Seasons Greetings

I just looked up from my desperate wrapping and it's 12:43 am here on the East Coast. So --


I followed the news reports of miserable ice storms on this cold side of the country and packed accordingly: every warm sweater and silk turtleneck I could find. Of course it was a mild 55 when I got off the plane, though every indoor space is still heated as though it were 20 degrees out. I'm going to die. If this weather holds I'm going shopping the day after Christmas -- and buying T-SHIRTS.


A Scrooge moment

Ken Levine had a fun post today -- things he hates that everyone else loves.

I read the first few lines and my mind immediately jumped to the thing I most hate that everyone else, particularly at this time of year, goes nuts for.

It's A Wonderful Life.

It may be a wonderful life, but it's a horrible movie. I loathe it. Our hero is a banker who manages to lose money backing mortgages during the post-WWII housing boom??? This man is an idiot. This man should never be allowed near anyone else's money. At the end when they all give him MORE money I just want to scream.

As I continued to read Mr. Levine's post, I was thrilled to see he hates the movie too. Hmm. I wonder how many other people secretly harbor fantasies of Mr. Potter winning and turning the folksy little town into Las Vegas?


An ID badge


Exciting news

This weekend I'm getting ready for final round interviews for the Disney/ABC television writing fellowships. Send good thoughts my way on Monday morning, later Monday evening, and again on Wednesday... !



Details here. Gonna go sleep now.


Pictures pictures pictures

Forgot to post these from my last trip...


A cheer

I finished the first draft of a pilot last week. It was an idea I loved, but in those last hours of writing I began to experience considerable story fatigue. I gave the script to a few trusted friends and put the thing away over the weekend.

This morning I re-read my draft, and I'm quite pleased. I've already made some changes to tighten and focus things and I think I can have a REAL first draft in another day or so. And what's most important? I'm excited about the script again -- and I still love the idea.

Bye-bye, story fatigue. Hello, new possibilities...


An overstuffed mailbox -- and DVR

I just got back in town from a long trip. There was much research, much writing, and some other work as well. Now I'm slogging through the enormous pile of mail, papers, magazines and trades that piled up in my absence.

I notice Entertainment Weekly had an article on five ways to fix HEROES. And boy does that show need fixing -- it's another thing that has been stacking up in my absence: all those unwatched episodes clogging up my DVR.

I used to love this show. I used to wait eagerly for each weekly installment. Yes, last season was bad, but the few episodes I saw this year were slightly improved. There were even moments of the old brilliance. But I'm still not watching. Why not?

I think the problem lies in those moments. They remain moments. Moments that are never developed further. Moments that give way far too quickly to other, less interesting (though perhaps more explosive) moments. A show cannot be made of moments, even exciting ones.

Take for instance the scene where Claire discovers her father is working with (gasp!) -- Sylar. That's a great moment. But then a second later we move on to daddy trying to kill Sylar, then on to Claire trying to save him (why, exactly?), then on to... something else entirely.

I wanted that first moment back. I wanted it developed. Hell, I wanted an entire episode about the relationship between Claire and her father and their former mortal enemy Sylar and how they can possibly forgive and move forward -- or not. I would watch that.


I learned this myself recently. I packed a pilot outline I was working on with so much dang plot that I was giving myself a headache. Luckily, wiser heads prevailed and I removed and stored away great gobs of plot for the rest of season one, and maybe even some of season two (there was A LOT of plot). Now my characters have room to breathe. To interact. To react to and from the plot I have left. I actually have scenes and arcs now, and not just moments.


Nobody wants to watch a desperate show. It's embarrassing. HEROES was always a fantastical show, but it was a confident fantastical show. Now all the flipping around between stories and plots just seems nervous. Like a kid jumping up and down and shouting 'like me, like me, like me.'

I want to like you, HEROES. I really do. Just relax already, and tell the stories you've got. If I like them, I'll stick around. If not... throwing in six more stories I don't like either isn't going to help.


A change of heart

What a difference a week makes. I watched the second episode of MY OWN WORST ENEMY and I must have missed some important information in the pilot. Are Edward's handlers going to keep sending him on missions knowing every time he'll turn into milquetoast Henry? Really? I figured Edward and Henry were going to have to hide that information, not just whine about it to the boss.

So I'm back to agreeing with the conventional wisdom: it's a ludicrous premise. But that's not the reason I won't be tuning in next week.

The second episode -- the title of the episode even -- deals with Henry's issues about Edward sleeping with his wife. I have no arguments there: these are important issues. In the similar series JEKYLL, even going near the wife and family was the uncrossable line for the mild-mannered doctor. In ENEMY, super-spy Edward seems to be having wild sex with wifey pretty much every night.

Which quite properly bothers Henry. Though, oddly, he's not bothered that a dangerous stranger is sleeping with his wife, the woman he's supposed to love. He makes no effort to warn her, or whisk her away to safety. Though he tries to devise a password-protection system with some doctor he knew twenty years ago, he makes no such attempt with his own wife and family. In fact, he doesn't seem very bothered by Edward's presence in the family home, or bed, at all.

He's only bothered that the stranger is better at sex than he is.

Talk about your breathtaking level of self-involvement. Did no one anywhere down the line on this show (or up the line) find that a teensy bit disturbing? Not to mention fatal to the premise of the show: we have to like Henry for the show to work. Edward is already a cold-blooded assassin -- who's gonna cry if he gets whacked? Henry -- even if "unreal" -- is the one in danger of losing the real life and real connections he's built.
Henry is the one in danger of getting erased.

If he's just another preening jerk? Feh. I'm done.


Another announcement

JAWBONE is now a FINALIST in the tvwriter.com Spec Scriptacular competition.


Another review

I'm bucking the word on the street and admitting I liked the pilot for MY OWN WORST ENEMY. Thought it was fun. Thought it was nicely performed. Thought it had some genuinely interesting moments.

I'd say original moments, except I did notice a lot of the nifty bits involving communication and interaction between the two guys inhabiting one body seemed kinda similar to equivalent bits from Steven Moffat's JEKYLL. Really, really similar, even.

Though, lest you think "aw, she just prefers everything British," I actually didn't like Jekyll. I thought it had serious tone problems -- as in some minutes it was a straight-up comedy and some minutes a psychological drama. Now I love a little comedy in my drama and a little drama in my comedy (chocolate in my peanut butter, peanut butter in my chocolate), but this was like two different shows sharing the same commercial breaks. Hmm. I guess that was intentional. Appropriately Jekyll-and-Hydish. Just not much fun to watch.

An announcement

JAWBONE has now made the semifinals at the tvwriter.com Spec Scriptacular competition.


A slight emendation

Re-reading what I wrote yesterday about David Kelley's first draft script of Life On Mars, I seem to have said that I believe Mr. Kelley has a hang-up with his own perfection. That's not what I meant. Though with his history of uber-clever, successful writing, he'd have damn good reason for thinking highly of himself.

So, no offense to Mr. Kelley personally. Or to any of his previous -- and one hopes future -- wonderful shows.

But his script was still a miserable adaptation. Though I have heard that the Kelley script that was actually shot (and discarded) was a later version that hewed more closely to the original BBC show in tone and character. I hope so. Everyone's allowed a crappy first draft. Though even the later draft clearly wasn't what the network wanted. And what they wanted was pretty darn good.

Maybe even super-talented writers just can't write something they don't at heart agree with. David Kelley's best work is about lawyers. And Life On Mars isn't a lawyer show. Not just in its subject matter -- in its philosophy. It argues that the kind of elegant thinking and reasoning -- seeing both sides of an argument, and protecting the intangible rights behind the laws even at the expense of the person immediately in front of you -- while GOOD THINGS (can't argue with that), can also lead to deadening of the instincts, and even of the soul.

Deep stuff. But it's cop stuff. Not lawyer stuff.

Still, I have to give credit to Kelley for bringing the show to ABC and seeing it got made. Thanks, man.

Now go write some awesome lawyer stuff.

A review - and a long post

I watched Life On Mars.

I was going to sleep on my thoughts and re-watch the show tomorrow with both the old David Kelley script and the original BBC script open on my laptop. But I don't think I need to. And I don't think I can sleep until I get this all written out anyway.

I'm going to compare the series to the BBC version. And somewhat to the Kelley version that DIDN'T wind up on your screens tonight. I know that's not really a review. But there are going to be a million reviews out there. I'm more interested in figuring out what the heart of the original series was, where the ABC version -- or the Kelley version - got it wrong. And where they fixed things, got them right, or even improved them. Cause that's what we try to do as writers. Figure out what's important. Make mistakes, sure, but then figure out WHY they're wrong. And desperately try to fix them before the cameras roll. (Or in this case, after. Yeesh.)

The teaser begins in the modern world...

The BBC version took a lot more time establishing Sam's modern life. That's easier for them to do, of course, they HAVE more time. But it was nice to show how different, and technological, and politically correct police work is now versus was then. It was also nice to see Sam Tyler as the clear and decisive head of his unit, as problems will ensue when he is subordinate to Gene Hunt in the past.

So, score one point for the BBC. But a very small point.

I don’t dig the it-wasn’t-the-perp-it-was-his-identical twin stuff. I never like the identical twin trick. (After reading something similar in the Fringe pilot script I have yet to bring myself to actually watch the Fringe episodes on my DVR.) And unless they’re varying significantly from the BBC plot, it’s also not necessary. So that’s score two for the BBC. (Oops, writing now from the end: they DID change the plot significantly. I’m rethinking as I type. The score may change. Stay tuned.)

Continuing on…

WHOA. ABC has a MUCH BETTER TEASER FADE OUT. I cried. Couldn’t help it: a stunning revelation of the Twin Towers standing, new, beautiful and full of hope, beats a billboard for an expressway overpass any day. BIG point scored for ABC.

The 360-degree “only so many details” shot of 1973 lower Manhattan was nearly equally stunning. Awesome set decoration. The Manchester shot was great too, so I’ll give that a tie. (Though I’m from New York and I’ve never been to Manchester, so the ABC version edges ahead for me.)

Moving into the meat of the show…

I loved the BBC’s Gene Hunt, Philip Glenister. But now I love Harvey Keitel just as much. I gotta score a dead tie there. But I’m going to give an extra point to ABC for realizing they had it wrong the first time, firing the original actor, thinking of Harvey Keitel and making that happen. Nothing against poor Colm Meaney. I’m sure he’s a fine actor, but the only thing he had going for him as Gene Hunt was a slight physical resemblance to Mr. Glenister. And I’m tired of that kind of casting.

Actually, I think the Colm Meaney casting was part of a more serious problem with Kelley's whole take on the series.

Kelley’s script's theme seemed to be: modern-day people like Sam (and us) are better, more competent and more moral than their benighted 1973 counterparts. Always. In every case. In his script, Sam Tyler is a saint and Gene Hunt is an evil joke. No way Harvey Keitel would ever have taken the part as written in Kelley's script. And no way I'd watch it for very long. "I'm right and you're wrong" just doesn't make for a very interesting show.

So what was the BBC show about? Duh. It's a BUDDY COP show. Straight up. Two completely different guys from completely different backgrounds (and ERAS) who HATE each other right off will eventually grudgingly accept that each one has something the other lacks and together they will make one amazing policeman. This is not earth-shattering. We've seen this show before. And it worked before. Hell, MOST SUCCESSFUL DRAMA includes some element of this-one's-partially-right and that-one's-partially-right and if they could only figure that out and get together... Okay, not just drama. Most rom-coms and comedies work on some version of that dynamic. Most of our RELATIONSHIPS in the real world work like that. Or don't. Maybe because, like Mr. Kelley, we're a little too hung-up on our own perfection.

Pats on the back are nice, but do not make for appointment television.

The BBC version accepted that many things ARE better now. Miranda warnings are a good thing. Videotaped interviews are a good thing. So are warrants, and lawyers (sometimes), and all that pc stuff. But the BBC show worked on the principle that, though Sam was usually technically right, Gene was always EMOTIONALLY right. With all of his sensitivity training, the modern cop is less in touch with his “feelings” than his 70s macho counterpart. Gene Hunt has much to learn from Sam Tyler. But Sam Tyler has just as much to learn from Gene Hunt.

And there’s your series.

And this new ABC version gets that. Somebody at the studio saw the Kelley version, said "hold on a minute" and made the fix. Some studio suit. Who is that guy? I want to work for that guy. And I’m having to rethink my whole position on studio notes.

Which brings us to the scene that made me stand up and cheer. In the original BBC version of the Mrs. Raimes interview, Sam – eyes on the investigation – doesn’t see that his justifiably intense questioning of the witness is NOT HELPING. So Gene steps in, gets the woman a cup of tea and a biscuit. Gets her to relax and chat. And gets the information they need.

In the Kelley version, evil Gene is bullying poor Mrs. Raines, and Mr. Perfect Modern Cop Sam steps in to save the day. Oh, and there’s a cutesy lawyer thing that made me want to hurl. (Note to David Kelley: NOT a lawyer show.) So, yet again: 70s Gene is wrong, modern Sam is right, and we are all better than our parents. Woo-hoo. And yawn.

In the new ABC version, they go back almost word for word to the BBC version. Down to the fabulous over-the-table-leap at the end of the scene where we see Gene and Sam are suddenly, finally a team that WORKS. Together.

I stood up and cheered at that shot when I saw it the first time on BBC America. And I stood up and cheered tonight again. So, I give this scene a tie.

But for fixing something that was terribly wrong, at great expense and risk of negative publicity (how often does THAT happen in Hollywood???) I give extra points to ABC. And again, to that miracle suit. Who IS that guy?

And then suddenly we’re at the end. All kinds of stuff from the BBC version is just gone. And the scene – that never really rang true – where Annie’s ex-boyfriend tries to get Sam to risk suicide as a way to “wake up” – has been replaced with Sam staring down a gun and misreading (maybe…) the killer’s ramblings as a suicidal way out of his nightmare. So much better. Color me impressed.

And then the BIG change. There was a marvelous scene in the BBC version where Sam is faced with a choice: betray his ideals and destroy a key piece of evidence, or pass the evidence on, knowing that it will allow the killer to go free in 30 years and take the woman Sam loves hostage. Sam makes the choice: he trashes the evidence. And Gene says: welcome to the team. And he doesn’t mean it in a good way. He means it in a Faustian way.

It’s a killer scene. And it’s just gone. The kid, Colin Raimes, becomes the modern-day killer instead. Hence the whole awkward (but apparently now necessary) twin thing.

And I’m okay with that.

Because this is an American series that is going to have to sustain 22 episodes a year, possibly for years. As opposed to a British series that will be over and out in two series of 8 episodes each.

We have plenty of time to watch Sam struggle with difficult choices. We have hours and hours and hours ahead. (I hope - were you watching? Watch.)

At the end of the episode, instead of a killer all neatly tied up, we now have a future serial killer running around as a red-headed tyke. Creepy stuff to mine in episodes to come. As is having Sam consider killing that child instead of just destroying evidence...

So I take away my earlier demerits. And I call this a tie. I know my math is off - but I do have to give the BBC version points for being ORIGINAL. Besides, a tie is a win for ABC, 'cause after reading the Kelley version, I NEVER thought a tie would be possible.

I’m excited to see what they do next. And where they go when they’ve run through the sixteen British episodes and have a chance to stretch (or tank) this thing on their own.

I'm excited. Which I haven't been much so far this season...


An exhortation

I just gave blood. And you should too. It's not so bad. Yes, the needle is HUGE. But it goes in quick and comes out quick: the vampires at the Red Cross are very good at what they do and the whole thing is no big deal.

I did make the nice lady nervous by insisting on watching super closely as the needle approached my arm and went in. It's a minor hang-up: I don't mind sharp objects and needles as long as I am watching their every move and nobody's sneaking up on me.

I promised her I wouldn't faint. And then asked: how many people actually do?

At my location, because it's a Red Cross office and not a one-time blood drive: not many. At mobile blood drives, about one an hour. At mobile blood drives at high schools: all the freakin' time.

Do we get less tweaked by the sight of blood as we get older? Or is it a simpler explanation: all those people who were mightily embarrassed in front of their high school friends know better than to ever try again.

Not that that's any excuse for YOU: the nice lady said she could bring you right out of a fainting fit in seconds, no harm done. And the office is nice and quiet, so not much embarrassment either.

An announcement

Which you already know if you are reading this -- welcome to my new, actually a blog, blog site! Ever-more-glorious writing updates and discussions of the Fall 2008 season to come soon!


An update

Working on that pilot. Why does so much good stuff occur to me in the last few minutes before sleep and where do all the pens go that I used to have ready to record such thoughts?

I'm planning more research travel in the next month. That the travel might coincide with Hallowe'en again has nothing to do with anything. It's all research, baby, research. And some actual work-work on a book project that needs to be well underway before Christmas. So I'm busy. I'd love to spend some time discussing the new television season as I go through the digital mountains on my DVR. Soon. Right now I'm digesting on the fly.

Though I am looking forward to (god, I hope loving and not trashing) Life On Mars. The original was stunning. And though I had severe doubts about an earlier draft I read of the US version - much of the best, most thematically meaningful stuff removed and a bizarro cutesy lawyer added in its place - two of the greatest words I heard all summer were "Harvey" and "Keitel." Yeah.


Another announcement

THE CLOSER:Absalom made the semifinals at Scriptapalooza TV. And I'm over the oh-god-oh-god-it's-never-going-to-work hump and closing in on a spiffy new draft of my latest pilot - details to come soon. After which I get a victory lap shopping trip to Record Surplus on Pico. They've got to have some new Legacy International recordings that I don't own yet. Maybe one of those German beer garden collections I've been looking for? Polka 'til you drop!

I can, you know.

After which I absolutely promise I will do something about getting this blog-that-isn't a blog into some honest-to-blog software so it really IS a blog. And both of you reading can post comments. Yowza.


An announcement

JAWBONE has now made the semifinals at the 2008 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards.


A cool picture

Here's why I'm traveling.

The fact that my trip back east coincided with precious nephew's third birthday had nothing to do with it. I am here to talk with guys like this one. And I have. So now I can finally go home. And figure out how to put these entries into real blogging software so I can really, you know, blog...

An apology

8/17/08? It's 8/17/08???

I knew I wasn't going to hack the blog-a-day thing, but I did think two or three a week would be no problem.

I've been traveling. A lousy excuse as of course I have internet access. And a nifty new Slingbox hooked up to my Tivo. (Throw in my MacBook Pro and how's that for product placement?) So, yeah, I am just as connected here as I would be in my office back in LA. I've even been watching the Olympics in the tv-free guest room in which I'm staying. Probably more than I should: if my blogging is suffering, think what must be happening to my writing.

As for the Olympics - can you believe the commentator who said the games weren't just a big step for China, they were "a great leap forward"??? So, thirty or forty-odd million people are gonna die of starvation? And some might even eat each other? Talk about tone-deaf.

I think the poor dude really had no idea what he was saying. He (or his writers, aagh) had heard the phrase somewhere and knew it had SOMETHING to do with China, right? God, our education system sucks.


An article

This, from today's Washington Post. I had no idea. Really. I just assumed... younger, blonde, second wife, typical Washington hostess, you know...

No assumptions already! I'm a freaking writer, I should know that.

An amusing way to spend five minutes on the web

By way of this article in Slate, I give you the work of the St. Andrews University Face Transformer applet.
This would be a nice, normal (if you could see it you'd agree it was pretty) original photo passed through the (from left to right) (a) Botticelli, (b) Modigliani and (c) Masculiniser transformations. I think (cough) whoever this is makes a hot guy, though unsurprisingly, alarmingly like my brother...


An update

Still working on the new pilot project. Gassed the wasps (sorry, everyone, had to think of the USPS). Sucked into watching, and caring about, the Tour de France yet again. Still haven't forgiven this one, but I can't stop rooting for this one: four awesome sprint finishes with no one even close. Beautiful. He better not be cheating.

The sad part of rooting for anyone in cycling is that you're always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The only time you know for sure if your guy is really clean is when he's eventually proven NOT clean. Has it come to that? Hell, it passed that years ago.

I'm using this as a heart-break trial run for the Olympics next month. They are going to be UGLY.

But I will still watch: I love sports. Particularly team sports. I even co-founded a team in my competitve days. Go Empire Speed! 'Course, I always thought our tiny little sport was safe from cheating. I mean, how much money and glory is there in inline speedskating? I'm pretty sure the sum total of my winnings didn't come near the deductibles alone on my injuries. Apparently, I was wrong.



An announcement

JAWBONE just made the quarter final list at the 2008 PAGE International Screenwriting Awards.


A picture from my garden

This isn't really of my garden, it's of my front door jamb - and of the young ladies who have established a new home therein.

I was out of town for a few weeks and this is what I found when I returned: a growing nest of paper wasps. There are actually three of them - queen number three is on the back side of the nest and not visible in this picture.

It has been over a week and I still can't bring myself to destroy the nest. Instead I duck past it coming and going several times a day. So far un-stung. I wiki'd the wasps and found out they weren't "aggressive" - unless they feel their nest is threatened. At what point will they decide a slamming door an inch from their nest is a threat?
There are still only three of them, but they are working hard, as you can see, to make more. At what point will my mail woman refuse to approach my door?

Soon, I think.

So why haven't I killed them? These are WASPS - practically in my house. I can gas 'em with a clear conscience.

I guess it's some kind of bizarre feminist thing where I think it's too cool that three sister queens cooperate to build a nest together. And it IS cool. Even everybody's favorite super-cool bees don't do that.

Though I should probably read the wiki a little further. I bet after the baby wasps start hatching, one of those queens is gonna EAT the other two...

Feminism be damned.


A comment, barely

I'm off and writing again. I was supposed to work on an old pilot rewrite but then I had this new idea and, well, it kinda took off... I'm still in the fun what-if stage, filling pages and pages with notes and beats and ideas. Which are coming together nicely if I say so myself. Ask me again in a week.

So there actually IS something new this week. Really new. Just not on this page. Unfortunately, the last thing I want to do when I am writing a lot is spend my free time hanging around the computer writing more.


A photo link

If Darth Vader got his stormtroopers from PIXAR, this might be what they'd look like.


An admission

That as a former New Yorker, I am incapable of giving good, reliable directions.

Not because I don't often know the way, or don't want to share, but because I can't ever say, "No – I don't know how to get there."

Just can't do it. You ask a New Yorker, "How do I get to 486 Farblunget Avenue?" They will answer, "Um, um, um... I think it's three blocks up and on the left." Even if they have NO CLUE. Really none.

And we're not doing it out of spite. We want to help. Deeply. We just also want to be right, and informed, and know things that we feel we should know.

So if you're ever in New York and need directions: ask A LOT of people and take the average. Because most of them – no matter how definite they sound – haven't got a clue.

It's one of those weird regional things, like Angelenos inability to say no to an RSVP when they mean... no.

And it reminds me of my mom's favorite quote: Nobody here knows anything, let's take a vote.


A rave

For Doctor Who's latest two-episode festival of goodness. From the opening beats of Silence In The Library you knew you were in the capable hands of writer Steven Moffat. And that the next two hours were gonna be weird, wonderful, and leave you in tears. Good tears. Satisfied tears.

Also want to give props to the whole Doctor Who team for completely fooling me on the subject matter of these episodes. Even before the season started, they leaked all kinds of spoilers about how we'd be learning more about Who's private and (gasp) family life this season. And then they gave us the mildly crappy Doctor's Daughter episode. I felt a little gypped, you?

But no – it was all a fake-out. Silence In The Library/Forest Of The Dead were the real episodes dealing with Who's private life. And the wonderful/horrible problem of living forever while everything and everyone you know dies around you. Moffat spun a great two hours out of that theme. JRR Tolkien spent thousands of pages and a lifetime on it.

And hey, there's a cross-over: Moffat is also writing the screenplays for the Spielberg/Peter Jackson Tintin movies. Guess Peter Jackson liked his handling of the theme as well. Or vice versa.


A rant

About contractors and the requirement that we all become experts in everything if we ever want anything done right. Or done to a barely acceptable level.

I've been helping my father move to his new condo. The move-in date has been shoved back three times in the last week. But that's nothing. The whole project began over two years ago. And was supposed to be easy. Ha.

Three contractors later, the end is finally in sight. The furniture is on the delivery truck and my dad's meager belongings are packed. Except, of course, the refrigerator is still in pieces in the middle of the living room, a fine new layer of sawdust is sprinkled over everything we moved in last weekend and large, sharp contractor tools are scattered across the brand new, delicate, cork floors.

That and the bathroom lights and plumbing are still gaping holes. Sigh.

Yet these are the contractors we LIKE. The good ones. So why do we still have to stand and watch every move they make and research every article they put up and know ourselves – even if we aren't going to do it – HOW to do it right so we can tell them how? Aren't these the people we're paying to know how to do things so we don't have to?

And why do I have to know which insurance is right for me? Isn't that my broker's job? And which medical treatments I need? And which tests I should get... and on, and on, and on.

Maybe this is the real reason I love television work. You'd think the arts would be full of flaky arts types who need to be constantly watched. But, no. Studios are full of professionals who KNOW THEIR JOBS. Better by far than you do. And they DO them. Professionally.

Which makes me so very happy.


A break

I'll probably pay for this tomorrow. But today I played hooky and took my nephew to the zoo. Judging from this photo, he needed the break as much as I did.


A reunion

I just finished a college reunion: much catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. So many former classmates are working in entertainment. My sister the economist tells me this is because we graduated at the bottom of the business cycle and couldn't get real jobs.

Yay, us.

Anyway, I used to live here.


An exercise

Some excellent blogs have lately discussed the importance of knowing what the character you are writing is doing at any given moment in any given scene – and why they are doing it. Most importantly, why. See this entry, and this one.

Something else to remember about that why – it's the character's why, not yours. The scene that the character wants is probably NOT gonna be the one you give him. This is the stuff of drama: you want a fight scene, your character wants a nice, peaceful night. Tada! – conflict! characters gettin' thwarted and having to find a new way to get whatever it was that they wanted (if a comedy) or expire trying (if a tragedy). And I don't mean this in the obvious don't-have-your-characters-do-things-just-for-plot-reasons way. Sometimes the character has a damn good reason for getting into that fight; still doesn't mean he wants to fight.

Back in my acting days I found it nearly impossible to keep fellow thespians from lunging straight for that conflict – to assume that the reason we found ourselves in an argument was because our characters wanted to argue. Which is so rarely the case in life. And is not very interesting to the viewer. Even in a straight-up boxing match, you can assume the fighters want to win and you as the viewer can get involved in that. If it were just about the fighting...? Meh.

To thwart these straight-for-the-jugular tendencies, I put together an improv that helped me as the actor connect with those hopes and dreams that will, yes, eventually inspire my character to wind up back at someone else's throat:

You're an actor facing a tough scene. You think about that "what do I really, really want in this scene" question and throw out your best guess. It has to be something positive – not just "I want to leave" or "I want this confrontation to be over." The other actors take that idea, think about it in turn – and then play the scene GIVING YOU EXACTLY WHAT YOU WANT. And then some: frequently the other actors can finger your character's unspeakable fantasies a lot more honestly than you ever can. You play the scene – the situation at the start, anyway, as typically the scene heads off the written rails pretty quickly. And then you keep going until your character is so friggin' satisfied that, well, you might need a smoke afterwards.

Then you play it again for each character in turn: Claudius apologizes to Hamlet, explains he never slept with Gertrude, and falls on his own sword; Mitch answers Blanche's revelations with a deep, sensual kindness and carries her off to a fantasy castle in the sky, everyone lives happily ever after, whatever.

As an actor, the memory of getting exactly what you wanted – even if only that once – will keep you and your character going in the face of never, ever getting anything you ever wanted ever again. As a writer... it's good to remember that your characters probably wanted something very different before you started screwing with them – and that they might just fight you to try to get that fantasy back. And THAT fight is what's really interesting to viewers.


a house guest

Guess who has moved back in – on top of the rack of tomato stakes and bean poles under the eaves of my back patio? The rack of stakes and poles that I needed to USE yesterday. The same stupid bird who was there last year. Apparently the fact that I bugged her by working within feet of her nest, pulled poles right out from under said nest, got up on a stool to take pictures and investigate and was generally a nuisance every day of the three weeks it took her eggs to hatch was not enough to deter this bird.

And maybe she's right – the eggs hatched. Ergo: successful nest. Even with the noisy neighbor.


A picture from my garden

Played some hooky today in celebration of yesterday's victory... if hours of backbreaking labor in the garden can be considered celebration.

Now I can sit back and wait for the tomatoes, and peppers, and zucchini, and parsley, and basil and pumpkins and beans. And have a beer while surveying a job well done.


A cheer

Haven't posted in a couple of days – I've been busy getting something very new together. My writing partner and I just finished, polished and buffed to a high shine a one-hour horror/drama pilot we've been working on. So – yay us! On to the drinking.


A comment

About the way we do business today. At least the way some enterprising women in Georgia, Wisconsin and Colorado are doing business. And it's a way that has some interest to those of us currently wondering what to do about our SAG and AFTRA memberships in the next few months. Not that I'm wondering much -- I walked the line for the WGA and I'm not even a real member yet and I've been in SAG since college.

Anyway, long story long, I recently girl-ed out as detailed below and bought a book about perfumes. I'm a slightly insanely organized person, and went from reading the book and considering testing a few scents to building a color-coded spreadsheet detailing the perfumes I'm interested in, the ones I've tested, the dates tested, my thoughts, and recommendations for future action. 'Cause that's what I do. You should see my pattern spreadsheet. Or my exercise and diet versions.

After visiting department stores, some lovely-smelling shops and even CVS, I had winnowed the list of 60-80 interesting-sounding perfumes to about 20 actually interesting ones. Ones that I wanted to give a second and maybe third sniff. But, obviously, I can't buy 20 perfumes at $80-$200 a pop. Not unless one of you lovely readers wants to buy a pilot or two. (Or three. I got priorities.) And they were getting kind of tired of me at the Nordstrom counter.

No fear. There are sites on the Internet that decant and sell itty-bitty inexpensive sample sizes of perfumes. ALL OF THEM, apparently, as every single one of the very varied lucky 20 were in stock at this site. What were the odds of that? Every one I wanted, in stock? And actually in the mail within 24 hours? What kind of weird-ass perfume collecting company is this?

All was made clear when I started receiving the packages: not from one central business location, but from ordinary home addresses of a number of women -- in Georgia, Wisconsin and Colorado. Apparently these ladies collected and sold perfume on eBay, became aware of each other and joined forces to offer big-company style inventory in a basement-company kind of way.

I think that's fabulous. I love the Intenet. Hey, maybe McCain's right about something...


A video

This one is from my brother. It's funny, right? (And I am going to have to watch the way I write from now on.)


A quick comment

It's raining. I can't believe it's raining. It's not supposed to rain again in Los Angeles until November. Still sunny out there, mind, just also raining. Too weird.


An oldie but a goodie

This video makes me happy. She takes a while to get started, but it's worth the wait. Thanks to Lydia for sending it (many months ago).


A meeting

With my writing partner on the pilot, JAWBONE. We're closing in on an official first draft (not an actual first draft, of course – nobody gets to read that). We had a great session sketching out our projected first season arcs. I think it's a good sign that after working on the same script, we've come to many of the same ideas for the season to follow. Can't wait to get all this on paper. Or in front of a camera.


A comment

About stage parents. Not a generalized comment – and nothing to do with whatever weirdness went on at American Idol rehearsals last week. This is a comment about my stage parents.

Who were and are awesome.

My parents ran a touring marionette company in the NYC tri-state area from before I was born until I was in high school. I worked the show all those years and loved every minute of it.

As quickly as we could, my sister and I learned to run the show from the bridge, with our kid brother manning the sound and lights. On one memorable occasion our parents left the theater to bring back take-out lunch before the show and got caught in a monster traffic jam. Assembly period started, the kids filed in, the lights went down, and my barely double-digit siblings and I shrugged and started the show ourselves (child labor infraction no. 1).

I also took great pride in lugging the large, heavy set and puppet boxes between truck and stage. Setting them up. Breaking them down. And lugging them all back (child labor infraction no. 2).

As we toured largely to schools, and performed during school hours, my sister and brother and I missed a lot of time at our own schools. Not that we “missed” it at all. We pretty much hated school. I could go on and on about the miserable state of the education system – maybe someday I will go on and on. Anyway, there really is a truant officer and she had my name at the top of her list (child labor infraction no. 3).

Suffice it to say, we learned enough from our parents, from reading, from playing in the back seat during long trips, and, honestly, from television once we got home to do just fine learnin’ wise: we all got into Stuyvesant HS in New York, and I eventually did quite well at a little place called Harvard.

So, don’t knock all stage parents. I wouldn’t trade my sometimes deeply weird experiences growing up for anything.

Of course, reading this over, what with the truck and the touring and the lugging and the puppets, it’s possible my parents weren’t stage parents at all.

Were we carnies?


A book review

I'm joining the chorus of praise for Perfumes: The Guide by Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez. And I make this recommendation with real surpise. I am NOT a perfume junky. In fact, I'm only on the first tentative steps out of a decade-long "I don't wear perfume" pose. But this book is a really fun read – equal parts informative, lyrical, passionate and snarky. I was pleased to see that the very first perfume I ever fell in love with and spent more money than I had on got a five-star rave (Calyx by Prescriptives). Though the next perfume I bought – after that lengthy gap – got a one-star drubbing (Light Blue by Dolce & Gabbana). I have work to do.

Anyway, great read, can't wait to see how it ends. Oops – I peeked. SPOILER AHEAD:

The ending: Zoe (Fresh Scents by Terri) – one star – floral musk – A simple jasmine-based white floral with a strong, sweet soapy musk. Honestly, just wear Joy.

Okay, so the ending is a bit of a downer. Although that "just wear Joy" thing could refer not to the perfume, but to some kind of metaphysical/philosophical position statement, right?


A mnemonic

The Kings and Queens of England:
Willie, Willie, Harry, Stee; Harry, Dick, John, Harry three
One two three Neds, Richard two; Harrys four five six... then who?
Edwards four five, Dick the bad; Harrys (twain), Ned six (the lad)
Mary, Bessie, James ya' ken; Charlie, Charlie, James again
Will and Mary, Anna Gloria; Georges four, Will four, Victoria
Edward seven next and then, came George the fifth in nineteen ten
Ned the eighth soon abdicated, and a George was reinstated
after which Elizabeth, and that's all folks until her death.

I love how the entire period that interests me exists only as a comma between the two Charlie's... though to be fair, this is a list of royalty. And the guys I'm working on had a rather unpleasant way of dealing with royalty.