29 December 2007

21 December 2007

Nicholl Week -- Day the Fourth

Wednesday would be a strange day in many ways. I knew this on some level, as there would finally be that whole "Worlds Colliding" thing which had somehow never happened before.

Here's the thing: It's not as if I live my life like Harry Tasker in TRUE LIES. I don't live a double life totally separate and apart from my family, but there is surely some disconnect between my writing life and my non-writing life. As a writer I have a circle of friends whom I interact with almost exclusively via online means: email, chat, discussion board postings. In a weird way, my "office" is a virtual space where people from Florida and LA and Canada and England and New Zealand and Chile and Tierra Del Wherever all work at adjacent desks, just a tossed paperwad away in virtual space. A great many of these folks I actually have met and played with in real life, so I know them as more than just words and pixels. To me they are every bit as real as my neighbors and local peers.

To The Wife, however, these online friends are somehow slightly different. Suspicious. Suspect.

"How can you claim to be good friends with someone you've never met, or only met once or twice?"

"I dunno. How can you claim to still be good friends with someone you've not heard from in years, or only spoken to for a few minutes once in ten years?"

She doesn't begrudge me my writing friends. She just doesn't really understand who they are or how they can be described as "friends."

Did I mention that Wednesday was the day that The Wife was arriving to join me in Hollywood?

Oh. Yeah. Sorry. It was.


I woke to my alarm at 5 am and did some quickly calculations.

I'd crawled into bed around 2 am after a night spent first drinking and then writing in my underwear in my room.

(Well, I wasn't actually writing IN my underwear -- I was writing WHILE in my underwear. But I digress...)

I'd set my alarm for 5 am in case I decided to follow through on my stated desire to join buddy Ron Moscovitz (2005 Nicholl Fellow and WGA strike captain) on the picket line. I realized that I'd had slightly less than 3 hours sleep, would need to be in shorts and a t-shirt if I was picketing and would then need to proceed directly to WGA offices on Wilshire by 9 am for the photo op where Susanna Grant posed for a grip-n-grin shot in front of a large plastic Oscars™ statue as my Nicholl Finalist certificate was officially awarded, and that meant I'd not be looking as sharp as I'd wanted, and I'd also then need to leave early from that event to pick up The Wife at LAX as her flight arrived at 2:30 pm, so I quickly ran my sums and times my gazintas and decided that Ron could probably handle picket duties just fine without me, so I turned off the alarm and snored for another two and a half hours.

Among the other fun features of the Renaissance Hotel was the "concierge floor" where the Academy put most of us Nicholl folks. In the lounge area just down the hall was a very fine complimentary breakfast every day, and it was always interesting to smile and wave a piece of toast as greeting as one or another fellow Nichollite would pad in, bleary eyed and wearing footy pajamas. I had some more fun convo over coffee and fruit, then showered, dressed and piloted the rockin red Chevy POS 'cross Hollywood to the Academy's board room in their fancier digs on Wilshire.

Dan Petrie, Jr. and Dana Stevens sat in and talked for an hour or so about guild issues and the strike as they relate to writers and aspiring writers in the movie biz. Then a slew of heavy hitters joined us—the Nicholl's final round judges for the year—and we all chatted for a half hour or so about or projects as the judges foisted praise on most all of us.

Another really nice catered lunch was brought in, and we sat around in what amounted to an indoor picnic. The five soon-to-be-crowned Fellows all paired up with the judge who would be making their introduction at Thursday's awards banquet. My new buddies Amy Garcia and Cecelia Contreras, the painfully sweet gals behind Nicholl-winning Amelia Erheart and the Baloney Rainbow Highway, annoyed me hugely by collecting Susanna Grant as their lunch date and script-presenter.

Grant is the first Nicholl winner to come back to head up the Nicholl Committee, and in addition to being annoyingly talented (Oscar nommed, writer of Erin Brockovich and many other cool flicks), annoyingly cute, and annoyingly smart, she's also just a very cool and easy to talk to person. I managed to have maybe fifteen great seconds with Susanna as we posed together for my awards photo, and I was hoping to have a shot to tell her how huge a fan I am, but things got hectic.

I spent the bulk of the after-lunch period chatting with long-time Hollywood player Ron Mardigian. Ron was fun to talk to, and at one point he laughed and congratulated me on being possibly the most bitter and sarcastic young man he'd ever met. "You'll do very well in this business!" he offered as some odd compliment.

While we were all smarming about the room, acting like we knew what the hell we were doing, my cellphone buzzes, and I see I'm catching a message from Terry Rossio (yes, that Terry Rossio, and yes, I'm name-dropping again, so bite me), who wants to know when works best for me and The Wife to come up and see his place in Topanga. For reasons which still seem weird and somehow farcical, Terry and I struck up something like a friendship years back when he was a guest at the Austin Film Festval.

I've been to LA several times since then, and only once have I managed to cross paths with Terry (he's usually busy doing his damned fool movie thing, or off having premieres in two bit truck-stop towns like London or New York or Tokyo or wherever... such a sad tiresome life he leads...). This time, however, we'd swapped emails in advance and both sworn blood oaths (other people's blood, of course) to hook up and o lunch or something. Rossio had even made vague typically Terry-esque offers to possibly be in a mood to host a gathering or something at his place (he loves parties).

I respond, leave a message, and make a note to be sure and work out details with terry to do lunch on Thursday, then have to excuse myself for business elsewhere.

I took a few extra minutes to give Bill Mechanic former head of 20th Century Fox (and now a producer) a chance to kick me in the balls. I asked mechanic for some advice on the best way to present my story about WW2 female ace Lilya Litvyak to studios, and he said "don't bother. It'll never happen. This story will never get picked up."

Thanks, Bill!

I smiled, tossed my paper plate into the trash and headed to LAX to pick up The Wife.

I slide into a parking space maybe 50 feet from the doors to baggage claim, saunter in and find The Wife wandering around the claim carousel, chasing her luggage. I come up from behind and give her a hug from the side, surprising her. She looks up with a start, and then chuckles. "Well, hellooooo, Hollywood! Since when do YOU dress in all-black?"

We kiss. "Workin' it, babe."

I grab her huge suitcase and her hanger bag, ask if that's all, and she says "Yeah, just the two." I make a mental note that she must have packed efficiently, with all her makeup and gear in the big bag rather than in a smaller case as normal.

We load the car and make the drive back across town to the hotel. She smiles as we pull in and the valet guys scramble to assist us, and she smiles at the laughably clich├ęd collection of Hollywood characters we encounter from the driveway to the elevator. As we toss the suitcase onto the bed, she starts screaming profanities.

[Note: while The Wife is many things, shy about hurling some salty language she is not. We share that trait, in fact, as we can both cuss like drunken longshoremen with Tourette's when the mood strikes. I, however, am able to turn it off when the situation demands. The Wife, by contrast, sometimes struggles mightily on this point.]

The cause of her frustration was the aforementioned shortage of luggage.

"I forgot my fucking makeup case! Goddammit!"

Ten minutes of harsh language later and we've determined that she had packed her makeup case—complete with combs and brushes and blow driers and all manner of feminine product, as well as hundreds of dollars of makeup and hair care product—and then left it back home in Texas, sitting at the foot of the bed, waiting to be picked up and put in the car for the drive to the airport.

And we have a black-tie Hollywood banquet to go to the following night—the entire reason she decided to finally follow me to LA for a trip.


I'd already made some plans to meet an LA friend for dinner. Deborah Chesher—yes, she of "Everybody I Shot Is Dead" fame—was going to meet us at Lucy's El Adobe, which has become something of a tradition between me and Deb. I explain to The Wife that LA is a good-sized city where they have malls and stores and shit (yes, this is the way we talk), so we can surely find some place to help re-supply her with spackle and Bondo and varnish and such.

As I said, The Wife is still relatively unaccustomed to the notion of having online friends, so I think it was some great relief to her to actually see one of these names I refer to and prove to her own satisfaction that there is in fact a real living breathing human being associated with the entity known as "Deb." We have a fun little dinner—Deb fills us in on recent news with her promotional efforts for her cool book, we talk about the Nicholl week so far, The Wife talks about the annoyance of leaving her packed overnight case at the foot of the bed back in Texas. We'd called the babysitter who had confirmed "yes, it's just sitting here, ready to go—should I FedEx it?" Given the timing and the logistics, we decided to just try and replace stuff locally—"after all," The Wife explained in her typically female way where my stuff becomes our stuff and her stuff remains her stuff, "we have all that cash for the per diem!"


So we settle the bill at Lucy's, Deb scurries off to some movie preview premiere, and The Wife and I wander across Hollywood looking for someplace to drop coin on makeup she already owns.

We found a Macy's at The Beverly Center, dropped half my freakin' week's worth of per diem to buy duplicate makeup ("Merry Christmas," the suffering artist as husband explained...), then stopped by a 24-hour Walgreens on Hollywood Blvd to pick up all the brushes and combs and tweezers and implements of beautification required for these products. By the time the purchasing was complete, it was almost 10 pm and she was feeling the effects of spending the day traveling, and I was in need of a beer after the effects of spending all night spending, so when we walked through the front doors of the Renaissance and saw Sidney and Amy and Dave hanging out in The World's Worst Hotel Bar, I was morally compelled to pull up a stool and join them.

I assumed The Wife would just flop into bed and get some sleep, but she's a trouper, and she seldom passes on an opportunity to have a beverage and sling the shit (we do have some shared interests, as it turns out...), so she joins in and acquits herself admirably, showing a far greater interest in and understanding of the movie writing business than most spouses of peers seem to suggest. I give her tremendous grief—more in real life than in these blog posts—but in truth she has always been ridiculously supportive and encouraging and tolerant of my crazy dreams of screenwriting fame and glory, so finally having a chance to bring her along and include her in the silliness which passes for my life at these writerly events... well, it was a thrill.

She has once or twice made the observation that I lead somewhat of a double life, as when I am home and playing "Dad," i am committed to one specific set of goals and concerns, yet when I put on my SuperWriter cape and disappear into a week's worth of nights for a writing trip to Austin or LA, I clearly have a totally different mind working. I don;t know that I totally agree with the description, but I can see where she might have that impression, as the world of Hollywood is a million miles removed from the world of (example) Little League Baseball in Katy, Texas, so the idea that I am somehow equally adept and happy in both environments surely stirs some confusion.

Perhaps I am schizo and have multiple personalities running side by side and waiting for their respective turns at the wheel. Whatever. All I now is that I love both those lives, and suffer constant bewilderment that I so often bounce back and forth without much effort or problem.

We end yet one more night giggling at the bizarre way this bar shuts down without warning or explanation far earlier than can be explained, as patrons sit around glancing at their watches trying to figure out what's so special about 12:20 am that a hotel bar must shut down right then.

The Wife and I retire to our room, she collapses into bed, and I sort through email and do some late-night writing as always when on a road trip.

Outside, the spires of downtown LA shine in the hazy distance, and I can see moonlight reflecting off the Pacific west near Santa Monica.

(to be continued...)
very married B

20 December 2007

the best white christmas ever

So I was perusing for the newest updates about the WGA strike and wound up surfing past cartoonist/author Mark Evanier's site, News From Me. Mark posted a cool video which I wound up watching three times and laughing and singing along with every time.

The piece was created by a cartoonist identified only as thenosesdotcom. Who ever he/she/they are, may props be thine, dude—this rocks.

Merry Christmas, you filthy heathens.
sucker for the doowop B

13 December 2007

A spark in the mind's eye

Stumbled onto a fascinating little article titled The Shakespeared Brain wherein Philip Davis, a Liverpool professor, teams with a researchers to use EEGs to measure reader reaction to Shakespeare's use of "functional shift":

"In particular I mentioned to him the linguistic phenomenon in Shakespeare which is known as "functional shift" or "word class conversion". It refers to the way that Shakespeare will often use one part of speech—a noun or an adjective, say—to serve as another, often a verb, shifting its grammatical nature with minimal alteration to its shape. Thus in "Lear" for example, Edgar comparing himself to the king: "He childed as I fathered" (nouns shifted to verbs); in "Troilus and Cressida", "Kingdomed Achilles in commotion rages" (noun converted to adjective); "Othello", "To lip a wanton in a secure couch/And to suppose her chaste!"' (noun "lip" to verb; adjective "wanton" to noun).

The effect is often electric I think, like a lightning-flash in the mind: for this is an economically compressed form of speech, as from an age when the language was at its most dynamically fluid and formatively mobile; an age in which a word could move quickly from one sense to another, in keeping with Shakespeare's lightning-fast capacity for forging metaphor."

It turns out that this technique of cross-purposing parts of speech creates a consistent observable electro-chemical reaction in the brain—specifically, a 600-millisecond delay in parietal modulation.

New research into the physiological aspects of linguistics suggest that different areas of the brain handle processing of different parts of speech—one corner of your head handles verbs, for example, while another seems to handle nouns. This 600-millisecond delay invoked by functional shift seems to have the curious effect of forcing a greater portion of your brain to become simultaneously engaged with processing that word and sentence. In other words, when Shakespeare uses a square peg for a round hole in the sentence, we focus more and take greater notice.

Anyone who aspires to become a more effective (and effecting!) writer might do well to glance at the article and consider its possible implications and applications.

And now, I must away directly....

12 December 2007

a strange little hero

At birth, she was given just three months to live.

Four years later, half-blinded and weakened to the point that she requires two days rest in order to have just one hour of waking usefulness, she still soldiers on, forced to move backwards due to a gimpy inoperative leg that she drags behind her in the dirt.

Experts cannot explain how it is she's even still alive.

Winter is coming on now, and her best shelter for these coming chill months will be a rocky outcropping in the lee of the frigid winds. If all goes well, she will somehow continue to beat the odds and waken in the spring to resume her slow meandering backward crawl.


Her name is Spirit, and she is one of the twin Mars rover probes NASA sent to the Red Planet in 2003.

She is a tiny lunchbox sized robotic exploration probe -- a six wheeled rolling set of eyes and fingers and taste buds for NASA researchers, armed with a tiny but resilient computer mind which can take simple instructions from NASA and somehow translate them into a course of action for the day.

When she landed on Mars in 2003, the expectation was that she would roll around, sample and photograph rocks and soil in the surrounding area, but that the extreme conditions on Mars would soon cripple or kill her. "Three months, more or less," the experts projected. Winds, dust storms, antarctic winters, darkness which would deny her tiny solar panels the energy needed to power up her tiny motors and communications devices. She was designed as a a proof-of-concept test -- a pile of off-the-shelf parts thrown together on the cheap just to see if the basic principle of a low-cost research mission could work. She was just short term disposable asset and not much more.

But somewhere along the way, she and her twin brother, Opportunity, just didn't quite get that memo.


Sometime during the last few months -- three years past the point where the best experts were sure she'd have long since stopped functioning -- Spirit caught some grit in her right front wheel, one of six such small rubber tires "borrowed" from a stock remote control toy of the kind sold at most any large store in America. The wheel seized up and has not rolled since.

So Spirit just decided to drive in reverse and drag the useless wheel behind her, leaving a long lazy skid mark in the sand as she happily putters around the surface of another planet.

Now, when she receives orders from NASA to "go check out that rocky outcropping to the east" or "sample the dust in that bright area 13 yards due north," she waits for a day or two until her solar cells soak up enough of the sun's far dimmer light (maybe half as bright as on Earth), then limps over without complaint and keeps doing what she was designed to do: push back the veil of ignorance and push forward the bounds of what our species knows, what our species suspects, what our species dreams.

Go. Seek. Explore.


Sometime this past few months NASA scientists happened to glance back at that skid mark trail now stretching hundreds of yards behind the pugnacious little probe. Someone noticed the sand turned over in the trail seemed brighter-- whiter, shinier -- than the neighboring sand. So someone told Spirt to turn around and test that bright dirt in her own trail.

No problem, she muttered to herself, and rotated back, extended her tiny spoon-like digger and tasted the Martian dirt.

Silica. Nearly pure. Trace but elevated amounts of titanium, she reported back as soon as she soaked enough sunlight to make the test and the transmission.

Silica, with traces of titanium. Exactly the residue found on Earth around fumeroles, volcanic water features such as geysers and steam vents. Water features. Of a sort long known as a habitat for an insane variety of extremely tough primitive life forms.

Exactly the sort of place where life might first start on a cold hostile planet.

Like Mars.

"[T]his concentration of silica is probably the most significant discovery by Spirit for revealing a habitable niche that existed on Mars in the past," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., principal investigator for the rovers' science payload. "The evidence is pointing most strongly toward fumarolic conditions, like you might see in Hawaii and in Iceland. Compared with deposits formed at hot springs, we know less about how well fumarolic deposits can preserve microbial fossils. That's something needing more study here on Earth." [see entire NASA release HERE]

Now the concern is for Spirit's safety and continued improbable survival. Her solar panels are coated with dust from bad storms earlier this year, and it's not as if she can just swing past a car wash and get hosed off. The dust-covered cells already transfer less power than designed, and if Spirit powers down into sleep mode for the winter, she might well not have enough power to wake up come spring, when the temps on Mars climb back to a "balmy" 0˚F.

But still, she was never supposed to be here in the first place. She was just a test. A gimmick. A toy.

Who has defied the experts and chugged on for 1400 days, alone under a strange pink sky on an cold and windy alien planet, sending every scrap of information and science she can manage back to that bright point of blue-white light in the sky, a point which which marks the home of those six billion humans she represents and serves.

And now -- crippled, weakened, and maybe finally doomed -- she's made "probably the most significant discovery" of her entire amazing mission.

I dunno. Perhaps it's a little dramatic, but for my money, that's pretty damned heroic.
astrogeek 2000 B

10 December 2007





Trust me -- it's worth it.

Bloody fuckin' brilliant.

The Black List 2007

Well, it’s out.

The BLACK LIST, that unofficial list of the hottest scripts of the year.

Never heard of it? here's the "official" description:

THE BLACK LIST was compiled from the suggestions of over 150 film executives and high-level assistants, each of whom contributed the names of up to ten of their favorite scripts that were written in, or are somehow uniquely associated with, 2007 and will not be released in theaters during this calendar year.

Like last year, scripts had to receive at least two mentions to be included on THE BLACK LIST.

All reasonable effort has been made to confirm the information contained herein. THE BLACK LIST apologizes for all misspellings, misattributions, incorrect representation identification, and questionable “2007” affiliations.

It has been said, but it’s worth repeating: THE BLACK LIST is not a "best of” list. It is, at best, a “most liked” list. Enjoy.


So, here ya go. See how many names you recognize, and if you have some agency contacts, see if you can get a peek at some of these scripts. Whatever else you might think about them, they are a fair indicator of what the market is looking for right now.


RECOUNT by Danny Strong

FARRAGUT NORTH by Beau Willimon

PASSENGERS by Jon Spaihts

INFILTRATOR by Josh Zetumer

SELMA by Paul Webb

CURVEBALL by Steve Knight

I WANT TO F--- YOUR SISTER by Melissa Stack

THE ROAD by Joe Penhall

THE WAY BACK by Nat Faxon & Jim Rash


DUBAI by Adam Cozad
PIERRE PIERRE by Edwin Cannistraci & Frederick Seton


SOURCE CODE by Ben Ripley

EDWIN A. SALT by Kurt Wimmer
THE HUMAN FACTOR by Anthony Peckham


KAMIKAZE LOVE by Chad Damiani & JP Levin

BFF by Chad & Dara Creasey
THE BOOK OF ELI by Gary Whitta
LION MAN OF TUSCANY by Nathan Skulnik
NEVER LET ME GO by Alex Garland

$40,000 MAN by John Daily & Jonathan Goldstein
BLITZ by Nathan Parker
MANAGEMENT by Stephen Belber
SHELTER by Karl Mueller
WEDNESAY by Massy Tadjedin

GET BACK by Chris McCoy
JENNIFER’S BODY by Diablo Cody
JONES by Carol Heikkinen
MAN ON THE TRAIN by Dan Taplitz
VALKYRIE by Chris MacQuarrie
WORLD WAR Z by J. Michael Straczynski
THE WRESTLER by Robert Siegel
ZOMBIELAND by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick

20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA by Craig Titley
BALTIMORE by Chris Terrio & Jesse Lichtenstein
COLD CITY by David James Kelly
DARKON by John Hodgman
GENIUS by John Logan
BROTHERS IN ARMS aka HILL 427 by Noah Lukeman
ORPHAN by David Leslie Johnson
SCORE by Jeremy Slater

ALL GOOD THINGS by Marcus Hinchey, Marc Smerling & Andrew Jarecki
BLACK BOX by Brad Holloway
BLINDNESS by Don McKellar
BUTTERCUP by Alice O’Neil
CLASH OF THE TITANS by Travis Beacham
DEAR JOHN by Jamie Linden
DIRTY GIRL by Abe Sylvia
DOUBT by John Patrick Shanley
ELI WEBB by Thompson Evans
HANGOVER by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
JOY by Jack Paglen
LAST CHANCE HARVEY by Stephen Hopkins
MAGGIE LYNN by Craig Brewer
RELATIVITY by Peter Craig
THE REVENENT by Mark L Smith
TEHRAN by Richard Regen
THE WACKNESS by Jon Levine
THE WEDDING PARTY by Francesca Marciano
WILD WILD EAST by Chase Palmer
THE WIZARDS OF PERFIL by Keith Fulton & Lou Pepe
WRECKING BALL by Susan Brightbill
ZELDA by Hanna Weg

36 by Richard Price
THE 37TH DIMENSION by Griffin Creech & Tom Kuntz
BACK EAST by Zach Whedon
BEAT KIP by Rob Kerkovich & Todd Waldman
BFF by Jenni Konner & Alli Rushfield
BROMANCE by Barry Schwartz & Raza Syed
BURN AFTER READING by The Coen Brothers
COXBLOCKER by Tim Dowling
DEEP THROAT by Peter Landesman
DEMOLITION by Bryan Sipe
THE DUCHESS by Jeffrey Hatcher & Anders Thomas Jensen
DUPLICITY by Tony Gilroy
EAGLE EYE by Hilary Seitz
ENRON by Sheldon Turner
A GOOD MOTHER by Rey Howard
I ROCK IRAQ by Stephen Chin
IN by Bess Wohl
JIMBO by William Finkelstein
LET IT FALL by John Ridley
MAMMOTH by Lukas Moodysson
MAN AND WIFE by Lorene Scafaria
MAN UNDER by Ann Cherkis
MATZOBALLERS by Adam Herschman
NO MAN’S LAND by Jeff Nachmanoff
OCEAN BEACH by Frank Cassese & Joel Plotch
OF EVERY WICKEDNESS by Brian McGreevey & Lee Shipman
PANDORA by Karl Gajdusek
PICTURES OF YOU by Josh Friedlander
ROSCOE by Steve Zaillian
SEX AND SYLVIA PLATH by Jennifer O’Kieffe
SHOTGUN HARLEY by Jason Jones & Mike Beaver
SOMEBODY TO LOVE by Michael Cunningham
SPACE INVADER by Mike Lisbe & Nate Reger
THE TOWN by Peter Craig
UNIQUE by Michael Cooney
WHIP IT by Shauna Cross
WILL by Demetri Martin
YEARBOOK by Bob Nelson
YES MAN by Nick Stoller


07 December 2007

STRIKE: something we can do?

In yesterday's post I reffed an essay in the Huffington Post where columnist Robert J. Elisberg suggested that perhaps the charge of "collusion" might be fairly and accurately applied to the behavior of the AMPTP—Elisberg suggested (fairly and effectively, IMO) that the fact we see all the companies in a single industry acting as one monolithic force to actively aggressively drive down worker pay and benefits is not just anti-worker, it's anti-American.

One of the (many) cool things about being an American is that we still retain the right to complain to our elected leaders in Congress. And with the Internet, that's easier than ever.

Yesterday I sent the note below to my US Representative as well as my two Senators.

You can do the same.

Just copy the text below (or come up with your own note, you WRITERS...) and then go to the Rally Congress website, enter your ZIP code to find your reps, and then paste in your note. It's free, it's painless, it's totally non-fat, and it's your Constitutional right as an American.

I am a screenwriter living in [CITY NAME].

Currently, I am unable to even TRY and ply my trade due to the ongoing labor dispute between the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) and the WGA (Writers Guild of America).

What galls me is that any labor organization is forced to negotiate for fair terms not with any one company or corporation, but with AN ENTIRE INDUSTRY COLLUDING TO LIMIT THE RIGHTS AND OPPORTUNITIES OF THE WORKERS IN THAT INDUSTRY.

The AMPTP is an umbrella organization which negotiates rights and terms for ALL companies involved in the production of motion pictures and television. Writers such as myself have no choice -- no options at all -- but to work for companies allied in this organization. There is NO other industry in the free world -- NOT ONE -- where such conditions are tolerated and deemed acceptable by governments, yet these studios, often subsidiaries of insanely well-connected and powerful multi-nationals, are given free reign to work together to drive down my pay, my rights, my opportunities.

I am not some militant whacko with an extreme political agenda. I am, rather, just an American worker fighting for the chance to make a workable wage in the field of my own choosing -- that whole "pursuit of Happiness" thing.

Please look into this situation and see just how hideously un-American things have become. Tens of thousands of American workers are presently unable to earn a paycheck due to the combined efforts of a handful of huge corporations reaping incredible rewards while claiming they are unable to share these rewards with the very workers who make them possible.

Companies and citizens alike deserve the chance to enjoy the benefits of the free market, but what these multi-national media conglomerates now enjoy is NOT a Free Market -- it is collusion, and it is not just illegal. It is morally WRONG.

Thank you.

If you're frustrated by the slowride tactics of the AMPTP, here's your chance to help possibly light a fire under their asses. The one thing the studios have never had to do is open up their books for independent analysis. All it takes is for COngress to suggest that perhaps they need to step in and get involved, and suddenly we'll see movement on this labor negotiation.

You have a voice. Even if the AMPTP members don't care to read your words, your representatives in Congress—whom you vote for or possibly vote against... (ahem)—very well might.

So complain. It's the American way.

03 December 2007

Nicholl Week -- Day the Third

Tuesday broke bright and glorious, another of those damnably nice SoCal days which seem so wonderful for the first day or three but which soon start to drive me batty with their Stepford Weather obsequious artificial perfection. I mean, come on... yeah, it’s a great to see a clear sunny day with temps around 70 degrees, and a light breeze, and no significant chance of rain, but how much of that can a person really stand?

Back home in coastal Texas, if you don’t like the weather, just give it a few hours—it’ll change. You might wake to 40 degrees and crisp clear air, and by dinnertime you’re sweating through your shirt with temps in the low 80s and nine thousand percent humidity making the air thick enough to chew like tobacco. Winds that come from one direction, change their mind, back up, then make a left turn and hit the gas. Thunderstorms that scare people into believing the End Of Days is well and truly upon us but which give way in an hour to an insanely beautiful afternoon. Scorching heat. Blistering cold. Hail the size of pre-schoolers. Squall lines that hit like a freight train and leave trees and shingles scattered like confetti after a parade. Lightning storms that would send Zeus himself scurrying for cover. Hurricanes and tornadoes and drought, oh my.

And that’s just a typical Monday.

Well, maybe it’s not all that. But dammit every time I’m in LA I wake up and have that Groundhog Day sensation that I am suddenly living the same day over and over and over.

I piddle around on the computer, jot some notes (some of which you’ve already read now in this post...), then shower and prep to hump it back to the Academy Citadel on Vine Street for a day full of meetings and panels. I find a month-old CLIF bar in my bag left from Austin Film Festival, so that raspberry flavored wad of paving material serves as breakfast. I hook up with King and Mango and we again head cross country through the wilds of Hollywood.

As part of the Nicholl Experience, the Academy schedules a series of panelists and speakers to come in and give some Q&A on a variety of issues of interest to screenwriters teetering on the brink of relevance. Given that all of us Finalists have been getting dozens of requests for scripts and meetings, these panels are a potential goldmine of useful information, especially for anyone who has not already managed a Hollywood working visit before.

Our first meeting is with a trio of former agents now working as managers and independent producers: Diane Cairns, Julie Chasman, and Dan Halsted. All are interesting folks with useful info, and as will be the case throughout the week, discussions of The Strike dominate the meeting. Not surprisingly, these folks all believe that we should be submitting our Nicholl scripts to pretty much any reputable production company or producer who inquires. They contend that we are non-members and therefore not bound by the rules for WGA members in this dispute. Based upon the wary glances around the room by the other Finalists, I get the impression that this is not a course most of us are wiling to try. I know that for my own purposes I will not submit to anyone except agents and managers who have demonstrated some willingness to not attach as producers—I see no reason to even possibly risk any confusion and complication if some of my material winds up on the desk of a struck company.

After this first panel, again the Nicholl folks provide us with a nice spread there in the room, so we chow down on loads of sushi and pot-stickers and cookies as the next crew of guests files in.

Now, it’s not like I am some mega-schmoozer, but after four years of concerted effort to develop some network of friends and contacts in the industry, I actually do know a few people. Not a lot, but a few. Including some previous Nicholl Fellows and Finalists.

The next trio of speakers are all Nicholl Fellows from previous years: T J Lynch, Ron Moscovitz, and Rebecca Sonnenshine. When they enter the room, we all give that “casual greeting where we are all trying to not seem like total strangers even though we are” thing, except when Ron comes in, we smile and point at one another, and he comes over and shakes hands and does that man-hug thing which frankly still confuses me. We chat for a moment and I notice that some folks are looking at us with that “”wait-- what the hell is this about?” sort of stares.

I’ve known Ron for two years, since the time I met him at the Austin Film Festival when he was naught but a Nicholl Finalist and not yet a hardcore pipe-swingin’ Fellow. I was actually standing with him in the Driskill Bar when he got a call and turned white and said “thanks” and then had to excuse himself to go to his room and scream I AM A GOLDEN GOD! and then call his parents and co-writer and such to tell them that he had just freakin’ won the Nicholl Fellowship. We’ve stayed in touch, and we’ve played around on a few of the same web haunts and playrooms, but for pesky reasons I’ve always been unable to hook up with him during my four or five LA trips.

And now, he is brought in to lecture me by the Academy. Funny old world.

Ron and TJ and Rebecca give is the inside story of the Nicholl—how it really impacts the start of a career, what weight and value it really carries in street terms in working Hollywood—and afterwards we all have wildly different takes on what we heard, what we learned. Some folks came away slightly depressed, surprised that a Nicholl trophy didn’t somehow translate directly into more industry success. Others had very different ideas—that the trio had actually made some nice progress into a career. I was somewhere in the middle, possibly as I was already familiar with their stories. I later made the comment that the Nicholl is a very cool thing but ultimately irrelevant if you don’t do the same work as if you’d not won. That it can open some doors, but it remains the duty of the writer to walk tall through those doors and then do something on the other side.

Ron, TJ and Rebecca give us a solid 90 minutes, then we break for a few minutes as we set up for the final group of the day: producers Gary Foster and Peter Samuelson. Both of these guys boast some significant credits, and both come off as folks genuinely interested in doing interesting quality work rather than just cranking out sausage at a factory. Both lament the changes in the industry in the past decade as the folks who have a balanced interest between the art and commerce of movie making have been overrun by the MBA crowd who see the movie business as just one more widget factory: minimize cost, improve efficiency, streamline production, advertise efficiently, and then coast to sustained 12% annualized growth with minimal risk.

Except of course, movies are not widgets. They are living breathing animals, and in that regard the movie business remains in many ways more like high stakes horse racing and breeding: you can study bloodlines and pedigrees and get the “right” people on your team and do all the right things... and still wind up with a loser come race day. These MBA types do not like this. They want to squeeze money from the industry like the aforementioned sausage from a grinder: dump in the meat, turn the crank, and out oozes a consistent stream of semi-chewed meat, ready for easy sale and consumption.

Samuelson tells a long (too long to bother repeating here) story about the ending of ARLINGTON ROAD. Eventually, the final movie as released used the ending originally written and not the more upbeat ending the studio “experts” demanded. ”What’s ridiculous is that there’s a 3,000 year heritage of storytelling—from Homer on down through the ages to people like you. You’re the storytellers, and you understand how and why you do things, yet we get to the top of the heap here and suddenly a bunch of money-counters decide that they suddenly understand human emotions and responses better than the storytellers do! It’s madness!”

Again, it’s an interesting set of guest speakers in that it provokes a panoply of responses and reactions in our group. Some find it vaguely discouraging that things have changed, yet others (myself included) are inspired that there are still a great many talented and powerful people who deeply value and appreciate the importance of the “Story” kernel to the process.

Again we stay long enough to make Greg Beal start to get anxious, and then most of us wander back to the Renaissance to figure out what to do with the evening. Given that we’ve spent the day—from 9 am until almost 4—inside the Academy conference room, we’re all eager to see some sky and breathe some un-conditioned air, so 7 or 8 of us claim a pair of tables at a Starbucks at Highland Mall and just hang out for another 90 minutes or so, digesting the days events and starting to relax around each other a little more as personalities start to become more clearly defined and understood.

Finally the locals head off to fight the LA traffic, Mango starts to feel the effects of jet-lag from his flight in from Tokyo, Amy starts to get creaky from some cague flu-like symptoms, and Andrew P has to go find his girlfriend somewhere, so Sidney and Cecilia and I wind up wandering around looking for dining options. We wind up at an Italian place on the third tier of the Highland mall complex, overlooking the huge Elephant Pedestal and the Cranberry Bog.

It’s (yet another) perfect SoCal evening, and since each of us is sitting atop a thick envelope of Academy per diem cash, the wine is flowing and the pasta is just spiffy. We laugh and tell lies and confess secrets and have a truly beautiful time, thrilled to be in the company of a few members of that small crowd of people who can truly understand just how totally surreal and exciting and terrifying this particular moment can be for a writer: suddenly, we realize, we no longer have the luxury of easy excuses any more. It’s now time to either put up or shut up. We’ve all been given a day pass into some long-forbidden wonderland, and we now have at least one clear opportunity to Make Something Impossible Happen.

Each of us is giggling at the attention our little projects have been getting. Each of us is deeply honored by this attention and proud of the work that got us here. And each of us is wondering what the hell happens next.

We linger on the patio til almost 11 pm, then briefly toy with the idea of finding a better bar, but the wine and the writerly laziness conspire to push us back to the pathetic miserable hellhole that is the Renaissance Hotel Bar (seriously: just put a trio of barstools around a cellphone kiosk in any American mall and you will instantly create more atmosphere than what this cold soulless place ever boasted). We suck back a round or two of overpriced beer just to buy us some more giggle time together, but then slumber calls us each our separate way, and another golden day thus ends, late and alcohol-soaked.

(to be continued....)

02 December 2007

If not, WHY not?

In case you'd not heard, there's a little strike thing going on out in Hollywood.

I offer that bit of "news" because in the last few days I have been genuinely stunned to see a lot of aspriring screenwriters re-posting weeks-old strike news and information with the sort of shortness of breath usually seen only in recent arrivals to a cause. They are sharing links to update sites that have been running for weeks, repeating factoids which have been well-known for months, lamenting about situations which have been lamentable for years.

Here's the thing, kids: I'm not going to sort and cull into "those who know" versus "those who don't" and then try to offer some sort of judgment. The facts of the matter are simple: if you have any serious desire, intention, or hope to become a working professional screenwriter for features or TV (or that fangled newly "inter-net" I hear the cool kids whispering about...), then it behooves you (look it up) to freakin' get with the program.

There is a battle raging out there, and if you do not know the players, know the terrain, and understand the interests and goals of both sides, then you are a child playing in the middle of a busy street.

Do you check Nikki Fenke's Deadline Hollywood site at least once per day (more is better)? If not, why not.

Do you read the posts from United Hollywood every day? If not, why not?

Have you checked out the amazing "Speechless" video series done by name actors to show support and solidarity for the WGA strike? If not, why not?

Have you researched online to get the real news of the strike from independent and less-biased sources than the networks... who are the major entities being struck? Are you aware, for example, that thousands of writers have been picketing for weeks around major studios in LA nd New York? That entire city blocks have been brought to a standstill by huge rallies featuring speakers from all major labor unions? That political leaders and candidates on both sides of the political divide are increasingly concerned and interested with the way the writers are being screwed over here? If not, why not?

Have you been soaking up the various viewpoints offered from within the screenwriting camp from a slew of intelligent (and often brazen) folks posting in the comments areas to posts on Craig Mazin's Artful Writer site? If not, why not?

Do you understand that the numbers being presented by the AMPTP ("the Alliance"), the organized studio and network force, are intentionally skewed to make it seem as if "screenwriters" are some monolithic block of overpaid wealthy rich guys driving Lambos to the strike sites? Do you know th truth about how many writers are unemployed at any given moment? How little the typical screenwriter makes in any given year? How life-and-death critical those residuals and health care benefits are? If not, why not?

If you are reading this, chances are very good that you either are a professional screenwriter, are working to become one, or know one or more a close personal level.

Talk to them. Ask what's really going on. Learn why this fight must be fought, and must be fought here and now. Discover the truth of the events and circumstances which have brought us to this point. Think about what's really at stake, and what the future would look like if the proposals and preferences of the Alliance were to take root in not only the screenwriting industry, but then were used as a model top break unions in all industries in this country.

As I said, there's a battle raging right now, and the outcome of this battle will define the terrain of the world in which screenwriters will be working for the next generation. If you have any interest in that field, or in the people involved in that field, you need to get informed, get engaged, and get involved.

But you already knew that, right? If not, why not?