Monday, March 30, 2009

Movie Night Review: "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"

I wanted to see this movie for a long time based on its title alone. I'm a sucker for a good title and this one's a great sell. It couples the right amount of story information with the right amount of intrigue. We sense its genre: romantic comedy; identify our two love interests; and get cued into its musical aspirations. Plus the use of the word "infinite" conjures up romantic ideas of the never-ending. And yet, we're left to wonder, exactly what is an infinite playlist? In my days as a reader, I would have been cracking the pages on this one first when I used to tote a bagful of scripts home.

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" is based on the Rachel Cohn & David Levithan novel of the same name, adapted for the screen by Lorene Scafaria and produced by Mandate Pictures. It's a lovely little romp through New York night life, full of characters that feel real, great music and modest intentions.

This is not a hilarious movie. It's a teen movie with charm and sweetness that manages to convey an adult sophistication. Its leads are so likable (Michael Cera and Kat Denning) that you root for them immediately.

The movie's ticking clock is provided by an underground band "Where's Fluffy?" that's playing a rare secret concert somewhere in the city for one night only. Though smarting from breaking up with his girlfriend, Nick gets dragged from Jersey to play a gig with his band, lured by the chance to see "Where's Fluffy?" at the end of it. At Nick's gig, smart, perennially overlooked Norah is there to be the responsible, grown up for her needy, hard drinking buddy Caroline (Ari Graynor) who manages to get separated from the gang during the course of the night. Instead of searching out "Where's Fluffy?", Nick and Norah end up scouring the city searching for the whereabouts of ditzy Caroline.

The stakes aren't particularly high, neither are the complications but in the world of high school where Nick has just broken up with Norah's queen bee, high-maintenance "frenemy" Tris (Alexis Dziena) and identities are cemented by where you head next in the dating pool, the stakes matter enough to keep you constantly engaged. Nick and Norah who share impeccable indie music tastes (she loves his plaintive mix tapes meant for the unsentimental Tris), banter and fall in love in Nick's ridiculous little yellow car which allows for some funny set pieces like the couple who slip into his car thinking it's a taxi and make out in the backseat all the way to their destination.

Equally fun are the cameos, including one from Andy Samberg as a cheerful homeless man in a church cemetery.

And the movie's beautiful to look at...gorgeously directed by Peter Sollet who helmed the edgier, more original "Raising Victor Vargas". While "Nick and Norah" could have benefited from tighter structure (a couple third act scenes seem unnecessary and meandering) the movie's episodic nature perfectly captures the spirit of a random nocturnal adventure.

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" gets three and a half Oscars out of five.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Script Frenzy Heads Up or Enter the Worst Scriptwriting Contest Ever

Script Frenzy has the most original ad for a contest I've seen in the latest issue of Script magazine...

"TOP 5 Reasons We're The Worst Scriptwriting Contest Ever
No prizes.
No judges.
Cruel deadline.
Takes over your life
Leaves you crying for more."

In a way Script Frenzy aptly reflects what most screenplay contests do for the majority of writers--a big fat nothing apart from providing an arbitrary deadline that makes us get a draft done.

The difference with Script Frenzy is that it doesn't take your money in the form of an entry fee to do it. The disadvantage is, however, you are robbed of that cool daydream where you win the big cash prize, elicit the jealousy of your fellow writers and "make it" in Hollywood.

During Script Frenzy which takes place during the month of April, "frenzied" screenwriters dedicate themselves to writing a 100-page script.

I'm always saying one of these years I'd like to take up the mad challenge of writing 100 pages in a month but the timing's usually been bad as it is this year when I'm winding down the first draft of something and in no position to start revving up something new. Plus, for Script Frenzy to be worth it you've got to have a workable outline. I don't know what the point is of spewing out 100 pages when you could have spent the month outlining. (That's the problem with outlining. No tangible benchmarks.)

But if you're up for a challenge, aching to get started on something long-simmering and the camaraderie of hammering out a first draft alongside 7,736 writers (as of this post) appeals to you, here's where to get frenzied.

Good luck!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Overheard at the Playground

Courtesy two high school kids trying to cram themselves into toddler swings on a cold playground day...

GIRL #1: I'm not a Christian. I grew up around cursing.

BOY #1: Yeah. Me neither. I was baptized. And crucified. I think they still do that in the church sometimes.

Photo by kevindooley

Friday, March 20, 2009

I Hate the 60s.

I hate the 60s. Not the decade. The page numbers...That stretch of the script that comes right after the midpoint break. That's where I hit the wall.

The first 25's a piece of cake, everything's fresh and fun and I'm in love with the idea. And I can coast from about 70 onwards with a murky FADE OUT in sight but man, right now it's like a slowmo sequence.

Time to apply some serious Ass On Chair to get me through draft one.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Writers Group Is Broken... Somebody Moved My Cheese

My Writers Group A, the one I chose over the surly semi-pros, is broken. It's the victim of the establishment, of resources, of change.

Some background. Last February, in keeping with one of my 2008 resolutions, I joined a professional group for women filmmakers because they had an active writers group. I did this because:
a) writer moms need the occasional trip out to converse with grown ups and...
b) there is no quicker way to tell where the work isn't working than hearing it read aloud.

About halfway into the year though the writers group wobbled. First I got a last minute e-mail from a the filmmaking organization that a writer's group meeting the following day had been canceled. Than I got an e-mail from the group leader saying that she wouldn't be leading the group anymore. She was leaving the city. On the dot org's website the status of the writers group changed to "on hiatus."

Down but not out, I joined a group of older pros but it never took. A writers group is more about chemistry than credentials and Writers Group B (they of the fancy snacks) never really worked out. Which was just as well because Writers Group A returned.

And so 2008 had a happy Hollywood ending... until 2009 began.

In January of 2009 the professional group for women filmmakers I joined announced it was being folded into a larger professional organization. Great news, in theory. The new parent org has great resources, connections, workshops but we now meet at the org's offices and there are two writers group leaders and it's weekly instead of biweekly. In short there are a smorgasbord of changes and many old familiar faces have not survived the jump. Meanwhile, some of the new faces seem a little rattled at the varying quality of the feedback.

The worst part of the change for me is meeting in the organization's office. The office reminds me of the non-profit I worked at when I first moved to New York. Carpets. Fluorescent lights. The communal printer. The Filemaker Pro. There's even a cantankerous officer who glares at us as we come in and leave, constantly eyes the clock and bitches about us not having a key. (Are we supposed to have a key? Hey, I don't know. I just write here.)

Also, there's little continuity in our new group. Participants change week to week. One day there'll be eight people with twenty pages, the next there'll be two of us, starting an hour late because...well it's an office with a computer we have access to and there's e-mail to check, coffee to make, pages to print, cantankerous chicks to appease.

Finally the organization's office is in the "officey" part of town: the pox upon the city that is Midtown. Our old meeting spot was in Columbus Circle, with Central Park just a stone's throw away, Carnegie Hall down the street, the walk to and from the subway requiring a stroll past 5th Avenue store displays. Now I stroll past... closed delis. (sigh)

What will happen in the end? I don't know. But the magic is gone. My writers group meetings have turned into the job I grudgingly tolerate, the medicine I have to take to make my sick script better.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Put Down The Gloves. Don't Fight the Story.

Here's what I've learned doing the rewrite on crazy Bollywood project...
Don't decorate a plot that has no story logic. I know I'm sometimes guilty of leaving in a well-written scene that is visually exciting, lovingly crafted... but totally tacked on. You know the one. It stops the story or worse, makes the reader question the credibility of characters.

Better the imperfect, "not as visual" scene than the beautiful scene that defies logic.

Photo by mrkalhoon

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Best Explanation for How "Bad" Movies Get Made

I missed the terrific Tad Friend article in the New Yorker's January 19 issue about how movie marketing now completely shapes the industry. In profiling ace movie marketer, Tim Palen, the new truth of movie-making comes home: there's no such thing as a good or bad movie anymore. The only metric that matters is whether a movie finds its audience or not.

Read it here if you missed it too. Then go have a headache about how to sell your 120 page script on a single poster.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

And Now the Chapter I Didn't See Coming...The One Where We Turn Down Money

Well this is weird. The crazy Third World Bollywood musical gets its first potential equity investor capable of injecting the kind of money that in itself could pay for a low-budget movie, and it looks like we'll end up refusing the money because it would make the production ineligible for some pretty cool location rebates down the line. (Our fault for not reading the fine print properly.)

I suppose on the positive side it's great to know that you have a viable commercial product that folks want to make a substantial investment in, but on the negative...I fear that we're in a tough position because we're making the kind of mid-budget picture, less than 20M but more than 1M that nobody makes anymore...

Apart from the folks that made a little movie called Slumdog Millionaire which suddenly has lots of folks looking again at our project.

Yep, I'm choosing positive.
Positive, positive, positive... but I'm really, really hoping that the next private equity offer, we can take.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Screenplay Reading and I Came Out Alive!

Last week I endured something I haven't had to endure in about ten years.

I sat in the front row of a screenplay reading and listened as an audience responded to something I'd wrote. This is major because I hate screenplay readings. They're so not the ideal way to hear the work. I hate them even more when it's my work. It's like nails on chalkboard.

To make matters worse, the reading was an excerpt of the problem child romantic comedy screenplay. As such, I had this nightmare that we'd sit in the little theater and folks would listen and watch the actors in dead silence. Zero laughs. Maybe someone would cough. That's the problem with comedy. There's nowhere to hide when it's not working.

Luckily, though, this reading experience made up for every single other bad one I've had, and there have been some bad ones. (A student play that looked about ninety minutes on the page in Microsoft Word but that ran like two and a half hours comes to mind.) And I am always the most self-conscious person. I wear my heart on my face. Anything that doesn't work, a line that clunks, a confusing turn of phrase, I slouch in my chair until I disappear.

But not last week. Last week I was a normal person sitting in a chair. Why this transformation? First off, I had a great director who seemed to really get the piece and I don't know what casting gods smiled on me, but I lucked out with the most amazing talent, cobbled together from friends and friends of friends. They sold it. They made it work. Even secondary characters came to life vividly. I've always thought that "there are no small parts only small actors" was a sort of consolation cliche, but now I see its absolutely apt.

And it was great to work with people who were coming fresh to the script with good insights on how it could work better. And man, the reception we got. Like most writers, I'm tough on my own writing and it was nice, for just a night, to sit and listen and enjoy and have people receive it so warmly. We even got a surprise blog review that praised the writer, the actor and director.

"Where can I be updated about the project? What are you plans in terms of production?" this one woman asked me at the wine and cheese after. And I had no answer for her. Because I'm the crazy, juggling girl with prioritization paralysis and too many balls in the air.

Truth is this project goes back in the drawer for now while I concentrate on finishing sucky first draft of "rom-com I want to shoot" and rewrite of "crazy Bollywood comedy romance" (that I just got some pretty good coverage on so I'm feeling pretty jazzed.)

Yes, things are looking up. I'm proud to report I can now survive listening to my own work for fifteen minutes at least. What's more, I can actually like it.