30 April 2007

no time for love, doctor jones...


When did now get here so soon?

My printer is smoking through a last second printout of this year's under-the-wire-as-usual Nicholl Fellowship entry. I have no special hope this year, but it suddenly occured to me that it's a cheap 30 dollar lottery ticket compared to the possible payoff, so why not?

MEANWHILE and anywhoo... I am scrambling to play phone tag with a long-lost college buddy who now works in Hollyweird aho might be extremely valuable and useful to a undiscussed new project suddenly boiling rapidly on the front burner. In one of those weird turns, I find myself the middle link in a chain of connections between talented represented writers on one side and hungry desperate producers on the other. It's all... strange. It has the feeling of one of those oddly perfect situations where you through all the puzzle pieces into the air and then they fall onto the tabletop magically assembled and in perfect order.

But we shall see...

AND the other New Thing is simmering along nicely and will likely be ready to throw at Austin Contests (the regular AFF, as well as the Burnt Orange or whatever they call it now, as well as the Sci Fi contest there), and I am laughing aloud as I look at notes and draft ideas, so that's cool.

AND the oddball cowboy thing still lingers in my mind like the stink from burnt popcorn, so that will surely get attention this summer.

AND there are the usual Other Cool Things yammering in the background, trying to distract me...

All in all, I'm suddenly nipple-deep in Cool Shit, and wondering which of these things will break first and become and actual living breathing project of relevance. I'd babble more, but I gotta go call a guy about a thing...

24 April 2007

a funny sense of expectation

OK, so despite the ass-over-teakettle wipeout of a major software burp earlier in the week which cost me 10 great days work at a point where I do NOT have any extra time in which to make up that lost time, I still feel... annoyingly good and optimistic.

Something must seriously be wrong, as I'm hardly ever admittedly self-confessedly (is that a word?) optimistic, but for now I feel good.

Why? I'm not entirely sure. I know that I am buried alive under various distracting and competing obligations— Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, Little league, PTA, pre-school, dentists, an ongoing family medical crisis (which has not and likely will not rate specific discussion out here), etc., etc., etc.—yet somehow everything still feels pretty cool.

My present theory is that I am on some odd vicarious high stemming from the success and good news so many of my peers and pals seem to be bathing in these days:

• bestest buddy Julie O is currently in New Orleans on the set of her first feature screenplay sale, now in production with Warren Zide of American Pie fame. Julie's screenplay is one that I remember reading in numerous draft variants over the past few years, so watching it "grow up" and bloom into an actual for-real movie is absurdly cool for me (and others) to witness. I can only imagine (or try) what odd feelings of rapturous joy and nauseating anxiety must be hitting her right now. It's one thing to imagine a movie in your head for years, but to see an army of strangers all spending days in a coordinated effort to turn your words into a movie to be shown on a screen in front of millions... well, I can imagine dread and joy dancing an odd tango.

• pals Steve Barr and Tina Joey (Jingleheimer Schmidt) Anderson recently inked a major development deal with Disney/PiXAR for their long-simmering PLANT LIFE project. Again, it seems like I've been hearing about and watching this little project struggle and fight toward the light for years, so when word came down that they'd finally "bagged the big one" as John C McGinley said in WALL STREET, I think a great many of us wanted to do that thing from the end of OFFICER AND A GENTLEMAN—just sob and clap and shout "Way to go, Paula! Way to go!"

• online pal Jonathan King continues to ride a tall and perfect wave of joy as his goofy killer farmcritter epic BLACK SHEEP continues to do good business around the world. I met Jonathan live and in person for the first time in Austin a month or so ago after swapping mail and silliness with him online for years through a group of writers and filmmakers we both know. Again, seeing someone you know stand and grin a painfully wide smile of proud joy as strangers line up to slap him on the back and say "hey, man-- great job!" is one of those cool experiences I never grow tired of, as I get to see someone in a totally honest and real moment of joy without having to wrestle with any of the weirdness and confusion that my own self-loathing would prompt if it were ME in that spotlight.

• on the publishing front, longtime online snarking buddy Cornelia Read hit the big time last year when her debut novel A Field Of Darkness came out to stellare reviews and solid sales. Cousin Cornelia wound up nominated for an Edgar (Allan Poe Award) for "Best Debut Novel," and she just turned in a draft of her follow-up, The Crazy School (coming in early 2008).

Cornelia reports that she's suddenly getting attention and interest from Hollywood, with rumors of possible screenwriting offers blowing in the wind like stray newspaper pages ("where do they come from/ How does this start?"). Again, I've watched Cornelia for years as the manuscript for what would become A Field started as an idea, grew into a major project, found a patron, then a publisher, and then started to garner praise and publicity. It's yet one more item of proof in the case that "absurd dreams really can come true... so long as you are stupendously talented and relentlessly dedicated to chasing down that damned rainbow like you are a hungry lion two steps behind a wounded wildebeest.

• also in books, Deb Chesher is nearing completion on work of her self-published coffee-table photo-opus Everyone I Shot Is Dead. a collection of some pretty freakin' incredible candid and private shots of a heartbreaking number of now-departed names from the rock and roll pantheon. Deb is now based in LA and also chasing screenwriting and producing glory, but in some odd previous life she was a rock babe in the early 70s, partying with and snapping shots of pretty much every major band and player you can think of from that time. The new book chronicles just how many of those folks have passed on and are no longer with us. It's a huge labor of love, and Deb's been pouring insane sweat and soul into this for years, so I have ever faith and confidence that her investment will pay huge dividends, as there's no way either to fake or conceal that sort of passion. (BTW-- pre-ordered copies of her book would surely make excellent Christmas gifts...).

Meanwhile, I sit here hammering away on an outline for what well may be the goofiest screenwriting idea I have ever seriously pursued. Without giving away the coolness, just think TREMORS and you'll be close enough for government work, pal. I've got a fistful of names of producers who all claim to want to see this damned thing when I get it written, and I also have some other projects folks seem excited by and hopeful for, and for a variety of reasons all too disconnected and vague and just plain squirrelly, for once in a long time the absence of anything concrete and definitively encouraging is not in and of itself grounds for depression.

Go figure.

21 April 2007

God Bless Texas

"On this field on April 21, 1836 the Army of Texas commanded by General Sam Houston, and accompanied by the Secretary of War, Thomas J. Rusk, attacked the larger invading army of Mexicans under General Santa Anna. The battle line from left to right was formed by Sidney Sherman's regiment, Edward Burleson's regiment, the artillery commanded by George W. Hockley, Henry Millard's infantry and the cavalry under Mirabeau B. Lamar. Sam Houston led the infantry charge.

With the battle cry, "Remember the Alamo! Remember Goliad!" the Texans charged. The enemy taken by surprise, rallied for a few minutes then fled in disorder. The Texans had asked no quarter and gave none. The slaughter was appalling, victory complete, and Texas free! On the following day General Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna, self-styled "Napoleon of the West," received from a generous foe the mercy he had denied Travis at the Alamo and Fannin at Goliad.

Citizens of Texas and immigrant soldiers in the Army of Texas at San Jacinto were natives of Alabama, Arkansas, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Austria, Canada, England, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, Portugal and Scotland.

Measured by its results, San Jacinto was one of the decisive battles of the world. The freedom of Texas from Mexico won here led to annexation and to the Mexican-American War, resulting in the acquisition by the United States of the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California, Utah and parts of Colorado, Wyoming, Kansas and Oklahoma. Almost one-third of the present area of the American Nation, nearly a million square miles of territory, changed sovereignty."


Happy San jacinto Day, y'all.
fourth-gen B

20 April 2007

just a mild case of inconsolable rage

"Ah, life is like that—sometimes at the height of our revelries, when our joy is at its zenith, when all is most right with the world, the most unthinkable disasters descend upon us."
--A Christmas Story

People sometimes ask me why I am occasionally prone to be perhaps the tiniest bit cynical and negative about things. I contend that I am not negative, but that I do have a healthy and hard-won appreciation for the way heartbreak can jump from around a blind corner, pistol-whip us to the ground, grab our wallets, then kick us in the kidneys twice for good measure before leaving us in a crumpled bloody heap in some sorry damp allegorical alley, gasping and gaping like a carp on the beach.

House odds do not favor the player in this joint we call Life, and if ever you find yourself riding a long winning streak, you'd better damned well bank some winnings while they are still yours to claim, as the worm will turn, my pretties, and when she does, she turns like a screw.

Coarse thread. Long and rusted.


The warning signs were all there: things were skimming along way too easily, way too pleasantly.

I'd returned from my most recent Hollywood fly-by a few weeks back with a dangerously and uncharacteristically upbeat outlook.

I'd found a cool new idea to work on which every LA player i've peeked it to has sparked interest with a wide giggling grin.

I'd discovered a great new card-based outlining program which was letting me free-stroke through the design and brainstorming process like nobody's business.

I'd been kicking ass and taking names for a solid week, and the outline was more than 80% completed with only the first half of the last act left to formally line out in written form. I knew where I was going, I knew how to get there, and I knew the twists and turns I'd likely encounter as I roared down the scenic route to that finish line.

Things were clearly going too good, and my Spidey Sense should have told me to keep my head on a swivel as that callous vindictive bitch named Reality was surely coming soon to slap some sense into me.

Well, yesterday, Thursday 19 April 2007, at approximately 4:19 pm CST, she showed up, fully lubed and ready for disco, baybee.

She smiled brightly, put a well-manicured hand on my shoulder, and leaned in close to whisper in my ear with that sultry voice she always seems to use:

Ooooo... remember me, baby?"

Then up comes the knee, square into the groin, and that too-familiar tide of nausea washes over you before all just fades to gray....


There are few things as deliciously evil, as perfectly frustrating, as a well-timed software failure.

38 notecards in an outline program—cards filled with loads of great specific line ideas and scene descriptions, something far more like a proto-draft than an outline, maybe 70 pages of material—suddenly goes "poof" and you remember all those times you've advised friends "remember to back up your work!"

Except this time I had. I'd made a duplicate of the file I was working on and had stashed it elsewhere on my drive so that when that bitch came a-knocking, I'd be protected. Safe-guarded. Ready to rumble. She'd do her nasty business, and I'd just smile and laugh.

Well, there was laughter, but it t'werent't mine, as this particular collapse overwrote my BACKUP copy with a backup of the original file which was being totally corrupted.

What specifically happened? Nobody yet seems able to say. The software people have tried to recover both files and they say "it appears the files have not been altered since 10 days ago," when in fact I'd been working like a demon those ten days. The net effect is that all work down since 13 April 2007 is gone—just gone, baybee. Like it never fucking happened.

So that cool new project I was skimming so happily along with? I'm back to square one. Well, not square one—more like square four or five—but given that only yesterday I was motoring past square number 39 or so, it still sucks muchly the same.

Now I sit here and whine lyrically about the raging anger and numbing depression the situation has stirred, but in my heart of hearts I already realize there are but two options today: either buck up or give up. March or die, soldier.

Contest season looms huge on the rapidly approaching near-term horizon—ten days 'til Nicholl, forty 'til Austin—and I sit here with no pages but only the muddled memory of a nearly-finished outline now lost at sea.

The options left to me now seem limited. Either I kick unholy ass in the next week, or I'm left trying to jump-start my stagnated career for the next year using what little attention I can garner by cold-calling and cymbal-banging. Part of me badly wants to grab a softball bat in frustration and just go use the cat for fungo practice, but instead I'll wax my moustache, button up my waistcoat and adjust the brim of my cap to a properly rakish angle as I remember one of the few worthwhile bits of Gallic military inspiration:

"Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking."
-- message to HQ from Gen. Ferdinand Foch

Fuckin ay, bubba. Once more into the breach.
Tenacious B (too big to kill, too dumb to quit)

10 April 2007

the new new thing

So today I got back to work on actual screenwriting. But rather than sit and stare at the long-languishing rom-com, or devoting more time to a big epic thing that I know will not work as a breakout piece, I decided to commit to doing something odd (for me): storming straight through on a rush project intended and designed for low budget production.

It’s genre, it’s concept, it’s cheesy, it’s easily produce-able, it’s filmable damned near anywhere, it has a kickass poster and tagline just screaming to be plastered on the sides of multiplexes, and it’s adaptable for use in DTV or cable usage. The fact that it’s the fruit of what was thrown out there as a total joke a year ago... well, such is life.

[NOTE-- if, as some do, you know the title and tagline, please please hold your tongue and don’t burn the punchline before the delivery of the joke. I really want to see what I can do with this, and part of the project’s charm is the idiotically perfect cheesiness of it all.]

I have most major set pieces clearly sketched out. I have the basic cast clear in my head. The story arc... well ”it’s a wresslin’ picture, Fink! How hard can it be!?!” By that I mean “the requirements an traditions of this time-honored genre are such that the structure pretty much sits there and waits for people like me to pour Story Sauce straight from the can over the waiting skeleton. Bake at 350 degrees for 88 minutes, bingo bango, you got yourself a low budget feature ready for DVD release.

Basic outline is clear. A more developed “fine outline” is maybe 1/4 done, with loads of great lines and situations revealing themselves every time I look up.

Fun fun fun. Maybe I’ll get it ready in time for contest season, and trust me—that would be hilarious, ‘cuz the idea of entering something like ... this in the Nicholl contest seems kinda like entering Gus the Field Goal Kicking Mule into the Kentucky Derby.

Which of course, is exactly the sort of idiotic stunt I’d love to pull.

01 April 2007

April 1: the least funny day of the year

Apparently some people really like April Fools’ jokes, thinking they are a local pinnacle of wit and hilarity.

Me? Take a wild guess.

For my money, the sort of person who would get crazy into April Fools is probably also the sort who thinks rubber vomit is comic brilliance, the sort of guy who finds knock-knock jokes bladder-burstingly funny, that type of gal who considers a talking birthday card witty and amusing.

I’m not begrudging anyone a desire to seem funny or a desire to join the human circus parade if only for a day. What bugs me is the odd notion that [1] somehow April Fools’ rates special effort and attention, and [2] that pretty much any effort—no matter how lame and clich├ęd and downright un-funny—deserves kudos. It’s as if at some point we circled the first of April on the calendar and made it a special day where non-funny people are given a free pass, and we collectively give them all the same gold star for effort as if we are in some cosmic pre-school class.

Puh-lease. It all just makes my sphincter pucker, and I think we all understand the discomfort of a white-knuckled sphincter.

Fake news headlines. Fake notice sent to friends and co-workers. The always-original “loosen the top of the salt shaker so that the next loser ruins his meal!” gag. That last one surely got old while pterodactyls still darkened the skies, and likely gave rise to the “crotch-shot” as a comedic chestnut:


Two Neanderthals hunker together. FIRST NEANDERTHAL readies to eat a drumstick the size of collie. He produces a small silver-topped SALT SHAKER to season his meal. As he sprinkles, the top falls off, dumping a quarter cup of salt onto the meat.

SECOND NEANDERTHAL points and laughs, clearly the mastermind of this brilliant gag.

First Neanderthal looks at the salt, dismayed, then glares at his laughing friend, pissed as hell. First Neanderthal fumes for only a moment before he jams the huge drumstick right into laughing Second Neanderthal’s private bits. Hard.

Second Neanderthal gasps, gags, rolls into a fetal ball and whimpers, suddering and shivering at the echoing aftershocks of History's first great intentional ball-shot.

First Neanderthal chuckles once, then starts laughing. He points at his suffering cavemate and absolutely convulses with laughter.

Still fetal-balled, second Neanderthal starts giggling, too, then ramps his laughter into wild convulsive fits, too.

First Neanderthal gathers himself, still laughing, again rams the huge meaty leg-bone into his pal’s nuggets, and howls with even louder laughter. Second Neanderthal yelps with pain but also laughs at the undeniable brilliance of this amazing new joke.

Later that day, these two geniuses discover fire only to immediately burn down the Sahara Forest as they take turns lighting each other’s farts.

The date? April 1, 1 million BC.

I like gags and jokes and childish dirty tricks as much as anyone (OK—a lot more than most), but where and when did we decide to reserve a special day upon which to lower the bar to such a pathetic and sad low level that “Pull My Finger” now seems like a Noel Coward bit?

For the next day or so we’ll have to hopscotch around the internet to avoid those freshly-dropped turds of supposed comedy and wit all the assclowns, dimwits, and booger-eating morons have left for us like unwanted casseroles on the occasion of a dead relative.

Uh... thanks. You shouldn’t have. Really.

April 2 is always one of my favorite days of the year, as it means that April Fools’ day is now another full year away, and we can get back to the serious business of pie fights and pratfalls.

So watch out for the mouth-breathers... they're out roaming in great slobbering dull-eyed herds today.
a tough crowd of one B