The Web
Post Categories
Buy my book!
Avia S-199 in Israeli Air Force Service

Archive for February 2006

Just when I thought it was safe to move on

Marior, our director, sent Nearmiss more notes on “Time and Space”. He’s neither willing to drive the three hours to the roof we have access nor is he looking for a roof locally. He’s somewhat desperate to have us reset the critical scenes in a park.

Nearmiss took first crack at a rewrite and did a good job. We have different strengths, she and I. I’ll rewrite her dialogue, but she’s a great foil off of which to bounce new ideas. She came up with a workable compromise. It’s not as good as the original, but her ideas led to some of my own and we’ve groped toward a new finale that I can live with.

Looks like we lose the grotesques, however. In the original draft, they lined the rooftop. The old woman in our screenplay, Gretchen, had a nice moment with one, but it looks like we’ll have to drop that. You don’t find too many public parkland. Although – and I’m thinking out loud here – perhaps we can replace it with a spooky tree stump or something….

Working on shorts that will get made is gratifying, but progress on “By the Book” has ground to a halt since mid-January. Part of the problem is JOUR 428 – being a course I’ve never taught before, it takes a lot of time to put together. This was my last busy week for that, however, and it’s a downhill coast from here. I’m doing some Web redesign for Alex, but besides that, I should have more time to work on my own material. I’ll keep you posted.

Closing old threads

I can close two lines of commentary I’ve pursued in the blog.

The Craigslist grad student did reply to my e-mail. She’s a DJ, and runs her own electronic music nights. Her tastes are more modern than mine, so I’m not sure her recommendations will draw me outside my warm home.

And the FAA finally responded to my query about a possible near miss in the skies over the western US. The Denver Air Route Traffic Control Center reviewed the flight track of my flight and found there were two instances during which other aircraft flew in close horizontal proximity – but maintained the required vertical separation.

The required separation under 41,000 feet is either five miles horizontal or 1,000 feet vertical. As long as that 1,000 feet vertical is there, the two aircraft do not break any regulation.

I witnessed the event correctly: the other aircraft passed above ours, 1,000 feet above. It was the rules I had wrong. And according to the FAA, I’m not the only passenger to have reported events like this one.

Bombs and bomb-scares

Late last week, a prankster called in a bomb threat to the Jewish school my kids attend. Class was dismissed early, and the children and staff evacuated to a building up the street where we parents picked them up.

Today, it happened again.

I doubt there is a bomb, although two years ago, some idiot fire-bombed the library of a Jewish elementary school. (He’s getting early parole.)

I don’t even know what to call these people. They lie on a gradient from prankster to idiot to terrorist.

I had one child at the school today. Child One is on a school ski trip and Child Three is home with me after a night of throwing up. Elvi is in class today. Fortunately, I was able to find Child Two a lift.

Speaking of bombs, I watched “Grey’s Anatomy” again last night. Many writers fawn over it, so I figured I’d give it a shot. It’s not winning me over. It doesn’t engage me the way “House” does. It’s a personality thing… – oh, yeah. Bombs. More on personalities another time.

In last night’s show, two WWII re-enactors build their own bazooka. It misfires and one takes it in the gut when he walks in front of the loaded tube. What a crock, in writing and plot.

First, writing.

The unharmed partner of the bazooka team meets one of the doctors and rattles off a textbook definition of bazooka: “a 60mm rocket-launched shaped charge that was the finest antitank weapon of World War II.” (I paraphrase, but that’s the gist.) Does anybody out there not know what a bazooka is, at least broadly? The character does not have to go into precise detail. The male intern would know what a bazooka is. All he, and any ignorant audience members, need to know is that it can explode. Why the minutiae then? I guess the writers wanted the re-enactor to be a foolish geek.

But all the re-enactors I’ve ever met have been dedicated historians, not foolish geeks. Furthermore, they know better than to walk in front of the muzzle of a misfired weapon. And they wouldn’t dare manufacture their own homebrew bazooka rounds.

This was unnecessary character assassination at a “Monsters and Mazes” level. Why not have the guy hit with a bazooka round as a battlefield accident? Why make these guys fools?

Next is the issue of the Code Black. A bazooka round is about 3.5lb of explosive – roughly the same amount as three hand grenades – but shaped in such a way that the force of the explosion is directed primarily forward (toward the nose of the shell). Anybody in the same room would be in danger, and possibly adjoining rooms as well, but you wouldn’t have to evacuate the entire wing of a hospital. Bah!

Saturday night’s all right for Craigslist

Ever since I hooked up my new monitor, the old one has been taking up a good chunk of office space, boxing in Elvi’s desk.

So I’m selling it on Craigslist.

You can do lots of things at Craigslist. If you’re bored because the hockey game took place in the afternoon and your wife isn’t home to distract you, you can cruise the romantic categories for kicks.

Sometimes, you’ll see an ad titled “where are all the smart guys? – 33” (sic) and with anthropological interest, you’ll open it:

wondering if there are any guys in this city who…

are smart but know how to be silly, have some degree of charm, are good listeners, are electronic music fans, like adventure, are open minded.

i’m a 33 year old grad student and audiophile and i like reading, writing, going to art shows, dancing, altered states, travel, record shopping, conversation, camping and good food, among other things.

if this sounds interesting contact me and we’ll go from there…

I’m her dream date. I wrote her to tell that – well, and to ask her where in Montreal people in their 30s can go to dance to electronic music without feeling out of place. Is that wrong?

It’s been 52 minutes and she hasn’t replied. I think she hates me. I bet she lied about camping, too.

On shorts

My week is filled primarily with the task of creating a lecture on advanced Web design for JOUR 428/528, and teaching myself enough additional CSS that I sound like an expert in class Friday. I’ve dabbled in CSS, and I’ve learned a bit while working on blog layouts, but there’s a lot left to learn, reduce, and spit up Friday afternoon. CSS is so beautifully elegant and horribly nauseating at the same time.

But Fun Joel wrote a long post about writing short-film scripts for others to film. Nearmiss and I have written one and are at work on a second, and both look like they will be made. I can add something of value to the scribosphere other than the promotion of chinchillas as pets.

First, and most important, you can write a short for somebody else to film. It happens. But it’s not a spec-feature process. Don’t bother going from prodco to prodco with a short script. Shorts are made by people, not companies. You need to make contact outside the industry walls with directors who are looking for material.

I’ve met directors at local screenwriting groups, and some are eager to work with a screenwriter’s ideas. These meetings are a good place to set up a local production. Our first short found a producer and a director sort of this way: Nearmiss and I worked on it as part of an exercise at the TriggerStreet online community. Marior, the director, read the logline, asked for the script, and signed on. It really was as simple and easy as it sounds.

Another place to meet people is a film school. You may have a better chance if you’re enrolled, although I expect the onus is on you to make your own shorts then. You’ll might find a film-school student who’s great at directing but lousy at writing. I’ve met a few. These people are looking for scripts to make. Try going to the film-school office and asking permission to post a notice on the department bulletin board. Or post your sheet of paper on the nearest streetlight.

The last avenue of opportunity I want to discuss is the least useful. Our second short sold because Nearmiss works with a producer. She heard he was looking to make four shorts this year. You won’t hear that kind of information unless you work in the environment. Were it not for Nearmiss, that would have passed me by. Unfortunately, filmmakers don’t often advertise for short scripts.

Fun Joel also keyed on what makes a successful short: “Great short films are not just shorter versions of feature films.”

You have, oh, five to 15 minutes to get a point across in a short. I disagree wih Fun Joel, however: you do have time to get a beginning and a resolution in there. It is possible to work up a minature three-act structure. You don;t have to use a punchline formula. And it is possible to lay out character. If you’re good, character oozes out from the background, the action, and the dialogue. In “Time and Space”, we have distinct characters who make their marks distinctively.

Have you seen “Fear of Girls“? It doesn’t take long to establish these personalities. Heck, look at their clothes. And the setting. You know these guys almost immediately. The nuances come in time. Look how Doug rolls his eyes as Raymond talks about girls. By the end of this piece, you know exactly who these guys are.

My theory of short scripts is that to be successful, they have to have laser-like focus on one theme. You don’t have time to explore.

I remember three shorts I watched at one of the Montreal film festivals last summer. “Krooli” was entirely in Finnish without subtitles, yet was engrossing. It told the story of a Finnish swimmer who trains her entire life and dreams of competing against her Swedish rival. I didn’t understand a word of the film, but it pulled me in. It was also long, at more than 20 minutes. But the focus in “Krooli” is the woman’s relationship with swimming. We see everything through that lens.

The second film I recall – not well enough to recall the title – is a story of an older teen sister who runs away from home to move in with her first lover, who obliviously dashes her hopes to pieces. She has to return home, which she can do without losing face because her younger sister has covered for her absence. This is focused on the sisters’ relationship, and everything else pivots on that.

The third film I remember was pure comedy without plot. A few German pranksters used street signs and billboards as props. The film was just one shot after another, but it worked. Why? It stuck to that one idea.

My goal in writing a short is to find that one idea and hammer it. Everything else should fall into place. It’s worked so far.

Fun Joel asks if writing shorts will help you found a screenwriting career. I can’t tell you that yet, but I can tell you that I can now refer to myself as a working screenwriter without feeling guilty.

Every click…
...contributes to world domination.