Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mother of God

The little Chicklet has for some reason, when swaddled in her towel after her evening bath, started referring to herself as a "Baby Jesus." I think this has something to do with the grandparents taking her to one day of Bible Summer Camp back home on the island.

"Look, I'm a Baby Jesus," she says. I used to think this was kind of cute until a couple nights ago, she started referring to me as Mama Jesus.

"What's that Mama Jesus," she says pointing to the smoke alarm on the roof. "Mama Jesus, I'm tired. " "Mama Jesus, Dada's bringing the milk."
Boy is it going to be a let down for her when she learns our true identity and that no one in our family walks on water.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Inbox Zero: Half A Year in E-mails

I'm rearranging and deleting a ton of e-mail in my bid to get organized, build momentum and suppress the junk that comes to me.

This is part of Inbox Zero, an exercise designed to help you become less of a slave to e-mail and manage your time better. The thing is I always find emptying the inbox slightly depressing...friends who I wanted to send the perfect reply to and therefore never replied, opportunities for networking events I never opened, films screenings I skipped, e-Bay bids I didn't win, travel itineraries for the super expensive documentary. It's like a none-too-pleasant stroll down memory lane.

On the up side, I look at those thousands and thousands of e-mails and feel inspired to do better. Hit reply if I'm going to answer. Delete if I'm not. Deal quicker. Let go. Clean out and move up. Make space for all that good happy e-mail I'm going to get in this last quarter of the year. (Hey, a girl can dream, right?)

Thursday, August 21, 2008

I Worry About the Script, Forget Being the Chick

Sometimes I watch writers wringing their hands about getting an agent and formatting their script and whether Final Draft 7 is really better than Movie Magic 6 and I just move away from the conversation and in my mind start working out my grocery list because, crap, I think that would be more productive. For me, when it comes down to it, it's about what's on the page...the rest is beyond my control.

That's kind of how I feel when we get to the issue of sexism and Hollywood. It's beyond my control. Plus, in my humble opinion, La-La Land is pretty gender-blind and colorblind in terms of what gets made. This is because pea-brained executives only have two questions in their heads...

a) will this make lots of money
b) will it win an Oscar I can put on my mantelpiece...if people still have those

And okay three...
c) if I let George Clooney make this highbrow, black and white movie I don't understand can I secure him for Ocean's 14?

If you can get a check mark after a) you could be a purple hermaphrodyte with body odor, the script will get bought, even if it never gets made. The only rule in Hollywood is don't be old. Hollywood doesn't take kindly to aging so keep being 25 forever.

Being a woman or minority only matters in terms of the likability issue, the being part of the club stuff which, while being a big drawback, is not insurmountable. If you can make them enough money and have a track record of doing so in another medium (they don't like risk), they'll get past the fact that they don't necessarily relate to you.

Prime example? Tyler Perry. Do you think Lions Gate was clamoring to make black movies with a star mainstream audiences still haven't heard of? Nope. But Perry had a huge following with the plays he wrote and delivered Lions Gate one hell of a debut project with "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" which grossed 50 million and cost pennies to make (5 million). He keeps giving them those kinds of numbers and they keep writing him checks. It's one big happy world.

And so recently, when an older woman writer in one of my writers groups started talking about making change in Hollywood, enlisting journalists and producers and execs to form a think tank on how to get more women-directed and women-written movies in the system, I was kind of like that snotty kid chick who went for Obama over Hillary. See, I'm lukewarm on all this, "hey writers, let's lobby Hollywood" 'cause I believe if you write something really marketable and have a little bit of luck and talent, you'll succeed. Also, I'm a writer first so I'm going to take that precious time to write.

I know. It's pathetic... I don't know where my lack of outrage comes from. Perhaps it's from being part-producer. I just feel if you're not writing marketable studio stuff then you have to make it yourself. Don't expect a studio that's always looking at bottom line to pony up 15 million dollars for your "soft" social-issue pic that may or may not find an audience. Them's just the breaks.

Now if you're talking about more mentorships for women, internship programs, women screenwriting competitions with big cash prizes, more financial support to women & film non-profits or more screenwriting residencies for women, that's different...but that's the long term plan before the scripts end up on the studio's desk.

In the short term, I suppose we could give women viewers a kick in the pants that tells them get out there and go see women-made movies, that's different... though I imagine, being regular movie goers who just want to be entertained, we'll go see what we like.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Guy Can Run!

The guy can run. — US sprinter Walter Dix on the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt

Big up Jamaica for a long overdue first Olympic gold medal in the men's 100 meters after producing generation after generation of top sprinters.

The Third World Girl is inspired that a kid from Trelawny working out in a humble gym and training on a grass running track can smash the best of the rest in the insane World Record time of 9.69 seconds...and that's jogging the last 10 meters.
She's also holding her breath that his tests come back clean and that like his father says it's the Trelawny yam in him that propels him to go so fast.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Little Ray of Light

I'm busy cutting a new trailer of the documentary with the hubby that includes the latest footage we shot.

We burned the midnight oil last night, staying up until the wee hours of 1:30 AM. (Hey, it's all relative...once we could have stayed up until 4 and slept it off the next day but with the Chicklet up at the crack of dawn, those days are gone.)

Anyway, this morning we got an e-mail. I'm one of those people who's a little obsessive about checking for e-mail cause I'm convinced that someday my life is going to change because of an innocuous looking e-mail with a subject header like "Re: your project", an e-mail that's really a script request from a big time production company, or a "let's get together to talk about a deal", or a "your crazy movie musical is perfect for us." I got one of those happy e-mails this morning. In the scheme of things it's small. It's the tiniest first step, the equivalent of designing an engagement announcement for a wedding down the road, but it looks like our little doc may have a home with a broadcaster.

We'll keep holding thumbs and crossing fingers, but today's e-mail is a reminder of how quickly things can change.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My Favorite Movie Poster This Summer

I know zippo about this movie. The tag line suggests it's pretty formulaic (though Anna Faris is pitch-perfect in the trailer so maybe someday it'll make my Netflix queue) but yet this is my favorite movie poster of the summer. It's my number 1 cause of that line that appears just below the movie title. Click the poster to see what I mean. That's right. They're using writers to market the movie. Wait...It's as though the architect of the story, the reason for hundreds of people turning up on the set each day, is important. Wow! Who knew?!!

P.S. An alternate poster announces the movie's from the Production Company, Happy Madison, that brought you 50 First Dates... Which begs the question, how anonymous is the director on this thing? An IMDB check reveals the movie's from The Director Who Brought You "Strange Wilderness"... which is currently hitting 0% on the aggregate movie review site, Rotten Tomatoes.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Everything I Learned About Character, I Learned from Kids TV

When I first started writing, I struggled most with characterization. What's worse, the standard method taught to deepen characters, that damn character bio, seemed to make things worse . In exasperation, I had a screenwriting teacher in a private consult blurt, "Just model them on real people, okay?" Um...great. I'd already done this...on one of the first plays I wrote. It worked like a charm there because like most early plays the thing was semi-autobiographical and based on real events. Faced with the underworld rom-com I was halfway through... well, let's just say that these characters felt less familiar.

So I dusted off Lajos Egri's "Art of Dramatic Writing" and forced myself to do the freakin' character bios for each of the leads. I spent days on this. After ruminating over what their favorite foods were, their eye color, their favorite clothes, what laundry detergent they used...I returned to the draft of the script and finished the thing, only to find the characters were still blah.

In retrospect I realize that one of the problems was I was filling out a questionnaire, itching to get to the end so I could get back to the script. Plus, I thought of a strong character as a character buzzing with all sorts of contrasting traits. She's a rich girl...and she's smart too...and she's a great cook...and she likes dominoes! I hadn't absorbed that screenwriting is about economy and that economy needs to extend to character traits as well. Where I thought I was adding depth, I was just creating a muddy character for my poor reader who didn't know what to focus on. My character bios as super-detailed as they were, were completely devoid of character. They had no point-of-view.

It's only when I started watching Kids TV again (thanks to the Chicklet) that a lightbulb went off. Kids TV shows have to set up character and character expectations in a nano-second so the characters tend to be extreme. You never have any doubt about what Cookie Monster's like. He doesn't just prefer to have a cookie at snack time. He must eat cookies. Now! All of them! Those kids get that in a snap and they take it to the bank. They're in on the game... We all are and we watch to see if Cookie Monster will subvert our expectations or not (usually not). Same thing with Ernie. That fun trickster lives to prank Bert. Studying the relationships, you also see how much you learn about a character in opposition to another character. Ernie's essence is more emphatic next to Bert's stodginess. It's not that a good writer can't make two similar characters work side by side but boy do the colors "pop" more when they're placed in contrast.

So now when I'm stuck in a scene I ask What Would Cookie Monster Do? I zero in on the character essence and figure out whether the scene supports it or plays against it. I embrace the character bio, no longer seeing it as pointless minutiae... (though no way am I going to spend days on it, thank you very much). I look at the exercise as a better understanding how to dramatize that basic essential trait. And of course because a screenplay is about how the essence of that character changes, I look for places in the story to test and perhaps transform the archetype.

Naturally, I'm still grappling with this but I get a kick out of coverage from readers that compliments the three-dimensional characters... 'cause they're inspired by some fuzzy little muppets.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Grant Lottery

I've learned a little about fundraising in the last couple of months. Namely...I suck at asking for money. I know my project, I give the pitch with passion, I present the slick, supporting proposal but when it comes to the direct ask, I wimp out. This is despite reading the chapter on private donors from Morrie Warshawski's pretty cool "Shaking the Money Tree" which tells you all about maintaining direct eye contact with your prospect as you say something to the effect of "I'd like $10,000 of your hard earned money to pay for me...who you've never really heard of... to go shoot interviews in Senegal."

In the same chapter, Warshawski has a sample letter showing you how to do the dirty deed, i.e. shake strangers down for cash. Of course the sample letter he picks is from Lily Tomlin. I don't mean to be picky but I think the Lily Tomlin letterhead is worth a couple points in getting the prospective donor's attention. So until I steal Rihanna's stationery to send out letters on, I've let the other folks on the project court the money and turned my attention to the crap shoot of applying for grants.

Basically, I like the grant route. This sort of diligent form filling is my forte. Lately, though, I've started to feel like I'm sitting in the dark waiting for my number to come in...but I guess..."you got to be in it to win it", right?

I have therefore been entering the little documentary project into everything I think it might qualify for, which isn't much because there aren't that many documentary funds around these days for international projects and those grants that exist are super competitive, not given to first-time feature filmmakers.

The exception to this is a new grant out of Europe specifically for third world filmmaking. I have been waiting for this call for proposals for months but now I'm pouring over it and thinking that asking perfect strangers to give me thousands of dollars might be preferable.

The grant application form is 50 pages long and like Christmas for bureaucrats. It asks questions like "What is the objective of the action?" "What are the estimated results?" "What are the main activities by results?" Good thing I have the manual and guidelines (68 pages combined) to help me through. So here I go slotting my little raffle ticket into the box. Pray that Lady Luck rummages around in there and pulls it out.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

True Confession: I'm Cheating on My Writer's Group

I belong to two writers groups that meet biweekly. This is a luxury for someone always complaining about not having enough hours in the day. I have to travel to the city, with the one hour commute both ways that entails in order to share pages.

It happened by accident. About a year ago I was looking for a group to join, partly to reconnect with writers like in the old grad school set-up and partly to get out of the house...I work from home with the 2.5 year old. When I see daylight up ahead I run for it.

I joined this writing group affiliated with one of the film groups in the city. Writers Group A meets in a public space in the city, has great, friendly non-professionals and is run by this astute earth mother type. I learned so much testing pages and hearing them read. And then about four months into it, I get an e-mail from the earth mother saying the biweekly meeting's canceled and that she'll no longer be running the group. What's more, we get a notice that the group is on hiatus. I fall into a paroxysm of grief. But I'm on page 30 of my rewrite...I need to get through my draft. (Yeah, yeah, it's all about me.)

So when I hear murmurs of another group starting up with one of the one-time attendants of Writers Group A, I'm there. But it feels weird to dump pages on them from the middle of the script so I bring in something else, a new social drama, which Writers Group B tears apart. Writers Group B is run by quasi-professionals, from a cozy loft on the West Side. Unlike Writers Group A where you can bring in pages every session, you have to sign up to read in Writers Group B, though no one ever seems to want to sign up. Writers Group B is far more social than Writers Group A. There's a person assigned to bring munchies for each session and I'd bet about 45 minutes goes by in chit chat, writing exercises I'd rather not do, and interaction with the resident dog.

Then out of the blue, Writers Group A resurfaces. Earth mother returns and having only been to a couple sessions of Writers Group B, I go back to the old fold. And it's good. The sunny musical comedy is well received. I get great suggestions for how to make pages work better. And I know the fact that the script is in semi-decent shape is a result of having workshopped it for the last couple of months with cool, unpretentious Writers Group A...but I still feel the need to prove myself to Writers Group B. I like their toughness...the professor who rolls his eyes as he says, there's no tension. I miss that in the over polite industry world that never tells you your work sucks to your face.

Right now, of course, I'm putting off making the choice. I love them both. The West Side artist's loft with the gourmet snacks and cynical semi-pros who never seem to want to bring pages, and the energetic group of largely unproduced writers who meet in the public space where you have to speak up because the guy's cleaning the tiles with that floor vac, and where out of your eye you can catch the homeless man taking a nap on two chairs pushed together. But at some point I'm going to have to give up one. They will clash...I will get caught... and I will have to choose.

I ain't got a clue what to do.

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Dumbest Endeavor Ever

I was talking to a friend of mine, bitching about being a third world producer trying to push projects forward in the first world. Right when I'm kvetching about all the out of pocket costs I'm running up, I said this has got to be the dumbest endeavor ever. What on earth makes me think I can get stuff made when people with way more connections and ahem talent are using those great 120 page scripts as coasters?

Not only that, my time has never been less my own (I've got a lovely 2.5 year old), I run a company so said kid doesn't starve, and I'm shopping a feature musical and working on two screenplays that are trying to claw their way from the backburner into the charming pieces of work they could some day grow up to be. Oh, and of course, I've got the historic documentary cash drain that's becoming almost as expensive as my grad school education. So come watch this fun projects gather momentum and grow at the lightning speed of grass pushing up from the earth.

And let me apologize in advance for the inevitable let-down I will be as I decide, crap, I don't have the time to blog... I ought to be actually working or cooking or living.