Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Satisfying My Habit

I just got back from BJ’s. I love going there; it’s one of the many places I can satisfy my habit.

They say the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Well, I think I’m gonna crawl, no steppin’ for me.


And I can’t pass a whole rack without breaking out in sweats.

Tonight, it was on me real bad. I picked up a few movies to quench my thirst... for now

Trust the Man - Every now and then, I like to curl up with a romantic comedy.

Farce of the Penguins - I don’t remember hearing about it, but it does sound funny. I hope it delivers the laughs.

Snakes On A Plane - I have to admit, I won’t be watching this one. I’m a ‘fraidy cat. The hubby will eventually get to it.

A Prairie Home Companion - I always enjoy Kevin Kline, so I couldn’t pass this one up.

Corky Romano - My kids and I LOVE this one. We do silly films all the time.

Flushed Away - One for the family to watch together.

Crank - I remember wanting to see this really bad.

You know how I know I got it bad? Just Sunday, I went to FYE and picked up:

The Devil Wears Prada - This one is for me and my daughter to bond over.

Midnight Express - I had to add this to my growing collection.

Easy Rider - I have never seen this. I know, I know.

All About Eve - Couldn’t pass this up.

Sparkle - I had this movie, and someone stole it. It’s one of my favorites.

Hollywoodland - I’m looking forward to seeing Afleck’s acting chops on this.

Delirious - I watched it right after the Oscars. Damn, I love vintage Eddie Murphy. I actually went to see Raw live.

The DVD I’m desperately waiting to get my hands on - The Painted Veil. No release date as of yet.

Did I mention I LOVE MOVIES?

Do Your Characters Run Amuck?

I once told someone that my characters tend to tell me exactly what they wanted to do. After offering to give me the number of a really good shrink, he conveyed that, though this was interesting, it might be a sign of of a problematic story.

Of course, the stubborn, arrogant writer that I am, smiled and said fuck you. No, not really. I smiled, but held the f-you in.

It’s only recently that I half-agree with him.

How the hell can you half-agree with someone? Married people do it all the time, but, anyway.

My characters still tell me where they want to go, leading me off in directions that I had not intended. And I absolutely love and hate when this happens. I love it, because, when this happens, I know I have succeeded in giving each, individual voices. They have their own minds, thoughts; a life all their own. I hate it, because my little darlings are running amuck. By the way, I love that word - amuck, amuck, amuck.

Okay, back to what I was saying. Analogy time. If I’m the parent and they’re the children, and they start to tell me what they want to do, that can only mean that I have not given them enough guidance. They may need a little more structure, be it a better understanding of the rules of their world; an understanding of what their goals in life should be; perhaps a little more constraint and focus.

Okay, enough with the analogies. As screenwriters, we tend to get a little touchy about RULES.

Oh, no, she’s a rules kind of gal.

Yes and no.

Each one of my stories have their own set of rules. I’m creating a world with people that interact in a very precise way. Because of this, I have to set up parameters, or RULES. These are not rules dictated by outside forces, though they may share extreme commonalities with rules of other stories, especially if you believe that most stories are just a rehashing of the same old stories told over time. But they are rules that I have established specifically for the world, characters and goals that I have created. Parents will tell you that flexibility is the key to managing a household, but, in addition, there must be a strong set of governing rules before negotiations can take place.

We have 120 pages - nowadays less - to tell our story. It’s compact. Its goal is to rise above all the other stories out there. How do you create something that strong, that powerful? Ask Rocky. Ask any parent who’s child does NOT run amuck in the supermarket. Ask Jack LaLane. It’s called discipline. It’s called laying a solid foundation - structure - with a precise set of boundaries, and a clear- cut goal.

It’s called screenwriting.

And I need to get back to it.

Getting Out of the Way of Me

Did I mention I love writing?

It’s the pre-planning that gets under my skin. From day one, I always outlined, but the problem was that I’d rush through the outline, just to get to the part I LOVE. The writing of pages, glorious pages.

And that was the problem?

One of my instructors told me once that the biggest problem I had, in terms of writing (and, maybe even, my life overall), is that I didn’t know how to get out of the way of me.

What the hell does that mean? Arrrggghhh!

Don’t you hate to admit when somebody is spot on about your issues or problems? I do, so I won’t admit it.

Without admitting that this instructor was right, I needed to learn how to get out of the way of me.

So, I have an idea for a story that I am so in love with and I just can’t wait to write. What’s wrong with this sentence? Nothing, really. Just maybe way too many I’s. You see, I had to learn that writing a script was not a personal moment - well, not if I wanted it to be up there on the big screen where millions and billions of people could see it over and over again and it wins the Oscar for best everything and every director wants to work with me... Oh, sorry, I got lost there for a second.

My point is, I had to learn to step back and look at my story outside of who I am, and what that meant for me was pre-planning. Breaking down the story into it’s simplest form. Asking questions that would bring more clarity. Taking the personal out, just long enough to see the bigger picture on a wider scale.

I think this has to do with some of that left brain, right brain type of thinking. Don’t ask me which means which.

For me, I look at the process over all as heart, mind and soul coming together. All three of these things must come to play during the process of my writing. They may not come together in any particular order, but they must find a way to coexist. My heart is present from the jump; it’s what fuels my passion and drives me to complete the story. It’s there during the first draft, freeing emotions and all manner of thoughts. My mind joins in during the pre-planning stage - the outlining and laying the story out. The soul, well, that’s the most important, and no wonder, the most difficult.

The soul is what I have to breath into the script in order to make it come alive for others. I have to give the script life, and, simply, having the heart and mind to do so will not give my script/story wings to fly. Not only to fly, but to touch others in some way, be it small and simple, or wondrous and unforgettable.

So, I got out of my way long enough recently in order to do the part of writing I love the most - pages. Seven today, I start off slow, basking and enjoying the moment. As this is a revision of a script I first completed two years ago, I’m at the soul stage, and loving it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

It's So Bad, It's Good

I’m right in the middle of the book High Profile. It is so bad, it’s good.

Maybe because I’m a Shakespeare, 17th Century Literature, Harlem Renaissance geek, I found myself losing a brain cell with every line I read. But you know what - it’s so f-ing entertaining. I could actually see this damn thing becoming a movie starring Bruce Willis as Jesse Stone.

Well, I’m off to read the second half and waste away a few more brain cells.

Tomorrow, I start writing actual pages. I can’t wait.

Oscar Winning Short

I was lucky enough to catch the Oscar-winning short The West Bank Story two years ago at the Stony Brook Film Festival. Hilarious, but deep. If you can, get your hands on this little gem.

Oh, also, if you have a film, you might want to enter the festival. It’s really great, and huge.

Writing Ritual

I discovered a year ago that I have this strange writing ritual. After outlining and preplanning my script to death, and right before sitting down to write pages, I find myself hitting the bookshelf for some light reading.

Detective novels and/or thrillers.

I don’t know what it is, but reading these books places me in a zone. I know a lot of writers like to listen to music while they write. Others watch a lot of films in their genre. But for me, it’s the books; the reading of these heavily, plotted stories with pithy sentences and quick dialogue.

I think it starts the ball rolling, in terms of pacing. These books are usually fast-paced, not like drawn-out literary works (which I usually curl up with after a script draft is put to bed).

I’m currently reading High Profile, by Robert B. Parker, one of my two-book-a-month-book-of-the-month-club selections, and I’m amped up. I’ll be starting on actual pages in the next few days, but firs,t I’m going to curl up with Jesse Stone and get into the mood.

Did I mention I’m weird?

The Screening Room

I just finished watching the documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston.


and completely insane.

I’ve never been so confused in my life.

Growing up in East New York, Brooklyn, and pretty much listening to what my much older brothers listened to - and you bet your ass it wasn’t folk music - I had never, ever, ever heard of Daniel Johnston.

The very moment he opened his mouth I was like, “what the...?” Is this for real?

Beauty, indeed, is in the eye of the beholder. And so is genius, for that matter.

If thousands of people truly believe this guy is a genius... I want a hit of whatever they are smoking.

There’s a huge fan base, and I mean huge. You know what, more power to them. It’s an amazing thing to believe in someone that strongly and feel that what they’ve created speaks to you on a level that nothing else has.

But, again, can I get some of what these fans are on.

It’s a great documentary; if you haven’t seen it, you will be blown away, or, at the very least, confused out of your freaking mind.

By the way, if there is anyone out there in blog world actually reading my ramblings, I’d love to hear about any other “must-see” documentaries. As I stated in a previous post, I’ll be trying my hand at one soon.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My Head Hurts

So, I spent Saturday watching Little Miss Sunshine (twice) and Half Nelson.

Oscars - tonight.

Did I mention my head hurts?

When I started screenwriting, I always got the same advice about watching great movies and seeing how they are done. At NYU, they crammed all the great films down our throats - even forcing us to create beat sheets of our own for these masterpieces.

But still...

My head hurts.

I was sitting down watching the “best film of the year”, totally “hilarious and non-stop laughter”. And, guess what? I wasn’t laughing.

I even watched it with the commentary on, and when the directors mentioned why they felt they just had to make this film, my head stopped pounding a bit. Ah-ha. They recognized these characters. Cool, I respect that. It must feel good to get your hands on a script that connects you to a people/place that is so familiar.

You see, that’s what a great script does; it introduces us to characters and places we recognize in ourselves and our lives. Even when it gives us larger-than-life super-heroes and villains, there is still something familiar in the emotions. We feel that the writers, directors and actors have captured an emotion deep within us.

So, it doesn’t matter what you write, as long as it connects with an audience - a UNIVERSAL audience.


A universal audience. Ha! Please tell me what this stock word means, and I’d especially like to hear it from those marketing people who keep cramming down the “18 through 25 male demographic” jargon. Universal, my ass.

There are a shit load of films I’ve seen over the few years of my life, and some of them have touched me so deeply. Then there are movies, while they have been entertaining enough to keep my ADD at bay for a short while, they don’t connect with me on a personal level.

Maybe it’s the same reason it was so damn hard to sell me on a belief in Santa as a young girl. You see, I grew up in a, um... an “economically-challenged” neighborhood (for those on PC watch), and I knew damn well there was not going to be any white man, dressed in some bright red two-peice pimp suit, landing on my roof and trying to fit down a fireplace I didn’t even have.

While I fully understood the sentiments of Christmas and the feelings of joy the belief in Santa was trying to create, there was no connection for me - at least, not on a personal level. Santa was never speaking to me, but I did find his talks to others entertaining.

So, why does my head hurt?

Must I connect on a personal level in order to enjoy a film and see the greatness the movie gods have bestowed on it? Are there films that universally speak to every single, living, breathing, human creature on the face of the earth?


Go see the next two “box-office” films. Maybe even three. Take inventory of the audience - I mean, REAL inventory. If you spot one old man in a trench coat and he’s smiling that toothless grin, chances are he’s really not there for the film. Trust me on this one - I’ve got stories - but that’s another post.

How many people are in the theatre? Take in the faces, try to gauge the ages, sex, race, etc...

Ten to fifteen of one race does NOT make it a universally-appealing picture. A true melting pot is just that - a melting to the point where you can’t count or tell or distinguish.

Go on, think back to when Chris Rock hosted the Oscars. Remember that segment when he went out on the streets and asked blacks what they had seen that year? While it was pretty darn funny, it was pretty darn revealing as to our UNIVERSAL theory.

I would love to see the same thing done with whites being asked about movies like Stomp, Daddy’s Little Girl, Something New, etc...

This is not to say there are no blacks who see “Oscar-worthy” films (WHATEVER THE HELL THAT MEANS - sorry, wrong post), or whites who haven’t seen black films, or Asians who haven’t seen Hispanic films... you get my point... or, maybe not.

So what does that mean for writing a great story? Some of us will have to know our audience and realize that this might place limitations - but, hey, life is filled with limitations and hurdles.

We’re writing a film with the expectations that an audience will want to watch it, and having watched it, walk away with some sort of satisfaction/enjoyment. They felt something familiar, even if it was something new (don’t you just hate paradoxes?).

Knowing the realities of who your audience will most likely be, while hoping to gain and win over new ones, helps to bring focus to the writing, as well.

I seriously doubt that most rappers are sitting down creating lyrics to reach the 99 year-old grandmother who has lived all her life on her family’s farm. However, if they can dig down deep and find something that even she can understand, then that’s the power of creating something truly amazing and beautiful.

That’s what I want to do with my writing, and hopefully, it will get my head to stop hurting.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

So I've Decided...

Decisions are hard for me. Not because I don’t want to do anything, but because I want to do EVERYTHING.

For the past two years, I’ve been wanting to do a documentary, and it has not just been a random thought in my head. I’ve done the research on how to get started, figured out the topic, took inventory of my resources, and ran the idea across a few people who have shown interest and are willing to help.

So what’s the problem? Go back to my post on procrastination - it says it all.

The local adult education program is offering a course on creating the documentary, and I’ve decided to sign up. It’s an 11-week course that will, hopefully, get me to focus and get the ball rolling.

But first I need to complete this darn rewrite... arghhhh.

Oh, the woes... I mean, joys of writing.

Screenwriting is to Newspaper Editing...

So, I was sitting down trying to figure out what past experiences have prepared me for a life in screenwriting. In other words, I was procrastinating.

After about two minutes - did I mention I have ADD? - I realized there’s no such thing as being prepared for anything. There is no spoon.

But about three minutes later, I started doing some more procrastinating... I mean, thinking, and I started remembering my days on the staff of my college newspaper, during which time I served as a copy editor, then assistant editor, as well as having my own column.

Hmmm, maybe there might be some things I can pull out from my old bag of experiences. Let’s see...

Deadlines. When it absolutely, positively has to get to the printers within the next 20 minutes and you still have to put the finishing touches on the layout. Experience learned? Procrastination. Yup, this has come in handy.

But in all seriousness, there are two things - I’m sure there’s more, but my ADD won’t allow me to concentrate for that long. So, the two things that still remain with me from those long, long, long, long hours working to get a newspaper out and to the public are...

What was I saying?

Oh, the two things,

Rewriting. I only wish that many newspapers did this. Have you noticed how many damn mistakes there are in newspapers nowadays? And let’s not even talk about news reporting on the Internet. But, anyway, I digress.

As a black newspaper on a large - huge - mostly white, university, we knew that we had to put out the best-looking and best-written paper we could. There was no room for mediocrity. So, every article was rewritten until we felt it was first, coherent; second, enlightening; and third, unique in some way that would grab the attention of the reader and keep them coming back for more.

Without realizing, I carry this over to my screenwriting - or, at least, I try.

Second lesson learned...

Honestly, I forgot. Damn, I hate when that happens.

The point of all this? It’s a blog, a chance for me to hear myself ramble on about shit that nobody even reads.

But the chance that someone stops by...

The point is, use what you have. What experiences in life have prepared you to be right where you are at this very moment?

Friday, February 23, 2007

Character Relationships

So, MaryAn over at Fencing With the Fog got me to thinking.

About what? Writing, what else?

Anyway, these past couple of days I’ve been struggling with bringing focus to the script I’m rewriting. My problem is that there are millions of things I have to say and want to get across in the story. However, who gives a shit?

You see, that’s the rub. Who will give a shit and why?

As already mentioned, I’m enrolled in Writer's Boot Camp’s 22-month Think Tank - almost done. I’ve heard some describe it as cultish. For me, it’s a guy/gal with a whip, cracking it every time I move my ass away from my seat. I also love the nifty little tools like premise lines, 3-6-3, unity page, etc... I never leave home without them.

One of the things I fought early on with Boot Camp was the idea of concentrating on the relationship between characters. And when I say concentrate - I mean concentrate. Every tool forces me to examine the relationships between characters - in particular, the main and dynamic. And, like Brittany Spears in Rehab, I keep resisting... at first.

You see, I’m a writer. I don’t need no stinkin’ rules or guidelines. A real writer just writes from the heart - after all, I have some thing(s) to say.

Okay, back to reality.

Stories are about relationships. Every single movie ever made is about one person wanting or needing something from another person or needing the help of another person or wanting to kill, love, bed, win-over, etc.., another person or having to hide, reveal, pretend, confuse something from another person... okay, you get my point - people - relationships.

As MaryAn put it, there are people who don’t know how to have relationships.

YES! This is the stuff that movies are made of. The complications of those relationships.

A lot of gurus, books, and schools spend a lot of time talking about a great protagonist, or even antagonist, but I don’t go to the movies to see one guy or gal up on screen. That shit would be just plain... uh, BORING.

I go to see what the characters will do and say to one another. Maybe they’ll say something crafty that I wish I could say to the guy next door who keeps parking his goddamn yellow truck in front of my house. Maybe they’ll blow up something - or someone, thus allowing my own angst a venue of release.

We already have in play words like conflict and antagonist that convey this. Conflict, for me, is relationship.

But you already knew this. So, back to writing I go.

Monday, February 19, 2007

To Outline Or Not To Outline...

That is indeed a commonly-asked question.

I’ve just finished another draft of my outline.


Yup. In fact, it’s a rewrite - one that I thought was going to be a quick script fix, since the script placed in the semifinals of Nicholls.

Oh, how stupid and wishful.

I’ve been procrastinating big time these past few weeks because I knew, deep down, that I was going to have to pull up my sleeves and get to WORK, WORK, WORK.

I spent most of the morning working on the latest outline. Being enrolled in Writer’s Boot Camp, I’ve been using a nifty little screenwriting tool called the 3-6-3. It’s a form of sequencing.

At first, I resisted this tool like a virgin on prom night - but, hey, you can’t stay closed forever.

I’ve tried a bunch of different ways to outline - and I still go back and forth between different outlines. I’ve even combined the 3-6-3 with a method taught by one of my teachers at NYU. Some gals like to keep their options open.

Okay, enough sex metaphors.

So, what I thought would be a quick fix to the third act of my script, had me killing off the second lead of the script and introducing a completely new opponent. Oh, how fun.

But the great thing about all of this is that I was able to test this out in a one page outline (yes, one page - nifty little 3-6-3). I didn’t have to write pages upon pages upon pages - you get the point - only to discover on page 80 the story was not falling into place.

There are still some weak spots I need to work out, but, again, it’s easier to do this in a one-page format than 100+ pages.

Back to WORK I go.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Banning Books

You’re kidding me, right?

Books? Words? A form of learning and educating oneself?


So the word is SCROTUM? Such an ugly word. Every time someone hurls it at me, I cower, waiting for the inevitable.

Dare my children hear this word? Oh, God, what would come of them?

First, they’ll run off to find their other little innocent babes and have a ball - opps - I mean, have so much fun tossing the WORD around.

Then, they’ll move on from this gateway word to perhaps testicle or, maybe, leave the male anatomy all together for more racier words like vulva or areola. And you all know where that’s going to take us. Dare I say it? Penis and that awful vagina. God, the horrors.


True story.

I remember when my daughter was 2 and 1/2, maybe three. She was in daycare, and we were called in during parent/teacher conference. Mind you, I don’t know what the hell we could conference about - “Oh, she really puts a spin on the singing of the alphabet” or, “she eats paste like no other.” Oh, well, I digress.

Anyway, we go in and her teacher seems a bit uncomfortable. She’s fumbling with her words. Finally, “I’m not sure how to bring this up, but today when we took the kids to the bathroom, your little precious one (of course, she didn’t say precious - I think she used angel), well, the kids were talking about their, you know, private parts, and your daughter corrected them. She, well, she used the words vagina and penis”.

So we did what any conscientious parent would do; we slapped the teacher hard across the face and said, “you brought us in here for this stupid shit?!”

No, we didn’t, but I do recall we said simultaneously, “AND?”

You see, the moment we knew that, in order to make a better life for my daughter, continuing our education and pursuing a career, meant that we would have to place our daughter in daycare - hand her over to others - strangers - on a daily basis. This scared the shit out of us. We decided on the daycare that was affiliated with the medical school my husband attended and which was located just across the street, allowing him to pop in anytime he wanted.

But we knew we would have to arm her with ammunition. A voice. This was something I had started earlier while attending graduate school. I had made the conscious effort never to talk to her in baby talk, and I was ridiculed and made fun of by more than a few family members. However, by the time our daughter was two, she had a pretty strong grasp of the English language.

The down side was that whenever we had family members come to visit, they often thought of her as entertainment - calling her over - “Hey, come over here and say that word again”, and she would oblige with a roll of her eyes and an “imbecile”.

So when we explained to her teacher at daycare that we had purposely taught our daughter to identify the parts of her body correctly, we got a blank stare. What the hell were we doing? I mean, it’s like an American tradition to give cute little names for body parts, especially those really private ones, right? Shouldn’t we want to protect our children for as long as we could, allowing my little girl to maintain her innocence as long as possible?

Yes, our job was to protect her, the only way we knew how - we bought her a sawed-off shotgun and some brass knuckles.

No, we armed her with knowledge and words that would clearly be understood, God forbid she may ever need them for protection. As young parents, my husband and I had recalled a few cases involving child abuse where the cases were thrown out or inconclusive because the child was not able to CLEARLY explain what happened to them. You see, the judge is not too sure what an actual boo-boo means. He needs the words vagina, penis, fondled, touched, hurt, tongue. Yes, all graphic, just like the word scrotum.

Before we start banning books and, even worse, words because we feel the need to protect our children, maybe we should ask exactly WHO are we protecting?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Boyz in the Hood and John Truby

Here’s some interesting stuff on the structure of Boyz in the Hood:

John Truby


I’ve been thinking about this thing called structure. Three acts, a clear protagonist, an antagonist we can actually see - human, a clear arc/change in the main character, etc.

I’ve read tons of books, attended classes, but I continue to struggle with this thing called structure. It’s not that I don’t get it. A few of my scripts follow many of the conventions just fine.

However, there are a few of the stories I tell that have me fighting with the structure I find in most books, classes, and universities.

With these stories, I find myself forcing my stories and characters to obey these “tried and true” methods. It’s during these times that I find myself washing clothes, cleaning house, chipping ice off of my huge, circular driveway armed only with a garden tool (don’t ask). Anything to avoid trying to make my square story and its characters fit into the round peg of structure that’s been passed down from the beginning of storytelling.

Ah-ha! Maybe that’s it. Maybe there are other forms of storytelling when it comes to movies? As a former H.S. English teacher, I know this exists in literature. Though many of the creation and myth stories were extremely similar, the way in which they were told represented the individual culture, life and experience of the storyteller.

Why are stories told the way they are? Under what circumstances were certain stories historically told? Was it out of pure entertainment because there was nothing else around to do? Was it a way to gather the entire family/clan/tribe together after a particular harsh winter/harvest/war?

What was the goal of these stories? Were there certain cultures that only told a story as a way to entertain - share happy times with one another?

Or were there cultures that used stories as a way to teach and inform - passing down rules that govern their behavior (sounds familiar?)?

I can’t help thinking about my own culture when it comes to me telling stories involving African-Americans, especially those populated in inner-cities.

It’s only been recently that I’ve come to look back at my storytelling origins. I wish I could trace it back to Africa - and some day, I’ll set out to do just that. But as I spent most of my college years devouring slave narratives and slave history, I realize that I am very much influenced by this important period in my ancestral history.

Slaves had what we today might equivocate to myths. Most were in the forms of spiritual songs. Songs that carried messages deeper than the simple words strung together in harmony. These songs had hidden and crucial messages. Personification was perfected. A bird or animal might represent a slave recently killed. A river or mythical land might hold the plans for escape and the route in which to take.

One of the things that many of the songs contained was the notion of getting to a better life in the hereafter. Death was not seen as an ending, but a blessing - a new beginning. I could assume that most preferred death to the life of slavery they now lived - no matter how good the SLAVE MASTER.

So, what’s my point?

If death is not seen as bad thing, what does that do to a story? Does it have a ripple effect on all the other story elements?

But what about other little things, like character structure? What about the flaw or misbehavior in the protagonist? Well, looking back at slave narratives and spirituals, some might say that the main character were without flaw - as if they were do-gooders. What many miss is that the flaw of these main characters were the fact they were born - more specifically, they were born black and there was nothing they could do to change that.

This leads me to what I have come to call the theme of overcoming. It’s not a change. After all, there is nothing one can do about their “flaw" - ask Michael Jackson.

So, if there is no way to change, what structure does your arc follow? But, most importantly, what is your fight/goal/purpose?

To get those around you who can, to either change or acknowledge/see the plight of your life.

I’ve been studying - and continue to - two films that are starting to shed the light on a possible structure inherent in many black films that goes against the traditional Hollywood Structure.

The first film is Boyz in the Hood. When I try to apply traditional structure to this film, my mind spins and spins and spins.

First, who is the main character? That’s easy: Trey. Okay, I’m right there - maybe. Why is Trey the main character? What is his flaw, his goal; what must he change? Easy, right? His goal is to escape the hood, right? Is it? What will that solve - because Trey seems like this individualistic guy, right? He only cares about himself, he’s a loner? And, better yet, Trey’s in the hood because he selected to be there and he can just get up and leave whenever he wants to?

Or maybe, just maybe, like those spirituals, the hood is not isolated. Okay, we already knew that. So doesn’t that change his goal of wanting to get out of the hood? If the hood is not the hood and it represents society (as Furious eloquently points out during his speech on economics and re-gentrification to the neighborhood fellas), then how can he escape that? How did the slaves do it? Death...


I know I’m going around in circles. I’m still closely studying this movie. With complex characters like Ricky, Doughboy and Furious, who seem to have their own separate and equally compelling story lines, it’s a structure I recognize, that feels good - but always gets me the most notes and criticism. One main character, one clear, human antagonist and one story with a B or possible C story that does NOT have secondary characters being elevated to the equal of the main character.

Why the hell not? I’ know I’m not the only one who writes this way and that have received criticism after criticism, forcing us to conform to the tried and true method of structuring a Hollywood movie. I remember discussing screenwriting with a few other black writers and we found an interesting universal criticism offered to us - why so many damn characters?

It’s our way of telling a story, and believe me, there’s a history in that. This is by no means paint-by-numbers. And not all black writers write alike, but take a look at many black films and see how their structures differ. Open a newspaper and read the review for a new, black film coming out. What sounds interesting about the criticism?

By the way, the other movie I’m taking a closer look at is Do the Right Thing. Who the hell is the main character there? Mookie? He changes? Right. Or does he want someone else to change - to ”WAKE UP“?

Okay, all of this might very well be BULLSHIT. Or just another way for me to justify why I can’t seem to get my story to fit the tried and true story structure I’ve been taught by the many experts and the hundreds of Academy Awarded films.

Or maybe there is something more to culture and structure.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Every Little Breath I Take... killing me.

This asthma is whipping my ass like I owe it money.

And I’d pay up, with a little extra on the side, if it would just let up.

I’ve been taking hit after hit on my nebulizer pipe - it’s a two-hit a day habit.

I’ll be moving on to the more powerful drug once my supplier (CVS) fills my order.

The big guns - STEROIDS.

The Greatness Squad

“These are the films you must see if you want to know how to write or make a great film.”

Says who?

Well, everybody, right?

Really? Is it the same everybody who said the world was flat? Or the everybody who believed that the Earth was the center of the solar system?

Okay, okay, so I’m being dramatic. Hell, I even like most of the movies that seem to make “everybody’s” great movie list.

But I gotta wonder, if the complaint is the lack of originality in movies today, why do schools, books, and critics keep forcing aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers to emulate the same top 10/20/50/100 films?

It also makes me wonder if I think something is great because I’ve been told a thousand times by “experts” that it’s GREAT.

What about those “guilty pleasures”? Just the word guilt should inform us that outside influences are creeping in on a very personal moment. What happens when we don’t like a top 100 greatest film/screenplay? Will we be stoned by the masses? Considered a quack? Banished from “everybody”?

There should be no guilt in pleasure. For the freaks and homicidal maniacs, this does NOT apply to you.

Can somebody - or better yet, EVERYBODY define greatness? From which pool did these great films get plucked?

No, I’m not denying the extreme value in these films. But I can’t help to think that by giving me the same great films to emulate, I’m being steered into a particular direction. Do all these films share a common denominator?

Yeah, stupid - GREATNESS.

Okay, okay, I can see I’m not going to win this argument, not even with myself...


Let the “everybodys” have their greatest list. I like to keep my list open, adding and subtracting from the list as I see fit. One man’s greatness can be another’s pile of poop.

What film is on your great list that didn’t make “everybodys”?

Mine - Five Deadly Venoms, Finding Nemo.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Process of Learning

I’ve been working on my Nicholl’s semi-finalist script. It’s become one of those projects, like refurbishing a 1950’s car from scrap. Slow and meticulous. While I continue to work on other projects, I keep coming back to this one.

I don’t know, maybe it’s a model project - the script I’m supposed to put together, rip apart again, and put together, and rip apart again - over and over. I’m tempted to say until I get it right, but I don’t think it’s that. It’s about the process - THE PROCESS OF LEARNING.

I’ve been given this great opportunity to stay home and write. The old axiom - practice makes perfect. It’s not about perfection, it’s about learning. Just because I cut short my extremely, expensive education at NYU doesn’t mean the learning stops. I’m an education fiend - I got it real bad. I need my fix - daily.

I still continue to pack my bookshelves with books of every kind - screenwriting, theatre, fiction, nonfiction, classics, biography, self-help, history, politics, etc... I’m a writer - words are my thing. I love them - the way they look, sound - the emotions they evoke. I even belong to the Book-of-the-Month club (though they now send two books a month).

And movies. I live at the Hollywood Video store - and NO, I don’t rent - I buy. I want to own them so I can watch them over and over and over again. The moment I knew I was in love with movies was my 32nd birthday - I mean, really in love with movies. We had a housewarming/birthday party, and while we received a total of three blenders, a crockpot and an areobed, I received about five gift cards to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video - and this was BEFORE I had even written my first screenplay.

My husband and I speak in movies. We even have the kids doing it. One liners from our favorite films thrown in to drive a point home. When we purchased our first home, we moved with 36 boxes of books, six boxes of movies and three duffel bags of clothes - no lie. Clothes, we don’t need no stinkin’ clothes.

But I digress.

I still purchase screenwriting books and software, and I still read the advice blogs/interviews of many a pro screenwriter.

Why? Don’t I know this shit by now?

I don’t know, maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned - or maybe just too damn cautious. But in order to know what really works, shouldn’t I also know what really doesn’t? How could I dismiss what I haven’t tried and/or learned?

I learn it, try it - if it doesn’t work, I move on to the next. I tell you one thing, it teaches this impatient gal that little thing called patience.

The other thing is, I love being surrounded by the things I love. Movies and books - and, of course, my family. Not necessarily in that order... I don’t think.

A few of my favorite things.

Wanting More For Our Children

Every parent wants the best for their child. They don’t want their children to experience any of the unnecessary pain and heartaches they had to endure. Of course, we know that experience is the best teacher, but we hope that some, if not most, won’t be first-hand experience.

My 14-year-old daughter came home from school yesterday and handed me her course selections for next year. She’ll be in 10th grade. She is an amazing student. All throughout middle school, she received honors. Currently, she maintains a 96 average - yeah, I’m a proud Mama.

I proceeded to ask her what she wanted to do with her life. What were her dreams and aspirations? She shrugged - like most teenagers her age. Ask them about a song, movie, or TV show and they’ll run off at the mouth a mile-a-minute.

After pulling teeth, nails, hair, ears, and her across the room... No, just kidding - I would never pull her nails. She tells me she wants to be a writer.

AHHH, how sweet, she’s just trying to please Mommy.

I don’t think so. And there’s a little part of me that wishes this were the case, especially knowing the tough road she has ahead of her.

You see, my daughter writes. She writes like it’s going out of style. She has notebooks upon notebooks upon notebooks crammed in every nook and cranny of her room. And they are filled. She wakes up and writes, she writes before she goes to bed. She has that little blister on her fingers from writing. She even blogs - OH MY GOD. That scared the crap out of me there for a second until I realized it was on The N.

She lives on, posting her stories and episodes of DeGrassi. She has shared with me a few of her story ideas. I was always cautious not to become too overly-excited for the fear of turning into one of those baseball dads who can’t seem to realize that their dreams can never be lived out through their child.

So I backed off. Good, right?

I don’t think so. What she also informed me last night was that seeing how hard I struggle with trying to break into the industry, she didn’t think it was a realistic goal for her to set. You see, my children have been an active participant in my writing. They have seen the ups, and way, way, way downs. They have sacrificed, as well; forfeiting after-school programs while I sat some 60 miles away in a classroom in NYU.

But what I reminded her was that while there are no promises in this game, I love it. I love writing - it’s like breathing.

I see a lot of me in her, and it scares me like hell. I mean, horror story scares me. Like me, she’s afraid to share her work - afraid of failure and disappointment.

I want more for my daughter. More than I had. The problem is, sometimes it’s the more that we get caught up with. More of what?

I want her to have more support than I had. More encouragement. More opportunities to fail; to try new things - to explore her options.

There are no handbooks on parenting - and there shouldn’t be. If I follow my heart, hopefully my head will catch up - eventually.

I’ve decided to give my daughter more. The girl’s got talent - and it needs to be nurtured. Isn’t that my job as a mother? That, and bragging about the talent she has.

Movie Moments #1

So, I was watching Winter’s Solstice for the second time last night (from IMDb - Plot Outline: In this suburban drama, a widower (played by Anthony LaPaglia) confronts his older son's (played by Aaron Stanford) decision to leave home and his younger son's self-destructive behavior). I know, some of you haven’t even watched it the first time, and maybe never will.

The thing is, I LOVE movies. Not all, but there is a redeeming moment in almost every film ever made - well, maybe except for The Cat In the Hat.


So, I’m watching the movie on cable (even though the unopened Netflix version is sitting on the coffee table in front of me - don’t you hate when that happens?). The movie is a bit slow, not because of the story, but the camera has this little annoying habit of drawing out every single moment.

But, one moment pays off big time. There is the scene where Jim Winters (Anthony LaPaglia) has just arrived at Molly Ripkin’s (Allison Janney) for dinner. Molly had invited Jim and his two sons for dinner. However, the boys are a no-show and Jim arrives, where Molly has set the dinner table for four.

What follows is collaboration defined for me. It is where the screenwriter, the actor and director have each brought their talent and skills to the table. Alone, none of them would have been able to pull off the scene, but with each doing their part, the scene speaks volumes.

Molly walks into the kitchen, Jim follows. However, the director/camera never steps into the room. Instead, we, the viewer, remain in the dining room where we can only see Jim, and hear, only slightly, what Molly is saying.


Duh, I am no longer a passive observer. I am now in that house with those two people. In fact, I have somehow melded with Jim. Though he has stepped in the kitchen with Molly, he is not in that room. He is not there in that moment. Granted, I didn’t read the script, but I can only imagine that the writer gave us some indication that Jim is not really paying attention to Molly; that he is more concerned with something in the dining room.

However, it was the director who took it one step further and showed us, not told us, this bit of information. And LaPaglia does an amazing job in being a bit preoccupied. Though his body faces in the direction towards Molly, his eyes are ever-so-fixed in the dining room.

Finally, Jim can’t take it anymore, and he rushes into the dining room and carefully gathers two of the place settings.

There it is. The moment for me. The moment that sums up this character; this story. The writer, director and actor SHOWED me a deeply inner emotion, rather than have Jim explain later to Molly that he misses his family of FOUR - that he feels incomplete, and that he’s struggling with moving on, by forcing these memories from his every day life.

Damn, I love that scene.

Yes, I’m strange. But it’s these little gems that continue to serve as my education. I can read “show, don’t tell” in a million books. Actually seeing it put to practice, now that’s something else.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Trimming The Fat

So, I’ve finally stumbled out of procrastination mode. I’ve spent the past few days trimming the fat on a recent page one rewrite.

Fresh eyes - for me, it’s key. Having let a few weeks sit between me and the script, I opened it and started cleaning shop.

What must go and what must stay? If it stays, is it being utilized in the best way? Is each scene a movie - can I see the action in my mind’s eye? What words of dialogue can be replaced with action? Do a character’s words show or conceal their wants/needs/desires? Which one am I going for? With each scene, am I building, knocking down, scrambling character/plot/theme? Again, which am I going for?

But most importantly, do I have to take an axe to those scenes/moments that I hold precious, but weigh down the script?

It’s a workout, all right. But I do so enjoy the process.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Where I Departed with The Departed

It looks like Scorsese will be racking up this awards season. DGA gave him the nod. Critics continue to pile on the props.

The Departed is a great piece of work.

So, why on earth would I even offer up my own thoughts? Stupidity? Arrogance? Or maybe I’m entitled to my own opinion, right? I know, I know, opinions are highly overrated. But, in keeping with a long standing American tradition, I will offer mine.

I couldn’t wait to see The Departed. Granted, I had not seen the original film on which this was based, but the premise sounded amazing - and still does. Let me start by saying I was completely entertained. After all, isn’t that the numero uno function of a movie? ENTERTAINMENT.

But..., every now and then, a film goes beyond that. They give us more than we anticipated. More depth, more reach... simply, they give us more. I’ve been known to have high expectations, maybe a bit too high. I’m working on that... not really.

Let me also state - out of 5 stars, I would give it 4 1/2. Maybe even 4.75. So why not five? Because I’m arrogant and stupid. And... there was one moment that was completely dropped. One key, defining moment. Now, granted, I might have missed the moment. I only saw the film once in the theatre. I’m anxiously awaiting the DVD so I can watch it over a few times and prove myself WRONG. Maybe even the one reader of this blog can prove me wrong. I so want to believe I missed the moment.

If these two characters - Billy and Conlin - are on opposite sides of each other, and then they cross over to the other’s side, at which point do they connect/intersect? Yeah, it sounds like a math problem.

I thought DiCaprio did an amazing job - AMAZING. Every line was delivered like he owned it. I was blown away by his performance.

However, I missed the moment - the exact moment, where Billy becomes lost in his fake persona - where it was no longer an act. Where he was trapped and, if he took one more step, he would be lost to the other side completely - because of his desire to be part of that world. That that world offered him something his previous one could never. I know, I know, some might argue that we constantly saw him trapped, that he feared he was going to be stuck there and eventually found out and killed. But I never, for one moment, felt that he wanted to be there. That something inside of HIM was pulling him towards the life of crime. That he had a “flicker” of enjoyment of being in that kind of world and situation. It didn’t have to be long - just a millisecond. A scary, ah-ha moment where Conlin’s world might not be such a bad place - and that he, Billy, for one second becomes Conlin. That Billy, at one point, had control of a choice he must act on, and not that he was a pawn completely being pushed and placed.

The same thing goes for Conlin, and I feel more so. At no point did I ever feel that Conlin might want out of his past. He had a job to do, and he did it, but he never seemed to stray from it emotionally. No moment when he could see a life without crime, a dream he might have had at one point - even if that point lasted all of 1 second.

The moment lost to me was the moment when these two characters became ONE, the point of intersection in their criss-crossing. The film seemed to set up this possibility in its premise and structure. But for me, it never delivered that one moment. The moment that these two characters saw each other - not literally, of course, but that they felt the desire to stay trapped in their alter ego - the desire for the other one’s life/world. At what point did either feel seduced by that other world? Again, some might argue Madolyn represented this. That’s too long of an argument for me to enter in, but let me just say, at no point did I ever truly believe that either Billy or Conlin loved this woman. She represented a time-out when they needed a breather - like with any other sports game. At times, she was even the penalty box. But enough sports metaphors.

Does this movie work without giving me that moment? HELL, YEAH. That’s the reason for the 4.5 stars. But... you knew it was coming... that’s the point of beyond I’m talking about. Some critics have labeled The Departed an “instant classic”; his greatest work; a masterpiece. I don’t know, maybe my expectation of greatness might be a little too much.

You Know What Sucks?


This winter seems to be kicking my butt - big time. I’ve been attached to my nebulizer. For those who don’t know what a nebulizer is - a crack pipe for asthmatics. Puff, puff, puff.

I need to go take another hit now.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Rewrite

It took 2 1/2 years for me to finally learn what rewriting was all about. Shuffling words around on a page; spicing up a bit of dialogue; taking away a character; adding a line or two - just Band-Aids on an open wound. After all, I had spent lots of time outlining and preplanning; I was sure to get it right when I sat down to actual pages. Yeah!

I had always heard the mantra “all writing is rewriting”, but I never really knew what rewriting was, and, to be honest, it may mean different things for different people. For me, it means banging my head against a table really, really hard and then sitting down to rip apart what I thought was a masterpiece.

I’m about to do this very thing to one of my scripts. It’s often said that rewriting is the hardest job. Yup, it’s a job, man - a J.O.B. So, I’m off to work - or maybe to a little more procrastination.

Up A Tree, Down A Tree

What the hell does that mean? I’m not writing about trees. Or “keep raising the stakes”. Oh, yeah, that helped me right into melodrama. Every second, one of my characters was in some danger or bad shit just kept happening to them. Talk about depressing.

It wasn’t until one of my instructors introduced me to the “up, down, up, down” approach. I remember most of the class looking at him like he was crazy - me included. What, was this paint by numbers? So I pretended to utilize this method, giving a weak-ass attempt at applying it to my sequencing and outlining.

I don’t know what exactly knocked me over the head, but one day, I just got it. I think I might have been watching a movie - don’t remember which one. There it was, right in front of me. There was no tree climbing or rock throwing. Instead, there were characters experiencing life in their worlds. For them, like me, life has its ups and downs. DUH!

Why do I bond with certain characters? What makes me empathize or sympathize? Because I know that for every good thing that happens to them, something bad is sure to follow - or vice-versa. I’m on a roller-coaster ride, not climbing some tree.

Yeah, it’s just plain, old semantics. However, not everyone learns the same way. But keeping an open mind, ear and eye is crucial. Finding out what works for you is key - as with knowing when it doesn’t work.

Friday, February 2, 2007


One of the questions I always see asked of professional writers is whether or not they suffer from writer’s block. Some seem to think it doesn’t exist.

I suffer from writer’s block; it’s called a major case of procrastination, which for me equals fear. Hmm, could this be why I'm not a professional?

I’ve heard others describe it as the fear of success. Hell, no, it’s the fear of failure. At least, for me it is. I’ve always been a “the glass is half empty” type of gal. It’s served me well on many a rough patch in my life, always allowing me to safely ride the wave of disappointment.

But I’m also the type of gal who has always wanted more. Not in excess, and not in material wealth. But I’ve wanted more out of life and I make no apologies for it. But it’s the fear of “what if there is no more?”. As Melvin Udall put it, “What if this is as good as it gets?”

That’s the fear that prevents me from planting my keister firmly to chair many a days. You see, if I fail because I didn’t give it my all, I can accept that. I have an excuse to ease the pain. But if I give it my all - 1,002% - and nothing. Wow, it’s hard to live with that, no matter how much we’ve been told that as long as you gave it your all, you should be satisfied.

Hell, no, it won’t do. I set out to obtain a goal, and if I give it more than what I have, then I want to check it off as accomplished and move on to the next set of goals I keep piling on. You see, that’s why I procrastinate. Hell, writing this post is big time fear. I need to be working on a rewrite of the script that placed as a semi-finalist last year in Nicholls. But if I don’t give it my all, I’ll have a reason for not placing higher.

Okay, enough of this “psycho” babble. The point? Why do you keep asking me that? It is what it is. Your goal is to discover what really is. What’s behind everything you do - or don’t do. It’s easy to blame writer’s block for a stalled period, even easier to laugh off procrastination. But it’s tough work to get to the core. As writers, isn’t that our goal every time we sit down to write?

The Sum of All Parts

Collaboration is defined as follows by the Webster Dictionary:

Main Entry:        col·lab·o·rate
Pronunciation:        k&-'la-b&-"rAt
Function:        intransitive verb
Inflected Form(s):        -rat·ed; -rat·ing
Etymology:        Late Latin collaboratus, past participle of collaborare to labor together, from Latin com- + laborare to labor -- more at LABOR
1 : to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor

Granted, the intellectual part is a little iffy. However, I learned this past year that, though it might start with the script, by no means does it stop there.

Having had the great fortune to work with actors who brought to life the characters and worlds I had created on paper, I received a training that no screenwriting book could begin to touch on.

As screenwriters, we tend to work in a bubble. Alone for hours in our own head, and the characters we create become a sort of extended family. A family that we become protective of. Only we know what they are truly feeling and what they might or might not say. Well, until you actually work with actors, one-on-one, you’re only getting a small piece of the puzzle.

Think of your script as your baby. We bring it to life, but as with all children, we eventually have to put it out into the world. While out in the world, our children will come face-to-face with a number of different people and challenges, and each person and challenge will demand something new and intriguing from them. They’ll be seen in a different light from which we raised them. And that is great. It’s called growth.

Every script that I write equals potential. Potential to be more (and sometimes less) than what I perceived. My goal is to get a few others to also see this potential. What they see may be different. They may see things in characters I never realized. They may see other worlds that my characters can thrive in.

I also had the great fortune of writing, directing and editing two short films that SUCKED. But it’s what I learned in the process. I now understood the role of a director, that what was written on the page is not always so easily projected on screen. That the director must now take ownership of this material in order to film the best possible story. That lighting, setting, and actors take the place of simple words on a page.

I totally fell in love with editing, spending countless hours at my Mac cutting and splicing images to tell a story, while discovering moments that had not been on the page or been viewed from behind the camera lens. Editing is yet another step in bringing to life the potential for greatness - or at the very least, an entertaining movie.

So, pick up a camera, gather some actors, purchase some editing software. Writing is a craft, but making a movie goes beyond just the craft of writing. Understand the beauty (and frustration) of what you seek to be a part of. Knowing is half the battle.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Does a Good Script = A Good Movie?

I’ll answer this by telling you that my favorite script in the whole, entire world is Rocky - I even have a full-sized poster of the movie on my office wall as inspiration - but the movie itself would not even make it on my top 10, top 20, or even top 50 favorite movies - okay, okay, maybe 47.

Why? Uh, let me think.

The script engaged me. It was a solid piece of writing. The characters all well-defined . The plot tight. The read never difficult or needing explanation. I clearly understand the protagonist’s/main character’s goals, his needs, his fears, his failures. I know who and what stands in his way. The secondary characters’ roles are clearly defined and they never step outside of them. I see the images that are painted for me - the gym, the pet store, the ring, the blood, the guts.

So why the hell don’t I like the movie?

Maybe for the same reason that some writers submit a strong, solid script to an agent or prodco and they are told, “great writing, what else do you have?” There is a strong level of subjectivity in this industry. It’s part of the human make-up. We bring to the table our own misgivings, beliefs, and fucked-up background. Some people don’t have the stomach for blood and gore, so they find themselves unable to sit through certain movies, no matter how great the story might be. Others may have a low tolerance for excessive violence and may refuse to see a Tarantino movie, no matter how much it’s praised.

But you want to know the plain, simple truth? It’s like reading a great book. It’s YOUR imagination that the writer has awoken. It’s the places and people you create in your mind’s eye that endears you to a great piece of writing. But when someone else intrudes on what we have come to hold endearing, we turn away.

That wasn’t my gym, or pet store, or boxing ring. Simply, that wasn’t my Rocky.