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Archive for June 2006

Move along

Nothing much to see here. Time to tie up some loose threads.

I haven’t done much writing recently. With the summer vacation season underway, Reader’s Digest (Canada) has more assignments available and I have a tough time saying no to paid work. So I work on stories of fish and logs and, in one disappointing case, material that James Randi would sadly shake his head at.

I visited my optometrist last week. He recommended an adjustment to my left, good eye – a weaker prescription, in fact. My right eye is much worse than it was two years ago, but I didn’t need an optometrist to know that. My right eye has 20/400 vision, and it’s only correctable with a hard lens. Even though the opthalmologist would not prescribe a single hard lens, I think it’s time for a second opinion.

I handed “Sheep’s End” to an actress/producer I met at Alex’s book launch. That’s a perspective on the story I haven’t consulted yet. Alex has on his site posted some of the photos I took at the launch. You know how to get there, right?

We have six more animals in our house: three small fish and three mantises. (We had six fish, which arrived home as birthday-party loot bags. Three are now toilet treasure.) We also have some beetle larvae, food for the larger mantis. We’re rejuvenating the old terrarium for the mantises.

I haven’t given a baseball update in a while. I think only my brother cares. Nevertheless….

My team sits in fourth place, but is only five points out of first. Frank, in first, is there because of two unnatural phenomena: Tom Glavine and Alfonso Soriano. While Frank just added Roger Clemens, it won’t be enough to keep him on top.

I’ve had a swarm of injuries to my pitching staff, which is now anchored by John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, and Odalis Perez. I’ve managed to maintain a decent WHIP, but my ERA is unusually high. I’m falling behind in wins, too. On the bright side, Woody Williams is back this week and I snagged Chuck James at the June 1 roster adjustment. Our next draft is tomorrow. There are seven moderate-quality players available, in my opinion, so I’ll be able to juice my lineup more than the teams above me. I don’t think I’ll get Jorge Julio or Matt Kemp, but Alay Soler should be waiting for me.

.292 batting average (1st)
133 HR (2nd)
503 RBI (1st)
59 SB (7th)
4.73 ERA (7th)
1.39 WHIP (4th)
35 wins (8th)
17 saves (6th)

Missing child

We spent an anxious three hours today.

Children One (almost 12) and Two (nine) went to a neighbourhood swimming pool with a mutual friend around 3:30. Two hours later, Child One and the friend came home. They didn’t know where Child Two had gone.

Well.

Child One told us that Child Two did not want to swim, and said she would hang out in the park. When it came time to leave, Child One could not find Child Two and assumed she had come home, so Child One and the friend came home alone.

We and our dear houseguest Stuart drove around for half an hour, in two cars to cover more ground, but we couldn’t find our daughter. We called the police and they sent over an officer to take a report.

Now, this wasn’t the first time something like this has happened. Last summer, all three of my spawn went to a pool and the girls lost Child Three. He was found hiding in a bush near the entrance to the pool. You’d think that the scholarship-winning Child One would have learned something from that, or from the babysitting certification course she took this past year. You’d think, wouldn’t you?

So, my gentle-hearted, beautiful – really, she is, objectively – Child Two was nowhere to be found. We returned home to meet the police officer, who was a mother herself. While I was livid with Child One for separating with her little sister, I was impressed with her ability to converse in French with the officer.

During that conversation, we learned that while Elvi (the wife) had assumed that the kids went to the Benny pool, the kids had actually gone to the pool by the hockey arena. That pool is farther from our home, which made us feel worse, for its distance, and better, because we’d centered our search around Benny.

The stepfather of the kids’ friend was out looking for Child Two. While the police interviewed Child One, he called: he had found and retrieved Child Two.

Child Two was extremely upset. She’d taken a nap under a tree in the park and when she woke up, the other kids had disappeared. She spent close to an hour alone, waiting. She didn’t ask a stranger to borrow a phone, including the pool staff, and she wasn’t sure how to get home. When found, she’d been wandering in the wrong direction.

You can’t help, in a situation like this, once in a while thinking the absolute worst. It happens. How could a family go on after a nightmare like that?

There is a punch line to all this. Child One’s plan for the summer is to make money running a babysitting service. I hope she doesn’t ask me for recommendations.

Don’t stop playing, Fry. I want to see how it ends.

Good news, everyone!

Katey Sagal spilled the beans on late-night TV: we can expect 13 new episodes of “Futurama”. Look at the comments following the post that link leads to. Somebody who may or may not be John DiMaggio (Bender) threw his two cents in.

The New York Post has confirmed the news. These 13 new episodes come on top of the “Futurama” movies announced earlier this year, according to Can’t Get Enough Futurama.

No news on whether the creative staff has signed on, but I can’t imagine the show without all that talent. For my money, the “Futurama” commentary tracks are some of the most entertaining of any DVD set. The booth was often writer-heavy.

While you wait for new episodes, check out IMDb’s huge collection of “Futurama” quotes.

Alex’s book launch

While Child Two wowed the audience at the school variety show with her version of the first scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail“, I attended Alex’s Montreal book launch party. (That’s the Host of Honour to the right in the photo.)

It was a fun party lubricated with drink coupons. I met a few people, including Michael Hentges, an upstanding gent whom I met in a screenwriting course and the last Netsurfer Digest writer I ever hired.

I spent most of the evening kibbitzing with screenwriter/bon vivant Doug Taylor. We schmoozed as a pair, more or less. We chatted quite a bit with freelance editor Katya – who was wearing a “Talk nerdy to me” T-shirt – and, yes, we did discuss punctuation. Good times….

I was unofficial photographer of the event so there are no photos of me there. I sent my photos to Alex – I suspect he’ll stick them up on his Flickr account, at which point I’ll point to them here.

In the meantime, you can watch a short my cousin produced for a 48-hour film fest, “Lost & Found: No Partner Like Mine”. I think it’s her voice you hear over the police radio.

YouTube Preview Image

Montage screenwriting software for OS X

You’ve heard of Final Draft. You’ve heard of Movie Magic Screenwriter. If you hang out at one or more screenwriting fora around the Intardweb, you may have even heard of the multiplatform, free screenwriting application called Celtx, which trumps the others in cost, as it’s free.

I use Final Draft 6. Final Draft 7 had some problems, at least on the OS X platform, but I’ve found Final Draft 6 a dream to use. I really don’t need much more than automatic formatting and field completion (for slug locations and character names), although I do make use of the software’s script note tool, as well.

Even after the demise of Netsurfer Digest, I try to stay abreast of software development, so it surprised me to learn that there was another screenwriting software development out there that I hadn’t heard of. It’s called Montage, and I put it through a trial this weekend.

Montage claims it can open Final Draft documents with an easy drag-and-drop, but I had to use the Import command with in the application to get it to read my Final Draft documents. Having done that, I could read the document in Montage, but as soon as I started to edit it, Montage crashed. It is a beta, so I can’t expect to work flawlessly, especially with third-party document formats.

So, how does the software work on its own documents? Montage tries to be more than Final Draft. It includes the ability to write scene outlines on index-card-like windows. You write them in the Scenes function, then click on Outline to rearrange them in new orders. While this feature can be useful for some writers, when I use index cards, I prefer to lay them out all at once. In Montage, you can rearrange your “cards” by scene title only, so you don’t get as broad a view as you do when you can place and replace real, whole index cards. I had trouble getting used to how Montage links the outline with the screenplay content, but that may be a matter more of familiarity than of poor utility.

Montage goes even further and builds marketing function right into the software, and this is where it shines. Start with the Tasks window, which lets you set personal deadlines, for writing, for queries, for whatever. The Contacts features ties in with OS X’s native Address Book and lets you build a database of contacts specific for each script. In Queries, a separate word processor gives a five-minute lesson on how to write query letters (“Don’’t ask for pity”) and provides two sample queries.

Montage allows for lists of characters and locations as well as Final Draft. It’s title page is slightly different in format – the writer’s contact info goes to the lower right side where Final Draft puts it in the lower left – but that’s functionally irrelevant.

Perhaps because this is still a beta, or maybe because I’m more used to the quirks of Final Draft, Montage didn’t work as smoothly as Final Draft does. It autocompletes when I don’t want it to. It doesn’t move “widowed” slugs to the next page to accompany the beginning of the scene proper. These are small bugs which should be squashed in early versions, possibly by the 1.0 release. You can save your scripts in Montage’s native format, as a Word doc, RTF, or the ubiquitous PDF.

The nice thing is that Montage is as intuitive as Final Draft most other places: a tab turns into a character slug; paragraphs after slugs are action by default; etc. Another advantage, perhaps, is that Montage allows the writer to select a number of different formats. You can write with colour-coded text (red for slugs, brown for action, blue for characters, etc.), or you can select formats specific to Warner Brothers or the BBC. Montage doesn’t tell you what Warner does different, and I don’t know either – but the ability to choose the studio’s format is there if you need it.

By far, Montage’s biggest asset is price. You can buy it at a pre-release price of $100 (later to rise to $140), and it has a 30-day money-back guarantee. Even better, you can try the beta right now. (Used copies of Final Draft go for about the same price on eBay; a new copy will cost $230 more or less.)

Bonus event alert:

On June 22, part-time actor and full-time ubergeek Wil Wheaton wil read from one of his books at Le Mélange Magique, 1928 St. Catherine W., Montreal. It’s called for 1 p.m.

Unexpected down-time

As a faculty member at Concordia, I get access to the school libraries, including the research databases. This helps immensely when I fact-check Reader’s Digest (Canada) articles. I can search databases of newspaper articles and academic journals and company records and similar goodness from the comfort of my underwear.

One such job was coming to a close this week, with only two real sticky points to resolve. Part of my attempt to check these passages was a search of Canadian newspapers. My search turned up a five-year-old article that bore an uncomfortable resemblance to the piece I’d been given.

Uh-oh.

I reported my find and the editors agreed that whether or not their article echoed the earlier through plagiarism, subconscious influence, or chance, it was too close to run. My contacts at the magazine offered a million thanks, but my work on that piece stopped dead. The editors will soon send me a small fluff piece to work on in the meantime, but my discovery has meant two days so far of research down-time.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I had time to complete and submit two entries for My Take. One still impresses me; the other seems a tad forced. Given the limitations of dialogue and length, I did well. I’m optimistic the first may win.

Other than that, I spent time reading TriggerStreet scripts. If there’s one thing I learned over the last month, it’s that a prolific reviewer can keep their decent-but-not-great script in the top ten through sheer quantity of review credits. I need to get “Sheep’s End” back up there, even as I continue to jot notes on how to improve the next draft.

My plan of attack for “By the Book” is to watch similar movies for clues on externalizing internal conflict. My top choices are “Ordinary People”, “Annie Hall”, and, yeah, even “The Break-Up” (when it comes out on DVD). I’ll also watch “Inherit the Wind” for reasons that if you’ve read the treatment you’d understand. At the very least, I owe that flick an homage.

Tomorrow, “72 Virgins” heads off to the Expo 5 contest. That’s become Plan A.

Mouse!

We’re installing a loft bed in Child One’s room to give a bit more room in there. The bedrooms in our home are cramped.

We moved the furniture out and discovered a mousetrap that I had placed there as part of my campaign a number of months ago. The trap was occupied.

The poor victim had triggered the trap with his side and the bar caught it crossways.

Child One recalled hearing the trap snap one night a long time ago, but hadn’t remembered it in whatever morning that was.

I wonder how many more mice frolic within our walls.

A screenwriting post!

Haven’t done one of these in a while, have I? I may lose my scribosphere decoder ring.

“72 Virgins” finds itself in a good news/bad news situation. Our prospective producer/director has a full plate and won’t be doing the shorts he planned, but he wants to do it next year if we haven’t found another outlet for it. He “really enjoyed” the writing.

Nearmiss and I puzzled out our options. Marior wants another crack at something, but, well… – we’ll see how “Time and Space” turns out first. Robert the director has told me he’ll be looking for another project soon, so I may zip it to him. First, however, we are going to enter it in the shorts competition of Creative Screenwriting’s Expo 5 Screenplay Competition.

I may enter “Sheep’s End” as well, before or after a rewrite. Alex gave me some good notes, and TriggerStreet reviewers have pointed out similar spots that need improvement. I might fix it up by Expo 5′s final deadline of August 7, which will cost $10 more than the early deadline. (Although, the increasingly valuable Canadian dollar may compensate for that additional cost over the two months.)

In the meantime, I’ll be sending some extremely short scripts to the My Take competition, whose award is production rather than riches. Even though these scripts run less than two pages, as I wrote one, I found myself in a dead end. I just couldn’t write my way out given how I started. Things came unstuck, however, when I played around and switched sexes of the two characters. It all fell into place. I love that feeling.

The nice thing is that these two-pagers are something I can do while I wait for people to return my calls for my Reader’s Digest research.

Bonus pet update:

Somewhere in our home, a chinchilla on the loose cackles gleefully – if not because we can’t catch him, then at my fourth-place fantasy baseball team.

The end of a whirlwind weekend

What has been a wild weekend finally ended when I dropped Brother Two off at the airport around 6 p.m. today. Child One had her bat mitzvah ceremony Sunday afternoon. It was a weekend of brunches, parties, and shuffling between them.

People kept asking me if the event makes me feel old. No, it doesn’t. The increasing population of gray hairs, aching joints, and a stubborn belly make me feel old.

On the other hand, the hunt for the kiwi shirt proved its worth. I got compliments on it all night. And my snazzy black suit? Brother Two turned up with the exact same one. But my shirt was nicer. So was my tie.

Child One made it through the weekend with only a tiny meltdown. She had her ears pierced about six weeks ago. She wore earings to our Saturday night soiree, and slept that night without earrings or studs. Right before the ceremony, she discovered that her earring holes had closed, and she couldn’t wear her new diamond studs. She’s been in a snit for a day. She’s good at it.

Bonus celebrity sighting:

I can’t confirm this absolutely, but I’m pretty sure I saw Kate Greenhouse in the Chez Cora on St-Jacques Saturday morning. She played Deb in “The Tournament”, and also appeared in something called “Webs”. Coincidence?

If it wasn’t her, it was a dead ringer.

Recommendations

Alex recently mentioned how impressed he was with the Pandora music recommendation service. Two of us trumped him with advice to check out Last.fm (a.k.a. Audioscrobbler).

Today, Slashdot highlighted two stories on the field of music recommendations and reports that ExtremeTech rated, yes, Last.fm as “by far the best out there”. (Oh, won’t someone please link to this post and keep the chain of links going….)

Here’s my Last.fm page. Visit it to see why I recently called myself a “nostalgic retard” on the Last.fm forums. I don’t listen to music when I work, so my song count is low, but you’ll certainly get the drift, or feel my beat.

If you like it, please make me your Last.fm friend. You’ll be better person than the hundreds of visitors who have declined to comment on four action-filled pages of that high-concept, mega-budget airplane screenplay I call “101″.

Not even a “D00d, u’re such a g33k!!! OMGROFLBBQ” from Maya or Naila.

Hmmm. Maybe it is just me….

Bonus shill:

If yu have any interest in working as a TV writer, go buy Alex’s new “Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Inside the Box“. It just came out this week, but I read a copy months ago. It is not only a guide to story and writing for the television format, but it also reveals the business side of the field. It’ll be the best $10 you’ll spend this month.

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