29 December 2006

finally, a screenwriting book that i like

I have a reputation (based almost entirely upon fact, thank you very much) of disliking most all books on screenwriting. There's all sorts of fancy sounding reasons I could throw out there to justify this attitude, but pretty much all of them boil down to the simple fact that most all of these advice and how-to books are written by people with a clear history of not actually using their own advice for much (if any) practical effect success.

But The Wife gave me a book for Christmas, HOLLYWOOD DEVIL: THE SCREENWRITER AS GOD by legendary Hollwood bad boy Joe Ezsterhas, writer of such big name movies as BASIC INSTINCT, JAGGED EDGE, FLASHDANCE, SLIVER, SHOWGIRLS, etc. If you follow screenwriting personalities and stories, then you know who Ezsterhas is and why he rates any notice of consideration: when you look at the top-selling screenplays of all time, Joe's name is attached to something like 7 of the 12 priciest screenplay deals in the history of the game.

But beyond just the financial success he enjoyed, Ezsterhas, perhaps more than any other screenwriter, managed a degree of celebrity and notoriety usually reserved for actors and directors. He was the closest thing the game has yet seen to "a screenwriting rock star." And he lived life in proper rockstar fashion during the heyday of his success, acting like a mouthy overly indulged chemically imbalanced manic freakshow willing and eager to bed whatever woman might accept his advances.

It all makes for some hilarious and often educational reading.

I fear it might also reinforce some screwy ideas and attitudes in my own head, however, as I recognize various beliefs and positions in Ezsterhas's makeup which seem curiously similar to some of my own. The cocksure/arrogant willingness to accept your own brilliance and ability in the face of morons trying to argue otherwise. The barely controlled rage and urge to assault morons and know-nuthinks eager to try and bring you down or waste your time and energy merely because they can. The love of annoying and offending those who are easily annoyed and offended.

Is the book rocket science or sure to change your life? Hell, no, but it might give you a second opinion on the necessity of always behaving like an overly accommodating meek worm eager to sacrifice any ethical or moral high ground in the hopes of starting or perpetuating a career in an industry where ethics and morals often little more than garnish (pretty, but irrelevant). There are concepts and personalities who truly rate our respect and allegiance, and then there are others who just as surely deserve scorn and contempt, and Joe has never been shy about describing who sorts into which pile.

For my money, Ezsterhas's book demonstrates the benefits — and dangers — of hyper-developed ego, and does so with the sort of angry bull in a china shop glee that seems rare among successful people in any field of endeavor. He clearly loves what he does, and he has fun loving it.

We could all do far worse.

18 December 2006

something in the water?

I've grumbled and groaned before about the low quality of online postings, but seriously -- what's going on out there? Did someone pull the plug on the sink of intelligence, as most all the content of any interest or ntoability seems to be swirling down the drain hole.

Most discussion boards seem to be sucking huge amounts of warm air, overflowing with pointless insipid whiny non-funny stabs at wit and pith and insight but which end up coming across like a 17 year old nerd raging at the gods at a bad party in the throes of his first beer buzz. Blog posts are down, and responses too (at least, they surely seem so on the few dozen blogs I still manage to stay at all interested in).

Maybe it's the holidays, or maybe it's just that everyone is focused elsewhere (likely pretending to be shit-hot 18 year old lesbians on MySpace...), or maybe I'm just projecting some sort of self-loathing onto the Universe as a whole, and the problem is actually all in my head (unlikely, as in recent poling some 76% of the voices I hear in there agree with me that WE are fine and everything else is the problem).

What's wrong with you people?

Say something interesting. Or funny. Or intelligent. Or something.
so above you all that I suffer near-constant nosebleeds B

13 December 2006


...but why is it that a lot of teh scripts I am most eager to read seem not available anywhere online?




I did manage to read ANIMAL HOUSE in printed form at the WGA library, but that was a little too "precious" for me (I half expected a monk with a tonsure to bear the sacred text to me while whispering prayers...), plus it gets pricey to travel to LA just to read that script....

09 December 2006

can’t get over the hump

Sometimes we face challenges which turn out to be more serious than we imagined. Which resist our best efforts to surmount. Which remain a constant ongoing pain in the ass despite all we can sensibly think to do.

I have such an issue these days, and it’s really starting to twist my kickers into a knot.

I speak, of course, about that damned “How Much Is Your Blog Worth?” link feature thing somewhere below on my page. Simply put, the link tracks the imaginary “worth” or your website through some algorithm which calculates a monetary value based upon the number and popularity (“worth”) of links to and from your site. The more big-name high traffic sites which think enough of your site to link to you, the more your site is “worth.”

And for the longest time now—months—my blog—this stupid damned site upon which your virtual fanny now sits—has been stuck at the alleged value of $6,774.48.

And it’s the “48 cents” part which really irks me whenever I bother to glance at the site for an updated figure. How is that possible? My traffic has been increasing (roughly on a glacial pace to match inflation, but increasing dammit), the quality of the writing and thinking behind it remains beyond compare (shaddup), and I have yet to degrade myself by posting pictures of kittens, bikini bimbos, or links to already overexposed YouTube clips.

Seriously: how can that silly valuation stay parked on such a specific number for three or four months? That’s a lifetime in internet time, and you’re telling me that property values have remained that stable?

I know that it’s not my fault, whatever the problem is, and I think that point is, as-ever, clear and non-debatable. (Since the shameful 1987 Mistake episode, I have been extra careful and made no errors or missteps of any kind, so obviously this one ain’t on me, kids.)

Clearly the bulk of the blame falls to you, gentle readers. You’re just not doing enough to boost my imaginary arbitrary value. And I think I’ve been more than patient. So now it’s time for you no-account shiftless ingrates to rededicate yourselves to boosting my blogs pretend value.

Or else I’m gonna start posting pictures of kittens.

And don't think I won't do it.

03 December 2006

quick and dirty: ideas floating in the puddle of my mind

Austin... rewrites... timberframing... Iceland... coffee... Zarathusra... outlines... longboats... Christmas lights... Narragansetts... YouTube... Terlingua... Stalingrad... self-delusion... walnut... folded steel... catalysts... Hollywood... the left-center power alley... nurses... framing nailers... the Napo River... Scarlett Johansson... IMDBpro... loglines... high-concept... built-in bookcases... iPod... Jamie Foxx... Aggie basketball... "*I* have a rocket..."... el chupacabra... Scarlett Johansson... Leon Redbone... drywall... Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman... peanut butter... shotgun-option spread offense... Yakovlev fighters... the Blanco River... Shiner 97... Dick Shawn dancing the go-go... a Jack Ruby sandwich... Scarlett Johansson... Scarlett Johansson... Scarlett Johansson...

26 November 2006

on writing: baseball again as the mother of all metaphors

If (as it seems almost everyone is) you’re writing a screenplay (or at least claiming to be doing such), then likely you’ve already aligned yourself with one of two different camps in the screenwriting world: those who look to experts and gurus and coaches for advice and guidance, and those who look at such experts and gurus and coaches and shout “Charlatans! Fakers! Quacks!”

If forced at bayonet point to declare my affiliation one way or the other, I’d likely fall more into the latter camp than the former, but not because I think the experts are intentionally trying to scam or delude their followers. Well, some are, likely, but I’ll not waste time debating or describing who rates such labels versus who rates merely a “means well but knows nothing” tag. I believe that the majority of the so-called experts actually believe that they are providing valuable information and enlightenment, but as with many issues it seems prudent to remember that Belief and Reality are not necessarily contiguous much less congruent.

I was glancing at the blog site of one supposed screenwriting guru, one which many of my friends seem to like and respect. He might be a wonderful human being—I honestly don’t know—but I do know that I find his advice and theories consistently uninspired, uninteresting, and (worst of all) not at all useful for personal application. He writes well, with an undeniable elegance and fluency and passion for his specific area of concern, but ultimately, for me... there is no ‘there’ there.

And suddenly I remembered an exchange from baseball coaching earlier this year. In my real world life I’ve been a youth baseball coach for many many years: Little League baseball, teeball, girls softball. Usually I wind up assigned to be the hitting coach, as (for whatever reason) over the years I’ve accumulated some ideas and techniques on effective ways to help kids find and improve that swing.

(Yes, I'm a coach, and yes I appreciate the irony of referring to my own coaching expertise in a blog post largely dedicated to the proposition that coaches are of little usefulness in many situations. Don't interrupt me, kid.)

I was working with this one batter—a nine year old with good size, great strength, loads of “want to”—who just couldn’t seem to get his swing working. His form was so messed up that he was actually working muscles against themselves to get the bat moving, with the result being a very messed up swing which seldom made contact and almost never generated power.

If you are not a baseball person, understand that this is “not good.” The name of the game in hitting is “bat on ball—hard.”

As I was watching the kid and talking to him and trying to adjust a few odd quirks, his dad was watching close by and also trying to help. The dad kept stepping in to give advice and adjust things—often at cross purposes with what I was trying to do—and the kid was getting confused and frustrated. At some point the kid twisted himself into a truly odd-looking stance, but as soon as the ball came in, he suddenly uncoiled and PING the ball exploded to the outfield on a line. A solid hit. I just lifted my eyebrows and thought “huh!”

But the dad was very upset. He jumped in and immediately started getting the kid out of that odd stance, saying “I don’t wanna see that again! You’ll never see a professional hitter do that!”

”Well...” I interrupted. “Actually, you might. Especially if you look back to Carl Yaztremski’s hitting. His stance was a mess for more than two decades. Now he's in the Hall of Fame.”

The dad looked at me like I had a badger on my head.

“All this stuff about ‘what the pros do’ is just hopeful guidance. Stuff we throw out there in the hope that it proves useful or beneficial. But ultimately every hitter has to find their own swing.”

The dad was upset by such sacrilege and blasphemy. “That’s ridiculous. You can’t go up there [with such and such in your swing] and expect to hit!”

I told the boy to step out of the batter’s box, and asked the dad to go feed some balls into the pitching machine. I grabbed a bat, dug in to face the machine, and adapted an even more affected exaggerated version of the boy’s “wrong” stance.

“OK. Gimme some.”

I put three of the next five balls over the fence, the other two both skipping to the fence on a single skidding bounce.

I smiled to the dad. “I dunno... doesn’t seem an impossible proposition to hit that way. Feels kinda weird to me, but it seems workable from a mechanical point of view.”

I winked at the boy, and he smiled in a way that was clearly not meant to be noticed by his dad.

The dad walks in and just stares at me. I just smile, and then drop to a knee to talk to the boy some more.

“Look—there are hundreds of different variations you can try in your stance, with tens of thousands of combinations. Some people stand upright, some crouch low, some are tight with the feet, some are spread legged. Some have a closed stance, some are open in the extreme, some folks have a dull boring nothing special looking stance. Some hold the bat high, some hold it low, some start hands high, others have their fists low. But here’s the thing: nothing matters unless you can put the bat on the ball with force. If you can find a stance that let’s you do that every time you dig in for an at bat, then that’s a good stance. Bat on ball. Everything else is gravy.”

And right now, today, sitting at my cluttered desk as I contemplate more changes in the rewrite to my cursed damned Flying Dutchman of a romantic comedy script, that baseball metaphor seems one that might be useful for writers: there are all sorts of experts and well-meaning coaches out there who will try to convince you that their way—their philosophy of hitting, their basket of techniques and tricks, their trademarked System™ taught in seminars and via online CD’s and books—is the One True Path.

Don’t believe it.

When it comes down to it, it’s about a bat, and it’s about a ball, and it’s about bringing the two into contact in an explosive moment of ballistic perfection.

At the end of the day, nobody gives a damn about your process. Nobody in the audience gives a hoot in hell how you managed to address “theme.” No reader hunkered on a sofa or at a desk gives a flying fig about what techniques (if any) you used to ensure that your major act breaks fell at the right moment in your work.

What they will care about is “did you make solid contact? Did you put the bat on the ball and put it in play hard?”

As a writer, that is your job—that is your fuckin raison d’être.

Put the bat on the ball, by any means necessary.

Swing hard. Run fast. Pray often. Have fun.

Everything else is gravy.

24 November 2006

and today, reason to give thanks

Final score:

07 longhorns

Beat the hell outta t.u.
maroon and white B

22 November 2006

various and sundry

Just a handful of random thoughts, comments, and observations:

1) GOOD MOVIES ROCK: Last night I went and saw APOCALYPSE NOW at a the local Alamo Drafthouse, a cool semi-artsy theater chain which boasts first run movies, classic titles in weekly revival showcase format, plus something like 40 different premium beers on tap.

"It's a good thing."

Four bucks to see Coppola making that kind of movie which today seems nearly impossible to conceive: a huge sprawling intensely psychological personal mess of a tale, set against a huge dramatic backdrop and featuring a cast of ridiculously talented serious actors all swinging for the fences in every damned scene.

Weird, dark, psycho, demented, brutal, sometimes hilarious (and often for disturbing reasons...), with nearly every single frame of film a jaw dropping composition. All I could keep thinking to myself was "this movie might was well have come from another planet—they just don;t make movies like this any more."

Which, in a sense, was both depressing and inspiring at the same time. We seem to be in a pahse of the movie business where the first, final, and only consideration seems to be the almighty dollar. Now, I'm not some whack job commie fascist "power to the people" treehugger who thinks that we should all live in some kindergarten fantasy land where everyone does whatever they like without any concern for money and commerce, but it does seem sad that so few movies being made today seem to have any of the enduring "artfulness" of movies like Apocalypse Now. Love it or hate it, it seems pretty clear that you have to at least grant that it is one hellacious artistic statement, and not like anything else you've seen on that subject.

Of course, all it took was the bulk of Coppola's health and sanity, as well as most all of the financial and commercial clout that he'd managed to accumulate with GODFATHER and THE CONVERSATION. He's done some interesting work since APOCALYPSE, but it seems fair to say that he never again came close to the insanely epic grandeur of that movie.

If you have a chance to see it in a big dark room, with a big loud sound system, grab that chance and then be sure to give at least a bit of notice to the techincal artistry of the movie-- the sound, the colors, the framing, the editing, the music. When movies work, they truly are something terrifyingly magical.

2) THE AUSTIN DIARIES: I've not yet forgotten or abandoned the telling of the twisted tale of this year's Austin Film Festival. I've just been... distracted. Busy. Lazy. Whatever. There are some fun details waiting to be shared—beans waiting to be spillt—and it is my honest intent to share and spill as best I can, but for now I remain somewhere else, in another mood, and not of a mind to think back to this year's week in Oz, as memory leads to melancholy which leads to anger which leads to... nothing productive.

3) THE ROM COM: now titled TWELVE DAYS, the long-festering project was hurled at a handful of readers and by God they hurled right back. The nots they offered were not totally hostile, but they were pretty consistent in saying "this ain't ready, dude." Shrug. I'm not reworking the piece, and finding places where improvement and change was much needed before but where I (for whatever reason) chose to ignore or overlook problems. Likely I was both tired of not having any sort of "completed" draft to hold, as well as overly eager to get the project to some point where I might dream of flinging it over fences to folks who likely aren;t going to care overly anyway. Bottom line: the piece has some good points, so not as good points, and now is back into the workshop to be hammered and beaten upon until it comes out with more of that aforementioned "goodth."

4) THANKSGIVING: that odd American turkey holiday bears down upon us now, and with it begins The Holiday Season. Strange (or perhaps not strange) as it might be to consider, I'm not a huge fan of the holidays, as they seem to create more tension and anxiety in my life than they do good feelings and happiness. Don;t get me wrong: I love watching my kids enjoy Christmas, and I love seeing old friends who pass through on holiday travels, but by and large I've never really enjoyed all of the extended familial bullshit that seems to be part and parcel of the holidays. Odd demands, unreasonable expectations, selfishness run amok, guilt trips disguised as holiday cards and calls... there's a part of me which very much looks forward to emerging through teh other side to New years, when the next season of loonytunedness is as far away on teh calendar as it's every going to get. "Gird them loins, my pretties—it's gonna get rough for a spell now."

5) 2007: despite everything else, I continue to have an annoying sense of optimism for 2007, as I like (need!) to believe that this will be the year When Things Finally Start To Happen. I have a few projects I'm very proud of, some solid contacts and acquaintances in the biz to whom I can hopefully turn for guidance and assistance, plus (most importantly) I have the arrogant understanding that I'm more than good enough to make a go of it in the screenwriting biz ... if I can just maintain momentum. Push on, refuse to quit, and act like you're already part of the team. At some point either you break through into clean air where all is golden and wonderful, or you throw in the towel and say "fuck it—I'm done."

And I've always been too dumb to recognize the right moment to quit, so I might as well plod on like I have a notion to succeed.

Wherever you are, enjoy your turkey.

19 November 2006

2 steps forward -- 1.9 steps back

In the previous post I was all happy about finishing a critical draft of the romcom TWELVE DAYS. I said things like "[the script]... is, for lack of a better word, finished."

Now, I can see how one might read that and take it to mean that I thought the script was totally ready to be shopped, but believe me when I say this: that is never what I meant.

First off, I'm not sure that any script is ever truly "done.' Without engaging in some navel-gazing debate over the nature of the word "finished," I just mean that I don;t care how good a script ever is, I' not one who believes any human being will ever achieve perfection in a textual document of 100 pages. Yes, you can absolutely get a script (or novel or emergency response plan or owner's manual to an '87 Corolla or whatever) tightened to the point where it is more than good enough to do its job, but to ever think that you will get it to that point where you can read and re-read 100 times and say "there is not one word, not one piece of punctuation, not one paragraph break that could possibly be changed or improved!" is just plain silly.

Second, I meant that TWELVE DAYS, a project which has been bugging me for more than a year now, was finally "finished" to the point that there was now an actual script which could be read. Perfect? Absolutely not (and more on that in a minute), but it was now in a form that contained the story and characters and emotions and beats that I wanted to describe.

And so it went out to readers, with the instruction to "rip me a new one. Tear it apart, show no pity or compassion, and tell me everything that needs work."

To their credit, my readers did just that. My ass still bleeds from some of the comments the script drew back.

"I didn't care for the script..."

"... leads are not likeable..."

"... not believable..."

"... I didn't laugh once..."

"... doesn’t work for me..."

"... Real people do not talk like this..."


"...never really gets started..."

Now, was I happy to get these notes? On the whole, no -- clearly I would have preferred unrelenting praise and gushing -- but after about an hour of sulking around the house, I went back and re-read each set of notes and thought about what was really being said, and why, and in specific regards to what. In most every case, I was able to take something useful and instructive from the negative comments and see where something could be, should be, and will be improved.

Were the readers all right? Well, no. In some cases they were unified in their comments, while in most cases there was a split decision (some lines flagged by one reader as totally worthless were flagged by others as their favorites -- such is the nature of subjectivity). In some cases I can accept some or most of the comments from someone and then totally disregard other specific comments as just plain wrong.

So, when I said before "the script is done," I was sighing in relief that the script in ANY form was done.

Now it's time to roll up sleeves, grab a knife, and go back into the pit and finish the job, or at the very least get it closer to being done. What's left to get it truly market-ready? A few days? A week? A month? Who knows. Who cares.

It will be done, and as quickly as I can do it.

Thanks, honestly and sincerely, to my readers for the sadistic honesty -- I have nothing but thanks and love for the beatdown you gave the script, and the project will improve as a result. However, there's every likelihood that the eventual version of the piece I finally decide to hurl into the void as "ready enough" will (or would) still leave you less than thrilled, but that's the fun part of the game: these are my stories, and I trust my story sense more than that of others. I'd hope others feel the same about their own stories -- if you're not in this game to tell your story, then why bother playing?

Sissy Fuss B

13 November 2006

ok-- so now what?

The cool part about finishing any project is that you can start on some exciting new idea.

The sucky part of it is that you need to figure out what that new exciting idea is supposed to BE.

The long-fermenting RomCom (now "officially" titled TWELVE DAYS, though I reserve absolute right to change that for no reason at all...) is, for lack of a better word, finished. Three major rewrites (with at least five minor variations) finally yields 113 pages and change, which si only 3 pages over my intended target of 110, so I'll take that in a heartbeat, especially considering how much I like a great deal of this piece.

Is it perfect? Hell no, but then, no piece of writing ever is. The point of the game (especially w/r/t screenwriting) is to wind up with a product which is good enough -- something so good that whatever flaws and shortcomings it might have are totally obscured and overshadowed by all the "goodth" in it.

Is TWELVE DAYS that good? To be honest, I have no idea, but I do know that I like it a lot. There are moments which I've read 40 times now and which still stir some reaction in me: a chuckle here, a pang of melancholy there, a moment of moistness at this beat, a bit teary smile at that beat.

"Strong men also cry, Mr. Lebowski. Strong men also cry."

So now it will likely get slipped to a few trusted readers/friends who will hopefully not come back with "DUDE-- you CANNOT be fuckin serious! This thing is whale poo!" but who will instead have some minor and addressable comments which clearly then lead me to more of that aforementioned goodth.

Because goodth is good.

After that, I'll need to wrap the damned script round some rocks and hurl copies through the windows of as many potentially useful contacts as I can find: producers, managers, agents, pool boys... One can never predict where and when the lightning will strike, so the trick is to be as "out there" as can be affordably and sensibly managed.

And meanwhile, I need to find the Next Big Thing to occupy my thoughts and creative efforts as I sit here and listen to the phone not ring and watch that mailbox not be filled with welcome news. Period action drama? Mixed genre piece for smaller budget production? Shaggy dog R-rated comedy? Hell, for all the good it's doingme, maybe I ought try my hand at haiku, as at least that would save time and trees.

Blah blah blah... talk amongst yourselves.

07 November 2006

update: current projects

The romcom is skidding towards something like completion. The first draft (NOT "the vomit draft," as I hate that term) was pretty good, but with a glaring structural issue that needed attention (thanks to Julie O for helping-- she'll moan and wail if she doesn't get credit for The Big Salad). Raid turnaround to v2 then improved a bit and revealed a really really dumb gaffe in the third act structure. The new v3 is leaner (now down to 112 pages from the initial 119), has the major structural booboos addressed,a nd is in the process of a pair of quick and hostile passes 9one for dialog, one for action) and then one more pass to kill as many more widows and orphans as I can, and then off to a few friends for a quick peek, and then... off to producers.


LILYA meanwhile seems to be turning into a writing sample more than anything else. Folks who read it seem unified in their opinion: "Great, but expensive. What else ya got?"

Lack of vision, says I.

Two or three other ideas are starting to make noise in the corral, like they badly want attention and are about to start kicking fenceboards loose unless they get some.

As for the rest of teh Austin blogs... "patience, children. Patience."

IRL stuff, football winds down this week, Cub Scouts are back to just a normal level of insanity, Boy Scouts seem to be calming a bit, fall Little League season is in the books meaning there are a few weeks of down time before we start prepping and planning seriously for Spring '07... yikes.

Stay tuned-- November might be a wild ride before it's all said and done.

30 October 2006

a quick one while he's away

One of the really cool things for me about Austin is the way that it forces me to closely examine many of my own assumptions about what sort of person and writer I am at that given moment. This year, for example, I managed to do a lot of effective networking, and in hindsight I think that's a result of being a lot more comfortable with my own "deservedness" of the attention and respect of serious industry players. Those who know me at all in the real world know that I'm prone to a certain degree of arrogance and cockiness about my own work and abilities (no -- really) which is sometimes (but not always) mellowed by a strain of seething self-loathing which helps keeps my ego from lifting into geosynchronous orbit.

Five days of wrestling with this Rubik's Cube of self-valuation, locked in a clinch with that Jekyll-Hyde beast, often pays bizarre dividends.

In this most recent case I return from Austin looking at my new Rom-Com laying in a steaming heap in just-completed first draft form and suddenly realize the piece is not really about what it needs to be about... that the moments where I seem to be briefly touching upon oir alluding to some larger issue are the only moments which really have any relevance and emotional value for me. What the damned thing needs is not those odd little scabs removed or healed and no longer visible, but the rest of the peel pulled back so that the actual core concepts are left exposed and ragged and raw. There have been moments in my writing where I have looked back and said ""that is what I was trying to do... that was the writing I am trying to put out there...". Invariably those have been the results of creative moments where I was terrified to be standing alone on a stage, revealing my sins to an audience of potentially hostile witnesses, dropping trou at the front of teh church, where I felt like I was giving my confession through a stadium PA system.

Emotional honesty is a pain in the ass, but then again nobody said this was gonna be an easy gig.

Still, when something scares you, scare it right back.

"We shall use the old ways: speed of horse, strength of lance."


26 October 2006

AFF 2006: let slip the poodles of war

Day 1 (Thur 19 Oct 06)

Keen though I be for the warm fuzzy embrace of Dame Alcohol, within the narrow confines of the Austin Film Festival I am at once both carefree and disciplined, for in all my years of carousing and convivializing, I've not yet missed an early morning panel. More and more I wonder if that painful early morning alarm isn't some sort of penance I do to rationalize another night's brain cell slaughter. Maybe it's just that childishly defiant part of me again showing off that I can out-agonize any mere mortal in my path.

Whatever the reason, I'm up at 8 AM, showered, shaved, and out the door by 8:20, latté in hand and in the Driskill Lounge by 8:40. Greg Beal, aka "Mr. Nicholl Fellowship", wanders past and shakes his head. "Don't you ever leave this place?"

"Sure. Every year."

More of our odd little circle of friends wander in over the course of the morning. The first day of the conference usually doesn't boast very many "must-see" panels, as the conference workers are busy getting the bulk of the guests registered and working out the last second details in prep for the Opening Remarks panel at noon which serves to signal the official start of the conference. Having been to the AFF a few times, I don't bother with that first panel but instead opt to wander down Sixth Street for lunch with my buds. Jamie, Reece, Julie, Shawna, Aaron, Ann, Murray, Caz, and then we pick up T.J., an LA friend of Shawna who is also a first-timer in Austin and a finalist in the Burnt Orange contest. It turns out that TJ was a tank driver in the Army (between Gulf I and Gulf II, so he never saw actual combat), so we talk tanks and military bases and the odd way that all sorts of folks wind up writing screenplays.

After lunch, we all head back to the first real panels of the conference. Someone ducks into the AFF office to grab a daily update to see see if maybe something has been moved or rescheduled.

"Hey, man-- you're name is in here."

I shrug, assuming they are referring to some trivial list of second rounders or something from the contest.

"No, dude-- look!"

The daily news handout for the first day of the fest opens with a Welcome letter, and then there's a large -- half page -- excerpt from a blog post made by "a man named Brett."

I stare at it and can;t really believe it. There on the damned daily newsletter for the writer's conference, is a chunk from my blog. I reacted with typical grace and aplomb.

"Son Of A Bitch!"

I storm into the office and bellow for Maya, the festival honcho. She's not available, I'm told. "What-- is she out ripping off other writers?"

I demanded satisfaction. I demanded remuneration. I demanded something -- anything. A fruit cup.

I got nothing.

So I stomped away to find my first panel: What Gets Producers Excited. Maggie Biggar cancels on that panel, but producers Richard Bever and Anne Walker both do a solid job of describing what sorts of things really spark their interest in a project. Bever also piques my interest when he says he looks for story ideas all over the place -- news, short stories, history -- and that he's always looking for a good romantic comedy (which, is so happens, is my current in-development live project).

Note to self: find an opportunity to talk to Richard Bever..."

Good panel. Would have been better in a smaller more intimate room, with fewer people and more opportunity for interaction, but still good.

After that, I took in The Art Of The Pitch, paneled by Jessica "Bring It On" Bendinger and John "I Am Everywhere" August. Now, I'm not interested in learning to pitch more effectively -- I'm arrogant enough to trust my ability to dance well enough if ever I'm tasked to do so for a group of two or three in a real room, and I have zero interest in learning to do that ridiculously pointless and contrived form of pitching done at pitch contests -- but both of these panelists I know "give good panel," and that's enough to warrant my interest. The moderator is pretty underwhelming -- he seems more eager to impress everyone with his teaching philosophy and credentials than he is to elicit cool insightful comments from the panelists -- but August and bendinger are both just too smart, too interesting, and too engaging to miss, especially if you don't have any competing panels. Every time I hear them in Austin I come away thinking "they clearly have fun doing what they do." Plus, Bendinger dropped a funky cool new homemade word: sheisty. We all giggled to hear it, but we all knew exactly what she meant: kinda sheister-like, kinda like scheisse, kinda shady and cheesy and shaky. You know-- "scheisty." Exactly.

After that we all wandered over to the Conference Welcome Party over at an open air bar on 4th Street. There we saw loads of familiar friends -- fellow writers from previous festivals, now-familiar faces from the festival (including Conference Director Maya Perez, whom I accosted in my usual way. She laughed and offered to buy me a beer. "But the beer's already free!" I said, tossing her the set-up she wanted and needed. "Exactly! Which is why I offered to buy!" (Oh, the fun we had.) I elbow Maya and ask her to confirm that the blazer-clad gentleman behind me is in fact Lawrence Kasdan. She peeks, nods, and dashes away to take a phone call (likely to order some more plagiarizing... the woman is nefarious, I tell you). I suck back my fourth Dos Equis, breathe deep, and stomp over to meet Mr. Kasdan.

I always feel very uncomfortable with these sorts of fan-boy intros, as on the one hand I absolutely wish to respect the man's privacy: he didn;t come to the party, after all, just to be slimed and drooled upon by my adoring ilk, but on the other hand he has enjoyed a great deal of financial success thanks to guys just like me, and if he doesn't want to meet fans, then by jumped up Harry he shoulda stowed his candy ass back at the hotel. (And, yes, this is in fact what my normal every day interior monologue sounds like, and yes, it concerns me as well...).

"Mr. Kasdan, I'm sorry to annoy you at a party like this, but I can't let you stand within arm's reach and not ask to shake your hand, sir. You're maybe the reason I ever considered becoming a screenwriter, and I am a huge huge fan of everything you've ever written. Especially Continental Divide."

He smiles and shakes my hand. "Wow-- that IS going back a ways!"

He turns out to be, like a surprising and refreshing number of the Hollywood folks I've met, a surpassingly kind and decent guy. he accepts my little bit of ass-kissery, and then does something truly cool: he checks my ID badge, reads the name of my script from the festival contest, and insists on talking to me about my writing for a minute or two.

Lawrence Kasdan! Lawrence FUCKING Kasdan! I give him the briefest possible description, and he smiles and nods and says "wow, that really sounds interesting. I wish you all the best with that, really." I thank him, tell him to enjoy the rest of his evening, and turn to leave, where I see something else remarkable: Kasdan's wife, Meg, standing back, smiling and watching her man make a 42 year old father of four blush and giggle like a smitten schoolgirl. I lean in and tell her tahnks, and she smile and asks for what. "For sharing him with folks like me. It means a lot." She smiled and patted my arm. I toyed with the idea of copping an ass-squeeze, but opted against it.

Back inside I find more of my friends shmoozing and boozing, and then I see Bob Fisher, half of the team that gave us Wedding Crashers. I always tell my friends coming to AFF to study the damned panelist list and do some research to learn faces, as you never know who you'll meet or where. I walk over and introduce myself, and wind up having a few good minutes and some laughs with an established comedy writer.

Now, I don't do this with any idea or hope that Bob Fisher is going to meet some boob at a bar and then two minutes later say "On the off chance that you're a writer, here's some money," but in order for the lucky impossible accident to happen, you need to put yourself in position for such accidents to happen. Over the next few days I wound up passing Fisher a few times in the hallways and every time he smiled and recognized me and muttered some funny ref to our pointless bar banter. Who knows? Maybe he'll be back next year and I'll have more reason to develop a broader connection to him. The point is do not go to one of these events and ignore an opportunity to meet someone of interest or possible relevance. If you can't or won't get your mojo on when it matters, then just stay at home and whine on some sad incestuous little chat board where people piss and moan about how hard it is to make any connections in Hollywood.

'Cuz that's just bullshit.

After that party, a gaggle of us wandered around looking for dinner. We wound up back on 6th Street, right across from the Driskill, at some burger and beer joint. We had a nice groove going -- even proper English lady Caz seemed to be getting into the playfully nasty game of verbal slap and tickle which passes for social interaction in any group I fall into -- when my cellphone rings.

"Hey, it's Glynis. Susan said I oughta call you."

"Well, God Bless Susan, then."

Glynis is one of those women who makes me sad that I am an honorable and decent husband. She's gorgeous and tall and blonde and funny and smart and very married, so of course I love to flirt shamelessly with her, safe and secure in the understanding that I never have to back up any of it. On top of all that, she's a story editor for a production company in LA, an assistant to a cool writer, and generally just one of those people who is Very Good To Know.

"What are you guys up to? I'm here at the Driskill and have nothing to do."



"I'm across the street -- I'll come grab you and bring you back here with us. What are you wearing?"

"I'm in a blue sweater."

"Do you have a tube top you could slip into?"

"No, Brett. I don't have a tube top I can slip into."

"That's fine. I'll bring a couple you can choose between."

And I hang up and run across the street to find Glynis rolling her eyes at me even before I approach. I drag her back to our little gaggle of idjuts at the bar-restaurant, and Jamie, our newly-adopted Canadian pretty boy, pulls me aside as he sees me bring in Glynis.

"Dude! What, do you just collect hot chicks from the street or something?"

I smile and nod yes.

He pats me on the head. "Good man. Carry on."

Burgers, beers, etc etc etc. We wander onto 6th where Julie announces that she has to meet her new manager. We all hear her but pretend to not so that she can then announce again that she has to go meet her MANAGER. MANAGER. Cuz she's a big PRO, and has a MANAGER, and we are lowly filth on scum on dirt on grime. Half our crew wanders back to teh hotel, some to go watch movies, some to start drinking, and the rest of us (me, Julie, Jamie, Reece and Shawna) head over to a bar named Daddy's where Julie slides over to a table of Important People to hang with her new MANAGER. Jamie and I don't mind so much as there is some shit-hot cutie serving beers to our table. Eventually, Julie finishes meeting her new MANAGER and comes back down to slum with us paste-eating un-repped civilians, at which point we start wandering back to the Driskill to see what other trouble might be stirred.

In the Driskill, a good crowd is starting to build up a head of steam, as more of the Usual Suspects arrive and take their places on the stage. Bryan and Jon from St Louis wave from near the TV, cheering as usual for the damned Cardinals, now back in the Series, but I have little time to talk as soon it's time to head over to the WGA Opening Night Party, so again we convoy out into the dark and parade the few blocks over to Rio Grande, except Caz, our new English sister, decides to bail on us, claiming that she's tired from a day full of drinking and note-taking (I saw her at work in one of the panels and her notes look like a longhand transcription of the commentary-- amazing).

There we find a crowded restaurant party in progress, but there's free Dos Equis, and free Bombay Sapphire, so all is well. Somewhere in there I bump into Bill True and his annoyingly sweet and cool wife Robby. Bill has been an online pal of some of us for years, and last year at Austin Bill won the Narrative Feature writing competition for his movie Runaway. That would normally be reason to hate Bill, but Bill is one of those damnably nice guys who leaves you no choice but to cheer for him. Bill and Robby, smiling as always, wave, slap me on the back as I push toward the bar. As I grab a beer, I see Richard Bever, producer panelist from my morning panel, in a circle of folks all trying to give some sort of soft pitch. I wave, he waves, and at some point I swing by to hear what he has to say.

Now, here's the thing: I didn't go over to shmooze this guy. I just recognized him from my first panel and wanted to say "hey, thanks for being here for us newbs." But somehow we end up talking, and then we're swapping cards, and then we're talking about getting in touch and talking, and I just nod and excuse myself as quickly and gracefully as possible so as not to seem like I'm gonna screw it up by making the usual ass of myself (no-- really).

One of my buds comes over and tries to give me a high five. "Dude! What was THAT!?!"

Apparently he said that was the slickest no-pitch pitching job he's seen, so I'm his hero now.

"Great," I tell him. "Go grab hero another fuckin' beer."

What can I say-- I'm just a people person.

The party fizzles down, we slime our way back to the Driskill. A few more beers. A lot more laughs. Goodnights hugs. Promises to meet for coffee. We stumble away to our rooms somewhere around 3 AM.

One day down, and it feels like we've been going for a week already.

I love Austin.

24 October 2006

AFF 2006: assemble the players

Day 0 (Wed 18 Oct 06)

D-Day. Day of Departure. Leaving for Austin. A Descent into the Maelstrom. Return to Oz.

Any number of odd metaphors and half-analogies might describe the feeling of waking and realizing that it is again time to make that drive west to Austin, to do that slow-motion stroll into the Driskill and climb the stairs and round that corner and look down that long copper-roofed lounge and realize... "thus it begins again."

"Has it really been a year?" I wonder to myself. "Or has it been more like another small lifetime?"

As I pack my suitcase, I begin to feel that weird schizophrenic detachment from my normal life. In some ways it feels like my "normal" life is the conference. Away from Austin I put on some strange Clark Kent mask of normalcy for 360 days and then return home to strip off my mundanity to be given four too-brief days in which to remember who it is that I am, that I want to be. 100 hours. 6000 minutes of freedom. And you'd better damned well make use of every single one of those minutes, as there ain't no more for another 360 days, boy.

I've said goodbye to my kids earlier that morning as they left for school, and The Wife has already left to go visit her aging grandmother, so I pack in an empty house, which seems all too fitting. In many ways it's as if the Universe understands, for once, and grants me some space in which to prep for battle, for that is what it feels like. I am a gladiator preparing for the arena. I can hear the bloodlust of the crowd in the distance. I can feel the rumble. Smell the fear and blood.

It is time.


I hit Austin around 2 PM and swing to the Stephen F Austin Hotel, check in, and drop my gear. I have messages waiting, text messages incoming. The tribe has already begun to gather for another yearly pow-wow.

One of the cool things about the AFF is the way you quickly develop an entirely new circle of special-duty friends, people who you will meet for the first time and then walk with for just four days and then hold dear from that point on. There are analogs in all sorts of other activities: combat, sports teams, survival situations. In some ways Austin is all of of those, so I guess it's not surprising that emotional bonds are so quickly forged. Over the years, some people fall by the wayside -- they find themselves unable or unwilling to commit to a return, or perhaps they break through to some greater success and are required to be somewhere else, filming a movie, offering a presentation elsewhere. You miss these friends deeply, yet you take some comfort in the secure understanding that others will step forward to take their place on the ramparts.

This year I managed to arm-twist a long-time online pal into giving the Austin experience a try. Caz, a dear friend from London whom I met years ago through the Zoetrope website for writers, finally tired of hearing me nag and cajole her into coming to Texas for this odd event, and when one day I suggested that perhaps she might look into trying for a press pass in order to cover the event for some English screenwriting magazines, it all fell into place. She was staying at another local hotel and we'd arranged to meet at the Driskill as soon as I got into town, so I called her and she walked the two blocks to the headquarters check-in desk where we finally actually met for the first time. I honestly have no idea what she thought. I've had friends confess to me later that upon first meeting they were not at all sure if I was totally sane -- perhaps homicidally sociopathic -- but she camoflaged any fears and reservations. She of course is exactly what I expected: beautiful and funny and slightly biting in that veddy veddy proper British way we colonials find so intriguing. We hug, I splurt out the first of what surely wound up being 10,037 little bits of surl, and decide to trek to the far side of the Austin area to grab some BBQ at one of my favorite places, the Salt Lick.

Just as we pull away from the Stephen F and head up 7th toward the freeway, I get a call from Deb, aka Chesher Cat. Deb is a painfully cool pal from LA who, in some former life, partied with pretty much every rocker of note in the 70s, then worked on pretty much every poster for the great/awful Cannon group movies in the 80s, and now is moving inexorably closer to a successful screenwriting career of her own. I've met Deb twice before in real life, on a pair of trips to LA earlier this year when I was testing teh waters and meeting a few pro friends (producers, writers, etc.). We connected spookily well, like finding a friend that somehow the Universe forgot to issue you when it was supposed to.

"Hey, dummy. I'm at the airport. Where's my ride?"

"Headed your way at 75 miles per hour. Wanna grab some food?"

So Caz and I swing by Bergstrom Airport and pick up Deb and then head west toward Driftwood and the Salt Lick. I wanted to go somewhere away from central Austin as we're not likely to have a chance for such side trips any time during the thick meaty part of the festival. Once things get going at the festival, you're too busy and involved to do more than walk around a 6 block radius around the Driskill Hotel.

The Salt Lick is a classic old-school texas BBQ place, so I figure that Caz (a Londoner on her first trip to Texas) and Deb (a Calgarian on her first trip to The Great State) will get a kick out of it. We're seated on the patio, the sweet smell of oak fires and cooking meat drips from the rafters, and a breeze carrying hints of limestone dust and cedar drifts through the screen walls. We're just relaxing in the comfy-ness of it all when The Guy coms to take our drink orders. We turn, and Deb displays her true colors:

"Wow. You are gorgeous."

The Guy looks at me, shakes his head, laughs, and steps closer to Deb, who still drools at the blushing youngster.

"I guess I'll start with you then."

Lunch is cool. The women opt for simple plates of 'Q, while I of course go for the feeding frenzy, the Salt Lick's trademark unlimited family style BQ special. As we eat, I get a few more calls from the airport, but given that we're 40 minutes away and in the middle of a meal, I blow off my friends and tell them to grab the shuttle.

We swing back to the SFA, toss the car to the valet and wander into what will be the closest thing to "home" for the next four or five days: The Driskill Bar:

We wander down, I grab the first of what will be far too many beers in the next few days of lounging, and we plop down and wait for others to come by. Caz seems concerned that she'll have trouble actually securing interviews for her stories she wants and needs to write to mentally justify her use of a press pass for free festival admission, and I try to get her to relax.

"You'll not have trouble meeting people. The trouble will be in leaving people."

Somewhere around that time that moment I see more of The Gang. Old friends like Julie O, Anne, Murray, Thomas, Ryan. New folks whom I knew would be soon added to the roster of Austin Buddies: Shawna, Jamie, Reece.

Julie gives a hug. "I can't believe it's already been a year. It doesn't seem like that long since last we were here, does it?"

"Oh, it does to me," I mumble. "I can remember counting down every single one of those 8,640 hours since last we gathered."

Suddenly the relevant and worthwhile part of the Universe collapses into just these next four days. 100 hours. 6000 minutes... 5999... 5998....

Game on.

23 October 2006

AFF 2006: why we pilgrims trek to mecca

In Islam, believers are obliged to complete the Hajj, the annual mass pilgrimage to Mecca, at least once in their lives. As I now try and insinuate myself back into my "normal" life as the final echoes of this year's Austin Screenwriter's Conference still roll into the near distance, I'm struck by the similarities between the two experiences. Both represent a sort of purifying ordeal where one's devotion is at once both questioned and validated, where you find yourself in the company of like-minded travelers from around the globe, where the stratifying differences of class and wealth and nationality are stripped away and you are simply in the company of Fellow Believers, where you might well encounter visions and revelations which make no sense at all to any literal minded person who has never made that long pilgrimage.

This was my third pilgrimage to Austin. The first time, I was at once terrified and exhilarated on the eve of the trip as I was not at all sure what to expect: was my belief strong enough? Was it pure enough? I came back from that first year a wild-eyed fresh convert, a zealot of sorts, suddenly preaching a new-found gospel to any friends for whom such news might be useful.

"Go. Just go. If you have the faith -- if you truly wish to become a professional screenwriter -- there is nothing else like it. Go."

Some folks inevitably look at you with that look zealots often receive: that slight furrowing of the eyebrows signaling an internal debate over your sanity. "Is this guy serious, or just nuts?" From the perspective of the zealot, there is never doubt, and it is perhaps this odd absence of doubt which gives pause to the unconverted.

Subsequent yearly treks have been no less religious in terms of impact. Yes, that sounds hyperbolic, likely somehow quaint and possibly even frightening, but it is the simple truth. I've felt a similar emotional moment at the birth of each of my children, when it seems I've been given a peeking glimpse behind the curtain to see the normally hidden and obscured Truths of my own existence. At each childbirth, I experienced a moment of clarity which was simultaneously humbling and elevating, when suddenly I simply knew something with unshakable conviction.

This is now your purpose. All which preceded was merely preparation for this new task.

That now familiar sense of newly re-consecrated purpose and determination overwhelmed me as I drove home after my annual trek to Austin. I schedule my entire year around this odd week of mystical rededication and affirmation. I accept that in coming months I will find myself tied to events and obligations that require some degree of my attention, but I also know that some things are bigger than my own petty sense of responsibility. Some things are required by that which made and continues to make me.

Thus I know where I will be October 10–15, 2007.

11 October 2006

update: screenwriting

Been awhile since I actually addressed this subject, and given that this subject is the alleged subject of this blog, it seems like a subject which might rate being addressed every once in a while.

Thus, I address the subject.

ROM-COM -- Completed the first draft this week and am now marking the living hell out of the 120-page printout, yeah, it's overlong, but that's 'cuz I tend to throw in extra dialog bits and exchanges which I know even as I write will not last 'til the second draft. best case, I'd love to get this tightened down to a solid 108 page effort within the next week so that I might pretty much have it "done" and off my mind in time for me to head off to...

Austin Film Festival -- That starts next week, and even though I was already pretty damned excited to be going back, I'm now almost giddy as I read that Kevin Smith and Lawrence Kasdan are late additions to the list of panelists. Regardless of how you feel about his movies, Smith is always entertaining to listen in a panel format, and Lawrence Kasdan... oh, my. THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK. BODY HEAT. SILVERADO. THE BIG CHILL. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. GRAND CANYON. Plus he wrote CONTINENTAL DIVIDE. and anyone who can make John Belushi and Blair Brown work as a cute romantic couple... well, this is a writer to be reckoned with. My hope now is that I won;t just make a slobbering ass of myself if I manage to meet Kasdan, as many of the aforementioned movies are ones which first sparked my awareness of "gosh, somebody actually writes all that stuff on screen... and that would be pretty cool...."

WESTERN THING -- that's an idea that has been sitting patiently on the back porch of my mind for more than a year now, and as soon as I get the RomCom off the front burner then that will become Primary project for a while, as there is ... (ahem) reason to give the project attention. I won't jinx it by spilling specifics just yet, but I will say "Austin been berry berry good to me" and "it's good to know people." There's a remote chance that there might be some stupidly cool news with this project in months to come, but, as usual, "we shall see...."

EPIC THING -- as is my habit, as I was pushing to get over the final hump of RomCom's initial draft—that Heartbreak Hill it seems I always encounter down the homestretch, where it looks like the damned thing will never make sense—of course I got distracted by a totally new idea out of left field. I granted myself a one week vacation from RomCom to focus exclusively on this new idea, doing research, playing with outlines, sketching character studies and action maps and all that fun stuff I do when assembling the pieces to stage a desktop fit of story-conjuring. I was (am) thrilled by a lot of what came together, but then at the end of that week I was totally slobberknockered to find that an agonizingly similar project was not only under development, but is now in fact scheduled for release in early 2007. I won't bother pissing and moaning over specifics (mainly 'cuz I am convinced and hopeful that this other project will be a total disaster, leaving the field at least partially unmuddied), but instead I'll keep my little box of assembled pieces safe and secure, ready for that happy moment when I can return to finish playing with them and build the story that deserves to be made and told there.

LILYA -- she continues to haunt me, and it is my hope that I'll return from Austin this year armed with some contacts to maybe start a serious marketing push to get that puppy read by some more people out in Hollywood. I love that story, love many moments of my telling, and truly believe there is a solid movie there if I can just get the material in front of the right pair of eyes (yeah, like that's a rare or unusual prayer among writers...). Still, hope springs eternal.

And of course there are a few other random odd items floating around the fringes of my mind, but they hardly rate mention for now. The plan for this year was to have THREE finished projects ready to be shopped and read by the end of 2006, and so far I'm still on track. The trick now... well, same as it ever was: find some more friends in LaLa.


10 October 2006

Buck O'Neill: 1911–2006

We—baseball fans, America, humanity—lost a great man recently.

John "Buck" O'Neill, one of the true greats in all of baseball history, passed away Friday (6 Oct 2006) at the age of 94.

If you are a true baseball fan, then you might know who Buck O'Neill was, and why he rates notice on the sad occasion of his passing.

If you are a casual fan, or not a fan at all, then know this: Buck O'Neill ranks among the greatest players to never play even one inning in Major League Baseball. By all accounts, O'Neill was one of the best hitters professional baseball ever saw. He won batting titles, anchored championship teams, played and managed with some of the greatest players ever, and witnessed the Golden Age of Baseball from the dugout and his familiar position at first base.

But there is a melancholy twist to this tale. For Buck O'Neill was black. And for that reason, Buck O'Neill played in the "seperate but equal" Negro Leagues of the 30s and 40s alongside such legends as Satchel Paige and Josh "Homerun" Baker and Cool Papa Bell. By the time integration finally came to baseball in 1947 with Jackie Robinson, O'Neill was already long past the point of being able to play.

But that's where his story starts to really achieve grandeur. Rather than curl up in disgust for opportunities missed (or denied), O'Neill retained his trademark warmth and joy, becoming one of the great ambassadors of the game. Not "the white game" or "the black game"—just "the game of baseball."

He became one of the first black baseball scouts for a major league team, helping the Cubs find such talents as Ernie Banks. Later, O'Neill would become the first black coach at the major league level, taking an assistant job with the Cubs in 1962.

Later, after his playing and coaching career ended, old #22 just kept on preaching the gospel of baseball. O'Neill became the face of the Negro League, offering thousands of speeches and talks on his experience in that wild and wooly time, when baseball was still more game than business, regardless of skin color. He became the living breathing soul of the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame, that timeless link to a past which few of us can understand but none must be allowed to forget. Anyone who ever heard Buck O'Neill speak realized that they were in the presence of someone truly touched by a grace and dignity to which many aspire yet few will attain.

Yet for all his achievements and efforts and acclaim, Buck O'Neill never won admittance into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. This past January, for reasons that have never been explained or justified, O'Neill was not voted in, leading an army of baseball fans to howl in protest. Current and former major leaguers asked the question fans asked: how could Buck O'Neill be denied such a undeniably deserved honor? For many of us, it was an indefensible outrage, yet Buck would have none of it:

"Don't weep for Buck," he smiled. "Just feel happy, like I am, being thanful, like I am, that I can do and have done the things that I did do."

If you don't know about Buck O'Neill, please — please — Google his name and read a paragraph or two, and maybe pause to consider what a difference it can make to live a life with dignity and honor rather than anger and regret. If you've never heard O'Neill's beautiful rumbly southern drawl talk about Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb and Satchel Paige and Josh Baker and that wondrous game of baseball wherein all great truths are revealed upon a field of green, then again use Google to track down a video or audio online and see if you don't feel your heart swell a little when you hear what true love sounds like, for if Buck O'Neil leaves us any legacy, it's love: love for baseball, love for friendship, love for hope.

In his autobiography, I Was Right On Time, O'Neill explained why he never felt or expressed even a tinge of regret over the fact that he missed a chance to play in the major leagues:

"There is nothing greater for a human being than to get his body to react to all the things one does on a ballfield. It's as good as sex; it's as good as music. It fills you up. Waste no tears for me. I didn't come along too early -- I was right on time.

"You see, I don't have a bitter story. I truly believe I have been blessed."

Godspeed, Buck. And thanks.


29 September 2006

crymes and mister meaners

Being a card-carrying Wile E. Coyote-grade Super-Genius™ is not all sunshine and lollipops, kids.

Yeah yeah, I avail myself of the complimentary "deep-muscle massage from over-busty lingerie models" service, and the all-you-can-eat pot pies are a plus, too, but still... with such honors come responsibilities. At least, I choose to act as if such is the case. Or at the very least blather on publicly as if it were true.

And one of these alleged responsibilites might well be the job of walking the blogosphere with my little yellow psychic hi-liter clutched in my hammy little fist, locating and identifying and offering color commentary upon episodes of abject unsmartitude, moments where someone says or does something so stupifying that all you can do is pause, hands on hips, and then scratch your head and slowly whistle.

And, friends and neighbors, I am here to report the sighting of just such a moment.

The place? A blogsite known a The Bag Means Your Mind.

The alleged perpetrator of the stupifaction? One "Thomas Crymes," a childish cowardly nom de plume if ever I heard one.

The comment in question?

"I’m doing it for the experience itself."

Now, far be it from me to ooze hostility and pissiness (and "fuck you, gomer" to anyone who suggests otherwise...), but surely this ranks among the dumber statements I've seen in the past 17 months.

Crymes (think about the ironic accuracy of that clearly fictional name for a moment...) claims that he will be taking a stab at stand-up comedy in the coming weeks. He has no experience with such, nor has he ever suggested that he has any interest in such, nor has he ever uttered anything remotely like a humorous comment or idea before.

(Note— Crymes once *did* draw some smattering of laughter when he uttered some still-undetermined four syllable sound in response to now-forgotten comment during a breakfast at the Austin Film Festival, but that was later re-classified as a misunderstanding when witnesses discussed the event and realized that Crymes had in fact NOT said "Fuck Bea Arthur as originally thought. That would have been funny, but that was not what he said.)

It is entirely possible that Crymes (again I point out how deliciously appropriate this obviously fictional alias is...) is an intelligent man. Yes, his blog postings and comments near-conclusively suggest otherwise, and the photo he chooses to use as a bio picture on that site helps the cause not one bit, but being the generous loving sort here we like to give the benefit of every possible doubt, so for now we'll claim (though not believe) that Crymes might well have a well-developed nervous system. But if such is the case—if Crymes (again, could he be any more obvious here?...) does in fact possess the ability to respond and react to simple stimuli—how could he have uttered such a strangely moronic concept?

Think about it (as Our Man Crymes surely seems to have not) and tell me what sense can be drawn from that statement: "I’m doing it for the experience itself."

Using the same logic described by this greasy fart of a comment, Crymes (OK, I'm hurting myself with laughter at the clumsy transparency of his intended canard...) surely will soon announce his intention to soak up many other novel and heretofore unexperienced yet equally pleasant experiences:

• french-kissing a wolverine
• giving himself an all-over body scrub using a Stanley SureForm "cheese grater" rasp
• subsisting for an entire week on only prunes and canned corn
• making hours of passionate love to a lamp socket
• volunteering as a human piñata at a party for a 12-year old team of Little League All-Stars
• calling an independent insurance agent and asking to hear details on all possible products the agent might have for a middle-aged man with income.
• having his fillings replaced with fresh amalgam
• simulating childbirth by having a ten-pound Butterball turkey forcibly pulled from any bodily orifice into which a ten-pound Butterball turkey might first be forcibly rammed

Clearly, "experience" is way-overrated, yet Crymes (seriously—I just peed myself a little...) understands that not one whit of such self-evident capital-t Truth. Instead he apparently insists upon getting his ticket punched by as many moments of undeniable unpleasantness and scream-inducing terror as can be managed.

"Good day, kind sir. My name is Crymes and I'd like to have a hernia installed!"

"Pardon me, but my name is Crymes and I'd like to experience a gun shot wound, please!'

"Hey there hi there ho there! Crymes is the name and unclear on what 'turkish revenge' is what I am. Can you demonstrate?"

"Happy Arbor Day! Call me Crymes and then usher me into the experiential world of blunt force trauma!"

"Guten tag, Frau Blucher! Ich bin Crymes and ich wanna stand in front of yon brickenwall and maken with zee badjoken, okee dokee, ja?"


So, for the above-cited remarks, on this the Twenty-ninth Day of September, in the year 2006 AD, I hereby welcome one Thomas Dalrymple O'Shaughnessy Gort Cudahey Cudahey Ingmar Crymes into the International Hall of Dumpth, conveying to him all rights and privileges attendant with such titles.*

Mr. Meaners B

* currently, "none"

20 September 2006

update: not gone—just not here

As has been the case for the last, oh, eight years, things ‘round here have been hectic. Again, I’ll try not to bore with too much gazing of navel and absorption of self, but between Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Little league board of directors, youth soccer, youth football, dance, PTA, elementary, junior high, and pre-school stuff, believe it or not “useful time” sometimes seems a rare commodity hereabouts, especially for something as absolutely pointless and inconsequential as a damned blog post saying “too busy to post.”

One script did reasonably well in a pair of decent contests. Another script plods slowly along, with a major second act problem hopefully (knock on wood grain) resolved and a smooth path to a happy snappy sappy conclusion well in hand. Another script lies where it has for months—completed yet dead in the water as I and the co-writer seem incapable of finding a middle ground for compromise on the last round of edits and re-writes, (leaving us with a script that we BOTH loved in a previous draft, but which we now kinda hate if either of us lets the other do what they claim needs to be done to improve the project. Oh well.).

Another project started, exploded into happy excitement, then suddenly tumbled into pissy annoyance and anger when I found (despite a fair amount of due diligence done before I started work) that there is another project already filmed, in the can, and awaiting release—a project which is so similar to my little dream scene that there seems little point in even thinking about work on myvariation on this theme.

So it’s back to the rom-com, hopefully the home stretch wherein I bring this lumbering beast in for something like a workable landing. A producer wants (or wanted...) to see this thing “as soon as it’s done,” but now I’m just praying that the end result doesn’t win a special commendation for Special Achievement in the Provocation of Waves of Nausea. (No, it’s not bad, but the fear is always that it’s Not Good, and Not Good is the same as God Awful in this business...).


Meanwhile and anywhooo... I’ve also been trying to get caught up on some of my long overdue reading, with scripts from a number of friends for which I owe notes and comments (if you’re one of those, understand that I’m slogging slowly forward through the pile of stuff I foolishly agreed to look at and will make every effort to offer some sort of response as soon as I find time, energy, opportunity, and wakefulness coincide).

I’ve also read some scripts from pro writers, scripts for projects which are currently in various stages of development. I’m finding that I seldom enjoy these reads, as I usually end up shaking my head and wondering what the hell it was about the project which garnered the interest and attention of a studio or star but which so totally eludes my understanding. Yeah, yeah... “there’s no accounting for taste,” etc., etc., etc.,, but when I read a script and find that it has A-list attachments, has been shot and is slated for release, and all I can do is say ‘I am SO glad that my name is not on this 110-page pile of dogshit,” it seems there is an issue there worth considering.

Am I that odd in my tastes and preferences? Am I that critical and petty? Or might it be that when I see a script which has basically no character development, no action, no compelling dilemma for the hero, no thoughtful or interesting or unforeseen resolution to said problem, but does seem overflowing with moments of maudlin clumsy sentimentality and clichéd pathos, that maybe some confusion is in order? Jeez... I read some of this produced drivel and start to wonder if my biggest problem is over-thinking: that maybe my scripts would be a helluva lot more marketable if I were to start writing at a fourth grade level of emotional development and intelligence.

[And, yes—for those scoring at home, I totally accept the pomposity of that last statement. Bite me. And remember: just ‘cuz I’m a pompous blowhole does not mean that I am wrong.]

So... not a lot of fun for the old blog, but then, disappointing three or maybe two folks hardly seems a tragedy of much import. Methinks the blogosphere will muddle on in my absence.


07 September 2006

warning track power

In baseball, that phrase—"warning track power"—is used as a friendly jab at those hitters who seem able to hit the ball hard or frequently but who don't have quite the pop to put the ball into the seats for a homerun.

"Close, but no cigar," in other words.

And right now, that's kinda how I feel about my screenwriting efforts for the year. I entered Queen Of The Sky, my based upon factual events WW2 story, into both the Nicholl Fellowship contest and the Austin Film Festival contest.

A week or two ago I got word that Queenhad dinked out of the Nicholl contest as a Top 10% finisher.

Today I got word from AFF that Queen had dinked out in the second round of AFF with a Second Round finish.

"Warning track power."

Don't get me wrong—I'm not trolling for praise nor am I peddling false humility here. The script is good. I know this, I can accept and admit this. A Top 10% Nicholl finish is nothing to get depressed about, and the second round punch in Austin gets me some additional cool roundtable opportunities plus an always-useful discount on my badge. But still... I was kinda sorta secretly hoping that maybe this year I'd finally make sufficiently solid contact that I finally launched one a little farther, far enough that there would be no doubt that "ya know, the kid's got pop."

Instead, it's just a loud out. And now I have to suck it up and stand ready to spend some more practice time in the cage, taking BP and seeing if I can find just a few more feet on the end of my swing.

The finish in both contests is encouraging to a degree, and I'll use the placement in both contests as an aid in trying to market the beast to whatever folks out there might be willing to look at the script and possibly help find some commercial use for it, but for now I have to take the finish as source of motivation to keep on working, keep on improving, keep on swinging hard and praying for good wood.

"OK, meat. Gimme the gas. Throw that double-A cheese in here and lemme show you what I can do...."
loving the smell of pinetar in the morning B

01 September 2006

return of the golden days

Look—I love my kids. In fact, if I didn't love the filthy little ingrates so damned much that I am constantly willing to volunteer for (career) suicide missions with the PTA, Little League, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Junior Knights Templar (curious to see if this helps the old hit counts locally), I might well be a hell of a lot farther along on the impossible dream of screenwriting fame and glory.

But I do, so I am not, and this is the life we have chosen.

Still, it was happy dancing time around here this week as The Daughter ("kneebiter the last") finally started back to pre-school for the year. I knew that this summer was going to be a fully loaded bear and a half, but somehow even with that understanding I still underestimated just how insane the distractions would be this year. I won't go into all the ridiculous detail, but let's just say that "precious little serious writing was accomplished these past few months."

This is not to say that i was totally unproductive on the old career front. Somehow I managed to visit LA not once but twice and made some cool connections during those trips, and even had some preliminary meetings with producers and folks of relevance.

But at the end of the day, it's about the words, baybee, and since school let out in May I just ain't been putting enough of them down on paper.

On screen. Whatever.

But now a new day has dawned, and three days a week I again find myself able to do one of my favorite things in the world: lock the door, turn off the phone, slap on the headphones and disappear into Story World. This week I finally finally (FINALLY!) was able to bring all guns to bear on the structural problems in the long-stalled RomCom. I'd already found a big piece of the puzzle last week (thanks, J.O.), but thanks to a few days dedicated to squeezing my brain until Thought Juice dripped out, I found a few more loose wires and misconnected pieces in there. Now that those problems are identified and straightened out, a fairly straightforward and "simple" completion of the draft in the next week or so seems possible.

MEANWHILE, I got word a few weeks ago that QUEEN OF THE SKY, my based-upon-fact WW2 war drama, had managed a Top 10% finish in this year's Nicholl Fellowship. No, that's not nearly so nauseatingly cool as a Semifinalist letter (like Scott the WRITER managed—go get 'em, kid), but still, given that I fully admit that the script has an annoying flaw in its last act structure—one which I continue to bang my head against the wall to try and solve—I'm pretty proud of the showing. Parts of that script rank among the strongest writing I've done, and I am defiantly proud of most of the script. if I can just figure a solution for that damned last act hiccup, and then find someone willing to throw a big huge pile of money toward the production of a period war drama featuring a female lead in a non-triumphant role, all will be just hunky dory.

Plus, in the "Always Cool To Note" Department, I've got all sorts of odd ideas and inspirations swirling around like moths around a vapor lamp. I have the big list of already-logged ideas and dream projects, and then a few more have swirled into the fringes of my consciousness of late as well, including a potentially cool idea to give commercial and dramatic appeal to a project I have long wanted to try.

And then there's the weird Spaghetti Western idea which got tossed back into the freezer but which I STILL want and intend to work on just as soon as I clear some space on the work deck, and then there's the wild collegiate comedy project that I've been threatening to try for twenty years, and of course there's the long overdue page one rewrite of my old goofy newsroom comedy... and I'm too damned pugnacious and relentless to fully abandon the partner-written adventure/romcom, as I still feel there's just too much cool stuff there to walk away without making at least one more effort to find the project some sort of home...

And now—at long last—I find that for at least three golden shining wonderous days a week, I again have opportunity to actually wrestle these 'gators into submission.

March or die, soldier. There'll be time for rest in the grave.


26 August 2006

what's so hard about ideas?

I have friends (shaddup) who claim that the writing part of screenwriting is easy for them. What they claim is tough is the ideas. They claim that they can sit for days—weeks, months—and not be able to think of a single story ideas which inspires and ignites them.

I have the opposite problem. Every time I sit down to think of cool story ideas, I am overwhelmed by the number of cool sounding stories I wish I could see as movies. Like Billy Blaze in NIGHT SHIFT, I can't keep these ideas out—they just coming at me all the time ("idea: feed mayonnaise directly to the tuna fish!").

Or, as Headley Lamar tried to explain to brutish shit-kicking Taggart:
My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives!

These damned ideas are flying at me like bugs at the teeth of a grinning cycle rider: too many, too quickly, too often for me to even think about it most times. When one of these ideas hits and sticks with me—when it lodges in my brain (or, to continue the forced metaphor, "teeth") such that I find myself still thinking about it over and over, constantly, for long stretches of time, with that idea expanding and developing and revealing itself like a glovebox roadmap unfolding on an open-window breeze—then I will usually add that idea (and the synopsis as it exists at that point) to my running list document of ideas.

This morning I added another damned idea to the current Idea List, bringing the count to TWENTY story/screenplay ideas I'd love to work on if ever I could just find the time.

[And, please: spare me your lisping snarky comments about "so why are you wasting time on a blog, Sir Thinkalot?" Urping up a post like this one here takes me about ten minutes of no special effort, and often helps me clear the pipes prior to a session of more serious writing. Writing a screenplay takes weeks of dedicated effort. You might as well compare taking a sip from a water fountain to eating Thanksgiving Dinner, as both involve "swallowing."]

Five of those ideas have already received some degree of my dedicated attention: one is an old idea that was once a completed original screenplay of mine and now exists as a sort of basketcase dismantled project, another has been written and performed decently in major contests, another is under current development and has attracted some degree of attention and support, and two others have intro/test scenes written to help me define and explore the tone of the eventual project.

(Curiously/annoyingly enough: two other ideas from that list have recently shown up as actual movie projects elsewhere, indicating to me that perhaps I have a fairly decent mind for recognizing commercially viable story ideas, so bite me, naysayers.)

My point there is that these are not empty pipe dreams I am talking about. These are not throwaway half-formed moments or scenes I am talking about. These are actual story worlds, where something really interesting is going on and interesting people are forced into interesting situations to overcome or prevent these big events. "Stories," in other words. Stories which I know would rate my interest to the point of plopping 9 bucks on a ticket counter to see on a screen.

And I'll be damned lucky to ever play with even half of these cool ideas.

So when I hear people—whom I absolutely trust and believe—complain that they just can't come up with a cool idea to pursue as a writing project, I am totally confused and bewildered.

That just doesn't happen 'round here.

20 August 2006

roll call: austin film festival 2006

So who's going to Austin this year for the big screenwriter's conference?

Friends of mine (shaddup) know how I feel about the AFF—for my money, there's not many more effective ways to do some basic networking and connection-making than with four hard-charging days in October at the Driskill. I already have the usual suspects—that odd gaggle of Austin (ir)regulars who pencil this event in on their calendars first thing every year—but this year I seem to notice a lot more of my online acquaintances announcing that they are finally going to make the trek for the first time.

That's wickedly cool, as a great many of the 2006 rookies are folks whom I already know and (to varying degrees... ahem) like. Some of these folks are committing to this event very much as a leap of faith, based upon the cheerleading and up-talking from folks like me (and others—AFF fans are not hard to find if you frequent any of the usual online screenwriting haunts). For some, it surely feels like it did for me my first year at the conference:

"Is this really worth the time and money?"

"What am I going to **do** there?"

"Am I going to wind up wandering around, alone and pathetic?"

To answer the above: "absolutely," "more than you would probably believe," and "not unless you really want to."

But I was lucky that first year: I wound up under the wing (and sometimes under the skin) of a few great folks who led me around and showed me what was available and who was who and said stuff like that "Yeah, that's Shane Black who claimed your spot on the sofa when you went to buy another beer. Wanna meet him?" and stuff like that. In the two years I've been to AFF, I've made and renewed a great many connections in Austin, including some, which, strange as it sounds, now rate among my favorite and most valued friendships.

(Again, shaddup)

I've also watched as some other people show up and do approximately nothing to distill any value from the opportunities presented. Folks who, for whatever reason, seem content to treat the conference almost like an airline flight, where they pay their fare and then just show up and expect everything to be handled for them. These are the folks who come to the conference, attend their daily panels, retreat to their hotel rooms in the afternoon and do... nothing. I find that both sad and confounding, as why in the world would you invest the time and money to make such a trip only to do nothing once you get there?

So I'm saying here, "if you're going to Austin this year, chime in now and start to get a feel for the folks you can and should be looking to meet once you are there.".

Maybe there's some friend of yours already going to Austin and you never realized it.

Maybe someone you've always enjoyed in online form—a chat room pal, perhaps—is headed to AFF and you might finally have a chance to make good on that beer you've long joked about buying.

Maybe there's someone heading to Austin who might be looking to split a hotel room, or a cab fare, or something—something that helps put real dollars back in your pocket today or tomorrow.

Yeah, yeah... there will be the usual impressive roster of name pros from the screenwriting and filmmaking front, but almost as useful from a career-building angle are the fellow aspiring pros who will be there—folks like me, folks like you—folks who are now just struggling nobodies but who might well emerge in a year or two as the very sorts of people you badly wish you knew today. Folks who could give you useful advice. Who might offer a helping hand when you finally make that first trip out to LA to meet and schmooze on foreign territory. Who might one day have a useful contact to toss your way, a friendly agent to send a query to, a cool major player acquaintance to take you skeet shooting with. Whatever. The point is, you never really know who will be a huge player in the near future, so making friends and connections now can only be A Good Thing.

So let's get a head count going to see who might be showing up in the Capitol of Texas in late October this year. I'm not going to organize any sort of group meeting—there are plenty of such events already being set up among those sorts who enjoy such events—but maybe there are some connections waiting to be made now, some mutually beneficial relations which might be found or forged.

Drop a note in the comments section if you are sure (or likely) to attend AFF 2006. We can help one another... so long as we don't just stand around like wallflowers, always waiting for someone else to ask us to dance. Cuz like the man said:

This ain't no party. This ain't no disco. This ain't no foolin' around.

Breaking through to the inside of that wall around Hollywood is serious damned business, my pretties. Let's get to work.

In Austin.

With a purpose in mind, and a beverage in hand.

19 August 2006

happy (screenwriting) new year

The rest of the world may happily look to January 1 as the start of a new year, but for many of the folks in my admittedly warped corner of Reality, the real lap counter for another year crawling past comes somewhere in mid/late August, as this is when the dink letters for the major screenwriting contests (Nicholl, Austin, Scriptapalooza, etc etc etc) seem to be arriving in the mail.

This is when the power players out in Hollywood seem to start trickling back in from... well, wherever they disappear to in late July-early August during that odd two or three week period of doldrums where it seems that NO call or email ever gets answered or returned.

And this is that time of the year when kids are returning to school, and all those soul-shackled morons like myself who have to split time between full-time parenting and full-time writing finally start again to have dependably useful chunks of time in which to chase screenwriting fame and glory. For an at-home parent, Summer is anything buy a vacation, as the kids are here needing/wanting such distracting items as "food" and "attention" and "emergency medical care."

Most tiresome.

So, while August might seem like the middle of the year based upon its position in the calendar, in truth for many of us it is the start of another season of hoping and dreaming. Yeah, yeah... for a few select lucky bastards there are still accounts open from last year—some few hundred folks, for example, are still in the running for the Nicholl Fellowship powerball lottery prize—but for most of us, it's now time to start gearing up for another run at the roses.

I'm feeling a tad run-down in some regards: this summer was especially exhausting due to a travel schedule which (for me) even in hindsight seems like the stuff of fiction: two trips to LA, a week in the Sierras, three out of town baseball tournaments, a week rafting on the Blanco River in central Texas... I'm still not sure how I'm going to manage all that, and it's already been managed!

Plus, I had mentally tasked myself with completing THREE new script projects this year. I'd managed two completed scripts last year—the war drama LILYA: QUEEN OF THE SKY and the action-adventure rom-com INTO THE AMAZON (co-written with PJ McIlvaine)— and felt that I'd started to get some momentum going. LILYA was well-received by every reader-pal (and I mean folks with a fair amount of objectivity and honesty) who read it and advanced in one major contest. AMAZON meanwhile had been a hoot to write and was getting a few requests and reads from various prodcos.

Then this spring... things sorta bogged down. LILYA needed a medium rewrite. AMAZON needed some serious work on one or two issues. And the problem with projects where you can see actual genuine possibility is that it then becomes doubly hard to just walk away and start something new, so I wound up spending a lot of time trying to get these two projects from last year polished up to the point where they might have some serious usefulness and attractiveness this year.

Meanwhile, there are the projects I've been trying to work on for this year's credit sheet (the rom-com and the spaghetti western projects oft referred to in this blog). Both still excite me, and both give me serious motivation to continue working, so those will now start to eat up most of my conscious working day. Hopefully (knock on wood) I'll be able to knock out the final initial draft of the rom-com in the next two weeks (or less) and then turn my attention to the western as I let the rom-com settle and mellow for a week before ripping through on a hurried edit and rewrite. Then get the rom-com to a set of a half dozen or so trusted readers, hammer down on the western, start collecting ideas for the inevitable Next Cool Thing, and then get the western polished and out to [someone who really wants to see it] so that I can then have a few weeks to settle and gear up for the screenwriter's conference at the Austin Film Festival in late October.

Come back from Austin, mope for a few days with the inevitable post-Austin blahs, and then kick ass to get something up and running in the two months still left in calendar 2006 so that I can hit 2007 running, ready to flog the holy hell out of at least four and hopefully five read-ready projects.

if I look at it all like this, it seems like a hell of a lot of work to do, and surely it is. But right now, what's really intimidating me is the next sentence... the next word... the next idea in the scene I'm trying to write.

Happy New Year, screenwriting pals. Now drop that stupid grin and get back to work. Time's a-wasting.