Friday, August 31, 2012

Comic Relief: Coneheads

Our son is getting married today. Happy Wedding Day!

Tomorrow is our 33rd wedding anniversary. Happy Anniversary!

In honor of these special occasions, I've selected a favorite scene from Coneheads (1993). Romantic, touching, and funny.

Nothing says, I love you, quite like telling your spouse, "...the stench would be great."

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Action!: Paving my road...

"The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress." ~ Philip Roth

I was going to post this quote last Monday, but as I pondered it, I realized it didn't seem to fit for Motivation or "Block" Buster (Monday topics)... rather, it described my life. What I was up to. 

Works-in-progress, as I interpreted it, are the numerous creative projects I haven't completed because I'm busy with something else. Really, they are works-at-a-standstill, because in order to reach the level of works-complete, one must make progress.

I've been on a dead run for several weeks, neglecting my screenplays. I haven't even watched a movie in over a month. In fact, a DVD from Netflix arrived on July 26 and still awaits viewing. I allowed myself to get too side-tracked with the busyness of life.

This quote gave me a wake up call. I was paving a road all right, and that road was not leading to success in my goals. It led to "hell"... that state occupied by writers not writing, artists not painting, dancers not dancing.

After pondering on that, I put life on hold while I sat at my computer and resumed progress on a screenplay. Almost as soon as my fingers hit the keys, I felt the fire again...and it wasn't the fire of hell.

Monday, August 27, 2012

"Block" Buster: Go ahead, make mistakes!

"Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes.  Art is knowing which ones to keep."  ~Scott Adams

Fear of making mistakes is a major block for many creative artists. But sometimes what we view as a mistake turns out to be a favorite piece. We look at it with fresh eyes and go, "Wow!"

I remember an art assignment while in the eighth grade. We were instructed to create a picture using water colors, then let droplets of India ink splatter onto the color. I followed the instructions, but mine looked ugly, to me. Frustrated, I folded the four corners of the paper in until they met in the center, then smashed my fist against each of the four folded edges.

My best friend kept me from throwing it in the trash. I still needed it... to show I had attempted the assignment. So, I unfolded the paper, put my name on the back, and placed it to dry with all the other artwork.

Imagine my surprise when I attended an art show at the school a week later and a classmate ran up to me, "You won first place!" Huh? I didn't enter anything! She took me to the Abstract Art display and pointed. I didn't recognize it at first, and checked for my name. Yep, it was mine. My art teacher submitted it for me, and named it "Craters."

Smashing it with my fist had made the India ink fan out, and when it dried, it formed what appeared to be craters of the moon with pale water color background.

My "mistake" was a winner.

Go ahead, make mistakes!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Comic Relief: The Villain

When Kurt and I were dating we wanted to go to a movie, so we pulled out the newspaper to see what was playing. (Remember those days?) We selected a film starring Kirk Douglas, and drove to the theater expecting a serious western. Much to our surprise and delight, The Villain turned out to be a comedy. Neither of us had ever seen Kirk Douglas in a comedic role, so maybe it was the unexpected that tickled us so much, but we laughed until we hurt.

Here's an essay I wrote about the film...

            What do you get when you mix the cartoon-like antics of Wile E. Coyote with a western genre film? You get The Villain! It has elements of a typical western—open space of the western frontier, good guys in white hats, bad guys in black hats—but the moment Cactus Jack Slade (Kirk Douglas) jumps from a rocky ledge to rob a moving train and misses the train altogether, the viewer realizes this is not a typical western. The film relies heavily on slapstick comedy to generate laughs. Slapstick is “…comedy with broad, aggressive, physical, and visual action, including harmless or painless cruelty and violence” and “horseplay” (Dirks). Painless violence and horseplay give The Villain its comic climate.
            The character of Cactus Jack is involved with numerous pranks that could easily cause bodily injury, and other stunts that would bring certain death, but walks away unharmed with only a bruised ego. Evidence of painless accidents is plentiful in the film, beginning with the aforementioned attempted train robbery. As the train approaches, Cactus Jack pulls his neck scarf over his nose, bandit style, and prepares to jump. Then he leaps into the air. The viewer sees the train move on by and then sees him still falling. Cut to Cactus Jack lying face down in the gravel and dirt between the rails. He lifts his head, looks at the back of the train, pulls his scarf down, and softly swears. He survived a horrendous fall and is unharmed.
            In the film, Handsome Stranger (Arnold Schwarzenegger) escorts the beautiful Charming Jones (Ann-Margret) providing protection for her and her father’s money. As Cactus Jack attempts to rob Handsome Stranger (named after his unknown father) of both the girl and the money, he pulls stunts similar to Wile E. Coyote trying to catch the Road Runner. Wile E. Coyote often referred to instruction manuals from ACME, and Cactus Jack often refers to a manual titled: Badmen of the West. Following the advice in the book, Cactus Jack sets a variety of traps to stop Handsome Stranger and Charming Jones. In one classic cartoon-like stunt, Cactus Jack paints a huge black tunnel on the side of a cliff, and then turns the road sign to point that direction. He hides in the bushes and snickers as he watches the wagon approach the fake tunnel. However, the wagon enters into the tunnel as if it were real. The astonished bandit runs to the tunnel entrance and smacks into the solid rock. 
All his robbery attempts go awry, and like Wile E. Coyote and slapstick comedy, Cactus Jack lives on to try yet another scheme. For instance, he ties a rope to a huge boulder then drops the rope over a cliff and repels down to the road where the wagon will soon pass. The boulder rolls over the cliff and lands on Cactus Jack. In reality, that would kill him, but in this slapstick comedy, the viewer sees his hand emerge from beneath the rock and hears his muffled cry for his horse, “Whiskey!”
“Horseplay” is another term used in describing slapstick (Dirks), and in The Villain that term seems literal. Cactus Jack’s horse is indeed a part of the comedic climate in the film. Well-trained and strong-willed, Whiskey is easily offended. In an early scene, Cactus Jack tells Whiskey his plan to rob a bank. The horse shakes his head “no” and his owner says, “Ah, what do you know.  I’m the boss!” Whiskey then bucks him off, but when Cactus Jack threatens to go it alone, the horse follows him, and nudges him as though apologizing. Shortly afterwards, when Cactus Jack is trying to escape the foiled bank robbery, he jumps on the horse and Whiskey purposely sits down, showing who is boss, allowing the capture of Cactus Jack. In another humorous scene, Cactus Jack enters the saloon and demands a drink, “Whiskey.” The horse enters through the swinging doors and whinnies. Cactus Jack turns, “Not you. Stay outside.” The horse slowly backs up through the saloon doors.
The numerous ill-fated robbery attempts that never cause bodily harm, as well as the comedic and literal use of “horseplay,” define The Villain as a slapstick comedy. Like Wile E. Coyote, a boulder smashes Cactus Jack, a gigantic stone rolls over him, he glues himself to the railroad tracks, he freezes in mid-air before falling, smacks into a fake tunnel, and crashes into the mountainside while swinging from a rope. Yet, he lives on to continue his quest. However, unlike the Coyote, Cactus Jack Slade actually wins out—he gets the girl and the money! Perhaps Wile E. Coyote should toss his ACME manual and take notes from the villain, Cactus Jack Slade.

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, August 23, 2012

Banished Words

Writers try to find the perfect words to express thoughts or situations in fresh ways, giving a new twist on old ideas. But sometimes I fall into the cliche' trap, using worn out words and over-used phrases. Somewhere in my travels (okay, is that cliche' too?) I read that the word uber was banished.  I'm relieved. I'm uber tired of that one. But I began to wonder if I am guilty of using other words placed on the chopping block.

Here's the 2012 list of banished words, according to Lake Superior State University:
  • Amazing.  (I'm amazingly guilty of overusing that word.)
  • Baby bump.
  • Shared sacrifice.
  • Occupy.
  • Blowback.
  • Man cave.
  • The new normal.
  • Pet Parent.
  • Win the future.
  • Trickeration.
  • Ginormous.
  • Thank you in advance.
I did pretty good with the above list, since I've rarely, if ever, used most of them.  But, I'm behind the times (cliche', I know), so I thought I'd better check on the 2011 banished words:
  • Viral.
  • Epic.
  • Fail.
  • Wow factor.
  • A-ha moment.
  • Back story.
  • BFF
  • Man up.
  • Refudiate.
  • Mama grizzlies.
  • The American people.
  • I'm just sayin'.
  • Facebook/Google used as verbs
  • Live life to the fullest.
O-oh.  About 50% of that list have crossed my lips, dare I dig any deeper? I checked one more year (2010) and cringed. Seems I catch onto words when they are already well past their prime. 

So, just to make sure I was good and paranoid about my vocabulary, I read the Writer's Digest list of 12 Cliches All Writers Should Avoid :
  1. Avoid it like the plague
  2. Dead as a doornail
  3. Take the tiger by the tail
  4. Low hanging fruit
  5. If only walls could talk
  6. The pot calling the kettle black
  7. Think outside the box
  8. Thick as thieves
  9. But at the end of the day
  10. Plenty of fish in the sea
  11. Every dog has its day
  12. Like a kid in the candy store
Ouch. I realized most of those phrases are as old as the hills yet I would have to sheepishly raise my hand nine times if questioned, "Do you use these?" Tired old phrases are my downfall.

Reading these lists (and more) opened my eyes, but also challenged my brain. How many other worn out phrases have I mindlessly rattled off? Seems I can't stop thinking about them.

And when listening to conversations, I catch myself thinking smugly, "That is soooo cliche'." How can I judge when I am guilty of the same crime? Is that considered an epic fail? Am I in a rut? Maybe ignorance truly was bliss.

Oh well, it is what it is. No use getting my panties in a wad over it, after all, it's not like my goose is cooked.   

Help! I've fallen in the cliche' trap and I can't get up!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Motivation: There are no limits.

"Seriously, if you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it'll spread over into the rest of your life. It'll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level." - Bruce Lee

Friday, August 17, 2012

Comic Relief: Planes, Trains & Automobiles

My husband accidentally sent a text to a friend that was meant for me. Thankfully it was not a mushy note, but when Kurt realized what he'd done, he sent another message, "I sent that to the wrong sweetie. Sorry Snookums!" Brian responded, "Those aren't pillows!"

This clip from Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987) explains Brian's response, but also includes one of my favorite scenes... Steve Martin drying his face with giant whitie tighties.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

It's all in the hook.

Last Saturday I went to a screenwriter's meeting.  The group meets once a month to share pages from our screenplays and receive feedback.  I've missed several meetings and almost didn't go this time since my day was already crammed full.  Then I realized that I will always be busy, so if I wait for elusive "free time" I will never go again.

I arrived late and sat down next to a guy I've seen there once before. During a lull, he leaned over and asked, "Are you the one who was writing..." and went on to describe the beginning of my completed screenplay Sister of the Bride.  I shared the first 15 pages of that script a loooong time ago.  I'm talking 8 or 10 months ago.  Yet, he still remembered it, and more important, he told me ever since reading those pages he's been wanting to know the rest of the story!

To quote again... "If the opening scene captures the reader's 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).

Oh yeah, mine has the hook!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Action!: Photography in the Parks

It's Wednesday... time to tell you what I've been up to.

Remember when I posted about the Free Digital Camera or Video Workshops?  Well, on August 2nd, I went to a workshop at Grand Teton National Park.  It was perfect timing since my family reunion in Idaho was scheduled for August 3-5, less than a two hour drive from the park.

We got lost - ahem - we took a scenic detour route on the way to Jackson Hole, but I arrived in time to register for the last class.  I admit, I was wishy-washy about what I wanted to do... still photography or video? My camera or theirs?  Back and forth I went, until I finally opted for video with one of their nice cameras (free!), but dragged my camcorder with me "just in case."

Here's a photo:

Impressed?  Me too.  I only wish I had taken the shot!

Sigh.  I had grand ideas about posting some of my clips on here to show you what I've been up to, but oh my goodness, I was soooo rusty with my camera skills.  I told the instructor, "I better not quit my day job!"

That night, as I drifted off to sleep, I suddenly remembered in a panic... I neglected to delete some embarrassingly awful shots before returning their camera!  Yikes, would any of the Canon employees see it?  Worse yet, would the link they provide for me, to retrieve the clips, be public? Gulp.

I agonized over the accidental footage taken while the camera dangled around my neck...having forgotten to stop the recording.  Yep, almost two minutes of grass, shoes, shadows, and some close ups of weird fuzzy burrs stuck to my instructor's pant legs!

All in all, though, it was a great experience and helped me remember how much I love taking video (and still shots) even, and maybe especially, when it's just for fun.

Now, I need to dust off my own camera and practice, practice, practice. Practice pushing the button to stop recording!

Monday, August 13, 2012

"Block" Buster: Fight Resistance

Something disturbing I read in The War of Art by Steven Pressfield:

"You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist. At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kronen, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever seen one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement but I’ll say it anyway: it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas."

If that's true, it's a frightening thought for me as I struggle in the war of art. It's so easy to avoid projects and blank pages, but what will I become if I turn away from creating?   

Pressfield also states:
"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance."

Have a creative block? You better darn well believe Resistance helped put it there. Fight it. Fight Resistance, not the world.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Comic Relief: The Great Outdoors

Last week my husband and I camped for three nights, one of which was spent at Grand Teton National Park, near Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  I was a little nervous because of the "bear alerts" for that area, since it included grizzlies.

We were given instructions ("Bear Etiquette") which included:
  • Never approach a bear.  Okay.  I have no problem with that rule. 
  • Never allow a bear to get human food.  If approached while eating, put food away and retreat to a safe distance.  Sorry, but if I'm approached while eating, I am not taking time to put the food away!!
  • Never abandon food because of an approaching bear. Always take it with you.  Yeah, right.  This is too much like the previous one.  Let's see... a bear approaches me because I have yummy food, how does taking said yummy food with me solve anything?  
  • Never throw your pack or food at a bear in an attempt to distract it.  Sorry again, but I'm all for throwing anything (except a family member) at a bear if it will take its attention off me! 
I thought of the movie The Great Outdoors (1988) often during our camping trip. In this scene, Chet (John Candy) attempts to bond with his younger son by taking him to a dump where the bears gather to forage on scraps. Obviously, they did not read the "Bear Etiquette" rules.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

It takes time.

Yesterday I posted about working on the short film. It's hard for some people to understand the amount of time that goes into filming. Dandelions will be about ten minutes in length, yet it took hours of pre-production meetings, auditions, gathering of crew and equipment, and about 12 hours of filming. That's not counting the editing, creating a soundtrack, and finalizing of the project.

While I was in school, the documentary I made for my beginning production class took me about 40 hours to edit. That doesn't count driving to Idaho and filming for a day. Titled A Shear Gem, it runs less than six minutes.  

I think of what Mark Twain said, "If I'd had more time, I'd have written a shorter letter."

Quality, and filming, takes time.

I shared this last year, but just for fun, here's my documentary short again:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Action!: Internship

Finally... a chance to write about interning with a director. (See post: Action!: Director's Intern).

First, some backstory...

I am on the Board of Directors (Treasurer) for Utah Women in Film, a non-profit organization. Last year UWIF sponsored a screenwriting contest for a short. The winner received $50 and the promise that UWIF would produce the script. Dandelions was the winner of that contest and this summer we set out to get it filmed. It's now in post-production, and when it's complete, we will submit it to various film festivals.

A big part of our mission for Utah Women in Film is education, so with the production of Dandelions we placed professional filmmakers (who volunteered their time and waived their wages) in the key positions (producer, director, cinematographer, etc) and then offered internships for members of the organization to work with the professionals.

Initially, I didn't think I could help much on the day of the shoot since I had previous commitments. When my calendar unexpectedly cleared up, I eagerly asked if I could intern with the director, Taunya Gren.

Taunya had amazing insights on how to make the story--two young sisters being bullied at a schoolyard--even better, giving it depth and subtext. I was in awe of her ideas, and happy to have a chance to work with her.

It was a blast to participate in casting. As each child auditioned, I made mental notes as to which ones I would choose. I was spot on with the actors Taunya selected for the roles.

An Assistant Producer was assigned to find a location, a school, with a specific look. She searched diligently, and enlisted the help of others, and came up with three options. One evening I needed to get my husband from work, and I realized the school across the street was perfect. I cannot describe the feeling when I saw it, but I just knew it was what Taunya wanted. I quickly took a bunch of pictures with my cell phone and sent them to the Assistant Producer who forwarded them to Taunya, and she agreed... she wanted that location. It had numerous elements that played right into her vision of the story.

A couple days later, I drove with her and the cinematographer to the location, where we walked around the area and came up with the shot list. I learned how the director worked with the cameraperson, discussing where certain scenes would be shot, at what angle, and so forth. As we sat at a table, working on the storyboard, she told me how much she loved the location and said, "You know why you were drawn to this school? It was your director's eye." A heady feeling accompanied that compliment.

But alas, as often happens in filmmaking, not all things work out as planned. We could not get permission to film at that location. BUMMER. So Taunya went with her second choice. Still, I'm glad I had the experience of location scouting and recognizing architectural elements that give clues to a story. And when the second-choice school learned the film was about bullying, they asked if they could use it for their anti-bullying campaign, and they want to get a TV spot for it too. So sometimes second choice is the right choice. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out!

On the day of shooting, I helped set up a brief scene, but for the most part I hovered nearby and observed the director working with the cast and crew. With only one day to film, I limited my questions and tried to stay out of the way.

I enjoyed my time as a director's intern. I've worked as a Production Assistant on two short films, but this experience helped me realize that I enjoy the creative aspects of directing, rather than the business details of producing.

As a screenwriter though, I kicked myself numerous times throughout the day because I didn't submit a short script for the contest last year. I was not on the Board of Directors at that time, so was qualified to submit. But alas, it was one of those opportunities that escaped me because I was overwhelmed with busyness. (See post: Missed Opportunities)

Monday, August 6, 2012

Motivation: Back to work.

I just returned from a short vacation which included camping, no computer access, and a family reunion of distant relatives... one of those reunions where you spend half the time trying to figure out if you are first cousins twice removed, or second cousins.  It was the kind of reunion where you could strike up a conversation with a stranger in the campground restroom and learn you are related.  It was also the type of reunion where the Family Historian breaks your bubble:  You have absolutely no ties to royalty.

A good vacation is over when you begin to yearn for your work.  ~Morris Fishbein

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

I'm behind.

As the saying goes, "The hurrier I go, the behinder I get."

Please stay tuned.  I hope to be back to regularly scheduled blogging next week.