23 June 2007

heading to Tortuga

Well, Grand Cayman.

Columbus initially named the islands "Las Tortugas" when he discovered them back in 1503, and with their pirate heritage in the 1700s it's likely no coincidence that the name "Tortuga" was used as the fictional pirate town in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean ride and movies. To this day the official logo of the islands is a cartoon sea turtle with a peg leg and pirate costume.

In addition to pirates and sea turtles, Cayman is known for having one of the great beaches in the world (Seven Mile Beach) as well as some of the best diving and snorkeling anywhere. I'm just looking forward to white sand and clear water and nothing much to do but lay around and grin.

Leaving Sunday (tomorrow morning). Coming back Saturday night.

No more posts til afterwards. Deal with it.

I am gone, baybee.
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20 June 2007

the end of the beginning

At or around 3:20 pm Monday afternoon I did something a tiny bit exciting: I saved, backed up, and then printed my first complete copy of the initial draft to [the new thing].

[Note—of course it has a title, but for now I am still keeping that nugget of info closer to the vest than normal, as I love the title and love the way it immediately brings a smile and a guilty chuckle to people when they hear it for the first time.]

At 92 pages, it's far and away the shortest first draft I've ever brought in for a landing. To contrast, the first draft of LILYA came in at 142 pages (and yes, it's been greatly trimmed down and streamlined since then, so get off my back, you sex machine).

There's a weird mix of emotions (at least, there is for me) at this stage of a project. On the one hand, there is of course a rush of excitement and happiness and relief, as I realize "OK, if nothing else I can say i at least completed the damned thing." It's one thing to start a screenplay, and quite another to finish one. Many a writer has disappeared into the dreaded Second Act Wilderness ne'er to be seen again. But having slopped together enough words to know that I have left an unbroken trail of crumbs from FADE IN to FADE OUT surely counts for something.

On the other hand, there's an odd sense of anxiety, as the easy work is now done. Writing is one of those self-absorbed activities where you are pretty much left to satisfy your own desires and predilections, but the moment you complete a screenplay the thing then ceases to have value unless and until it is read by someone else. Face it: an unread screenplay might just as well have never been written, as what's the point of writing a movie script you do not intend to share?

So having completed a draft means that I must confront the fact that I am now many steps closer to that terrifying day when I send my baby out to play with others. You hand your pile of pages to a stranger and leave them to open up your guts and your heart and your brain and say "well, it's not very interesting."

Ooof.

Then, assuming those readers do not commit suicide or move to Butte and leave no forwarding contact, you then are tasked with taking their notes ("needs more cowbell!") and trying to decide first if you are going to give a damn, and second how much of a damn to give. 'Cuz not all notes are equally good, or valid, or useful, or sensible, or relevant, or workable.

But leaping way ahead and assuming you do get useful notes which can be implemented without a loss of sanity or spousal tolerance, you then have to take the script and get it to Someone That Matters. Be it a producer or an agent or a manager or an actor's rep or a well-connected beautician or your cousin's manicurist's best friend from college, the script at that stage has to keep rising up the chain or else again it might as well have never been written.

And assuming then that you find someone with connections who is willing to read your thing, you then have to sit and light prayer candles that this person actually will read your baby, and assuming she does, that she doesn't vomit herself into intensive care, and assuming she doesn't that she likes it well enough to pass it yet further up the great chain, and then you get to start a whole new fresh round of fretting and worrying and realizing that you should have made that hero more likable in that key scene on the bridge or the heroine a little more heroic ("heroinic?") in that standoff in the submarine or the bad guy a little more interesting when he was first revealing His Evil Plan.

But jumping ahead and allowing for a second that you have in fact hit the cosmic jackpot and your pile of pages has impressed all the way to the top, you then hope that some other putz has not coincidentally suggested the same "DIE HARD on a parade float" concept to someone with a more direct line to Spielberg or Cruise or Scorcese or Weinstein, and that somehow your sad little monkeyfist of ideas gets a chance to shine alone in the spotlight of industry attention for a moment or two in which some instant greenlight becomes attached, and then some sweet talking agent calls out of the blue and suddenly tells you how great you are and how badly he's been trying to track you down to rep you, baybee, and everything is coming up roses and oh by the way Sony wants your next project sight-unseen for low seven figures and Halle says you're hot and she wants a baby, blah blah blah, and suddenly instead of writing movies you find yourself trapped inside one even more farfetched than your previous epic about a demonic blimp gone wild.

But first, there must be a pristine un-read and still potentially perfect initial draft.

And that's where we are for now—the end of the beginning.
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17 June 2007

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair...

Change comes to everything, eventually.

The sidebar links have been updated, with some welcome additions (White Board Markers, SoCal Film Group (SFG), and at least one deletion that brings something like a tear to my eye.

Those who have been a part of the great "scriboshpere" of online-networked aspiring screenwriters probably all read Warren Leonard's The Screenwriting Life blog at some point. For years it was one of my daily first stops online, as Warren had oodles of info and links to all sorts of stuff screenwriting related, and he often ran cool little contests on his site which wound up helping a lot of people find and connect to like-minded peers out there on the web.

You'll note the consistent use of past tense in teh above paragraph, as Warren's blog is no more. At some point this past week it lapsed into the past, swallowed by the sands of time (and expired domain registrations) as Warren remains too busy (he has a very cool gig in LA, but it's neither screenwriting related nor really my business to talk about) to worry about a silly damned website.

Still, he will be missed, and I can only hope for his eventual return to our ranks of unpaid unappreciated nobodies. For now, however, when I visit the link to his old blog, the lone and level sands stretch far away.
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on father's day

It's one of those days that sneaks up on me and seems like it will never really be anything more than yet another Hallmark profit center, yet which always ends up affecting me more than I expect.

Part of my cynicism towards Father's Day no doubt stems from the fact that I already spend so much time with my kids. As a stay-at-home-dad (and I'm growing more comfortable with the "Mr. Mom" tag purely out of spite against those who try to seem polite by avoiding it) I get to wake my kids and feed them breakfast and pack them for school and walk them to the bus stop and drive them to pre-school and deliver their homework when I find it mislaid and forgotten on the kitchen table and I get to come pick them up from the school nurse when they spike a fever and I get to go sit in the pediatrician's office and leaf aimlessly through tattered copies of Good Housekeeping (“...wow, that Marisa Tomei really has some interesting ideas for easy chicken dishes...").

Basically, it's tough for me to buy into the traditional vision of what fatherhood is "supposed" to be in suburban America, so all the clich├ęd hoary old refs to Eisenhower-era stereotypes (golf, yardwork, inability to do anything domestic around the house...) just miss the mark for me.

But then Father's Day rolls around, and inevitably there will be some odd moment or too that kicks me into a weirdly introspective and reflective mood, and I'll suddenly start thinking about capital-F Fatherhood.

This morning we were out of milk. The Wife rolled in from work with the traditional mixed carton of donuts (it's a Sunday thing around here: when Mom works Saturday nights, she brings home donuts on Sunday morning), but donuts without milk is kinda like alcohol free beer. I mean, what's the point?

So I toodle off to grab a few gallon of milk (hell, with four kids I often think it would make better economic sense to just buy a few Jersey heifers and a milking stool...), come back and find that the kitchen table has gifts and cards waiting. As usual, I'd totally forgotten that this day was Father's Day.

What got to me was not the token piece of expensive folded cardstock (I'm just not much of a fan of commercial gift cards), but the homemade little messages each of the four kids had insisted on including in the pile. My oldest gave me four hand-made coupons redeemable for "one hour of quiet writing time — no whining, no fighting with brothers and sister."

Second oldest gave me a sheet of art paper whereupon he had inscribed and decorated as many variations of "you da man" and "you rock" as his ten year old brain could come up with (and it was an impressive collection).

Third son gave me a drawing of a pirate ship and said "I like watching pirate movies with you."

Fourth child (the daughter) gave me some sort of butterfly drawing (her exuberance still far exceeds her abilities...) and said "you are cool like butterflies, daddy!"

(Which, having no real reference and considering the spirit of the occasion, I took as a compliment.)

The thing of it is, as I looked at these odd little bits of paper, I realized that I had the coolest most wonderful gift that these guys could give me. They all see and understand me as an individual person rather than just some iconic symbol of authority. They know me as a writer, and a movie fan, and a lover of words, and a fan of odd imagery and allegory. They don't see me as just "that guy who goes to work," but rather that guy who is a core part of their lives. And when look at them, I see annoying little snot nosed punks, but I also see amazingly interesting small people, people who have these fascinating intriguing personalities and these wild wonderful individual hopes and dreams and expectations for their futures.

Let's be clear: I'm not the easiest dad. Sure, I like to goof around and act silly and play games, and there are a great many things I do which are intended to amuse and entertain my kids, but I am very honest with them that I am not interested in being their friend. I am not their friend—I am their father, and that means I have a job to do, and so do they.

My job is to teach and prepare them for the day when I will no longer be there to save their sorry butts, to grow them into useful functional dependable adults with honor and respect and value. And to do that there will be times—a great many times, in fact— where I am forced to be something quite opposite from their friend. I will be driven by the responsibilities of this job to push them harder than they want to be pushed, to judge and punish for failures and transgressions, to prioritize and delegate in ways that might not always seem fair and might not always be fair.

In short, my oft-thankless job as father is not to be their friend today but rather to try and turn them into the kinds of people I (and others) might one day value as friends and compatriots. Their job is to understand and accept this, and to try and live up to the impossibly high standards I lay out before them.

And this morning I realize that what they gave me, without ever intending or realizing it, was reason to feel proud: proud of what I've tried to teach, and proud of what they have tried to learn.

And that is probably the coolest gift I have ever received.

Happy Father's Day. May your efforts be rewarded.
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12 June 2007

where have all the movie fans gone?

I was going to talk about POTC: At World's End, but frankly I am sooooo tired of having to wade through the fanboy (and fangirl) nonsense on the subject over at Wordplay forms, I'll just sum up and say that for my money P3 is way better than P2 but still not nearly so good as P1. And Kyra is... oof. "One very nice looking woman."

One sad note about seeing the movie was the crowd, as in "there wasn't one." We went to a local funky artsy place (Alamo Drafthouse) which shows first-run fare as well as some cool classic re-relases and special events. They have a very nice restaurant and serve good food direct to your seat during the movie—an insanely civilized way to see a flick.

I took my 6 year old as part of a "guy's day alone" thing where the two of us go and spend some time with just each other and none of the other sibs (or mom) to bog us down. It was an 11 AM show on a summer day, the Houston heat is already coming on like a jet engine cycling to take-off power, and given that this is advertised as a kid-friendly matineee showing, I expected a few families to be taking advantage.

Instead, we were alone in the theater. Totally alone. We were the only two people watching.

On the one hand, that was kinda cool cuz we had no screaming babies or babbling teens or chattering adults or anything else-- it was just us, a screen, and some food (he had the hot dog and tots basket, I had pizza margherita and a soda), but on the other, at several points I felt lonely and alone in this big empty theater, and then I startd wondering "WHY are we the only ones here? Where are the other kids? The other dads and moms?"

I think the easy access to DVDs and home viewing has to a large extent killed the wonder and novelty of seeing movies as clearly intended: as a communal experience, a shared event. I sat there hunkered down in my seat, my head slumped over close to my son's so that we could point and whisper and giggle at stuff on the huge screen, and I suddenly started to wonder if this is something he'll even have an opportunity to do with his own kids one day, or if this memory will be for him something like the memoroy of cleaning LPs and setting needles into tracks on an album is to me: something of another time and another world, somethign which sounds so bizarre and alien to the next generation that some will suspect some odd joke is being pulled:

"Come on, grandpa... there's no way you're gonna convince me to fall for that! NO WAY would strangers have all paid money to sit in a huge room and watch a movie together! Movies are shown using plasma displays, or direct corteal replay if you're into that and come pre-wired from the clonery...."

A year or so back I took my older two boys to see a revival showing of Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" at the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. It was not their first time to see the movie—it is one of their faves just as it was one of mine when I was a boy, and we've seen it a dozen times together at home—but it was the first in a theater, with a crowd.

Afterwards, the boys remarked that it somehow just "felt" different in such a setting.

"That's because movies are not supposed to be an at-home all-alone sort of thing, any more than watching a ball game on TV is the same as watching that same game from the stands. There's just a feeling... an energy... that comes from sharing the experience with others."

I wonder how long this energy can survive, or if it's already on its final legs and one day soon the idea of sitting in the dark, smiling through a mouthful of salty popcorn as light and shadow do their storytelling dance on a huge screen, will seem as quaint and old fashioned as crank telephones and horse drawn buggies.

If so—if this is the last generation for whom "watching a movie" is a shared public experience—then the world just became a tiny bit sadder, a tiny bit less magical.
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06 June 2007

quick hitters

1) There's a full moon this week, and apparently it's making normally sensible people behave like chimps on crack. I've seen at least a half dozen episodes online this past week wherein friends and acquaintances whom I'd normal-soaked describe as "sane" suddenly go batshit-crazy and start knock-down drag-out slapfights over... so much nothing. Inconsequentialities of the most inane sort. Get a grip, folks, and then hang on tight.

2) Even though I missed the deadline to submit to the Austin Film Festival (dammit dammit dammit), The New Thing is slithering (hehehe) towards something like completion. yesterday I backed up through 80 pages, and I estimate I have another 15 or so to go to bring this sucker in for a first draft landing. Then it'll be time to save, print, and soaked in bloody red ink to fix the multitudinous problems I'm sure I'll find. Still, I laugh and giggle at pretty much every page, and it's commercial as hell, so Hope Springs Infernal yet again.

3) Summer baseball starts tonight. I've been "off" (ha!) for more than 10 days, which is my longest baseball-free period since Groundhog's Day, and I can already feel my shoulders getting tight again, and my hammies starting to get stiff again. It's time to get out and break a sweat and tear some muscle and skin some knees and get a contact high from the smell of horsehide, glove leather, marking chalk, and newly mown grass.

4) I look up and realize with some amusement that IU will be MIA at least three of the next seven weeks, with a trio of water-contact vacations scheduled: once to Grand Cayman, once to Catalina Island, and then to the Blanco River. It's amusing to consider just how different each of those trips (and bodies of water!) are going to be, but it's a pleasant amusement.

5) had occasion to have a chat with an old friend wherein another old friend's name came up for the first time in a few years. This second guy—the one being talked about—once likely was the closest thing to a blood brother I'd ever had: best friend, most trusted confidant, favorite playmate and partner in crime. But as sometimes happens... the winds change. He moves away, I become someone else, and suddenly you start to wonder if a try at re-connecting would even be met with interest: would he just screen the call if he saw my name show up on Caller ID? Would he just ignore a card or email if I managed to track down an address and reach out to contact? It's not a whiny lament—just one of those idly curious observations: it's odd to consider how quickly something which seemed so permanent can be dismantled and forgotten.

6) Had a rare opportunity this past week to go see any movie I wanted in the theater without the kids in tow. I was somewhat surprised to discover... that I really had no interest. SPIDEY 3... meh. SHREK III... get serious. PIRATES 3... ho-hum. I wound up at a friend's house drinking good vodka and spinning wild tales of shame and degradation. Sometimes what I miss more than anything is something as simple as a campfire at the end of a hard day's hunt, with a few familiar smiles shining from the darkness.

7) Golf remains a wholly despicable and useless "sport." No larger point or justification there—I just felt that point needed to be made yet again.

8) I maintain that there is some sort of slow death affecting the blogosphere. Every week it seems as if another one or two formerly interesting blog sites either officially darken or just goes static, with no more posts or comments being made. What blogs remain seem less active, less lively, less engaging. I am reminded of the descriptions of the "heat death" end of the Universe where, billions of years from now, the Universe has expanded to the point that all stars are now hopelessly distant from one another, and many stars have either burned out or dimmed to brown dwarf status, and energy itself bleeds away in a sad endless drip, like the echo of a sustained note fading into nothingness at the fringes of a huge concert hall, just the vaguest memory of all that had once gone before.

Another odd analogy which springs to mind is the image of the last few dinosaurs. Once they ruled the planet for a 100 million years, but then a rock falls from the sky and Things Just Change. Most all die off, and surely at some point there had to be just a handful of the creatures left, looking around at the sad empty world they'd once ruled and wondering "OK, so what do we do NOW...?"

I've been part of such a mass extinction before—when a paradigm shifts somewhere and a sea change comes and a formerly vibrant community of thousands suddenly just closes shop, packs the wagons, and scatters again into the wilderness. Sometimes you bump into one of your old pals from the previous boomtown, and you smile and shrug, but you don't talk about What Happened, 'cuz what's the real point? Still, it's an odd and somewhat melancholy feeling to sense coming on again, as this really feels now like the beginning of yet another major shift.

Take good pictures, kiddos—we might not be long for this current state. Like a giant rock from a clear blue sky, when real change comes it comes hard, fast, and unannounced.
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01 June 2007

sleep as surrender

T'is an odd conundrum with which I wrestle right now.

It's medium-late—right around midnight—and I am dog-tired, exhausted physcially, emotionally, and intellectually by a week wherein I set myself to accomplish some near-impossible goals, came damnably close, yet failed within sight of the finish line.

There's a load of tasks and duties I might yet tackle right now, yet my eyes burn, my lids feel like they have combats boots hanging from them, and half the words I try to use come out looking and sounding like Cherokee Pig Latin, lacking both form and meaning.

I have to get up tomorrow and oversee some group activities. I have every reason in the world to just shut it down now and crawl into bed and get some badly needed sleep.

Yet I cannot bring myself to do this.

Every time I crawl into bed and turn out the lights to call it a day, I immediately begin to run down the list of things I could have done. More. Better. Differently. The decision to cease combat operations on any given day now feels like a pathetic surrender to all those forces allied to prevent me from achieving my goals. And if this all seems perhaps a tad too "martial" in imagery, well, then fuck you. It's my paranoia, and I'll paint it with whatever colors I damned well choose.

I understand the basis for this odd mindset better than many people realize: as I like to say, "I have many problems, but a lack of awareness of my problems is not one of them." I lost the better part of a decade to self-indulgent laziness and carefree refusal to take charge of those Things That Should Have Been Done. To wake and see the damage done by such laziness can be a truly humbling thing: opportunities lost, potential pissed away, dreams dead and rotting on the ground like last season's fruit.

Another hour's work on the script. A few more notes to long-missed friends. Just a few more ideas on some topic, dumped into a file before they are lost like clouds on a breezy day. Another book to read, another item to be researched, another amazing detail to be discovered. One more chore to tackle today and remove from tomorrow's duty list.

The Wife often grumbles as I pad to bed in the wee hours—2 am, 3 am. What are you doing? Why are you still up?"

"I had things I needed to get done."

Onwards. March or die.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

--Dylan Thomas


God, grant me strength and five minutes more.
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