Friday, November 28, 2008

If Chicklet Wrote the J.Crew Catalogue

In the spirit of "Black Friday"--the day after Thanksgiving named because it's a cash-cow for store owners (in the black vs. in the red)-- I've been imaginary shopping with my imaginary cash and the real catalogs that clutter our mailbox.

The Chicklet thinks of these catalogs as much so that for an entire month when J. Crew was doing its fancy theme catalog in Morocco I amused the Chicklet with a story about a blond girl who goes to Morocco by herself and then meets up with her friends for coffee, goes to the market, saves a camel and then sits in a tent in the desert sands waiting for her plane to pick her up. Naturally she also insisted on dialog. It was like I was forced to write "The English Patient" just in order to see what J. Crew's summer line was.

It was worth it though. I like living vicariously through the J. Crew catalog. I get a special kick from the color options on the Ts and knits: citron, cerise, bright berry, light blade, spearmint, peacock. Doesn't it make you want to dance around or eat something?

Chicklet loves the colors too. She's at the age where she's so over the basic blue, yellow, red. She distinguishes light blue, dark blue, silver, cream, gray. She delights in the gradation of color. Her favorite question these days is "what kind of brown are you?" followed by "what kind of brown am I?"

One day when she was on her color binge, she started pointing to things in the house and identifying their color: gray, green, dark blue. Then she turned to the puff jacket I was wearing and gave me the look, the look she lays on me when she's about to deliver a verbal gem.

"Brown poo," she said. And I looked at my jacket because it is the exact shade of the brown poo she is always so interested in checking out, in her Pamper and in her potty.

"Brown poo," I said in agreement...though I doubt J.Crew will be using that one as a swatch option any time soon.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tattoo Craving

So yesterday after dodging a financial bullet, I felt the urge to get a tattoo. A little one, right on the nape of my neck. I have no idea what it would say or what shape it would take but I'm all of a sudden feeling the need to shake things up.

A writer friend a couple years back got a tattoo to remind her to have the courage to create. I guess mine, if I found the courage to get a tattoo, would be along those lines. It would be some kind of rallying call to get out of my comfort zone and take chances and make things happen.

And then a fellow writer-mom was talking about the need you have, once in a while, to forget you're a mom even if it's just for a couple hours. I can't think of a better way to remind yourself of the outrageous person you used to be before pancakes, play dough, princess tea parties and playgrounds than getting a tattoo on your neck.

Of course the tattoo route might not be a good investment in terms of the business. Apart from the little creative shingle I'm always on about, the hubby and I do organizational/industrial videos. A tattoo on the neck might prove a little too rockstar for that clientele... but then again, I could always develop a penchant for scarves.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Great Screenwriting Advice: "A is Better Than A+B"

I've never seen this expression written down in any book but it's one of the best pieces of advice I've ever gotten from a screenwriter with regard to character motivation.

"A is Better Than A+B" means that one motivation for a given action is better than two motivations. It's a counterintuitive maxim because in real life where we make pro and con lists all the time, the more reasons we have for doing something the better.

But economy is the name of the game in screenwriting so the idea is that you'll go for one strong, consistent motivation rather than muddling the character by giving him/her more than one reason for taking action.

For example, you've got a cop and you figure he wants to avenge the death of his partner but in your heart of hearts you think, that's not strong enough...he barely knew the guy. I know, I'll make it that he wants to avenge the death of his partner and that he also wants to make detective and further his stalled career. Now you've got motivation A+B. That's a whole lot better right? One motivation. If it's weak, raise the stakes and obstacles. Take it from an emotional Richter scale of a 2.0 to an 8. Resist the temptation to add other motivations, no matter how "connected" they might be.

I tend to fall into this trap from time to time. For example, at a recent writers group meeting I found myself explaining the action of my protagonist in terms of his backstory and realized that I was saddling the character with the dreaded "extra" motivation. So I lost the line of dialogue, problem solved.

In short: less is more, even when it comes to motive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Open Letter to the High School Kids in Barnes & Noble's Film/TV/Radio Section

Dear High School Kids in the Barnes & Noble Film/TV/ Radio Section:

Yes, reading is important. I understand that keeping up with the latest book on "High School Musical 3: Senior Year" or browsing the "Inside Guide To The Hills" is crucial for your status at the top of the social food chain but other people, us thirty-something year-old fogies, would like to maybe grab a screenwriting book from the bottom bookshelf or check out the"Guide to Lost's Buried Secrets" where your torso is currently residing and giving you the lung capacity to have that interminable conversation on your cell phone.

Barnes & Noble seems reluctant to tell you but the shelves are not your lounge to drape yourselves over, nor is the carpeted aisle your bunk bed. I know, I know. I can step over you. Or jump. Or twist. Or shimmy under your coolly outstretched hand...but I didn't sign up for an obstacle course. I just want to buy a book ...maybe.

Also, I don't need to know who you fucked and why and what your boyfriend said when he found out. You really don't need to talk that loud.

A suggestion: why not go form your bottle neck in Self-Improvement or Grooming?

Third World Girl

Friday, November 14, 2008

Movie Night Review: "The Secret Life of Bees"

This week movie night was actually at a theater (God bless sister-in-laws who babysit) but in a certain time slot and geographical radius which meant that we had a limited choice of what we could see.

"The Secret Life of Bees" rose to the top by process of elimination. Have to say I was a little surprised that hubby wasn't more averse to it. This is generally the kind of movie he would have to be dragged into the theater and tied to the seat to sit through.

"The Secret Life of Bees" stars Dakota Fanning and a high-wattage cast-- Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo. It's directed by Gina Price Bythewood who made "Love and Basketball."

The movie opens with a bang. At age four Lily accidentally shoots her mother as she's trying to protect her from a violent domestic row. Immediately following the prologue comes a sense of the time period and the thematic water we're gonna be treading. We see Lyndon Johnson signing the Civil Rights Act and moments later, Lily's servant Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) setting off to register to vote with Lily at her side. However, on the way to registering, Lily and Rosaleen meet up with a couple of bigoted whites who insult Rosaleen. Rosaleen's not one to hold her tongue and violence breaks out. Police step in and Rosaleen is carted away.

Later that night, Lily provokes her mean, sad sack father (wonderfully played by the underrated Paul Bettany) who tells her that her mother abandoned her. Crushed, Lily runs away, but not before she busts Rosaleen out of the hospital where she's in custody, recovering from a severe beat-down. They run away to a town called Tiburon where Lily's mother once lived and because there's no hotel that will take in a white girl and a colored woman, they try their luck with a well off black family in the area, the Boatwrights, who make the best honey in all of South Carolina.

Our set-up over, thirty minutes in, Lily's knocking on the door of the grand pink Boatwright manor and asking the matriarch, eldest sister August (Queen Latifah) for a place to stay. And so Lily finds a loving family and relishes lots of sage bee metaphors from August.

Meanwhile relationships ebb and flow between the other two Boatwright sisters, the uptight, political June (Alicia Keys) and the sensitive soul May (Sophie Okonedo) and Zach, a good-looking black teen who helps out with August's bees. Inexplicably, no one seems in the least bit concerned about the development of a taboo relationship between Lily and Zach in segregated South Carolina where Rosaleen not too many movie minutes ago got her head beat in by some racist white folk.

It's this short sightedness of the family to the relationship between Lily and Zach that was my biggest problem...that and the wonderful hospitality and forgiveness of the Boatwrights which doesn't help create the kind of conflict internally (within the walls of the house) that would really lift the movie.

By the time the story peters out with a tame resolution for our protagonist, the journey felt derailed and slight. The movie is blessed with strong acting performances but only flirts with darkness underpinning it. As such, "The Secret Life of Bees" is determined to retain the golden hue of its honey to its detriment.

"The Secret Life of Bees" gets 3 Oscars out of 5.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Word on the Street (Overheard Dialogue at Duane Reade)

In line at Duane Reade. Two women hold magazines waiting to be rung up.

Woman A: How old are you?

Woman B: I'm an old fart. I'm turning 29.

Woman A: That's okay. Don't have a breakdown about it. Neil is 29.

Woman B: I know... Y'know, they say you shouldn't date someone who's 29.

Woman A: I've heard that too! And it totally makes sense. (inaudible) But I think it's okay if you start dating them before they turn 29.

Woman B: I started dating Neil like three months before he turned 29.

Woman A: That's okay then. That's enough time to make an impression.

Woman B: Dave was 31. You shouldn't date guys who're 31.

Woman A: 31 is the new 29.


And to think I had no idea of this seminal rule of dating. No guys who're 29.

Seriously though, you can't beat eavesdropping as a way to sharpen your dialogue skills. So feel better about being plain, damn nosy.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Shelf or Toss? An Ongoing Guide to Screenwriting Books

I used to write articles for a screenwriting magazine that's since gone under. And for a while I thought I wanted to keep writing about screenwriters and screenwriting because I guess like via osmosis it was going to make me a better writer. (The jury's still out on that one.)

On the plus side, I did get to do some cool things, bag some free software, and go to a couple conferences and screenings on their dime so it wasn't all bad. And I did get paid which is always good. I also ended up with quite a few screenwriting books that you are possibly thinking of buying, have already bought and never since picked up, or are thinking of trashing to your wannabe friends even though you've no idea what they're about!'s your cheat sheet to a couple that landed on my review desk. I'll be sharing my 0.02 on a few from time to time.

Charles Deemer/Portland State University

It’s not just an analogy. According to the laws of probability, by way of a California math professor, it’s easier to win a million dollar jackpot than sell a humble screenplay. That’s the dose of cold reality dispensed on the opening pages of “Practical Screenwriting”, a book aimed at redressing those odds in favor of the unsold scribe.

Written by playwright turned screenwriter Charles Deemer, “Practical Screenwriting” is designed to teach the novice writer craft. Specifically, Deemer seeks to prune the young writer’s enthusiasm for setting down overblown rhetoric, a symptom he traces to the recent trend of publisher’s publishing screenplays that has made today's hopefuls think of screenwriting as literature. Deemer believes just the opposite. He believes for a screenplay to stand out in the crowded contemporary marketplace it must be clean, crisp and clear: an architect’s blueprint that invites a collaborative builder’s vision.

As such, economy, both structural and rhetorical, tops Deemer’s list of new screenwriting essentials.
“Practical Screenwriting” also highlights the usual suspects: character development, structure, format, collaboration and concept. Not all of these are given equal screen time, however, with the book delving into three-act structure a great deal more than characterization, for example.

This skewed perspective is part of the reason “Practical Screenwriting” isn’t a traditional textbook. For one, it’s more casual, but that’s part of its appeal. The matter of fact tone is pitch perfect for the overwhelmed beginner as are the do’s and don'ts of screenwriting, illustrated by excerpts from produced and student scripts.

The Bottom Line: If you're looking for a solid beginning primer or you're one of those "outline, schmoutline" types, this might be your cup of tea. If not, move along. There's not much new here, though I guess Deemer's appeal (It's the economy, stupid) could prove useful even for older hands.

Shelf or Toss: Toss.
As the Chicklet says "not for me." I need a little more meat on my screenwriting how-to bones.

Friday, November 7, 2008

"From a Powerful Antagonist, Boundless Energy Flows"

That's the quote this writing professor used to lay on us about the importance of creating a strong antagonist to keep a script from flatlining.

Yet I just outlined the first half of the new rom com and it feels flat as a pancake with...(you guessed it) no real antagonist. In thinking about this script, I read an old draft of a wedding romcom I haven't seen "Made of Honor" where they made the "Bellamy" (the name given to the Mr./Miss Wrong in a romantic comedy) a real jerk but, for me, that approach didn't work. It just made the whole question of whether the hero would win the girl so much more inevitable. ( I guess in production they went entirely the other way cause one of the Rotten Tomato reviewers complained that the Bellamy was too likable and he couldn't see why the romantic lead would choose Patrick Dempsey.)

Another obvious antagonist in wedding romcoms is the mother-in-law but that feels too easy, though perhaps I shouldn't fight it. It's universal and credible. Also Craig Mazin at "Artful Writer" has this great post about how whenever you write to avoid something rather than write towards something you're asking for trouble. So in reworking the outline, I'll probably be looking for a new twist on the mother-in-law from hell, looking to raise the stakes, and putting my two leads in more direct competition. Because a romantic comedy is primarily the battle between two people who could be perfect for each other but are unwilling to admit it.

Back to the drawing board.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Good Morning

It may be 3.55 PM.

Still feels like morning in America.

Like the POTUS Elect is always fond of saying, his story could only happen in America. And that's why Third World Girl loves this place and this American city she lives in.

One of the MSNBC folk said this morning, "We are a nation of dreamers" and that Obama spoke to a dream in many of us. For sure, that spirit of "can do" he calls on when he talks about immigrants setting out for a distant shore, it makes my eyes mist up.

Hail to the new and the power of dreams.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Question of the Week

Looking at a poster for the imminent James Bond, I have one more question about the clumsy title...

How much is a "quantum of solace" and will it be enough to get me through a McCain-Palin administration if that's what the country chooses tomorrow?