April 30, 2007
Unheard-of Splendors

Now it is time for me to admit that due to a combination of a guest (delightful) the weekend before last, a minor illness that laid me low this LAST weekend, and an unfortunate mental vortex called Rise of Legends, I essentially took a week off from Screenplay.

But it is a new week, I feel better, there are no guests, and I have uninstalled the video game - so it is time to start anew.

We went to a thing called "Story Salon" at a teeny cafe in Studio City last week. For a couple of hours folks got up to just tell simple stories from their lives, no more than six minutes each. Some were a bit sad, most were funny, and the age ranges went from young to old. We were packed in like sardines but it was a very nice vibe. A very cool thing - I'll go back.

Are you like me and find most of the comics on the funny papers dumb? Then maybe you would like these sites:

Joe Mathlete Explains Today's Marmaduke. The Marmaduke Project. (In particular look for If Marmaduke Were God.) Stumbling across these made me do a search for those doctored Family Circuses, because like Timothy Oliphant's character in "Go," I hate it yet I am drawn to it: Call of Cthulhu Family Circus. And a fantastic compendium of very rude Family Circuses: The Other Family.

Also, here's an addition to the comics list: Slow Wave.

Posted by Chris at 3:23 PM

Thanks for the comics links. I especially liked the Marmaduke haiku. I've often wondered why cartoons are no longer good. Is it that we've changed? Is it that humor has changed? I remember the glory days of The Far Side, Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes and wonder how contemporary cartoonists have the courage to get out of bed in the mornings. The only way to make them funny again seems to be in taking the piss out of them.

Posted by: simon at May 1, 2007 7:37 PM

I wonder who comics like Marmaduke or Family Circus or Ziggy are written for, too. Who finds them funny? Who looks at those and chuckles? Old ladies? People who aren't very literate? Or maybe they are not written to be "funny" anyway, at least not in the sense that Doonesbury or Calvin & Hobbes are. Maybe to a certain mentality they serve as just a sort of pause in a long stream of printed news.

To me "Ziggy" and the like are an anomaly. I don't know if they were ever funny in the sense that WE think of funny, which is why they puzzle me. Even though comedy tastes change somewhat over the decades, I don't think it changes as dramatically as, say, clothing styles. I can still laugh at a Shakespeare play or a movie from the 50s. The only time I think I ever laughed at something like "Marmaduke" was when I was just learning to read.

Posted by: Chris at May 2, 2007 3:05 PM

You might be right about them being for young readers. Perhaps it's a way to attract the next generation of subscribers. Even as a child I was depressed by Ziggy. There's something about him that calls to mind ennui, bad film stock and the brown and orange excesses of the 70s. The "Love Is..." series is the same. I'd like to see an immediate suspension of all "Funny Pages" for a small time. When they are started up again it should be from scratch and with certain standards replacing tenure. Take that comics folk!

Posted by: simon at May 4, 2007 1:59 PM
April 25, 2007

Another thing I did not mention about my screenplay troubles - with this latest I am not just re-writing the screenplay from scratch using the brand new shiny outline #5, I am trying to go back and retrofit the last draft with it.

I know this is no way to go about it, but... it's just tough to throw out that huge hunk of inert granite I've been chiseling at with my forehead for so long. I know the best thing to do is to start ANEW... but isn't that just going to be a lot of re-inventing the wheel?

Well, there's a similar exercise coming up when this is done for screenplay #5. If I have any guts at all I will throw out - though not too far - the old one and start again. I guess the theory is that whatever is good will be remembered.

In other news: Mazinga is 25.

In still other news: I saw Grindhouse last weekend. Based on the reactions of those that went with me (leaving early and often, heavy sighs throughout), it's possible I am in the minority on this.

I enjoyed the movie a LOT but don't consider it a major work by either of the directors. Any double feature is going to be a heapin' helpin' of movie, and this is an awful lot of grindhouse to sit through if that's not your bag. I certainly have a lot of B movies that are near and dear to my heart but I can't really claim grindhouse fare as an ultimate fave. It's always been the sort of thing I felt I SHOULD be nostalgic for - but I'm really not.

Even though it's overall not up to "Kill Bill" or "Sin City" standards, what IS enjoyable as always with these guys is the manic, creative energy they bring to their projects. That might not be enough for you as a movie-goer, though - maybe it's for fan-boys and filmmakers. (I have to admit in this case, I am both.)

I preferred Rodriguez' film to Tarantino's, even though Tarantino is usually a better overall director. I believe Rodriguez really IS a B-movie filmmaker at heart anyway, so he's in full form - but Quentin seems to be working in a minor mode here. He seems to have set out mainly to shoot the ultimate car chase rather than have an overall fantastic film. And in that, he succeeds - the car chase in "Deathproof" is the tensest, most edge-of-your-seat car vs. car scene I've ever watched.

Josh Brolin and especially Freddy Rodriguez are great in their segments - and the best thing about Tarantino's film is the BIG, the BAD, the always-underrated... Kurt Russell. Every part he is in he seems born to play. In "Tombstone" it seemed like he had ALWAYS been playing sherriffs in Westerns. In "Big Trouble..." it seemed like he had ALWAYS been playing... er, John Waynesque trucker action heroes. And here it seems like he's ALWAYS been playing psycho stuntmen. He and Rose McGowan alone are worth the price of admission. Well, them and the faux-trailers.

I'm not sure if I'd say McGowan is a great actress, but there has never been a more perfectly cast woman for this genre - she is like the living embodiment of one of those devil-women tattoos.

If you are a fan - a BIG fan - of either of the directors, you should go. If you happen to legitimately enjoy grindhouse fare, you should go. If not, catch it later on DVD.

Posted by Chris at 9:56 AM
April 17, 2007
Writing tricks

If a screenplay is this hard to write it probably means I am doing something so fundamentally wrong that the end result will be worthless, anyway. "Creative Accounting" has been nothing but a goddam slog for months, no, years at this point. I love the idea but I don't know when I've had this much trouble on something.

Applying some fundamentals really helped - helped me realize that I had no story, mostly - but helped. But that alone didn't do it. Although I'd heard the trick before, I'd never actually employed it - plotting backwards from the end. It took watching "Lookout" to make this seem like something to try, and it did work a bit. This resulted in outline #5, which seemed to actually make it from point A to Z.

It's amazing how long it took me to come up with a whole story. What was I doing all those months on this project, with no second act? It was a like a broken puzzle box that I could not quite get into, but something about sliding the same panels and turning the same knobs every day in the exact same way comforted me. But then one day I moved things in a slightly different way and different order, and presto - it opened a bit more.

But even with outline #5, the solid-state outline, the one that was finally complete, now came the actual writing. Expanding this outline has been grueling uphill labor that I have to force my way through. The rule is, at least two hours a night or I might as well be moving backwards on it.

To make it more bearable I think of this part of writing as the Tech-thru for a play - I'm not really writing, I'm creating place-holder scenes just to illustrate the beats. The characters come on the page only long enough to mutter the minimum amount of information needed to move the scene along in terse monotone - hopefully later on it will be easy to "write" these scenes.

Mazinga at 24 - the more I stick to a story arc the less interesting it seems to be. Why can't he just fight Congress? That in a way is the same problem I was talking about above.

Posted by Chris at 2:41 PM

A difficult screenplay is probably a better sign than one of those that "writes itself". I'm sure you've done so before, but put it on hold and come back to it. Have you had a second or third pair of eyes read it over?

Or throw in an arbitrary minority character to round it out and toss out some great comic lines.

Posted by: simon at April 20, 2007 6:17 AM

Just throw in a scene where Will Farrell takes off all of his clothes and runs around in just his underpants. It works in a bunch of other movies.

Posted by: BigFagBrian at April 20, 2007 2:28 PM

A good suggestion to put it on hold. My plan this time was to write back-to-back screenplays, then go back to the first one to revise, then revise the second one, etc., thinking that would provide the time away that I needed. Unfortunately it's only sort of multiplied the total length of the process.

Honestly, I think the big issue is that I have not learned how to write when I am not doing it for a specific set of voices yet.

And yes, I have tried the Will Ferrell cameo scenes - they don't work either.

Posted by: Chris at April 23, 2007 9:24 AM
April 9, 2007
24 years later, I buy "Murmur"

I've seen:

Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) - Who doesn't love any Hammer movie with both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee? I wish I had moors around MY stately mansion that I could ominously warn people about. NOTE TO SELF: Do not forget the moment where Holmes suddenly, dramatically confronts Dr. Mortimer with the murder weapon. If there is ever the opportunity in life to confront someone with a piece of evidence in this fashion, no matter how small, you must do so. It is up there with Lee's wild dance in "Rasputin."

The Namesake - Mira Nair makes it all so beautiful to see, but at some point I wanted to stop marveling at the beauty of this thematically-important bridge, or that bridge, or these glorious cloths hanging out of a Calcutta window, or this beautifully-glazed window through which people appear artfully distorted, and have a bit more conflict in this story. Most people probably won't mind, and in the face of something so artfully done it is a bit of nitpickery. Nair makes beautiful movies that make me want to be closer to my family. That is worth something.

Irfan Khan and Tabu as the couple who become immigrants, parents, young and old - fantastic. I'm also a fan of Kal Penn - even though this was a good part for him that might have been just a tad over his head. I'd be even happier if he and John Cho would get together for another comedy.

(Note: I see from IMDB that they are - great.)

Night of the Living Dead (1968) - Like other horror classics, this is the original entry of what has become a long series, official and imitated, that I forgot to actually watch. When I did, I was amazed at how startling and fresh it is, how it firmly creates its own little world. ("Texas Chainsaw" also comes to mind) I'm not even sure I would know how to avoid being imititative of at least SOMETHING.

This original is brilliant without being perfect. It loses something when it gets into what Ami called the very long "Do We Hide Upstairs or Downstairs" section, but it's genius that a filmmaker with little to no money would turn all the limitations to his advantage and go minimalist - little dialogue, not much in the way of effects, beautiful grainy black and white, essentially one location.

Bought R.E.M.'s "Murmur" last night on iTunes for the first time, which at age 36 kind of feels a little weird. The nostalgia is so strong I suspect just playing the songs will make my clothes smell like beer, other people's cigarettes, and the basement of someone whose parents are away. Every track is basically familiar, though I have never known the names and certainly not many of the lyrics.

This weekend's ocean voyage taught me what a "choke" actually does on an outboard engine - and specifically when not to use it, as I suffered my first flooded engine. Did I become 4% more anxious as the lack of wind but plentiful current pushed us just a tiny bit closer to shore while I pulled the starter cord again and again? I'd be lying if I said no.

Mazinga turns 21 today. Let us all raise a glass with him as he suffers the indignities of life.

I've been in a dry spell with books, starting a lot but not finishing many, until I finished "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" by George Saunders the other day. It's only around 100 pages, anyway - but if you have not tried Saunders yet, let me recommend him to you.

Posted by Chris at 11:15 AM

You knew you'd hear from me on this. You've never seen Night of the Living Dead...All I can say is...for shame. But at least you finally got to experience the joy of this gem.

Posted by: klugula at April 11, 2007 10:48 AM

I was also stricken with a bit of shock and awe that you hadn't before seen Night of the Living Dead. It's been a while since I've seen it, but I remember how simply it built and sustained an atmosphere of pervasive dread without the conventions - rapid editing, heavy music and much screaming - that are perhaps a bit too heavily relied upon to achieve the same effect in contemporary horror. Not to be a luddite, but I think there is something about the rough surfaces of older horror films, something they were able to capture that has been lost in today's slick production values. Black and white is also nice.

Chris, I think you should write some kids' horror scripts. Aimed at children but horrifically brutal and scary. Something that will make them afraid to go to sleep, or violently wet the bed if they do.

Posted by: simon at April 13, 2007 6:15 PM
April 5, 2007
Bob Clark

Much sadness - Bob Clark, director of "Christmas Story," "Porky's," "Tribute," and "Turk 182" was killed in a car crash yesterday on PCH, along with his son.

Posted by Chris at 12:42 PM

How can you forget about the classic scare-fest; Black Christmas...for shame! I also was struck by his sudden death.

Posted by: KLUGULA at April 6, 2007 8:40 PM

You're right! All the more sad because he was recently on a panel of classic grindhouse directors with Tarantino here.

Posted by: Chris at April 9, 2007 9:20 AM
April 3, 2007
The Lookout

Did you miss Monday Mazinga? In which Congress deploys a diabolical Anti-Mech Defense Matrix? Come on, people! These robots need your support. There is an RSS feed now if you're that sort of computer geek.

Another Mazinga note: although Haloscan seems like a dream application for adding comments to a site, apparently its host address is from the bad part of the network town - my corporate Firewall does not like its digits, and blocks me from leaving comments. Why would I want to comment on my own site? Well, maybe I do - but also, I'm guessing others could have this issue too. And at Mazinga vs. Congress, we aim to please. All this Haloscannery was because Movable Type does not allow for the kind of navigation I want for a webcomic. So it's either comments that might get caught in your company's firewall, or wonky navigation sometimes.

Hundreds of emails come to my InBox a day at DayJob, many with attachments to review, describing new templates, policies, initiatives, and procedures, and many of those seeking some sort of input. To which I say, my voice weary, has this policy / template already been enacted / decided upon? If so, why are you asking me what I think? (For some reason things that have already been decided are sometimes sent out afterwards for review - don't ask me why.) If the answer is no, I then ask how heavily are you weighting my opinion? If not at all, (something that also often happens for some reason - there is a lot of asking that goes on after the deciding at DayJob) then please see the second question.

With this simple filter I can clear just about my whole InBox.

We sailed Saturday, with Ami taking the helm for most of the time. It was a perfect day. I threw a cushion overboard and Ami rescued it perfectly. We went "shopping" for the boat we want to rent for an overnight beforehand, and pretty much fell in love with the 36' Catalina. Which then made the 22' Merit we went out in later seem teeny.

Saw "The Lookout." Great movie. Maybe not a solid A... maybe an A minus? But an A, and you should see it. Joseph Gordon Leavitt is so far not only a consistently good actor, he consistently chooses interesting movies to be in. "Brick" was one of my favorites from last year.

The minus is because, 1) I could feel the screenplay wheels turning, and a bit too slowly, in the second act, and 2) I think I'm being too easy on movies these days. Isla Fisher's character shouldn't have been dismissed so early. There was some great stuff with Jeff Daniels and Leavitt, though - that was almost more interesting than the botched crime.

Also saw four other flicks recently:

"All the King's Men" - Steven Zaillian's movies feel very very thorough - but I liked "Civil Action" more. This one felt like it started twenty minutes too early in the story. And even though I get the need to show the contrast between Willie Stark's background and Jude Law's character's privileged background, I never understood why Stark seemed determined to destroy everything Law had - nor why Law himself was so quick to turn on his own father.

"Harold and Maude" - What can I say? To see it is to see the inspiration for so many of the movies I find hilarious from today's filmmakers.

"The Cave" - Interesting for a high-altitude chase scene between Piper Perabo and the monster, but otherwise, skip this and see "Descent" again.

"The Crossing Guard" - Interesting, dark collaboration between Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson, with Nicholson acting out some of what his director clearly admires in the writings of Charles Bukowski (Penn inscribes a note to the late author before the end credits). I can see this as Penn working up to his later, better Nicholson collaboration - which shares some of the same themes - "The Pledge."

Posted by Chris at 10:24 PM

all I can say, Chris, is that I would not have bothered asking your input at all! Buuuurrrrnn ....

Posted by: olmy at April 5, 2007 8:42 AM

Straight A for the Lookout. I can't stop saying:
"Bone? Help him."

Why did Ilsa Fisher need to be there longer? Because the love of a good woman would help him get through the bank heist? Because she had a heart of gold? Because you liked to look at her underwear when she walked up the stairs?
I liked that the love interest was dismissed before the climax. Seemed to sidestep the old cliches pretty well.

Posted by: Fattyfat at April 8, 2007 5:01 AM