23 May 2008

maybe my fave part of movies

The music.

Sure, there are a million great lines and quotes from movie that spring to mind, and insanely cool visuals, and thrilling sequences and characters and plotlines.

But in the same way that a vague whiff of certain scents is enough to send me tumbling headlong down a rabbit hole of sense memory, so are certain movie themes and musical motifs...

... the screaming trumpets in the "Truck Sequence" in RAIDERS...

... the first blare of the horns as the sun peeks over the horizon in LAWRENCE...

... the dissonant string bustling past one another in NORTH BY NORTHWEST...

... the cooler than cool bouncy theme from pretty much any '60s-era James Bond movie...

... the hammering drums of the opening to CONAN...

... the oddly sweet and innocent tinkling piano line which opens ROCKETEER...

All it takes is a few notes from any of hundreds of movie moments and themes and suddenly an entire story-world expands and takes over, and I'm left reminded of just how great 110 minutes alone in a dark theater can be.

A few times (again) in recent weeks I've had opportunity to visit with old friends in live face to face reunions, and in almost every meeting there comes that moment where they look at me and say "why movies? why not novels? Why not write a book?"

I usually fumble with all sorts of reasons and stabs at explanation, but let's be honest: a big part of the reason is because no book yet written has ever begun like STAR WARS did for me in 1977, with an explosion of brass and wind that raised every hair on my body, pulled a smile so wide it hurt, and made me immediately say "now THIS... this is gonna kick ass...."

19 May 2008

odd how the universe works

There are days when it seems that God His Own Self surely must have cleared away some other stuff just to make time to better arrange the grief and confusion and annoyance which He might rain down into your own little miserable stretch of hell on this planet. When it seems that everything you might have looked to for some degree of encouragement and enjoyment is turned well and truly to pureed whale shit, when the trivial little victories you felt were easiest to claim and most beyond the malicious and spiteful concern of the Universe suddenly blossom into festivals of pain, well-orchestrated symphonies of annoyance and confusion, impossibly well-sequenced and coordinated missteps which could never have arranged themselves into such a perfect pattern of frustrating agonizing surgically precise heartbreak.

I ride atop a tall and majestic wave of such heartache today. For reasons both too inane and inconsequential to fully divulge (all revolving around the laughably mundane circumstances of a first round Little League playoff game which now seems doomed never to happen), I'm feeling a tad heartsick and hollow. It's not that I am angry over the circumstances (medical issues which conspire to deny me a legal starting lineup) but that I am sad and sorrowful for my guys. While I have a few players for whom any reason to not play likely is a blessing from above, for at least 5 or 6 of my guys, no excuse I might offer would justify not allowing them to go out and play this game. "We don;t care if we're short-handed, coach — we don't care if we have to play 6 against their 9-- we still think we can take them."

I love that spirit, and I want to be with them as it is put into action, but I also have to temper that machismo with a dash of cold bracing rationality and perspective: it simply is not worth it to put kids at risk of injury or major illness just to say "well, we showed up to play." If this was a matter of life and death, sure, let's play the game. But it's not. It's just a Little League game.

Which now seems unlikely to happen.

Meanwhile, as the fragments of that grenade blast even still rain from the skies, I get an email that makes me feel... I dunno. "Content." Perhaps "relaxed." Or maybe just "reassured that the Universe does not in fact hate me as it often seems that it must, but instead merely wants to make sure that I never am forced to travel the boring straight well-lit highways used by the bulk of our species. No, my way will always be the twisting goat path through the hills... the trail through a parted sea, across a boundless plain of searing salt and sand, through a wood both dark and spooky. Because along my weird and wooly way there be some pretty cool unexpected little moments which others seldom seem to report having.

I get an email, and it's not important to say from whom or what it relates to, but they said some cool things which made me literally get up from my chair, walk out the front yard, and take a moment to realize that the trees are whispering a nice happy song today. The sky seems a particularly fine shade of blue, and somewhere -- out there -- odd and unexpected little nuggets of delight and optimism still lurk.

So a playoff game might not happen. My kids remain healthy and amazing, my wife still tolerates my moody weirdness, and -- for today at least -- there is food in the kitchen and water in the pipes and gas in the car and at least the faintest hint of a knowing smile from the Universe.

"Relax, dummy. You might get some weird disappointments in your turn, but we also make sure that you get some pretty freakin cool and unique shit to enjoy, as well. So it all evens out in the final tally. Don't you agree?"

Well, yeah. I can agree.

But still... I would've liked to have led my guys into battle vs the #1 team — "For Hate's sake, I spit at thee," and all that. ;-)
odd duck B (waxing vague and obliquely)

17 May 2008

mid-May 2008: the week that was

1) had a pass from [a cool and recognized prodco] on an exclusive sneak read on my monster-com. They praised the writing and the setpieces and the character interplay, but said "conceptually, the monster is just not what we are looking for right now" which of course set me to grumbling under my breath and to cat-kicking and then to shouting retorts to the empty world around me (conceptually).


2) no response yet from the quickly-doctored semi-custom draft of my Nicholl thingie which was slipped to a specific actress now aged to the far side of 30. I *like* this actress just fine... just not for teh character she'd be reading for in this script, so I have mixed feelings about this. I'm almost more afraid that she WILL love teh script, as then if she starts asking for MORE changes to even better accomodate her "rapidly approaching maturity," my little movie would end up something like "Billy The Kid as played by Ian McKellan," or 'The Olga Korbut Story, starring that actress who played Roz on What's Happnin'?" I mean, talent is great, but so is an acceptable fit for the character.


3) Read THE HAPPENING from M Night Shamalammahossenpfeffer. I've never been a huge fan of his particular brand of Stephen King-esque quietly weird creepy fantasy, and this one absolutely affirms that for me. There are some really cool visual moments which no doubt will look great and creepy weird spooky in the film and (especially) in the trailer, but overall the story just sorta left me uncharged. The ending is one of those that leaves me asking a lot of major questions about "how the hell is that even SUPPOSED to work, either as narrative for the audience or as logical resolution for the characters?", and the "science" (ahem) of the "the happening" might work fine for a 15 year old making a C- in biology but a B+ in English but it left me wanting to punch someone in the neck.

What I found most curious (and this is an odd thing to be curious about) was the fact that the PDF of the screenplay was set in TIMES rather than COURIER, which (as any armchair typesetter or designer knows) means that the "true" page count of this this is likely far higher than the 106 indicated. Also, the use of non-standard typeface was surprisingly unnoticeable after that first page-- it looked and read just fine, even though there were probably 20% more characters per line as a result. I just wondered how (and why) this change was made.

Also, I noted the many very specific instances where M (we're old pals) gives camera calls and directorial notes-- they were NOT intrusive or distracting, and in fact ADDED to my enjoyment and understanding of the piece as it made the "mental movie" play very clearly in my head. In fact, I was left wondering what might happen if M Night the director was ever forced to helm someone else's BETTER screenplay, as he clearly has a cool Hitchcockian eye for the creepy cool shot. I just wish he'd shoot something with better bones.


4) Am winding down the Spring From Hell's insane schedule of obligations and responsibilities. We've had baseball (Minor 10s, Rookie 7s, Teeball 5s) pretty much every night for the past 3 months, and then we've also managed to somehow cover simultaneous demands from Dance (x2), Recital (x2), Drama, Cub Scouts (x2), Boy Scouts, PTA, LL Board, and the early organizational fun of Summer Baseball. Give all this extraneous stuff, time for focusing on screenplay writing has been rare and precious. I still managed to make some solid headway on the [College Comedy Thing], and tweaked some more notes for the [Holiday Feelgood Comedy Thing] as well as the [Sprawling Historical Action Adventure Thing], and also did some early brainstorming with a possible partner on a very strange wild comedy idea we both snigger at childishly whenever any mention is made. Hopefully things will continue to calm down and writing will now start to flow like water from a well-plumbed well.

Yeah, and then Jennie McCarthy will come offer to give me bikini-clad footrubs (clarifying: my feet--her bikini) as we skip off to Monaco on her rocket pontoon boat. Uh huh. Suuuurrre...


5) Am almost practically ready to just about maybe to commit to accepting the idea of possibly visiting to Hollywood in early July.


And so it goes.

02 May 2008

favorite sports story of the year

We are continually bombarded by tales and news suggesting that honor is dead, that nobody gives a crap about anyone anymore, and that our kids and young people are soulless self-absorbed twerps whose sole saving grace is a well-developed gamepad thumb.

And then I see something like this story, and I smile and think maybe--just maybe--there is still yet reason for hope for our society, our species.

Central Washington offers the ultimate act of sportsmanship
-- by Graham Hays, ESPN.com

Western Oregon senior Sara Tucholsky had never hit a home run in her career. Central Washington senior Mallory Holtman was already her school's career leader in them. But when a twist of fate and a torn knee ligament brought them face to face with each other and face to face with the end of their playing days, they combined on a home run trot that celebrated the collective human spirit far more than individual athletic achievement.

Both schools compete as Division II softball programs in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Neither has ever reached the NCAA tournament at the Division II level. But when they arrived for Saturday's conference doubleheader at Central Washington's 300-seat stadium in Ellensburg, a small town 100 miles and a mountain range removed from Seattle, the hosts resided one game behind the visitors at the top of the conference standings. As was the case at dozens of other diamonds across the map, two largely anonymous groups prepared to play the most meaningful games of their seasons.

It was a typical Saturday of softball in April, right down to a few overzealous fans heckling an easy target, the diminutive Tucholsky, when she came to the plate in the top of the second inning of the second game with two runners on base and the game still scoreless after Western Oregon's 8-1 win in the first game of the afternoon.

A part-time starter in the outfield throughout her four years, Tucholsky had been caught in a numbers game this season on a deep roster that entered the weekend hitting better than .280 and having won nine games in a row. Prior to the pitch she sent over the center-field fence, she had just three hits in 34 at-bats this season. And in that respect, her hitting heroics would have made for a pleasing, if familiar, story line on their own: an unsung player steps up in one of her final games and lifts her team's postseason chances.

But it was what happened after an overly excited Tucholsky missed first base on her home run trot and reversed direction to tag the bag that proved unforgettable.

"Sara is small -- she's like 5-2, really tiny," Western Oregon coach Pam Knox said. "So you would never think that she would hit a home run. The score was 0-0, and Sara hit a shot over center field. And I'm coaching third and I'm high-fiving the other two runners that came by -- then all of a sudden, I look up, and I'm like, 'Where's Sara?' And I look over, and she's in a heap beyond first base."

While she was doubling back to tag first base, Tucholsky's right knee gave out. The two runners who had been on base already had crossed home plate, leaving her the only offensive player on the field of play, even as she lay crumpled in the dirt a few feet from first base and a long way from home plate. First-base coach Shannon Prochaska -- Tucholsky's teammate for three seasons and the only voice she later remembered hearing in the ensuing conversation -- checked to see whether she could crawl back to the base under her own power.

As Knox explained, "It went through my mind, I thought, 'If I touch her, she's going to kill me.' It's her only home run in four years. I didn't want to take that from her, but at the same time, I was worried about her."

Umpires confirmed that the only option available under the rules was to replace Tucholsky at first base with a pinch runner and have the hit recorded as a two-run single instead of a three-run home run. Any assistance from coaches or trainers while she was an active runner would result in an out. So without any choice, Knox prepared to make the substitution, taking both the run and the memory from Tucholsky.

"And right then," Knox said, "I heard, 'Excuse me, would it be OK if we carried her around and she touched each bag?'"

The voice belonged to Holtman, a four-year starter who owns just about every major offensive record there is to claim in Central Washington's record book. She also is staring down a pair of knee surgeries as soon as the season ends. Her knees ache after every game, but having already used a redshirt season earlier in her career, and ready to move on to graduate school and coaching at Central, she put the operations on hold so as to avoid missing any of her final season. Now, with her own opportunity for a first postseason appearance very much hinging on the outcome of the game -- her final game at home -- she stepped up to help a player she knew only as an opponent for four years.

"Honestly, it's one of those things that I hope anyone would do it for me," Holtman said. "She hit the ball over her fence. She's a senior; it's her last year. … I don't know, it's just one of those things I guess that maybe because compared to everyone on the field at the time, I had been playing longer and knew we could touch her, it was my idea first. But I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it's the right thing to do. She was obviously in agony."

Holtman and shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky off the ground and supported her weight between them as they began a slow trip around the bases, stopping at each one so Tucholsky's left foot could secure her passage onward. Even with Tucholsky feeling the pain of what trainers subsequently came to believe was a torn ACL (she was scheduled for tests to confirm the injury on Monday), the surreal quality of perhaps the longest and most crowded home run trot in the game's history hit all three players.

"We all started to laugh at one point, I think when we touched the first base," Holtman said. "I don't know what it looked like to observers, but it was kind of funny because Liz and I were carrying her on both sides and we'd get to a base and gently, barely tap her left foot, and we'd all of a sudden start to get the giggles a little bit."

Accompanied by a standing ovation from the fans, they finally reached home plate and passed the home run hitter into the arms of her own teammates.

Then Holtman and Wallace returned to their positions and tried to win the game.

Hollywood would have a difficult time deciding how such a script should end, whether to leave Tucholsky's home run as the decisive blow or reward the selfless actions of her opponents. Reality has less room for such philosophical quandaries. Central Washington did rally for two runs in the bottom of the second -- runs that might have tied the game had Knox been forced to replace Tucholsky -- but Western Oregon held on for a 4-2 win.

But unlike a movie, the credits didn't roll after the final out, and the story that continues has little to do with those final scores.

"It kept everything in perspective and the fact that we're never bigger than the game," Knox said of the experience. "It was such a lesson that we learned -- that it's not all about winning. And we forget that, because as coaches, we're always trying to get to the top. We forget that. But I will never, ever forget this moment. It's changed me, and I'm sure it's changed my players."

For her part, Holtman seems not altogether sure what all the fuss is about. She seems to genuinely believe that any player in her position on any field on any day would have done the same thing. Which helps explains why it did happen on that day and on that field.

And she appreciates the knowledge that while the results of Saturday's game and her senior season soon will fade into the dust and depth of old media guides and Internet archives, the story of what happened in her final game at home will live on far longer.

"I think that happening on Senior Day, it showed the character of our team," Holtman said. "Because granted I thought of it, but everyone else would have done it. It's something people will talk about for Senior Day. They won't talk about who got hits and what happened and who won; they'll talk about that. And it's kind of a nice way to go out, because it shows what our program is about and the kind of people we have here."

Graham Hays is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn3.com

People sometimes ask me "why do you coach youth sports?"

The answer is simple: so that I might possibly be able to teach or at least witness the kind of courage and honor shown by Sara Tucholsky and Mallory Holtman.

[beer salute]

Long Live Sport.

01 May 2008

"lazy" is hard damned work

Peter Kaufman, LA-based entertainment lawyer and cool-bloggin' host of the DealFatigue blog site, posted an interesting and insightful essay recently -- Getting Out Of Getting In Your Own Way -- in which he lamented the strange way that so many people will work so hard to avoid having to do any of the easy stuff required to put themselves in best position for success.

A great many would-be screenwriters (actually, armchair dreamers of every stripe and persuasion) could stand to read the piece and then take a few minutes to really stop and think about its implications and applicability in their own lives and pursuits.

Then again, maybe my own needs and hopes are better served by a less well-prepared array of peers and competitors... so maybe you kids oughta just ignore what he says.

Yes. I think so -- better that you just ignore that post. Continue down the same path you are now on.

Make it just that much easier for me.