Monday, July 28, 2008

The Schadenfreude Challenge

On Friday, I finished my first draft of Mute. Since this was my third time trying to write this story and the only time I've completed it to the standard I deemed worthy, I promptly went out and bought a bottle of spumante. My celebration was short-lived, though.

Last week, I'd agreed to a writing challenge with my friend Matt. Since we usually write in different media and in vastly different styles, we figured it would be fun and, well, challenging to exchange short story prompts. I took great pleasure in crafting an idea I knew would throw him, and based on his gleeful pre-emptive statement of "You're going to hate me," I think he did the same.

When I first heard mine on Saturday night, I was actually quite excited. It was different, something I wouldn't have conceived myself, and in a genre I've never written. Beyond that, it was intriguing, and I had images from the opening of the story flying through my head. By Sunday morning, though, my excitement had given way to the sickening notion that I had no idea what to do once I got past the opening. My only comfort came from knowing Matt was having just as much trouble with the prompt I'd given him.

After having tossed some ideas around with my sister, I half-settled on an ending I didn't like. It didn't feel right, and I knew it, but I didn't know what else to do. And with a deadline of next Tuesday looming in the distance, I was about ready to give up. In a last ditch-effort, I decided to take a Moleskine Cahier up to Borders and do a little freewriting.

Be it the magic of the Moleskine, the perseverance of the pen, or some deep-seated trauma lurking in the recesses of my brain, I'm pleased to report that my venture was successful. By the time I'd filled three pages with the beginning of the story, I had a clear vision of the end. I skipped to the back page of my cahier and wrote it out.

It's interesting to see what my prose is doing stylistically these days. I can certainly pinpoint one clear influence that is completely unintentional and a little surprising. But it works for this story, I think. I haven't done prose since last November, and even then, it was mostly middling with a few moments of above-average tossed in to keep things interesting. Perhaps the muses are jumping at the chance to escape the skeleton that is screenwriting for a while. For the moment, I'm happy to go along for the ride.

Recap: 27 July 2008

So, I'm pretty disappointed in my fellow X-Philes at the moment. No. 4? Really? That's the best we could do? Shameful.
  1. The Dark Knight ($75.63 million)
  2. Step Brothers ($30 million)
  3. Mamma Mia! ($17.9 million)
  4. The X-Files: I Want to Believe ($10.2 million)
  5. Journey to the Center of the Earth ($9.4 million)
  6. Hancock ($8.2 million)
  7. WALL-E ($6.3 million)
  8. Hellboy II: The Golden Army ($4.9 million)
  9. Space Chimps ($4.4 million)
  10. Wanted ($2.7 million)
What I watched:
  • Rushmore (3½ stars) - I always kind of forget how much I like Jason Schwartzman. I'm generally a fan of Wes Anderson, but I think sometimes he veers a little too much toward style in its ongoing battle against substance. He doesn't do that here.
  • Secret Window (3½ stars) - This is a much more clever movie than I'd given it credit for. The special features really opened my eyes to a lot of the things I'd missed. I enjoyed it well enough while watching it, but I'm much more impressed in hindsight, if that makes any sense.
  • It Takes Two (3 stars) - Yes, I'm owning up to having watched a Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen movie on Saturday night with my 16-year-old sister. I know you're all jealous of how exciting my life is. In my defense, this is actually a pretty decent kids flick, and it's one of the only movies I remember sitting through multiple viewings when my sisters were younger without wanting to spork my eyes out.
  • X-Files 2: I Want to Believe (3½ stars) - I'm a little shocked by all the negative reviews this film has gotten. I'm not quite sure what people were expecting, but I thought it was a solid flick that probably would have been more appropriate for a September or October release. The X-File part of the story does get a little convoluted in places, and at times the story moves a little more slowly than it probably should. But the themes being explored are classic to the series. This is more than just a popcorn movie. It's more in the vein of Christmas Carol/Emily than Bad Blood, and maybe that's different than what people were expecting. But I don't think that's a bad thing. I love the comic and light-hearted episodes as much as the next X-Phile, but there's a lot more substance when they're exploring the faith vs. science issue, which was always the heart of the series in my opinion.
  • A History of Violence (3½ stars) - I didn't enjoy this quite as much as Eastern Promises, but it was a solid outing from David Cronenberg with great performances. In my opinion, Ashton Holmes, who plays Viggo Mortensen & Maria Bello's son, stole every scene he was in.
  • Tootsie (4 stars) - Not much to say about this one that hasn't already been said over the years. Great movie, wonderful performance by Dustin Hoffman, charming supporting cast.
  • The Orphanage (4 stars) - A lovely little thriller with a heart. Creep factor: 7/10 with one f-bomb dropped.
Writing update coming soon.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Box Office Predictions: 25 July 2008

Today is a landmark occasion in the history of my life. Last night, I got to see Mulder & Scully on the big screen for the first time ever, and for the first time period since The X-Files ended in 2002.

I didn't become a die-hard X-Phile until after the first movie, Fight the Future, had left theatres. I'd always had the impression of the show as humorless, procedural and, frankly, boring. Of course, I'd never actually seen an episode, so I'm not quite sure where this idea originated.

On vacation with my family in Florida and tired of the searing temperatures on the beach, I retreated to the couch in the condo and happened to catch the movie on one of the movie channels. By the time Mulder, after having dragged Scully up on top of the roof, popped a sunflower seed into his mouth and drawled, "What are we doing up here, Scully? It's hotter than hell," I was hooked.

The dry humor, the themes of faith vs. science, belief vs. logic, the undeniable chemistry between Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny... The show was like heroin to me. Within six months, I'd caught up completely with the previous six seasons and was happily enjoying the seventh.

At the height of my X-Philia, I could tell you the name, season and episode number before the opening credits rolled on any episode. I can also tell you what season you're watching just by Scully's hairstyle. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that, on my two-week trip to France (my first trip out of the country and without my family), I have no recollection of taking any photos of my family, but I did take with me a screenshot of Mulder & Scully from Fight the Future. Such was the intensity of my love for (some might say "obsession with") The X-Files.

To this day, there is still only one episode I have not seen: Season 9, Episode 15, entitled "Jump the Shark." There's a reason I've not sought out this episode, and I won't spoil it for those who don't know what happens, but I know it'll be a very sad day when I do finally watch it.

I'll admit my off-the-top-of-my-head knowledge has slipped a bit in the years since the show ended. My love for the series, however, has not. And that's why I was first in line to see I Want to Believe last night. While I completely acknowledge that it's not a phenomenal movie, I loved it, and no one can convince me that love is unjustified.

That being said, I don't see there being any way it's going to overtake The Dark Knight at the box office this weekend. I am hopeful it'll muster enough momentum to take No. 2, because I would be thrilled to see another big-screen outing for the franchise. The other wide release this week is Step Brothers, which I think will lose out to Mamma Mia! for the No. 3 spot.

Official Predictions:
  1. The Dark Knight
  2. X-Files: I Want to Believe
  3. Mamma Mia!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Inspiration, thy name is Roadkill.

There are moments in life that cement your certainty of your calling in life, and I had one of those moments back at the beginning of May. Whilst driving my normal route to work, I spotted two or three dead raccoons. Now, to any normal person, the thought that follows seeing roadkill is, "Ew, that's gross." But for me, the thought was, "Hey! That's a great starting point for an animated short!" It's thoughts like that that convince me I can never be normal so I might as well be a writer.

So, on Saturday night, I spent about an hour beating out the dead raccoon story in lieu of working on Mute. On Sunday, I met up with my aspiring-animator sister Kate, and now the ball is rolling on actually getting the short produced. She's working on storyboards this week, and I'll probably start trying to look for sound effects and music in the public domain. I haven't done any video editing since college, so this should be a rather amusing adventure. Nonetheless, it will be nice to actually have a visual representation of something I've written when the project's finished.

Also on my plate this week: finishing Mute. I've got a little left of the second act and then the entire third act. It's a fairly large amount of writing, but I'm fairly certain I can get the job done if I stop slacking.

I'm really trying to get back into a daily writing habit, which has really fallen off since Screnzy ended. I'm shooting for a minimum 500 words a day, which isn't much to ask and doesn't take long to deliver. So, hopefully my productivity will shoot back up to first-quarter levels here with my re-found motivation.

I'll hopefully have some lovely-looking storyboards from Roadkill to post for your enjoyment later this week, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Box Office Results: 18 July 2008

I may have missed the third pick, but I was correct in predicting that The Dark Knight would break the three-day weekend box office record. And rightly so. It's an amazing movie, and you should go see it if you're one of the three people in America who hasn't already.
  1. The Dark Knight ($155.3 million)
  2. Mamma Mia! ($27.6 million)
  3. Hancock ($14 million)
  4. Journey to the Center of the Earth ($11.9 million)
  5. Hellboy II: The Golden Army ($10 million)
  6. WALL-E ($9.8 million)
  7. Space Chimps ($7.4 million)
  8. Wanted, ($5.1 million)
  9. Get Smart ($4.1 million)
  10. Kung Fu Panda ($1.8 million)
What I watched:
  • Pan's Labyrinth (5 stars) - Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film is visually stunning and beautiful, frightening, heart-breaking, touching and inspiring. Hard to ask for more than that.
  • Rear Window (4 stars) - My favorite of the four Hitchcock films I've watched seen. James Stewart is always fun to watch, and (perhaps ironically considering the wheelchair-bound state of the lead) this film doesn't drag like the other Hitchcock films I've watched. Rear Window also does the best job of balancing drama, humor and intensity.
  • Edward Scissorhands (4 stars) - This is one of my favorite movies. Classic Burton and Classic Depp: what's not to love? Tip: If you've got the anniversary edition, watch the featurette to see Johnny Depp gush about working with Tim Burton for the first time.
  • Labyrinth (3 ½ stars) - This movie has held up surprisingly well over time. David Bowie is hilariously campy (in a good way), and the creatures are as charming as you would expect from Jim Henson.
  • Win a Date with Tad Hamilton (3 stars) - Another movie that benefits from going in with low expectations, it neither disappointed or pleasantly surprised me.
  • Return to Me (3 ½ stars) - It's always pleasant when a movie lives up to your memories of it, and Return to Me did just that. I loved this movie when it came out, and I'd feared I'd loved it solely because I was at the height of my X-Philia and David Duchovny is the lead. But it turns out this movie actually is just unbelievably heartwarming in the best sort of way. Sure, it's cheesy and fairly predictable, but it's also really quite funny and very, very sweet.
  • Love and Other Disasters (3 stars) - This movie starts off slow, but once they start drawing comparisons to Breakfast at Tiffany's, it really improves quite a bit. It's not spectacular, but it's a pleasant-enough way to spend an evening.
  • Mamma Mia! (2 ½ stars) - Here are a couple of lessons in directing movie musicals: 1) Songs should move the story forward, and 2) Keep the camera and the characters moving during musical numbers. Sadly, Mamma Mia! fails to follow either of these rules. If you're not going to offer me something more than what I can see on stage, then you probably shouldn't adapt the musical for the screen. For example, a potentially moving rendition of "The Winner Takes All" by Meryl Streep was completely ruined because she simply stood there singing her heart out instead of moving. If they'd simply had her start moving up the hundreds of stairs to her destination, it would have been a great, heart-wrenching number. Instead, I was simply bored and waiting for the song to be over so we could get on with the story. A number of the leads also seemed to forget how to act when they started singing. There were some bright spots (namely, Dominic Cooper and Colin Firth), but there simply weren't enough to save the rest of the movie. And also, there are some people who should really never sing in public. Pierce Brosnan, sadly, is one of them.
  • The Dark Knight (4 ½ stars) - I can't say anything about this film that hasn't already been said by someone else. It was awesome. Go see it.
Wow, that was a lot of movies. My current task at work enables me to watch a couple of movies a day, so I expect that will be the case for a while. And you know what? I'm OK with that.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Box Office Predictions: 18 July 2008

Much harder than picking the No. 1 movie for the weekend was picking which poster I wanted to use since they're all so damn cool. I finally settled on this one.

The Dark Knight is opening in a record 4,366 theatres, which, with multiples, comes out a few hundred shy of 10,000 screens, including 94 IMAX showings. Even if this film weren't the biggest movie event of the year, it would still have a distinct advantage over the weekend's other two wide releases: Mamma Mia! and Space Chimps.

Most of the critics I've seen are predicting TDK won't top Spider-Man 3 at the box office, but I think they may be underestimating a few things. Obviously, there's the incredible hype. Secondly, there's the fact that early reviews say the film lives up to the hype. And thirdly, this is Heath Ledger's last full movie prior to his death, meaning it's a chance for his fans to say goodbye. Sure, $151 million is a lofty number, but I think TDK might have the moxie to break the record.

Official Predictions:
  1. The Dark Knight
  2. Mamma Mia!
  3. Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Last night I received my Bluecat feedback about five minutes before I had planned on going to bed. The bad news is I didn't get to sleep until nearly three hours later, but the good news is that it's because I was excited about the feedback. It gave me enough to constructive criticism that I think I can make some strong improvements without making drastic changes, and it was positive enough that I feel buoyed up.

Working on myriad projects without a concrete path for getting them into the hands of the public can be a little soul-crushing at times. I think it's especially hard for screenwriters since we're writing for a medium that requires so much more than just getting the words down on paper. The feedback was basically a message saying, "It's OK to hope."

The main reason I entered the Bluecat competition was to get some outside feedback on my screenplay from someone who wasn't a friend or a family member—and also from someone versed in reading screenplays. As much as I love Kansas City, it's not exactly a haven for aspiring screenwriters. In fact, I'm only acquainted with one other who's actively working toward the goal. So, if there are any other screenwriters in the area, drop me a comment.

That one other is currently in the midst of waiting on script critiques from her friends, colleagues and fearless Screnzy MLs (namely, me). And in the future, I think I'm going to steal her critique system. She's set up a facebook group for all the readers and has given us a month to cover four areas of critique:
  • Week 1: Story
  • Week 2: Characters
  • Week 3: Dialogue
  • Week 4: The Ending (which is a specific story aspect on which she wants help)
Then, to cap it all off, she's invited us to her house for a wrap party as a reward. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me. She's been very good about laying out exactly what she's looking for from her readers (as well as some general advice about how to read screenplays), which is something at which I've probably failed miserably. I think it's kind of like handing someone a map of a foreign country in a foreign language and saying, "See you on the other side! Let me know how the trip goes!" Not all that helpful.

So, firstly, to the few people who have been so kind as to read my screenplay(s) with little to no direction, thank you for braving that rocky landscape with barely any direction from me. Secondly, I'm putting out my second call for volunteers (third if you count Matt's plea on my behalf). I promise I'll give you a decent map in English with step-by-step directions this time. I can't promise a party at my house, but I will come up with some sort of reward to make it worth your while (other than the karmic benefits of helping a struggling writer achieve her dreams, of course).
So, if you're interested in reading one or more of my screenplays, leave me a comment, send me an e-mail, release a carrier pigeon, whatever works. It's OK if you're unversed in the world of screenplays, and it's OK if I don't know you personally. I'm just desperate for readers, and I need you!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Box Office Results: 11 July 2008

Pardon me while I do my victory lap.
  1. Hellboy II: The Golden Army ($35.9 million)
  2. Hancock ($33 million)
  3. Journey to the Center of the Earth ($20.6 million)
  4. WALL-E ($18.5 million)
  5. Wanted ($11.6 million)
  6. Get Smart ($7.1 million)
  7. Meet Dave ($5.3 million)
  8. Kung Fu Panda ($4.3 million)
  9. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl ($2.5 million)
  10. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($2.3 million)
What I watched:
  • Hellboy (3 1/2 stars): Amusing comic book movie that doesn't take itself too seriously.
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army (3 1/2 stars): The dialog could have been better, but overall a solid outing with some beautiful and sometimes terrifying images, as you would expect Guillermo del Toro to deliver.
  • Brokeback Mountain (3 1/2 stars): Good performances, but a meandering story. It felt like I was watching some of the same scenes over and over again, but the characters were compelling enough that I didn't mind too much.
Friday night was a surprisingly productive writing night for me, and tonight I'm about half a scene away from passing the midpoint. The current scene is being surprisingly troublesome, considering it should be a fairly simple one, but that's writing for you. The goal this week will be to get to the All is Lost moment.

I should also be getting back notes from Bluecat on M. Valentine this week, which I'm really looking forward to. M. Valentine is my favorite script that I've written (though Mute may eventually overtake it if I can get it right), and anything that moves me toward making M. Valentine a better script is a good thing.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Box Office Predictions: 11 July 2008

The two new releases this week are Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II: The Golden Army and Journey to the Center of the Earth, which is being billed as the first-ever live-action feature created for 3D viewing. Oh, and Meet Dave, which looks to meet an even worse fate than The Love Guru.

I'm in the camp that says Hellboy 2 will edge out Hancock to take the week. Guillermo del Toro's name has broken into the public's vernacular in the past couple of years with Pan's Labyrinth and his being tasked to direct The Hobbit movies. The first Hellboy has developed a cult following since it came out in 2004, and I think these factors will drive its sequel to No. 1

I think also think Journey to the Center of the Earth will do surprisingly well. Reviews have been fairly decent, but whether or not it will grab enough patrons to bump Wall-E from the top 3 is debatable. I think, though, maybe movie-going patrons are in the mood for a movie that is purely popcorn, and it's hard to find something more popcorn than what Journey offers.

Official Predictions:
1. Hellboy 2
2. Hancock
3. Journey to the Center of the Earth

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Lessons Learned

It's been a slow writing week for me, both with this blog and my screenplay. I've been house-sitting, which means I've been taking care of five dogs and two cats belonging to my family plus my own two dogs. That's nine animals to one human, if you didn't do the math. All of which means I've not had much time or energy to devote to much else.

Despite that, I have managed to learn a few things this week:
  1. Cats like to leave their caretakers gifts from time to time, but they are not very good at discerning what their caretakers would like or use.
  2. Barbecue tongs will do in a pinch for removing dead birds from your front step.
  3. There are things more awkward to purchase from retail stores than feminine products.
  4. Sometimes a day filled with good conversation with a friend is all it takes to make things seem OK again.
  5. Letting go of expectations is difficult but beneficial for emotional well-being.
On top of all that, while it wasn't a great volume of writing, I did manage to get out of a rather difficult scene which should make it easier to be productive tomorrow night. Stay tuned tomorrow for Box Office Predictions.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Box Office Results: 4 July 2008

I've run out of both clever and not-so-clever titles for these box office results posts, so from now on I'm just going to save myself the trouble and title them like this one. I know it's boring, but I'd prefer to spend my limited creative juices elsewhere.

This weekend pushed me over .500 to four for six on weekend box office predictions. It's nice when the box office makes it easy for me.
  1. Hancock ($66 million)
  2. WALL-E ($33.4 million)
  3. Wanted ($20.6 million)
  4. Get Smart ($11.1 million)
  5. Kung Fu Panda ($7.5 million)
  6. The Incredible Hulk ($5 million)
  7. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($3.9 million)
  8. Kit Kittredge: An American Girl ($3.6 million)
  9. Sex and the City ($2.3 million)
  10. You Don’t Mess With the Zohan ($2 million)
What I Watched:
  • The History Boys (4 stars) - In the vein of Dead Poets Society, but delightfully irreverent. I'd love to see this on stage.
  • Ordinary People (5 stars) - Wow. Phenomenal. Heart-wrenching. I now understand what all the fuss is about.
  • Wanted (3½ stars) - Very fun, though Act 2 dragged a little bit for me.
  • Hancock (3½ stars) - Watch out for spoilers in the comments. I went into this expecting to be disappointed and, thus, was pleasantly surprised. It was worth the price of admission just to see Jason Bateman and Charlize Theron together again. For British Eyes Only... Sure, things got a little more cerebral in the second half of the movie, but I didn't really mind. The filmmakers took a popcorn flick and gave it a brain, though the transformation probably would have benefited from a little more time to sink in, given the brief 92-minute run time. Nonetheless, I may be in the minority, but I actually liked the second half better than the first.
  • The Virgin Suicides (3½ stars) - By no means a happy movie, but it captured the emotion of being witness (firsthand, secondhand and beyond) to suicide: the absurdity and the inexplicableness of it all. At first, I felt unsatisfied by the ending, but then I realized that's how it is in real life when something like that happens.
  • A Streetcar Named Desire (3 stars) - I was never sure for whom I was supposed to be rooting in this movie. I read some discussion on IMDB and felt a little clearer on the plot afterwards, but I still felt the only sympathetic character was Stella, and she seemed a willing victim. It was interesting to look at the atmosphere in which the film was made. Things we wouldn't think twice about in a movie today (and things which would have made the plot a little clearer) were cut or modified from the stage version. Even though I didn't particularly enjoy the film, the performances were undeniably phenomenal.
I also finished reading Oscar Wilde's Salomé this week, though I'm still in the midst of Neverwhere and Jitterbug Perfume.

As for my own projects, as of posting time, I'm 29 pages into Mute with another writing session scheduled for this afternoon/evening. I should hit the midpoint some time this week. So far, Act Two hasn't reached Orange-Level-Pulling-Out-My-Hair-Gnashing-of-Teeth Phase yet, though I suspect that might change once I move past the midpoint. Though, as they say, third time's the charm, so maybe I'll sail through without too much of a fight this time.

Oh, speaking of projects, I've posted a bibliography of sorts detailing the things I've written. If you're ever curious as to how in the world I've been spending my time, there's a decent explanation there.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Box Office Predictions: 4 July 2008

Pretty easy No. 1 pick this weekend. Hancock and Kitt Kittredge: An American Girl are the only wide releases. Will Smith on the 4th of July? Ka-ching. Bonus: Jason Bateman!

My predictions:
1. Hancock
2. Wall-E
3. Wanted

Have a good 4th, everyone.