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It stars Tracy Clifton, Jo Newman, Brandon Sutton, and Matthew Kelly.
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Apr 7, 2011
The first MP3 that I remember downloading was Julian Lennon's "Too Late for Goodbyes." My gray NEC laptop could play it, sure, almost always without skipping, but it could do nothing else at the same time. The 1GB hard-drive eventually squeezed almost 25 other songs onto it, and that was about all it could hold.
Since I'm in the middle of moving from Van Nuys to Los Angeles, while simultaneously meeting with two different producers and writing two different screenplays, Keely stepped up and wrote a blog post about me for me. (She did not actually do that for me at all). And now I'm going to violate her copyright and use it as my own blog for this week.
Mar 24, 2011
Except of course when you shouldn't.
The UltralightSome of the best comedies succeed by using a very light-weight, very natural premise. With very little plot to follow, it makes comic digressions and set-pieces easy to integrate. Nothing feels like a side-track if there's no main path. This freedom lets the characters lead the way, lets the comedy spring from common human thoughts and experiences.
A simple premise keeps the comedy grounded.
These movies aren't universally good, but they all allow the story to focus on the characters and their relationships, instead of complicated plot mechanics.
The Jumbo JetBut Hollywood loves a hook. Hollywood loves contrivance. Perhaps it started with Pretty Woman. Perhaps it goes all the way back to It Happened One Night. Hell, perhaps it goes back to Taming of the Shrew.
Particularly in romantic comedies, the stories too often spring from unlikely situations that pile on arbitrary rules to build artificial barriers and provide external goals for the players, all so the story needn't focus on those darn characters, their difficult-to-express internal lives, and their confusing relationships.
How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days is about a bet - an intersecting pair of bets! Leap Year is about an obscure Irish tradition and an unlucky plane landing. Never Been Kissed is about a woman going undercover in high-school.
What makes these movies work is that by focusing on those unusual or even outlandish premises, somehow, naturally, universal truths emerge. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about how people take on a life of their own in our memories, about the way we play out the same roles in our relationships. The Apartment asks whether we are defined by our jobs or by the people we love, and what it means to be a mench, a human being. 50 First Dates is not only about the euphoria of falling in love for the first time, and what makes it happen, but about mental illness and chronic disease and the way that love and family can survive them.
But that's not always possible. It has to come when you cook the meat. Every offbeat premise doesn't necessarily have truth to offer, and you can't force it. That's the territory of blood and not getting it from stones.
Good Luck Chuck is about a repulsive guy who, if a woman sleeps with him, the next man she dates will ask her to marry him. The only "truth" exposed by focusing on that gimmick is the rotten chestnut that women will do anything to get married, and men will do anything to get laid. Does that feel like a surprising truth? Does that even feel true?
And not to pick on Dane Cook unfairly, but to pick on Dane Cook quite fairly - how about My Best Friend's Girl? It's about a repulsive guy who sells a service: he'll date your ex-girlfriend for you, and when she sees how awful Dane Cook is, she'll come running back to you. Is this how people work? If so, where? And why haven't we bombed that place?
|Seriously, the best part.|
The more you focus on these premises, the further you get from relatable human behavior. They're good sketch premises, sure. But they're too elaborate to feel real when you crank them up to 90 minutes long.
The Bait and SwitchHollywood recently offered us Just Go With It, a remake of a much better movie, Cactus Flower, which was based on a play, and featured a screenplay by I.A.L. Diamond, the writer of Some Like It Hot. Both Cactus Flower and Some Like It Hot have pretty elaborate, offbeat premises. In one, a dentist recruits his assistant to pretend to be his estranged wife, so he can divorce her and reassure his girlfriend of his honesty and moral-standing. In the other, two guys witness a mob murder and have to go into hiding as women in a band to avoid the mob.
Somehow, they work and Just Go With It does not. Why?
|less sex, yet sexier|
But that's not the only reason.
I think, more importantly, Just Go With It is too interested in the sham, and not interested enough in the people perpetrating the sham. Cactus Flower is about his assistant's sadness, and the dentist's blind fixation on this ditzy, well-meaning girlfriend of his. Just Go With It is interested in all the ways it can make this charade difficult and kooky. It's too much about its premise. And it didn't have to be.
An example? The Proposal is an imperfect but enjoyable movie. It works. Sure, it's full of contrivance. It has a hook that makes it easy to sell, a concept with a clear structure. The surface conflict is easy to explain. But how many people have agreed to marry their boss for a promotion, so she can stay in the country? How does The Proposal succeed where Just Go With It failed? It does it by bait and switch.
It starts off being about the deal the characters make, about the charade... but it becomes about the characters who are perpetrating the charade. It becomes about the boss's visit to her fake-fiance's family home.
|I wish this were the real plot.|
So, if your premise is contrived, if your hook is implausible - maybe it's best if you don't fulfill the promise of your premise...
Mar 14, 2011
Here's my story. I moved to Los Angeles in 2005.
On January 6th, 2005, I was in Las Vegas, taking down Christmas decorations from Caesar's Palace hallways and cypress trees (business, not pleasure). I took the Santa hat off of the mini statue of David's head.
Just as we were finishing up, I was offered a three-month internship at a small LA management company. (Let's give them the codename Dryad Management.) All I knew about the company was the address, and that's more than I knew about LA.
Dump was in Rhode Island. She and I had been waiting for this news. I got back to New Jersey on the night of the 10th and packed. Dump arrived in New Jersey on the 12th. And we started cross-country bright and early on the 13th, a caravan composed of my car and one U-Haul, with my parents, my brother, Dump, and my dog Baker.
After a few hundred miles, Baker crawled inside the lining of my convertible's top and only stuck his head out. This is how he opted to travel the bulk of the three day journey. (pictured) He has no regrets.
My roommate Dump had collected from online several potential apartments. We had a list to visit upon our Saturday arrival, but as it turns out, it wasn't much of a day. We walked into our first appointment, and that was the last. That was the the same apartment where I'm presently writing these words. We never bothered to look at another. It was 5 miles from my internship, and like something out of a dream.
It has a washer and dryer in the unit. It has a balcony, a big one. It has a fireplace. It has central heat and air-conditioning. It has two-car subterranean parking. Compared to my previous pre-War building in Harlem, which barely maintained electricity and which cost exactly the same per month, this was paradise. I had never lived so high on the hog. I was pretty much on the tippy-top of the hog. THE WHOLE HOG. ME ON TOP.
Six years later, I'm still reluctant to leave it. But I have this dang job on the other side of the hill...
The thing about LA
Here's the thing about Los Angeles. If you want to live in Van Nuys or North Hollywood, on average, you'll need to get a job in Burbank or Sherman Oaks to afford it. If you want to live in Burbank or Sherman Oaks, you'll probably need to get a job in Santa Monica, Century City, or Culver City. Of course, if you want to live in Santa Monica, Century City, or Culver City, you'll need to get a job in Beverly Hills or Malibu. And if you want to live in Beverly Hills or Malibu, you'll need to be one of those people who don't need a job.
This is why traffic sucks in Los Angeles. Almost no one can live anywhere near where they work.
Embarrassment of American Luxuries
All the same, I'm trying to make this happen. I'm trying to move to Culver City, or Palms, or Century City, or even Santa Monica or West LA. They make a big U around my place of employment, which would cut my commute time down from an hour or more each way to twenty minutes or less.
But here's what I know: there's absolutely no way I can afford a washer and dryer in the unit, with a balcony, and a fireplace, and central heat and air, and two-car subterranean parking, in a building that costs anywhere near what I paid in Harlem, which is what I've been paying in Van Nuys.
I mean, I recently got a raise. Not a huge one, but by shifting my budget around, and by reducing the amount I put in savings, and by adding the entirety of that raise to the pot, I'm increasing my housing budget by 80% per month. Yet, somehow, it's still a struggle to find anything anywhere near the business that pays me anywhere near as nice as my current pad.
Seems like a bad system, doesn't it? As a society, I mean?
But, it's time for a new start. It's time for fresh surroundings. It's time to break the routine and reinvigorate my brain. It's time to live with Beezie and her kitties. It's time to have an office. It's time to have friends over to a place that's ours, as a couple. That may mean vastly curtailing my savings for a few years. That may me sacrificing central air, or easy parking, or living space, or who knows what else.
But it's time. And when it's time, you better act.