Completing 2012

December 31, 2012

Every year I take a look at my goals from the previous year and set new ones for the upcoming year. This year I’m about two and four halves for 11. Not a great showing, but still, I think progress has been made.

  • Finish ScreenwritingU’s ProSeries and graduate into the PS Alumni.
  • 52 blog posts and 1000 visits a month by the end of the year.
    38 blog posts and about 500 visits per month. Like last year, I hit some major lulls, so the overall average is moving up, though I think it could continue to go up more with more consistent posting.
  • A stage show at TRF, getting paid a living wage for the time I put in. Write and publish a book of poetry (written by my character) that I can sell as part of that.
    No, although there has been some progress there. I expect to achieve this result next year.
  • Sign with an acting agent and land 2 auditions per week.
    Done the first part, not so much the second.
  • Land a paid screenwriting gig.
    I realized recently that I’ve had a lot of opportunities here that I’ve self-sabotaged. In 2005 I landed a paid screenwriting gig, simply because I did the work on a spec project that someone contacted me for and asked me to work on with them. Over the past few years, though, over and over I’ve seen some kind of opportunity to work on a project that I then just haven’t done the work on.
  • Edit 6 books. Close sales on two more ghost writing projects.
    2, and 1.
  • Pay off all interest-bearing debt (including the car I just bought) and max out my wife’s and my IRAs for 2012.
    Paid off a lot of that debt, though not all of it. In the process of buying a house.
  • Finish three personal writing projects, and a rewrite of one more.
    I finished that  rewrite and am finishing another personal writing project right now.
  • Semi-finalist in at least one national screenplay contest.
  • Direct a feature film, or at least start pre-production on it.
  • Bring internal peace and confidence to the likelihood that my wife and I will be having children in the near future.
    We’re pregnant! So, there’s that …

I’ve got more work to do before setting my 2013 goals, so that’s going to be done in a separate post. I’m going to plan for awesomeness, though.



Owen Egerton on Writing, SCOTUS on Selling Used Books, Valuing Your Script, Odd Punctuation – Random Things for this Week

December 24, 2012

A few random things for this week:

  • Advice for writers. Owen Egerton, Austin’s favorite author for a billion years running and someone I interviewed two years ago, recently published a list of 30 pieces of advice for writers.  My favorites are 12, 14, and 21.
  • Could selling used books become illegal? Though the title is sensationalist, this is a well-crafted article about a student from Thailand who bought textbooks overseas (where they’re cheaper) and then sold them in the U.S. at below-market rates for profit. Wiley sued, claiming a copyright violation of sorts, and has thus far has won the suit to the tune of $600,000. The case is now before the Supreme Court, and whichever way they rule, the implications their decision could have on the publishing industry could be pretty staggering.
  • How much is your film script worth? Script mag put together an article on valuing your work as a writer breaking into the industry. Most of the beginning is pretty basic and self-explanatory, but once you get to the bottom it has some really interesting points about coming in as an “investor” or a co-producer.
  • Unusual Punctuation Marks. I think the interrobang, the percontation point, the exclamation comma, and the question comma should become standard usage. What do you think?

Cloud Atlas

December 17, 2012

Several years ago, someone who works in the publishing industry told me Cloud Atlas was the best book she’s ever read. So it’s been on my list for a while. With the movie out, I finally decided to go out and read it.


Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very well-written novel. The structure is highly engaging, the differences in voice excellent, the way the stories  intertwine very intriguing, at least at first. I just expected . . . more.

I had a similar feeling of dissatisfaction when I finished Hyperion. Yes, the stories interweave in kind of an interesting way. And yes, the differences in tone from one story to the next is cool. But there was no denouement to bring the entire series to a close. So after 500 pages of reading, I was left completely unfulfilled rather than feeling like I’d just experienced this huge, inevitable catharsis.

I haven’t seen the film yet, but I find it telling that it tanked at the U.S. box office but is doing well internationally. It’s the kind of story that would definitely fare better in cultures less obsessed with plot and more interested in tone or emotion. I wish it the best of luck. Doesn’t make me any less disappointed, though.

Anyone else out there read it? What are your thoughts?

The “Let’s just blurt out a whole bunch of crap at once” blog

November 1, 2012

True to form, I haven’t written in a while. The hustle and bustle of reading for Austin Film Festival keeps me in “I can’t talk about the scripts I’m reading so what the heck do I blog about?” mode. This is followed by “It’s been so long since I’ve blogged, what the heck do I blog about?” mode, which is then followed by the “Let’s just blurt out a whole bunch of crap at once” blog. So here goes.

  • Recently finished Lolita. At first, I had it pegged as the best book I’ve ever read. For someone who gets some of the (extensive) allusions made throughout the book, it’s a very interesting read, and I’m particularly fascinated by the way he justifies his actions, at least at first. Also interested how, in the movie, the protagonist Humbert Humbert comes across as someone who can’t really help himself, whereas in the book he definitely comes across as a sexual predator for whom one loses pretty much all sympathy by the end. The middle of the book did drag a bit, but overall a fascinating read and one I’m glad I checked out.
  • Was kind of pissed that they made a movie of Cloud Atlas before I got a chance to read it. It’s been on my list for a few years. So I’ve started reading it now, and hopefully will finish before it’s out of theaters. Another book that’s designed (at least on first impression) for people with allusive minds.
  • Read a few great scripts for the AFF screenplay contest, including The Break-Up Nurse, which won the Enderby category. It’s one of my favorite things to do during AFF is to meet the people’s whose scripts I read. I only briefly got to meet the author of The Break-Up Nurse, but I got her card and am looking forward to sitting down with her when I visit L.A. in December.
  • Two main lessons from AFF:
    • Why is it this character in this particular situation?
    • “Words for actors are a problem. Silences between the words are an opportunity.” — Terry Rossio.
  • Speaking of acting (and L.A.), I’m attending Will Wallace’s acting class for two straight weeks in December. Will be glad to get some intensive time practicing on-screen acting. I think that’ll make a huge difference for me.

I’m sure there’s a lot more, but I’m happy just to get something on paper … er, server … again. Ciao.

The #1 Mistake When Meeting a Producer for a Potential Writing Assignment

August 20, 2012

Okay, the title of this post may be somewhat of an exaggeration. But given the veritable cornucopia of information out there on how not to act like a complete a-hole when you meet a producer, I’ll give you enough credit to assume that you’re at a slightly higher level of competence, that you’re actually able to maintain reasonable relationships in the film industry, even if you haven’t sold anything just yet.

Thus beginneth my tale:

Last October I met with a producer/director who was looking for a writer on his newest project. I’d actually met him for the first time a year earlier, and he had mentioned the kind of projects he was interested in pursuing. I didn’t really have anything to show him at the time, but we connected on Facebook, and I’d sent him a writing sample many months later, and although he remembered none of that by the October in question, I was very polite and understanding about it, remembered the kind of projects he was interested in, and asked him how they were going. So far, so good.

He told me that he now had a premise for the story he wanted to do, though it was very rough, and he was actively looking for a writer to develop the project with him. Again, so far, so good.

I re-sent him my sample, and he read the first thirty pages of it on his iPad that evening, and liked it enough that we set up a meeting for the following day. So far, so very good.

We met for well over an hour. He talked about the idea that he had, and I bounced some thoughts off of him. He wasn’t crazy about anything I said, but he felt that I had a good sense of what he was looking for, so I said I’d work on it some, and I’d send him a treatment when I got the chance. I was working on a bunch of other projects at the time, so I told him it would be at least a few weeks, or maybe a month, before I got the chance to look into this and send it to him.

He was fine with that. But here’s where it went south.

I don’t remember how long it actually took me to look at my notes from our meeting. What I do remember is that by the time I was done working on those projects that had held me over in the first place, I had other projects in the works. And then others. And the couple of times I did look at my two pages of notes on this particular project,  I was completely uninspired to work on it, and had neither the time nor the ideas to develop the concept any further.

Thus beginneth the lesson: assuming, as I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post, that you’re not a complete a-hole, the number one mistake you can make when meeting a producer who’s interested in working with you on a writing assignment is waiting.

There will always be other projects to work on. And when you’ve got a system in place to get daily writing done and hard deadlines in place to work on those other projects, those other projects will likely get done. But when someone pitches you a new project, take the very first opportunity you have to work on it and get something into him. Not because he’s expecting it straight away, and not because you’ll be damaging the relationship if you don’t, but because that’s the best way to ensure that the work actually gets done.

Unfortunately, I didn’t learn this lesson six months ago, I just learned it today, when I realized I’d made this mistake for the second time on a completely different meeting with a completely different producer. Granted, this time the offense wasn’t nearly so egregious: the meeting was not 9 months ago but 5 weeks ago, and I walked away with three-and-a-half hours of interview footage, as well as stacks of books, court documents, letters, and other material relating to the subject in question, all of which can (and has) helped me to get back into the mindset of the project as I’m trying to wrap my head around it. But the fact remains, when I left that all-day meeting 5 weeks ago I had the beginning of the film in my head, as well as the ending, and it would’ve taken only a few hours of work to come up with a pretty solid middle that would’ve gotten us at least moving in the right direction. Instead, I worked on other things, and now I’m having to play catch up, spending hours or even days re-familiarizing myself with the material so I can get back to where I was.

So don’t wait. If you’re meeting with someone for a potential writing assignment, carve out the rest of the day and night to get some writing done. Otherwise, plan on carving out the next several months.

Thus endeth the lesson.

InkTip Loglines

August 13, 2012

My favorite loglines from this month’s issue of InkTip magazine:

  • Coal for Christmas (Family feature by Lois Wickstrom and Jean Lorrah) – A young boy fears his baby sister will die of pneumonia in their freezing home, so he tries to be bad enough to force Santa to bring him whole load of coal for Christmas.
  • Dead Again (1/2 hour comedy pilot by Agata Darlasi and Angelo Kyritsis) – An arrogant executive is cursed to die every day at 10:47 pm in ridiculous ways.
  • Military Disco (Comedy feature by Patrick Connelly) – Two privates try to get themselves kicked out of the Army by pretending they’re gay and starting a dance club, but their plan backfires when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed and the military leadership sees it as an opportunity to bolster recruitment.
  • Repatriation (Drama by Janelle Dessaint Kimura) – An American photographer in Tokyo is forced to leave her Japanese husband behind when world governments methodically join together to repatriate all citizens to their country of racial origin, creating an artificial “post racial” world. She risks everything to circumvent the new world order to raise her children in a diverse, secure location.
  • In Search of Cyndi (Romantic Comedy by Ben Espin) – On a frigid beach, two wayward teenagers discover a severed, frozen foot wearing a gold anklet with “Cyndi” engraved on it. The boys embark on a comical but heartfelt search to match this unusual “glass slipper” with its Cinderella. Happily ever after has never been so – awkward.
  • The Zamboni Driver (Comedy by Scott Teel) – Sick of watching losing sports stars earn outrageous salaries, a fed-up, underpaid NHL Zamboni driver requests a $5 million contract. He loses his job, but not before he becomes a media sensation, inspiration to the home team’s players, and hero to millions in the working class.
  • The Sleep Traveller (Sci-Fi feature by Faye Stergioula) – In an attempt to find out who ran him over, a cripple resorts to hypnosis. When the amateur hypnotist asks him to avoid the car, he does it – and wakes up able-bodied!
  • Charisma (Suspense feature by Sean Lisik, and not the same as the script by the same name I wrote several years ago) – Ninety-nine percent of the world’s serial killers are male. “Charisma,” displays the manipulative, seductive differences of the exception.
  • The Healing Gland (Suspense feature by George Gaio Mano) – An accident reveals that a man carries a cure for cancer in his body. Unfortunately, removing the cure from his body will kill him, and that is what everybody wants to do.

This, of course, doesn’t include the logline for Postville, which also happens to appear in this month’s issue. 🙂

David C. Martell on Flashbacks and The Life of David Gale

August 7, 2012

[Note: When I first published this post, I thought the article in question was written by Syd Field. That was an error on my part. My bad.]

A while back I exchanged a few blog posts with Michael Hauge on the subject of flashbacks, and two and a half years later those continue to be some of my most popular articles on this site. So when I saw an article from David C. Martell on the subject, I was immediately interested.

To summarize Martell’s overlong and repetitive piece:

  1. a good flashback moves the story forward by escalating conflict, rather than just giving us exposition
  2. The Life of David Gale is a bad movie, because the first two flashbacks don’t do this.

While I agree with the premise, I completely reject the assessment of The Life of David Gale. Somewhere buried in the end of the article’s quagmire of repetition is the recognition that the David Gale‘s flashbacks are really just a framing device; that the story takes place in the past and this is a reminder that “more exciting things are to come.” This technique is used constantly in films, particularly ones that take a while to set up.

But for some reason, Sunset Boulevard‘s careful setup warrants much more respect from Mr. Martell than David Gale‘s. Most egregiously, to me, is the following comment:

“You’d think a guy with only three days to live would cut to the chase!”

Um, no David, if you think that, you completely missed the point of the movie. He wants to be executed for a crime he didn’t commit, and now you’re saying that his lack of urgency is bad thing? It’s an essential character choice!

It gets even worse a few lines later:

“The situation at the end of the third flashback is EXACTLY THE SAME as the situation at the beginning of the movie… making all of the flashbacks (and the movie itself) pointless. The flashbacks don’t change the story in any way . . . A flashback needs to CHANGE the present situation. These flashbacks just wasted our time.”

Again, no. As you so aptly pointed out later on, the flashbacks were a framing device. The flashbacks are the story. By definition, they’re not going to change it.

Sorry you didn’t like the movie. But there are better examples for flashbacks that don’t change the story or escalate the conflict at all. It’s time to move on.

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