Jun 5, 2010

Deleted Dialogue [Sick Day] : Sexy Songs

Playing Doctor
There are better ways to play doctor. Ways that might actually make me feel better.
Oh. You mean like Dr. Feel-Good.
I love that song.
Yeah. And that “Sexual Healing” song is pretty good too.
Is that Barry White? Barry White’s music makes me feel sexually inadequate.
No, I think it’s Marvin Gaye.
Oh. Well that’s not a very intimidating name.

Jun 4, 2010

Deleted Scene [Sick Day] : Dog Walker

Inspired by True Events: The Poo Flinger
Maggie trudges along, walking the dog. She's got a coat over her robe, boots on, plus her ear-flap knit-cap. She carries a bright plastic baggy, full of dog doo.
Bat-Man! The Bat-Man! Quit it. No!
For no apparent reason, the dog keeps darting toward the street. She tugs on his leash, and he darts back.
C'mon! Get out of the street!
An SUV stops at the stop-sign, just as Maggie reaches it. The dog darts out again, and Maggie yanks him back.
What is the matter with you today?
The DRIVER of the SUV rolls her window down. It's a middle-aged woman with a massive superiority complex.
Why don't you quit yanking on that goddamn dog, you asshole?
Maggie stops. Dumbfounded. Can't believe the gall.
You're gonna break his neck!
The SUV starts away. Maggie's brain slowly processes.
Oh yeah? Fuck you!
Then, Maggie raises her arm - and FLINGS THE POO BAG.
It tumbles beautifully through the air, and slips perfectly into the open window, just before it closes.
Maggie is astounded! Thrilled! Can't believe it! Mouth open, eyes happy and surprised.
Then, the SUV stops dead. SCREECH! And the doors open. There are three VERY LARGE WOMEN in that SUV.
Ugh. This is not the day for this.
Sick or not - Maggie turns - AND SHE RUNS LIKE HELL.

May 20, 2010

Ode to Van Nuys

We're All Sherman Oaks Adjacent, Now
Last night, I waited much longer than usual to walk the dog. When I finally went out, it was dark.

I don't generally care about that sort of thing. I lived happily in Harlem, and now I live in the similarly regarded Van Nuys. Luckily, I don't believe the local news represents the world, and neither do cop shows, so I've never acquired any appreciable fear of city streets or dark alleyways. Instead, I've found for myself that “bad” neighborhoods are full of nice people.

No, it's the well-off places that you gotta worry about. Those people are monsters.

My particular sliver of Van Nuys is a little, densely-populated cityscape hemmed in by post-industrial-wasteland sprawl to the north, and suburbanized-hipster-family sprawl to the south. I'm right on the border of Sherman Oaks, which used to be the southern part of Van Nuys, until the brown people started moving in, which encouraged the white people to flee. They hit up against the south hills and changed the area's name to Sherman Oaks. This doubled their property values.

Let's hear it  for the wisdom of the marketplace!

The point is, I live on a street with beautiful palm trees, nicely tended sidewalks, lawns with sprinklers and flowers. There are restaurants and civic buildings within walking distance. There's a bakery and a dojo and a dance studio. There's public transit and a bike path that leads to a beautiful lake and a vast park with vast ducks. And you can usually find parking.

It's suburban splendor in an urban arrangement.

But there are also some pure urban nightmare elements, like the proliferation of bail-bondsmen, the medical marijuana dispensaries in every cardinal direction, the unnecessarily massive number of auto-body repair shops, and those two creepy unmarked corrugated steel buildings, outside of which, at odd hours, one can find million-dollar sport-cars and battered white utility vans parked side-by-side. They're either mafia hideaways, or porn studios. Or both.

Speaking of which, there are also several “adult” boutiques in my wing of Van Nuys. Beezie and I like the one on Oxnard. The gentleman inside is from New Jersey, and the selection is very good, including costumes. It's about a two minute drive from my door, on the left just before you reach the hardware store. Can't miss it.

But there's another porn store within walking distance, right beside the no-brand gas-station. You can get there by heading to the Chinese restaurant, then going southerly down the alleyway, toward the VW dealership...

Which was where I was walking my dog last night.

The Service Sector
I was passing behind the no-name gas-station, waiting for Bacon to poo, when I encountered a young man coming toward me.

He was shorter than I, which, for this region, is statistically too short. He looked vaguely Hispanic, but had a Vin Diesel thing going for him, which means he could have played any number of ethnicities. Unlike Vin, he had hair. He wore a white shirt and a backpack. He had the shoulders-back, slightly-stocky look of someone who worked out, but not too much, a look that comes across profoundly goofy on a short dude. Despite his relaxed demeanor, he looked a bit petulant, like you'd imagine Napoleon might look, were he cast in West Side Story.

In fact, he was trying too hard to be relaxed... Oh shit, he's making eye-contact. Oh shit, he's going to talk to me. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit. Don't talk to me!

Let's be clear, now: my panic had nothing to do with his appearance, or with the dark, barbed-wire lined alleyway, far from witnesses. This stranger could have been a beautiful woman... could have been a beautiful woman wearing no clothes... could have been a beautiful woman wearing no clothes on except for a hat made of thousand-dollar bills... could have been any of those things, and still, I would have dreaded that this stranger might try to strike up a conversation.

But, before he spoke, he held his hand up to me, and he made a gesture. It was a “getting ready to roll dice” kind of gesture. You know, kind of a “shaking up a small can of spray paint” gesture. You know -

“You want me to jerk you off for five dollars?”

That kind of gesture.

Because that's exactly what he asked me. “You want me to jerk you off for five dollars?”

“No, uh... I'm good. Thank you,” I responded.

He did not laugh. He was serious. He stopped a few feet away.

And that's when Bacon decided it was time to poop. It was a perfect time to poop!

Time to Poop, Everyone!
Let me tell you something about my beloved dog, whom I absolutely hate. He wants an audience. He loves to shit in front of strangers. That's his thing. He waits for it. And he can wait. Oh, he can wait.

And another thing about Bacon: once this dog begins his business, once he squats, he could anchor a battleship. He could tether a shuttle launch. He is not moving. He is part of the Earth's crust.

So. That was an uncomfortable moment.

I pulled a neon green biodegradable baggie from the dispenser, and watched the dog slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, produce some poops. The stranger stood a few feet away, gazing idly around himself, sensing it is unseemly for a stranger to study the process by which another man's dog creates doody.

Then, the stranger noticed there was another man, a man hanging in the shadows behind the porn store. It was a big black man in a bright yellow tee-shirt, and he was scowling at us all, arms crossed high on his chest.

The stranger asked the other man, “Oh, sorry – are you working here?”

Bacon finished. I grabbed it, turned the bag inside out, and started off. I was being amazingly nonchalant, you should note.

“I said, you working here, man?”

The other man nodded. “Yeah.”

“Oh, okay, yeah. Right,” the stranger said. I passed him.

He was behind me now. Behind me, and following. In deference for the other man's post, I suppose, he was following me out to the street.

He caught up. Walked beside me.

“How about for two dollars?”

In case you were wondering – he said that. Not me.

“Um... It's not really about the money,” I said. I was now getting pretty comfortable with the fact that, while walking my dog and holding a baggie of warm droppings, I was being propositioned by a male prostitute. Where would we put the dog? Where would we put the baggie?

“Okay,” he said. He considered this. “How about for a dollar? One dollar?”

We reached the street. I told him the truth. “I don't have a dollar.”

He stared for a moment. Did he think I was trying to negotiate down to pocket change? An I.O.U. perhaps? Was he going to offer to accept a credit card?

“Yeah, all right,” he said. His voice had a tone of, “Your loss man. That was a good price. You're not gonna get a deal like that back at home.”


Deep Philosophical Handjob Thoughts
After that, the dog and I walked the rest of our mile alone. I reflected on what had transpired. Should I have been afraid? Should I have been disappointed? Disgusted? Should I have felt guilty for having to refuse the fellow's extremely generous offer? Because that one I kind of did feel.

You tell me. Are these the sorts of events that drive people away from lovely places like Van Nuys? Are these the moments that make people pay exorbitant rents, scream for more police officers, hide in their condos after the sun goes down? Am I the abnormal one that it doesn't bother me much? That, in fact, it amuses and delights me? Do I belong amongst these people?

When I got back, I told my roommate, Alli, what had happened.

Her reaction was a little more jealous than I'd call healthy.

May 11, 2010

Act One: First Draft [Sick Day]

Irrational Anxieties
Well, the blog visits are down 65% for the last two-week period; which means I'm averaging about zero visitors a day. Why do I look at these things? I know that it can only frustrate me, and clearly the size of an audience has nothing to do with the quality of the work! Clearly! To quote Bullets Over Broadway:

Hey, look who's here! The big Broadway success. I don't write hits. My plays are art! They're written specifically to go unproduced.
The decline in readership is discouraging not because it's unexpected, and certainly not because readership was the aim of the blog, but because the decline coincides with the premiere of the real aim of the blog: screenplay pages. Here it is, the main event. A new screenplay by J Wilder Konschak.

*crickets* *crickets*


*creepy religious militia settles in area*

Sometimes, a fellow can't help but wonder whether he should be taking a hint.

From Bullets Over Broadway
(with massive pride)
I have never had a play produced! That's right. And I've written one play a year for the past 20 years.
Yes, but that's because you're a genius. And the proof is that both common people and intellectuals find your work completely incoherent.
The Weekend Review
Barb was away this weekend, and so, aside from spending seven hours waiting for the cable-guy to install my two new DVD-Rs (one for the living-room, and one to store under my bed, to occupy the space that might otherwise be filled by deadly ninjas), I spent the weekend recharging my spirits and smoothing the first act of the script.

From Deconstructing Harry
I think you're the opposite of a paranoid. I think you go around with the insane delusion that people like you!
I recharged my spirits by watching Bullets Over Broadway and Deconstructing Harry, several episodes of The Abbott & Costello Show, and the entirety of Season 2 of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

From Deconstructing Harry
All people know the same truth. Our lives consist of how we chose to distort it.
The smoothing was frustrating. I'm always relentlessly dissatisfied with the flow of paragraphs and the phrasing of sentences. I can rewrite a simple action-line two hundred times without thinking a thing of it. I fully expect to rework the opening description of Maggie at the hospital at least another hundred times, if not far more.

From Curb Your Enthusiasm - 209: The Baptism
Why do Christians take everything so personally with Christ, you know? Not only do you have to worship him, you want everybody to. I like lobster. Do I go around pushing lobster on people? Do I say you must like lobster? "Eat lobster, it's good, it's good!" It's not only where you live, you go to Africa, you travel all over the world, "Eat lobster! Have some more lobster, it's good!"
I don't really think it's the same...
Lobster and religion, I really don't see the similarities.
Act One - For Your Review
The link has been removed because the screenplay is now completed and being shopped for sale...

May 6, 2010

Deleted Scene [Sick Day] : Horror Movie Viewing

Horror Movie Viewing
I'm thinking of changing the doctor's name again. In honor of The Abbott & Costello Show, I may name him Dr. Bacciagalupe. Or maybe just Dr. Galoup.

The four sit together in the dark, sipping drinks, watching a HORROR MOVIE on the big TV. DISSONANT MUSIC builds.
Jon, Ollie, and Finch are tense, attention rapt - but Maggie is a zombie, eyes glazed, body slouched, barely upright. She looks like she's about to drool, she's so pale and spacey.
The others JUMP. Finch lets loose a little shout. Ollie and Jon LAUGH at the great scare.
But Maggie still glares glassy-eyed. She doesn't move at all.
Why did he do that? I thought he was in love with her.
Everyone freezes. The air is gone from the room.
Honey, that wasn't her boyfriend.
Maggie scowls at the screen, befuddled.
But... Who was it?
It was the Octopus Man.
Ooooh. Right. The tentacles.
Maggie...? Honey...?
I'm not sick. I feel dope. I feel... dope.

May 5, 2010

Writing Comedy Alone

Running Long, or Short on Gags?
I'm running a page over again. I hope I can cut a page from the next segment to compensate, but I have my doubts.

As usual, there will be a long phase of painful trimming at the end of this road.

Here's the hard thing about writing a comedy alone: there is nothing more nerve-wracking and doubt-inducing than trying to guess which jokes to cut, having almost no feedback from an audience (and apparently, it's very hard to force detailed, joke-by-joke feedback from one's readership).

Nobody, no writer, no one, can ever guess what joke will play - only readers and viewers - only the sharp reality of an audience - can say for sure. But you have to make a thousand Sophie's choices all the same, without a shred of useful input from experience or fact or any sort of guidelines.

It's a time when self-delusion can be beneficial. You call it instinct, and you go with it. But it's a sickening sensation all the same. You may be cutting the punchline that gets it made. You may be cutting the punchline that is quoted for years. And you may be keeping a stinker.

Nobody, no writer, no one, ever knows.

Apr 30, 2010

Deleted Scene [Sick Day] : The Basement

Posting Has Been Slight
These are the times when one hour a morning simply isn't even in the ballpark of sufficient time to be a writer. Problem scenes take vast amounts of trial and error, and the next scenes have been big fat problems. I found them painfully boring and, for lack of a better word, domesticated. I don't want to watch nice, friendly people being nice and friendly to one another. Where is the drama in that? The comedy?

In the end, this ALL went out the window.
The Engaged Couple
Jon is at the range, cutting vegetables, when Maggie enters, still in her work clothes.
Hey. I didn't know you were gonna cook. I was gonna make the salmon.
I started the salmon, but I chickened out... and made chicken!
Oh, yummy. We're having puns.
You think the guests will like it?
Oh. Good question... You probably could've prepared a slightly higher class of joke. For example, you could have pooped in the salad.
(stands on tip-toes)
Listen to my stomach. I'm starved.
Jon leans down, puts his ear to her stomach.
I threw out my lunch. It tasted awful. Like baby-powder pudding wrapped in damp Kleenex.
What was it?
A burrito. Did you hear it?
All I hear is that grizzly bear you ate. He's using the garbage disposal.
(stands upright)
Hey, I'm gonna need your help at dinner. Olivia gives me the creeps. I meant it, she freaks me out. She's always staring off at nothing, like she's trying to hear the neighbor's TV or something.
Maggie grabs a veggie and heads out, munching on it.
Don't worry about Ollie. I'll keep her away from you.
Maggie, dressed for the evening, gives a big hug to the much fancier Ollie. Dr. Finch is nearby, taking off his coat.
Hello, Ollie! Jon will be so happy to see you!
OLIVIA "OLLIE" SCHMIEDER (30) looks like she ought to be hosting an office party circa 1965, but her eyes are unfocused, attention absent.
How about you toss your coats in the big chair, I gotta run down to the basement and grab some chairs.
Let me give you a hand... Ollie, why don't you go see Jon? Like we talked about?
Yeah, he's right through there.
Jon is stirring a wildly steaming pot - when he senses something behind him. He slowly raises his head, but he doesn't dare look back.
Ollie is behind him. Glaring. A femme fatal.
The stairs lead Maggie and Finch down into the middle of a long-neglected basement rumpus room.
Hey now! Look at this. This would be perfect for an engagement party!
Tacky 70s carpet, a slouching upright piano, a moist pool-table and a dusty saloon bar, all stacked with boxes.
Look. I think I've explained this. Jon and I aren't getting engaged. We're just living together to save money. That's it. No marriage.
Maggie... I didn't mean you.
Ollie is now one pace behind Jon, staring vaguely, unfocused, at the counter-top. Jon continues uncomfortably stirring.
The doctor and I are going to be married, Jon. By and by, I shall be Misses Doctor Olivia Finch.
(great importance)
I'm going to be a doctor.
Maggie is now hugging Dr. Finch.
Congratulations! Oh, god, wow. I'm so happy for you!
Does that mean you're okay with having the engagement party here?
We're hoping for something with a theme. Something fun. Retro! You know, like a World War II theme. World War II was fun, right?
You want to have the party down here?
My place is way out there in the nice part of town. No one will drive out there. And if they did, they'd probably get pulled over.
I guess we could do it here...
Plus, I have a lot of fragile stuff at my place. Most of my furniture is made of crystal. Don't wanna put it all in storage for one party.
Yeah, okay. We can do it here.
And I have eight dogs! Big dogs! My sister brought her kids over, and the little girl? My dog Brutus carried her off... We still haven't figured out where he put her.
I said okay, Dr. Finch. When do you want to have it?
I was thinking this weekend.

Apr 25, 2010

Hey, Coffee Shops

Yeah, coffee shops, I'm talking to you. Particularly coffee shops in the vicinity of Century City. It's swell that so many of you are open at 7AM. It's fantastic that you have nice furniture with comfortable workspaces and free wifi.

But this is Los Angeles. If you put a sign in your tiny parking lot that says parking is limited to, say, 20 minutes, or hell, even 45 minutes, then I can't spend my morning there, working and buying your coffee and snacks, now can I? And thus, I end up at Norm's. Where the spoon is a different length every day.

You'd think they'd have bought the spoons in bulk.

Apr 20, 2010

Deleted Scene [Sick Day] : Regular States

Here's how I spent my morning - writing another scene that will never make it into the screenplay, another scene that I find quite charming. I simply have no reason to spend this long introducing a character we don't need to meet at all. At present, we'll never see him again.

Regular States
Maggie sits on the counter by the sink, eating a yogurt. Her employer, DR. PUGLISI, has his foot up on a chair, putting a penny in his penny loafer. He's an older man, short, balding, powerful.
So, it's his parents' house you're moving into? You'll be living on his turf?
Nah, they bought it when he was in high school. He never lived there. When they retired to North Carolina, they transferred the remaining mortgage to him.
Ridiculous! Why would anyone retire to NORTH Carolina? If you're gonna pick a state to live in, you should pick one of the regular ones.
Regular! Not some north-south-east-west ancillary add-on little brother state. Not NORTH Carolina.
There's no plain Carolina. There's only North and South Carolina.
No shit! So they're not like the Dakotas, then?
There's no plain Dakota, either.
Really! And what about Virginia? Maggie - is there a Virginia?
Huh! You know, they don't cover this material in medical school. It's a failure of the system!
I considered transferring this exchange to Ollie or Sandra, but then we lose the charm of the medical school kicker, and really, what purpose does it serve, no matter whose mouth it comes from... It's just one of those scenes that I love to write, but could never make it into a mainstream movie, where tangents aren't tolerated.

Readers - Should I change that? Should I include this scene? Or is my affection misplaced?

Apr 19, 2010

Things To Worry About [Sick Day]

A certain someone gave me an unelaborated nasty look when she read one of the first lines in my first scene of Sick Day, a line describing the hero as someone that should be featured in a Playboy spread called "Girls of the Big Earthquake." Now I'm barely five pages into this thing and I'm already doubting my early favorite line.

I can't avoid the truth: there's something about the phrase that I like. I like both the verbal turn (trading "Big Ten" for "Big Earthquake"), especially since it comes right at the end of the phrase, and I also love the image of a Playboy spread of smiling woman covered in white dust, with cuts and bruises, standing outside of rubble.

But, I can't avoid this truth either: it's suicide to take unnecessary risks on the first five or ten pages; an early stinker can kill the whole mood.
The third act suddenly strikes me as not nearly crazy enough. Perhaps it's because I've been watching Fawlty Towers. Perhaps it's because it's true. Perhaps it's the usual over-active worry.

The fact is: I've given this sucker a romantic comedy third act, but this isn't strictly a romantic comedy; more and more, I'm trying to make it a crazier, more "me" comedy, as much as I can. So, the question becomes: why doesn't it end more like War of the Roses - deep in the midst of war? Why can't I turn the downer ending of War of the Roses on its head and give it a happy resolution, right at the end of the conflict? Why am I steering back to safe, calm harbors right when I could be rocketing into madness?

I'm not going to stop writing to rejigger - but I promise you this - I am going to worry relentlessly, and lie sleeplessly night after night, trying to think of somewhere else it can go, somewhere more insane. From the moment we return to the E.R., it could go anywhere... why is it going back to Hollywood status quo? Perhaps because that's wisest?
As quickly as I'm setting things up - are people going to get antsy waiting for them to fight? I've been using the onset of the illness as my inciting incident. Will the audience disagree?

Apr 15, 2010

The First Draft Begins Today [Sick Day]

Today is the big day. I'm sitting in a coffee shop in Westwood. It's called It's A Grind Coffee House. This is not a "shop" that serves coffee, this is a "house" where coffee lives. Which makes it disturbing that I should burst in and devour it in its home.

In any case, the parking situation is less than ideal. There was a metered spot immediately in front, and it was a dollar an hour, so I fed it an hour's worth of quarters. The coffee was about $4. Which still puts me at a significant advantage, financially, over Norm's. I see there is also a parking garage; I'll have to explore the parking options when my hour is up.

In any case, today is the big day. I have my outline. I'm not going to persist with the treatment. I'm going to start writing the screenplay.

It opens with my main character, Maggie, sitting in an ER waiting room, looking like a wreck. I've taken some notes for the description of her. I'm trying to find just the right detail or two to capture her looking like a wreck - but not unappealing to an audience. I have a central, persistent worry: that producers and actors will read the script, or just the concept, and think, "No one wants to see someone looking sick and horrible for 90 minutes." I want to reassure them, these characters look sick and also look sexy.

"An arousing disaster."

Can I say she has bed-head? Sex hair? A hot mess? A photo from a Playboy spread called "ladies of the big earthquake?" The CNN headline picture for "modeling school sorority house collapses?" I want a simple one-liner, but I don't want to overplay it, don't want to come across as irredeemably sexist, or hokey.

All the same, the Playboy line made me smile... Maybe I should use Maxim?

I like the word "steaming" (for her mood and her appearance). I like the word "cock-eyed," because the word cock is in there, which is unsubtly suggestive. I've written, "Flannel jammy bottoms are smeared with black ash" and "bathrobe inside out" and "the pajama top has one spaghetti-strap snipped" and "even the little bow on her pajama-top decolletage is wilted and unraveled"

I just reviewed the screenplay opening of THE HANGOVER, and, yeah, they do essentially what I'm trying to do: they underline the word "mess" and add "his aviator glasses are bent," along with a few injuries.

Man, I'm not nearly as clever as I thought I was.

Apr 14, 2010

How Not To Be Seen

I got sick last Friday and stayed home from work. I don't know if I was authentically infected with something, or just suffering from extremely bad allergies, general exhaustion, and a profound lack of will power. But there was no rousing me from bed all that day.

That night, I stayed up late working on a "steam punk" costume for Alli, for a wedding she would attend Saturday morning.

The awful truth is, I don't absolutely love these super-cute themed social activities. It sometimes seems like a lot of childless folks treating their existential ennui with tossed-off arts-n-crafts.

Worse, they often strike me as somewhat self-congratulatory. Like, "Look how clever and creative we are! Take another picture. Facebook will love this!" Like, folks proudly taking the path less traveled by walking continuously one foot to the left of the more traveled path. Like, everyone making boat-rocking gestures while staying as stone-still as possible. "But it looks like I'm rocking the boat, doesn't it? It looks like it? From a distance? From the pictures on Facebook?"

On the other hand, I do absolutely love to make things, and I needed to treat my existential ennui with some arts-n-crafts, so I made the costume. I'm happy with how it came out, and now I can post it on the Facebook and hope I get congratulated on how creative and different I am.

Gosh, I do have fun. Don't I? I have the most fun!

Then, Saturday, I slept late to continue recovering, I did chores, and I watched a Monty Python documentary to raise my creative spirits.

Sucks 'cause, instead of raising my spirits, it reminded me how far from my goals I presently am. It put me squarely back into my grade-school mindset, reminded me of what I wanted when I started out. And now, it seems, I haven't only compromised on where I've landed, I've compromised on what I permit myself to dream, on what I permit myself to chase.

Why am I not pulling together big projects anymore? Why am I not assembling teams? Why am I not arguing against lowered expectations?  Why can't I think of a way to beat this creeping normality? Why am I surrendering to normal life?

So, then, all fired up with those thoughts, I spent Sunday with Barb, doing nothing. Went to a nice lunch, shopped a little, lay around the house, went to the grocery store. Monday, I got up extra early and had the oil changed in my car. I watched some Good Day LA, which is the worst thing I've ever seen. I went to work early, to remedy all the panic created by my Friday absence. And all week long, I was overwhelmed with too much responsibility at work, covering for my absent bosses.

You know, normal life.

Apr 13, 2010

Traffic On Your Parade

In LA, we have no weather. It's sunny and warm almost all of the time. For the most part, the weather is predictable and reliable. It's so agreeable, I've mostly forgotten that weather is a thing that happens.

And thus, having been denied that outlet to deliver its reminders, here, it is instead through the traffic that the Universe makes its indifferent and chaotic nature known.

The weather is almost always nice, so the Universe orchestrates the traffic to shout: "I'm still capricious and cruel, folks - and don't you forget about it!" 

What a lousy drive. How much longer can I tolerate a life that it this bare-faced random, this boldly arbitrary? A person deserves the illusion of meaning and sense! If the traffic can't even bother to put on a show of making sense, well, then ... I'll do something, I tell you.

I will do one hell of a something.

Apr 8, 2010

Outline At Last [Sick Day]

It took two months longer than scheduled, but it is finally done. I have a full outline for my next feature screenplay, Sick Day.

The trick was simple, as always:  I used some scrap paper and scribbled all day at work, moving and tinkering. Adding page-counts helped me focus and judge importance. I realized that a spreadsheet would be the best way to transfer it to digital form, and it works perfectly, flexible but crisp.

So, there it is, my answer to the grouped movements that I analyzed in Groundhog Day and War of the Roses... Speaking of which, I should probably publish that War of the Roses break-down that I did...

Apr 7, 2010

Fingers and Monsters

What's Up With the Finger?
Yesterday evening, when I arrived home, the power was out in my building. I walked Baker and checked out the neighborhood. I took some pictures of LADWP cones and broken electrical pipes, but there were no trucks or crew-persons to photograph.

When I returned to building, many of the neighbors were out in the hall, because they were desperately bored, having already been deprived of their television and internet for an eternity lasting upwards of forty minutes.

The halls were very dark. It's a bit of a walk in my building, from the entrance to my door. And on my floor, there lives a gigantic mammal. She appears to be part Dalmatian, part Great Dane, part Prehistoric Hippopotamus. She is energetic and nosy and, as best I can tell, entirely unspoiled by human discipline. This is probably the hippo in her.

She is also spotted, which is the Dalmation, and has floppy jowls and big pointy ears, which is Great Dane. I believe her name is Bella. My girlfriend Beezie said she thought it might be Stella. In any case, her head comes up to my shoulders, her ears come up to my chinny-chin-chin, and yesterday, she heard Baker and me, in the dark - and she motherfucking chased us down.

From behind us, an earthquake, a rain of slobber, and then, mouth open, she pounced on Baker. I don't think she meant us any harm. But all the same, she hit a lot of us with her teeth. And when I say she was on top of Baker, I mean completely. Baker fit nicely in the space between her front and back legs.

As the animal jumped and swatted around, I could hear her female owner shouting "Bellaaaa! Belllaaaa!" over and over again. This did not have any notable effect on Bella. Perhaps because her name is Stella?

There was a tangle of leash and arms and dog faces as I tried to keep marching, in the total dark, all the while attempting to extricate Baker from under this creature. It was impossible to tell whether a sincere fight was about to erupt. My hand really stung, and it was slobbery.

Eventually, I got Baker out from under Bella, and held him in my arms as I marched on. Stella trotted along at my side, her head at my shoulder, looking down on Baker in my arms.

When I reached my door, there was a strange woman and a bald man, also strange, standing outside my door with paperwork. They said, "Do you live here?" And I said, "Yes," and then I darted inside and shut the door. I left the giant out there with them. They could fend for themselves.

The power was out, so I couldn't examine my injury very well. I tried to hold it near a tea-candle, but the candle blew out.

Soon enough, the strange people were knocking on the door behind me. Which meant, Baker started running around to alert me to this fact. Baker believes I am deaf.

The knockers were not screaming for help, but I couldn't be sure they weren't in league with the monster, so I put Baker in my roommate's room and opened the door.

It turns out, the strange pair wanted me to sign a petition to prevent the raising of the maintenance fee at the condo. This struck me as strange - refusing to pay 10% extra to maintain the building while, at that very moment, the power was out in what appeared to be our building alone.

I explained that I only rented. She explained that I could sign anyway. So I went out and I signed it in the green light of the EXIT sign.

The story ends a few minutes later, with Beezie and me lighting candles and digging out the flashlights. At last, I could examine my hand, which, it turns out, had a bright blood blister, just in front of the nail, on the tip of the pinky finger. It stung and it smarted, and it still does.

Also, on the same hand, the pinky finger was the only finger that remained. All the rest were bloody stumps.

A few hours later the power came back on.

Apr 6, 2010

Irritation Turntable [Sick Day]

Fake Real Problems
Easter weekend found me performing the role of Charlie Kaufman in a presentation of the voice-over monologues from Adaptation, brilliantly delivered, full of the self-loathing and crippling doubt that made it famous, three shows a day.

Click on those links up there.

I'm not sure I'll be posting what I wrote while in that role. Yes, I started this blog to record the process of screenwriting. And yes, those carefully constructed rants of despair are certainly an aspect of it - at least for me, and apparently for Charlie Kaufman, too. But no, I don't think I'll be sharing them just now. Not without some sort of framing device or additional perspective to add. They require something more to make them less... redundant.

One thing is for sure: I'm going to start keeping track of these profoundly angry times. I have two on record now. I'm curious whether they are periodic, and if so, whether I can predict them. I'd like to know when they're coming. And more importantly, when they're going.

Apr 2, 2010

Three Unproductive Days

drizzle It drizzled on the drive down, but not even enough to wash away the dry white smear on my windshield. It's another overcast day, but this one has less charm than the first one, somehow. Perhaps this is all becoming routine, and the small daily variations are losing their power to excite.

On that theme,I had pancakes today. They're always fantastic. But the coffee is a little weak, and the crowd is a little noisy.

For a couple days, I've been constructing the movie in outline form on a website called checkvist. And now, having worked on it for another morning, I can say for confidently: it is tedious, and not helpful.

I'm losing information, and I'm wasting time encoding the story into an outline form. I'm too methodical to make a sloppy outline, and I'm too bored to finish a thorough one.

The only realization I've come to while doing it? I probably don't need Jon to go to work on the first day. And that means Maggie's poo-flinging even less necessary.

This was a mistake. The outline was intended to speed me toward the screenplay stage, but it's slowing me down instead. I should either write directly from my blog entries, or I should get back to work on my treatment. And I should do it promptly!

The only reason I'm not writing the screenplay now is because I feel there's still a great deal more cutting, combining, and cleaning to be done. There are more opportunities to make the story more efficient, and there is nothing more disheartening than writing a screenplay that is clearly too long from the word go.

Last night, I was up until almost 1:00 AM, talking with Alli. This morning, I didn't oversleep, but I moved very slowly. While dressing, I sent Stirling some feedback on his most recent sketch for his class, via my cell phone's e-mail. Then, I tried taking Sepulveda rather than the 405, and it didn't help at all. 

Now, I'm here at Norm's, significantly later than I'd like to be, and I feel strangely unwelcome. I can't say why. And I don't want to write. And I don't want to be here. And, frankly, I don't want to be anywhere else.

[Insert sound of fussy baby crying here.]

It's now clear that I'm not going to make the Nicholl's Fellowship deadline, not even the late one. It's going to blow past me by a mile. And I reflect: I've been writing screenplays for 8 years. Why do I have nothing to submit?

evilotter Oh, and one last thing: my computer is yet again not charged. Yet again, I have no idea why. I carefully plugged it in before bed, but that plug simply refuses to stay in the socket. There's some creature sneaking in and unplugging it at night, and I suspect otters. They're good at manipulating things with their little hands, and the local otter gangs hate me.

They have their reasons.

Anyway – today, I'm thinking of making a notebook of all the posts I've made about Sick Day. I think that will be easier than browsing the website, and it will also be a nice physical activity.

In fact, I'm going to go in and do that now, rather than watch this laptop slowly die for not good reason.

Moving On
After my laptop died, I went to work early and used the time to do something that proved unreasonably difficult. I printed out all of my Sick Day labeled blog entries in chronological order, in a small notebook size.

Apparently, all the modern blog hosts won't let you reverse order, and won't let you set the number of pages as unlimited. I may need to find some way to migrate my blog over to my own server, on Moveable Type...

Or at least some way to make a mirror of it there.

Now it's 8:20 at Norm's. It was a very busy morning here. I had the big breakfast for only the second time and continued reading through the little booklet I made yesterday, highlighting good ideas and details that I'd forgotten.

And somehow, I forgot my cell phone at home, on the charger. I guess exhaustion really can make you stupid.

Once I'm finished highlighting, it's back to the treatment. I know that I can find ways to make this more efficient. There are a lot of scenes that are only doing one thing: I can make them do three or four.

Mar 30, 2010

Treatment Suffocation? [Sick Day]

I worked all weekend on the treatment for Sick Day, but I only made it slightly into the second act. Starting yesterday afternoon, after I made dinner, the exhaustive detail of the thing started to weigh on me. I took a nap and felt exhausted by the size of it. It will be a thirty-page scriptment at this rate, and I simply don't know whether that is for the best or not.

Moving backward through time, Unpredictable had a full treatment, but it was so overlong, plot-wise, that it was vastly and explosively revised as I wrote the screenplay. By the end, the script and the treatment has diverged in very serious ways. That was okay. The only problem was, the script was also okay. Nothing more. I can't afford to do that again.

With Gravedigger's Son, I'd written and re-written that treatment a hundred times, several times from scratch. I'd tried writing it as a novel. I'd started on the script as many as three times before realizing that I'd missed the boat once again. And this is all after three and a half revisions of the complete screenplay that was Storybook Park. It was a daunting, multi-year process. I can't afford to do that again.

Prior to that, ignoring Hell Froze Over, and some fits and starts and failed attempts on other titles, was Zaniness Ensues. As I remember it, I made an index-card outline on my corkboard, and then wrote without a treatment. I wrote 5 pages a day for a month, straight through. Of course, I had a short-script that I'd worked on relentlessly prior to it. Also, let's not forget, the feature screenplay underwent a number of structural revisions at the script stage, which was difficult - but effective.

Perhaps I'm over-writing this treatment. Perhaps I'm over-planning it. Perhaps I'm suffocating it by solving every plotting and practical puzzle, right down to the blocking.

Maybe, instead, I should produce a beat-sheet of scenes, each answering Mamet's three question:


And also the boring, practical:


In short, maybe I should be answering more sub-textual questions, more questions of flow and meaning and drama, and leave the carpentry of blocking, timing, efficiency, and gag-angles, to the scripting stage.

After all, frequently, the angle of the gags comes from the opposition of the character goals in the scene, and if I have the gag-angle out of sync with the character goals, I'll find myself wasting time on dialogue that I only later realize is fake and limp. I remember that happening very clearly in Unpredictable: I had good dialogue and gags planned out in the treatment, but they weren't supporting the desires of the characters in that moment, and so, I had to start again from scratch.

Inscrutable Déjà Vu Traffic

Left 7:13 AM | Arrived 7:38 AM
This morning the 405 flew, and I arrived about the same time I always do.

I can't explain either part of that statement.

The ease of travel may have been due to a six-car pile-up, just north of my entrance, that choked back the usual overflow passing through the Galleria corridor. It may have been due to increasing amounts of spring break being observed by colleges in the area. It may have been because Passover begins tonight at sundown, according to my calendar, but not according to my Jewish friends.

I'm not sure.

As to how I arrived at the same time, despite traffic being non-existent? I can't even begin to guess. Like advanced branches of quantum theory, Los Angeles traffic will never make intuitive sense to the human mind. Our species simply wasn't evolved to interact with systems this foreign and complex. Even with mathematics and metaphors, we can barely bridge the gap. We can't predict it. We can't explain why it happened. And apparently, we can't even know how bad it is when we're inside it. Unless you can think in 12 or more dimensions, it doesn't make any sense at all.
Déjà Vu
On the fast but slow drive to Norm's, I thought about whether déjà vu was anything more than a misfire in the brain, a misfire triggering the sensation of familiarity, or maybe the sensation we associate with the replay of a memory.

I tried to remember how many occasions there have been when I experienced déjà vu so strongly that I actually predicted the remainder of the "déjà moment" before it played out.

It seems to me, there were maybe four, five, maybe half-a-dozen incidents where I'm pretty confident I predicted things accurately and aloud.

The problem is, I can't reliably say that I couldn't have predicted those same things based purely on context alone, from simple common sense, or from a pretty solid grasp of where the conversation was going. Plus, how strict was I with myself on those occasions? How accurately do I remember my accuracy? And were these moments just dreams?

They may have been dreams, everybody.

Could the sensation of déjà vu be triggered by direct electrical stimulation? Or magnets outside the temple, like in the experiments where they tamper with a person's morality with little more than a strong magnet and a cleverly constructed puzzle? Could someone have a disorder that gave them the sensation frequently? Would they think themselves an oracle? A psychic? A Groundhog Day victim?
Everyone is Inscrutable
Last night, while jogging the dog, I wondered whether I've spent so much of my life focused on developing skills to better predict people, to better decode personalities, to better decipher characters, to better speculate about what people are thinking or feeling - because, as a child, I found my father so inscrutable? Was his frequent silence and unpredictability (at least to young me) the cause of this life-defining habit?

And what does it mean that, while I can remember him telling stories (usually to other people, stories that I only overheard), while I can remember stories about things like an ambulance accident he was in, or the body they carried out of a building once - while I can remember these stories - I can remember him saying very little else that was sincerely personal? What does it say that those stories were the times I understood him most vividly, when I was young? And now I spend my life on stories.

I was thinking about this, and Big Fish, and why Stirling likes it and Aram doesn't, and whether I will be inscrutable with my children, and whether I am inscrutable, even when I don't wish to be, right now.

Sometimes, I like to be inscrutable. It denies people an easy handle, frustrates attempts to pass cheap judgments or assign rigid stereotypes. Yet, I firmly believe, if you take an accounting of my actions, you really do know what's going on in my mind, even if you're foolishly plumbing for more.

Everyone we know exists as a character we've constructed in our minds. If we are wise, we build that character based on the person's actions, their habits, what they do frequently; not on what they claim about themselves, and certainly not what is claimed about them; not on what we'd like to believe, or what we fear to believe; only on what they consistently do. We have to work out the puzzle of a person over time, careful never to blindly confirm our biases, ready always to take on a whole new understanding and recast the role entirely, if the story demands it.

I think, we must be careful how we think about characters; if we are shallowly judgmental with them, we will be the same with real people in our lives, because the brain little minds the difference.

Also, I like the word inscrutable.

I love that 30 Rock used it in a dis of Tracy Jordan's vanity plate.

"She called my vanity license plate inscrutable!"

Mar 29, 2010

Excesses and Shortages

I am back at Grounded Cafe.

It is 10:15 AM, and I just dropped my dog Bacon off at a new groomer, not too far from my apartment. It's called Mr. & Mrs. Dog. The woman there seemed very nice, but her accent was a rare form that I absolutely could not place or penetrate.

I followed her almost entirely by making guesses about the meanings of her gestures and by constructing my replies such that they could have sprung entirely from personal inspiration, not strict response. When she said "vaccinations?" I asked her to repeat it three times, the third time by softly saying, "I don't understand what you're saying," because "vaccinations" started with an "O," and only had three syllables. "Ossendens" is the best transcription I can make.

I'm not making fun; I'm simply describing how hopeless I felt.

In any case, Bacon won't notice, and she seemed optimistic despite my warning: he won't let me clip his nails or trim his hair at all. He gets crazy nasty. To this, she said the one thing I understood, "Dey eye much personality."

I'm going to start using that as a euphemism for human pains-in-the-ass. "He has an abundance of personality." In fact, "She has a dire excess of personality." If nothing else, it makes me feel better about having a mild shortage of personality.

A tall, skinny young man with long blond hair, glasses, and brand-new too-tight black-denim trousers, says into his phone, while waiting in line: "I'm still high after last night. I can't help it. There's nothing to debate."

Meanwhile, a man in a tweed jacket with a fedora hat marches, leaning forward, down the opposite side of Ventura Blvd. He carries a yellow envelope and jabs the air just slighty with it, never really raising his arm. He's saying something to himself, perhaps rehearsing the talking-to he'll give the recipient of that envelope. I wonder without substance whether he's heading to the bank.

And now I'm the only one here, aside from the employees. It's awkwardly quiet.

"It's slow today because it's Spring Break, I think. A lot of kids don't have classes," He says to She. Then they speak too quietly for me to hear. They have Spanish accents.

Perhaps I should've sat outside. There are new, richly coral-colored, almost red, umbrellas. Small in circumference, like the tables, but casting sufficient shade. And it's a beautiful day. 71 F degrees, yellow-touched white sunshine, 15% humidity and a barely present northerly breeze.

It's a Los Angeles day out there, and I'm sitting in a Northampton coffee house, with a dire shortage of personality.

Mar 27, 2010

Silver Morning

Left 7:09 | Arrived 7:39
It's overcast and silver-lit outside. It's the first time that the sun hasn't been rising, blazing in my window as I drove in, peering over my shoulder as I sit here. I rather like it. It brings a timeless quality to the morning.

It could be anytime on a cloudy day.

A slick-haired Hispanic businessman, wearing a goatee, a pink shirt, and a neck brace, just asked me if I was sitting here yesterday.

I told him "Close. I was right up there. But yeah."

He nodded silently and stepped away.

I ordered only fruit and coffee. As usual, the fruit is cantaloupe and some sort of greenish-yellowish melon. I cut them into little pieces.

This will cost me about $4 or $5, but I will tip at least $3. I want to establish the point that the staff gets the same, no matter what I order.

Mar 26, 2010

Angles of the Sun

Left 7:06 AM | Arrived 7:37 AM
The angle of the sun is changing. Earlier everyday, the sun blazes through the windows of Norm's, laying itself across the whole restaurant. If I sit with my back to it, I can block its glare from my screen with my body, but it is orange-gold and blinding.

Today I will have two eggs, over easy, with sourdough toast and a side of fruit rather than hashbrowns. Let's see how that makes me feel. Then again, I really prefer scrambled to over easy. . . EOE or ES.

I'm wondering if the immense increase in morning coffee consumption is adding to the inflamed taste buds in my mouth, or to the sore growing on the inside of my cheek.

Meanwhile, allergy season has amped up to 9 or 10 out of 12 on the daily pollen reports, and the inside of my nose is dry and bloody, stinging and burning. Pressing the tip of my nose can squeeze a tear from my eye, like a tear dispenser. Daily running and walking is making my legs, knees, and upper-ass ache. I'm tired. I would imagine I was getting sick, but I'm pretty sure it's simple revolt against this three months of habit changes.

And yet, change is the only thing that keeps me sharp and sane.

Man, I told the waiter I needed a moment, and it's been many moments now. I'm not complaining; I'm amazed how hungry it's making me feel. I'm starting to fantasize about what I'll get, rather than reluctantly decide. Scrambled I think. Scrambled.

Here's an amazing conversation that I just overheard (boiled down to its essense):

"All these TV stations. Too many. It's just like the races, you know."

"Yeah . . ."

"There are too many now! It's over-kill. They ain't special no more. There used to be 8 run a-day, now it's over-kill, it's over-kill."

"It used to be simple. That's what you're trying to say. It used to be simple."

"Too much like a job, trying to pick horses, now."

"Too much like a job."

Long pause.

"You think people still watch them game shows?"

Mar 23, 2010

Frustrated With This Wonderful Computer

Left 7:06 AM | Arrived 7:42 AM
mac-keyboard I was stupid and lazy last night and neglected to plug in my Asus Linux netbook, and so I'm on this vastly over-sized Apple laptop, which reduces my focus and - still, after almost a year of using it almost daily - feels like I'm typing with my thumbs tied to my wrist.

Let's be honest here, folks, Apple spaces their keyboard keys too far apart, and their text navigation hot-keys are insufficient for intense writing and revision. There's no question that their keyboards look good. The question is, why don't they type good? Why must I suffer?

My roommate has a new Apple laptop, and the keys are spaced so far apart that I can't rest my fingers comfortably on all the home-keys at once - and I have relatively longish fingers.

I have similar feelings about the operating system itself. I find it clumsy in many complicated multitasking situations, particular with any software that utilizes multiple windows. In particular, it is vastly over-reliant on the mouse. And please, don't smugly tell me to learn the hot-keys - I have, I know them, and I find them to be lacking.

On the other hand, I have experienced remarkable stability from the system. But, I don't know if it's been worth the straight-jacket I'm resigned to wear while visiting their ecosystem. Every time I want to perform a small task outside the software package assigned to me, I am inevitably frustrated. Everything of quality in the Apple software universe is profit-based and over-priced. PIC2003221745132143Then, when you download it, you learn that it's also feature-crippled; they've sacrificed customization and fine-grain functionality for simplicity and big, unwieldy visual-metaphor-oriented mouse interfaces. When I want to get something done, I want a drop-down full of fine-grain options, thank you, not a cute "tray" where I "drag" "clippings" and "turn" "knobs," or some similar too-cute physical-world metaphor.

And don't get me started on how sick I am of having the same window decorations after all this time. Let me customize the thing without having to pay out the nose or rely on hacking, please! Let me change the computer's appearance in substantial ways; I have to look at it every day, for hours at a time. I can't stand the shiny bubbles any any longer!

But, I am grateful that it works. I am grateful that it cost me nothing. I am grateful for new battery, which I bought at discount, which lasts almost three hours. And I am grateful that this frustration is one of my frustrations, rather than disease, war, and death. I am grateful to hate, hate, hate those shiny bubbles.

Mar 22, 2010

Coffee Shops

click for full color, full size It's Sunday. It's almost 1 PM, and I'm out at Grounded Cafe, a coffee shop and internet cafe on Ventura Blvd. I found it with the Yelp application on my cell-a-ma-phone, and I decided to give it a try. There is another place with free wifi and pay coffee recommended by the program: it's called Crave. I drove past it. It looks very busy and bohemian, and there wasn't any street parking within five blocks. So, maybe next weekend. Maybe never.

I am trying to reduce the cost of these writing expeditions by making them coffee-only, or snack-only, instead of full-meal. Perhaps I could do that at Norm's, but it feels wrong. It feels like I'm taking up a profitable booth. This is likely ridiculous, since the booths are rarely even close to filled. But coffee shops are places where you are supposed to do this sort of work.

click for full color, full size I guess this is who I've become. My binary opposite. Someone who writes in public.

Necessity makes for strange bedfellows, even when we're sleeping alone.

The coffee-shop man just offered me the wifi password, which was very nice. That means, at least in my weird psychology, that he doesn't mind me using my own computer, rather than renting his by the hour.

I also really like my high seat and high desk, over by the window. Crave may have a hard time competing with that. Oh, and the coffee is good; intensely sweet mocha.

Sprinkled throughout this post are some pictures from my visit. Can you guess who the celebrity is, in the painting? I can't! But I know it's a celebrity! They said so!

groundcafe4Yesterday, writing-wise, I made an unusual sprint forward. Unexpected, and so out-of-the-subconscious, I honestly can't remember much of what I came up with. Good thing it's all written down.

There I was, doing my usual tinkering around the edges, when my mind turned around, made a dash - straight for the wall - and rather than smashing into it, it ran up it. Right up it, and then right off, leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

I don't know what that was all about, or how long that stuff had been brewing, waiting to come crashing, boiling-over. but there it was, and those are the moments I've been missing.

Clearly, they only happen when I'm running at that wall every stinking day.

Similarly, I was cooking dinner last night, and I'd just finished warming the cassarole dish to put the chicken in, as per the recipe. I took the dish out of the oven, and turned toward the counter-top. I could put it down on the countertop, you see, because it wasn't all that hot.
click for full color, full size I touched the dish to the countertop surface, and I remember a small hiss, and then an instantaneous crack, and then, the dish completely exploded. Shards of glass flew in every direction. all with surprising force, and several of those directions were precisely where I was standing.

The glass was cool enough for a countertop, but counters and people are made of considerably different materials. A short length of glass landed on the back of my hand, and I have a red shadow-image of it burned there now. I was fortunate that none of the glass found my face and eyes to be a welcoming destination.

There were invisible, tiny shavings and slivers of glass everywhere.

Luckily, no one was hurt. Alli didn't really bother to look up from her Facebook game. Barb remained completely asleep. And I was able to finish the meal by working around the mess. The food came out pretty well.

However, the suddenness of that explosion, and the power of it, really stays with me. It came to mind when I was reflecting on the sensation that I had yesterday, when story started creating itself, starting sorting points out, and all I had to do was hold on with my oven mitt. A hiss, a crack, and an explosion.

Now I'm going to go read it over.

Who wants to start a betting pool regarding how disappointed I'll be?

Mar 21, 2010

Ren & Stimpy: Terror & Silliness

user106129_pic7202_1235570279The term "space madness" keeps coming up while I'm working on Sick day. It first appeared because, at 8 AM, I couldn't remember the phrase "cabin fever." And then I remembered the episode of Ren & Stimpy. And that's why I capitalized it.
Space Madness.

I don't know how universal an experience Ren & Stimpy was. I remember vividly watching the first seasons as they aired, sometimes with groups other boys at a friend's house. I was 11 or 12. A few years later, they were off the air. People younger than I was may have missed them entirely.

Research, and the memory of a friend who was a few years older in 1991, and thus more savvy to how these things worked, reveals that Nickelodeon fired the creator John K after the second season. By coincidence, reviewing the episode summaries, I only recall episodes from seasons one and two, which are where all the classics reside. Anyone who saw seasons after those would've had a completely different, and completely inferior, experience with Ren & Stimpy.
Having gone back and watched the Space Madness episode, it's a bigger part of my subconscious than I suspected. Every line was crisply familiar, probably from having repeated it aloud relentlessly as a kid. And more importantly: it's almost a perfect template for the script I'm presently writing.

BillWray - space A duo are trapped in a closed environment. They are soon overwhelmed with free time and try to spend "quality time" together. But it leads to boredom, irritation, and rage. They see one another as hideous, and then they try to kill each other. It is . . . amazing.

Then, I watched the other episode I remembered, the one with "Don't Whiz on the Electric Fence." That one is called Sven Hoek, and it was even MORE familiar.
It's about Stimpy, and his new friend Sven, who is Ren's idiotic cousin. They sit at home, trapped by a rainy day, bored, getting into trouble. The patience and visual ridiculousness in this episode is absolutely perfect. Viewer discomfort rises steadily at the sheer weirdness of it all, broken by delightfully strange moments, such as Sven and Stimpy smashing their faces gleefully against a piece of glass.

REN_AND_STIMPY2-01 Then, when Ren returns home to see what they've done to the house, he gives them the most hilariously tense and protracted series of threats I've ever seen. Here, we have Ren & Stimpy's perfectly encapsulated: a balance between real danger and childish glee.
It is an amazing work of comedy.

There's another episode where a man screams a joke, veins pulsing in his neck, his body huge and threatening.  He says in a creepy, evil voice: "Why did they bury the fireman... behind... the hill...?" Long pause – then - screamed in an explosion of rage: "BECAUSE HE WAS DEAD!!!" This is followed by insane laughter, laughter that the listeners do not share. It is another perfect summation of the show's universe, carefully located between fear and ridiculousness.

In short, I returned to something that I loved when I was 11, and it held up perfectly. It was improved, in fact. Sure, it is full of juvenile jokes about boogers and farts, but so is the script I'm writing now, it turns out.

It's all about how it's handled, and in the early Ren & Stimpy, it's all handled with artful insanity, with perfect control of tone and delivery. Every moment is pure comedic style, full of surprises and risks, discovering new ways to create tension and then release it.

The series clearly shaped my idea of what makes for good comedy. Perhaps I should be embarrassed to realize this at the age 30, but I'm not. A big part of my sensibility about what makes for a risky, smart, original comedy - leads back to those greatest episodes of Ren & Stimpy.

9021 - Ren Ren_And_Stimpy Spumco ren_hoekCheck them out on YouTube; several episodes are illegally available there in HD.
Seasons one and two are available on DVD as a boxed set, about $32.
Avoid the later seasons, which are basically rote copies of the earlier seasons, with much of the terror stripped out.
But also avoid John K's later "lost episodes," which add too much openly adult humor, robbing the show of its tense surrealism. The simple addition of naked breasts and curse-words push these episodes into the frat-boy arena, knocking it wholly off its nervous-energy-charged perch between violence and silliness.
A reminder: greatness is precarious. It's in the details.

Mar 20, 2010

Weekend Writing Experiment

5821345I am at the Lamplighter on Van Nuys blvd, about two or three miles from my house. It is Saturday, and it  is 11AM. That's about two hours before I usually get up on weekends, and 2 hours after my alarm clock started going off.

In any case, I am here, and my laptop is open. I have one hour before I need to pick up Beezie at the airport. Then, I suspect I will be taking her to her place to take care of the cats, and then taking her to various dealerships to look at used cars, since hers was destroyed in an accident about two weeks ago.

I'm not feeling nearly as motivated at this hour of the day. Perhaps I'm just feeling less mentally sharp. Perhaps it's because the text messages and emails and conversations with my people, my mother, my roommate, my girlfriend, have already begun, and my mind is unable to focus on fiction and storytelling. Once again, I have this nagging emotional tug telling me that people are needing my attention.

Perhaps, on the weekends, this would work better at night. I should check out the closing hours on my way out.

The waitress just said, "That trips me out. I'm tripping," regarding someone's new haircut.

The biggest problem with this writing method is becoming clear: it may be too expensive. The bill is $8.97. With tip, that will be $12 or $13. It's a good motivator, sure: I've come all this way, subjected myself to feeling unwelcome, and spent the money - I had better write.

But is it sustainable at this price?

Also, I'm going to get fat.

Mar 19, 2010

Why Writers are Loners

Left 7:03 AM | Arrived 7:34 AM
Can I pause here to mention how deeply I wish I could just stay here at Norm's, hour after hour, writing, researching on the internet, and being a writer - rather than scurrying off to the vortex of distraction that is my paid employment?

Can I pause here to mention how much this strange, difficult, and expensive exercise has reminded me that I actually enjoy coming up with stories? As it turns out, I just don't enjoy doing so in competition with the demands of the world, with everything vying for my attention.

Mar 17, 2010

I Am Exhaustion

Left 7:03 AM | Arrived 7:39 AM
I'm not a morning person. I'm not even an afternoon person. Getting up at 6 AM these last three days has slowly replaced my blood with thick, bitter syrup.

The problem is, being a night owl, even if I've been up since 6 AM, I can't find my way to Sleepytown until well after midnight. And Sleepytown is a dump now, full of industrial pollution, strip malls, and like three Applebee's. And, you know what, everyone? Strip malls? They'd be much less reviled if they actually had strippers.

Last night, as I drifted off, I could feel how terribly tired I'd be today, and some part of my brain floated the idea of skipping a day of writing to sleep in. I'll call the part of my brain who floated that idea "Tommy."

Tommy was promptly taunted, tackled, and beaten within an inch of his life by every other part of my brain. The rest of my brain is composed of a 20-man team of really angry mixed martial artists.

I don't know why I rejected the idea so completely, but I did. So I had better figure out a way to make use of this time.

I'm a bit concerned that Tommy may have been the writing part of my brain, though...

Splitting Posts

I like to imagine that people read this blog, and I like to imagine that they have two different reasons for doing so.

Screenwriting Journal
One group is interested in watching stories take shape. They're interested in the creative process. They want to contribute, offer support, provide thoughtful criticism. Unfortunately, these readers have not figured out how to use the comment function yet, and instead, are speaking directly to their computer screens. Nonetheless, I have faith that they exist, and that they will eventually overcome this confusion, and we will all be enriched by it.

Personal Blog
Another group wants to keep up with me, Wilder. They want to read anecdotes, personal reflections, and the odd flotsam of opinion that constitutes the majority party in the Blogosphere Congress. These people are sick of picking through mountains of impenetrable screenwriting stone to find a few personal gems. For a while, I've been cross-posting the traditional-blog elements to misplacedwilder.livejournal.com, to keep the declassified information free and available to the world. But the number of posts available for that venue were reduced by flagrant cross-breeding between personal and professional talk.

Be It Resolved!
From here on out, I'm going to clearly separate my traditional-blog entries from my screenwriter-journal entries. They will likely be written in concert, as they have always been, and then separated into two posts, published in sequence.

Furthermore, you can find all the traditional-blog entries by clicking on the topic Personal, at the right. And you can find all of the screenwriting-journal entries by clicking on the project title in question, such as Sick Day.

I hope this helps everyone focus in on whatever they enjoy most.

I like to imagine that someone is enjoying something.

Mar 16, 2010

Dying Battery Metaphor

Left 7:11 AM | Arrived 7:54 AM
Heavy traffic today on the 405 south; taking the Burbank on-ramp was a mistake. In any case, even leaving an hour earlier, it's still the same dreary picture out there.

My mind spins imagining 3+ hours of this same endless gridlock, lane after lane, packed solid and crawling, every morning, every evening, day after day after day. How can it be permitted?

I'm frustrated this morning because my laptop battery is about to die.

This is not a metaphor, dammit.

Somehow, after plugging this sucker in at my bedside last night, the plug managed to pull completely out of the socket again. I would like to blame the earthquake, but had come unplugged at 4AM, it would have some life in it, instead of the 7% it charged while I got ready this morning.

I am disappointed.

As I mentioned, there was an earthquake last night at around 4AM, around 4.5 on the relevent scale. It set off the usual rolling wave of posts on Facebook, but I slept right through it - as I always do. Most earthquakes are indistinguishable from the dog scratching at the foot of the bed (or a fat person walking by you, or a big truck passing near the building), so I've learned to filter that sort of motion out of my consciousness. I'm puzzled by LA natives who are awoken by a tremble. It seems ... maladaptive.

Too Expensive . . .
I had two eggs, scrambled. She offered cheese, and I took it. I was disappointed to discover, it cost me extra. I had some cantaloupe and honeydew. And some sourdough toast. This was all part of a package, and it cost me exactly as much as my meal yesterday. Not okay.

Tomorrow: just fruit and coffee.

The Wrong Eggs . . .

Left home: 7:05 AM | Arrived at Norm's: 7:40 AM
My first day at Norm's, writing before work.

I just screwed up my waitress by taking my eggs over-easy, despite having ordered them scrambled. These were someone else's eggs. I'm eating the eggs of a girl with curly damp hair.

The short-order cook and the waitress are bickering loudly, now, and it's all my fault. I may not be able to follow my scheme and stay here a full hour...

They pressured me into getting the full bargain breakfast, which is two of everything, and is like seven bucks, all said. That was not the plan.

I'm gonna nibble on my hash-browns. They are my wall against needing to vacate this booth. They're my ASTRO-SMASH energy-shield, and I'm slowly shooting it from the underside.

For this metaphor to play out, the staff of NORM'S would need to be periodically eating my hash-browns from the other side.

The sign says they have free wifi here, but it appears to be password locked. Perhaps tomorrow, I'll ask for the password; certainly not today, when I've caused the waitress and the cook to bicker.

One Colorful Collar-full . . .
There's a wifi access point called "Free Public Wifi." It doesn't work. It never will.

The likelihood of me asking for the password has decreased to approximately 15%: the waitress just said to another customer, "I don't know what's wrong with the cook today." She took away my pancake plate and filled my bitter coffee. Tomorrow, I will order just two scrambled eggs.

It's 8:12 AM, the day after clocks jumped ahead one hour, and I feel like they want me to leave. This is crazy talk. Head down. Keep typing on your little powder-blue Muppet-baby laptop, friend.

"Free Public Wifi" has vanished again, leaving only "Norms Westwood." The chances of me asking for a password have increased to approximately 35%.

If the cashier smiles, I will ask.

The cook has a round face and in wearing a chef's hat and a white plastic bib apron. I can see the colorful collar of a Hawaiian shirt.

Hawaiiian has an amazing run of vowels. Especially when you add too many i's.

Feeling Unwelcome . . .
It's 8:30. I'm thinking, I get up at 8:45. I pay my bill. I go.

They've stopped topping off my coffee.

Am I ballsy enough to do this day after day?

Coffee Refill . . .
They refilled my coffee and inexplicably said, "Thank you." It seemed like they couldn't think of anything else to say.

The Time Hath Come . . .
Okay. I'm going to finish this cup of coffee, pay my bill, and go home.

And by home, I mean, to work.

I got the password.

Mar 14, 2010

New, All Over Again

35368-bigthumbnail I haven't written because I've been waning.

And you'd better believe, when I'm waning, I'm whining, if I'm writing at all. And thus, I thought I'd spare myself the sight of myself being so sloppy and dire. I'm in partial recovery now, but I warn you, I'm not symptom-free.

After all these years, you might wonder why I haven't found some way to avoid the seasons of mope. Similarly, you might wonder why, after all these years, humans haven't found some way to make it constantly daylight all over Earth. 

Well, it's because shit doesn't work that way. Shit is a force of nature. The moon slips into shadow, and lunacy dims. Then, there comes a period of sanity - dismal, doubtful, shining, stark sanity - a cool, porcelain sanity – a sanity that, it never fails, I fear may never break.

Yes, each time, I wonder if I'll write again. And yes, similarly, each night, I wonder if the sun will rise again. So, okay, fine. Clearly, everybody's got some flaws in their understanding of the solar system. But, according to a thing I heard this one time, the skies are like clockwork; they  keep doing the same things, over and over, for better or worse, and my creative cycle is basically like that.

When the moon is in shadow, it's easy to see things like a sane person would. 

It's easy to see that my arbitrary deadlines are arbitrary.

It's easy to see that I have no real audience waiting for my writing.

It's easy to see that this whole expedition is a tactical disaster, that it's time to cut my losses and save what little is salvageable.

It's easy to see that this writing-and-movies bullshit snake-oil-show has been an embarrassing waste of the only lifetime I'm likely to receive.

It's easy to go out to dinner, it's easy to sit in bed and read, it's easy to watch a movie on streaming, it's easy to drive somewhere I've never been, it's easy to play a game on my phone, it's easy to enjoy TV on DVD, to walk the dog, to clean the kitchen.

When the moon is in shadow, it's hard to find the urgency I felt when I was an idiot child.

It's hard to imagine myself like I once imagined I would become, as the head of a production team, as the master of a creative machine, as an award-winner, as a trend setter, as someone to study and admire.

It's hard to dream stupid dreams and be unashamed of them.

It's hard to keep doing what I've done a thousand, thousand, thousand times before, and still continue expecting different results.

When the moon is in shadow, it's hard to be crazy enough to do all this.

I suspect that everyone who struggles to prove themselves needs a healthy dose of lunacy.

How can a comedian, or a musician, or an actor, how can anyone, face a half-empty, disinterested house, and still perform?

They need madness.

How can a writer lay awake in bed, or sit alone at the keyboard, struggling to find a better idea, struggling to find a better phrase, struggling to make a better scene, when no one will read it or see it performed?

The only answer readily available - is madness.

I suspect that everyone who struggles to prove themselves wishes, in some small corner of their heart, that they were mad. If they were mad, they too could believe six impossible things before breakfast, even when the moon is tediously failing to be as full as it should.

And now I'm thinking -

Isn't it interesting, when the moon is called new, it's so very new - that it's not there at all?