Friday, May 30, 2008

Box Office Predictions: 30 May 2008

One of the celebrity gossip blogs I read on a regular basis is MSNBC's The Scoop. One of the features I enjoy is Ms. Hazlett's predictions every week about which movie will take the No. 1 slot at the box office for the weekend. She's usually pretty on cue with her predictions, but I thought I'd throw my own hat into the ring this week. And I'm going to go a couple of steps further and try for the top three box office returns.

Her pick this week is the feature-length incarnation of Sex & The City. This is the obvious pick. It's certainly had plenty of publicity, and fans have been waiting for some time to see Carrie & Co. on the big screen. But I'm not sure that's enough to get it the No. 1 slot.

Here's what's working against it: (1) It's Rated R. There goes the subsection of the market that's just gotten out of school. (2) Most men are going to want to avoid this movie like the plague. (3) In addition to losing the pre-17 crowd, I'm not sure most 18- to 25-year-olds are going to be all that interested either. I was 16 years old when Sex and the City hit the small screen, and I've only seen one episode. A quick, entirely non-scientific of my friends reveals similar non-fanaticism for the series. I'm not against seeing it by any means, but I wasn't clamoring for a midnight showing either.

So that leaves a viable market of women 30 to, say, 45 years old. (I'm banking that most women over 45 won't be all that interested in it either based on the extensive research of my mother's viewing habits.) I think it'll hit it out of the ball park in that small demographic for sure, but the rest of us moviegoers? The question is what movie everyone who saw Indy 4 last weekend will want to go see this weekend. And I'm just not feeling that's going to be Sex & the City.

So that leaves the only other wide release, The Strangers, and everything else that's already been playing. I don't think I have to worry about The Strangers taking the No. 1 slot. Despite a 78 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, I don't think Indy's got enough staying power to grab a second week at No. 1. Word of mouth hasn't been spectacular, and I don't think most people who have seen it will want to see a second time in theatres. So I'm forecasting a fall to No. 3. I do think Sex & The City will grab No. 2.

So that leaves me with my pick for No. 1 as Prince Caspian. This got a more enthusiastic response in my non-scientific poll, with the most common response being, "Oh yeah, I want to see that!"

With many schools having let out for the summer this past week, I think we'll see Prince Caspian do better business than last week. It's a good four-quadrant picture (meaning it appeals to all major demographics), and it's the only truly kid-friendly movie showing in wide release currently.

I'll admit that this is certainly a pet pick because I've fallen in love with the movie. I was distracted by its similarities to LOTR: The Two Towers on my first trip (as well as the woman next to me who felt the need to either "hmmmmm..." or "eeeh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh..." every time a new character or plot point was introduced, as if she were in on some sort of inside joke with the filmmakers), but upon reflection, I felt compelled to see it again. And I did. And I fell for it. And if I'm being honest, it doesn't hurt that Ben Barnes is certainly easy on the eyes as Prince Caspian.

So there you have it. I'm going out on a limb, I realize, but my analysis makes sense to me. So, if you're looking to see a movie this weekend, do me a favor and go see Prince Caspian, all right?

Box Office Prediction Summary
1. The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian
2. Sex & the City
3. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Conversations with my Characters: Ben

Ben: You know I want to hook up with Emily, right?
Me: What?
Ben: You heard me.
Me: What about Greta?
Ben: What about her?
Me: Um, you've been flirting with her for the last 25 pages, remember?
Ben: That's just an act to get at Emily.
Me: But that's not in my outline!
Ben: Come on. You know you're not running the show here.
Me: But you and Emily are complete opposites. You bicker all the time!
Ben: We're not as different as you think.
Me: As I think? As I think? You only exist because I think!
Ben: Water under the bridge now, sweetheart.
Me: Well, what if Emily doesn't like you?
Ben: I think we both know she does.
Me: ... Damn it. Fine. You're lucky I needed a B-story.
Ben: Yeah, whatever. Just make it happen.
Me: I'm not turning this into some cheesy teen romantic comedy, you know.
Ben: Of course not. That would suck. And it would completely ruin the theme of the story.
Me: You are entirely frustrating.
Ben: And yet, you can understand why Emily likes me.
Me: Touché.
Ben: So we're good?
Me: Yeah, yeah.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Origination of the Idea

Who knows where thoughts come from? They just appear.
— Lucas, Empire Records

One battle every writer who doesn't want to be a one-hit wonder faces is to find viable story ideas. I tackle this adversary by looking anywhere and everywhere for hints of inspiration. I carry around a Moleskine notebook for when I overhear a bit of dialog or see a snippet of a scene I can use in the future. I'll jot down quotes, random thoughts, pretty much anything that falls out of my brain. I expect some day, probably after my death, these mostly dross-filled notebooks will sell for thousands of dollars on ebay to fans who hope to find a gem or two amongst the scribbles. Wishful thinking, I know. But it never hurts to be prepared.

On a semi-regular basis, I transfer ideas into a Google Spreadsheet I call my "Idea Box." From there, I can expand ideas when I'm bored at work. Some of those ideas will eventually become stories. It's always fun to look back through my Moleskine or my Idea Box to see how certain seeds have progressed to full-blown ideas. For example...
  • 4 September 2007 (Moleskine): "NOVEL IDEA: Character doesn't speak." This idea became the subject for my 2007 NaNoWriMo effort two months later. Eventually, that story will be adapted for the screen. The idea came to me whilst listening to speech at a business conference. I was probably sick of having to engage in small talk at said conference.
  • 27 October 2007 (Moleskine): "Story idea: Based on M. Valentine by Spoon. M. Valentine is a woman! Which is why she both swordfights and makes love to the duke." This led to my favorite work yet, The Affair of Monsieur Valentine. The B-story of that story actually came from a dream I had later. And speaking of dreams...
  • 11 November 2007 (Moleskine): "Story idea: Woman on a journey encountering various fairytale obstacles, i.e., being chased by a monster, she finds a very handsome young man passed out (a sleeping beauty) and has to kiss him to save him." This is a direct description of a dream I had, and it's the stimulus for my upcoming 2008 NaNoNovel.
  • 17 April 2008 (Idea Box): "Misfit orchestra from a non-affluent high school plays John Cage's '4'33' at contest." This particular concept, inspired by a friend sending me the wikipedia page on the piece, got put straight into the Idea Box and quickly spawned my current project, though it's been tweaked a bit since then.
As you can see, my ideas tend to come from all sorts of different places, and I do that by design. One of the first things I wrote down in my Moleskine was the following list from The Ririan Project blog (actually a guest post by Leo from Zen Habits, one of my favorite blogs). The original post expands on each item, so it's worth checking out.
  1. Carry a notebook.
  2. Read a lot.
  3. Talk to people.
  4. Use your drive time.
  5. Exercise.
  6. Find inspiration.
  7. Brainstorm.
  8. Keep a running list.
  9. Come up with a twist.
  10. Draw from your everyday life.
  11. Use your interests.
  12. Bounce ideas.
  13. Google it.
  14. Draw it.
  15. Go for a walk.
  16. Make a list.
  17. Step back; look for patterns.
  18. Get crazy.
  19. Come back to it.
  20. Always be open.
I'm a firm believer in looking for inspiration instead of waiting for it to come to you. Same goes for motivation, but that's another post. I once read a quote (this must have been my pre-Moleskine days, as I cannot find it) that, summed up, said that everyone has story ideas within them; it's the writers who learn how to recognize them. The key is training yourself to take every opportunity to do so.

For more on this topic, check out posts by my fellow bloggers: The Literary Rockstar and Lee Horne.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Maelstrom of Act Two

Act Two is the bane of my existence. It never fails to throw me a curve ball, whether it's in the form of an unseen character direction, a massive wave of writer's block, or general apathy toward what's happening in my story.

I've become slightly more apt at wading through Act Two since I started outlining. I start with Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet and then progress to his recommended 40-scene outline, complete with emotion change and conflict spelled out for each scene. Even with such a detailed battle plan, I still hit kinks. A couple of characters fall for each other and demand I carry out their wishes on paper. A storyline headed in what looked like the way out finds that the path is actually just a dead-end in the house of mirrors known as the plot. These surprises are what make writing both incredibly frustrating and indescribably rewarding.

So what is it about Act Two that makes it so damn difficult? If we look at the creation of a story like we do parenthood, Act Two seems to be the rebellious teenage phase. Up until Act Two, we have a cute, possibly precocious, but still lovable little kid who listens to us and respects us. But as soon as we break into Act Two, that kid turns into a rude, pretentious, stubborn being full of hormones and topped off with a Napoleon complex. We start to question whether or not creating stories was really the best idea after all. The key, I think, is to pick and choose your battles. We can let our stories make some mistakes along the way (that's why God made second drafts); what really matters is that we don't let our stories forget who they are and what they stand for.

If we can muster up the courage to keep it together 'til Act Three, things almost always start to calm down. Our stories go off to college and realize that we storytellers were right about a few things after all. And we learn that our stories didn't fall apart just because they took a turn we wouldn't necessarily have chosen for them in the beginning. In fact, sometimes they're better for it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why I Love Coffee Shops

I was rather dismayed to find yesterday that my friend Brittany (alias: Lee Horne) had written about the very topic I'd considered using as my next blog post. So, despite her beating me to the punch, I'm going to take it on anyway. The subject? Writing in coffee shops.

I'm a major proponent of getting out of the house to write. There's something romantic and whimsical about the image of the starving artist studiously tapping away in the dim light, serenaded by a single candle flickering on the table beside the white glow of that ubiquitous MacBook apple. All right, maybe you can't be much of a starving artist if you have a MacBook, but you get my point. There's something about the atmosphere of a coffee shop that inspires me to get down to business and tap out my dreams.

Of course, there's also the added pressure of the $5, multi-adjective beverage sitting in front of me to guilt me into working. (A tall, non-fat, sugar-free chai tea latte with one shot of espresso is the cure for writer's block.) Coffee shops are sort of like gym memberships that way. If I'm going to pay to be there, I'd better get some work done.

As Brittany points out, there are downsides. Coffee shops can provide plenty of distraction if you give them the opportunity. Friends wanting to chat (though I find most of my coffee shop jaunts tend to be solo these days), obnoxious patrons vying for whose cell phone conversation is most important, teenagers lacking a fully-developed sense of discernment, a poor choice of internet radio stations, etc. My personal favorite is the Patron with No Sense of Personal Boundaries. I tend to be pretty private about my work, and I demand a minimum working radius of three feet. PNSPBs have no scruples about butting up against my table (sometimes literally), despite my less-than-amused glares in their general direction.

But even with these distractions and perhaps because of them, coffee shops can be a wealth of inspiration as well. I have countless snippets of conversations and incidents written down in my moleskine notebook for future inclusion in Nobel-prize-winning novels or Oscar-winning screenplays.

So there you have it. Why do I write at coffee shops? For the image, the guilt and the inspiration shrouded in distraction. I've done my best writing while sitting in those dimmed lights with that candle flickering amidst the glow of my MacBook in my hobo chic fingerless writing gloves. And that's how I like it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

An Update, Complete with a New Focus

Sticking to a defined purpose for a blog is a tough thing to do, I've found. This one has run the gamut from corporate life rants/advice to movie reviews. I've recently been inspired by a couple of friends to put my blogging beret back on and give it another shot. This time around, I'm going to try to focus on all things writing, reading and movie-watching, since those are things I consistently enjoy doing.

So, let's recap what I've been doing this year.

I'm shooting for 24 books again this year. I'm just past the halfway mark.

Books Read:
Currently Reading: Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins (by fervent recommendation, I might add). Not sure what's next after that. I have a few options.

I watch a lot of movies. Case in point: I've seen seven out of the 11 movies currently showing at my local 20-screen theatre complex. And I've read the book version of one I haven't seen. According to my counts, I've seen 30 movies this year, and tonight it'll be 31 with a sneak preview of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thanks to an invite from a friend. Don't worry; this tally isn't just new releases. It also includes movies I rent or catch on movie channels. As I twittered yesterday, there are advantages to being the lone movie freak in your circle of friends. So, if you're looking or a movie recommendation, you now know whom to ask.

What I saw last week:
  • Iron Man (3 stars out of 5)
  • Prince Caspian (3 stars)
  • What Happens in Vegas (4 stars, which was a complete surprise)
  • Capote (3 stars)
  • Lars and the Real Girl (5 stars)
  • The Golden Compass (a generous 3 stars)
Nothing that's been released this year has grabbed that coveted fifth star from me yet, but with summer gearing up and a mere 67 days 'til the next X-Files movie, I'm hopeful.

I discovered the world of screenwriting in August of 2007. I wrote my first screenplay that month and spent the next couple of months editing it until NaNoWriMo hit. I managed to hit my personal goal of 60k in November, despite the fact that I realized about a quarter of the way in that my story really wanted to be a screenplay. We'll start the recap post-November.

December: first draft of "The Affair of Monsieur Valentine"
January: Rewrite of "Don't Forget," which was my first screenplay. Chopped out 30 pages.
February: Attempted adaptation of "Mute," which was my 2007 NaNo. Didn't plan as I should have, and thus puttered out around page 75. Will attempt again at a later date.
March: Subsequent drafts of "The Affair of Monsieur Valentine" culminating in registration with the WGA and submission to two screenwriting competitions (results due back mid- to late-summer).
April: ScriptFrenzy! I must admit, though I finished, I did struggle with the story I chose (working title: "Tea"). I never did figure out if I was just suffering from the crash after a writing/editing high with M. Valentine or if there was an issue with the story I couldn't pinpoint. Is currently simmering. I'll pick it back up for a read-through at a later date and decide where to go from there.
First week of May: Did a read-through of "Don't Forget." It's very obvious this was my first screenplay. I still like the characters, and I still like the overarching storyline. But it needs major help. So, it goes back to the sit and simmer pile until I'm up for sufficiently replotting it.

Current Project:
Working title of my new screenplay is "Sounds of Silence," which I think is a little too on the nose for its final title. But it works for now. I've been taking this one slowly, which has helped me avoid the normal motivation pitfalls. Of course, I just broke into Act Two over the weekend, which is when things usually start to get murky for me. So we'll see. Here's the logline if you're interested.
After undergoing a life-changing experience at a zen retreat, the director of a very talented high school orchestra creates controversy and challenges minds when he insists on performing John Gage's "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds" at contest.
And here's a wiki link if you're unfamiliar with "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds." The logline makes it sound all cheesy-inspirational (and thus probably needs some work), but I really imagine it filmed mockumentary-style à la Christopher Guest.

So that's what's been going on. I'll keep you posted on how I fare in the depths of Act Two this week.