12 December 2009
It happened again this morning (8:47am CST for those scoring along in the home edition) when a lull hit town and I heard this Cindy Lou Who voice in my head ask "Why, Brett, why? Why do you want to make movies?"
And then iTunes randomly provided me the answer, as a certain music cue cranked and reminded me of one of my all-time favorite movie sequences, one of those that allowed me to just smile and point and say "There. That's why. Just once I want to be able to say that I helped make something like that happen on a screen."
I dunno if I'll ever get there. But dammit, at least there's a goal of sorts.
07 December 2009
If you're in LA, looking for something cool to do on Thursday and interested in hearing and talking to some pretty damned smart and interesting screenwriters (it's called "networking," you weasels-- crawl out of your damned burrows and meet some actual people in the flesh...)
Tales From The Trenches: A Film Panel to support "The Death Of Toys" (Lisa Gold's short film project)
Date: Thursday, December 10, 2009
Time: 7:00pm - 10:00pm
Street: 6356 Hollywood Blvd - street parking or valet
City/Town: Los Angeles, CA
Please come out and support director Lisa Gold's AFI DWW project, THE DEATH OF TOYS (produced by Molly Kasch and Brenda Blair).
Write Brothers Inc. is sponsoring this great event which features a Blockbuster Panel and a Raffle for screenwriting software.
-- Terry Rossio, screenwriter (Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Shrek)
-- Mark Fergus, screenwriter (Children of Men, Iron Man)
-- John Turman, screenwriter (Hulk, Fantastic Four II: Rise of the Silver Surfer)
-- Karen McCullah Lutz, screenwriter (10 Things I Hate About You, Legally Blonde)
-- Allison Rayne, Head of Development 2S, Hilary Swank's production company
Tickets in advance $25
Tickets at the door $30
To purchase tickets, go to:
== BIOS on PANELISTS ==
Academy Award© nominated for co-writing SHREK, the first ever Oscar© winner for Best Animated Film, TERRY ROSSIO co-wrote the three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN films, two of which currently rank among the Top 10 all time highest grossing films worldwide. Other credits include ALADDIN (1992’s highest grossing film); THE MASK OF ZORRO; DEJA VU; NATIONAL TREASURE BOOK OF SECRETS; G-FORCE (as an Associate Producer); and SHREK 2 (as a Creative Consultant), currently the highest grossing animated film ever.
MARK FERGUS received an Academy Award© nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for CHILDREN OF MEN; he also co-wrote IRON MAN. He is currently working on the screenplay for COWBOYS AND ALIENS (teaming again with Robert Downey Jr. and director Jon Favreau), and is co-writing the intensely anticipated live-action re-make of Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA.
JOHN TURMAN is a writer for film and television (HULK, FANTASTIC FOUR II: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER). He has created half-hour comedy and one-hour drama pilots and writes and consults on one-hour series television. He wrote “BEN 10: ALIEN SWARM,” which premiered on Cartoon Network last month, and he will soon begin production on an original feature, TICKING CLOCK.
ALLISON RAYNE heads development at 2S, a production company managed by partners Molly Smith (producer, P.S. I LOVE YOU, THE BLIND SIDE) and Academy Award© winning actress and producer Hilary Swank (BOYS DON’T CRY, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, P.S. I LOVE YOU and AMELIA). Previously, Allison worked in marketing and publicity for Miramax Films, then transitioned into feature development and production, working for Stratus Film Company (producers Mark Gordon, Bob Yari and Mark Gill). Later, Allison worked for Warner Independent Pictures for over three years where she played a part in the company’s day-to-day operations.
Moderator JOE FORTE writes original content for both film and TV. Having worked with nearly every major studio, Joe has written scripts for Academy Award© winner Jodie Foster, producer Lorenzo DiBonaventura (Transformers), and Harrison Ford, who starred in Joe's 2006 thriller, FIREWALL. Most recently, Joe adapted the award-winning Japanese novel OUT by Natsuo Kirino for New Line, and is currently under contract with 20th Century Fox where he is developing a one-hour drama for network TV.
Cool event. Good cause. Great networking opp. Stop listening to your punk rock records and talkin' bad about your country and come out of your hole for something useful for a change.
22 November 2009
Here they are from a year or so ago at McGonigel's Mucky Duck here in Houston, putting their own spin on the Hendrix classic, "Little Wing."
Shut up and learn something, kids.
09 November 2009
So there I am again in the Driskill Lounge by 9am, bushy tailed if not overly bright eyed, and yet again I find there's no one panel really screaming for my attention, so again I'm left to do some actual useful work on the laptop, slurping back coffee and gnawing on a CLIF bar ("blueberry asphalt dryer lint", I think it was...) for breakfast.
Second session found me packed into the always-crowded Maximillian room to hear Shane Black, Billy Brown, Chris McQuarrie, and Dan Petrie hold forth on "Write What You Know; Crime & Suspense." Again I'll point out to any relative newbs that very often the best panels are chosen not so much by topic as by panelist, and I know from experience that every one of these guys "gives good panel." They know their stuff, they love what they do, and they're able to make that love and ability clear and accessible to anyone in the audience. Fun stories, useful insights, some silly banter and self-deprecating humor... good stuff, and it's all over way too soon.
Saturday is "Awards Luncheon" day at AFF, and while I attended the luncheon one year (mainly just to see what it was about), more often nowadays I skip that added expense in order to have just a few more minutes of playtime with my friends. Our Saturday tradition now seems to be a stroll over to Stubb's BBQ 8 or so blocks away, where a dozen or so of us pile around and swap nibbles of meat and soul food veggie.
It's these odd moments that I always end up missing most in those 360-day stretches of desert between festivals, as it's these moments when I look around the table and see all these faces of people who can so easily make me laugh and think and feel happy about this miserable damned impossible pursuit, yet I know that I'll obly have these few minutes with these people all gathered in one place. There's a rush of excitement, but also a melancholy background counter melody of desperation and sadness: the clock is ticking... and this moment is already passing into the past....
Yeah, that's likely a twisted and morbid way to look at things, but then, if we were normal, we'd not be writers. We'd instead be plumbers or CPAs or astronauts or shark wranglers or some simple occupation where you do the job and you don't spend 95% of every experience off alone in the corner doing a vivisection on that still-breathing experience, deconstructing every memory and flicker of happiness into its component molecules (and thereby reduce it to... nothing).
What is it about this damned pursuit that makes me want it so badly -- need it so badly -- that I am content to torture myself in this way even while getting the exact experience I hoped to find? As much as anything, this is what I come to Austin to learn: "how can I better steer this unwieldy contraption known as Me?"
Lunch ends -- it always does, dammit -- and we then wander back towards the festival where I and a few hundred other folks all pack into the main ballroom at the Stephen F Austin Hotel to hear Ron Howard talk about his career and output. Howard is a warm and laid back guy, but he comes across (to me, at least) as so casual and laid-back that there's not a great deal of useful passion or insight to be had. He grew up in the biz, with parents and siblings in the business, and his entire life has been spent in Hollywood, so he lacks any sort of outside experience or perspective to use as contrast to what he's always known.
Great guy, generous honorable gentleman whom I've never heard a single unkind word about, and in the few demo-moments I have any interaction with him he seems a genuinely decent fellow... who somehow lacks any of the pungency and sharp edges and thorns that always seem present in the folks I most closely identify with. I mean, "tortured" is not a word that comes to mind when you meet or listen to Howard, and at this stage of the game I understand that sane well-adjusted people are just not going to have much I can use, advice wise.
I then opt to head over to the gorgeous old Paramount "movie palace" where Howard, Steve Zaillian, and Mitchell Hurwitz share the stage, swapping stories about their careers and projects together. Hurwitz is a nut, so he keeps the proceedings ever from becoming too staid and stuffy, so again the panel flies by way too quickly.
Another swing through the Driskill Bar, another round or two, more old friends and new friends, then off the the Pitch Finale.
Now, while I am a huge fan of and believer in the Austin Film Fest, the pitch contest remains that one part of the weekend which leaves me totally and in all ways unimpressed and uninterested. Some people seem to enjoy it, but for my money it's a near-total waste of time and goodwill, as 1) the environment and experience has nothing whatsoever to do with real pitching, 2) the "judges" are seldom ever actual industry types accustomed to or experienced with taking actual pitches, and 3) no matter how 'well" anyone does, it still means jack squat as nobody is there to listen to a pitch in the hopes of finding one to option, purchase, or pursue in much any form or fashion.
Add in the fact that the finale almost always takes place in a venue with overpriced alcohol coupled limited opportunity for interesting or useful conversation, and it kinda sorta starts to amaze me that I wind up at the event every year... usually just long enough to look around and ask "what the hell were we thinking?"
Luckily, the annoyance was short-lived, as we grabbed some food (double stuffed gyro w/ extra feta), swung back through the Driskill to hobnob til time for the late party, then wandered down to the Belmont for the Conference Wrap Party ("hosted by Shane Black," as if Shane were lugging in kegs and cups from the trunk of his own car...).
First time I can recall The Belmont hosting an AFF event, and I really really hope the venue stays in rotation, as it was a great place and hosted a great shindig. The lower floor was a dark and undersized place with lots of booths for private... whatever... but upstairs was a great rooftop patio under a tent, with a long bar along one side, and a railed overlooked into the neighboring open-air alleyway patio where a decent cover band was still banging out Pixies tunes. Below the rooftop and accessible by two sets of wrought iron stairs was a second hanging balcony stretching the length of that alleyway, giving a cool "special access" sort of space for those daring enough to claim it.
Dos Equis was again flowing free and easy, and by 11:30 the joint was jumpin', with Woody Harrelson proving a great sport by posing near endlessly for party pics with oodles of new friends (most of whom seemed female and attractive, it seems worth noting...). I hung out with Richard and Derek and Rebecca for a bit, swapped smirks with Julie O at several moments, saw Eilis (again) at the bar (again), finally caught up with Matt "I'm a Lil' T-Sip" Summers and swapped updated contact info with him.
At some point I find myself leaning over the balcony, enjoying some surprisingly left-field cover (don't blame me for forgetting which -- people kept handing me beer), and I look down to see Maggie Biggar on the balcony below, chatting it up with Robert "Star Trek/Transformers/Eagle Eye/MI:3" Orci. I lean over to my buddy of the moment (don't blame me for forgetting which -- people kept handing me beer) and say "hey -- isn't that Robert Orci with Maggie Biggar?" to which vague and unnameable buddy says "yeah -- how you gonna swing an invite into THAT conversation?", to which I remember smiling, leaning over the rail and whistling loudly down to the balcony
Maggie looked up, startled.
"Hi, Maggie!" I waved with my best beer-happy idiot smile. She chuckled and waved me down to the balcony.
I smiled at anonymous buddy and said "any other questions?" and trotted off to the stairs.
Orci and Biggar seemed in an actual conversation, so I merely said hi and stood back so as to not impinge, then Orci took a phone call and excused himself, so I nudged in.
"Hey, Brett. Enjoying the party?" Maggie asked, and I said 'Yeah, it's great. So... why are you being so visibly nice to me this weekend? It's great for my ego -- don't get me wrong -- but it's confused me that you've been so familiar and friendly to me throughout this festival when -- and correct me if I am wrong -- this current exchange is far and away our lengthiest conversation ever."
She laughed, we talked, and she said some ridiculously nice stuff that made me want to run around screaming victory (I didn't, cuz I'm cool like dat), and I related the story of how, the day before, I'd been on Sixth Street when Maggie had walked by and made some friendly comment as I was in a phone conversation with The Wife. Wife, hearing some female making some friendly comment and then me making an at least equivalently friendly response to said comment, had asked "OK< and who was THAT?"
"Maggie Biggar. Sandra Bullock's producing partner. We're just being silly."
"You have my permission to give her a baby if it helps get a deal done."
The Wife remains a pragmatic woman.
Maggie laughed at the story -- no deals were done or even proposed, dear readers and friends of The Wife, so fear not -- but it was a very good conversation and one that ranks up there with The Kasdan Incident as personal highlights for this year's festival, but things were not done yet.
As Maggie and I both turned our separate ways to give some love to other folks, I fall into a fun little conversation with another producer whom I know, one who I know and like a lot and who seems to know and like me, but for whom I've never yet managed to find a project to spark major interest (we just have very different passions and interests in movies). Producer mentions a pressing desire to find a specific sort of holiday movie.
I say "Well... as it just so happens that i've had an odd idea for a specific sort of holiday movie, and Producer presses me for details, so I give a totally off-the-cuff and totally unprepared pitch for a project I have at best maybe 75% clear in my head. Producer looks at me for a moment, asks "who else have you pitched that to?" and I laugh "Pitched? Hell, I dunno that I've ever even thought it through as clearly as what I just did in trying to describe the idea to you just now!
"Well, go home. Start writing. I want pages on that as fast as you can deliver. I've had maybe 220 pitches for this project, and that was easily the most interesting and original."
So again I stifle that urge to strip off my shirt and run around doing a full-on Brandy Chastain re-enactment -- "YYEEEEEESSSSSS!!!" -- cuz, ya know, I'm cool like dat.
More beers. More love. More good times. Someone asks "wouldn't it be great if every night was like this?" and for various reasons I understand what they mean, but I say "If every night felt like this, it wouldn't feel like this, cuz what makes this feeling so great is the fact that it never feels like this, so when it does feel this great, you remember how great it felt and hold that memory special."
The party peaks, then ebbs, and then ends, and at some point a crew of us is again doing the Sixth Street Crawl sometime well past last call, and we're wandering in a large happy crowd of strangers, all milling and goofing with friends, all trying to squeeze just a few more drops of juice out of this lovely night, and we wind up buying street pizza at 3 am and sitting on a broken concrete wall, giggling madly and huddling against one another and giving private thanks that we are in this place, in this moment.
It's that kind of moment that makes me love AFF: that moment of total exhaustion and total exuberance and total happiness that comes when you are completely content and totally unthreatened by and unconcerned with any of the usual real world fear and paranoia and inadequacies and doubts. Here, for one glorious flickering and totally fictitious moment, we poor lonely unknown pathetic writers become the god-kings of our little worlds, the heroes of our own absurd little comic dramas, and we find ourselves surrounded by those who understand exactly what we are feeling, what we are wanting and hoping, and we can all dance naked around the bonfire of our crazy screenwriting dreams secure in the understanding that on this night, at least, this crazy dream, this impossible pursuit, is perhaps not so crazy, not so impossible, not so totally insane and demented and isolating.
Our happy little herd wanders back to the Driskill for one last night of pretend relevance, and as we enter the lounge, we find one of those Austin moments that is hard to fully describe: Shane Black, Terry Rossio, Danny Rubin, plus a dozen aspiring writers, all piled around the rawhide sofas and lounge chairs of the deserted lounge. Talking about writing.
Repeat that previous paragraph for a moment and pause to consider how amazing and wonderful and totally bizarre that experience is for most of us. For most of us aspiring nobodies, we spend the vast majority of the year locked in an imaginary world inside our own heads. By day we are housewives and husbands. Paralegals and purchasing officers. Schoolteachers, little league coaches, quiet neighbors next door whose office windows are lit well past that hour nightly when those of other folks on the block go dark.
But suddenly it's 3 am in Austin, Texas in the deserted closed down lounge of a 120-year-old hotel, and suddenly we're talking to peers -- new friends -- who've accounted for a few billion dollars in box office, writers who have actually penned several of those movies that have made you announce even if only to yourself "THAT'S what I want to do....".
And, miracle of miracles, these guys are not at all alien. They are, in fact, staggeringly familiar, describing exactly the same difficulties and obstacles in their own writing as what you know only too well from your own. Their fears are the same as yours. Their thrills are the same as yours. In fact, aside from the fact that some of them have monster credits to their name on IMDB, they are almost disturbingly familiar and recognizable.
And that's when it hits you that "Hollywood" is not some distant imaginary planet which exists only in movies and legends. It's a business, same as any other, and if you can just work your ass off and maybe catch the right kind of luck and have the defiant pugnacious pig-headed tenacity to just stand tough and keep on digging when it all seems the most impossible... then maybe you wake up and find yourself not just writing some impossible fiction, but actually living it.
And it's that idiot spark of hope which sustains your soul for one more year. You walk away that last night swearing private oaths to yourself: "Next year, By God, I will be here not as some nobody, but as one of the chosen few. I will make this happen, and I will not quit until I do."
In terms of "end of conference impressions" to take home and pin to your psychic cork board, that's not an awful one to claim.
(to be continued...)
05 November 2009
More likely, both at once.
Short answer is "no, there remains as yet no specific irrefutable reason to gloat."
But rumblings and bubblings continue:
"QUEEN OF THE SKY", the big bio-pic about WW2 Soviet aviatrix Lilya Litvyak, remains very much an impossible dream. Yes, there is (allegedly) a similar/parallel project in development, and yes I have been in contact with the folks behind that project, but for now I'm neither involved nor does there seem a tremendous amount of forward momentum on the competing project. My script, meanwhile and totally unrelated, is somewhere over in Europe with a well-respected prodco who requested it not that long ago. The producer there would be a great fan to have, but we shall see....
[CRITTER-COMEDY THING] I'm still not giving up the title for this one (it's too stupidly childishly delicious), but there seems possible reason for possible excitement. Possibly. SyFy seems to be looking at it, and there's a possible director looking at it, and if those two locii of interest happen to meet and realize their shared interests... who knows....
"AMAZON", the "Romancing The Stone" style action romance comedy thing, has been around to a few folks as a sample, and consensus always seems to be "we like the concept and the writing, but can't see making this movie." (Shrug.) It's been sent to one name director for use as a writing demo/sample for the purpose of maybe getting Yours Truly onto a new project as a hired gun, and maybe something breathtakingly amazing might happen there. Or maybe not....
[HOLIDAY COMEDY THING] is now the new "#1 with a bullet" project in the works, as I have at least one producer clamoring to get this ASAP in order to maybe get it working at a major cable TV network for 2010 holiday season. I have a great concept, a workable outline, and am banging away on pages, but who knows if I'll get it readable in time to actually wow anyone before the 2010 decisions are already made....
[COLLEGE COMEDY THING] is gurgling along at the 80 page mark, and likely needs to get done just so I can finally say "OK-- I wrote it," but for now there is that other project where a producer is excited and motivating, and then there's this one where nobody has yet seemed totally pre-sold, and where the writer just can't seem to get the story clear in his head....
"Twelve Days" [romcom] remains a project which I very much like for a variety of reasons, and I am now gearing up to do a thorough re-work on this one to hopefully get it into a specific actress whom i loe and who would be perfect for the female lead. More news in the weeks to come, hopefully....
[UN-NAMED HISTORICAL ACTION THING] now boasts 40+ pages, but it's slow going mainly as I know the other more commercial projects absolutely deserve my best attention and effort for now. Still, this one gnaws at my soul....
[UN-NAMED SPAGHETTI WESTERN THING] continues to drive me batty, as those who have seen the brief snippets all scream that I need to be working on this ASAP, but for now I tend to suck on it and wonder what would be involved in producing this one as a low-budget effort of our own. I doubt that will happen anytime soon, but a lot of people seem to really really love the core concept.
Everything else is so far on the backburner as to not even really be in the kitchen,
01 November 2009
Due to a slew (perhaps even a slew and a half) of events and responsibilities having recently been cleared from the Great Mental Dry Erase List Of "Crap I Somehow Got Myself Into," I find myself in a mood and state conducive to writing. Of course, I'm not yet yet truly free to set all sheets and run before the wind, as I still have one more Major Event looming, one more deadline with responsibility.
Today is our Boy Scout troop's annual recruiting event, the "New Scout Adventure Day!", and yours truly is the organizer and ring leader.
Yes, I will be in full Fred MacMurray mode today, acting G-rated (well... mostly) and Optimistic and Nurturing and Compassionate and Supportive and Friendly and Courteous Kind Oblong Isometric and all those other scoutly things. For some reason that visual always seems to cause my writer friends to pause and then offer a strange little headshake of disbelief, as if they can't quite reconcile what they think they know and understand of me with what they assume and presume about Scouting.
Which is completely fine and harmless, as on the flip side my Scouting peers will spend the day looking at me offering very much the same disbelieving headshake whenever I happen to describe scenes and personalities and events from Hollywood and writing endeavors.
And in both cases, I will have people offer some variation of "wow -- I just can't imagine you fitting in with that scene...."
Thing is, I don't fit in with that scene -- either scene. At least, not entirely. When I am with the Scouts, I'm tremendously proud to see the young guys learning to conduct themselves with honor and integrity and respect and confidence and dependability, and I am tremendously proud to have a chance to work with and for other dads who put their money where their mouth is, who sacrifice time and money and effort from their own petty interests to help teach the next wave of would-be leaders what it is to be a decent and useful Man.
To me, this stuff is real. This stuff is valid. This stuff is Important.
But so is that whole "world of the mind" thing of being a screenwriter. As I've tried to explain to some folks, this idiot quest for screenwriting glory is also real for me. It also is valid. It, too, is Important. We tell our kids things like "follow your dreams" and "go out and make your life something amazing" and "pick something you care about and then commit yourself to achieving excellence in that thing," but how often do we truly heed the advice we give our kids?
What kind of example would I be if I told my kids "go out and change the world" if I reserved the right for my own self to sit on my ass and do little, dream little, dare little?
For me, the whole Scouting thing is almost inseparable from the Screenwriting thing. In both guises I am trying to find some way to lead those I care about closer to a point where they can do what they were born to do, where they are empowered and encouraged and enabled and ennobled to to stand firm in the face of the withering discouragement and cynicism and cowardice our modern society is hell-bent to deliver in the majority of its messages and morals.
So, today I wake and feel the restless urge to write, but first I gear up and commit to yet another day of Scouting activities. And I can smirk happily to myself knowing that the two concerns -- "writing" and "family" -- are just the two different sides of the same coin. In either case, I am willing a better and more satisfying reality into being.
Tiring? Exhausting? Irrelevant. I got things to do, dammit -- miracles to make happen, impossibilities to hammer into existence -- and my own feeble whininess cannot be tolerated.
"You alright, Roy?"
"Let's play ball."
29 October 2009
Same this year. Despite Cabernet w/ Kasdan to cap a long hard night of indulging, by 9 AM Friday I was already deep into tapping notes into the laptop and scanning to determine which panel I'd take in. The fact that I finally decided to not do ANY of the 9AM panels had nothing to do with my readiness and everything to do with my familiarity with the panelists in the one or two panels there which seemed interesting: I already know and have relationships with most of the folks I might choose to see, so what would be the real point, especially given that I had some work to do on the laptop.
By the second panel (10:45 AM) I was ready to get cranking again. I opted to not see Kasdan and Turman do their SciFi panel (hey-- they're now old pals, right?...) so instead took in the "Turning Webisodes Into A Film Career" discussion. I did this for a few reasons, not the least of which was that one of teh panelists was Jocelyn "Jolly" Stamat, aka, Rossio's girlfriend and one of my fave females. Jolly is funny and beautiful and romantically linked to a friend which means that I thus have easy means to annoy said friend by continually hitting on said female, plus she's smart (as in "Harvard MD" smart). Plus she's now a panelist here thanks to a great experience this year producing and directing the "Turbo Dates" series of webisodes.
She and very funny Dan French talk about their respective efforts and experiences at finding a way to use this whole inter-webs thingy (you may have read about it...?) as a back/side/basement/cat door into the film biz. Two things become apparent in all the discussion: 1) there's tremendous freedom and opportunity in online filmmaking, and 2) nobody yet has a clue how to squeeze a nickel from it. Still, good fun panel, and a silly thrill to sit on the front row and see Jolly smile at me a few times with an expression that clearly says "Jeezus -- look at me! I'm a PANELIST!"
Afterwards, a bunch of our gang decides to try and scurry off for a group-lunch, and again somehow "Larry" winds up in our midst, but I have no idea what happened at that lunch as The Gods sniggered and denied me a seat at the grownup table this time, instead sending me to the back room with another group. I'll not dwell on this other than to say "Brett has anger issues, and Brett knows this, and on this day Brett managed to deal with these issues in a mature, responsible, and almost totally non-homicidal manner."
(Uh huh. Sure.)
The afternoon panels started (for me) with "The Art of Storytelling", featuring Peter "Gilbert Grape" Hedges, Dan "Dan" Petrie, and Lawrence "Larry" Kasdan. Moderator was one Marcia Nasatir, who clearly had a long relationship to Petrie and Kasdan which apparently predated even the beginnings of their careers, so that was a sweet little touch. Every one of the guys on stage had a slightly different take on things, and each had a different path to success to relate, but there was one consistent repeated thought connecting all of their stories and advice: "just keep writing." No matter what bullshit and insults and insanity this damned business tries to hurl at you, just keep writing. Keep believing in your own particular brand of magic, because in the final analysis, that's all you really have anyway. That surely might not seem like a huge shattering breakthrough wad of advice, but to hear it from these guys, all of whom have managed to sustain a career in a business known for chewing people up and spitting them aside like human bubble gum, it was good advice to note.
Final panel of the day was my scheduled round-table discussion -- "Producers & Executives" -- wherein attendees array themselves around several large tables (yes, they are in fact round...) as a group of lectures work their way from table to table for 15-20 minute close up discussion on whatever topics the people can manage to claim. It's always luck of the draw which of the slated panelists happen to hit your table, but I get lucky and draw some of the folks I most wanted to see: Julianna Farrell, a former lit manager turned indie producer whom I've spoken to on a few occasions and who seems totally tolerant of my bellicosity; Curtis Burch, indie producer based out of Dallas; and Jessica Julius, development exec for Disney Feature Animation. Farrell is her usual to the point smart self, Burch seems like a crusty old pro who's been around the wrong side of town a few times, and Farrell is a delightfully blunt no-bullshit pro who clearly explains what does impress her team and what doesn't. After the panel, I heard some folks at my table mumble that they found Julius a tad brusque or even cranky, but I found her take totally great and respectful, as she clearly spent no time trying to sugarcoat her answers: here's what it is, and here's what it ain't.
Friday evening means "BBQ At The French Legation" if you are a Producer Pass holder, so our crew piles onto shuttle busses and heads over the old French embassy, a gorgeous antebellum mansion inside a 2-acre stonewalled compound. There's a huge tented seating area with tables and chairs, a pair of buffet lines serving adequate though unspectacular BBQ, several drink stations handing out comped sponsor wine or Dos Equis, plus wall to wall Hollywood people. More than maybe any other event at the conference, the BBQ gives you a fighting chance to press the flesh and work it, baybee, with damned near anyone on the conference's roster, so I grab some vittles with my pals, then split off to wander and circulate.
I run into Rossio and Jocelyn, and it still blows my mind a bit to think that Terry is now not some pro that I try to approach for any specific insight or bit of wisdom (I know better... pppfftt), but because... well, because he's just another good friend here. We seldom talk at all about movies, instead playing verbal slap and tickle in that way competitive guys often do, usually because of an in front of and for teh approval of some woman. Jolly remains an eternally good sport about this idiotically reptilian behavior, and tosses me just enough bones and scraps to keep me interested in the game but not so many that I (or Terry) ever has even a moment's pause to wonder if there is in fact some other game afoot. "She gives good flirt," in other words, and that's a talent to be valued and respected in this damned fool gathering, where so many seem incapable of playing that harmless yet lovely game.
[Brett & Terry, Here To Cause No Concern At All. Really. You Can Trust Us.]
I wander around and bump into Greg "Mr. Nicholl" Beal, and he has in tow one of this year's golden show ponies, a 2009 Fellow (whose name escapes me -- mea culpa). He and I swap happy memories of the day the phone starts ringing like crazy with news of the FInalist announcement, and I give him a few quick notes of avice for his pending LA trip ("do not go drinking in Venice with a mad Mason on the afternoon of the big awards banquet...").
Ron "Please Don't Call Me Opie" Howard is led in, my old pal Linnea as his "handler," and I see a crowd of reluctant hesitant folks trailing behind like those tiny fish that follow big sharks, eager for a scrap but wary of becoming a snack themselves. Braced by my cervezas (stay thirsty, my friend) I opt for the frontal assault, so I plot an intercept and scramble.
Linnea sees me, and she gets that look that handlers always get: "Oh, no-- please! Don't approach him! My job is to make sure he has zero direct contact with humans!" She steps in to block me, and I smile, pat her on the shoulder as if to make it seem that I thought she was merely greeting me rather than trying to block me, then I defeat the jam at the line and break for the ball.
"A Yomiuri man? I would not have guessed that!" I say, and suddenly Howard beams widely and nods -- he was wearing a Yomiuri Giants Japan League baseball cap, and suddenly Ron Howard and I are chatting baseball for a few seconds as a crowd of other folks all keep a respectful/terrified distance. I do that thing I learned to do long ago -- I pull out of the convo early, long before it seems that we've now run out of all possible topics to fill the conversational void. I see new guy Marlon munching on a mondo plate of meat, nodding and chewing approvingly as he scopes the scene. I see Julie O making eye contact with me and pointing toward Peter Hedges, who just arrived late. I nod, and we link up in position for a gang intro.
Hedges winds up being a super decent guy. He's chatty and self-deprecating and demonstrative and reactive and exuberant, and more than anything he seems to exude a certain kind of sweetness. That always seems vaguely demeaning or perhaps just condescending, but it is what it is: he has an innocent sort of delight about the fun stuff happening around him, and he makes you feel happy just being close enough to hear him talk. Or, in my case, close enough to wind up holding his pigskin jacket so that he doesn't accidentally drop grease on it as he chows majorly on a huge late of chicken.
Apparently this is his first time back in Austin after a first/only visit a decade ago, and he looks around, shaking his head. "This is so wonderful! Is it always like this?"... "Oh, I am so coming back. I love this. This is all just so fun!"
A few minutes later, as I am standing around talking to some guys I vaguely know via bloggery, I feel a hand drag across my lower back as some woman walks past.
"Hey, Brett!" says Maggie Biggar, the very sweet and very cute but very shy red-head producing partner for Sandra Bullock.
I nod, "hey, Maggie!". She tosses her hair in that way women do that always makes men just shiver a little and smile.
"DUDE... says one of the guys I am with. "That was MAGGIE BIGGAR! How the hell do you know her like that?"
"The judge said we're not really supposed to talk about the details, but the gist of it is we respect each other, and the kids always come first."
The dudes swap weird looks and then just stare at me. Oh, I have fun, sometimes.
Bigtime agent David Boxerbaum continues his long-running disinterest in anything I might choose to say, but producer Dawn Wolfrom seems to counterbalance that with her almost-completely-camouflaged lust for me. Petrie gives me another hug. Rossio, Turman and me stand around playing dueling complainers. Diedrech Bader says hi. Conference director Maya Perez chases her kid around the grounds. Familiar faces abound wherever I turn, and every conversation seems to then fold into a reference to someone else, and the whole scene starts to get a really sweet roll to it just as it's time to shutter the scene and pack up to return to the Driskill for whatever comes next.
Back at HQ there's some interest in the movie PRECIOUS -- some folks are saying "it's this year's SLUMDOG!" -- but I can't quite bring myself to go sit in a dark room when there are friends around to play with, so we opt to set up shop at the Driskill Bar 'til it's time to do something else. We manage to burn the candle til time to head off to the late party at Ruth's Chris (no food -- just booze), and again somehow "Larry" winds up in tow. I decide to wander around and see what else is up, where I meet Mike and then Eilis the Mad Irish Lass and again see Richard and Derek and lots of other fine folk, and then I wander back and find myself chatting up "Larry" again.
"I was asking around about you," he says. "Everyone here seems to have a different Brett story they are fond of -- it's like you're at the center of this entire fiasco. What are you, Keyser fuckin Söze?"
OK, so at that moment all I could do was lean back and smirk with painful happiness -- this isn't really happening... I recall mumbling to myself. Except it just kept on happening. Kasdan and I sneak in some quiet private exchanges about movies and women and fear and passion and women and writing and women (a certain consistency of theme started to develop...) and then again too quickly the lights start to come up and it's time to turn back onto the street, and "Larry" says "OK, Keyser -- now what?", so we wind up doing that laughably adolescent thing where you "sneak" past the suspicious judgmental doorman late at night, trying poorly to not seem well and truly snookered, and then giggle all the way to the elevator as if you really pulled one over. And we find an afterparty in the suite of a friend there in the Driskill, and we hang out for a bit before "Larry" suddenly realizes that he has a 9AM departure back to LA, so he bails "early" (3:15 AM), waving goodbye to the room, and -- glory -- giving me a slight smirk and a wink just as the door closes behind him.
I sit exhausted and bleary-eyed over my PowerBook back in my room a half hour or so later, grinning stupidly, fumbling to tap out some soggy thoughts on what it all felt like. The best I seem able to come up with is "fuckin awesome."
In hindsight here nearly a week later, I think that still pretty much nails it.
(to be continued...)
28 October 2009
More handshakes. More introductions. More excited happy reunions. Bill True, aka "The Nicest Guy In The World." Shane Black, aka, "Mr Self-Torture."
Some of our crew have been doing this Austin thing together for so long that some odd informal traditions seem to have developed. Among those are "Thursday is Irish Pub Day." I really have no idea how or when we started, but we once went strolling for lunch along Sixth Street and found a convenient and totally decent pub grub place just a block from the Driskill ("ground zero" for all AFF action). Now it's become a standard and accepted part of the routine, so a pile of 8 or so of us head off to grab burgers or shepherd's pie or fish tacos.
Julie O has to bail early, cuz she's no longer civilian like the rest of us, but instead she's now Miz Fancypants Paid Pro, having sold a script and seen it produced into an actual by god movie. In salute of this, she now rates invitation to participate in the festival not as a drooling noob, but instead as a wise old pro. The fact that we all laugh hysterically at how we all know how very little real difference there is between those two groups doesn't detract from our collective pride and happiness for her achievement: one of ours has made it up the mountain, and that's proof that it can be done. She waves and hustles off to get set up on her panel, while the rest of us snigger and brainstorm embarrassingly dumb questions to pose to her from the audience.
Her panel -- "How To Work The Austin Film Festival" -- is actually rather fantastic. She and Karl Williams -- another Austin long-timer whom I've watched grow from innocuous attendee into acclaimed up and comer and then into now hard working new pro -- both do an great job of explaining not just how to take advantage of the insane possibilities of this event, but why. At the risk of rankling the AFF officials, the real draw and value of Austin is not the panels and roundtables -- which are uniformly very good and often brilliant -- but instead in the social networking opportunities afforded as part and parcel.
In this day and age, the answer to pretty much any technical question one might ever have about the craft and business of screenwriting is only a Google search away. What Austin provides is a chance to connect not to just answers, but answerers -- the people behind that information, the personalities that give that information texture and flavor and relevance and specific application. It's the difference between seeing pictures of Yosemite and actually being there to smell the breeze and feel the sun on your skin. It's the difference between printing a recipe versus tasting a well-prepared meal.
Austin gives you recipes, but then turns you loose in a huge well-appointed kitchen staffed with chefs.
After laughing through Julie's try at seeming "expert" (she reads this, so I am allowed these juvenile sorts of stabs...), I catch Dan Petrie and Matt Weiner in "A Shot Of Inspiration." As Weiner, the rather hilarious and talented creator of MAD MEN, explained bits of his work history and experience, Dan -- whom I know and who recognizes me on sight now -- wanders around the room pouring actual shots of "liquid inspiration" ("Canadian Club" for those scoring along at home...). Petrie takes time from the beverage service to spin great tales from his days as a mailroom flunky at ICM, through his start with BEVERLY HILLS COP and THE BIG EASY and on through his time as WGA president.
After that, we head off to a club called Mohawk for the Opening Night Party where we hook up with yet more friends, and grab a few bottles of free Dos Equis, the official beer of the festival, so it's comped at all parties and thus the drink of choice (stay thirsty, my friends). smile to see new crew member Marlon from Atlanta with that "first year smile" as he starts to feel the vibe and realize how cool the opportunities are.
'Course, we were all about to be reminded of that fact when we returned to the Driskill Bar after the party at Mohawk, as we walk in and see James V. Hart and Lawrence Kasdan.
Or, as he is known in my head, "Lawrence FUCKING Kasdan."
It is no exaggeration at all for me to say that Kasdan is *the* guy who made me want to be a screenwriter. I recall coming home from THE BIG CHILL once upon a time way gone by and sitting down to try and write something... something that cool. 'Course, he's also done a few other little movies in there... BODY HEAT... RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK... THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK... SILVERADO... GRAND CANYON... WYATT EARP... IMMEDIATE FAMILY... THE ACCIDENTAL TOURIST...
Kasdan is simply The Man.
And he's standing there in front of me.
Now, I've met Kasdan before. In fact, once upon a time I kinda sorta made comically inappropriate comments to his wife (she laughed), and the year after that I think I slobbered on him (literally) as I called him my hero, to which he sorta sighed and said "'K, that's nice." But here he is, in the Driskill Bar, hanging out around and among my class of doofus, so of course we (our group) sorta adopts him as ours, just as if he was a wayward spaniel.
We wind up dragging him across the street to the Late Night Welcome Party, hosted by Dan Petrie at Buffalo Billiards on Sixth St., and then, in a typically weird yet beautiful turn, he just kinda sorta stays with us. "Larry" hangs out and chatters and chuckles and tells tales and laughs at other's tales and in general drops right into formation as "one of the guys." At one point I'm sitting there, wedged in between Petrie and Kasdan, sipping beers and laughing and telling hideous slanderous lies about my friends, and it starts to get weird on me: "I grew up watching the movies these guys wrote, and now I'm sitting here blabbing away like I'm part of their world. And they're treating me like I am. And the weird part is... it doesn't feel weird...."
The party rumbles on, and I circulate around, and am forced to giggle at how many pros I find myself familiar and friendly and on old terms with. Eventually, the lights come up and it's 2 am and the party is shuttering, so we start blundering out into the Sixth St chaos, Kasdan still in tow and still treating us like we're worthy (which we are most certainly not). We're all standing around, swaying in the breeze of alcohol we all feel in our heads, as Lauren, one of my other great and gorgeous Austin pals, waves goodnight and disappears into the madding crowd to find a cab. I had a mouthful of kraut dog at that precise moment, so could not shout after her to come over to the Driskill where the valet might more easily hail her a cab. She disappears, and Kasdan slaps at me, smiling madly:
"What the hell, man? She was in your care! You dropped the ball! Brett, her husband told you to take care of her!"
I smiled through a mouthful of kraut dog. "Hey, he fucked up -- he trusted me!"
"Larry" laughed loudly, said "excellent quote," and I felt really stupid calling him "Larry" as I scribbled jumbo crayon notes in my internal diary.
So "Larry" continues to tag along with us. We decide to go back to the Driskill -- this despite the fact that the bar is now closed, and that the security is annoyingly tight and requires some creative fiction to get everyone past the guards ("writers"), and seven or eight of us -- including "Larry" -- plop down around the fireplace in the darkened deserted bar, and someone produces two bottles of red wine from their room, and we sit around sipping vino with "Larry" 'til 4 am or so.
And that was the day that was, Thursday, 22 October, 2009.
And as I ballroom dance back across 7th Street to the SFA, I can only laugh maniacally at the way the evening went. Sometimes -- just occasionally, and always without warning -- Reality well and truly kicks Fantasy's ass.
(to be continued...)
This year was the same, only more so, and in a new and different and intoxicatingly wondrous way.
There is the moment when you realize what it is that you want to do.
And then there is that moment when you realize that you actually can do that thing you want to do.
And then there's that moment when you realize that the thing you want to do... is now already happening.
That's what Austin felt like this year.
We've been stuck in a totally weird weather pattern here in SE Texas in October this year. Where this month is traditionally among the driest of the year, in 2009 it seems as if we've been stuck under the same stationary puddle of drizzle. Amazingly enough, on Wednesday, aka "departure day," the skies turned a strange color -- "blue" -- and a bright shiny ball appeared in the heavens, and it was a gorgeous drive into Austin.
I swung by the airport to pick up my bestest pal Julie O and then we headed into town, checking into our respective rooms at the Stephen F Austin and then wandering over to pick up registration packages and see what other members of the tribe had already gathered. We grabbed beautiful Shawna, said how-do to a bunch of familiar folks, and then the three of us hopped into the car and rolled down to Threadgill's for dinner (for those scoring along at home: chicken fried steak w/ gravy on the side, mashed potatoes, turnip greens... larrupin')
It's a totally weird and disorienting situation: I love these friends dearly, as much as any friends I have anywhere, yet we get to see each other for only these four or five days annually when we all congregate in Austin. On the one hand you have a near-desparate need to make every single damned moment "count" -- let's do something memorable -- anything -- let's not waste a moment in which we could be celebrating these rapidly dissipating seconds of "us" -- but on the other you understand that there's no real need for such desperation. That just slipping back into a comfortable old friendship is often more than enough. That this... is sufficient.
Given that we were a block away from the Congress Avenue Bridge, home to the huge urban bat colony, we decided to finally make good on a long-standing threat to actually go view the nightly exodus, but as always, "the gods laugh when men make plans," so of course as soon as we got under the bridge, the heavens opened forth and we stood trapped under a highway overpass as rain poured down for an hour, and the bats -- flying rodents with brains the size of a medium cashew -- looked out with amused disdain. "Uh, folks-- it's raining. We're staying home tonight. Go away."
After that moist excitement, we wander back to the Driskill Bar, aka, "the Happiest Place on Earth", plop into a leather sofa and commence the serious business of lounging about, drinks in hand.
I'll not even try to list every single name on the list of folks whose presence brightened the year, as I'll surely forget someone and then catch hell. Suffice to say, it's always a huge thrill to see familiar faces strolling back in, feel a warm handshake, grab a good squeeze of a hug, be surprised by the unexpected but welcome slap on the back from a friend you'd not seen walk in. It's a family reunion, but instead of gathering the family which fate issued you at birth, in this case it's those brothers and sisters you yourself selected from the grand catalog of humanity.
We hook up with some friends -- some old, some new -- and wander off into the Austin night, carousing til long after last call on this last night where there are no officially scheduled events and social imperatives. Silliness abounds, while clear memories become scarcer and harder to grab.
Wednesday night -- first day in. What went down? Nothing much at all, yet it's still one of my favorite moments in the festival experience.
The players are assembled, and the show will now begin.
(to be continued)
25 October 2009
And that was just one of dozens of stupidly beautiful moments, some of which I'll try to mention and describe (within legally acceptable bounds... ahem) in the coming days.
For now... blessed overdue sleep.
12 October 2009
Yeah yeah... a lot of people claim to like it and use it, but by the same token I know people who claim that chewing gum relives stress or that copper bracelets repel aliens or that Oreo cookies invented Atlantis.
"People is stoooopid."
Every time I check Twitter I see a huge long scrolling pile of laughably irrelevant inane uninteresting and (often) plainly idiotic blatherings from folks with whom once I had decent online relationships but who now seem to have given up communication in favor of tweets and chirps and farts and whatever.
It's like claiming to communicate via graffiti. The fact that it might work 2% of the time hardly seems like acceptable justification for the popularity of effort wasted in failed attempts.
It's not like BLOGGING which of course is a totally respectable way to complain, and always a surefire indicator of intelligence, charm, and lack of rationalized ironic bullshit.
Meanwhile, here's a schematic of a rear suspension:
23 September 2009
-- Walt Whitman (as loosely quoted by Annie Savoy in BULL DURHAM)
There are many things about our country which are not all they could be, but there are still some things which remain as perfect now as they ever were.
Chief among such rare isolated examples of a Kind And Loving God is the grand and glorious game of baseball. Football may well be a more true reflection of our nation's violent and militaristic character, and basketball with its flamboyance and impossible feats of high flying athleticism might well be the jazz of our age, but baseball... it remains a pure portrait of where we came from, where we once hoped to see ourselves going, and where we can -- when the mood and winds are just right -- still imagine that we might yet return: that innocent and joyful place under a sky of blue, on a field of green, the smell of grass and horsehide and chalk dust hanging on a warm afternoon breeze, with all our "foes" still smiling friends who will salute our good fortune and buck us up in the aftermath of any inconsequential failure.
What's even more thrilling (again, in my opinion) is the occasional story that comes along which reminds us that perhaps not all such nostalgic golden-toned visions of America lay filed away in memory or fantasy, that instead there are places and moments where this quaint idea of Baseball as the embodiment of the best aspects of the American soul is not only real, but actually confirmed, appreciated and venerated.
We are reminded of this by those beautiful stories where we find baseball taking root in some strange place where its simple clean innocent joys have never before been known.
In a pretty wonderful little turn of events, Rachel Maddow of CNBC helped the first-ever Iraqi National Baseball Team find uniforms and equipment so that the Great American Game might have a fighting chance to find purchase in the war-torn sands of the Persian Gulf. Ebbets Field Flannels -- one of the coolest companies out there -- makers of the world's finest reproduction classic baseball jerseys, stepped in to design and manufacture some pretty cool duds for the Iraqi team, and copies of the unis are now on sale through the Ebbets Field website, with proceeds helping veterans of the ongoing hostilities in the region.
Read the the full story HERE and see if you can stifle a smile.
I dunno. Maybe old Walt was righter than he knew.
"Ilaab!" ("Play ball!")
13 September 2009
Dr. Norman Borlaug passed away this weekend at his home in Dallas.
There's a good chance you don't know who Norman Borlaug was, or why his name ought be long remembered for accomplishments few humans can ever hope to match.
You see, Dr. Borlaug was a plant scientist, and it was his efforts to develop better hybrid varieties of dwarf grains -- hybrids which would be easier to grow, less prone to damage and drought, higher in yield, and able to sustain larger local populations -- which changed our world. These efforts to feed the growing third-world populations in the 1950s and 60s won Dr. Borlaugh the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970, as well as the title-- offered with no hint of exaggeration or embellishment, it should be noted -- of "the man who saved a billion people."
If you want to learn a few details about a largely unknown man who quite literally changed the face of our world, take a few minutes to consider the impact and implications of Dr. Borlaugh's efforts. Just the reminder that there are in fact, good honorable men (and women) out there fighting the good fight, every day in a thousand surprising ways on a thousand unexpected fronts, is often enough to rinse away the stink of the normal everyday political cynicism and pop-cultural triviality we're usually shoveled.
Some people achieve fame for next to nothing, while others just quietly go about the business of actually leaving the world a better place than they found it.
proud of the good guys B
09 September 2009
There have been some odd rumblings ad grumblings beneath the waves, and there continue to be a few such noises (and some might yet surface and blow steam and become actual official Items Worthy Of Mention...), but for now we're where we've been for a long time now: in a siege, pounding on the walls, and scrambling to find some new tactic or trick to bring to bear to help gain entry into yon Castle Hollywood.
In the meanwhile... real life remains real busy, and might soon get another new wrinkle added to the Pile O' Fun, but (maintaining the theme) I'll not talk abut that until it becomes something worth talking about.
I continue to see lots and lots of blogs continue to be lots and lots boring and non-updated, and it seems clear that Twitter killed the Blogger star, though what seems less clear is how or why Twitter is at all useful for a startling bulk of the people who continue to mass murder electrons via that site. Or technology. Or service.
Or whatever it "is." (And no, that was not a plea for any to offer explanation.)
Austin Film Fest suddenly looms scant weeks away. I mean, I guess "six" counts as "scant," but if not... screw it, who cares anyway.
Austin in October. Football and baseball and Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and PTA and Jr High Band and HS Cross Country and TaeKwonDo and dance and so on and so on until then and after.
Same as it ever was... same as it ever was... same as it ever was... same as it ever was...
once and future B
30 August 2009
You say that love is everything
Then you turn around and sing
About all your painful moments
How in the end she didn't care
For the memories you shared
Despair and inner torment
Yeah, well wait a minute, friend
Stop before you begin
We've heard this one before
So you're on a downward slide
But you've seen the other side
And you can't ask for more
The end of summer's in the air
Do you remember when you cared
About friends and change of season
And a guitar was in your hands
And you played in twenty bands
And you never needed no reason
Yeah, well stop a minute there
Why should anyone else care?
They've all got holes to plug
She's a shovel in your hands
She's a pail of sand
Someone you once dug
You say you gave it all you could
And did everything you should
And you still wound up defeated
And all the efforts in between
Don't amount to anything
Just old mistakes repeated
And it's probably pretty true
But what else you got to do?
We've all got time to kill
She's the TV ad that lied
The drug you hadn't tried
She was a perfect little pill
I've seen your bright eyes darken
Eyes that always shone
So bright I had to close my own
You say you can't live in the past
But you're driving there so fast
Headlights aimed for drinking
You'll sing "I knew it all along"
As the bars they pass along
With the ground below you sinking
Yeah so stop for three or four
They won't card you at the door
They've seen you there before
It's not your favorite place to drink
But a place to stop and think
And you can't ask for more
And wondering where it all went
Your dreams and things you wanted
You built a space for them inside
Where the walls are made with pride
Empty, cold and haunted
Yeah, but who am I to judge
Or negotiate your grudge
I should keep my damn mouth closed
You should call him with the news
Tell him he's the one who's screwed
You just might be right -- who knows?
You should call him with the news
Tell him he's the one who's screwed
You just might be right -- who knows?
Yeah, there have been a surprising number of Slobberbone songs making my "Love It" list this past year. I guess something about drunken snarling indifference is starting to get good to me.
My advice: deal with it, bobo.
27 July 2009
08 July 2009
This is from Austin Film Fest 2004 (whicvh was probably the last one I MISSED, so that explains that portion of the overlook...)
CRANK THE TUNEAGE, MAN!
(love the wall o' notecards...)
28 June 2009
God bless return flight tickets and air conditioning.
19 June 2009
Where I seemed to have some momentum and energy (at last) for a few weeks there, now I sit at the keyboard and just... sigh. Every time I put eyes on something I'm trying to write I suddenly feel like mowing the yard or sorting silverware or cleaning the office or driving to sit and stare at traffic driving past the McDonalds.
This is not good.
I leave for Boy Scout summer camp in a few days, which means I'll then have basically zero computer access for a full week. Sure, I'll take some printouts of stuff in progress and I'll lounge around under some trees (I hope there are trees...) and spill red ink all over, and I'll probably wind up scribbling notes and proto-outines to some new ideas that invariably pop up whenever I am supposed to be doing something else, but what will *not* get done is "finishing these scripts."
I've got three scripts in various stages of first-draft hell, and they've all been dragging for... well, too damned long. But it's hard to get motivated much when it feels like it really doesn't matter much anyway -- Hollywood will option a damned FaceBook status update from a Pomeranian and I can't a word read.
"PPPFFTTTTTT" pretty much sums up my feelings about everything right now.
Maybe I'll feel less disgusted by it all tomorrow.
Sure. Why not. Anything could happen.
dead calm B
30 May 2009
Six weeks on the road now, I'm feeling kind of spent
There's a few things I need and ones a friend
A few good games of pinball and a double whiskey sour
I'll rinse it with a beer and repeat again
You know I couldn't find you in the place you used to be
I'm a sucker for the old times, that's me
But I asked around the bar and they said you were gone for a couple of days
On a vacation in the drunk tank so they'd say
Seems you were walking down the street, looking for relief
Your bedroom seemed a hundred miles away,
The dark side of a dumpster seemed the perfect place to sleep
Cops woke you up and cuffed you where you lay.
So what's the price of stolen sleep, I guess it's pretty steep,
Two hundred and fifty dollars for your bail,
They tried to raise the money, to get you out of jail,
And I guess they did their damnedest but they failed.
I saw that girl you used to know at the other end of the bar
I never thought she'd ever get that far
She said you two were through, it seemed you were driving for different things
I said I understood, I've wrecked that car
So now there's thirteen empty bottles, a glass or two or four
The lights came on we headed for the door
But the night was adolescent and she said she wanted more
And that's what she kept the Apple Blossom for
So up the stairs to her apartment with the Christmas lights that blink
It's the second week of May but that'd be okay
Except that under those blinking lights we opened a big old can of stink
And you smell it soon enough in one more day
Saturday, the twelfth of May, the policeman turns the valve
And the first drunk of the weekend dribbles out
Collect all your effects and take a cab straight to the bar
You're wondering what the whisperings all about
Well, I'll tell you:
It's about the easy sheen of alcohol, of better-not-do's done
Of blinking lights and the curse of roomates' tongues
An entire bar's worth holding theirs, but it only takes just one
And then it's pass that can around, it's your turn, son
Because this pinball game I'm playing, you know it's not the same
Times used to be you and me could always match
Yeah and the multiball came easy just like the replay game
And the wagers won and tossed hard down the hatch
So now I nailed a free game and there's a bottle across my head
My table tilts, I'm headed for the floor
Went out to find an old friend but I lost me one instead
I lost it all for just another score
Yeah, I lost it all for just another score
Poetry, people. Poetry.
fan of the rollick B
07 May 2009
The task is simple: open your current/newest writing project and then list the FIRST TEN VERBS which appear in that project.
I learned this trick/game back in college when a writing prof was trying to drive home the point of active aggressive forceful writing versus limp and lazy passive writing. If you do this and find yourself listing a bunch of "is" and "are" and "seems" and such, maybe it's time to go back and turn up the heat and add some more sizzle,
I have a new project I just started toying with, and as usual I like to scribble out an opening and closing scene to help me nail the tone and the possible trajectory of the story. I have a handful of opening pages done, and here are the first ten verbs (so far):
Not as shabby as it might have been, but I know this will improve as I actually work on this. Still, it's a fun and (often) useful easy trick to use on your own writing.
05 May 2009
[File under "primal scream goodness"]
Can't Even Tell
(Soul Asylum, from the CLERKS soundtrack)
I may never get what I want
But I'm happy to just die trying
And I hope I ain't done nobody wrong
But I miss you smiling
And I'm looking for a cure cause I'm bored to tears
And I'm stuck in here, stuck out here, stuck in here
We lived through another day
It's a good excuse to celebrate
Take a number knock on wood
We'll find a reason to feel good
I know you know I wanna know how I feel
I can't even tell
I can't even tell
I can't even tell
No one knows nothing about me
I'm guessing I'll just keep 'em guessing
No one sees what I see
This is my blessing
And I'm looking for a way to get out of here
Get me out of here, out of here, out of here
We lived through another day
It's a good excuse to celebrate
Take a number knock on wood
Find a reason to feel good
I know you know you wanna know how I feel
I can't even tell
I can't even tell
I can't even tell
I'm out of here, out of here, out of here
I know you know I want to know how I feel
I can't tell
I know you know I'll tell you if it's real
It sounded like a bell
I can't even tell
I can't even tell...
29 April 2009
I am sitting here leg-wrestling a pair of over-pondered projects toward some form of finality when, on schedule and as usual, here comes that half-dressed tart, the Cool Idea Fairy, flouncing her pert little bottom across my field of attention.
"Whatcha doin', sailor-boy? Wanna have some fun...?"
So again I am beset by a cloud of swirling ideas as I succumb to Blazejowski Syndrome -- "I'm an idea man Chuck, I get ideas, sometimes I get so many ideas that I can't even fight them off! " -- and by the end of the day I will look up and realize that I've scribbled pages of notes and ideas and maybe a third of a treatment for a movie idea which nobody will ever probably see or hear about.
I need help. And a beer.
And cash money. Great honking gobs of yankee greenback dollars.
Meanwhile, my mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
T'ain't right. That's all I gots to say on the matter.
Just t'ain't right, dag-nabbit.
24 April 2009
I was blessed to be given a second chance to experience this sort of joy and happiness these past few years as I coached my son's baseball teams. Sure, there are minor pressures and exasperations and annoyances, and hell yes there are demands upon one's social calendar and sometimes one's own sanity, but none of that ever mattered when I was on the field, with My Guys.
The team I drafted first as 8 year old players would form the core of a group of kids that I would then redraft again at 9 and 10, and would also spend summers with on a tournament team. By my estimation, I coached and managed somewhere in the neighborhood of ninety games with some of those guys over these last four years, with likely three times as many practices mixed in over that same span, plus maybe half as many extra games where we'd hang out and watch some other team play -- just loving baseball with each other.
And a few of those kids became really close friends of mine.
Perhaps it's odd for a grown man to try and describe that a loose gaggle of kids -- 8, then 9, and then 10 and 11 years old -- might somehow legitimately qualify as "friends," but there's no other way to describe them. There are always a few kids who just "click" with you. You "get" them and they get you, and you find yourself wanting them to succeed for the purely selfish rush of being able to see them made happy by something you helped bring about.
I'd work with a kid to fix a problem in his swing, and maybe he never really did totally correct the mechanical flaw, but over the course of that season or even multiple seasons you could see him understand what his demon was, and see him fighting to fix it, and see him have more and more success as he got better at overcoming that flaw. And then he'd bounce up from second base after sliding in on a hustling double to left center, and he'd allow himself a rare public moment of personal pride expressed in an uncontrollable smile, and he'd shoot you a glance from second to where you stood, coaching at third, and you'd smile and point an index finger at him as if to say 'YOU, my man, ROCK." And he'd smile and point a finger back at you to return that never actually-spoken sentiment, and for a flickering little moment All Was Right And Good in this world, and the sun would shine forever, and the grass would remain forever green.
Which is, of course, an illusion. A lie. A cruel sham we perpetrate on ourselves to obscure the inevitable moment when the pendulum of joy swings back the other way and restores some sense of karmic balance to the Universe.
Over these past few years, more and more of My Guys would drift away. Some would give up ball entirely, favoring other sports. Some of them would move to other neighborhoods or states and remain active in local leagues there. Some would elect to join local select or tournament teams, and play full-time for other coaches. But a few -- a very precious few -- would hang on, and would always be there, at your practice, or stopping by your practice to give some skin and trade some silly joke, or to hang out for a few minutes after or between games and just talk about what they'd been up to, what successes they were enjoying, what challenges they were still facing on or perhaps near the field.
Eventually, that group evaporates down to just a handful of players, maybe two or three, and today I got word that one of these players -- maybe my favorite of the entire bunch, that one kid I adored more than any other, and wished I could duplicate and carry with me onto every team as an example of what a little league ballplayer was supposed to be -- was leaving the league and unlikely to return. He's on a tournament team, and his dad is retiring from all involvement in our league, and it hit me suddenly: "I'll never share a dugout with this kid again."
I don't expect most people to really understand the painful finality of that statement. It's not just about losing a good player, or even an under-sized buddy, or turning a corner and realizing that an entire chapter in my life -- one of the most gloriously joyful and precious ones -- is now closing with a gentle hush. It's more that crushing RE-realization of the inevitability of decay and death. Of re-learning those painful lessons already learned once when I was ten or twelve or eighteen: lessons of mortality and change and time.
Of the ending of all things good.
No, there's been no death, yet that's what this feels like. Never again will we swap that private smile where we knew that we'd managed to do something cool that neither of us had really been sure we could, that we'd managed to pull a great joke on the Universe and steal an extra helping or three of fun from the serving line, where we'd claimed some great and and wonderful memory that only a tiny private group could ever understand, would ever understand. We'd had some good times, and now, the good times are gone.
Where once we cheered, the echoes have now faded, and today they seem all but silent and lost to the breeze of time.
For over a thousand years, Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of a triumph - a tumultuous parade. In the procession came trumpeters and musicians and strange animals from the conquered territories, together with carts laden with treasure and captured armaments. The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting."
-- final lines from the movie PATTON
17 April 2009
the massive appeal of zombie movies ...
Swahili (not one word) ...
Lindsey Lohan's career decisions ...
train wreck TV ...
disinterested Little League coaches ...
middle-aged male drama queens ...
ignorance worn with pride ...
Halle Berry's apparent reticence to become my love slave ...
intellectual high ground B
03 April 2009
For me, there's no time like the early days of spring, when the grass is green, the air is shaking loose the stale winter chill, and lines of chalk on a diamond of green define all that is great and glorious with the game we call baseball.
I love football for its precision and tactical formality, for its controlled stylized violence and warm spirit of martial camaraderie. The feel of a perfect pass leaving the fingertips, its inevitable perfect path to a receiver's hands already as clear in your mind's eye as if drawn in glowing laser light... the surge of ancient instinct -- "RUN! NOW! GO!" -- when a cutback lane opens in the edge of your vision in the maelstrom of a play in progress... the animal joy of impact, flesh on flesh, as you connect squarely with that foul bastard who dared suggest that he might encroach on your territory. All of this is capital-G Good.
I love basketball for the free-flowing improvisation and infinite variation it affords: five individuals all swirling and dancing in some impossible non-choreographed ballet no one need explain or think about... the cocky giggle in the back of your mind when you glance into your opponent's eyes and realize that he's scared, that he has no idea what to do to counter you or best you... the insane feeling of connectedness when you stop and pop a 16-foot jumper and know from the millisecond it leaves your hand that you are safe to turn and head back upcourt,' cuz that rock ain't goin' nowhere but the bottom of the bucket, baybee... again, all very Good.
But baseball... never has Man yet designed a better test to reveal a man's weaknesses and strengths, his deepest fears and best attributes. Timid? Unsure? Arrogant? Complacent? Indecisive? Lazy? Baseball will find your faults and make them known. The better and more experienced players understand this, and that's part of what brings them back every season: the determination to stare into the face of that magic all-knowing field of green and say "You bested me before, but today -- right here, right now -- I'm ready, I'm worthy. This day is mine."
To stand and face an entire team of agile defenders whose only goal in life is to deny your claim to safe passage across that tiny slice of ground between home and first base. To step into a square drawn in the dirt, a club in your hand, as an opposing pitcher smirks a literal stone's throw away secure in the knowledge of all those foul tricks he'll use to try and make you look foolish and incompetent. To know that your best efforts to overcome these tricks will be judged -- harshly -- in real time and for all time by a heartless bastard of an umpire who feels no love, brooks no debate, and who is by his own definition both infallible and incontestable.
There's no going back, and no going around, and the only way forward is to live through that hungry moment looming before for you now with bared teeth and naked claws.
"You really think you're ready, little man? Well, let's find out...."
To accept and realize that you are locked in a contest where many times your greater success for your team very often results from your own personal failure, and that sometimes your own success will in fact hurt your team's cause. That you can do everything right yet still fail, or do everything wrong yet still succeed. That here, in this game, "sacrifice" is not just a vague concept but is instead an actual codified and defined play outcome. That no matter how well you play, you will never play as well as you dream, as well as you soon will wish you had in hindsight. Baseball more than any other sport forces you to mentally replay every single moment and realize all you might have done differently, done better.
To breathe deep and know the smell of baseball -- a smell which in my experience has no comparable analog in other sports: the glove leather, the new mown grass, and the dust of sandy clay soil, and acrid sweetness of the lime chalk, the warm horsehide smell of the ball, the distant faint smolder of ozone you can sometimes catch on a still night when the towering vapor lamps first fire up so as to give the gods themselves a clearer view of your impending futile testimony.
To endure the unpredictable spans of relative boredom in the field, when you are required to stand ever-ready, on guard for an attack which might never even come, or, when it does, will not be as you'd anticipated. The split-second decisions required by the various component parts of the defensive team, as you have to know instantly what angle to take on the ball, where to try and receive the catch, what kind of throw to make, what target to choose, and what insanely precise body control is required to make a comically non-areodynamic sphere of leather, string, and cork cut through swirling winds in order to hit a glove sized target half a football field away... and then live in hope that the other members of your team all arrived at the same immediate conclusions and are in proper position to then make use of whatever preliminary try at a play you've offered.
To shudder slightly in terror as you dig in at the plate, a feeling which somehow mixes with an eerie calm as you set your stance and wait for Inevitability to come out and play, because every swing you make (or refuse to make) has in some strange draft model of the Universe already been made, been tried, been long resolved since the beginning of time, and all you can do now is play out your part in this strange little sequence.
To see the pitcher's stretch, the delivery, the hiss of the approaching pitch screaming in at your head OH JESUS AT MY HEAD then you calmly snap your wrists and twist your hips in an explosive move you've practiced hundreds times -- ten thousand times, from days before memory -- and then, if your testimony is clear and pure and the gods deem you potentially worthy, a round stick will connect square with a round ball, and a silent diamond will be punctured by the pistol crack sound of rapturous unadulterated joy AAAAIIEEEEEEEE! and you discover yourself already sailing toward first, and suddenly the crowd reappears in the back of your awareness as you become the living breathing absolute undeniable indisputable Center of Everything, and for a flickering moment you feel what it is to be absolutely in control of every aspect of your reality -- yours is the hand on the tiller, the will at the helm -- and then you arrive at first, and the moment subsides, and you breathe a deep sigh, pleading silently with the Almighty, "Please, God -- let me feel that just one more time before I leave this world. Just once. Please..."
For me, that's Baseball. That's Spring.
And it ain't bad.
01 April 2009
I've carped on this topic before, but here it is April 1 all over (again) and (again) I see the same tired half-hearted stabs at irony and wit and high-larity, and (again) my kids are asking me such questions as "what's your favorite practical joke, dad?" and (again) I find The Wife giving me the same withering disapproving glare when I (again) respond with something like "oh, I dunno... I always think the classic 'beat someone with a baseball bat while they are asleep in the beds at 4:15 am' gag is always a knee-slapper -- why do you ask, children?".
And (again) I tense from a white-knuckled sphincter.
Where did this idiot tradition of April Fool's Day come from, and (more importantly) when did we as a group of hairless monkeys all subscribing to the dubious notion that the tradition was at all worthwhile or amusing in the first damned place THEN decide to collectively shrug and re-task this date on the calendar as "that date upon which any manner of lame unoriginal prank is encouraged"? People who on any other day of the year happily accept their pranking deficiencies now feel morally compelled and honor-bound to try some sort of tomfoolery on April 1, very often after Googling "April Fools pranks". I mean, seriously -- if you are having to Google for practical jokes, that's big blinking sign from the Universe that you're probably not one of the folks Nature chose to be a practical joker.
"A man's got to know his limitations," a great philosopher once explained.
Except on April 1, it seems. When all the normal buffers and safeguards are turned off, and any damned fool idiot is given the green light to swing away and annoy friends, strangers, and livestock with frivolous stabs at malicious fun.
Bah, humbug, says I. On April Fools I wish I could crawl down that burrow and spend the day with Punxsatawney Phil, and come out on April 2 to see if we'll be suffering another six weeks of dumbth.
no more fun of any kind B
29 March 2009
Single malt black whiskey and a virgin in the garden
I sail on a boat and my jewel box is broken
Deception and betrayal are ripe for the bargain
Light yer spike with a candle
And a sailor will surely die
Never look you in the eye
Nero fiddled in Rome as the fires burned all around
So I fiddle on the ocean as the stars are falling down
Don't turn yer back on a writer
Don't lay yer hand on a drum
Don't look too long at the smoke on the water
Or the cat might get yer tongue
When in Analog Rome do as the Analog Romans do
Prop yer feet up on a demon and sip that mornin dew
Seven African powers, sawed off double barrel shotgun
Old fashioned crucifixion the kind my grandpappy done
Don't turn yer back on a writer
Don't lay yer hand on a drum
Don't look too long at the smoke on the water
Or the cat might get yer tongue
from "Blood Of The Ram" (2004, The Gourds)
deep in a grinnin groove B
26 March 2009
I say that based upon an experience just now of skimming through no fewer than a half dozen sites dedicated to pretty serious aspiring screenwriters. On every single one of these discussion sites -- every one, no exception -- I was turned off and chased away by the pervasive ugliness and nastiness I saw being spewed upon other contributors and posters.
I understand that pissy snark is the coin of the realm online. That to make any name for yourself in the seething hive of humanity swirling about in the virtual world you often are encouraged to try to be a bigger badder mofo than the the reigning champ. That you have to come in and challenge the local gunslinger to meet you in the street to pull leather against one another. It's the hyper-juvenile "my dick is bigger than yours" nonsense which at first blush makes the internet seem so charming and "pure" but which eventually winds up ruining the experience you first claimed to enjoy.
Someone praises something? Then shit all over it it. Mock it. Deride it. Spend two weeks hurling ad hominem attacks at the poor boob for having the gall to have a slightly different take on some trivial issue of zero relevance.
Someone disagrees with some arcane point in a discussion of yours? Well, then that paste-eating gaboon deserves to die, and so do his parents, and pets, and the OR staff which helped deliver him into this world, and so do his postman, his neighbors, and anyone sharing more than two common letters of his first name.
Someone manages to succeed at something you claim to have been aspiring to? Well, rather than redouble your own efforts, why not just hide behind an anonymous online handle and launch a slanderous campaign of lies, innuendo, and falsehoods to try and make this other person seem somehow unclean and undeserving.
Yeah, yeah, I enjoy some good natured smart assity as much as anyone. And yes I have on occasion crossed the line and moved from the world of "snark" into the world of "outright meanness" (and more often than anyone here would ever believe have then gone back and personally directly apologized when I've recognized this behavior). I'm not claiming to be without sin here. I'm just wondering if I am alone in wishing that there was less encouragement and reward to so frequently commit the same sin with such childish indifference.
As I said, the end result of all this is a sad and totally needless distancing of people who might well share 97% overlap on most views and interests and opinions and goals. Rather than enjoy the cool things we might share, it's easier and more dramatic to stir up a shit storm over some idiotic minor point of difference ("Lettuce goes OVER the meat!" ... "No, lettuce goes UNDER the meat, you inbred child-molesting jackass!"), especially in an online world where there is basically never any price to be paid or risk to be sweated.
Had a bad day at your unsatisfying real world job? Hey, rather than work to improve that real world situation, why not just hop online and shit on a stranger! It's easy and requires no investment of time or emotional capital! Share the misery! Make someone else tired and annoyed! Tearing up shit is far easier than exerting a few calories to fix shit, right? Sure! Let's all be pissed off little two year olds, throwing a tantrum and hurling our toys! "Make me happy or else I'm going to make you unhappy! Waaaaaah! WAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!"
More and more I look around and wonder if maybe there's not a more interesting and noble crowd to play with. I miss that feeling of excitement and hopefulness that I once got when I would hop online -- that flicker of optimism when I realized there were other people out there who were genuinely interested in interesting things, interesting ideas, interesting differences and comparisons and views and dreams and plans and successes and setbacks.
Somehow, a great many of those folks seem to have been replaced by bored chimps, all hell-bent on seeing who can hide in the trees and win the ribbon for hurling down the most or biggest turds at passing strangers.
And, no, that's not "a good thing."
thoroughly gruntled B