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.