Thursday, September 30, 2010

Laps and Short Cuts.

Yesterday after school, a whole gaggle of elementary ed kids came over to the park next door to my apartment for soccer practice. Though somewhat noisy, I appreciate these kids a whole lot more than the teenagers who come loiter in our parking lot and who never say anything distinguishable but manage to shout at each other for forty-five minutes straight. Anyway. I was in the kitchen getting something to drink, and I glanced over at the park. I immediately felt a surge of sympathy because these super cute mini soccer players were in the middle of running laps [being a slow, asthmatic runner myself, I think those laps contributed to my eventual renouncing of involvement in all sports]. Except, as I watched, these kids started cutting corners. Really blatantly too. Running in front of the goal instead of behind, making the field an oval, all sorts of not so sneaky tricks.

This reminded me of my writing life and how I've stopped trying to get out of laps.

See, I hate prewriting. It feels very inorganic to me. And it's boring. And, it sounds like a waste of time. Isn't it fun when you dedicate a couple of hours to writing and all you end up with are pages like this--

I feel like I'm always prewriting or outlining or restructuring. Not writing. Even HW Guy once said, "Wow, it sounds like you prewrite a lot." I don't. I hate it. I think I just end up doing it more slowly than everyone else, so I'm doing the same [or less] amount of than everyone else but it just takes me longer.

Here's the thing, though, the truth that I'm trying to swallow--it works. When I wrote my first screenplay, I had a page long summary scrawled out on yellow legal pad paper and that was it. I flew through that first draft. And I still adore that story. You should never take your first screenwriting experience as the rule for the rest of your writing life. I think that very rarely will any other script flow with the intensity and ease and life that you're first screenplay does. The rest of the time, greater degrees of planning should be involved to help you get through a first draft, let alone make it something readable and enjoyable.

Now that I'm working on a new TV pilot [tentatively and terribly named
Places], structure is aggressively important, more so than in a feature. How many acts do you have? How much screen time does each story line get within an act? How are you going to structure the story so that each act ends on a climatic note? And then, you start getting nit-picky. What's the best way to introduce all the characters? Is this the best setting for this scene? Will this conflict play out too on the nose? What's the overarching theme and how does it play into each of the story lines?

It's not a lot of fun. When I heard Aaron Sorkin speak, this was the time he referred to as being full of pacing and wall climbing. But I'd rather struggle with questions here instead of in the draft. If I'm stuck on an outline, how much more lost would I be in the script? I feel like I saved myself a lot of work not only in the first draft but also in the rewriting stages. I worked structure, pacing, and plotting issues out in my outline instead of my script, draft 17. I even refined character relationships and nailed down something resembling a theme.

I still don't enjoy prewriting. I still try to move on as soon as possible. But I also try to pace myself. If an idea can't translate into an outline, how is it going to translate into a script? But a story ain't a screenplay until there are words on the page.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Write Well Everywhere You Go.

I had really productive plans for this morning. I was going to mount some shelves with E. my flatmate, do laundry, and make awesome delicious pancakes with butterscotch chips and walnuts and bananas! Well, now it's 1:00, and I'm just finishing my pancakes. I did do everything I wanted, I was just sidetracked by my computer going on strike. See, I hate deleting files off my computer. And, well, it's sort of cluttered in here. And I ran out of space. I couldn't even save files anymore. I have an external hard drive that has a complete back up copy of my computer. Still, I don't like deleting anything. But I spent some time combing through my folders, carefully deleting things I knew I'd never need again, just so I could have a little space to save the current draft of The Garden.

Scott Smith from Screenwriting from Iowa gave me a shout out on his blog, which was very nice. I like the screenwriting community outside of LA, and Scott is very encouraging to the writers who write outside of Hollywood. He referenced my "Spec Scripts and Powerball," giving his own input on the spec script market. I've been thinking more about this fairly well propagated theory that the spec market is dead, that hoping to sell a spec is a more vain wish than hoping to win the lottery. But really, I've decided, it's not analogous. Winning the lottery depends solely on luck, whereas there are numerous factors involved in selling a spec script, chiefly of those, how good your script is. It doesn't matter how brilliant your lottery ticket is--you have the same chance as anyone else of winning. But if you have a terrific script, your odds are terrifically better than everyone else's.

And so it all comes back to the same thing--write a great script.

I've been watching Detroit 187 while writing this post. And it's been hard to multitask. If you haven't seen this show, you need to start. Not only is it a great procedural, but the characters are wonderful. Here's the thing--The Event's been taking the criticism of being a weird hybrid of Lost and 24 and turning it into a promotional tactic. You think a show that's a cross between Lost and 24 would be great, right? I DVRed The Event. I meant to watch the second episode. But I haven't. Because quite frankly, there's not much character there. But on Detroit 187--a procedural show--there's a moment from last night's show with Fitch and Sanchez that'll make your heart bleed. That's good writing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stunning Upset.

You know what baffles me? Why does microwave popcorn have two nutritional facts columns? One for popped and one for unpopped? Who eats popcorn unpopped?

You know what also baffles me? How a TV show is already in danger of being canceled, after just one week. If you'd like to see a critically acclaimed, under rated TV show by an award winning writer, if you'd like to help promote good scripted television drama over crappy reality TV concepts, tune into Fox tonight at 9 pm for Lone Star.

Spec Scripts and Powerball.

On Friday night, I did what all the cool real people do and went to a lecture at my alma mater. The speaker was Daniel Pipski, an alumnus who works in development and writes on the side. [His wife is also a writer, which all seems very Sylvia Plath to me. Except most writers are better adjusted than she ever was.] Pipski's most recent project was Ben Affleck's The Town, which was #1 at the box office its opening weekend and has been getting great reviews. So this guy is legit. Here is some advice he shared--

Ensemble pieces don't sell. I try to fight this one all the time. I like ensemble movies. But when the guy who buys screenplays and gets them made says he's not buying, you gotta listen.

Nobody reads query letters. I can't get any consensus on this. Richard Walter's book definitely recommends writing query letters. And it's not like he's disconnected from the business. The only way I've been able to reconcile this so far is that Pipski's a development guy and Walter was talking mostly about agents. Maybe agents are the only ones who still read query letters. But development guys do not.

Don't write TV specs, only pilots. Pipski said he's never seen House, but he's read so many specs that he thinks it's a pretty great show. People reading your TV script want to hear your voice and see that you have ideas. The idea of specs, to me, is at the same time brilliant and really really odd. It's great if the spec really reads like an episode of the show--I personally feel like that really demonstrates a writer's skill. But it's weird because you never show your spec to the show you wrote for. And does CSI really care if you can mimic a perfect Bones spec? Would they even be able to appreciate that aspect of it? What if they don't watch Bones? Pipski's basic point was that a writer's creativity and craft shine better through a pilot not a spec, and original material is what people are going to ask to read. I would say you should at least have one really brilliant spec in your arsenal. One, because I've heard enough people say you should have a spec. Two, for contests and fellowships that only allow specs.

Write a movie that people will see. Pipski is in the process of making a well-funded company successful. The man behind the money like art. Pipski likes a company that's not going to lose money. He's looking for scripts that'll make money at the box office, that he can sell overseas, that will be packed on a weekend night. He used to make art movies. He has a long list of award movies he helped make. But award movies lose money. Now he's interested in making movies that people go see. Which is completely legit. As writers, we can get a little caught up in the art of the story. Which is fine--if you're not interested in making money off your work. As soon as you print your script out, brad it up, and hand it over, it's not about art, it's about business. Pipski's wife once pitched him an idea she was working on. His response-- "It sounds great, honey, but do you want to write this script or one that will put our kids through college?"

The spec market is dead. If you follow Scott Meyer's blog, he announced three spec sales last week. Which could be considered an explosion in spec sales. The most recent spec sold is a script called "Family Getaway," and it's the 33rd spec sale this year. I don't even want to speculate about how many scripts flood Hollywood each year, but being one of the 33 that was purchased this year is probably akin to winning the Powerball.

At this point, I had to ask--if the spec market is dead and art movies are vanishing, how do you make a career as a writer?

Write one brilliant screenplay. It always comes back to this, which is at once the most inspiring and frustrating thing a person can say. All the odds, all the luck, the gate-keepers and nay-sayers, they don't mean anything when you have a terrific script. Hollywood wants great scripts. That's where their business starts. And Pipski talked about projects he loves that he's been champion for years. Writing a fantastic script will get you noticed and get you in. [Sadly, your script won't always get made, but that's another issue.] Which is all very empowering--Yeah, all I have to do is write a brilliant script! Not fifteen, not one in every genre, just one really awesome script! And then you take a step beyond that--Wait, how do I do that? What if I think it's brilliant but it's not? What if I don't think it's brilliant but it is but I keep it forever, rewriting and rewriting and rewriting? Once I've got a brilliant script, then how do I get it sold? I feel like there are steps missing between write a brilliant script and cash a check. But you don't even get started on that road unless you have one truly amazing mind-blowing script.

I love hearing professionals talk about the business and craft of movie making. You can read all the books you want, discuss your trial and errors with your peers, commiserate with other semi-working writers. But to hear from a Hollywood player who buys scripts--that's an insider scoop you don't normally get in the middle of the Midwest.

Also, J.K. Rowling's Epic Fail

Sunday, September 26, 2010

D is for Date Night. Disillusionment and Disaster.

The other day my dear friend K. informed me that she had started reading my blog. Another one of my lovable friends perked up, interested in suddenly getting a deep scoop on my life. I turned to K. and said, "It's mostly about writing and working in film. I don't really talk about my personal life, do I?" She said, "Well, you sorta do."

I haven't in a while, so I thought I'd expound on my personal life unnecessarily.

Man, this was not a kind weekend for your poor fearless single girl from the wrong part of town [I don't really live in the wrong part of town. That just seemed like the best way to end the sentence. I kept trying to think of a better ending, and this is what I kept coming up with]. To be honest, I'm always AMAZED at how many people are in relationships. The odds of getting two people to like each other enough to out-of-hand sight-unseen rule out being with anyone else is mind boggling enough -- but you also have to get them to that point at the same time.

For the first time, I've started thinking about being a little more intentional in my dating life. For the past several years, I've been way more
laissez-faire about it. Whatever happens happens. It worked pretty well. But I'm definitely thinking about changing my approach. Maybe it's the fact that my 25th birthday is approaching, and I'm way weirded out by that. In my personal life plan, the "get settled down" part should happen in the next five years. If I look back on the last five years of my life, that suddenly doesn't seem like a lot of time. [On the flip side of this, sometimes I worry about the way some people seem to decide to marry a person just because they've gotten to that point in their life time line when they think they want to be married. Just because you're with someone and you're thinking "Man, I'm getting old. Maybe I should get married" doesn't mean that you should. I'm not crazy like that].

In my new, more thoughtful approach to dating, I've come up with three obstacles that need to be overcome--

1. Meeting new people. This is way harder than it sounds. Especially after you're out of school in "the real world." I was talking with a friend from the film I shot in July about his friendship with another girl from the set. He said, "Look, I just like to keep things professional." [Also, we were no longer working on that set, obviously. Months afterward.] I told him, in all my world weary wisdom, that now we're real people working real jobs, work is where we're going to meet people, so you can't rule out someone just on the basis that you worked with them once or might again. He said, "That sounds like something Hollywood Guy told you." He did not. But he agrees with me.

2. These people not being weird. Or, not even not weird. Just meeting someone and thinking you could spend lots of fun time with them. I gauge my interest in a guy by the end of the first date--what did I want as I was walking away? Did I secretly want to spend more time with him or did I want to go do something else? Back when I was in Jersey I went on this one date, and as I left the restaurant I called Firefighter Friend to see if he could hang out that night. Seemed pretty clear that I was not interested in a second date. But, I never heard from the guy I went out with, which leads me to...

3. Having equivalent feelings for each other at the same time. Timing's like the wicked step-mother of relationships. That's all.

To me, these are the three major hurdles to a relationship. And this weekend, I attempted to jump over each of them and instead ran straight into every single one. I wasn't at all upset. Dating is all about taking risks. And luckily your investment level in a person is pretty low until you run into obstacle #3. And honestly, for the most part I like being single. I know that some day I want to settle down, but for now it's a good thing. I do what I want. I go out with who I want, I don't have to deal with any awful nit-picky fights because both of us were grumpy at the same time, I don't have to try to make my life plan match someone else's. The other day I asked my friend if she wanted to do something later that night. She said, "Sounds good, but let me just check with my boyfriend." It seems like such a strange concept to me now, checking in with someone else before you make plans for yourself--even just for the night. But being single takes stamina, and all you couple-y people should appreciate the leisure track that you're on.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Thursday night.

Here we go. The star night of premiere week. Here's what I have to say. Plots discussed in detail, so if you're like my darling best friend D. who is using 30 Rock quotes to threaten my life if I spoil the episode for her, come back when you've caught up.


Community did a little Twitter promotion right before the premiere. It was clever and led perfectly into the first second of the show. Whether it actually attracted new viewers or reminded people who forgot about the premiere, I find doubtful. If you were aware enough to pick up on the promotion, you definitely were aware enough to know there was a premiere later that night.

Community is hilarious. It wasn't the best episode of Community ever, but I love how self-reflective it is. How many times did Abed talk about how he wished the year was starting off with a bang, like a paintball war. Which is one of the most popular episodes of Community from season one.

At first I didn't like how the group was fighting for most of the episodes -- but if you're going to do an episode like that, it's best to do it once and get it out of the way. Glee is an example of how that's a tired threat. When every other week the group is threatened with disbandment, it becomes boring. And the exchange between Starburns and Jeff near the end of the episode, which motivates Jeff to reconcile, reinforces how the study group has gone beyond a group of strangers to a family. Jeff isn't in the group in order to get Britta -- or any girl -- anymore. He's in it because he really cares about these people. It was sweet.

I don't know how I feel about Senor Cheng in the study group. His character is so much more interesting when he has power over the study group. Not when he's pandering to get in it. Then he's just pathetic. I did like his Gollum-esque split personality monologue though -- maybe it means that his plan to get into the study group is all just a rouse to take it down from within. THAT would be interesting.


Excellent permiere. I loved the twist on the usual case format, how they ended up having the remains of one child but not one that fit the missing persons report and yet they managed to solve both crimes. That's cause they're amazing.

But let's be honest -- we don't watch Bones for the murder cases. Angela and Hodgins--we knew that was coming. And that, I think, is an excellent plotline for them to follow this year. Can you imagine Angela, free spiritied cool girl Angela, dealing with pregnancy and impending motherhood? It's going to be excellent.

I'm glad Wendell is back, but I have to wonder about the other interns. Will Daisy come back to work from time to time? Will we get new interns? Or is boyishly handsome Wendell going to replace boyishly awkward Zack? [Wendell is *not* the squintern that I have in my spec. Which is partially why I hope some of the others are coming back.]

Booth and Brennan. Unlike many Bones fans, I am excited about adding Booth's new love interest Hannah to the mix. Someone said it, and rightly so I think, that it's now Brennan's turn to pine over Booth. I think that the writers manage to create some excellent moments out of Brennan and Booth's suppressed feelings and that Hannah will allow even more opportunities for those. Also, I am delighted that Brennan seems to have regressed in her social skills since leaving DC. Her awkwardness in the early seasons was hilarious, but as she spent more time with Booth she definitely normalized to some extent. I'm glad to see more of her socially unaware tendencies resurfancing in this episode. Because that's who she is.

I'm just glad it looks like Sweets is going to cut his hair and get rid of the scruff. Maybe we'll let him keep the hat.

30 ROCK--

Potentially the best premiere of the week. But I'm not going to give my votes out yet. One thing I love about 30 Rock is how the writers manage to get so much mileage out of each plotline. With the Jenna/Pete story, for example, at first Pete was disappointed Jenna was a producer. Then he was delighted because she could do all the heartless things he couldn't. Then he was scared that she was going to have him fired because they had one extraneous producer. Then she surprised them all by abdicating for the greater good. Or Jack and Avery's power struggle. The one-up-manship, the attacks and retreats, and the eventual reveal of the master plan. Superb writing like this keeps the story going at a pace that engages and retains the viewer.

Oh Carol and Liz. I hope you get married.

30 Rock also does an excellent job of carrying its jokes from episode to episode. Pete's strained relationship with his children pops up subtly every couple episodes. As does Liz's fear of dying alone in her apartment.

But where is Kenneth? I forgot he was fired! He had better come back from CBS ASAP. Because he is the funniest character on this show.


I hope one day to have a marriage as perfect as Jenny and Kevin's.


Well, awkward Micheal Scott is definitely back. Sometimes watching The Office makes me feel weird. Like I'm really not sure if I can laugh--if I want to laugh--at it because it's just so awkward. Awkard has ALWAYS been The Office's MO.

Excellent opening. Everyone was so--them.

I thought Andy and Erin got back together at the end of last season. But clearly I was wrong. This has potential.

Pam and Jim, was that a real fight? Because, it's sweet that Pam can tell when Jim's mad by his subtle cues, but guess what, none of the rest of us could.

I like The Office. But this is Steve Carell's last season. It will most likely be my last season too.

I like Kelly's pink power suit.


I don't understand, guys. I DVR'ed it and watched it. It was funny. But I just don't find it as engaging as Community, and the writing is definitely not as sophisiticated as 30 Rock. It's funny but why is it winning?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Countdown and Celebration.

Ok, I know I've been talking television all week, and we're about to start the most anticipated night of premieres yet [good thoughts tonight to the inventors of the DVR. Do you remember taping shows on VHS? I DO!]. But I think it's fitting, since it's all about television this week, to tell y'all that I've finally got a piece showcase ready. My hour long TV pilot will be going out to dedicated readers as of tonight. This is the first time that I've shown a piece that I am not workshopping. This is the first piece that I've felt is solid enough for some serious feedback. It'll probably get ripped to shreds, but I am ok with that.

So I can, with pride, reassure my devoted parents that I really AM--not just saying that I am--getting writing done while I'm not working. I know you believe me anyway. But now I've got the pages to prove it.

Wednesday Night.

I love premiere week. It's like your first week of college classes, when you're deciding if you liked the classes you registered for or if you want to switch over to SciFi and Horror Film or Frauds and Myths in Archeology [that was an actual class I took. They taught us all the un-true things in archeology. Kinda a different approach]. Thursday night is like your star class, your most anticipated, the one you're most excited about.

But first let's talk about Wednesday [again, spoilers included].


The best part of this show is the acting, Gugu Mbatha-Raw especially. I struggled with the tone. It didn't quite have the charming cheese of Chuck or the grittiness of Alias, leaving it somewhere in the middle. And in the middle is not always a place you want to be because it often reads boring. I also didn't feel like the Blooms recruitment was justified strongly enough. There was a throw away scene with Carlton Shaw where he says that the Blooms don't suspect the real nature of their reinstatement. Unfortunately, neither does the audience. And why did they take the offer? Where they just bored in their marriage and their normal lives? Because I hate when TV shows and movies do that. Like marriages without spy missions and life endangerment are lacking something. That excitement validates a relationship. I can see how the Blooms, in their earlier lives, had qualities that attracted them to each other that probably faded over time as they switched career paths into catering. I can see how they might miss each other's bravery and ingenuity and daring. But I still find it irritating when, especially after just five years, a couple rejoins the CIA just because they need a little shake up in their married lives.

Undercovers gets a week two from me, but I'm worried that it'll be one of those shows that I don't find compelling enough that I make a point of watching and that it will eventually just slip off my radar. Especially with the explosion of spy and CIA pilots that have recently been purchased and ordered by various networks.


This was not premiere week for this Top Chef spin-off. It's first episode aired last week, and I jumped on this bandwagon faster than a kid grabbing for mellocreme pumpkins at Halloween. I love baking shows. And there is SO MUCH DRAMA. Oh man, there was more interpersonal conflict in last night's episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts than maybe any other hour of television I've watched this week. It was INSANE. It's wonderful, it's like you get a world class baking competition and an episode of the Real Housewives of Hell's Kitchen all in one.

Seth went freakin CRAZY.

And the wrong person got sent home. But you can't send the person who had TWO emotional meltdowns in one week home. That just looks cruel.

Even if it's fair.


Modern Family. Are you funny? Yes. Did you manage to beautifully and poignantly work in themes of family and identity into each storyline? Yes. Did you win an Emmy for Best Comedy? Yes.

Mmm, are you REALLY the best comedy?

Modern family is hilarious. And I will most definitely continue to watch it. But NBC Thursday night is where the award-winning comedy is for me.


It has been so long since I've watched a traditional three-camera laugh-track sitcom. It feels old. I know there are shows that still use it, right? How I Met Your Mother? The Big Bang Theory? Two and a Half Men? I think...

Better With You felt like a cross over between What I Like About You and Modern Family. It was funny, but the acting felt awkward and forced at times. And the humor definitely came from jokes and one liners, not from characters and scenarios. The characters and situations drove the plot, but it was what the characters SAID that created the humor. Look, I'm not saying one kind of comedy is better than the other. I'm just saying that if I gave you a logline of Better With You it wouldn't read inherently comedic whereas if I gave you a logline for a 30 Rock episode, the comedy stands out immediately. The humor of Better With You was definitely more organic and character driven than Running Wilde, but I'm not sure this is a enough of a stand out show in a season when we have so many wonderful comedies.

I am just so excited about Thursday night television. I am going to catch Bones, Community, 30 Rock, The Office, and The League, while also at some point relinquishing the remote to E. the Flatmate for Grey's Anatomy. Might DVR a few other shows, The Big Bang Theory, Outsourced, and %*&^ My Dad Says. It's William Shatner, guys.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tuesday Night.

First of all, before we get any further, let me just say that if you have an opportunity to go see CATFISH in theatres, you need to. It's an exceptional movie. And it's a Cinderella story for the indie filmmakers. But really, it's wonderful. It deserves to be a hit.

Ok, let's talk Tuesday television --

[So, if you haven't watched all your shows from last night yet, you'll probably not want to read my following reviews because I talk about plot and characters and all that.]


Glee. Glee, Glee, Glee. You delightfully surprised me. If you have been on the fence about this show, which I have for most of its run, you will find the premiere to be surprisingly fresh. Of course, there is the tired plot line of -- Glee is in danger of not having enough members! -- but for once I feel like the stakes are real. The writers are introducing problems that don't get solved before the end of the show. Glee is still one member short. [Which is too bad, because I was really hoping Sunshine would stay around. She has got a killer voice.] Power dynamics are shifting. Finn is off the football team with little hope of being reinstated. Quinn is back to her life as a head Cheerio. And Artie and Tina -- aww, so sad! Finally I feel like both Glee Club and the kids in it are risking and losing and NOT getting everything resolved neatly in the last act. A show where the stakes feel fake is a show with no real drama. And for once -- there was no love interest for Mr. Shu.

I do wish the songs were a little more integrated into the plot, but at least I didn't throw anything at the TV when they did "Billionaire" [cannot stand that song anymore]. And let's be honest -- IS there a more unlikeable character than Rachel?


Will Arnett. David Cross. Keri Russell. Cute little girl with interesting facial expressions. Oh how I want to like you. But at the end of the pilot, my flatmate and I looked at each other. "Eh" was the consensus.

What was it that failed to resonate? I think part of it was, sadly, it just didn't seem that funny. There were funny moments, but it felt like comedy I would write. Forced. Humor seemed not to stem from characters but rather from weird scenarios the writers could throw in. I'm not saying there weren't funny parts. But in Running Wilde humor comes from Will Arnett investing in a tiny pony and giving himself a humanitarian award where as in an excellent show like Arrested Development, humor comes from the things the characters say and do that come from just being who they are.

Running Wilde, I'm sorry that you'll be uselessly and detrimentally compared to Arrested Development for most of your run. That's the blessing and curse of hiring Will Arnett.

Worth a second shot, if only because I desperately want to like it.

DETROIT 1-8-7:

I have ulterior motives for wanting this show to do well, it's true. And I have to admit that I was a little distracted when I was watching it [it's a cop show. Procedurals give you an excuse to multitask]. But they have definitely reeled me in for a second episode next week.

First of all, who doesn't like a good who-done-it? And like I said yesterday, L&O has left a hole. Detroit 187's pilot followed Detective Washington on his first day as a homicide detective, an excellent entrance into the homicide world. And I think they did a great job keeping true to their cop format but drawing in little things about the characters, their work lives and their home lives. You can tell they've put a lot of thought into developing their characters and their relationships. Washington and Fitch have a great awkward relationship going as the green detective and the stern veteran. And you just have to feel for Fitch's crush on Sanchez. Especially now that she's got Mr. February John Stone riding with her.

But the thing that really brought me in was the last 30 seconds. These writers showed that they aren't afraid to take risks and raise the stakes and leave us in a cliff hanger. Way to go, procedurals!


I forgot to DVR this and it's not on Hulu yet [EDIT: Because it premieres NEXT week], so instead I'll offer you...


Lonestar was the scaping goat of Monday night. I myself opted not to DVR it though I was mildly interested [I don't know why. Was I afraid we were going to run out of room on our DVR?]. I wish I had because, though the ratings were bad and the trades were calling it DOA, the people who saw it had only excellent things to say about it. So I watched it on Hulu instead of my excellent television to see how I swung in the controversy around it.

Lonestar deserves a shot, people.

This was an hour of good television. You have a likeable character [in MY opinion, though people will disagree with me] caught in a terrible situation that is mostly the fault of the emotional manipulating of his father where he is really trying to do the best he can and follow his heart. This kid is morally CONFUSED yes, but you can still see him trying to do the right thing, which doesn't make him completely reprehensible.

At first I was annoyed that his dad let him out of the con that easily. And then confused and disappointed by the last minute where he takes his girlfriend to Vegas to marry her. Then I realized why I had a problem -- I wanted to story where a reforming con man must struggle with his oppressive, manipulative, and blackmailing father to establish himself as a legitimate businessman with a sacred marriage.

This is not the story the writers are telling.

Instead, they're telling a story about a morally confused man who's trying to do the right thing by one part of his life while following his heart at the other end, reimplicating himself in the con. So now the con isn't externally forced upon him by his dead. He's WILLINGLY returning to his double life and moral ambiguity, all the time thinking that he's going to be able to do right by everyone. And honestly, that's way more interesting than the story I thought I wanted them to tell.

The sad thing is, you hardly ever increase your ratings. If a show has poor ratings in the beginning, the predictable thing is that it will continue to decline. The bad press hasn't helped either -- can you imagine how nervous the people who greenlit the show are with all the devastating headlines? No matter how engaging Lonestar turns out to be, I think it's been bludgeoned beyond resuscitation.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Change of season.

Let's talk about TELEVISION!

I'm more excited about the new season this fall than I usually am. Maybe it's because I've been learning more about television writing and have been doing a better job of virtually stalking showrunners. That's what my secret Twitter account is for.

Most shows are premiering this week. Here are some that I'm excited for this season--


8:00PM Boardwalk Empire - Unfortunately, I don't get HBO, so I have to be excited but frustrated about this one. Who has HBO that wants to invite me over to watch this? Do you also have Showtime?

8:00PM Chuck
- Maybe. I DVRed it. I've heard good things about it, but we're already several seasons in. Do I have the stamina to go back and watch all those old episodes? To me I think it's only worth it if I can get a spec out of it.

9:00PM The Event - I want to want to want to want to like this. It feels a lot like Flashforward though, which didn't quite make it. I think it, like Flashforward, lacked some of the character development that made Lost stand out. I will continue to give it chances, but if it doesn't pick up more, I'm probably not going to stick through the season.

10:00PM Castle - I've never watched Castle before, but this is only its third season so I can jump in pretty easily. I enjoyed last night's premiere, and it has become obvious to me that if I want to get anywhere near the Bones' writers room [which, it's probably too late in the series for that] I need to write a Castle script. Staff writers can't read specs of their own show for legal reasons, so you have to find shows that are in similar veins to spec.

8:00PM Glee - I just don't know about Glee. My flatmate is crazy about it, and I think it's funny enough, but I just saw on IMDB that Gwyneth Paltrow is negotiating for a guest role as a substitute teacher and - wait for it - a love interest for Mr. Shu. Seriously, this guy has more love interests than Hugh Hefner. It's a tired plot line, and it just doesn't make him look good -- move on!

8:00PM The Good Wife - Amanda the Aspiring Writer said this is a good show to spec this year. I'm going to check it out, see if I like it enough to spec, and then go from there. It's nice to have a show so focused on a woman trying to figure out her career and familial identity. I know little about it, but I'm hoping it's good.

10:00PM Detroit 1-8-7 - The only straight up cop procedural that I will be watching. There is an overabundance this year of police and medical procedurals, and I am beyond sick of it. I almost made a list of all of them, but then I decided not to waste my life. But I am excited about Detroit 187. I think it fills a niche the original Law & Order is leaving, while bringing something different to the table. And it's shot here in Detroit, so I am really rooting for it to succeed. Also I want to work on it, so it needs to keep going.


8:0oPM Undercovers - I loved Alias. And I love JJ Abrams. I love pretending that I can still be a spy with a quick career change. So I will be pulling for this show with tooth and nail. Here's the thing - I compare all spy shows to Alias, and it had one kick-a pilot. So if Undercovers supplies anything less than superb fare, I'm afraid I'll be disappointed from the outset.

10:00PM Top Chef: Just Desserts - It's Top Chef. But just about desserts. Duh.

[Oh Thursdays. Why oh why can't we all just agree to spread out Thursday's schedule a little? It would be oh so nice.]

8:00PM BONES - I love Bones. It's so great. And I'm actually excited about the regression in Brennan and Booth's relationship. I always liked it best when she was awkward and their love was communicated so subtly because they couldn't express themselves. I have good feelings for this season. My one concern is that it's gotten a little silly and gimmicky recently. For instance, I heard they're diving into the Jersey guido subculture this season. Hm. Still my favourite show, and my flatmate consented to watch all the seasons with me from the beginning because she's never seen it.

8:00PM Community - One of the best written half hours of comedy on television today. If you don't already watch Community, you need to have started yesterday. Also excited about the switch up from Spanish class to Anthropology class with Professor Betty White!

8:30PM 30 Rock - Last season Liz Lemon met a dreamboat pilot...
"What are you, a doorman?"
"Yes, I'm a doorman -- to the SKY."
Played by Matt Damon. I would like to see more of these two together. Especially since I'm pretty sure I am Liz Lemon.

9:00PM The Office - This is Steve Carell's last season. Guys, I love The Office, but they should have known to end it with Pam and Jim's wedding. Let's hope that they take the hint when Micheal Scott leaves Dunder Mifflin.

10:30PM The League - This show is funny. Also, I'm taking notes from Jenny about how to be a cool wife. Thanks, show, for depicting a cool wife instead of a nagging self absorbed train wreck of a woman.

I'm sure there are a couple more shows that I think I'm forgetting, but this is enough to start off with, right? To me, this is a daunting amount of television, ridiculous really, and I'm secretly hoping I don't like most of the new shows so I can cut them out. Thursdays are pretty wiped out, though.

But the more I've been thinking about my eventual move to LA, the more I've been imaging a life in television writing. And while I hear various advice on whether you should focus on pilots or specs, I basically want to have as many scripts as I can when I move out there. I want to have a freakin arsenal of brad-bound paperweights.

I want to win an Emmy.

And that's how I justify it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Get rich slowly.

I think I've reached that level of unemployment where I have to stop buying things.

This sucks because we're still working on our new apartment, and all I want before Christmas is that bedside table lamp from Target that my roommate also has. That isn't weird if we have the same bedroom furniture, is it? I like to think it ties the whole apartment together.

In a very real way, I've only worked one payed week since moving to Michigan, the week I was bumped up to 2nd AD during the July film. My bank statements are no longer so... reassuring. There are several ways to deal with this --

1. Buy less stuff. This also means going out to eat less and buying fewer mint mochas, which I didn't think I did with great frequency... but then again I looked at my debit card usage over the past month. Huh. That's interesting.

2. Get a job. Well duh. The thing is I'm still waiting for Big Hollywood Movie to come to town. I suspect they're still in Chicago shooting, because they're a Big Hollywood Movie and they can destroy their budget by staying over schedule in one location for a month. However, I do not have a big budget to wait for them. I'm going to use every method of information extraction I know -- and I watched all of Alias -- to see if they're still planning on coming to Detroit, when, and how much longer I can wait for them. I *hate* to consider other jobs, because this is a resume show-stopper job, but student loans wait for no one. Not even Big Hollywood Producer/Directors to finally get their act together with their schedule.

3. Ask for handouts. Just kidding! But if I do I'll have to get a puppy. People are always more sympathetic if they are getting two sets of puppy dog eyes.

On the other hand, I feel like I've never been committed to my writing so determinedly. [Not sure how that always translates into productivity, but the feelings sure are nice.] Maybe it's because I'm starting to be desperate to do that and that alone for a living. Unfortunately, no matter how furiously I start to crank out content, any sort of financial result will be in the far distance future. Why are there no writing get rich quick schemes?

UPDATE: Just finished internet stalking. Production on Big Hollywood Movie in Detroit is closing down. Thanks, BHM, for leading me on, for not returning my phone calls or emails, for being a disorganized mess that wasted my time AND ruined my travel plans. How is it that some of the top professionals in this business can be so UNprofessional?

Friday, September 17, 2010


Yesterday was sucktastic.

I'm making myself feel better by skipping morning exercise, making myself pancakes, and reading excessive amounts of Hyperbole and a Half.

Also, I wanted to share this excellent list from Nitsuh Abebe of reasons why not to date a writer, modified from a list of reasons to date a writer. I'm still incredulous that such a list as the original existed. Some of my favourites are --

7. Writers are smart. The moment you realize this is not true, your relationship with a writer will develop a significant problem.
13. Writers will teach you cool new words. This is possibly true! We may also expect you to remember them, correct your grammar, and look pained after reading mundane notes you’ve left for us.
16. Writers communicate in a bunch of different ways. But mostly writing. Hope you don’t like talking on the phone — that shit is rough.

Check 'em all out. Read some Hyperbole and a Half. And have some pancakes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

So in Love.

I wish talent was communicable. I wish if you could just be close enough to a person, their genius could travel through ions and particles and zap you into similar levels of ingenuity.

I was in the presence of Aaron Sorkin today.

I got a tip that he was going to be doing a lecture for the film students today. I asked for details. Found out time and place 20 minutes before the Q&A started. It's wonderful to be an alumnus. At which point I jumped in my car, found a parking spot, and walked like a flat footed crazy person to the lecture hall. I was NOT going to miss this opportunity. I was ready to park illegally and suffer a ticket if I had to.

I saw two professors, a couple old classmates, oh, and did I mention AARON SORKIN? I was twenty feet away from Aaron Sorkin. Breathing was... difficult. Not only was Aaron Sorkin there, but so were Jesse Eisenberg and Armie Hammer. There was a showing of The Social Network last night [aw, which I missed], and today they were doing a Q&A [which I managed to get myself to]. They all were so excellent.

A lot of the discussion focused on the movie [which I will probably go see now], but Aaron [oohh, he told a student to call him "Aaron" not "Mr. Sorkin." There's nothing as thrilling as when someone you really admire tells you to call them by their first name] did mention that he watches ESPN to procrastinate just as much as the ordinary writer, that the final draft varied little from the first draft [effective prewriting, maybe?], and that Mr. Fincher did 99 takes of the opening scene.

Oh man. Aaron Sorkin.

I was in cloud nine all day long. Screenwriters are really the loveliest people. I still maybe can't process the fact. Aaron Sorkin. Me. [100 other people.] Same room.

If you are interested in MY take on Facebook, check out the short I made -- Join This Group?

For anyone who's following my celebrity count I've got Pamela Gray, Tom McCarthy, Aaron Sorkin, David Koepp, Ed Helm, Carrie Fisher, Anne Hathaway, Sam Waterson, George Lucas, and the back of Joshua Jackson's head. Well, maybe about that last one. I wish they were trading cards.

I watched Castle tonight. I'm thinking about spec-ing it. Castle hosts a poker game with three other blockbuster writers. James Patterson included. They bust his chops for only putting out one novel a year. I wish I hosted poker games and cocktail parties with famous writers who would ruthlessly tease me into productivity. Wish I knew James Patterson.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sell Out

I like to juggle several projects at once. I heard once that if, as a writer, you have to choose between working on the only project you have going and not writing, you'll choose not writing. However, if you have to choose between working on this project or that project or not writing [still], you are much more likely to be productive. With the former you have a 50-50 chance of being productive. With the latter you have a 66-33 chance [or, as HW Guy said, 25-25-50. It's still 50-50. I disagree] of getting something done.

I said the other day that I have an index card with my list of projects taped next to my light switch. There are five projects on that list. I try to work on at least two a day in some capacity.

Blog posts do not count.

Today I reread "Keys to the Garden." As per most writing advice I've ever heard, once I finished Draft #3, I put away the script for a while. It's riddled with holes and inconsistencies and scenes that made me cringe while I was writing. But I put it away and didn't think about it. Since it's been about a month since I celebrated the promise of rewrite #4, I had to take time to reacquaint myself with the story. I took myself to a coffee shop, ordered a mint mocha [because the only way to drink coffee is when it's disguised as something else], and reread the whole script with minimal interruptions.

I tried not to make a lot of notes, or even any judgments. I jotted down a handful of things that I wanted to chance on a legal pad as I went, crossed out a few extraneous words, but for the most part, I just reabsorbed my story. The work of actually wrestling with it will probably start with notecarding [AGAIN] as I rework some plot problems before I cut and edit and delete and rewrite and subtextualize the heck out of those 88 pages.

I love this story. I do. The characters, the dilemma, the eternal good versus evil battle. The mythos, the magic, the pain, the death. It's one of my favourite, if not my favourite, scripts that I've written.

I don't think it'll ever sell.

As I was rereading the script, even as I was rediscovering my attachment to it, I could hear the negative reviews. Predictable plot, simple characters, irrelevant. But I also consider those critiques to be strengths of the script. In a good versus evil story, aren't all your characters in some way simple? This one's good... and this one's evil. The complexities are there, but sometimes I worry the epic battle between good and evil has been disregarded out of hand as passe.

Also it's a pretty spiritual story. Like, really spiritual. If you think the Chronicles of Narnia got some flack...

I adore this story. I know that it's so far from perfect now, that maybe some of my concerns would be solved with more and more rewrites, and I could carry it for years. The current plan is to finish Draft #4, make it polished and pretty, then pass it along to a few people who can give me real writer's notes, friends in the industry, former professors, etc. Let them get back to me with brutal honesty [the kind that writer's notes are famous for]. Read and consider their notes and decide what to do next. But at what point do I make a business decision instead of an artistic decision? At one point do I decide that, even if I don't think the story is irrelevant, it is if no one will read it? How many drafts, hours, mint mochas, until I let it go?

Friday, September 10, 2010

"You accidentally called me baby"

If you're interested in selling original spec scripts, take a minute to read this article by Nikki Finke.

If you're looking for some good new music, check out "What I'm Looking For" by Brendan Benson. It reminds me a lot of "My Hands are Shaking" by Sondre Lerche. [That was two for one, people.]

I've been trying to put more time into prewriting for my next couple of projects. Or, as HW Guy likes to say, I open up a Celtx document, punch in a few sentences into my outline, and call it writing. But I try to ignore his devil's advocate stance [which is really, just my stance. I'm much more of a write it then revise it writer. Or a binge writer, as an old professor called me] because today I scrapped nearly all an outline for a pilot. It's much better to scrap a couple of sentences than fifteen pages.

I taped an index card with the titles of all my current projects up next to my lightswitch in my bedroom. Just so that I can increase my guilt on nonproductive days.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010


The film I'm working on next has been delayed again. I've started to miss working, which is sorta a strange feeling. I try to be productive. I try not to eat my days away.

I do mean literally eat. Try sitting at home most of the day with a dozen s'more cupcakes from a dinner party beckoning from the kitchen counter. Nobody misses disappearing leftovers...

Scott Meyers recently posted on the importance of outlining. Whenever someone I respect tells me to do something I don't like, my productivity is knocked down several percentage points as I try to procrastinate. Eventually I suck it up and take my computer to the coffee shop where I bang out a few more scenes on my beat sheet for "The Exit Strategy." Scott persuaded me with his fateful argument that outlining should make writing more fun. Right now I'm thinking a writing partner would make writing more fun. A writing partner who does all the writing.

Yesterday I slept until noon. It was embarrassing. In my defense, I was up late the night before and I slept horribly. Today I vowed to get up earlier. Which shouldn't be hard, getting up in the
morning. I did get up earlier, and one of the first things I read was this --

HBO Greenlights Judd Apatow/Lena Dunham Coming-of-Age Pilot

Judd Apatow, old news. Lena Dunham is a 24 year old writer/director/actor who's made two features, numerous shorts and web series, and who now gets a chance at being an HBO showrunner.

It blows my mind. How does this even happen for people -- at
24? What do I need to be doing with my life to get there? Or is Dunham just less of a hack than I am?

Ok, so once I got over my initial bout of jealousy, I decided to check Dunham out some. She has a lovely website, all her shorts and trailers up on her Vimeo page, and keeps it current with a blog and a Twitter account. I hope she has a blast shooting her pilot and that HBO will pick it up for a series. I also hope that I will soon make friends with someone who subscribes to HBO and Showtime, because I am tired of missing out on good TV.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Drafts and Dialog

My WIP sidebar is outdated. Two of those scripts have been put to back burner, and "Keys to the Garden" draft 3 is complete. As for my TV scripts, I'm clearly no longer considering "Dollhouse" to spec. For those TV writers out there, I asked Amanda the Aspiring Writer what shows would be good to spec this season, and she tweeted back Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, The Good Wife, and The Vampire Diaries.

Yes I did say tweeted. No I don't want to talk about it. I hate Twitter.

I've been reading Richard Walter's "Essentials of Screenwriting," and I just finished a chapter on dialogue. Besides going through a list of practical do's and don't [Do economize. Don't use ellpises unnecessarily], one thing really stuck out to me. Walter promotes constant dischord. He says, "Don't let anybody agree with anybody else. As soon as there is agreement there is boredom." He's not advocating incessant screaming, tantrums, or cringe-worthy shouting matches. But as long as the characters oppose each other, there is conflict, which is the heart of drama and a surefire way to keep your readers/viewers interested. "Let each line challenge the next," Walter encourages. It's also an effective way of making sure you know what each character wants in every scene. I mean, aren't we all just trying to get what we want from everyone else anyway?

I used to think that I was good with dialogue. I used to think I could make it sound very realistic [in opposition to how this blog feels to me right now]. But Walter challenges my thinking -- "real speech is available free of charge in the streets. Dialogue, on the other hand, is worth waiting in line for. It needs to be special. Unless it writhes and wriggles, glows and glistens, it is unworthy of any audience."

You know how when you have an important, emotionally charged conversation with someone, and usually all you can manage to get out is a stutter and a weak defensive? But how, five hours after the fact, you have the most perfectly constructed, flawless, scintillating argument, with a turn of phrase that would have shut that sucker down? That's what dialog needs to be. It's not the brain freezed
watered down fragments we say in real life. It's the mulled and spiced and sharply aged comebacks we only imagined we could have said.. And if it takes five hours to come up with that kind of dialog, it's ok. We've got the time.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

For the Record

If you have not seen Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, you should. It's wonderful. It's hilarious. It's maybe the most entertaining movie I've seen all summer. And I've seen a lot of movies.

So please. Do yourself a favor. Do good movies a favor. Go see it.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Shame shame.

I don't find myself as an easily embarrassed person. But here are some things that do embarrass me:

1. My car. More specifically, the windshield wipers on my car. I turned them on yesterday in order to clean my windshield. And then they didn't turn off. They stayed on. My windshield wipers won't turn off until I turn my car off.

2. How difficult home decorating is for me. Hollywood Guy was teasing me the other day because I couldn't pick a set of sheets. "What's the big deal? Grab a set and go home." Easy for him to say. I don't think his roommate is the next Pier One Martha Stewart. I carry paint chips with me wherever I go. Do you think I've ever cared about matching my sheets to my walls to my curtains to my bookcase before? Then I asked HW Guy what his place looked like. Undecorated, that's what it looks like.

2.5 How I'm starting to recognize Ikea employees. [And think of them as friends.]

3. Time management. Or how I don't have any. I waste so much time. I have this great opportunity to NOT be working right now, meaning I can work all day on my writing. Today was the first day in about two weeks that I logged some good writing time. In about an hour and a half I had a rough bare bones treatment for Current Draft, "The Exit Strategy." In just an hour and a half of my day. If I actually utilized all my free time, do you know how quickly I could bang out a first draft? It's just like -- when am I going to get serious about this? [And now I'm moving from being embarrassed to being annoyed at myself.]

4. My research. Both "The Exit Strategy" and the other Rom Com I was working on previously require some interesting research. Mainly research into psychology and self help books. [Side note: Do you know when you type "psychology" into the subject search on your local library catalog, the second book to pop up is
a Bernstein Bears book? Why??] When I was researching the other Rom Com script, it was all self help books on love and dysfunctional relationships. In fact, I never actually checked any books out of the library because I couldn't bring myself to be that girl who comes to the front desk with a stack of relationship help books. For "The Exit Strategy" I need to know about grief and loss. Today I checked out a book called -- Welcome to Your Crisis. It's very difficult in these circumstances to not just blurt out "It's for research!" all the while smiling broadly to prove *you're* not in the middle of a crisis.