill


TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: The Terror Of Act 2 - How to keep act 2 exciting... even if the conflict is with unseen forces.
Dinner: Arroz con pollo.
Bicycle: Medium-long ride deep into the valley.
Pages: Yesterday? Nothing but this blog entry.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

You Can't Handle The Truth!

From nine years ago...

So I’m cycling from one coffee shop to another and this car *runs a red light* and almost hits me. The driver hits their horn and screams something at me. I’m kind of shook up, and just kind of pause for a moment to reflect on my life up until this point... when it almost ended. Then I get back in motion... and due to traffic, end up at the next stop light right next to the driver. Now there have been times when my common sense got misplaced somewhere and I yelled at someone in two tons of steel that can travel at 120 miles per hour - kind of like arguing with a guy pointing a gun at you - but this was not one of those times. Instead, the guy started screaming at *me* for getting in the way of him running the red light... though he didn’t phrase it that way. Actually, he spoke in a code made up of profanity. I just let him scream, and when the light changed, I flipped him off (okay, maybe I misplaced some of my common sense) then zoomed away. Again, thanks to traffic, I was far ahead of him and did not see him for the rest of my ride. He was probably on his way to his anger management session.

But this is one of those strange things about human beings that we need to work on: when we are wrong, instead of admitting it, we attack the person who is right! I’m sure it’s all a basic survival thing left over from when we were cavemen cutting each other off on the jungle trail - when our vulnerability is exposed, we attack to protect that vulnerability. And we are vulnerable when we are obviously wrong. In fact, the more wrong we are, the more vulnerable we are, the stronger our attack seems to be. We just *react* when we should probably think and then react.

Probably because I am slowly becoming an old fogey (kids get off my lawn!) it seems to me that there is more of this reaction-when-wrong thing than ever before. People seem to be more self centered and more combative and less polite. They also seem to have lost those mental checks and balances that have us think before we speak. Hey, maybe I’m wrong and it’s always been this way but my tolerance has eroded over the years. Whatever, people who are wrong seem determined to fight everyone else to the death... especially the people who are right.

The problem with this is that it just escalates the conflict, and in the end - the person who was wrong is *still wrong*... only now they are even *more* wrong and look *much* worse because they have fought so damned hard *against* what is right.

But people continue to fight when they are wrong and do all that they can to cover it up and blame the other guy, and even try to convince us that right-is-wrong and wrong-is-right. Instead of just deflating the whole problem with the truth and a *sincere* admission of being wrong, they escalate the problem by covering it up and insisting they are in the right.

You see this stuff in politics all the time - and it never ends well. Someone who is head of a group that is strongly anti-Gay, gets caught hiring a male prostitute from a place called “” to be his companion on a business trip. Now, after being caught red handed (difficult to avoid puns with a subject like this) instead of just saying, “Okay, I’m Gay. Sorry for all of the previous Gay-hatred, but I was actually hating myself and lashing out at others who reflected the part of me I most hated”, the guy escalates the conflict by saying he’s completely not-Gay and had only hired the male prostitute to carry his luggage... and when people don’t buy that, he claims that he did not know that a website called “RentBoy” was an escort service... and when people don’t buy that, he changes his story to say he was trying to show the poor male prostitute the error of his ways while they shared a hotel room on a business trip... and when people didn’t buy that... and on and on it goes, staying in the news cycle instead of being forgotten because they guy just won’t admit that he’s Gay.

Big deal - he’s Gay. A week ago there were millions of Gay people marching in parades all across the country - he’d have just been one in those millions. But instead of being lost in a crowd, he kept himself in the news by denying what just about everyone else in the world figured was the truth... And the end result is always the same: that male prostitute talks to a major metropolitan newspaper and says they had all kinds of sex. Um, if someone rents a male prostitute for a couple of weeks I *hope* they have lots of sex and get their money’s worth. That’s probably not cheap. Wait... did he charge it off on his expense account, too?

By the way - I try to keep politics off the blog, and used this as an illustration of my point because it was recently in the news and went on for a long time due to the guy just continuing to try and cover it all up. Please, no political rants in the comments section. If you want to imagine some President who said “I did not have sexual intercourse with that woman” when that was not entirely true, be my guest. Politics is *full* of examples on every side of extending the conflict by covering it up and denying it instead of just admitting the truth. There’s a great scene in one of the Tom Clancy movies where Jack Ryan advises the President that distancing himself from some friends who did the wrong thing would be a mistake - the press would easily connect the President to them and that would extend the scandal. Instead, say they were not just friends but good friends. Defuse the scandal by admitting the truth. Once you have said the truth, the news story is over. Nothing to dig up.


(No, you do not look “Mahvelous!”... look closer)

M. Night Shyamalan’s new movie has been getting a lot of press lately... all the wrong kind. THE LAST AIRBENDER is running at 7% on Rotten Tomatoes, and audiences also seem not to like it much - only a C from the CinemaScore poll. When he was asked about the critics disliking his film he said something along the lines of, If the critics hate it I must be on the right track. Of course, this from a guy who made a film critic the villain in LADY IN THE WATER. Not all film critics make sense and some probably are villains, but film reviews are a lot like script notes: they may not all be right, but sometimes they point out real problems that can be addresses to improve your work. And if many people give you the same script note, that’s a real problem that needs to be looked into. Some notes you might look at and see the point being made, but you disagree with it... so you ignore it. You are the one writing the script or making the movies at the end of the day.

But when Night looks at the problems the critics are pointing out and decides that he is right and all of them are wrong... well, that’s a bit arrogant and a bit self destructive. Also, it’s self delusional - he refuses to see that his career seems to be hurtling in a downward direction. Quickly. Every film seems worse than the one before - and often kind of dopey. And his roles seem to be getting bigger in every film. THE SIXTH SENSE was a really good film (his third as director) and I did not like UNBREAKABLE when it first came out, but it was *interesting* and in retrospective it was much better than LADY IN THE WATER and THE VILLAGE and THE HAPPENING. Though SIGNS was well directed, it had a laughable screenplay that seemed to get sillier as it went on. But instead of Night looking in the mirror, seeing his faults, and trying to correct them and make better films; he *rejects* that he even has faults!

It’s *our* fault for not loving his movies.

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

But Night is not the only one in Hollywood who thinks this way (duh). When a film flops, studios are quick to blame it on poor marketing or a change in audience tastes or a trend that ended or a star who has faded or something other than THE FILM STINKS! We see the film, and it’s just awful... and the CinemaScore audience poll gives it a bad grade, and critics hate it, but with better marketing people would have liked it. That makes no sense at all to anyone but Hollywood suits. If this were any other product and an entire product line failed, they would be all over that line trying to figure out what went wrong so that they won’t make that expensive mistake again. But movies are *creative* and *subjective*, so you can’t really know why a film fails... except for all of the critics pointing out the awful dialogue and dreadful acting. How many times have we seen films with friends and everyone has the exact same complaints? That’s not subjective, that’s a problem!

But Hollywood doesn’t think it’s *their* problem... or at least, refuses to admit that it is their problem. It’s marketing department or that fickle audience who loved the last movie with a donkey in it, so why didn’t they love *this* movie with a donkey in it?

Those danged suits!

But what about *us*? You know, screenwriters... we get notes on our scripts and react. “They don’t know what they are talking about! They are wrong! They just didn’t get it!” We can easily blame “them” and close our eyes to the screenplay’s problems. We all do it. I do it. Your first reaction is that they are wrong. Hey, sometimes they are wrong... and sometimes we are wrong. When you get that note, and you want to *fight it* and fight it to the death, just take a deep breath and step back and calm down. Let that reaction pass before you say or do anything. Then, when you are in a calmer state of mind, look at the note objectively. At least, as objectively as you can. Do they have a point? Really be open to the possibility that you might be wrong, that your script may be flawed. The thing about a note is that you still get to decide what to do. But part of that decision involves being able to think clearly and not be so caught up in defending your script that you end up defending a guilty party. The reason why we ask for notes, and the reason why getting some feedback is important, is to improve your screenplay.

Now, you may hear all of the notes, give them serious consideration, and change nothing. I have a script that always gets the exact same note: people don’t like the point of the story. It makes them uncomfortable. Well, that was my *intent*, so I am not going to change it. The script was always a hard sell, and making it an easier sell by removing its soul and purpose isn’t going to make it better... just worse in a different way. But other notes on that script were considered and used to improve the script... after I calmed down.

If I were to fight every note because my script is right and everyone else is wrong, I would be expending a lot of energy defending a bad script. And one of the reasons why I would fight so hard to defend it is that I would *know* that it is bad. You defend your weaknesses, not your strengths. But defending your weaknesses does not make them stronger - it may even weaken them more. Instead of defending your weaknesses, acknowledge them and work to improve them. Once they are no longer weaknesses, they no longer need to be defended.

Oh, and your screenplay gets better!

The first step is admitting there is a problem, and that it is your problem not everyone else's. Anything else is just making things worse...

- Bill

Monday, April 01, 2019

50 Amazing But True Facts!

I found this seven year old list of amazing but true facts, so I'm using it as a filler post today.

Fifty Amazing-but-True Facts!

* The Mongolian pony is the only animal other than an elephant capable of fending off an attack by a healthy adult tiger.

* Because of their unusual shape, Hershey's Kisses contain more calories per ounce than the same amount of chocolate in other forms.

* The French language has seventeen different words for "surrender."

* The average person can fit exactly one half of their pinky finger in one of their nostrils. However, if an attempt is made to put a pinky finger in EACH nostril, only one quarter of each will fit.

* Showing off at a party one evening, Chopin played the entire "Minute Waltz" in under 10 seconds.

* If the air in your car's tires is not completely replaced every two years, it can turn to liquid and cause severe damage.

* If you tar and feather a 2x4 and place it in your yard, it will ward off bats.

* The largest home in the United States, North Carolina's Biltmore House, was originally intended to be the official residence of a new monarchy to be established when the South rose again.

* The Toltec calendar was based on a 360-day year, with each day being about 24 hours and 20 minutes long.

* The universal size of the credit card is based entirely on the size of the 1960s US Communist Party membership card. Credit cards were designed so that they wouldn't cause the Communist Party card to stand out.

* Nobody born in Kentucky has ever been elected to Congress.

* In an effort to improve the nutritional value of its "Shamrock shakes," McDonald's colors them with broccoli extract.

* Winston Churchill was born with a third nipple, which he removed himself with nail-clippers at the age of 14.

* Only a single dissenting vote prevented the death penalty in Texas from being carried out by immersing the convicted person in a nest of fire ants.

* If you place a fresh Viagra tablet in a houseplant's soil every six months, the plant will not wilt.

* The ancient Arabic word "jorgbushii" translates roughly to "evil one who comes disguised in peace to drink Earth's black blood."

* In Finland, "Sintter Klaas" brings bad children a small bag of old toenail clippings.

* The practice of putting a letter "e" in front of words to mean "web-based" (e.g., eBusiness, eLearning, etc.) was patented byMicrosoft in 1992. They are waiting until their anti-trust trial has been officially completed to begin enforcing it.

* The noun "sled" originates from the name of a 18th-century mountaineer from Finland, Schletz Linden, whose body was used by his climbing partner to slide down a mountain during a winter storm after he froze to death.

* If a cricket were the size of Mount Rushmore, it could jump to the moon.

* The increase in the amount of metals mined and brought to the surface of the earth in order to manufacture SUVs has caused higher tides in the Northern Hemisphere.

* Children conceived on airplanes never suffer from motion sickness.

* The life span of dogs allowed to dine in cat litter boxes is on average 18 percent longer than that of dogs restricted to commercial diets.

* Charles Darwin once attempted to breed flying monkeys by crossing chimpanzees with vultures.

* The steady, rhythmic sound produced by dripping water increases the capacity for sleeping males to experience lucid sexual dreams.

* Blue water in a toilet bowl causes males to urinate 7 percent more.

* Women who use chewing tobacco are three times LESS likely to accidentally swallow it while they are pregnant.

* The melody of the classic hymn "Amazing Grace" originated from a 12th-century pagan song celebrating masturbation.

* The Federal Department of Online Commerce has been compiling a list of US-based e-mail addresses. Once 100 million addresses have been collected, the list will be sold to online marketers as part of President Bush's plan to reduce the deficit.

* A 9-volt battery contains roughly the same amount of kinetic energy as a bowl of Lucky Charms.

* The Yanomami tribesmen of the Amazon basin can track game birds by the slight difference in warmth their shadows create on the forest floor as they fly by, for up to an hour after the birds have departed.

* Contrary to the popular saying, 99 percent of the time you lead a horse to water, it'll drink on its own.

* The first Ford Excursion was actually designed and built in 1951. It was never marketed because the then-current braking technology required a drum 3 feet wide on each wheel.

* Rapid deforestation has decreased the friction of the surface of the Earth, causing it to spin infinitesimally faster and thereby cool the air, combating global warming.

* The flush toilet was invented in Flushing, NY.

* The inner core of most standard golf balls is made of nougat, which helps the balls remain aloft longer.

* On occasions when the sun is shining brightly on falling snowflakes, they contain enough ionic charge to stun insects. Observation of this phenomenon inspired the invention of the bug zapper.

* Over the last two decades, more Americans died of heart attacks while watching horror movies in movie theaters than died while sky-diving.

* A common misconception is that the term "salsa dancing" derives from the food condiment called salsa. Actually, the dance was invented in the 1930s by a dance teacher named Frankie Salsa.

* Every common food product, with the exception of fish and veal, contains some traces of peanut enzymes.

* The number of words in the Bible divided by the number of verses equals exactly 666.

* An 18th-century law still on the books in Vermont makes it illegal for a woman to lick a stamp in a public place.

* Anthropologists have discovered a tribe of South American monkeys with a rudimentary system of government analogous to our own three-branch form of government.

* Constipation kills nearly twice as many people as diarrhea, mainly because the former mostly afflicts the old and weak while the latter mostly affects young, strong children.

* It is physically impossible to urinate and give blood at the same time.

* If you fill a standard 750ml wine bottle with live hornets, their angry buzzing will resonate at precisely the right frequency to shatter the glass.

* During his famous "Blue Period," Pablo Picasso invented the substance that eventually became known as Play-Doh.

* Every year in the fall, Niagara Falls is shut down for maintenance for 24 hours. The flow is diverted using a massive series of pipes and spigots built for this purpose in 1837.

* The rare Chilean hummingbird has been known to suck blood from animals like a giant mosquito.

* Tap dancers frequently forget to breathe normally during difficult routines, resulting in an average of 200 tap dancing-related tragedies per year.

- Bill

Okay it's Friday, how about a link to some Hitchcock stuff?
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