Wednesday, July 30, 2008

This Earthquake had a good Publicist

The news of the earthquake reminded me of something I've observed about many movie related events; festivals, premieres, etc. It seems a lot more impressive once the P.R. people have handled it than it really was.

Lest the cropped images on CNN of crumbled brick walls, huddled masses of people standing on sidewalks, burst pipes and flooding intersections create an image of havoc, even momentary, let me assuage those notions. It's all in the way the photo or video is framed. Keep that in mind if you view this slideshow from the LA TIMES to show the mayhem.

Here, 34 miles from the epicenter, the house rocked back and forth for about ten or fifteen seconds. Then it was over. Had it continued, yes it would have been quite something else. The rhythmic nature of the rocking causes a sympathetic increase in the movement of things; like the cat crossing a bridge, it would theoretically become very destructive over a bit of time. But not this time. A woman that grew up in Ca, wrote me last night, describing her earliest earthquake recollection:

Running out of the house, my little brother and I watched as the front lawn looked like someone had grabbed one corner and flicked it like a carpet, the thundering shockwaves rolling through the grass. Our precursor to the SUV, an International Harvester Travelall, was bouncing down the driveway.

When the lawn looks like someone is flicking a carpet. Hmmm… okay, then I'll be impressed.

All rocking and rolling distractions beneath me aside, my writing continues. After copious re-outlining, meta writing, head banging and hair pulling (okay there was no hair pulling), I think that the "writing" portion of the rewrite will officially commence after I post this. Hopefully it will go at a speed that is satisfactory.

The temperature continues to be perfection and I continue to be thankful.

Now, if only my replacement battery for my notebook computer had come back from China the way it was supposed to, I could sit outside and write.

More on that later.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


So, it was a nice shake back and forth and my friend in Sierre Madre felt the same....
I wonder where the epicenter was. This wasn't nothing.
Update: 5.8 in Chino Hills - about 34 miles east of Silver Lake.


I kid you not, these are their initial, top news points.

Click on image for full size humor

ABC - letting you know what's really important.
(in case you forgot, ABC is owned by Disney corp.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Cutting the Trapeze harnesses

I don't know what happened to me, but I feel like I was slammed with a 2x4. Muscle ache, headache, nauseated stomach, no desire to get up out of bed… EEKS.

So today, rather than berate myself and force myself up into an attempt to work, I just stayed in bed… 'til 2:30PM!! I am feeling about 80 percent better, but man it really sucked.

I went to a Royal Crown Revue show last night in Pasadena that was fantastic. A beautiful night sitting on a blanket beneath palm trees lit with little white bulbs; listening to and watching top notch players putting on a show from the Levitt Pavilion, life doesn't get much better than that.

But I think the hot dog I ate may have been the culprit to my intensely sick day.

While drifting in and out of sleep, I had a chance to ponder a couple things. One, it's not a whole lot of fun being alone and sick. There's nobody to take care of you, ask you how you're doing, be concerned; not even the sounds of someone else in the house.

Oh, well. Too bad.

Also, as I drifted in and out of sleep, I had a chance to ponder the date itself: July 25th.
Everybody has their important anniversaries, days to remember, moments in time. July 25th is one of them for me. It is a sad one – about as sad as they get. However the event took place many years ago and it has been many years already that I could talk about it without undue emotions raging.
My mother died on July 25th, a long time ago -- when I was twelve. For the first years, it would be an intensely sorrowful day, but as time goes on memories are smoothed, pains lessen.

The reason that I bring my mother's death up today is because in a couple weeks, I will turn the same age my mother was when she died. In a couple months, I will be older than she ever lived to be.

Several days ago, I dragged an old photo album out of the garage and for the first time in quite a few years, looked at pictures I had taken as a child. For my tenth birthday, my requested present was an SX-70 land camera. I loved taking pictures, and as a child, I diligently wrote on the Polaroids: who, what and when these pictures were of. As I'm looking at them now, it is striking me just how young my mother was; already in these first pictures, taken in 1978, she is younger than I am now.

So, today, I feel a bit like a circus performer. In a year when a lot of safety lines have been cut and nets removed, I feel that this is somehow another harness, removed and dropped to the ground far below. These are not my choices; they are just the nature of time, continually moving forward.

I'm swinging yet further into a space that some of those I looked up to never travelled.

Yeah, it's a bit disconcerting.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So, what happened?

My cat is walking around my legs, desperately trying to get some attention – while maintaining her cat-cool-aloofness, of course. She's not the only one that hasn't gotten my attention for several weeks. I am slowly returning to the world; returning calls, doing bills, buying food, and acknowledging the weather gods with a hearty THANK YOU. This July has easily been the most pleasant July I've ever experienced in Los Angeles, or anywhere else for that matter. I was very fortunate not to have to deal with insane heat beyond the insane heat generated by the Sundance Screenwriters Lab Deadline.

People reading this blog with any kind of regularity know that I was working around the clock for the last three weeks and the emails I've received, wishing me luck and rooting for me have been too kind. Thank you all! I'm deeply touched.

So what happened? Did I do it?

Short answer:
Yes, I did it! I wrote a feature length screenplay from July 3 to July 20th. Okay, I'm no Ed Wood but hopefully, neither is the screenplay.

Longer answer:
The screenplay is merely a first (okay, v1.7) draft. It needs a lot of work yet.

To say that writing a screenplay in seventeen days is not easy would be putting it mildly. In fact, one book about screenwriting uses the shocking, "Write a screenplay in 30 days!" title in order to entice potential readers that it has a method to do something entirely mad.

Overall, I'm not impressed by quantity, so I'm not lauding these things. I think a fair amount of time to spend on a first draft of a screenplay is two to three months.
(disclaimer: I mean a screenplay that is worth anything. A formulaic slasher can be churned out in three days)

So, how did I actually do it? I'll tell you. This may be useful for anyone who finds themselves under an intense deadline, even if only self imposed. Of course, it's common knowledge already, so most writers reading this probably do this already.

Outline, Outline, outline!

That's my biggest advice. I've learned that unless I do this, I will run into trouble. I think most writers work this way, so it's not the most insightful advice there is. But good advice always bears repeating. I'm typically a big fan of cork boards. Sticking ideas on them and moving them around – getting a nice 42 inch screen to see your story, with complete drag and drop capability, crash proof, no batteries required, and lightweight – ah, that's the stuff. In this case, I didn't really have time for the cork board – and my cork board currently has another story outline pinned to it that doesn't actually belong to me. Though I don't think it'll ever be used again, I decided not to pull the pins, as it were.

Instead, I went straight to outlining in MS Word, and kept outlining until I had the entire story figured out. Even as I neared the end, I refused to give in to the temptation of starting on the script. I've fallen victim to the "I'll figure the last scene out when I'm writing the script" before, and knew this temptation was not to be followed. In fact, even though I had an ending to the story months ago, getting it right took a couple days of thinking, walking, talking to myself, writing, erasing, repeat.

There is something very nerve wracking about holding a steady course and not shifting to the next phase, when a deadline is inexorably moving toward you. Around July 11th, I got that last scene figured out and jumped into Final Draft and wrote the two words that signal the start: FADE IN.

I also calculated that I needed to pump out about 10 pages a day in order to make the deadline.

The first day, I wrote the entire first act. Like the day, the act was too long -- about 37 pages and it contained a lot of stuff that was tripe. But it was good to get a big jumping start. I knew that output wouldn't last, so I relished seeing that page count.

I then did two days of about fifteen pages per--getting to the point that many a screenplay dies – the dreaded middle. Getting through the middle was a process of five pages here, two pages there.

With about three days to spare, I got something that actually "weighed" the right amount; that is to say, I had a 108 page screenplay (about 21,000 words). From there, I re-wrote it to be a more cohesive piece.

Then, I read it with a friend. We spent about eight hours with it and then I got back to work for the last 30 odd hours.

And there you have it.

I didn't use any illicit drugs to stay awake.
I didn't drink Red Bull or any other energy drink.

However, I did go through 3lbs and 4 ozs. of coffee beans (which I grind to an extra, super fine talcum powder consistency for ultimate brewing delight)
That's a lot of coffee.

Enough about me for the moment.

Proof that good things occasionally happen to nice AND deserving people in this town, I want to heartily congratulate my friend Chad Damiani and his writing partner J.P. Lavin on an absolutely amazing and exciting story!

The Hollywood Reporter writes:

'Capeshooters' finds home at Warners

Bryan Singer in talks to produce the superhero project
By Steven Zeitchik and Borys Kit
July 22, 2008, 08:51 PM ET

With one comic superhero lighting up its boxoffice, Warner Bros. is trying to develop another potential comic franchise by acquiring the superhero project "Capeshooters," with Bryan Singer in negotiations to produce.

J.P. Lavin and Chad Damiani will write the screenplay, which follows two down-on-their-luck slackers who specialize in shooting videos of superheroes. They find themselves on the run when they uncover evidence that a legendary superhero actually is evil.

Read the entire story about Chad's cool day here.

Once again, Congratulations Chad and J.P. May the project GO and may it be franchised!

Ah, much more to write… but I must get back to working on my v2 of the screenplay. I can't say why, but there is no rest for Johnny quite yet.
I now have an August 15th deadline to contend with. Thankfully, I have clay to mold now.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Foreign Levies – the DGA – do nothing, opt out, or object?

I'm running on no sleep here from the screenplay I've been working on. I have a few things of which to blog, but for now I want to put this into the ether.

This entry will be subject to editing and revisions and possible retractions. I do suggest that if this affects you, that you consult with some legal counsel.

That said, here is my opinion, based on conversations with various parties about the FOREIGN LEVY/DGA CLASS ACTION SUIT situation…
It's a topic that generates a lot of passion and I've tried to wade through it and get to the nitty gritty. Hopefully, this makes some sense.

If you're a motion director with any work that has played overseas, you may – you 'may' (they claim not to know where a lot of you are) have gotten a letter regarding a class action settlement. The fact that I'm writing this today, July 21st, the day of the actual deadline for making a stink or not -- is hopefully not closing the barn door after the cows got out.

I think not, because there are others who have been very actively involved in this and I think the whole thing will blow up. I apologize, but the Sundance deadline took precedent.

Some of you might know that I wrote an article regarding the entire foreign levies debacle.
If this entry thus far means nothing to you but you're interested in knowing what it's about, you can read the article here.

Basically, in this class action suit, you have three choices:

  1. Do nothing – which means that the decision of the suit would be how your future, in regards to foreign levies goes.
  2. Opt out – for which the deadline is… today.
  3. Object – for which the deadline is… today.


I will say right out – I don't think the settlement is great. There is wording that is missed, things that are NOT addressed, the deal around which the suit is based is one that was brokered by the guilds and the AMPTP. It is not the deal which really affects non guild members in regards to foreign territories.
We're affected by a different deal – the AFMA (IFTA) deal. Even if these deals are the same… they're different entities. We're talking a very specific lawsuit. The details count. Plus, since a lot of these movies are also produced by the writers and directors – the producer part of you is owed a lot of money because by someone... who?

I personally would like these issues to be addressed and answered before I accept the outcome of a class action suit - one that will cost me money already owed, as well as money in the future.

I could go on, but for now I'm just going to tell you what I have learned – first by listening to others, and then doing some due diligence with other class action suits.

It might seem that opting out is the way to go. However, it's not. This is a cut and paste explaining it (from a BELKIN class action suit)


Objecting is simply telling the Court that you don't like something about the settlement. You can object only if you stay in the Class.

Opting out is telling the Court that you don't want to be part of the Class. If you opt out, you have no basis to object because the case no longer affects you.

In short, if you hope to be part of a better deal – which I sure as hell hope to be a part of :


Do not opt out.

More coming soon.

But now, I have to sleep.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Sundance Screenwriters Lab letters are coming…

The Sundance screenwriter’s lab is sending their selection/rejection emails out.

How do I know? I just got one.

Yes, I entered the Sundance Screenwriting Lab for 2009 a couple months ago. I dutifully wrote my ideas for a brand new screenplay, updated my bio, wrote and rewrote a cover letter, a synopsis and the first five pages of the theoretical screenplay. I put it all in a manila envelope with some of my hard earned money and then with a quick kiss and wish for good luck, dropped in the mailbox.

Like anything where hope hinges on a few words, where mood and spirit can be raised or dashed in an instant -- clicking on this email does make the heart skip a beat. No matter how blas̩ one tries to be, there is a slight nervous tingle in the index finger pushing down on the mouse button. After all, as any knowledgeable screenwriter will tell you Рthis is a very important competition; the kind that can theoretically change a person's life.

Does one click on the mouse assuming a, “Thanks, but no thanks” response is about to be read?
Does one go in with the attitude that “The Secret” and all the other “power of positive thinking” gurus propose?
Does one go in saying to oneself, “I don’t care. It doesn’t matter.”
Does one petition a supernatural being?

My style is the, “Eh, doesn’t really matter. Just read the damn email and get on with your life.”


Dear Stefan:

Congratulations! Your submission, I AM THE PRISONER, has been chosen by our selection committee for the next round of the review process. Please send your completed script to the Sundance Institute office (see address below my name) so that it is received in our offices by Monday, July 21, 2008. Also, please include your application number xxx-xxx and name on the cover page of your screenplay.

We will make final decisions for the 2009 January Screenwriters Lab by mid-December. You will be notified by December 15th via e-mail.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me via email.

Thanks again for your application; we look forward to reading the entire screenplay.

Xxxxx xxxxxx

So that is what a “ray of sunshine” type of email looks like!

It also means that I now have to deliver a feature length screenplay within 19 days. Let’s see, if I estimate a page count of 110 pages (a safe number) that means having to write about 5.7 pages a day – every day.

That doesn’t include a re-write.
That doesn’t include a chance to give it to a friend for notes.
That doesn’t include much time for anything.

It’s a conscious thing these 'Sundance Powers that be' are doing. It puts writers on the spot, likely eliminating quite a few in the process.

It is a major order!

So, it looks like I have to seriously gear up, get it together and go.

I do have an outline written. I do also have the first five pages done.

I just purchased two large cans of Trader Joes House Blend Coffee. I'm ready!

Let the coffee start flowing, cancel any plans for vacation and full steam ahead.

Wish me luck!