Wednesday, June 07, 2006

My Name Is In The Motherf%*&!@$ Hollywood Reporter

Okay, so it's only the production listings, page 66 (of the weekly/international edition, anyway), the tiny gray box for "The Nutthouse" under independent productions, check out the screenwriter (Scr.). Yes, that's really me, and yes, I really wrote a feature screenplay for the tiny little "production" "company" that I "started" with my Cousin the Actor and his Actor Friends. I had more or less forgotten about it until I got a call last night from my cousin, telling me to get a copy of the Reporter.

Holy shit.

Oh, and, uh, sorry I haven't posted in a while... don't really have time at work any more, and things are busy at home, too. But hey, if this leads somewhere, hopefully I'll come back on a more regular basis. :)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Arclight Dux

Because "Redux" would mean I was going over it again, but I haven't yet, so... take that, Latin!

The Arclight was among the first in a wave of "deluxe" movie theaters, but it was the first one to really get it right. Nobody's perfect, especially not giant faceless corporations (as I understand it, the Arclight is owned by Pacific, which is owned by Disney). But the Arclight does a pretty damn good job. Reserved seating is a thing of beauty. Three trailers before each showing. No commercials. Plenty of legroom, every seat, in every theater (except the Dome, which is a special case).

On Easter Sunday (screw you, Jesus), we went to see Ice Age: The Meltdown at the Bridge Cinemas, down at the Promenade at Howard Hughes Center, which is a business/entertainment complex just off Sepulveda south of Centinela. (We went there instead of the Arclight because we were going with a friend and their daughter, and they live right near there, so it was more convenient, geographically.)

"The Bridge Cinema de Lux" is its full name, and it's got "value-added" features that presumably make it a more attractive option than your standard multiplex, but despite its pretensions, it ain't the Arclight.

The fundamental difference is that the Arclight is trying to make the movie-watching experience better, while the Bridge tries to make the complex as a whole more interesting... except the way they've chosen to do it is to add what are essentially bells and whistles, without addressing some of the core issues of the experience.

There's a series of alcoves along the main hallway outside the lower theaters, in which are situated couches. And behind each couch is a video screen embedded in the wall, which cycles through camera views of the other alcoves. So you can watch other people in other alcoves watching you on their wallscreen... which is very meta, but really has nothing to do with being in a movie theater, and the screens or cameras are frequently on the blink. It comes off as tacky and faintly unsavory.

Then there's these overhead projectors which display the theater number on the wall, in the style of the old circular-sweep countdown you see before old movies (there's a name for it, I just forget). They do this by projecting a static image on the wall, and having a little rotating wheel -- a mechanical rotating wheel -- in front of the lens, causing the image to be interrupted a few times a second, so as to imitate the flicker of a movie projector. They don't do a very good job. It's vaguely lame. Does this really improve the movie-going experience?*

In essence, they wasted a bunch of money on shiny crap that doesn't work all that well and doesn't really add much to the experience. (And for some reason, the theater's screen had a big dirty blotch covering most of it. Srsly.) I think the Arclight's model is the one to beat.

* No.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Closing Credits

Unless there's some pressing issue (bathroom, phone call, nuclear winter), I always try to stay to the end of the credits after a movie. Only a small fraction of the reason is to honor those involved in making the film -- I don't recognize more than the tiniest fraction of the names anyway, so it's really just symbolic recognition.

A larger reason is to get the "monk's reward," if any. The monk's reward is what Ebert calls the extra scene they add after the credits, or during the credits -- so-named because of the "monklike devotion" it takes to sit still throughout the credits scroll.

But for me, the primary reason is to use the credits as a psychological cooling-off period, letting my mind wend its way back into reality, and start to process what I've seen. While I'm watching a movie, I rarely analyze what's going on; I just sit back and absorb it, and do the analyzing later. Most of the time, I can't express more than an extremely general opinion of a movie until at least a few hours after I've seen it. The best I can do is "It was good" or "Ehh, I didn't like it so much" or something equivalent.

Sitting through the credits lets me decompress a little bit. Shake off whatever tension I've worked up from watching the (presumably) tense climax. Start working through the movie in my mind, the dramatic implications, remembering scenes I liked or didn't like, beginning to construct an opinion. This isn't a hard-thinking process; it's just sort of the natural coagulation of the experience into something more solid. But I find that sitting through the credits helps me do that; I don't feel like I'm in a rush to get to my car and leave.

It also helps when the theater has plenty of legroom, so that other departing patrons don't disrupt my reverie by kicking me in the shins. Ow.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Unshootable Bandwagon

Whether or not you should write "unshootable" stuff is more or less a solved problem. But what qualifies as "unshootable"?

A common example is action lines that describe what a character is thinking, rather than what they're doing. But there's a fine, fine line between something a character is thinking or remembering, and something they're feeling. Thoughts don't show on a person's face, but feelings do.

Fantastic Four, though a crappy story, is at least well-styled. To wit:
  • So it's not my money you want. It's my toys... Tell me: if NASA doesn't trust you, why should I?
  • Victor is a step ahead. Reed pauses, thrown for a beat. Ben wakes up, suspicious. Victor notices. He notices everything.
There's four separate "what a character is thinking/feeling" moments right there in that one line of action:
  • "Victor is a step ahead." On its face, this is describing the momentary power relationship between Victor and Reed. How do you "shoot" that? Well, you don't, not explicitly: the way this manifests itself on-screen is in Victor's mien as he says the line. It's more or less information for the actor's sake, so that he knows that Victor is delivering this line with a bit of relish in the fact that he's got one up on Reed. (Of course, the actor always has the right to make choices, but I entirely reject the idea that the writer should never write anything that indicates how a line should be read.)
  • "Reed pauses, thrown for a beat." This is a little easier to shoot, it would seem; someone pausing is definitely shootable. But it's not just Reed pausing; he's also feeling disoriented by Victor unexpectedly knowing what Reed's after. Disorientation can show on an actor's face. It's the same thing, a suggestion to the actor.
  • "Ben wakes up, suspicious." Same deal. Ben Grimm is standing there, not really paying too close attention. But when Victor says his line, Ben realizes, Waitaminit, something's going on here that I'm not clued in to. This could manifest itself as Ben tilting his head up sharply, his eyes focusing more closely on Victor, his body tensing as the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.
  • "Victor notices. He notices everything." This one is actually sort of a meta-instruction, referring to the previous three sentences. It tells us that Victor is aware of Reed and Ben's reactions, and what they mean. Again, this ends up functioning as a suggestion for the actor, that Victor maybe glances at Reed and Ben in turn, soaking up more information. And it's also a detail about Victor in general; he's always noticing everything that's going on with people he's interacting with.
This is stuff that can be easiy confused with "unshootable." It's not, and we don't want to over-discriminate against action lines that actually can be shot, but aren't broad actions like moving one's limbs. All four of the above action lines can be accomplished with, at most, slight changes in posture or facial expression.

Memories are what people usually mean when they say, "Don't write unshootable stuff." More specifically, memories of things the audience didn't see happen. If a character remembers something about their childhood, the best you can do to shoot that information is to have the actor express an emotion that relates to it. Maybe he smiles fondly, or grimaces sadly, in either case his eyes unfocused, staring off into space. But unless we have some other way of knowing what he's reminiscing about, he could just as easily be remembering the awesome steak sandwich he had for lunch, or regretting the chocolate milkshake that's giving him gas.

Sometimes, you can write something that would be unshootable, if you wrote it a little differently. For example, describing a woman as "still riding high off the glory of winning Miss Alabama ten years ago." How does her facial expression or posture tell us that she won the Miss Alabama pageant (as opposed to Miss Georgia, or Miss Issippi)? The only way to do it would be to either show a photo or newspaper clipping on her dresser, or a flashback, or have someone bring it up in dialogue -- and if you're going to do that, why bother putting it into the action line?

On the other hand, imagine describing her as "the kind of woman who won beauty contests when she was younger." A decent actress's demeanor can easily demonstrate that kind of history.

Okay, that's enough blathering for today. Back to writing.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Begin fight!

The relative merits of quantity and quality are debated all the time, but it's obvious that quantity will win in the end, simply because quantity outnumbers quality. Then again, maybe quantity and quality obey the One-at-a-Time Attack Rule.

People often point out that the movie industry is a really insane business. Given most of the stories you hear about this or that project happening (or almost happening), it seems like a statistical miracle that any movies get made. And yet they do, which brings up the question: Is it really that hard to get a movie made?

It depends what your definition of "movie" is. Most people, when they think of a movie, think of your average Hollywood few-dozen-million-dollar budget handful-of-A-listers whatever-thon. But there's a lot of other movies out there. B-movies, C-movies, all the way down to the stuff that's so far below grade Z we have to start borrowing Cyrillic letters to label them. Hundreds, nay, thousands of these are churned out every year, and most people never even hear of them. They get no theatrical release or advertising; you might see one on the shelf at a video store, if you're still into that kind of "shopping in a physical store" thing. Netflix might have 'em.

Is it a miracle that these movies get made? No. Vanishingly small budgets put together on the backs of a hundred favors owed to a putative director, that's what these movies thrive on. Loaded with probably gratuitous sex and violence, they can actually make some money in foreign markets. Or on Netflix, where some people are inexplicably willing to check out random zany comedies with scripts written in two weeks, and shot in one.

Getting a movie made isn't that hard. Getting a movie made at one of the major Hollywood studios, that's hard. But they aren't the only game in town; they're just the biggest, and get the most attention.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Memes 'n' Biz

Scott the Reader put up an interesting meme, which is to post the first ten verbs in a script. Putatively, it's to see if the script is "too passive," although I'd be wary of tarring an entire script with a brush made from bristles entirely culled from the first half a page. That's how long it takes WAR, INCORPORATED to use up ten verbs:
  1. howl
  2. strech
  3. hover
  4. loom
  5. roar
  6. are
  7. approach
  8. adorn
  9. pledge
  10. stand
Those are the base forms, not the actual usages ("howl" is actually "Wind howls..." in the script). It would be more interesting to analyze all the verbs in a script, statistically, and see with what frequency you use passive or active verbs.

On the other hand, is such analysis useful in any more than an academic sense? Using active verbs instead of passive verbs is one of the easy parts of writing. It's a specific, distinct, noncomplicated task you can do in a single revision pass. It can go into the toolbox, I suppose, but it's strictly a polish-level tool. One of the last things you should be doing, after you're certain your story and characters are solidly built.

I'm definitely submitting WAR, INCORPORATED to the Nicholls this year; and per the FAQ, which says to feel free to shop your script around while it's in consideration at the Nicholls, I'm on that as well. My tentative plan is to get the Hollywood Agents and Managers Directory, put together an appropriate list of targets, make a metric shit-ton of phone calls, and then spray WI everywhere until someone buys it, agrees to represent me, or a slavering mob of producers shows up at my door with torches and pitchforks.

Any particular advice? Anyone got a producer or agent friend who they'd like to slip the script to? Anyone want to read a copy? It's all spit 'n' polished in nice PDF format; just send me an email.

Friday, March 31, 2006

OMFG, the Nicholls!

In a drunken haze last night, I suddenly remembered that the Nicholls might be coming up... so I looked, and the submission deadline is May 1st, but the application form isn't available online yet.

The Nicholls are only open to people who haven't earned more than $5,000 from writing. I qualify on that front. So I'm going to submit WAR, INCORPORATED to the Nicholls. On the other hand, I think WI also has a good shot if I do the usual send-it-out-to-prodcos-and-agents thing, so... does submitting it to the Nicholls mean I can't send it out otherwise until I either get rejected by (or, in the Bizarro universe, win) the Nicholls?