Monday, December 31, 2007

Interpersonal Internet Communication or the Good Thing about Flame Wars

I studied interpersonal communication in grad school along with mass communication and communication theory, the three majors areas of study in my major. One of the tenets of interpersonal communication is feedback. Interpersonal communication is a two way street. We say something and a listener responds to it. But there are steps along the way. The listener has to first hear and listen to what is said, then process the information, and this gets into perception and a number of other big words. All that is more communication theory, my weakest area. I was most interested in mass communication having been a filmmaker.

On internet message boards we have flame wars, the heated arguments that get out of hand between people who post messages and disagree, sometimes on the most trivial points. To me this is interpersonal communication. Yet it's mass communication. Well which is it? This question, I think, could be at the heart of why we have flame wars. When we read stuff in a magazine, newspaper, or see it on TV, we come to believe whatever it is is mostly true or at least has been well researched by the writer. When we read stuff on a message board posted by anyone who happens to me a member, we should expect their words to be any more researched thane we would the words exchanged at a dinner conversation with an acquaintance we've met for the first time. Yet, I think board readers expect what they read to be reliable and when they detect that this isn't so they lash out with name calling or citing references to belittle the message poster.

People wouldn't do that at a dinner table. For one thing they have to face the respondent in person, as well an anyone else present. But this is also true on a message board. The people reading just aren't in person. So somehow we feel we can get away with making verbal attacks that we'd never do in person.

But what I really want to get at is the whole feedback cycle of interpersonal communication. It is a cycle. Person A says something to person B who processes the information and then responds with feedback to person A. Person A may then respond with a updated version of their original statement revised perhaps upon being enlightened by feedback from person B. Or person A may rephrase their statement to better clarify for person B what it is they meant.

The whole cycle breaks down in flame wars because we have person B telling person A how it is, not giving person A a chance to process their feedback and perhaps revise the original statement. We might have person A come back with a restatement to clarify their meaning and then person B will respond with charges of person A being a liar or phony because they change their meaning to fit the responses. Well that's what interpersonal communication is. If you can't understand this the don't ever bother getting married. It won't work out.

Something else I learned in class was that the concept of 'not' is exclusively human. That is to say animals and other creatures can't understand 'not'. They do know what not being hungry is. They don't know what not being loved is. They may want. But that is a positive concept. Only humans can put together that when you want something it means there is 'not' something there. What does this have to do with interpersonal communication?

Well, especially on message board debates, you get people taking stands and saying what something is while someone else says what it is not. So the 'not' concept is alive and thriving in debates and certainly on internet message boards, and this is a good thing. Debate is a great thing. It's a human thing. It's a freedom of speech thing. A freedom people have died for. So we should welcome debates and those who have their 'not' points of views. Flame wars are not pretty. But they are a symptom of a healthy society and we should condemn them and be too quick to ban people for getting into them. The internet is a new thing and we aren't used to it or fully understand what it is.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Youth Without Youth: Understood

Dana Stevens, a screenwriter and reviewer seems to be spot on when she cites that Coppola is emulating his own mentors, like Bertolucci. Here's a excerpt from the review:

All this mystical ooglety-booglety is handled straightforwardly and completely without camp. It's difficult to describe the tone of Youth Without Youth, which is based on a novella by Romanian philosopher of religion Mircea Eliade (who was a bit of a Nazi himself, but that's another story). Despite scene after scene of maddeningly arcane dialogue ("In metaphysical antinomies, empirical proofs lose their value," Dominic's double tells him solemnly), the movie remains lyrical, emotionally engaging, and a pleasure to watch. You can laugh at Coppola's pretensions, but he's clearly in dialogue (however haltingly) with directors like Bertolucci, Visconti, and Tarkovsky, who saw no reason that film shouldn't take on the big questions right alongside literature and philosophy. Even Alexandra Maria Lara's sad-eyed, gazellelike beauty recalls that of an actress from the heyday of European art film—Monica Vitti or Dominique Sanda.

On my first (and only so far) viewing of Youth Without Youth, I didn't like it too much. it was bogged down and seemed overly cerebral to me without meaningful heart or emotional provocation. But the more I think about it, the more I want to see it again. This kind of film has so much in deep references to philosophical questions that it hard enough just to try and follow it. But having done that now, I think I could enjoy it much more.

By the way, Bertolucci also took a long hiatus from making films, like Copolla, and came back with his recent The Dreamers, a beautiful film.

Scape: My New Film

My new film, Scape, is in post and will be something different with Amanda Carneiro and Kristen Hepinstall.

Writer's Strike: Age Old Issues come to Light

The writer's strike has brought to light some very interesting issues. Though these issues have been plaguing filmmakers since the start of the industry. You can boil this down to the age old debate about whether film is a business or film is an art. Producers generally treat it as a business, while writers and other creative contributors treat is as an art. They have to. Otherwise what you get is crappy films, which may account for the other age old debate about how so many films are trash. Even the producers will tell you that 98% of the stuff produced doesn't turn a profit. But then there are those corrupt accounting practices that make every expense imaginable part of a film budget, probably including the studio execs' nooners.

The ultimate idiocracy is the perpetual sequels and parodies, obviously based on a simple retarded business logic that if a certain film production was successful all you need to do is make the thing over again with new packaging. Duh.

Don't work too hard there, studio execs. We don't want you to break a sweat or anything over having to take a risk on something too original.

But hey, isn't art supposed to be original? Isn't that pretty much necessary? I think it's something like this, to put into simple studio-exec-ease. When you make cars they have to have wheels and roll down the road. When you make art it has to be original. O-RIG-IN-AL. Sound it out. Lots of syllables there. I know it's a big word with lots of implications. But look it up. Add it to your vocabulary. It can make you money! $$$$$

Historically we had Chaplin splinter off from studio control to form United Artists. Now Cruise is rejuvenating that entity. Coppola and Lucas formed American Zoetrope, and along with numerous other great filmmakers, went to northern California's bay area to escape the Hollywood rat race. They all have the same complaint. Studio execs get into creative control over the art they know nothing about.

Now we see some WGA writers and colleagues, out of work over the strike, forming up their own new media companies based on the United Artists model. Way to go WGA.

There's no argument that great artists are great because of their unique talent. So then why must studio execs take creative control or impose upon artists to bend to their business logic based on marketing concerns? They're not the ones with the talent. Why do this, especially when we see that the results are this 98% failure rate in the industry. Even if it's not 98%, it's not better than 50%. Just look at For 2007 you see 200 to 300 films making over one million USD, out of a total of over 700 films. Making a broad assumption that a film needs to make at least one million to be profitable, you can see that much less than 50% are successful.

So clearly, the business people don't know what they're doing. But most of us have known that, since, like forever.

You can't sell art by having business people control it based on marketing strategy. You have to first allow artists to do what they do, on their own, with full creative control. Then when they have a product, you sell it. If you go with the conventional business model that business people apply across the board to any industry you end up with cheap crappy films that amount to what MacDonald's does in the food industry. Coppola, Lucas, Chaplin and most any artist won't be happy in that world, no more than Wolfgang Puck would be content running a MacDonald's chain. It's just good business sense.

Why is this so hard to fathom?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Youth Without Youth

I ran across this NY Times article on Coppola's new film and it stirred up some of my long held thoughts on the subject.
It amazes me how complacent people are in accepting the ingrained age discrimination that goes on. When you look at the industry infrastructure that exists to supposedly help filmmakers start out on a career, it's almost always assumed that an upcoming filmmaker is also a young filmmaker. When Spielberg introduced On the Lot, his words were that it was to help these young filmmakers get their start. So right there he excludes anyone who's not young, whatever that means. We all know that On the Lot contest entrants ranged all over the age spectrum. Yet the oldest one chosen was in their 30s. Of course, it didn't take long to see him eliminated. I think it's safe to say the remaining entrants were in their 20s and very early 30s at most. Fox has to maintain this image of giving young filmmakers a start. Oh the horror of giving an old filmmaker a start.

Now it's a little tougher when it comes to screenwriting contests. There you don't have to provide a bio or filmed intro of yourself to see how well you look on the screen. Still if your age becomes known and you're over 40, it's likely to be a liability. The Nicholl is one I think that makes an effort to not do this.

But even if I'm wrong about other contests, there's no arguing the fact that generally the business world expects people to live a certain life pattern. They expect you to be something by the time you're in your 30s. When you go to a college graduation ceremony accolades are given to those students who not only exceeded in their studies, but also started out on their own business or became successful in the working world. We cheer when someone really young make a great accomplishment, like write or direct a Hollywood film. What’s so great about the fact that the person is young? Is it not also great for an older person to do these things? And then look at the people who do these great things at an early age. What happens when they’re older? Like child stars. It ain’t too pretty. And then what kind of young people pull off these feats? They have to be on speed, have no other problems in their lives, and come from independently wealthy families; or at least some of that.

The point is, what's so bad about starting out on a career, later in life; or what's so bad about turning the clock back and reinventing yourself. Cher has certainly proved it can work. Why should people have just one career that starts at 20 something and ends at fifty or sixty something. When you're fifty you still think and have the same, if not much better talent than you did at twenty. The one difference may be physical stamina. But that too is questionable. Then there’s that element of risk that young people take, having nothing to lose

But when it comes to writing and directing films we are usually dealing with profound subject matter about love and life. This is the stuff that having decades of living experience is almost a requirement for, unless of course you intend to make a career of writing fart jokes or teen horrors, which may account for the lowly state of the current industry.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Chance Encounter

A man and woman on a train. Sexual implications and language.

Just made it through the sliding doors.
No seats. Have to stand.
All aboard. This is a local train. Please check the emergency procedures.

How many fucking times do I have to hear that?
Crunch. Train pulls out. I’m almost off my feet.
Take a stance and get solid.

Hmm, girl in the corner. Was she looking at me?
Do I look alright?
Next stop, Chinatown.
Oops. Almost off my feet as we stop.
Who kicked me? Not a kick really. Kind of soft.
Oh, there are legs there. Nude. Right next to me.
Didn’t see her before.
Ok, I can’t look. What’s the point anyway? We’re on a train.

Passengers are reminded to keep their feet off the seats.

The PA is blowing my ears out.
God, I have to get a pack of those ear plugs.

Someone gets up. Open seat. I’ll take it.
Oh shit. There’s the girl. Nude legs, or stockings, I guess.
Nice legs. Jesus.
Alright, what’s the point? We’re on a train.
I’ll just close my eyes. Sleep like usual. She doesn’t notice me anyway. Does she?

Please report any unattended packages to the sheriff at 800-800-8888


Next stop, Horrace avenue.
Did I nod off.
Everybody’s gone. Except her.
She’s still there directly across from me.
Nice legs. Gees, I can see the tops of her stockings.
God, she is hot. She takes out a compact. Fixes her face.

‘Hot date?’, I ask.
She just smiles. I close my eyes.
‘Is that supposed to be a pick up line?’, she responds.
Eyes open. She’s looking right at me. Nice eyes. I should say something.
So, I go over, sit next to her. ‘No’, I say.
I’m close enough to smell her. She looks into my eyes.
‘Do you like to fuck?’, I say. Her eyes widen. Then she smacks me.
That hurt.

Final stop. Please take all your belongings.

‘Sorry’, I say. She looks at me again.
I continue, ‘It’s just I have a back seat in my Chevy, in case you’re in a hurry.’
She just stares at me. ‘Pack of condoms too’, I say.
She smiles.
‘Do you use this approach with all the women you try to pick up?’
‘No. Never’
The sliding doors open. Everyone left shuffles out. Just we two are left.
‘Ok. Take me for a ride.’ She says.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Indie Film: Ignoring Quality

I saw the premier of an indie film a few weeks ago, How to Rob a Bank. This wasn't too bad of a film. But, nothing to write home about. Then maybe it'll grow on me. But, I got the feeling I was watching someone's cousin who had the right connections to get something produced, and not a diamond in the rough, as we'd like to think are found at indie fests. It's a shame, because the story is good, the premise is good, the acting is good, the camera and sound are good. The execution is lacking.

If I had read the screenplay that I'm assuming this film was made from, I can imagine it wouldn't get too far in terms of what you'd expect typical prodco readers want to see in a good screenplay, if there are typical prodco readers.

It has holes in it. It lags in places. A few people actually walked out of the theater. I think the guy next to me fell asleep, and he was on the crew.

We hear so much about how a screenplay has to be a good compelling story. If it's a comedy it should keep you laughing every few minutes. The action should keep up a pace. Then you go to a fest and see some sophomoric B film like this.

I think the cast and crew put forth an admirable effort. But, the script clearly wasn't ready, unless you don't mind competing with stuff like 40 Year Old Virgin. Even that was more polished.

But, this isn't the only film at the fest I thought violated high standards. Some of the others were slow and lagging too. There seems to be a lower bar at fests where filmmakers can put out lower quality stuff that you know could be improved if they'd just put more effort into it, and I mean effort into the story, screenplay and editing. They shine in the production phase. But, films are so much more than working 20 hour days on the set, no matter how good of a job it is.


Something I do notice at festivals is that although almost every film is amateurish and has obvious flaws, there is always something redeeming there. Sometimes, it's just the passion of the director, cast and crew that shines through, and you can forgive the flagrant violations of things like poor angles, lulls in the story, static shots, and more. A lot of that is due to low budgets, maybe an inexperienced DP or inability to do re-shoots.

I saw an Iranian film that repeatedly had long shots holding on one character in a two way dialog, not showing the other until at the end as a quick reaction. I could tell that rated very low with a lot of viewers. But, if you could look past that, you might see some great merit.

The things I can't forgive are things fixable with just a little more effort, like weak or slow stories, pacing, or editing.

There are always those with high standards in terms of a finished look. They don't think of themselves as snobs, but that's what they are, because they criticize based on what they expect to see in a Hollywood film. Just breaking a few conventions will throw these people off. They're missing the point. The same people would consider 40 Year Old Virgin a good film. I'd take a decent story with unmotivated angles over that film anytime. In the context of indie filmmaking criticisms concerning the polish of the work really aren't valid. When there is polish there it's icing. It's what might win the fest instead of placing.

There aren't many great films in all existence, let alone at a festival. How many at the LA Film Fest would you say stack up to any of the IMDB or AFI top 100? I'd say, exactly none. So, there's plenty of room for criticism on any of these indie greats. No matter how much you liked How to Rob a Bank or think it was pretty much flawless, and I can see how some could say that, it ain't no Saving Private Ryan.

It's a matter of relativity. Relativity to trailer versus the actual short, relativity to something done on little to no resources. Relativity to your particular prejudices and notions about quality.....

I'm referring to things in pre and post, the story, script, editing. I know the masses of cast and crew work diligent 20 hours days. But, that's not all there is to making a film. The most important part is the script. You might say in terms of man-hours, 90% of the work is done in production. But, in terms of importance to the project 90% is done in pre and post. I always get the feeling at the fests that the directors and producers lag in the area of polishing the script and making sure they have a good cut, even if it means spending another year at it. They seem to be playing to the cast and crew, who are their anxious audience waiting with baited breath for the premier. That's not the place to focus your energy.


To clarify my meaning, I feel that great artists need talent and must know a craft. That doesn't mean all artists who are great in a given discipline, like writing, have to know the same craft and all apply the same tools to their work. It means they need to know their own craft, which could be unique. So, to make blanket statement like 'never break the 180', 'use motivated angles', 'use a three act structure' and on and on, is like saying artists must apply certain rules or conventions to be successful.

This is a fallacy. It may be useful for artists to use similar tools if the tools work for them. But, there are no tools, rules, or conventions that are mandatory for success, except maybe something more abstract and blanket like the rule that art must be compelling or interesting. But even that is optional. Art can be disturbing, repulsive, disgusting. It may have a limited audience but it could still be successful. It worked for Lynch to get him an AFI grant and launch his career.

It's just plain wrong to say you need any conventions. You may need them. But don't project your needs upon others.

Now, if you look at a work and say, "it just isn't compelling, I couldn't get past the first page, no one will ever watch that, people walked out after the first 10 minutes", and if others agree with you, then I think you might have a good argument that something isn't working. But, you still don't know that it's these conventions that are missing, unless you can take the work and point out specifically how a certain tool works to make better. But, in doing that you've applied your craft, not the artist's craft and it becomes your work and not theirs. They must agree and apply the tool you suggest, if they find it valid. But, they could just as well make an alteration with their own tools, like a fluid camera for example, that will make it work.

When you and others apply certain conventions or tools across all work, it then takes on the attribute of being a rule. It's seems you think certain things are always necessary and must be done, just as with laws, people must always do certain things that are mandatory, like drive on the right side of the road. When you do this you are creating rules. But in art no rule is mandatory. Every one of them is optional. So, effectively there are no rules, only guidelines.

David Lynch

I think Lynch's shorts fall into the category of art that some would define as bad art. The thing about them is originality. If something is original enough it is interesting and it's quality doesn't matter. If you look at Clerks, you could say quality is lacking, yet it's highly original. Lenny Bruce might be another example.

I'm curious what the critics here would have to say about Lynch's shorts. Look at the reviews of them here. Most here would probably say he sucks as well. What people are missing is that consideration has to be given to the circumstances and restrictions under which the films were made. Another consideration should be originality. one implied my trailer is no more original than a thousand others they've seen. But, I feel there is originality there that is interpreted as bad craft disguised as artsy technique. It's no more that than Tarantino's Death Proof is as unoriginal as the grindhouse films he is paying homage to. Oh, pardon me if you think I'm comparing myself to Tarantino. It's an analogy, not a comparison. But, of course, those who think I suck largely think he does too.

But, I don't think Lynch had a movie audience for his short films, as we'd consider one when we write. He may have had an art community audience (God forbid). His first one Six Men Getting Sick was a continuous loop played at galleries. So, while the audience matters, which audience matters? In this case it's the one that got AFI to consider his work. The point is audiences differ quite a bit. You must know this well. That audience would call the work of probably anyone here passe, unoriginal, and they'd likely sneer at us.

But, when we make a film and put in into festivals, that's a specific audience too, one that I think likes originality above all else and forgives technical problems, taking resources into consideration, and looking for passion and promise in the filmmakers, not polish.

This topic has been discussed in detail here.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


It's an interesting point that filmmakers who watch too many films based their films on other films and not on life.

When I was in film school, I came into film as a photographer and artist, and wasn't very educated or aware of film history or how films were written or made by others. But, I really liked photography and adding the elements of motion and time to my photography was very exciting for me.

When people asked me what films I thought were great, my reply was that no great film had yet been made, and I was on a quest to prove that with my own work. But, that wasn't really true because I had always loved films and as a child stayed up late nights watching movies on TV. So, I was probably very influenced by them and didn't realize it.

To compare my work to other filmmakers back then seemed ludicrous to me. I was my own person and I did my own art and the whole thing about art is that it has to be from the individual and it has to be original above all else. To take the concept of originality to an extreme, you could say that any influence from any other existing work is a potential corruption of your originality. You should come from a place within and from real life, not from what you know about what others have done.

So, when a new writer asks if it's ok for a screenwriter to not watch other films, it makes a lot of sense and is a legitimate question, to which I would answer, absolutely not, you'd don't have to watch other films and doing so will undoubtedly impeded your originality.

On the other hand, you can learn a lot about craft, technique, and even ideas that other filmmakers use. But, note that there are so few original filmmakers, likely due to the fact that they all watch and love other films. This may sound strange. But, give it a minute to sink in. It's really very logical. If you haven't been exposed to all the stuff that's been done, it's less likely all that stuff will influence you and shape how you think films should be written.

But, I'm not an extremist. I'm not saying never watch another film. I'm just saying doing so can influence you and hinder originality. In fact, I watch films every day, probably at least three a day. But, that's not how I started out. I think to both write and watch films you have to separate your own works from others'. It's not so easy or obvious. Subconsciously, other films will influence you. Stories should be written from your imagination, your research, from real life; but not from other stories. I think you can develop a tough skin by consciously keeping aware of what you watch to keep it from influencing you subconsciously. But, you first have to come from a place of originality.

When I started in film, I had been into photography and art. I wasn't an avid film watcher at all. So, my first film was a visual experiment without actors. Later when I tried using actors my film resembled a forties film. I had been subconsciously influenced by all the Late Shows I watched as a kid.

David Lynch is one of the few truly original filmmakers, probably because he came into film as an artist looking to add motion to his paintings and knew nothing about filmmaking, as far as I know. Look at his work and this is so very apparent. I suspect as he got more into filmmaking his originality became more corrupted by other filmmakers' influences, and indoctrinated into Hollywood. I'm curious about what he'd have to say about this. If he did watch films before making his early short film, it wasn't at all apparent.

Great films always seem to have some strong original aspect to them. Tarantino used time line manipulation and emulation of past film genres, which is ironically original since he's redoing what's been done. But, to do that is part of what's original.

Then as technology progresses it adds more originality by making things possible that were not possible before. Those who exploit this alone are simply using gimmicks to sell their snake oil.

Now we have the industry paradigm of doing movies that have strong elements of stuff that has sold in the past, which is the exact opposite of being original, and what you end up with is a lot of crap films. The crap films sell to growing retarded audiences who love them. Meanwhile, good writers can't get their stuff sold, and so we have a market full of crappy screenwriters and gimmick filmmakers while the potentially great ones work their shitty day jobs, thinking they're no good because they can't get sold. I wonder if it's retarded audiences that are attracted to these films or the films that condition people into being retarded, since there's so little choice unless you get IFC or the Sundance Channel or live near a limited release art house type theater.

The film business is the business of selling art. Before you can sell art, you have to have art to sell. So, I put it to you that the first order of business is to make the best art that you can.

The Numbers

Here are some numbers

Out of 718 films screened in 2006 here are some gross figures:
Five made nothing or less
15 grossed less than $1000
118 grossed less than $10,000
280 grossed less than $100,000
about 440 grossed less than one million

That leaves 171 out of 716 that grossed 7 figures or more, and it's likely these were the only ones profitable by any worthy margin, since most films cost over a million to make. But, since getting or compiling a listing of the costs of these films is almost impossible, i can't be specific.

Anyway I think it's safe to assume about 23% were decently profitable. That leads me to believe that the business practices leave something to be desired. The industry gets by on the top few money makers and can then afford all the other failures.

What would be better would be to have more films making money than these 23%. I think to do that you have to hit the untapped markets, which I think are people who are largely turned off by the inane subject matter of the top selling movies. Not all of them but most. Notice many on top are kids films, leaving the adult market untapped.

It doesn't take an MBA to realize this model isn't working as well as it could be.

Here is a breakdown of the market in genres.

As you can see, they clearly are not getting much out of some genres, specifically, dark comedy, which I think has a huge untapped adult market, which execs are afraid to take risks with. But, it would make more sense, knowing that most good screenwriters write in that genre along with some others that are overlooked, to take that risk instead of pushing for more of the the genres that get the most play, comedy and drama.

The numbers I'd really like to see would be a list of movies made in a year, their budgets and their profits. Remember, distribution takes a big chunk of the gross. Now look again at that list, pick out the films made in 2006. Count how many would be considered profitable and compare that with the number 350, which is approximately how many movies are made in a year. Even if you only count the movies that are profitable, the ones making over 6 figures, you come up with only 171 out of the 350. That's just slightly less than half, even giving it the leeway and benefit of the doubt.

I'm not necessarily saying Hollywood is passing over diamonds in the rough, or that there are many un-produced great writers that aren't getting a shot. Though, that's probably true.

I'm just saying Hollywood's convention of looking for what makes money instead of looking for quality work and then using it to make money is the wrong way to go about doing business. It is a reactive stance to take. Finding quality work first is a proactive stance. As you know, an once of prevention is worth a pound of cure. The drive should be to find the best creative talents that can be found, let them and help them use their talent. Let them tell us what people want, regardless of what people have wanted in the past. Nurture their talent. then when they're ready for prime time, exploit them for money.

Whether these talents exist or not, or are passed over or not is an unknown until the industry actively seeks them out, instead of dictating what sells and what doesn't sell, how to structure stories, how to write in genres, what genres to write in, or how to be marketable. If no one in Hollywood knows anything as Goldman says, then obviously the business isn't working as well as it could. Why don't we wake up and decide to learn something about what people want, instead of trudging along like the blind leading the blind.

Artists have that vision to see into the future and write stories about things they know people will want in the future. Successful Hollywood writers even now do that. But, often in doing so they are going against the grain and fighting uphill battles with conventional wisdom.

The Music Analogy

Keeping with my state of mind in film school, I'd say even what we now consider classics will one day be looked upon as the crude beginnings of the medium. Look at music, which has been around for hundreds of years. Look at the the classics. When did music start and how long was it before the classic composers came on the scene, hundreds, maybe thousands of years?

Film has only been around for a hundred years or so. If filmmakers could just let go of convention, tradition and always thinking inside the box, we might see some break through into a higher state of art in movies. But, these things take time, lots of time, eras of time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Eagle vs. Shark - review

I loved this film. It's a quirky romantic comedy about misfits that neatly avoids getting sappy. It actually is a great character study. One thing that stands out about the film is it's honesty and childlike innocence, I think. The characters, while sometimes pretty weird, feel very real to life. Even the supporting characters are pretty strong and quirky. It's a film where what ever comes next is always unexpected.

I had a chance to attend a Q&A with the New Zealand writer-director Taika Cohen (Taika Waititi) and star Loren Horsley. They met, along with the other lead actor, Jemaine Clement, at a college and became flatmates and good friends, going on to collaborate on numerous projects including a short film, Two Cars, One Night (2003) , which was nominated for an Oscar. In that same year their script for Eagle vs. Shark was chosen for the Sundance Director's and Screenwriter's Labs, and production started soon after.

Loren Horsley and Jemaine Clement were really quite good. They played their roles very honestly with deep characterizations. Taika is obviously a very good writer as well as director.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Evil that Banks Do

Premise: Banks are The finance industry is inherently evil.

They trade on temptation, a tool of the devil (if you believe in that stuff). Nonetheless, they are evil. People get into debt head over heels because banks make it so easy to do so. Then the banks come along and act like these people who can't or won't pay their bills are the dregs of society.

And so they collect and sell loans to collectors and resell, and each time tacking on charges and fees. So, if you started out with a $20,000 school loan it's quite reasonable, in our society by and for the money wealthy, that you could owe the lenders 400% in interest charges accumulated over the years, and the interest charges keep on coming.

The banks will seize your possessions, cars, homes, bank accounts. They'll attach your wages. They use underhanded, illegal tactics, especially with those who can't afford a lawyer, because people can't fight back and banks can get away with it.

They're ingrained into the law and the 'less than rich' man or woman has no recourse. No recourse, but to pay and pay the rest of their lives because the debt hasn't been paid off and the interest must, by all means accumulate. the interest must never stop. Not death, war, or gloom of night shall stop the interest charges from accumulating. In fact war is a profitable venture so, by all means, fund it, at an acceptable interest rate, of course.

And so bankers of the world are the evilest of people. The root of all evil, indeed.

But, you say, it's a responsibility. You get into debt and you have to pay it back.

All fine and good. But, let's say you're from the poor side of town, or even the not so rich side. You want to go to college. If you don't go, your fucked. Shit jobs the rest of your life. If you do go, no choice but to borrow, and once again you're fucked, because now the bank owns your ass and you get a job good enough to both live and pay back the debt or else the interest rate piles it on.

And so the cycle continues. One slip up in the fabric of your fate and the debts don't stop coming. You have the college and you make the bucks. But, the debt sucks that all up.

On the other hand if the family is doing well, paying back the loan is no problem; or maybe you don't need that loan. Mom and dad are there for you. Lucky you. Fuck me.

It's a world by and for the rich. Fuck the poor. That's the evil. That's wrong. It's beyond simple self discipline and self control. Things are complex. It's never as simple as the picture you paint.

Take Mr. Pennypacker in It's a Wonderful Life. Typical heartless banker.

Now, here's a pop quiz. What business sanctioned as legitimate by law is also very popular as criminal enterprise. Hint: it has to do with money. Hence, people in this business could easily move between criminal and legal circles of this industry.

What's the difference between a vig and interest on a loan?

Now, I never said there shouldn't be banks. Why be so extreme. I just said they're evil. They need reform. They already have very heavy government regulation, although there's a lot of corruption, as we can see with Enron, Anderson Little, and other corporate high crimes, in their accounting and banking practices. The reason there is so much regulation is because of the great opportunity and temptation to abuse having access to everyone's money. If that abuse didn't exist, the regulations wouldn't need to be there. So, it is recognized by law that banks are potentially corrupt.

A lot of people who appear well off are in the same boat. They may use credit to buy a house, car, etc. Then when hard times hit they have to sell out or be foreclosed upon. It's the temptation that banks put out there making it easy to get loans and easy for them to foreclose and collect.

The bank concept is a good one in theory only. In practice it is to the bankers' advantage to see people get in over their heads so they can be foreclosed upon. They have an incentive to do that to people. It's money. Banks get to have the people pay on loans and when they can't they can resell the property for a nice profit. You could be paying a car loan and have one payment left, but if you can't make that one payment the bank will repossess it and resell it at a nice profit. They don't want to work with people.

Banks also will fee people out the ass. If you bounce a check, the bank may have a policy to re-post the check 3 more times to see if it will be paid. If it continues to bounce they charge a $30 overdraft every time. So, one bounced check will rack up $90 for the bank. Then if the person has other checks out, their account becomes too low to pay those checks and each one racks up another $90. Nice work for bankers who do nothing but sit on their fat asses and collect.

Why do I have an issue with banks? They have their greedy fingers in everyone's money. No other industry has the power to deduct a bill or fees directly from your own bank account without so much as a notice. Whether the charges are legal or justified is besides the point. People earn money and should have the right to decide when and if they want to pay someone, including their own bank. They should have the right to question and refuse to pay someone if they disagree with the bill. But, with bank fees there's no recourse. The banks take it out of your account and may as well say 'fuck you sucker, we're taking this fee' while they're at it. This is morally and constitutionally wrong.

In the case of poor people or someone who has gotten into a bind, they are the ones who suffer the most. Banks operate on the premise that everyone has money in their accounts so a few little deductions here and there won't matter. They can't fathom the concept that some poor guy might be down to his last ten dollars before next week's paycheck and that ten dollars might be the difference between buying food to survive for another week or not. No bank would give a flying fuck. They let the guy die rather than asking before they deplete his money.

Banks and people in the finance industry live in a world of oblivion to life itself. To them everything is based on money. They have the power and sometimes the law and so they don't care who gets hurt. They take what they feel is right with complete disregard.

Networking: How to kiss up your way to nowhere

This whole networking thing is really kind of an obtuse way of doing things, isn't it? I mean, you're just haphazardly meeting people and making friends and some like you, some don't, some don't care or know you from Adam - most in fact. Talk about a crap shoot.

Even successful people don't stay successful based on just networking. Certainly it helps to know people. But, you're only as good as your last film. If that's a flop, then networking is a liability. Better to stay low.

I saw a biography on Brando recently. He didn't network. He just went to dance classes looking for girls. People came to him because he was talented. He didn't network. Didn't have to. End of story.

How about if you're not all that hot. You're just another mildly talented writer. You can cut the mustard, but nothing to have a ticker tape parade over. So, you use networking as your crutch to just happen to be at the right place, at the right time. It could work.

So, that's really it, isn't it? You're too lazy to get good and get noticed for being talented and you think hanging around the right people will get you a consolation prize. How many scripts have you written? Five, ten, twenty? How long have you been at it? Two? Five years? Try ten. That's the going standard. Try writing a hundred screenplays. Try being worth something and not just another kiss up wannabe.

From what I've seen and read about truly successful people is that they're talented. That's why they're successful. That's why networking works for them. In fact, it's people who clamor to network with them, not the other way around. It's also true that they didn't get there by networking. They got there by working their asses off and learning how to write, act, direct or whatever. 99% perspiration. Networking. Ha! It's the symptom, not the prescription.

But wait, you say. You've been networking around for years now and it finally did pay off. You made friends along the way and eventually just by knowing people you got better and better jobs, and now you finally got that big one. Oh but you were also working your ass off all those years getting better and better at what your do, nurturing your talent, getting mentored. So then, what was it that made you a success, the networking or the hard work?

What happens when you're down? How about if you develop a drug habit? Is all that networking going to save your ass? Maybe some close friends will help. But, mostly people will avoid you like the plague. Back to Brando. He got full of himself at one point and no studio wanted to touch him. The networking was a liability. Everyone knew he was a hot head and wanted nothing to do with him. But, then Coppola came along and did a screen test with him for the Godfather and Brando was suddenly reinvented. Back on top. How? Networking? Coppola? No. It was talent. When you look at that screen test you see his awesome talent, like no other actor could ever pull off. Talent. That's what you need and what you need to develop.

Networking means nothing more than who you know. Everyone knows people. Six degrees of separation. If you're good at something, Kevin Bacon will hear about it and the world will be at your door. Build a better mouse trap.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

What kind of producer are you looking for?

I'm a producer. I can produce your film. There are thousands more just like me looking for a good script.

Here's the catch. We're not Hollywood studios. We can't give you a $10K payment upfront, can't option your script for more than a cup of coffee, can't work with a budget over six figures, sometimes only five figures, sometimes four, sometimes three, sometimes two. We need scripts with easy locations, no extras, just a few major roles. Well, not always. It is fairly easy to find all kinds of actors looking for any kind of work. By the way, I fit into the two figures category. But then you can buy four hours of DV tape for $20 bucks. It's simply a matter of who you point it at. Then you never know. With the right script I could just find a good backer out there.

Here's another catch. Most of us are writer-producer-directors. That means we'd just as soon write and produce our own stuff. A lot less argument, less negotiation. A lot easier to know the story when you write it yourself. Then again, we get writer's block like anyone else. So, anything could work.

What we can do is produce your script. Given the right script we'll make it into a film, maybe get it distributed, shop it at the festivals, maybe even find a studio backer to pump it up into a big Hollywood studio production. Maybe not. But, you run the same exact gamble with the big studios. Where do you think the phrase "development hell" comes from?

The question is, what are you willing to settle for? You can make a deal to have your script done on a limited non-profit basis with an indie like me. Look up the WGA low budget agreements. You can make your demands. Take your money on the back end, if there ever is a back end. If the film makes it to one festival or is shown in one theater, you can have it listed on IMDB. Not a big deal to some, but one credit there is certainly better than none.

You have to walk before you can run. Don't have any big time Hollywood producers knocking at your door? Haven't won any prestigious festivals? Well, here's your chance. Find a producer in the same boat you're in. Collaborate. You think you have what it takes, then show your stuff. Put your money where your mouth is.

One note of caution. Indie producers are looking for even better quality in a script than most Hollywood producers are. The indie circuit works with original, meaningful, poignant, touching stories. Sometimes just original with no story at all. No genre trite formulas. No zany bathroom humor. Not unless it's also very original.  Originality is the key. It's like location in the real estate market. Originality, originality, originality.

Even indie producers will ignore you, not take your calls, not get back to you, not want your script. After all they have the same few hundred thousands of scripts to choose from as the big boys do.

Another note of caution. Not all indie producers are interested in quality work. There are some not worth your time. You're out in the street here. Any joe with a few bucks can claim to be a producer and even shoot a film. The producer might be unscrupulous, dangerous even. But, the same applies to the big players. So, do your homework. Copyright your work. Get an agreement of some kind up front before you even submit a script. This is standard legal stuff. Know your target producer, what they've done, what potential they show, if they've been in jail lately. Then again, some good people have been in jail. Have they won a festival? Big plus! However, if any producer is willing to spend a year or so of their life on your film they must at least believe in themself. That can't be bad.

Anyway, it is another market to consider; one with very high standards where to see any kind of success only the very talented need apply, and even then it probably won't happen.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mental Exercise

I sometimes hang out virtually on a writer's board and invariably the subject of writer's block crops up. What's the big problem with writer's block? Creativity, imagination, ability to think up a story. So, how can you improve these skills?

You can exercise your brain, which would logically increase your ability to imagine. One way to do it is to play video games, another might be fencing or other sports. But, sports are also very physical. Video games focus on the mental reflex.

The only physical part is in pushing a button or moving a joystick. I've successfully used this as a warm up for important tests. Taking a test in school or on the job for a promotion is always very stressful. The key to testing well is to react fast to questions and not mull over them or procrastinate. You have to go with your first instinct and it has to be right. To do that you need mental acuity which can be developed with mental exercise like playing video games. Don't study the night before a big test. Don't rest all day. Play video games. Though, being well rested is important, too.

Will this help your imagination? Maybe not. Imagination is more the right brain creative side. But, still, mental exercise is mental exercise. I would think reacting in video games requires some creativity in choosing the right path to take. There are probably some games that are better suited for creative exercise.

Then there's always doing other things creative, like painting or building or even fixing a car.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Heaven: film review

Cate Blanchett was awesome in this film, playing off of Giovanni Ribisi, who ain't chopped liver. You may remember him as the medic in Saving Private Ryan, or Charlotte's ignorant husband, John, in Lost in Translation.

Blanchett is one of those rare actors that become their character and you forget they're acting, which has to be the ultimate success for a actor. I can barely think of any others that pull this off; Nicole Kidman, Gary Oldman. Yes, Ribisi also. There are others. For Gary Oldman, at least, I think it may have worked against him if you consider fame a measure of success. He's so good you seldom recognize him as Gary Oldman. He's always his character. Come to think of it, considering Ribisi in his roles he's in the same boat.

Heaven was a great film. It's an incredible story and goes uphill from there. It's one of films you'll only find on late night cable or an indie channel. Incredibly underrated. It's a very touching and powerful story. It's timely in dealing with the official law enforcement paranoia over terrorism and the propensity to call someone a terrorist as a means to quickly legitimate brutal obtuse disregard for the human soul.

The film is a superb story by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz; directed by Tom Tykwer. Heaven was the first of a trilogy, Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. But, Kieslowski unfortunately died before completing the last of them. Hell or L'Enfer as it's titled, is highly rated and apparently as touching a story as Heaven.

Heaven takes place in Italy but quickly reverts to English dialog making it an interestingly international piece.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Protagonists - a short story

It’s a busy Manhattan diner. Pat and Andie, with short haircuts, walk in the door and continue their conversation as they have a seat.

Pat carries a notepad and pen. “I am the protagonist, the all important person in this story. I am the one you follow, love, hate, worry about. Without me this is nothing. There is no story. For what is any story without a character that you follow through it?”

Andie listens patiently, brimming anxiously, “Bullshit! I'll tell you what it is. It's new, innovative, different, and original. Show me a story with no protagonist and I'll show you something refreshing. Anyway, you're not the protagonist.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you're not. I am.”

“No you're not. You're the antagonist.”

“No way. What makes you so special that you get to be the protagonist?”

“I started the story. I went first. People saw me first. They identified and empathized with me. I'm the protagonist.”

“Just because you went first, doesn't mean that. They will like me more because I came second. I'm the underdog. I'm struggling against society. They will root for me. They hate you because you said I couldn't do it. You're the antagonist.”

A tired waitress comes by, “You two want anything?”

Pat responds, “Tall decaf caramel latté with soy.”


Andie interprets, “That means a decaf, and if you have any soy milk. I’ll have the same, and a dish of vanilla ice cream with caramel syrup.”

She looks at them disgusted as she writes and walks away.

Andie anxiously continues the conversation as if it hadn’t stopped, “We could go on forever like this. But, there's no plot here anyway. So, you don't have a protagonist if you don't have a plot. So, you're just nothing.”

“What a load of artsy crap. You have to have a plot or there's no story. What about the antagonist? There's not one of them either.”

“Yes there is. I'm the antagonist and I win.”

“You can't be an antagonist without a story and a protagonist.”

“Yes you can. I'm antagonizing you, am I not?”

“Yes but…”

“But, you are not protagonizing anyone.”

“There's no such word as protagonize.”

“Exactly. That's why I can be the antagonist and you don't exist.”

Pat agonizes, “I don't believe this. I'm getting a headache. You are so exhausting.”


Pat, “Alright. So, what if there is a plot? Then you'd need a protagonist.”

Andie, “No, you don't need one. It's optional.”

“Is not.”

“Is so.”

Andie, “Ok, so what's the plot? There is none.”

“Yes there is.”

“Is not.”

Pat, “Yes, it's me arguing with you.”

Andie, “That's not a plot.”

Pat, “No, but it's the beginning. We just need to have a goal and an obstacle.”

“But we don't.”

Pat, “We do. Here it is. My goal is to make a story. My obstacle is you.”

Andie, “I'm not an obstacle. I'm an antagonist. That's different.”

“Could be the same thing.”

“No, I don't think so.”

Pat, “If you are in my way, then you are an obstacle.”

Andie, “I am not.”

Pat, “You won't let me finish the story. You keep saying I don't exist and stuff like that.”

Andie, “There is no story.”

Pat, “But there could be. I told you, the story is me trying to make a story.”

Andie, “You can't have a story about making itself.”

“Can so.”

“Can not.”

The waitress comes by with their order. They continue talking, ignoring her.

Pat, “What about Adaptation by Charlie Kaufman.”

Andie, “Oh, fine. Now you're getting all uppity with the name dropping.”

She gives them each coffees and then holds the ice cream with caramel topping questioningly.

Pat, “But that was a story about itself.”

Andie, “No that was a story about another story about orchids.”

Andie motions for the waitress to place it in the middle of the table as Pat continues, ignoring her.

Pat, “No, it was about adapting the story about orchids so the adaptation is what it's about, which is itself.”

Andie, in headache pain, tries to comprehend and asks the waitress, “Do you have any aspirins?”

She looks at them like they’re nuts. “What do I look like, a drug store?”

She sets down the ice cream. They both take spoons and scoop ice cream and caramel into their coffees and stir as they continue.

Andie, “That reminds me. That film is what started my migraines. Wait, I have some...” He pulls out a small aspirin pill case and takes 5 of them.

Pat, “Look, regardless, we've been going here and we have a story and it's about itself. So, it's working.”

Andie, “I don't think anyone's still reading it. You’re right. No protagonist, no goal, no obstacle, no plot. This thing is in the trash.”

Pat, “It can't be in the trash. We haven't finished yet and nobody's read it yet.”

Andie, “I was speaking figuratively.”

Pat, “Maybe if you help instead of bullying me at every turn, we could finish it.”

Andie, “I can't do that. I have to antagonize you. That's my job.”

Pat, “Fine. I'll do it myself.”

Andie, “Ok, but don't expect it to be easy. You have to fight an obstacle all the way.”

Pat, “No I don't.”

Andie, “Yes. You said a story has to have an obstacle.”

Pat, “You said it didn't.”

Andie, “Oh so now you come around. Now that you are the one faced with an obstacle you think it can just be a story with no obstacle to make it easy for you.”

Pat, “I'm just trying to be open minded about this artsy stuff.”

Andie, “Oh yea? Isn't that convenient? When it works for you then it's OK to be artsy. Besides, artsy isn't a word it's a derogatory made up term. You are prejudiced against art people.”

Pat, “Artists. Well, I guess you can't have a story without an obstacle then, like I said.”

“Yes you can.”

Pat, “Alright, fine. Then this is our story; a story about itself with a protagonist and an antagonist and the goal of writing the story. No obstacles.”

“That's sounds pretty boring.”

“See, it can't work.”

“I didn't say that. It just needs something.”

“An obstacle.”

Andie, “No. It needs… it needs… a girl.”

Pat, “A girl? What do you mean, 'a girl’?'“

Andie, “Just that. Every story needs a girl. Cherché la femme and all that.”

Pat, “So what does the girl do?”

Andie, “She's just there, kind of being pretty and sexy, and wearing sexy clothes.”

“Oh come on.”

“Well, it has you interested, doesn't it?”

“I don't know.”

Andie, “The female form is the most beautiful and compelling thing ever in existence.”

Pat, “Yea but, I think it needs more.”

“Ok, we need a sex scene.”

“Oh please. I'm not writing a porno here.”

Andie, “Who said anything about pornos? Just a sex scene. In fact, it's better when you don't see everything.”

Andie’s eyes gloss over as he daydreams out loud, “She's naked under the covers. He comes up and gets in bed with her. He leans in and kisses her passionately on the lips. His hand slides down under the sheet, over the contours of her body to her thigh…”

Pat, “Wait a minute. Who is he?”

Andie, “Well, me I guess.”

Pat, “Oh really? You. Why you? Why not me? I’m the protagonist. The protagonist gets the girl.”

Andie, “You're busy writing the story, remember?”

Pat, “But, you're supposed to be busy antagonizing.”

Andie, “I am. I'm antagonizing you about me getting the girl and you being stuck with writing the story.”

Pat, “Got anymore aspirin?”

Andie, “Didn’t you just take some. You have to wait four hours.”

Pat, “No, You took them, not me.”

Andie, “Right.” Andie pulls out the pill case and hands it to Pat.

Pat counts out five and adds one more and takes them, gulping down some water.

Pat, “Alright. How about I bust in and blow your head off?”

“You can't do that?”

“Why the hell not?”

Andie, “Because, I'm the antagonist. I have to be in the story till the end.”

Pat, “Well, we don't have an obstacle so we can kill the antagonist early.”

Andie, “Then what? 90 minutes of you getting it on with the beautiful girl? Boring!”

Pat, “Sounds alright to me.” Pat think s minute, “Alright. I won't kill you but I'll bust in and stop you. I'll punch you out and you'll run away and then I'll get the girl.”

Andie, “Nah. I don't like it.”

Pat, “Oh, mister high and might artsy…”

Andie, “Eh, eh, not the ‘A’ word.”

Pat, “Ok, mister high and mighty, antagonist, doesn't like it. You got a better idea?”

Andie, “Of course. I beat the crap out of you and you run off.”

Pat, “I don't know.” Pat sips the coffee and thinks; then has a big smile, “ What if she has a twin?”

Andie, “Look this is going nowhere. The girl is only good for 30 seconds and then that scene's over.”

Pat, “Hey, I've gone for 15 minutes a few times.”

Andie, “We have to move on to what's next.”

Pat, “Which is?”

Andie, “Which is… which is… M. Night Shyamalan knocks at the door and wants us to give him our story.”

Pat, “The director who wrote that God awful film about writing a story?”

“Yea. Why not?”

“Because he already did a story about a story.”

Andie, “Oh. OK.”, sips the coffee, thinks.

Pat, “Well, what we need is a second act.”

Andie, “Oh come on. Not the Hollywood conventional formula bullshit.”

Pat, “It's not bullshit. It's proven to work time and again.”

Andie, “The hell it has. Hollywood puts out hundreds of films every year. How many of them are any good? Huh?”

“I don't know. I liked pirates and…”

“Five. The answer is five.”

“Five?” Pat sips, “Well, that's all I could think of, a second act. That's where the story takes off. We need the story to take off.”

Andie, “You don't just add things out of the blue because you need the story to take off. If the story isn't working then fix the story. Don't add these contrivances. That's why there's so much awful crap out there.”

“Alright, how about a car chase?”

“You have got to be kidding.”

“Well, it's action. It's cinematic.”

Andie, “Look, you can do whole stories without ever seeing a car. What about characterization? You're all worried about the plot and the acts; but you're forgetting some stories don't have plots. They just have deep characters.”

Pat, “What deep characters? These two people are boring. One's writing a story, one’s an antagonizing prick.”

“Antagonizing prick?”

“Nothing personal.”

Andie, “That's our challenge to make them interesting, deeper.”

Pat, “So, the guy with the girl is gay.”

Andie, “Oh come on. Not another gay thing. Every time someone needs to beef up a story they use gay guys.”

Pat, “Hey, that's funny. Beef up the story with gay guys. I like that.” He writes it down on his notepad.

Andie, “Think. Think. What else is there?”

Pat, “Well there's like these story things like universal story. The story has to be something everyone can relate to. Everyone can relate to gay guys.”

“Can not. Everyone isn't gay.”

“No. But everyone knows a guy, and any guy could be gay.”

“I don't know.”

Pat, “Ok. Universal story. What's universal. Love, romance, sex, eating stuff, having a job, making money, being poor.”, sips and thinks. A light bulb goes on, “Running from the law!”

Andie, “That's not universal. Everybody doesn't run from the law.”

Pat, “No, but they probably go jogging and you know they’ve been stopped by a cop at some point so they have all the elements.”

Andie, “That's ridiculous.”

Pat, “Ridiculous is good. Sometimes ridiculous stuff makes the best story.”

Andie, “Alright, what law?”

Pat, “OK. Here it is. The extremist right get elected and they pass a new law that gives them marshal law control over Hollywood.”

Andie, “Good God.!”

Pat, “Yea, and they mandate that all stories must have a protagonist, antagonist, goal obstacle, 3 act structure, universal story, and ah… ah... an American flag.“

“No. A girl!”

“Right. A girl and a car chase.”

Andie, “So, your job is to write a story…

Pat, “Why not just get Ron Jeremy to write it.”

“The porn star?”

“Oh no. sorry, I meant Ron Daberream.”

“Who the fuck is he?”

Pat, “You never heard of Ron Daberream?”


Pat, “Figures. He's just some guy who writes that kind of cheap schlock. OK. So I write the story about the right wing extremists, then”

Andie, “No. You refuse to write the story that way. You fight the powers and write what you want.”

Pat, “But, I'll go to jail. Wait, are you taking about this story we're writing or the story I write in this story?”

Andie squints in pain, “It doesn't matter. Your principles mean everything. Without them all is lost.”

Pat, “Wait, I can be a screenplay contest reader. I get to say if a screenplay is disqualified or not. No plot, disqualified, No protagonist, disqualified. No girl…”

“Yea, that's good.”

Pat, “Wait a minute. This story still isn't going anywhere. We're talking about these things but this story doesn't have them. We're just talking about them. This story is nothing more than two people talking.”

Andie, “Like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in Before Sunset.”


“Delpy. D. E. L. P. Y. In fact that was the sequel. The first one was Before Sunrise.”

“All they did was talk?”

Andie, “Yea, just like us. Except, they did do some kissing in one part, and they talked about sex and stuff, not about making stupid stories.”

“Who wrote that?”

“Richard Linklatter.”

“Never heard of him.”

“So what? He's good.”

Pat, “But, they had a protagonist.”

Andie, “No. I don't think so.”

Pat, “You followed the guy through the story, right?”

Andie, “Yea, but you follow the girl too. It's both of them at the same time.”

Pat, “A double protagonist.”

Andie corrects, “Protagonists. Well, I don't know. There's no obstacle or goal. Plus they antagonize each other”

Pat, “Wait, I remember that movie. There is so an obstacle. The obstacle is for them to stop talking and make love before they run out of time.”

Andie, “What? Where do you get that from? They never make love.”

“Do so.”

“Do not.”

Pat, “It doesn't matter anyway. Our story is still too boring, Hey, maybe this Linkletter guy would buy it. He rings the bell and asks for the story.”

Andie, “Linklatter. Not Linkletter. Anyway, I don't think so. He likes stories about young people.”

“We're young.”

Andie, “Yea, but this isn't about youth issues like Slackers.”

Pat, “Slackers? He wrote Slackers?”

Andie, “Yea, and School of Rock, too. You seen that?”

Pat, “No. Heard about it.”

Andie, “Yea. Me too.”

Pat, “I'm lost. How can we even end this?”

Andie, “Well, I could be a girl and you could be a guy, and we make love.”

Pat, “Ewe. I don't even know you and we're both guys.”

“Are not.”

“Are so.”

The waitress drops off the check.

Andie, “It could be a gay thing.”

Pat, “Will you stop with that?”

Andie, “How do you figure we're both guys anyway? Nothing indicated our gender up to this point. Besides, you could just be butch. Butch dykes refer to each other as he or him.”

“Do not.”

“Do so.”

Pat, “Then I'd be a dyke and wouldn't like guys.”

Andie pulls out some cash and puts it on the check, then places a salt shaker on top. They both get up and walk out as they continue talking.

Andie, “Maybe you'd be different. A dyke that likes guys.”

“You're weird.”

Andie, “See, that's what the girl always says to the guy she really likes.”

Pat, “I just don't see this working without the conventional plot structure.”

Andie, “Sure it works. We made it this far right?”


“People are still reading it, right?”

“I don't know.”

“Well if they are.”

“If they are.”

The doors close behind them. The waitress goes over and gets the check and money. She mumbles to herself, shaking her head, “Fucking actors.”

Thursday, April 26, 2007

eight-ish at Cannes

A 21:39 minute version of eight-ish is now listed at the Cannes Short Film Corner
I didn't realize this is actually a film market, not necessarily a competition. Though there are associated competitions. There is an online competition for short films under 12 minutes.

No way I can get this to that length without some serious cutting. My initial cut was 30 minutes. This one is pretty tight. Hopefully, someone out there will see it. I've had a lot of great comments on the trailer, especially saying the acting is really good, something that's rare with short films.

As part of the package they provide access to the festival. But, I just can't make it this year.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Comedy Misunderstood

I recently saw Year of the Dog and also had an opportunity to hear Mike White talk about the film. There's a review on Slate, here, that describes this film as "classifies as a comedy only by the slimmest of margins"... "because it's suffused with a deep and incurable melancholy".

Something I never got and completely disagree with is this strange popular opinion that anything called a comedy has to have a laugh a minute, otherwise it's a failure. I read advice here to that effect. Someone will post a comedy script and get feedback that it's not funny because they weren't laughing every five minutes. This is an absurd requirement.

There are plenty of comedies, especially dark comedy, that have quite a range and mix of serious and comedic content.

Then every person has their own definition of what's funny. No film plays exactly the same to every person or audience. Even in a theater the same film gets laughs on certain lines some nights and on completely different lines on other nights.

The best comedy is comedy that is written and played straight. I saw Clay Pigeons the other night. In one scene Janeane Garofalo, playing an FBI agent walks into a crime scene and notices the local deputy has screwed up. She hears the sheriff call him Barney, and says, "You're deputy's name is Barney?" That was a very straight line, but I thought it was the most hilarious line I ever heard. This is dark comedy. But, the concept applies to all comedy. You wouldn't think off hand that a story about a serial killer would be very funny. But, it can very well be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Making Indie Films


We were casting for our new film, Next Victim Please. Catchy title, ain’t it? You have no idea how ironic. Anyway, there’s this thing going around in the industry where any actor in an acting class or acting school or getting advice online, you name it; they tell actors to never audition in someone’s private home or apartment, because you never know what kind of twisted freak might be there luring pretty young actors into their lair.

Now, the logic of this escapes me. A sex maniac could just as easily rent out a small office space for a day in some sequestered hole in some old Hollywood high rise where you could get lost and never be found until the stink got bad enough for the cleaning lady to pitch a bitch fit. But, a family man like me, with wife and kids, living in an upscale neighborhood, and holding auditions on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon, in my ground floor townhouse apartment with lots of nosey neighbors checking out the hot female actors coming in; I would be considered a threat to these ladies’ safety.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no goody two-shoes with impeccable morals. I find pretty young women actors just as attractive as the next casting director or studio producer working out of Warner, Universal, or that dingy old Hollywood high rise.

Why this nebulous and un-authored, unaccounted for rule about private residences exists, is beside the point. The fact remains I had about four hundred people respond to my casting call. I selected about 50 to audition. Half of them didn’t respond. Half of those remaining called to cancel, and most of those people, who didn’t have a husband in a car wreck, a bad cold, or some other fatal emergency, didn’t want to audition in a private residence. I guess that excuse has now dethroned the time tested ‘dog ate my homework’ Regardless, I really don’t care why or if someone wants to cancel.

Of course, they waited until the day of the audition, 30 minutes before their scheduled times to call and tell me this. I guess I missed where I was pissing in their Wheaties.

I really should try to keep track of these industry standards. Let’s review.

  1. Never go to auditions in private residences, but dark, dank, tucked away cubby hole rented out offices in old Hollywood high rise buildings are OK..
  2. It’s alright to submit to auditions, though, without regard for where they take place, just to get your name in there.
  3. If you cancel, be sure to give a real good excuse, like
    1. family emergency,
    2. have a cold, or
    3. If you’re really feeling sadistic, tell them you’d rather not audition in a private residence, since they could be some kind of sick pervert.
  4. Never cancel sooner than 30 minutes before you’re expected to show up.
  5. Keep bitching to your friends about how hard it is to break into the industry.

Back at the pervert’s apartment, I end up with about 25 people who actually show up to audition. But, why am I complaining? These 25 were pretty damned good. I had done this before and at that time (it must have been before terrorism was a popular government propaganda subject and before paranoia had become an epidemic) I had a much bigger turnout, about 150 people. But, of those only 5 or 6 were worth considering. The rest either didn’t fit the roles or just sucked. But, these 25 were about as good as those 5 or 6. Ironically, my whole process had improved to net me a selection of 5 times as many good people to choose from, while having to sit through one-fifth as many auditions. Well, maybe government propaganda to proliferate paranoia was pretty cool (say that fast 3 times). But, you can’t really give them the credit. It could just as well have been a full moon, if you know how flighty union actors are.

Now, I was not doing this alone. I had my wife, my co-producer-co-director-screenwriter Nancy and her husband helping me out. We were doing this. But, it did get boring as one actor after another called to say they thought the audition was downtown and since it was at an apartment they didn’t feel comfortable coming. Hey, they could just as well of said they were on a drunk binge the night before. What do I care why they couldn’t come?

We’re sitting around waiting for the next cancellation and we start talking about expanding the script to a feature, where we can get a sound stage; stuff like that. Nancy is actually quite happy, because of the first five people who did show, she was already willing to cast the 3 leads we needed. So, she takes a headshot of a male actor and holds it next to a female actor, and starts play acting the dialog, like cut out dolls. Ok, she’s lost it. Of course, as soon as we’ve found something constructive to do, some damned actor has to actually show up for an audition.

Alright, you can’t really judge actors in an audition. They’re always nervous, or on the other end of the spectrum, they’re so up on their game that they’ll never be as good when it’s time to shoot the film. Then again, they might be really uptight about auditioning in front of a serial killer. But, if an actor can’t risk being raped or murdered for their craft, they can’t be too serious anyway.

Two more actors audition and leave and we sit back and start discussing how one sucked and we’re laughing and joking around. What we forgot was that my wife had opened the window and those two actors could hear everything we were saying. Oh well, I always did feel that casting people should give honest feedback to actors. I’ve been to many auditions myself and at pretty much every one of them you get, “that was great”, or “we’ll definitely be in touch”. Yea right. How would they know that before seeing the next 50 actors on the list for the role I was going for?

Then there was the actor who shows up and doesn’t want to shake hands because she has poison oak. The other actor playing next to her wasn’t too relaxed either when she leaned on her in the scene.

Now, we’ve been auditioning women all day for two female roles. All the guys cancelled or didn’t show for the one male role. What’s up with that? Well, finally one guy shows. He doesn’t even have lines. All he has to do is drop a box full of stuff and act annoyed. Well this particular guy was great. So he leaves and Nancy decides she’s really leaning toward him for the part. Some actors just nail it.

The phone rings. My 10 year old, Chris, answers it upstairs, “Hello.”

“Oh, hi. I’m calling about an audition? Is this the right place?”

He yells down to us, ‘Dad! Someone calling for an audition!”

I pick up the line, “Hello”

“Hi, my name is Molly Ringwood and I was scheduled for an audition at 1:30? Can you tell me if this is an office or residence, because MapQuest says it’s an apartment.”

“I didn’t know MapQuest had that information.”

“It’s just that, if it’s a residence I really can’t come. I don't attend auditions at residences because I am alone out here and no one would know if I went missing. I apologize for the late notice.”

“OK. One less body to burry in the cellar I guess. At least now you have less competition out there. I often wonder why apartments with nosey neighbors in upscale neighborhoods are more dangerous than a tucked away backroom rented out hole in an old Hollywood high rise. I guess you're a victim of mass paranoia. Anyway, I jest. I understand. Well, not completely. “

I continue, “However, we will have callbacks probably in April at a downtown location. We just have to find the right tucked away backroom office. So, you're welcome to visit us again at that time, at your own risk of course.”

She forces a slight laugh, “Well, ok then. Good luck with your project.”


I walk over to Nancy and tell her, “Scratch off Molly for the 1:30.”

“I already scratched her at 2 o’clock, 15 minutes ago. What was her excuse?”

I give her a blank stare.

She goes back to trying out some new dialog with the headshot paper dolls.

As Clint Eastwood would say, ‘Enough of that horseshit.”

The Form versus Function Debate

I often get into discussions, mostly on the Internet message boards, about what a screenwriter’s motivation is, or should be. Ultimately this boils down to two opposing camps of reasoning. One says the writer is an artist, must strive for great quality, must move the audience, must make a profound mark with their work. The other camp says fuck all that artsy bullshit; the writer is a business person who must watch the market trends, foresee them, target specific genres, target specific production companies, give them what they want and what will sell.

I’m always on the artsy side. But, if you must look at it from a business perspective then look at the whole picture.

There are at least around 40,000 screenplays submitted to Hollywood production companies every year. Hollywood actually produces about 400 films a year. That means they shelve or trash 39,600 screenplays submitted to them every year. In this business model your chances of having your screenplay sold are 1 in 400. That’s a 0.25% chance. Not 25 percent, zero point two five percent; one quarter of one percent. Well at least they’re better odds than the lottery.

You can always improve your chances by targeting a production company with a story in the genre and style they like to produce; but, then so can your competitors. Where will all this lead?

Even if you make a sale in a targeted market, what does that get you? Let’s list some targeted markets:

  1. Horrors. No. Cheap horrors.
  2. Romantic Comedies
  3. Spy Thrillers
  4. Kids film, Disney stuff
  5. Animations
  6. Buddy films
  7. Girl buddy films
  8. Girl buddy films with roles for 18 to 30 year olds
  9. Dark girl buddy films with roles for 18 to 30 year olds
  10. Dark girl buddy films with roles for 18 to 30 year olds incorporating horseback riding.

OK. The list can go on and on. There are as many categories of what production companies are looking for as there are production companies. Not only that, but these companies keep changing what they want all the time and a writer never knows until they advertise for it. When they do advertise, do you think they’ll wait for a few months to see if some writers come up with what they want? Fuck no. These are arrogant Hollywood producer pricks. Well, some of them are very nice (just in case I need to sell one of them someday). But, they want their script now, the day they post for them. That means you have to have your dark girl buddy script with roles for 18 to 30 year olds incorporating horseback riding ready to go at any moment. That’s the reality of the business of selling screenplays, at least as far as I know, not ever having sold one yet.

Now, there are other approaches to selling or getting a screenplay produced, thank God.

I am a produced screenwriter. I didn’t sell my work to anyone. I didn’t target any market or production company. I did have a stable of scripts on my shelf gathering dust that were ready to go when the call came in for that dark girl buddy thing. But, I never sold any of those. So, what is this other approach, from the artist camp?

Actually there are numerous approaches here. In summation, it’s whatever works. It depends on your talent and resources. What I did was produce and direct my own screenplay. It’s just a short submitted to festivals and has yet to be seen anywhere except to friends and festival screeners. But, that’s equally true about scripts produced in the business camp. Only 0.25% of Hollywood scripts get produced, remember? There’s no telling how many indie scripts get produced. But, I’d bet the ratio is much higher. People in the indie world tend to write and direct their own work. So, they see it through production. Well, not always. A lot of them fizzle out due to the filmmakers realizing they don’t have the stamina, talent or resources to see a production through, not only shooting but editing and distribution (to festivals anyway) as well.

But, you have better chances of writing the story you want to write and getting it produced in the indie market. Why? Aside from the obvious as explained so far, you’d be writing on your own terms as an artist, not as a prospective studio newbie. Writing on your own terms means writing what you know you’re good at and want to write about. It means disregard for tempering the story for ratings or genre or what ever some studio producer is looking for. If you can come up with a good compelling story all you need next is to produce it or find an indie producer to do it.

Well you might be thinking that’s just as intimidating as going the business route. Well, maybe. But, look at the risk reward ratio. As a business person you do that, right? In the ‘please the production company’ camp, your reward is possibly an option. That means they buy your script cheap for a year or two and shelve it while they see if they can get a production together. There’s a great likelihood if you get that far with them, they’ll want some rewrites, maybe for free. They’ll also want some other writers to fuck it over good.

Since, it’s very likely you’re dealing with a cheapo fly by night outfit; you’re not looking at making big bucks here. Well, maybe your reward there is a film deal. They produce your script. It actually happens sometimes (1 out of 400 annually). Then what? You have your cheapo horror or girl buddy thing on Blockbuster’s shelves. Well, maybe just the video guy’s store down on the corner. What’s that got you? I guess you’re listed in IMDB now. Nothing too profound, but a listing at least. Of course, getting your indie into a festival puts you there too.

But, statistics lie. You knew that, right. 1 out of 400 isn’t your odds, because of those 300 to 400 produced only about 5 or 10 are from newbie spec unproduced writers. But it gets worse. There are 45,000 to 65,000 screenplays written every year and each one is up for a shot. So, your one screenplay has to compete with all of those. The odds aren’t too good. But, a lot of those are crap. If you know how to stand out from the rest, you could maybe get a 1 in 100 shot. Not bad. But compare that with producing your own film, which is a sure thing, provided you see it through. But that’s another story.

Compelling and Original Work

Even if you make your film, before you start you need a compelling story or script. In the festivals, again, you’re competing with thousands of other entrants. So, you have to prove your stuff is way above the rest.

What is compelling and original work? Compelling means keeping their interest. The script is a page turner. The film is something you can’t take your eyes off of. Without being compelling the audience gets bored.

Original means it hasn’t been done before. Well that’s almost impossible. But, at least there should be something basic in the story or structure that is original. Without being original the audience is disappointed.

Business people have the logic that the tried and successful things that worked in the past markets can work again. To them changing up a few elements and reworking the story is a good safe investment. So, we have the many sequels and trilogies and mini-series. But, if you’ve ever seen sequels you’ll know that they are almost always a disappointment from the first work. That’s because in the first work the story was told and ended. The sequel continues this already ended story, so we already know where it’s going and there’s little chance of anything surprising, compelling, or original.

I suppose there are exceptions like the Star Wars episodes or the Harry Potter series. But, these works were originally written as series by the writers. They weren’t contrived by studio executives and producers looking to make a new investment. They are stories that span the series; not clones of the first episode.

Some will tell you that statistics show that family oriented films make the most money and have the largest market. That’s true. But, so what? If that’s not your market and what you’re best at writing then it’s a mistake to write for it. Remember 399 out of 400 writers fail to sell their script. A lot of them play the odds of the markets too. Even at 1 to 100 what are your chances, unless you’re way above the rest?

All these things, markets, genre, producer expectations, business logic; these are all very secondary to a true work of art. They are limitations that hinder free creativity. They squelch creativity. Some will say the movie business is a business, not art.

Hey, it’s a business of selling art. So, the art must first exist before it can be sold. After you create the art, use all the business and marketing you want. But using the business logic to restrict and impose upon artists is a moral crime; it’s the cart before the horse, bass ackwards.

I like to look at filmmaking as an art first. This is how is see it from an artist’s view.

The hard core facts about making movies are that limitations are not imposed by producers or some nebulous Hollywood mindset. They are imposed only by the choice of tools used by the filmmaker. You may argue. Producers pay the bills, so you have to please them. Bullshit. If you can come up with something original and compelling, producers will flock to your door regardless of structure. It's a compelling and original script that sells, not whether it meets conventional structure. Of course, after they buy it, they’ll likely want to change it, rewrite it, bring in a veteran writer, and if you’re not careful about retaining credit or rights in your contract, you’re left with very little. But, at that point, yea, you have to please the producer. I just have a problem trying to please some yet to be seen producer before you ever even get a nibble. Get the nibble first, then sellout. That’s not really selling out. That’s just compromising.

The business minded, non-artist, writers are hell bent on writing in the confines of conventional structure, because they feel conformity and convention is the only way to fit into the business model. For them, they have self-imposed this array of restrictions some call rules, which in fact only exist in their heads. They may even become expert at it and come up with some original work. But, their originality is severely limited. If only they would let go of the self imposed restrictions they could reach greater heights. We can never know what heights can be reached because these conventions and restrictions have been so ubiquitous that there are very few who have gone beyond them.

Of those that have, their work is so different that the conventional Neanderthal-like minds have to label and categorize them into some safe far away place, perhaps called experimental, abstract, or expressionist. Then these works are judged by the public before ever being seen. Some of this is justified because a lot of these works are crazy, a lot suck. But, because people are so averted to letting loose of the conventional structures they never expand into these areas and the full potential there is never realized. It may never yet have been realized because real writers are afraid to try it.

David Lynch, director of Mulholland Dr., Blue Velvet, Dune, Eraserhead, and recently, Inland Empire, is one exception who has done it. He has realized a potential beyond convention successfully. He created film as art, even abstract art. But, he is one where there could be hundreds. He started as an abstract artist out of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts. He won an AFI grant to do his first film that launched his Hollywood career. He never worried about conventions or business as far as I know. Though, I’m sure after he had made his mark and already was a Hollywood player, he did take it into consideration. After all, as strange and unconventional as Mulholland Dr. and his other features are, they’re way more conventional than the stuff that won him a grant from AFI.

There are others, more conventional, but who also break lots of conventions successfully. Francis Ford Coppola did it with The Godfather, and Apocalypse Now; Sofia Coppola with Lost in Translation, Bertolucci with The Conformist, and recently The Dreamers. There are others like Richard Linklatter with Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, two films with two characters who do pretty much nothing through the whole film but have a conversation, and yet it is very compelling. These films relied more on visuals, characters, and cinematic elements than they did on story or structure, especially conventional structure.

Well I think so, anyway.

Classical Music Paradigm

Consider classic music as an art. Consider that movies are also an art, like classical music. It’s hard to argue against this. Both are art and businesses at the same time. But again, the art must be created before it can be sold.

Why has classical music survived over the centuries? What is it about music that makes it work so well? There’s nothing that has the same effect as music does. Well, maybe art like painting or sculpture. But, filling the sense of hearing with music is unparalleled in painting and sculpture. Music gets your full attention. You can stop everything, close your eyes and listen to music. It can move you, inspire, sooth you, make you cry, make you happy, make you dance. But, music can also be listened to while doing other things and it magically makes doing those things a lot more fun.

Now, film too has this potential. Movies make people cry, make them happy, inspire them, and scare them. Film has even more potential because it already incorporates music. It takes advantage of the power of music and adds image. Although, music in film has to be more low key and in the background to not detract from the image or story.

Film is severely limited due to the expense involved. You can’t sit down at the piano and create a film. You need at least a camera, but also sound equipment, lights, experts to run them, actors, and editors. So, it becomes an investment which means a business venture which means business people will want to minimize their risk. So, they impose upon filmmakers to create, using some conventional business wisdom. That is wrong. Film can never reach the heights that music has under this system.

A lot of indie filmmakers know this and do experiment with structure to try creative things. With new technologies they can approach the music model of sitting at the piano. They can get a good camera with sound and do it all with almost studio quality.

Indie filmmakers can even get professional actors and professional writers to help them out for free or way below the standard rates, with some contractual stipulations. The unions even have contracts for this purpose, so long as they are nonprofit and very low budget, like you’ll see in film festivals.

So, indie films are the real future and present in the art of making movies. Indie filmmakers can experiment. They can create some classics.

It’s true there are already some classic films in existence made through the business model. But they are few among the very many. Today the music business proliferates with many successful works in many categories. But, filmmakers haven’t reached this height yet.

Think about the music charts. There are hit charts, country charts, and other genres. A hit chart has 50 to 100 hits songs that will have a good cycle of a few months, even a year. Films have the top ten at the week’s box office. A few weeks in and these films disappear to the DVD shelves. The film business could have the 100 hit list. But, they first have to make films that don’t suck. They have to make hits. They have to allow artists to create before the business people move in to market the work. Somehow, movie business people can’t or won’t see this fact.

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