Monday, July 30, 2012

Motivation: The power of dreams.

The 2012 Olympics started over the weekend. I rarely watch athletic events, but when the Olympics roll around, I find myself at the TV, following the hopes and dreams of champions. The perseverance of the athletes inspire me. So my quote for today comes from Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman to win three gold medals at a single Olympics.

"Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the human spirit. We are all the same in this notion: The potential for greatness lives within each of us." 

Friday, July 27, 2012

Comic Relief!: There are two types of people.

We're going to a Neil Diamond concert and I keep thinking of the following scene from What About Bob? (1991).  

Bob Wiley (Bill Murray) meets with Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss), a psychiatrist, for the first time.  His previous doctor nearly went bonkers, and eagerly passed Bob on to Leo, an egotistical colleague.

Are you married?

I'm divorced

Would you like to talk about that?

There are two types of people in this
world: Those who like Neil Diamond, and
those who don't.  My ex-wife loves him.

I see.  So, what you're saying is that
even though you are an almost-paralyzed,
multi-phobic personality who is in a 
constant state of panic, your wife did
not leave you, you left her because
she... liked Neil Diamond?

Whew.  Thankfully, Kurt and I both like Neil Diamond.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Action!: Director's Intern

It's Wednesday, time to post about what I'm working on....

I am interning with a director, working on a short film, Dandelions.  My previous experience with directing was for my student films, but I had to do everything... the writing, producing, directing, camera work, and editing.  This is my first time being involved with just the director's duties, and I find it fulfilling.

Busy days.  In pre-production right now, and gearing up to shoot this weekend.  Hopefully I will have a chance to write more about this experience next week.

Monday, July 23, 2012

"Block" Buster: Staring out the window.

"What no wife of a writer can understand is that a writer is working when he is staring out  the window." ~ Burton Rascoe

     "An artist must have downtime, time to do nothing. Defending our right to such time takes courage, conviction, and resiliency.  Such time, space, and quiet will strike our family and friends as a withdrawal from them.  It is.
    "For an artist, withdrawal is necessary."
~ Julia Cameron

Solitude recharges my batteries.

A quiet mind coaxes ideas out of the corners of my creative blocks.

Today I'll stare out the window ...if I want to.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sadness over theater shooting.

It's Friday.  Typically time for my Comic Relief post... which I prepared and scheduled earlier in the week to post this morning at 5 AM.  Later, when I learned about the movie theater shooting in Colorado, I decided to pull my post.  As much as I love comedy and laughter, and although I believe humor is a wonderful way to diffuse tough situations, this is not one of those times.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the friends, family, and communities of all those grasped by this tragedy.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Action!: This means war!

I consider myself adventuresome and somewhat brave. Not in a death-defying-extreme-thrill-seeking way, but in a gee-that-sounds-like-fun way. I have tried (and enjoyed) white water river rafting (anything below a class 4 is a yawner to me); ziplining; snowshoeing; rock wall climbing (okay, I didn't get my wide load to the top, but I still felt like Spartacus afterwards); and dogsledding. I even took my first snow ski lesson last year (at age 54), and next month I plan to run a 5K muddy obstacle course.

I've faced challenging situations head on (although, I whimpered at times) such as driving a 26 foot Penske truck, filled with our household goods, across the country... alone (except for the cat under my seat); returning to school at age 51; and giving up sugar.

All of those things (except for the white water rafting) I achieved in the last ten years (thanks to coming out of my sugar coma). I try to live by the motto: Don't make decisions based on fear.

So why then, does a seemingly simple thing like writing a query letter drop me in my tracks? Thanks to  Steven Pressfield's The War of Art, I understand: It's Resistance.

Pressfield describes Resistance as an invisible force that blocks our path whenever we try to advance to a higher level of spirituality, or pursue our dreams or calling in life. If we're going downhill, or regressing, it gives us a free pass.

The fact that sitting down to face a query letter (and sometimes screenwriting) fills me with anxiety is actually a good sign, according to the author. He describes Resistance and fear:

     Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign.
     Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do.
     Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
     Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that the enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.  
     So if you're paralyzed with fear, it's a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.

I wish I had understood that concept sooner... before I spent over a year spinning my wheels, trying to find my passion, trying to understand why I felt such anxiety whenever I tried to work on my screenplays. (See my previous post: Self reflection: Passion for Work)

In my search I came to understand that I was experiencing something in common with other writers, and I came to accept that anxiety was part of my writing experience, but now after reading The War of Art, I understand better the reason behind it, and the very real force field that blocks me: Resistance. Now I understand better how to fight--and win--my inner creative battles. This means war!

Note: This book was highly recommended by a screenwriter/filmmaker I respect, so I was taken aback when I found vulgar language, (mainly in the latter half of the book). I abhor foul language. (See post: Why I dislike profanity.) Therefore, I give warning to anyone who, like me, is offended by vulgarity: read with caution... if you choose to read it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Take 5: Courageous

Tuesday: My "take" on a film.

Courageous (2011)

Honor begins at home.

"If the opening scene captures the [viewers] interest in some unique way, it is called the hook.  Otherwise, it's just the opening scene" (The Screenwriter's Bible, 5th Edition by David Trottier, p. 11).

The opening scene of Courageous definitely had a hook. When the scene wrapped, I gasped, "Wow! Oh. my. goodness!" It grabbed my attention and pulled me into the story.

Made by the the creators of Facing the GiantsCourageous is a faith-based film about four law enforcement officers sworn to serve and protect the citizens of Albany, Georgia. In their line of duty they witness situations they feel could be avoided if a stronger father-figure had been present in the lives of those involved. Then tragedy strikes close to home, and the men take a vow to make their roles as fathers a priority.

Courageous has plenty of humorous every-day-life moments too. Funny situations and jokes weave throughout the side-lines of the characters lives. For instance, Adam Mitchell (Alex Kendrick) accidentally tells his boss, "I love you," as he hangs up the phone. My husband relates to that scene, having confessed his love to an insurance agent at the end of a phone conversation. And I can relate...maybe...a little (ahem) to Javier (Robert Amaya) kindly turning down his wife's kiss because her morning breath smells too foul.

I'm amazed at the excellent filmmaking, acting, and action (car chases, gun fights) packed into the low-budget film.  Sherwood Pictures only had an estimated budget of $2,000,000 (a great deal more than the $10,000 budget of Facing the Giants, but still considered low-budget by Hollywood standards) yet it sure didn't seem like they scrimped on quality.  I admire their work, and would love to meet the filmmakers (seriously!) to learn how they pull off such fine films with such small funding.

What worked: Strong hook in the opening scene; believable characters; realistic humor; value-driven message; and quality filming.

What didn't work: (I'm thinking.  I'm thinking.)

Trailer: Courageous

Monday, July 16, 2012

"Block" Buster: The thinks you can think up.

Think left and think right
and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up
if only you try!  ~Dr. Seuss

Sometimes inspiration comes when I least expect it.  Other times ideas form because I examine an object or situation from a different angle, and think, "What if..."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Comic Relief: High Anxiety

Here's another essay I wrote for my Comedy Film class.

Film:  High Anxiety (1977)

            Mel Brooks portrays Dr. Richard Harpo Thorndyke, the newly appointed administrator for “The Psycho-Neurotic Institute for the Very, Very Nervous,” where he quickly learns there are some strange happenings going on.  Not only do odd events happen within the story, odd things happen with the filmmaking!  High Anxiety is a parody, but it is also an example of breaking conventional filming techniques for humorous results.  Usually, filmmakers strive to achieve a sense of illusion for the audience.  The goal is to create a feeling of reality so the viewer can live vicariously through the characters in the film.  In the book Comic Mind, Gerald Mast says, “Any hint of artistic self-consciousness—that the filmmaker knows he is making a film—can wrench us out of the illusion of the film and let us know that the action is not to be taken seriously” (Mast 10).  Great pains are typically taken to keep the camera, lighting, crew and other aspects of behind the scene filmmaking, just that—behind the scene.  High Anxiety, however, takes delight in reminding the audience it is a film.  Camera movement and positions at times bring attention to the filmmaking process and bring great comic surprise.
            One of the first indications that a camera is present takes place in the airport early in the film.  For a brief scene, the camera focuses on people walking through the airport.  Nothing too unusual about that until the viewer realizes that most of the people look directly at the camera as they walk by.  It is as though the people are looking at something; then it becomes obvious that they are looking at the viewer (or camera) as though standing right there.  For that moment, the viewer realizes this is a film and I am the audience, and the illusion drops.
            Later, during a dinner scene, the camera position begins from the outside of the institute looking from a distance towards the glass French doors of the building.  The camera slowly moves closer to the doors, revealing more clearly the characters gathered around a long dining room table.  The viewer may be aware of the camera moving closer, but it does not seem unusual for a film viewing experience.  Then suddenly the camera breaks through the glass and the characters turn to look, bringing attention to the filmmaking process.  The camera slowly moves away again through the broken glass and the characters resume their conversation.  Now, that camera movement is unusual—and funny!
            Another scene has unconventional camera use for comic effect.  The camera is beneath a glass coffee table giving a low-angle shot as Nurse Diesel (Cloris Leachman) and Dr. Montague (Harvey Korman) discuss the dilemma of Dr. Thorndyke discovering their deceit.  Dr. Montague pours more coffee into Nurse Diesel’s cup then places the coffee pot on the glass table partially blocking the camera.  The camera moves and repositions for a better view.  Diesel demands, “Give me a cookie.”  Montague picks up a plate of cookies and hands her one before placing the plate in another position on the table blocking the shot again.  The scene continues with adding the creamer, the sugar bowl, and various plates on the table requiring the camera to keep repositioning.  Finally, Nurse Diesel puts a large platter on the table completely blocking the shot.  The obvious movement of the camera for the scene is quite irregular, but for this film, it creates a humorous result.
            Not only is the audience aware of the camera movement during the final scene of the film, but they are aware of the camera crew too.  Dr. Thorndyke and his bride Victoria (Madeline Kahn) are lying on a round bed still in their wedding attire.  The camera begins to pull slowly away when someone speaks from off-screen: “Alright, last shot.  Pull the camera back nice and slow.”  “We’re going too fast!  We’re going to hit the wall!”  Suddenly there is a crashing sound; the camera and crew break through the set.  The bride and groom look in the direction of the camera, and hole in the wall.  The hushed voices continue, “Oh oh.”  “Oh jeez, now what are we going to do?”  “Never mind.  Keep pulling back.  Maybe nobody will notice.”  And the camera continues to pull back, and up, until the viewer sees a high panoramic shot of the city skyline with the hotel sign flashing, “Honeymoon City.” 
            High Anxiety uses several avenues for comedy, mainly parody of Hitchcock thrillers, but one parody within the film is of the filmmaking business itself.  The unconventional, literally intrusive use of the camera, allowing the viewer to recognize the film as simply a film, is daring, different, and funny!

NOTE: I have the citation references, but opted not to publish them along with this post (hopefully making it more difficult to plagiarize in full).  If you would like to know a specific source, please ask, and I will gladly provide the information.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Simple Things

"Learning the simple things that please us make for an artful life." ~Julia Cameron
I've been pondering that phrase, and made a list of simple objects that please my eye, and simple moments that please me:
  • Sitting down to meals with my husband (especially breakfast)
  • Phone calls from our kids
  • Smiles and hugs from the grandbabies
  • Waking up early without an alarm
  • Cobalt blue glass
  • Soaking in the bathtub
  • Ticonderoga pencils
  • My father's fractometer
  • Mom's alligator travel case
  • Elegant or unusual pens
  • Playing the piano
  • Dark glossy wood, especially mahogany
  • Receiving real mail (snail mail)
  • Quality spiral notebooks
  • Laughing
  • Making others laugh
  • Being rewarded with outtakes after sitting through all the credits.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Action!: Moving forward with my screenplays.

Focusing on this blog helped me focus on my screenplays. Remember when I posted about my re-writing woes, and how I couldn't drag myself to my script?  (See: Action!: Write and re-write.)  Well, guess what... not only did I drag myself to it, I've finished it, and registered my screenplay--Sister of the Bride--with the Writer's Guild of America! (Feel free to applause.)

When I wrote the post about "Write and re-write" I had typed the title page to another feature length screenplay, and that simple baby step somehow helped me return to Sister of the Bride and finish that final polish. Crazy, huh?  Sure, it will still need changes down the road; that's the nature of the beast.  Screenplays are changed even during production. The masterfully written script for The Da Vinci Code was revised 25 times during filming.

Since screenplays continue to evolve, it's easy to get caught up in rewriting; eternally tweaking.  I've had feedback from nearly fifty screenwriters, and I've incorporated the appropriate suggestions, making it tighter and stronger with each re-write, until I reached a point where it was enough. Borrowing from Farmer Hoggett (Babe), I acknowledged, "That'll do pig."

So I felt giddy yesterday when I registered my "baby" with the WGA.  It feels official.  It feels done!

I want to bask in this feeling for a few moments before I move forward with selling it... and before I move forward with re-writing, tweaking, and polishing my other screenplay.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Take 4: Brave

Tuesday: My "take" on a film.

Brave (2012)

Change your fate.

WARNING: Spoiler alert.  The following post will give away key plot moments.

Perhaps because of my ancestral roots, I felt drawn to see Brave, and hoped I hadn't seen all the best parts in the preview. Turned out there were still plenty of surprises for me.

Maybe I was oblivious,  or too entranced by the scenery in the trailers, but I went into the movie expecting a certain storyline -- you know, the story of a rebellious teen that runs away, goes through hard knocks, and eventually returns, repentant and ready to set things straight (or to save the day). But, Brave fit the oft-used "Hollywood wants the same thing--only different." When the witch's spell turned Merida's mother into a bear, I was taken by surprise. I loved that twist.

The animation technology nowadays amazes me. The scenery was fantastic, and I enjoyed the skillful animation used to portray so many emotions and characteristics of Elinor as a bear... still fretting over proper manners. (Even as a bear her character arc was evident as she became more understanding and loosened up.) Then there's the animation on Merida's hair. Amazing detail.

What worked:  Familiar story with an interesting twist. Humorous moments. Quirky characters. Superb animation.

What didn't work: The men seemed too hen-pecked. Maybe I need to learn more about the culture of my ancestors...were they really that intimidated by the women?

Trailer: Brave

Monday, July 9, 2012

"Block" Buster: Avoid Internet Distractions

"Being a good writer is 3% talent, 97% not being distracted by the Internet."  ~Anonymous

Some friends question why I don't post a Facebook status very often...well... it's because after I update my status I feel compelled to check it a thousand times to see if anyone responded to my wittiness.

When I answer the call of Internet distractions, creativity slips away like an ignored guest.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Outtake: Picking your seat.

When we were kids, one of my brothers saw a man pulling at the back of his pants and quipped, "That guy must be going to the movies... he's picking his seat."

There are some theaters that make us select our seats before purchasing tickets. The first time we experienced this, it was not good. We selected our seats on the computer screen by looking for the green chairs (available) in the midst of the red (taken), but when we arrived inside the theater, we discovered that a huge guy filled not only his own seat, but also half of my husband's. And as I stepped over to my seat, I felt a slosh beneath my feet. A noisy child behind me had spilled an entire bottle of water (thankfully just water). I spent the duration of the movie trying to keep my feet dry.

So I think if theaters (and airlines) insist on people selecting their seats at time of ticket purchase, they need to provide detailed information on the screen. The seat map should indicate things such as:

Row F Seat 14 - Reeks of cheap perfume.

Row C Seat 6 - Crying child.

Row M Seat 12 - Addicted to texting.

Row S Seat 4 - Hasn't bathed in a week.

Row P Seats 7, 8, 9, 10 - Talkative group.

Row N Seats 12 & 13 - Needs to get a room.

Row G Seat 3 - Flatulent Freddy.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Comic Relief: Much Ado About Nothing

This is one of my favorite scenes in Much Ado About Nothing (1993). Leonato (Richard Briers), Claudio (Robert Sean Leanard), and Don Pedro (Denzel Washington) purposely speak loud enough for Benedick (Kenneth Branagh) to overhear, fooling him into believing Beatrice loves him.  (Up until this point Beatrice and Benedick have hardly had a civil word to say to each other.)  The astonishment and excitement of Benedick as he sneaks around in the background, eavesdropping, makes me laugh.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

So Many Movies, So Little Time

When my husband and I first signed up for Netflix, we had a hard time thinking of 5 films to put in our we have around 60 DVDs listed, and 13 listed for instant viewing. The list grows weekly, and that doesn't count the new release films we'd like to see at the theater.

So many movies... but our lives are busy.  Often a DVD arrives in the mail only to sit on our counter for over two weeks.  A sloth on Sominex could move through our list faster.

Yet, somehow saying, "Sorry, I can't commit to that...I need to watch a movie," just doesn't fly with most people.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Patriotic Films

Typically Wednesday posts are for what I'm working on, but today is a holiday!  So in honor of Independence Day, here's a list of twelve patriotic movies:

(From: Los Angeles Times )

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) *

The Sandlot (1993) *

Forrest Gump (1994) *

Tall Tale (1995)

The Patriot (2000)

John Adams (2008)

*I feel like a slacker -- I've only seen five of the twelve!  I'm going to add the others to our Netflix queue.  It's my patriotic duty  :-)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Screenplay: Moonstruck

Tuesday posts are for my "Take" on films I've viewed, and also for screenplays I've read.  Observing what works (and what doesn't) helps me hone my screenwriting skills.

Reading Moonstruck (1987) by John Patrick Shanley was, for me, both fascinating and irritating.  I found the characters remarkable, deep, distinct, and real.  The formatting and Shanley's overuse of weak verbs took away from the story.

The book I purchased has the formatting more like a play rather than a screenplay, so that took some getting used to.  Shanley was a playwright, so perhaps it was easier for him to stick with that style of writing, although according to his "introduction" he studied screenwriting over and over, and mentioned that it was difficult to get used to the new way of formatting.  So maybe it was the book publisher who chose to go with the formatting of a play.  Either way, for me, trying to read and learn from a screenplay, the formatting drove me bonkers.

Weak verbs scatter across the pages.  "Loretta is driving..."  "Johnny is sitting..." "Ronny is walking..."  Why not Loretta drives... Johnny sits... Ronny walks.  Yet, this is an award-winning writer--so there must be a reason to overlook the irritants.

And there is: his characters are superb.  Each one stands out.  Each one has his or her own voice.  Each one seems alive.  Shanley makes the characters distinct with seemingly little dialogue.  Their lines are short, sweet, and crisp--to the point.  He knows his characters inside and out, and by the end of the story, the reader/viewer knows them well too.

When I finished reading the screenplay, I felt as though I had eavesdropped and spied on the interactions of a real family.  And I wanted more!

What works:  Strong characters with crisp dialogue.

What didn't work:  The formatting, and weak verbs.

Monday, July 2, 2012

"Block" Buster: How's the weather?

"You don't need the right environment to create, it's the weather in your head that counts." ~ Dave Trottier

I easily get caught up in trying to find the perfect time, place, or atmosphere for writing.

The storms of self-criticism dampen my desire to write; but this quote helps me remember to clear the clouds of negative self-talk, and just write.