The Good and the Bad

The good news I got this week: Three of my scripts made it through the preliminary round of the Creative World Awards. 20 August under Drama, St. Peter in Chains under Short Screenplays, and Sherlock: “A Society of Martlets” under Television (Existing 1 Hour Drama, even though Sherlock is 90 minutes). These are all the scripts I submitted, and I sent them at different times, which is why two are under one name and the other under another. Ugh. I can’t keep track of myself any more.

There are lots of hurdles yet to jump in this competition, however: quarterfinals, semi-finals, and finals. Only after all those will winners be announced. But I’m happy to have made at least one cut—and with all three scripts no less, when I honestly only hoped at least one might get through. Still, I’d be pretty happy to continue advancing . . . Quarterfinalists will be listed next week.

Also, there’s a chance a major producer might be interested in the St. Peter in Chains script, once I’ve finished doing the full-length draft. The one drawback being they think it’s a little slow and “needs more action.” Oh dear. I’ve stumbled into the Hollywood machinery. I’m willing to compromise to some extent, but I don’t know if I’m much of an action writer. Haven’t really tried it yet. Anyway, I need to focus on finishing the draft before going back to tinker with action and pacing.

And now the bad news. I was supposed to hear from Sundance about whether 20 August had made the second round of their Screenwriters Lab “no later than August 16.” But I didn’t. And then someone at AFF mentioned that an e-mail they’d tried to send me had bounced back to them. Huh. So I began to worry that the Sundance e-mail might have bounced, too. I e-mailed Sundance to ask them, but didn’t hear back. So this morning I called my e-mail and web hosting service, and sure enough, they found the Sundance e-mail in the spam filter.

Now let me explain the backward way this hosting service works. (By which I mean it doesn’t work at all.) Instead of giving ME access to my spam, so that I can see if/when stuff accidentally gets filtered when it shouldn’t, they have a net THEY create that catches spam and automatically deletes it, ostensibly saving me the hassle and saving their servers from any malicious intent. So while they were able to see that an e-mail had come from Sundance (which they had marked with a “high spam content score” even though I’d never blocked them), it had been immediately deleted when the server/program decided it was spam. It could not be retrieved. “You’ll have to e-mail the sender and ask them to re-send,” I was told. “And we’ll put them on the list of safe senders for you.”

Really, Assholes? YOU decide what I can and can’t receive? And then, when YOU fuck up, there is no recourse for me except to go begging the sender for a redo? I am livid. And will be changing my site host and e-mail service. So if this site goes down for a little while, please be patient while we relocate it. And use my gmail for any correspondence until I have new mailboxes set up. Thanks.

Meanwhile, I wait on Sundance to hopefully re-send the e-mail. Good news or bad, I just want to know.

Best Movies of the 80s?

Movie Mezzanine’s staff did lists of the best films of the 80s. Which of course meant I needed to do one of my own. If you look at their lists, they vary wildly, which is to be expected. These things are subjective after all. My list below is mostly developed based on the films I watched repeatedly as a kid in the 80s.

  1. Young Sherlock Holmes
  2. Raiders of the Lost Ark
  3. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  4. The Last Unicorn
  5. Labyrinth
  6. Clue
  7. The Empire Strikes Back
  8. Lethal Weapon
  9. The Neverending Story
  10. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I might also have included Star Trek III: The Search for Spock or Dragonslayer, both of which I also watched many times over. But I think those top ten made the greatest impact on me as a young viewer. I was really too young to be watching Lethal Weapon (I was five when the decade began), but somehow I managed to see the TV edit when it aired. All the other films we owned on VHS and I played those tapes out. Labyrinth and The Last Unicorn in particular were de rigueur for any little girl’s sleepover. And though Last Crusade came at the end of the decade, I spent my allowance that summer going to see it again and again at the local cinema.

What movies did you watch over and over as a kid? And which 80s films do you count as best?

Down with Spiders

I was watching the latest Hobbit trailer yesterday . . . And I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books to my son . . . And I just can’t help thinking: Can we lose the spiders already?

Giant spiders seem to be a favorite of fantasy authors and filmmakers. I mean, it’s practically a given that the characters will at some point have to go into a wood. Or maybe they live in a wood. Whatever. And then, more often than not, there will come a threat, often in the form of an oversized arachnid.

I really, really dislike spiders. I end up missing large swaths of the films in question because I cannot bear to look at the huge, hairy crawlies. And it’s kind of strange, when I stop to consider, because one of the things I most dislike about spiders—their quick and unpredictable way of moving (sometimes even jumping, or swinging from their threads)—is not often a feature of the massive spiders found in fantasy films. These ones, perhaps due to their size, tend to move more slowly. But they’re still ugly and nasty, and I would rather not look at them.

Can we go with snakes? Just once? I actually like snakes, even big ones. I realize these are less exciting for writers and filmmakers because big snakes do exist, they are not so “fantastic” in that sense. But they can be just as menacing, can’t they? I feel like we should give the snakes more of a chance.

From Short Play to Short Film

So it looks like, barring any last-minute upsets (and this is me knocking on wood because with this business you just never know), my 15-minute play “Warm Bodies” will soon be moving into pre-production as a short film. I’ve spoken with the producer and director, and they are supposedly e-mailing a licensing agreement for the work. Hasn’t popped into my inbox yet, but these things always take longer than anyone plans for. Someone in an office somewhere has a stack of stuff to type and send, etc. And so it goes.

Of course they’ll probably have to change the title, since there was a feature film not too long ago called Warm Bodies . . . After talking to the producer and director, answering their questions about the script, I feel I can trust them to manage it properly. As it stands, they’re hoping to get on with casting sometime this weekend. I’m curious to see what the finished product might look like. And I wish them the best in submitting to festivals once it’s done.

ETA: Licensing agreement now in hand. And so the production machine trundles forward . . .

Secondary Characters Bloghop

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This bloghop (go here to join) is about those characters that steal the show from the main act, either in books or movies. Which are your favorites?

I’ll start with the easy ones, by which I mean ones I wrote. When writing The K-Pro I originally only conceived of Alfred, Mac, and Craig as so much wallpaper, and Liz in particular was only going to be “in passing.” But they took on lives of their own! Alfred laid the groundwork for his own plot twist long before I consciously realized who he really was. And I was amazed when, in feedback, my readers loved Craig.

It’s happening again in my current WIP, St. Peter at the Gate. A character that would have been someone Peter just passes in the lobby has become central to the story. It can be fun when these things happen, but frustrating too when they necessitate major changes . . . Though I’ve found more often than not that these characters step up to give the story depth and actually make things easier in the long run.

In terms of others’ work, I think the examples are legion. Snape and Dumbledore in the Harry Potter books are just two. It’s interesting to me the way people sometimes rally around potential villains like Snape, or Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Well, and Anne Rice’s Lestat is the supreme example of the villain becoming the hero. In Interview with the Vampire, he’s certainly not sympathetic (though at the end he is pathetic), but he refused to leave Anne alone until she told his story . . . Many times over.

But this isn’t meant to be an academic exercise, and if pressed to name my favorite secondary characters, I would say Louis (from Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles) because, though he was central to the first book, he was sidelined most of the others, and I always loved him best. And, oddly, Polonius from Hamlet, whose homilies were amusing even if his character on the whole was a bit irritating. I also always wondered how fucked up Horatio must’ve been after all that . . . I like Marcus Brody (played by Denholm Elliot) in the Indiana Jones movies, too. And the romantic figure of Ashley in Gone with the Wind as the sort of grail Scarlett could never obtain, though that makes him more of an object than a character. Prince Lir in The Last Unicorn. Jareth in Labyrinth.

I don’t know that I’d say any of the above “steal the show,” though. Lestat does in Interview, certainly; Moriarty as depicted by Andrew Scott tends to take over any scene he’s in, as does Rickman’s Snape. It’s easier to steal a scene when you’re a villain. You’ve got a bit more freedom to act (though Snape goes the other way in being repressively cold).

I suppose the pinnacle of this would be Ricardo Montalban as Khan in the second (classic) Star Trek movie. I watched that film over and over as a kid, that one and #3 (which I also loved for some unaccountable reason, or maybe those were the only two we had on tape). No, I haven’t seen the new film. Yes, I know the “secret.” Which makes me slightly more reluctant to see it, actually, since Montalban looms so large in my childhood memory. He was, for me, the ultimate scene-stealing secondary character.

“Casting” Your Characters

When writing something, I usually find (often without realizing it until well into my story) that I’ve “cast” an actor in at least one, if not more, of the chief roles. For example, the screenplay I’m writing now is based on a play I wrote last year, and somewhere in between starting and finishing writing that play, I realized it was Ewan McGregor’s voice in my head as the main character. A young Ewan McGregor, mind, since the characters are not long out of university, but him all the same.

With The K-Pro I had Benedict Cumberbatch in mind for David Styles, though in retrospect, were I to cast this as a film, I’m not sure I’d give him the part. Later in the story, I sort of had Emily Blunt in mind for Liz, and certainly Judy Dench as David’s mother . . . Everyone else I picture quite clearly but haven’t really found comparable actors for the roles. (Maybe that guy who played Lutz on 30 Rock for Craig?)

Of course, if you ever see a movie based on a book, it always fashions (or refashions) your mental image of the book. Sometimes, if I’ve read a book and then see the movie, I end up with two separate ideas in my head: my original and the one that has been fabricated for the multitudes. If I see the movie before I read the book, I’ll almost always simply picture events from the film version as I read. (Almost always.)

And then it’s somewhat surreal to see something you’ve written become a cast and produced—a concrete play or film. That changes things, too. I don’t know what I’ll think or feel when they make this screenplay (they’ve already cast one lead) . . . Will I keep picturing Ewan McGregor or will I be able to shift my interior perspective? I’ll literally have to wait and see.

Wherefore

Something I read today made me wonder: Is it important to know why a writer writes something?

(I’m thinking fiction here, mind, since I feel the nonfiction answer might be different.)

My rule is that good writing should communicate whatever it needs to communicate in the absence of authorship. That is, a good author is able to remove himself from the work and the work itself should stand on its own. And so, strictly speaking, it shouldn’t matter why someone writes something.

Now, that aside, I do agree knowing more about the author can often give a work additional depth. At the same time, however, it might ruin the pure enjoyment of the work by coloring it in a way the author never intended.

A lot of my writing has themes I never consciously considered but were pointed out to me later. When someone says, “Oh, I see what you did here,” my response is usually, “Did I? I hadn’t noticed.” I guess literary critics find this to be a good time, and I don’t have anything against it except when they put words in my mouth or attribute some kind of agenda to me that I never had.

In school, of course, we’re taught to deconstruct text. In film school, the movie was the text. Stripping things down, then, becomes easy, even habitual. But are we honestly enjoying the book or the film if we’re tearing it apart at the seams in our minds?

Sometimes themes are so glaring one can’t help but notice them. But otherwise, unless I’ve been assigned to break something down, I’ll generally try to keep to the basics. And if I happen to know a little something about the writer, director, actor, whomever—if there’s some trivia lodged in my brain—I’ll try to remember that while it may have bearing on the story, it may also be more subconscious than conscious . . . Or it may not have any bearing at all.

Birthday Treats

I’m off to clean myself up for an early birthday outing which shall include a very nice dinner at Wente out followed by an IMAX, 48 fps viewing of The Hobbit. (I know I should call it The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey just to differentiate from the forthcoming other Hobbit movies, but I won’t bother. Because everyone’s just going to call it The Hobbit, just like all three of those others were just The Lord of the Rings. And by “everyone” I mean normal people, not freakish purists who think it’s important for some reason to be exact—they are the hipsters of fandom—or studio folk who need to have a way of separating things out else they can’t manage the big picture. But I digress.) To sum up: happy birthday to ME!

This means, for those who frequent spooklights, you won’t get your regular Elementary infusion. BUT . . . You will get my thoughts on The Hobbit as soon as I’m Coked (as in ~Cola) enough to stay awake and be even semi-coherent. Though it would be far more entertaining, perhaps, for me to write the review half asleep and possibly hallucinating. Hmm. I’ll consider it.

What do you mean you wouldn’t know the difference?

Hallowe’en

It’s Hallowe’en and I feel beholden to post something about it (or Samhain, or All Hallow’s Eve). I didn’t sign up for the bloghop about scary books and movies, but I’m going to write about those things anyway.

I don’t watch gory movies, but I do like creepy films and psychological thrillers. One of my favorites is 1963’s The Haunting, based on that great Shirley Jackson story “The Haunting of Hill House.” Classic! But steer clear of the remake; it was God awful.

And of course I love a good chiller when it comes to books. I think Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot remains my favorite on that score.

I do love Hallowe’en because I love dressing up. This year I’m going to be a big, grey angel. Maybe that means I’m one of those weeping angels from Doctor Who, or maybe it just means I’m a bit tarnished . . . Dunno. But I’ve got gigantic wings, so apologies in advance to people having to maneuver around me on the pavement!

The Nineties Blogfest

For this blogfest, hosted by Dave, we are supposed to list one favorite thing for each year of the 90s decade: film, television show, song/album, book, whatever. So without further ado, here are some of mine:

1990

To put it in perspective, this is the year I finished junior high (May) and started high school (August). I’d say the book Good Omens is a favorite from this year, but I didn’t discover that book until years later. I can tell you in all nerdiness, however, that Star Trek: The Next Generation was my favorite television show at the time, with MacGyver a close second.

1991

I was still watching ST:TNG and MacGyver. In fact, I was that utterly uncool kid who brought in a VHS tape of “Good Knight MacGyver” for my Honors English Lit class to watch during our unit on King Arthur. Yes, you can thank me for the fact that you got two “free” days of no work. I am equally sorry to admit I really liked Richard Marx’s Rush Street. Balance that against the fact that I also enjoyed the Spin Doctors, and Genesis’ I Can’t Dance album.

1992

It was my “annus horribilis” as much as Queen Elizabeth II’s. For personal reasons. Meanwhile, I do recall sneaking into Dracula . . . And suffering a giggle fit in the middle of it that irritated my friends. But come on, when Anthony Hopkins looks up and says, “Dracule,” it’s just silly. School Ties was more my thing. And New Miserable Experience by Gin Blossoms. Because I was having a miserable experience.

1993

My bad year continued until the spring, when I finished my junior year of high school. Meanwhile, my reading continued to be largely defined by curriculum. However, Jurassic Park burst onto screens that summer, prompting me to read the book as well as repeatedly view the film. (JP holds my personal record for number of times I’ve seen a movie in the cinema: 10). I went to see Sting in concert—second-row seats for the Ten Summoner’s Tales tour. I was as much a nerd as ever, and the same Spielberg-loving girl I’d been all my life, but I’d also broken through some kind of invisible barrier, making 1993 a banner year for me.

1994

The year I graduated from high school and went away to uni. The year of Stargate and Interview with the Vampire. A good year.

1995

I met a lot of my best friends this year. We bonded over Highlander: The Series and The X-Files and Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes (even though it was older). I had the best job I’ve ever had. I loved the show American Gothic with Gary Cole as a pseudo-Satan. I was introduced to Neil Gaiman’s work, so 1995 counts as the year I discovered Sandman. It was also the year I started watching some anime like Fushigi Yuugi and reading things like Tokyo Babylon. I was going dark but in a good way.

1996

The Pretender aired on NBC. I remember my dorm mate’s boyfriend calling and asking (much to both our surprise) to speak with me instead of her. He said, “Turn on this show, I think you’ll like it.” And he was right. I was also late to the Babylon 5 party but a friend clued me in and I was able to catch up in reruns and friends’ recordings. Meanwhile, film school meant I wasn’t seeing many first-run movies at the time. But I was loving Matchbox Twenty’s Yourself or Someone Like You and Sting’s Mercury Falling. And I enjoyed Anne Rice’s Servant of the Bones.

1997

The summer I interned on the set of Hope Floats. The year of living in just about the worst place I’ve ever lived (it’s at least on par with a basement apartment I once inhabited in Boston). I had crazy Evangelical roommates that were angry when I went out with friends instead of having a group dinner with them. I almost lost that awesome job I’d held since 1995 due to budget cuts, but they found a way to keep me (though I was making next to nothing and almost couldn’t live on my income). Were there any bright spots to all this? Anastasia, which remains one of my favorite animated feature films of all time. And I got to attend the premiere of Contact. Also, Anne Rice’s novel Violin really spoke to me. And Shoujo Kakumei Utena was awesome, as was the manga Cardcaptor Sakura.

1998

I graduated from university as a Bachelor of Science in Radio-Television-Film studies. I traveled to Europe for the first time. I had the luxury of moving to a brand new apartment. I held on to that great job. But had no idea what to do with the rest of my life. In the meantime, though, I was devouring quantities of Cartoon Planet reruns and reading more Anne Rice (Pandora, The Vampire Armand).

1999

The year I changed my life by moving to Boston for graduate school. I met the man I would marry. He introduced me to bands like Marillion and The Refreshments. Our first date was to see Princess Mononoke, followed shortly by a viewing of Being John Malkovich. But of course the big movie of that year was The Matrix, which holds the second-place record for movies I’ve seen most in a cinema (7x). That one remains a favorite of mine, the two terrible sequels notwithstanding.

That was my 90s. I’m sure I’ve missed or forgotten a lot of stuff here, but it was a big time in my life, a coming-of-age era with many ups and downs and ins and outs. Life now is boring in comparison. (Some days that’s a good thing.)